Friday, September 26, 2014

The House of the Tragic Poet: What's love got to do with it?


A history resource article by  © 2014


Remains of frescoes depicting mythological scenes in the triclinium
(dining room) in the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  Image courtesy
of Wikimedia Commons.
Recently, I watched a fascinating lecture by Professor Steven Tuck of Miami University on the interpretation of imagery found in the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  He describes the scenes of mythical and literary events as sharing an overall theme of love with the exception of a panel depicting the sacrifice of Iphigenia in a vestibule of the peristyle adjacent to the triclinium.  He also explained that this jumble of images was possibly the target of Petronius, Nero's official "arbiter of taste". In his "Satyricon" written during this period, Petronius derided such, as he perceived it, tasteless displays proffered up by the nouveau riche.

When Dr. Tuck described the images I found myself searching for more meaning in their inclusion in a family home, too, other than just ostentation. So I searched the web and stumbled across an article by Bettina Bergmann entitled "The Roman House As Memory Theater".  Bergmann expresses her opinion that, what on the surface may appear to some to be unrelated lavish literary and mythical depictions, may have actually been carefully chosen scenes to enable visitors to the house, as well as its residents, to relate contemporary events to the ancient epic past as a means to both appreciate and understand the culture they all shared.  I hope I understood her correctly.

She thinks the choice of decor served as memory tools, called the method of loci, or the "Roman Room" technique, to facilitate intelligent discourse as described by Cicero in his thesis on oratory, "De Oratore".  The method of loci, also known as the memory palace or mind palace technique, is a mnemonic device adopted by ancient Greek and Roman rhetoricians that relies on memorized spatial relationships to establish, order and recollect memorized content.

Portrait bust of the famous Roman orator Cicero.
Photographed at the Capitoline Museum by
 © 2005

"In this technique the subject memorizes the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject literally 'walks' through these loci and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any distinguishing feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by 'walking' through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items. The efficacy of this technique has been well established (Ross and Lawrence 1968, Crovitz 1969, 1971, Briggs, Hawkins and Crovitz 1970, Lea 1975), as is the minimal interference seen with its use." - John O'Keefe and Lynn Nadel, The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map

Although I agree that the House of the Tragic Poet could have served wonderfully well as a "memory theater", I think each room's decor would not only provide a distinctive loci, but remind the visitor of an important aspect of human relationship either within the family or the society as a whole.  Dr. Tuck focused on an underlying theme of love and it is certainly an underlying thread in many of the images.   But depictions of power of those in authority over socially subordinate individuals and the consequences of defying authority is also present and in the strictly ordered society of late Republican and early Imperial Rome, this message to visiting clients would not be overlooked.

As a client enters the atrium, to the right he would see a panel depicting Zeus and Hera on Mount Ida.

Fresco depicting the wedding of Zeus and Hera in the atrium
of the House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
"Zeus persuades his modest bride to lift her veil and reveal her face, which she turns suggestively to the viewer.  This canonical scheme, seen in a metope from Hera's 5th century BCE Temple at Selinus, celebrates that liminal passage in a woman's life from invisibility to exposure, virginity to marriage." - Bettina Bergmann, The Roman House as Memory Theater

Bergmann refers to various interpretations of the Iliad for this example.  From a client's perspective, though, the marriage could represent a metaphorical one between the client and the patron.  Furthermore the lifting of the veil could represent the need for complete disclosure between the client and patron as a necessary foundation for trust.

Next, the client would see a painting of Achilles sitting before his tent after he reluctantly releases his concubine, Briseis, to Patroclus, who leads her away to the tent of Agamemnon.  Briseis, too, turns her glance back toward the viewer as she holds up her veil to dry a tear.  To a client, this could remind him that sacrifices may have to be made but the patron has the right to expect this.

Fresco depicting The Greek hero Achilles surrounding his captive
prize Briseis to Patroclus who prepares to take her to King Agamemnon.
Image from the House of the Tragic Poet courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The third panel depicts Helen, also unveiled, boarding a ship that will take her from her homeland to Troy where strife and heartache await.  Again a client is reminded of the degree of sacrifice and obedience to which a patron is entitled.

Fresco depicting Helen boarding a ship
for Troy in the atrium of the House of
the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  Image
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Once the client is called into the tablinum they find a scene of Alcestis hearing the news that her husband Admetus may be spared death if another dies in his place.  In the myth, the wife offers herself instead.  Obviously, a client-patron relationship in this period of Rome is to be taken very seriously and a client may need to be willing to throw himself under the chariot, so to speak, to save his patron.

Fresco of Alcestis hearing the news that her husband Admetus
will be spared if someone (her) dies in his place from the
House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  Image courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
The famous mosaic of  actors preparing to present a tragic satyr play stares up at the client from the floor.  The elderly choragos could again represent the patron who is instructing a flute player and two actors dressed in goatskin loincloths, representatives of the clients who are presenting themselves for their daily assignment.  I also think of this mosaic as reminding clients that they all have their parts to play (Even though Shakespeare was born many centuries later!)

Mosaic depicting the choregos and tragic actors from the tablinum in the
House of the Tragic Poet in Pompeii.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Of course all of my speculation is based on the viewpoint of a client visiting the patron which occurred every morning during the salutatio. But the underlying messages of respect for authority, obedience and sacrifice would apply even to the patron's visiting friends and peers since all would be considered in service to Rome. In her treatise, Bergmann offers all kinds of alternate suggestions based on image groupings from different angles that you may find interesting as well.

One image that gave Dr. Tuck pause to explain its connections to all the others from a viewpoint of love as the predominant theme is the image depicting the sacrifice of Iphigenia that adorns a small space of the peristyle diagonally across from the lararium.  I think it is actually the ultimate expression of love in the entire house, though.  In a Roman world of patron and client relationships and the exercising the role of pater familias, who has the power of life and death even over family members, I think this image served to remind the patron each morning after he sacrificed to his ancestors and household gods and turned to enter the tablinum, not to allow the heady intoxication of power and ambition lead him to sacrifice the most important people in his life or there would be dire consequences (like there was for Agamemnon!) - serving the purpose very much like the slave who rides with the triumphator in the triumphal chariot whispering, "remember, thou art mortal".

The sacrifice of Iphigenia found in a vestibule of the peristyle adjacent to
the triclinium.  I think this image would have reminded the patron of the
dire consequences of placing ambition above love for his familias.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


I highly recommend that you read Bettina Bergmann's paper as it is not only interesting but has beautiful illustrations of the various reconstructed spaces within the House of the Tragic Poet.  I also recommend Dr. Steven Tuck's lecture series "Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City" available through The Great Courses.

The famous Cave Canem Mosaic at the entrance to the House of the Tragic
Poet.  Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. 
The House of the Tragic Poet wasn't the only one with a
"Cave Canem" mosaic in the entryway.  Here's another
one I found in Pompeii in 2005.  Photograph by
 © 2005
One last note:  Dr. Tuck said Petronius made particular fun of the fact that the nouveau riche house in the Satyricon had a "Beware of Dog" mosaic at its entrance just like the House of the Tragic Poet. Petronius pointed out that it was totally ridiculous because all Roman houses have their door opened to the public during the day with, theoretically, all comers welcome.  I think the mosaic served as a subtle and very practical reminder to those who might be contemplating entering the home to do harm that, although the door is open, the house is guarded, whether literally or metaphorically - sort of the modern equivalent of posting a "Beware of Dog" sign even when you don't own one.  It makes perfect sense to me but, of course, I have never been designated as someone's arbiter of taste!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome by Ben Kane

A history resource article by  © 2014


It's been a busy summer but I finally finished the first book in bestselling author Ben Kane's series about the Hannibalic Wars entitled "Hannibal: Enemy of Rome".  As in his popular "The Forgotten Legion", Kane has used young men on the cusp of manhood as his primary characters.

We first meet Hanno, a young Carthaginian who hopes to become a soldier like his father, Malchus, once was.  Now, Malchus serves on the council in Carthage and, although Malchus drags Hanno to the council meetings so he may learn statecraft, Hanno finds the meetings a bore and prefers to skip out and go fishing with his best friend, Suniaton, the son of a high priest.

We also briefly meet Hanno's two older brothers, Sapho and Bostar who presently serve as officers in the Carthaginian army.  We discover that Sapho, the eldest, is jealous of Bostar because Bostar has been promoted above him because of Bostar's superior tactical acumen.  Sapho's jealousy also extends to a lesser degree to Hanno, who, as the youngest, has captured his father's heart after the death of Hanno's mother.

A painting of the intricate harbor and ancient city of Carthage.  Image
courtesy of the Carthage Archaeological Museum, Tunis, Tunisia.
Kane provides a vivid description of the capital of Carthage, still majestic even after suffering defeat at the hands of the Romans in the First Punic War.  But all is not well as Carthage and Rome have once more butted heads in Iberia where Carthage has conquered most of the peninsula and the town of Saguntum, fearful of the growing Carthaginian presence in the region, has appealed to Rome for help.

Malchus supports the Barca family and clearly expects Hannibal, the senior Barca commander, to exact "payback" from the Romans for their past offenses to Carthage.

Meanwhile, Hanno and Suniaton hear of a large run of tunny (tuna), and can't resist trying their luck so they can earn a little spending money.  They set off in a small boat that they soon fill with fish.  Suniaton has pilfered a bottle of wine from his father's wine cellar and they decide to celebrate their good luck.  Soon they fall asleep in the warm sun so do not see an approaching storm.  When the violence of the storm finally awakens them they find they have been swept far out to sea and cannot see the outline of Carthage in any direction.  As they were only on an afternoon outing they have no supplies and soon are famished from thirst and hunger.  Finally they see a ship on the horizon and think they are saved.  But the ship is manned by pirates who see the two boys as nothing more than slaves that can be sold for a profit.

To make matters worse, a patrol ship makes the pirate captain decide to avoid Sicily and steer to Italy instead.  When the ship arrives in Italy the two boys are marched off towards Capua where it is hoped they will be sold to a gladiator school.

But Hanno is purchased by a Roman equestrian family that runs a farm near Capua instead.  Then we meet Quintus and Aurelia, the son and daughter of Fabricius, once a Roman cavalry officer and now a landowner who raises grain and livestock.

A Roman villa rustica excavated near the ancient town of Boscoreale
north of Naples, Italy
.  Photo by  © 2007.
Now we find out what Roman life is like for this semi-retired military veteran and his family. I really like the way Kane gives us thorough backgrounds on all of these characters so we have a solid understanding of the similarities and differences that separate the two cultures.

Hanno and Quintus who are almost the same age become friends and as the plot unfolds, each saves the other's life, making their bond even stronger.

In the meantime, since Rome does not send assistance, Saguntum subsequently falls to Hannibal's forces. So talk of war with Carthage soon dominates the conversations at the villa.  Quintus begins cavalry training and Quintus' father, Fabricius is soon ordered to join Roman forces in southern Gaul marching towards Iberia where the Romans plan to confront Hannibal.

With Fabricius gone, the villa overseer, who lost his wife and children to Carthaginians on Sicily and harbors hatred for Hanno, attempts to drag Hanno away to Capua where he plans to sell the youth to the lanista at the gladiator school for an arranged fight to the death with Hanno's friend Suniaton.  But I don't want to give away much more of the plot so you'll have to read it for yourselves to find out what happens.

Remains of the amphitheater at Capua.  Image courtesy of
Flickr user .
Eventually, Hanno and Quintus both end up serving in their respective armies after Hannibal successfully crosses the Alps and the two armies end up camped across the Trebia River from each other.
Having studied the Second Punic War to some extent, I was wondering how Quintus and his father were going to escape the slaughter that I knew was about to befall them.  Kane does such a good job of characterization that at this point in the book I cared about both the Carthaginian family and the Roman family equally.

The climactic battle sequence was nothing short of breathtaking.  What I liked the most was Kane's description of the scenes and terror each character saw around them and felt as the epic struggle unfolded - Hanno and his father fighting with the Libyan spearmen near the center of the Carthaginian line while Quintus and his father struggled with the Roman cavalry on the flanks.

The Gauls, who had been previously allied with the Romans, joined Hannibal at the Battle of the Trebia River and were placed at the Carthaginian center.  Although fierce, the Gauls could not hold back the disciplined Roman legionaries who fought through the center then retreated back to Placentia (Modern day Piacenza).  Image courtesy of Total War: Rome II by .
I appreciate the fact that Kane does not attempt to "take sides" on the historical controversy over whether Scipio tried to warn Sempronius Longus against the ill-fated attack or not.  Polybius claims he did but many scholars look askance at this report since Polybius and the Scipios were closely allied.  These scholars also point to the reported number of Roman troops involved in the engagement as problematic.  Livy records there were 18,000 Romans and 20,000 Italic allies involved.  Polybius claims there were 16,000 Romans and 20,000 Italic allies.

"The numbers stated to have fought the battle are problematic: a combined Roman army should have had 5 legions of 20,000 men and all 30,000 allies authorized by the Senate and yet if the armies were not combined Sempronius should have had only two legions of 8,000 men. One answer is that Scipio gave up two legions and kept one and 20,000 auxiliaries in his own camp as a reserve. Livy seems to think that Scipio's wound gave the entire authority to Sempronius, but immediately after the battle Scipio commanded an army marching from his camp to Placentia. If Scipio could command after the battle then he was not so incapacitated as to be removed from command before it. Both authors agreed that the two consuls had sharp differences of opinion and that Sempronius acted on his own." 
"It is possible that the authors doubled the number of Roman legions fighting the battle and that Sempronius had only 8,000 or 9,000 Roman infantry. The authors both relate, however, that a mass of 10,000 men broke out of the Carthaginian encirclement and fell back on Placentia. Tiberius apparently did have more than two legions. Scipio argues in the story that Sempronius' men needed the winter to train, suggesting that on the way to north Italy Sempronius may have raised two more legions of recruits, throwing them into battle under difficult physical circumstances against expert advice without training. There is no mention of any such events, however." 
"Yet another hypothesis for reconciling the numbers cited by Livy for combined strength of the two consular armies and the actual number of participants in the battle of the Trebia would be that Sempronius detached part of his allied contingents for garrison duty on Sicily and for naval service with Marcus Aemilius and Sextus Pomponius. Some allowance should also be made for non-combat losses. The strength of this hypothesis lies in the maximum use of ancient evidence." - The Battle of the Trebia, Wikipedia
Since this crucial bit of evidence relies on theory rather than certainty, Kane's decision to sidestep the issue was certainly reasonable.  He does, however, relay to us the impatience expressed by the troops themselves over Scipio's apparent hesitance to act while recuperating from his wounds.

A beautiful 17th century ivory rendering of Scipio fighting Hannibal by  currently on display at the royal castle in Warsaw, Poland. This is probably a depiction of the Battle of Zama where Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal. Publius Cornelius Scipio (the elder) lost to Hannibal at the battle of the Ticinus River but that was primarily a cavalry engagement and war elephants were not involved.  This work has also been called Alexander's defeat of Porus.  Image courtesy of S.F. Burgerer via Wikimedia Commons.  Digitally enhanced by Mary Harrsch.
I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this exciting trilogy.  The only criticism I would have is that the title makes it sound like the book is about Hannibal himself.  Although the key events in the latter part of the book are the result of Hannibal's orders, Hannibal himself appears only infrequently in the narrative.  It perhaps would have been somewhat more accurate to name the series "The Hannibalic Wars" with the subtitle "Enemy of Rome" (Book One).  But I can certainly understand the choice of title from a marketing perspective since some people may not actually make the connection between "Hannibalic Wars" and Hannibal.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review: Wolves Of The North by Harry Sidebottom

A history resource article by  © 2014

In Book Five of Dr. Harry Sidebottom's best-selling series, we find my favorite "Warrior of Rome", Marcus Claudius Ballista venturing even further north into the Asian steppe on a mission to deflect a potential alliance between the various tribes living there and the Persian Empire.  Ballista is stIll on tenuous terms with the Roman emperor Gallienus since Ballista was briefly forced to don the purple after the events in book 3, "Lion of the Sun".  But, his old friend has continued to avoid ordering Ballista's execution despite pressure from advisors in the emperor's concilium.  But, Ballista has other problems plaguing his faithful little band.  Even he is concerned about the curse called down upon him by one of the barbarian priestesses he refused to "marry" in Book 4, "The Caspian Gates" and now members of his column are being found murdered and horribly mutilated.

I read that Dr. Sidebottom had become interested in branching out to murder mysteries and it is reflected by this subplot.

Ballista's mission to attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with the fierce Heruli, notoriously known as eaters of flesh, is viewed as nearly impossible and the murders up the ante considerably.  So the tension in this novel is pretty much non-stop.  



A 54mm figurine of a 3rd century Alamanni
Warrior who attacks Ballista and his allied
Heruli.  Image courtesy of Planetfigure.com.

Dr. Sidebottom immerses both Ballista and his readers in the culture of the Heruli as described by 6th century historian, Procopius.  In his author's notes he admits that Procopius was hardly objective about these Germanic peoples but Dr. Sidebottom had few other sources to rely on.  He then assumed the Heruli also assimilated cultural practices from other tribes with which they came into contact - cannabis use from the Scythians, wife sharing from the Agathyrsi (both attested to by Herodotus) and scapulimancy (divination by the study of a mammal's scapula - shoulder blade - that has been heated in a fire) and cranial deformation practiced by the Huns.

When Dr. Sidebottom first described the Heruli' s cranial deformation I was surprised as I had not studied the Huns in depth so associated cranial deformation with New World cultures like the Maya, especially since I have photographed a number of Pre- Colombian artifacts depicting individuals with apparently deformed skulls.  But when I researched this practice further, I learned that archaeologists have found a Neanderthal skull with evidence of intentional deformation dating back 45,000 years.  


The earliest written record of cranial deformation dates to 400 BC in Hippocrates' description of the Macrocephali or Long-heads, who were named for their practice of cranial modification. 
In the Old WorldHuns and Alans are also known to have practised similar cranial deformation. In Late Antiquity (AD 300-600), the East Germanic tribes who were ruled by the Huns, adopted this custom (GepidsOstrogothsHeruliRugii and Burgundians). In western Germanic tribes, artificial skull deformations have rarely been found. In the Americas the MayaInca, and certain tribes of North American natives performed the custom. In North America the practice was especially known among the Chinookan tribes of the Northwest and the Choctaw of the Southeast. The Native American group known as the Flathead did not in fact practise head flattening, but were named as such in contrast to other Salishan people who used skull modification to make the head appear rounder. However, other tribes, including the Choctaw,Chehalis, and Nooksack Indians, did practise head flattening by strapping the infant's head to acradleboard. The Lucayan people of the Bahamas practised it. The practice was also known among the Australian Aborigines. -Wikipedia
This elongated Allamani skull is an example of cranial
deformation.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Apparently. Germanic deformation has been confirmed archaeologically by remains found in a burial discovered in Austria. Anyway, I thought this vibrant culture provided a fascinating context for the novel's events.

Another fascinating aspect of the book is one of the characters practices physiognomy.  Physiognomy is the assessment of a person's character based upon his physical attributes, particularly the structure of their face. It is thought to have been formalized by Greek philosophers of the 5th century BCE Athens.  It gained widespread acceptance among philosophers of the 4th century BCE and was even embraced to some degree by Aristotle.

It is possible to infer character from features, if it is granted that the body and the soul are changed together by the natural affections: I say "natural", for though perhaps by learning music a man has made some change in his soul, this is not one of those affections natural to us; rather I refer to passions and desires when I speak of natural emotions. If then this were granted and also that for each change there is a corresponding sign, and we could state the affection and sign proper to each kind of animal, we shall be able to infer character from features.  — Aristotle, Prior Analytics 2.27 (Trans. A. J. Jenkinson)



The oldest extant work about physiognomy
was written by Aristotle.  Photographed at the
Palazzo Altemps in Rome, Italy by
 © 2009
So it was interesting to read what the book's practitioner inferred from the physical appearance of those around him.
As for Ballista himself we are now in fictional territory since he disappeared from the historical record after the battles with the Persians and Roman usurpers portrayed in "Lion of the Sun".  Although he is struggling a bit with getting older, he is still the courageous warrior I first admired in "Fire In The East".  I fear my time with him is drawing to a close, though, as death seems to be circling his familia. I've alway had a hard time saying "goodbye" and it will be especially hard this time after journeying with Ballista through so many adventures. I guess I'll find out if he finally meets his end as I've already purchased Book Six, "The Amber Road."


Monday, June 30, 2014

Anthropomancy and other slanders against Julian the Apostate

A history resource article by  © 2014

Today, I read a review of Terry Deary's latest book "Dangerous Days in the Roman Empire" and was appalled by his apparent support of claims that the ancient Romans regularly engaged in anthropomancy, the foretelling of the future by the examination of the entrails of human sacrifices.  Deary gained notoriety for his "Horrible Histories" series for children. The books were later the basis for a BBC television series. (I tried to watch an episode of the television series once and found it so sensationalistic and lacking in historical accuracy (in my opinion) I couldn't even bother to finish it - and yes, I'm sorry to say the BBC is not immune from the production of inaccurate documentaries).

Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarians, by Edward Armitage, 1875
Anyway, I was curious as to why Deary would include such misinformation and what sources may have misled him.  So I did a search on anthropomancy +Roman and found a reference to the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate and anthropomancy.

The online "Occultopedia" claims Julian engaged in macabre moonlight rituals in which large numbers of children were sacrificed so he could study the movement in their entrails.  Of course no ancient sources are provided for this citation.  The article goes on to claim just before Julian's fatal encounter with the Persians at the Battle of Samarra, Julian secreted himself into the Temple of the Moon at Carra.  When called unexpectedly back to battle, he locked the temple behind him. Later, after his death, the temple was reopened and a woman with her liver torn out was found hanging by her hair.  Again, no ancient sources were provided.

19th century agnostic and orator
Robert Green Ingersoll.
 
So where did these charges originate?  Well, I found a citation by 19th century agnostic Robert Green Ingresoll that references such reports and attributes them to two of Julian's enemies (and so-called Fathers of the Church), Gregory and Theodoret.  But Ingresoll wisely takes into context the political and theologically-charged environment of the empire at the time and professes his belief in their lack of credibility:

"They say that the Emperor Julian [AD 331-363] was an "apostate"; that he was once a Christian; that he fell from grace, and that in his last moments, throwing some of his own blood into the air, he cried out to Jesus Christ, "Galilean, thou hast conquered!" 
It must be remembered that the Christians had persecuted and imprisoned this very Julian; that they had exiled him; that they had threatened him with death. Many of his relatives were murdered by the Christians. He became emperor, and Christians conspired to take his life. The conspirators were discovered and they were pardoned. He did what he could to prevent the Christians from destroying each other. He held pomp and pride and luxury in contempt, and led his army on foot, sharing the privations of the meanest soldier. 
Upon ascending the throne he published an edict proclaiming universal religious toleration. He was then a Pagan. It is claimed by some that he never did entirely forget his Christian education. In this I am inclined to think there is some truth, because he revoked his edict of toleration, and for a time was nearly as unjust as though he had been a saint. He was emperor one year and seven months. In a battle with the Persians he was mortally wounded. "Brought back to his tent, and feeling that he had but a short time to live, he spent his last hours in discoursing with his friends on the immortality of the soul. He reviewed his reign and declared that he was satisfied with his conduct, and had neither penitence nor remorse to express for anything that he had done." His last words were: "I submit willingly to the eternal decrees of heaven, convinced that he who is captivated with life, when his last hour has arrived is more weak and pusillanimous than he who would rush to voluntary death when it is his duty still to live." 
Some early Christians attribute Julian's death to Saint
Mercurius, a converted Roman soldier executed by the
Roman emperor Decius during one of his religious persecutions.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
 When we remember that a Christian emperor murdered Julian's father and most of his kindred, and that he narrowly escaped the same fate, we can hardly blame him for having a little prejudice against a church whose members were fierce, ignorant, and bloody -- whose priests were hypocrites, and whose bishops were assassins. If Julian had said he was a Christian -- no matter what he actually was, he would have satisfied the church. 
The story that the dying emperor acknowledged that he was conquered by the Galilean was originated by some of the so-called Fathers of the Church, probably by Gregory or Theodoret. They are the same wretches who said that Julian sacrificed a woman to the moon, tearing out her entrails with his own hands. We are also informed by these hypocrites that he endeavored to rebuild the temple of Jerusalem, and that fire came out of the earth and consumed the laborers employed in the sacrilegious undertaking. 
I did not suppose that an intelligent man could be found in the world who believed this childish fable, and yet in the January number for 1880, of the Princeton Review, the Rev. Stuart Robinson (whoever he may be) distinctly certifies to the truth of this story. He says: "Throughout the entire era of the planting of the Christian Church, the gospel preached was assailed not only by the malignant fanaticism of the Jew and the violence of Roman statecraft, but also by the intellectual weapons of philosophers, wits, and poets. Now Celsus denounced the new religion as base imposture. Now Tacitus described it as but another phase of theodium generius humani. Now Julian proposed to bring into contempt the prophetic claims of its founder by the practical test of rebuilding the Temple." Here then in the year of grace 1880 is a Presbyterian preacher who really believes that Julian tried to rebuild the Temple, and that God caused fire to issue from the earth and consume the innocent workmen. 
All these stories rest upon the same foundation, the mendacity of [Christian] priests.
Julian changed the religion of the Empire, and diverted the revenues of the church. Whoever steps between a priest and his salary, will find that he has committed every crime. No matter how often the slanders may be refuted, they will be repeated until the last priest has lost his body and found his wings. These falsehoods about Julian were invented some fifteen hundred years ago, and they are repeated to-day by just as honest and just as respectable people as these who told them at first. Whenever the church cannot answer the arguments of an opponent, she attacks his character. She resorts to falsehood, and in the domain of calumny she has stood for fifteen hundred years without a rival. 
The great Empire was crumbling to its fall. The literature of the world was being destroyed by priests. The gods and goddesses were driven from the earth and sky. The paintings were torn and defaced. The statues were broken. The walls were left desolate, and the niches empty. Art, like Rachel, wept for her children, and would not be comforted. The streams and forests were deserted by the children of the imagination, and the whole earth was barren, poor and mean.
Christian ignorance, bigotry and hatred, in blind unreasoning zeal, had destroyed the treasures of our race. Art was abhorred, Knowledge was despised, Reason was an outcast. The sun was blotted from the intellectual heaven, every star extinguished, and there fell upon the world that shadow -- that midnight, known as "The Dark Ages." - Julian the Apostate by Robert Green Ingersoll
St. Gregory Nazianzen.
Image courtesy of
Wikipedia.
If one of the ancient sources was, in fact, Gregory Nazianzen, how credible would such a defaming report be by someone who stridently and publicly describes Julian as the public and private enemy of all in common?

"HEAR me all ye nations, give ear unto me all ye dwellers upon earth," for I am calling on you all, as it were, from a conspicuous and lofty watch-tower, with a cry both high and loud. Hear ye nations, tribes, tongues, every kind of men, and every age, as many as now are, and as many as shall be; and in order that my proclamation may be greater, every Power of heaven, all ye Angels, whose deed was the putting down of the tyrant, who have overthrown not Sihon, king of the Amorites, nor Og, king of Bashan -- insignificant princes, and injuring but a small part the land of Israel -- but the Dragon, the Apostate, the Great Mind, the Assyrian, the public and private enemy of all in common, him that has madly raged and threatened much upon earth, and that has spoken and meditated much unrighteousness against Heaven! " - Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 4: First Invective Against Julian

As for Theodoret of Cyrus, the fifth century Eusebian scholar was probably merely repeating stories promulgated by Gregory and, perhaps, Theodoret's knowledge that Julian was an initiate of the Eleusinian Mysteries (associated with mysterious nighttime rituals). Theodoret may have been further motivated by Gregory's possible association of Julian with the Assyrian Church of the East (at least one possible interpretation - note the reference to "the Assyrian" in Gregory's tirade above, although this could have been merely an ethnic slur as Julian was born in Constantinople - ancient Assyria, known for its martial brutality - but let's run with my alternate theory.)

The Assyrian Church of the East originally developed during the 1st century CE in the Mesopotamian Eastern Aramaic speaking regions of Assyria, Babylonia, and northwestern Persia (today's Iraq, southeast Turkey, northeast Syria and north western Iran.  It is considered an apostolic church founded by  the apostles St. Thomas (Mar Toma), St. Thaddeus (Mar Addai), and St. Bartholomew (Mar Bar Tulmay). Scholars of the church advanced the doctrine that Christ embodied two natures, one human and the other divine.  But this viewpoint (later referred to as Nestorianism) was later declared heretical and was one of many rejected by Theodoret and other followers of Eusebius of Caesarea who promoted Arian-like interpretations of the nature of Christ.  Ironically, though, Julian actually spent his early childhood with Eusebius of Nicomedia, also a strong supporter of Arianism.

Of course I must admit I realize a reference associating Julian with a Christian theology in the first place would be considered highly improbable, since Julian "The Apostate" is painted by history as the last "pagan" emperor.  Other scholars, though, have also found Julian's actual beliefs to be puzzling since he often appeared to be merely attempting to return the Empire to its former religiously tolerant state rather than promoting one religion over another.  Furthermore, Julian spent quite a bit of time in Mesopotamia and another scenario could have been that he at one point actively studied cultural beliefs of the region in anticipation of its conquest and this apparent interest was misinterpreted.  Sadly, our contemporary source material for the 4th and 5th centuries is woefully fragmented, so all we can do is speculate.

Anyway, I hope I have made my point about the folly of quoting sources (even ancient ones) without investigating the political context in which they were made and the relationship of the source with the target, especially if the information is defamatory in nature.  At least Ingersoll approached these sources with a scholar's healthy skepticism (although he obviously had his own axes to grind) rather than blindly repeating them as a sensational "fact" as Deary does in a book touted as "nonfiction".

Roman Archaeology Timeline