"I was now a gawky adolescent with a beard thick on the chin, spotty on the upper lip, invisible on the cheeks. I looked frightful but I refused to shave. I am to be a philosopher, I said proudly; and that was that."
- p. 58
Gore Vidal has worked on a good number of films, most famously (at least after the disowned Caligula
) in uncredited rewrites for 1959's Ben-Hur
, which is one of only a scant handful of big, epic, mid-century sword and sandal movies that's a genuinely good film. Vidal's role reportedly centered around strengthening the relationship between Ben-Hur and his best buddy/rival (supposedly by way of gay subtext, but that gets argued about a lot). Having read Julian: A Novel
, I entirely understand why Vidal was brought in to do this: he's very good at making characters in ancient history feel relatable. Indeed, as I read Julian
, I couldn't help thinking of the amazing film that it would have made, given the sort of financial backing that these epics were given in the 1960s.
Of course, no one in the U.S. would've bankrolled a sandal epic whose hero's main characteristic is an intense hatred of Christianity. Not to mention that it's a story of the Roman Empire that never, ever gets to Rome. (I don't remember there being very many Byzantine epics)
Really, though, more than anything else, Julian
is the story of a beard.
I love the quote at the top because it's one of those instantly relatable details that make even the most grand and ancient figures feel real. Most of us have known, or been, that guy; if not literally the one who thinks his scraggly beard shows what a deep thinker he is, then at least someone very similar. Someone with lofty ambitions that really come down to stubbornness, with an intense desire to appear iconoclastic. I was joking when I said the book is about a beard, but really that beard does sum up Julian (or Vidal's version of him, anyway) in a nutshell.
Julian the Apostate is an emperor I'd never heard of before, but a fascinating one...[Full review, with pictures, on my blog. There are many Robert Graves comparisons made.]