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Julian

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  3,218 ratings  ·  201 reviews
The remarkable bestseller about the 4th-century Roman emperor who famously tried to halt the spread of Christianity, Julian is widely regarded as one of Gore Vidal’s finest historical novels.
Julian (called by Christians, Apostate), nephew of Constantine the Great, was one of the brightest yet briefest lights in the history of the Roman Empire. A military genius on the lev
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Paperback, 432 pages
Published March 1977 by Vintage Books USA (first published 1964)
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Eric_W
Julian the Apostate was emperor of Rome from 361-363 CE and the nephew of Constantine. Raised in a strict Christian environment (although of the Arian tradition), he formally announced his conversion to paganism in 361 and became a public enemy of Christianity.

That provides the background for Vidal's excellent historical novel (historical in the best sense in that Vidal tried to use as many actual events and recorded conversations as possible). Vidal is, of course, rather flagrant in rejecting C
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Travis
I love Roman history. Had Julian (the Apostate) been less conciliatory, the Christians would have remained a fringe sect. Uncompromising themselves, and ultimately triumphant, the Christians stamped out what Julian loved most: knowledge.

This book is written as letters between Libanius and Priscus, who discuss what to do with Julian's diary. Vidal's prose is sublime--always informing and entertaining, sometimes sharp and often funny. Historical fiction is rarely this good.
Terence Hawkins
I don't know how or why anyone would let a thirteen year old withdraw this book from a public library but someone did, and it went a long way towards forming my mind. For better or worse.

Julian the Apostate was born just a little too late: the last Hellenist (pagan) in the family of Constantine, who a few years before Julian's birth had converted the Roman Empire to Christianity. The novel chronicles his unlikely rise to power and its inevitable conclusion. Not a plot spoiler----aren't a lot of
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Erik Graff
May 18, 2014 Erik Graff rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: literature
Gore Vidal is a novelist with an agenda. Born in West Point, related to former vice presidents Aaron Burr and Al Gore and member of a prominent political family, Gore is credited with the first openly homosexual novel in American letters, the espousal of views generally to the left of the Democratic Party and general iconoclasm. He is also a decent historian and humorous socio-political essayist.

Julian is one of his historical novels, a defense of the last of the avowedly non-Christian emperors
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Jack

I suggest that those who can not accept criticism of their Christian religion skip this book. The Roman Emperor Julian was totally offended by the Christians of the 4th century AD.
I first read this historical novel back in the 1960's. I enjoyed it then and I enjoyed it even more now. This time I really picked up on Julian's flaws; 40 years ago I think I just was rooting for him to win (knowing, of course, he would ultimately fail) and I ignored this dark side.
Gore Vidal did extensive research
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Laura
In my sad and maddening teenage years, I happened on my mother’s copy of the Oxford Book of British Verse and read through it with the doggedness I had at the time. One poem that hit me hard was Algernon Charles Swinburne’s Hymn to Proserpina, written in the voice of a Roman lamenting the passing of the old gods as Rome embraced Christianity. It begins with the line “Vicisti, Galilæe,” which, I am told, translates to “Thou hast conquered, Galilean,” and, I am told, was not said by the Emperor J ...more
liirogue
I never knew that after Constantine, the Roman Empire reverted (briefly) to the old gods. Gore Vidal does a good job of describing the man who attempted to undo the religious changes and bring back the old ways.

I really liked the style he chose to write the book in - two old friends write letters to each other, reminiscing about the now deceased Julian. You then read Julian's autobiography, interspersed with humorous and enlightening comments from both of these old friends. These comments also b
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Maggie Anton
I started reading this book to learn more about 3rd and 4th century Rome and its politics as research for Rav Hisda's Daughter, Book I: Apprentice: A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery, since Persia and Rome are often at war. To my astonishment, I could not put this book down. Vidal is an amazing writer, one whose talent I could never hope to reach. He takes us right into the heart of his characters, historical figures all, and brings them & all the Roman political intrigue of his time t ...more
Linda
Julian is stunning and awesome. Perhaps I am just being a snob when I am sometimes surprised that I have never even heard of a book and then it turns out to be amazing and I want everyone to read it. I shouldn't be, though, since often when the masses like something it is less than spectacular.

Not usually a fan of historical fiction, I was drawn to this because I had decided to finally read Gore Vidal and I liked the idea of the plot: a Roman emperor attempting to squelch the wacky upstart reli
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Mona
Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, the eponymous subject of this novel, was the last pagan king of the Roman Empire and one of Plato's ideal philosopher-kings. Vidal's Julian wore many robes: a brilliant military strategist, a devoted Mitras-worshipper bent on restoring the old gods and the old ways and stopping the rise of Christianity as it existed then, and a philosopher who made fun of his own efforts to grow a beard.

Not knowing much about the historical Julius, I cannot vouch for the vera
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Louise
I didn't think Vidal's "Burr" could be topped, but this earlier novel of Vidal's is even more extraordinary.

Vidal creates a memoir by the Emperor Julian and presents it with the commentary of two friends. This novelization gives the reader a good understanding of the social and political dynamics of this often neglected period of history.

I expect that the scholarship is as accurate as the critics contend which makes this book not just fiction, but literature, and a major achievement for its auth
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Steven E
You wouldn't think a 500 page epistolary novel swirling around a short-reigned Roman emperor would be at all engrossing, but here we are. The emperor Julian famously tried to arrest the spread of Christianity and reinstall Hellenism in the 4th century, and do so without bloodletting. He was nearly Plato's philosopher king incarnate, a just and admirable ruler who simply wanted peace.

Vidal's Julian dovetails nicely with his historical counterpart. He is learned and witty and self-aware, while br
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Bart Everson
A day or two after Gore Vidal died, I read a remembrance of him on The Wild Hunt which recommended Julian. I checked the catalog and found the book in the stacks; working in the same building as a library has advantages.

It's historical fiction, and account of the life of Julian, who reigned briefly over the Roman Empire in the middle of the 4th century A.D. At this time Christianity was on the rise; Julian's predecessors were Christian, but he tried to take the empire back to paganism, restorin
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Kyle Muntz
I have no idea why it took me so long to finish this. It's not quite as good as Creation, but on the other hand it's about maybe one of the most interesting people in human history--a roman emperor who studied philosophy and might have made the world Pagan again. Vidal's prose is strong, insightful, well researched, and always clear. This book is maybe mostly interesting for its critique of the history/emergence of Christianity (still pretty relevant, maybe more than ever, as it deals with the b ...more
Betty Cross
The recent death of Gore Vidal reminded me I'd read his historical novel about Julian, the Roman Emperor known as "The Apostate" because he renounced Christianity and tried to bring about a pagan revival. Julian's character is very intelligent, witty, and self-aware; a reclusive scholar who suddenly finds himself appointed to repel a barbarian invasion of Gaul and does surprisingly well at it. His troops mutiny and declare him emperor. He marches on Constantinople and shocks the bishops by renou ...more
Sean
The best book, hands-down, on everyone's favorite revanchist pagan emperor. If it was a person, I would kiss it. But it isn't, so I read it. You should, too.
Kenny
As a reader I get the best of two worlds when it comes to historical fiction: The details of a biography about a great person, and set in a novel. I like reading biographies and novels, but sometimes I wish the novelists were better writers, and the only way a novelist can take liberties with the data or material is with his or her imagination. Also, historical fiction is fun, if the history is accurate and the story compelling.

Historical fiction when it is done well lets you enter a world that
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Jennifer
Vidal's historical novels always leave me thinking about them weeks after I've finished. This is the case in particular with "Julian."
Constructed as a memoir by "Julian the Apostate" with "margin notes," from confidants Libanius and Priscus, the first half of the book tells the story of heir Julian's fraught childhood on the run from potential assassins and his unlikely rise to Emperor of Rome. One feels Julian's terror each time he reads in people's faces that they do not think he will live t
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Vicky
I am nearly at the end of this book, around 100 pages left. This is a book that takes a long time to finish. I had to stop, to read something else and to return. The language is so rich, the historical background is very complex and well researched and the references to the ancient philosophers are amazing. This period of history when the power of Roman Empire divided between West and East was declining and the Dark Ages were replacing the glamour of Rome is not very well known. The Christianity ...more
Andy Gavin
This excellent novel was a bestseller in the 1960s and that in of itself is a sad testament to the intellectualdecline of the American reader. Its subject, a novelized biography of the fourth century Roman Emperor Julian, is one that would have today's Harry Potter, Twilight, andDa Vinci Code reader scratching his head. You're probably even askingyourself, who is Julian? And why should I care?

Julian was the nephew ofConstantinethe Great and one of history's most peculiar figures. An intellectual
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Bruce
Feb 27, 2010 Bruce rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Roman history buffs, Christian fundamentalists (because I'm just mean that way)
Recommended to Bruce by: Charles
Julian is historical fiction masquerading as an posthumously annotated autobiography of Constantine's nephew (successor as emperor to elder cousin Constantius, circa 350 CE). In a way, Vidal makes his own critique on p. 436, writing, “Traditionally the reporting of speeches in historical texts is not meant to be literal…. Yet here is Julian… already altering the text. History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place. I offer you this banality for what i ...more
Stevelvis
Another amazing read from Gore Vidal. Ever wondered what it's like to be King of the World? This is the story of Julian, from his regimented childhood when he never knew which day might be his last to his reign as Caesar and Augustus, ruler of the Roman Empire from Gaul (France) to the borders of Persia.

Essentially historical fiction, but with the cultural detail and accuracy you'd expect from Gore Vidal as well as the fluid and floral prose which has earned him his reputation as one of America'
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Faith Justice
Finished this while on vacation in Italy working on an archaeology site of a Roman villa. Loved it! The structure is clever. Julian "The Apostate", Emperor of Rome is dead and a philosopher friend of his wants to edit and publish his memoirs in spite of pressure from the new Christian Emperor. The book opens with correspondence between two philosophers - one who has the much coveted papers and the other who wants them - bickering over the price of making copies. The book continues with the the f ...more
Dorothy
This was great. Given my interest and reading about how Christianity took root and how the dogma of the Church evolved, the focus of much of this book on the early disagreements and rancor among competing Christian belief systems was an absolute treat. For a confirmed atheist, this "story" offered great philosophical fellow-thinking. In most tellings Julian is treated as little more than a short-lived emperor who sought to return to paganism and failed and is thus a footnote to the history of Ch ...more
Elijah Kinch Spector
"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 re
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Theodora
As a rule, I'm rather sceptical when it comes to historical novels and tend to avoid them. However, I was curious how Vidal would manage to write about Julian, having already heard and read quite a lot about that particular emperor and late antiquity in general.
Vidal impressed me. The description of religious quarrels and political ambitions is spot-on. I do wonder if readers who aren't familiar with the historical background would find the book easy to understand, but to me the carefully droppe
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Jeff
Vidal's historical fiction isn't just potboiling in costume. It has all of the values of serious fiction while also making you believe that events could have happened just this way. Vidal is a master of invisible technique. You believe, you get caught up, you can't really see how he's doing it. He can be lyrical when the structure calls for it--setting a scene, describing a heightened moment. So he could write that way all the time if he chose to. But he only chooses to in the interests of the s ...more
La Stamberga dei Lettori
Siamo nel 380 d.C., l'anno del famoso editto di Tessalonica con cui l'imperatore Teodosio proclama il cristianesimo unica religione tollerata dell'impero. Amareggiato per la progressiva ghettizzazione dei pagani, il retore Libanio, ripensa al suo antico discepolo, l'imperatore Giuliano e decide di "ricostruirne la memoria". Per farlo avrà bisogno dell'aiuto di Prisco, "compagno-filosofo" dell'imperatore il quale, a sua volta, è in possesso del diario di Giuliano. La testimonianza di Prisco, quel ...more
Daniel
The idea of the unreliable narrator was driven home in high school when we read The Great Gatsby, but Gore Vidal had not one, but three unreliable narrators in this story about Flavius Claudius Julianus, or Julian the Apostate, the last gasp of Roman paganism before Christianity quashed it. Libanius, a philosopher and rhetorician and friend of Julian, wants to publish the late emperor's memoirs, and seeks the help of Priscus, a teacher and companion of Julian. Julian's "memoir" is interspersed w ...more
Justin
Historical fiction is notoriously difficult to execute successfully. This is one of the rare fine examples of the genre. Vidal does a masterful job of allowing his imagination to draw compelling, vivid sketches of Julian's life while incorporating the agreed-upon facts as appropriate and necessary. A triumph.

Those who enjoyed this novel are encouraged to seek out and read (if not buy) Volumes II & III of Julian from the Loeb Classical Library--the many extant private letters contained therei
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Eugene Luther Gore Vidal was an American writer known for his essays, novels, screenplays, and Broadway plays. He was also known for his patrician manner, Transatlantic accent, and witty aphorisms. Vidal came from a distinguished political lineage; his grandfather was the senator Thomas Gore, and he later became a relation (through marriage) to Jacqueline Kennedy.

Vidal ran for political office twi
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