Arthur Darby Nock

Julian the PhilosopherLet’s talk about life, the universe and everything. No, I’m not talking about Douglas Adams today but a rather clever chap from Gaul (or less likely a different chap from Spain, but historians can’t decide) called Sallustius.

Back in the 4th Century Sallustius was very good friends with the Roman Emperor Julian. Julian (Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus) was a Greek, given the name Julian the Apostate by the Christians as he chose to be a Pagan or ‘Hellenist’, embracing the Neoplatonic beliefs. He was, in fact, the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire.

Julian was a complicated character, an effective military leader, as well as an intellectual, philosopher and writer. When he was made Emperor in AD 361, he restored Pagan temples and removed the privileges awarded to the Christian bishops by Constantine, his predecessor. His intention was not to destroy Christianity, but to drive it from the Empire and restore Hellenistic Paganism as the state religion. Had he taken a more ruthless and bloody approach, he may have succeeded. Instead, Julian the Philosopher made his case in speeches and essays.

Sallustius (Saturninius Secundus Salustius), now Julian’s prefect, wrote ‘On the Gods and the Cosmos’, probably at the request of, or in support of his friend. The work isn’t Pagans v Christians though. Sallustius attempts to argue in defense of the Hellenic religion without attacking the Christian beliefs.Sallustius. Concerning the Gods and the Universe

In AD 363, Julian was hit by a Persian arrow and later died. Sallustius was nominated as Julian’s successor but he refused. Instead, the job went to Jovian, the Antioch Library burning Christian who waved the white flag at the Persians and reestablished Christianity as the favoured religion, making death the penalty for all Pagan worship.

Jump forward some 1550 years and the charmingly eccentric young genius and fellow of Clare College, Arthur Darby Nock, is asked to translate the Sallustius text. Nock travelled to the Ambrosian Library in Milan and the Vatican Library in Rome to study the manuscripts. The resulting book, published by Cambridge University Press in 1926, was heralded as ‘extraordinary’. At the young age of 27, Nock became Professor of the History of Religions at Harvard and was regarded as the leading authority on the subject.

‘Concerning the Gods and the Universe’ is a wonderfully interesting book, and not only for literary enthusiasts or readers and collectors of philosophy or religious history. It is surprisingly readable and thought provoking, comprising of a lengthy introduction in question and answer form, followed by the translation, with Greek text facing English. There aren’t many of these around, and you can buy this one by clicking on the pics below. SORRY, NOW SOLD

Arthur Darby Nock - Cambridge University Press - 1926Arthur Darby Nock - Cambridge University Press - 1926