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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 October 2017

David Neal Greenwood
University of Aberdeen
E-mail address:


The rhetorical career of Libanius of Antioch (a.d. 314–c.393) spanned the reigns of a number of fourth-century emperors. Like many orators, he used the trope of the emperor as a pilot, steering the ship of state. He did this for his imperial exemplar Julian and in fact for his predecessor Constantius II as well. Julian sought to craft an identity for himself as a theocratic king. He and his supporters cast him as an earthly parallel to the Christ-like versions of Heracles and Asclepius he constructed, which was arguably a co-opting of Christian and particularly Constantinian themes. In a public oration, Julian even placed himself in the role of Christ in the Temptation in the Wilderness. This kind of overtly Christian metaphor was not Libanius’ preferred idiom, however, and he wrote of Julian as another kind of chosen and divine saviour-figure, one with its roots in the golden age of Greek philosophy. The figure of the κυβερνήτης, the ‘pilot’ or ‘helmsman’, is a philosophical concept with roots in the thought of the pre-Socratics but most familiar from Plato. The uses of this metaphor by Julian and Libanius highlight the rhetorical strategy and self-presentation the emperor employed during his reign.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 2017 

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The text of Plato's Politicus is from the edition of J. Burnet (Oxford, 1903); the text of Libanius’ Orations is from the edition of R. Foerster (Leipzig, 1904); the text and the numbering of Julian's works are from the Budé edition (Paris, 1924–1964), and the text of Synesius’ De Providentia is that of the Budé edition (Paris, 1978–2008). All translations are my own unless otherwise noted.


1 Greenwood, D.N., ‘Crafting divine personae in Julian's Oration 7’, CPh 109 (2014), 140–9Google Scholar; Greenwood, D.N., ‘Julian's use of Asclepius against the Christians’, HSPh 109 (forthcoming in 2018)Google Scholar. The Latinized spellings of Greek names here will hopefully be familiar to the widest range of readers.

2 Greenwood, D.N., ‘A pagan emperor's appropriation of Matthew's Gospel’, The Expository Times 125 (2014), 593–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar, comparing Julian, Or. 7 229c–233d (To the Cynic Heracleios) and Matthew 3.7–4.10.

3 See LSJ s.v. κυβερνήτης. The use of this term in the two works most relevant here are Plt. 272e4, 296e4, 297e11, 273c3; Resp. 332e2, 332e9, 333c3, 341c9, 341d2, 342d9, 349e2–3, 360e7, 389c4, 397e5, 488d4, 489b6.

4 Brock, R., Greek Political Imagery from Homer to Aristotle (London and New York, 2013), 56 Google Scholar.

5 Lib. Or. 13.14; for an estimation of pagan support for Julian's religious revival, see also Greenwood, D.N., ‘Five Latin inscriptions from Julian's pagan restoration’, BICS 57 (2014), 101–19Google Scholar.

6 Wiemer, H.-U., Libanios und Julian (Munich, 1995), 39 Google Scholar; Jones, A.H.M. et al. , Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire Volume 1 a.d. 260–395 (Cambridge, 1971), 505 Google Scholar; cf. Lib. Or. 1.51. Julian entered Antioch during the festival of Adonis: Amm. Marc. 22.9.15; Seeck, O., Regesten der Kaiser und Päpste für die Jahre 311 bis 476 n. Chr. (Stuttgart, 1919), 210 Google Scholar.

7 Julian, Ep. 96.374d, 97.382c.

8 Norman, A.F. (ed.), Libanius, Selected Works, vol. 1: The Julianic Orations (Cambridge, Mass., 1969), 36 Google Scholar.

9 Van Hoof, L. and Van Nuffelen, P., ‘Monarchy and mass communication: Antioch a.d. 362/3 revisited,’ JRS 101 (2011), 166–84Google Scholar.

10 Amm. Marc. 22.13.14; Lib. Or. 18.195.

11 Julian admitted that the shortage was exacerbated by the mass of troops he brought with him: Or. 12.370b (Misopogon).

12 Amm. Marc. 22.14.2; Lib. Or. 1.126, 16.21.

13 Julian, Or. 12.368d, 12.369d–370a (Misopogon); Liebeschuetz, J.H.W.G., Antioch: City and Imperial Administration in the Later Roman Empire (Oxford, 1972), 130 Google Scholar.

14 Julian, Or. 12.369a–b (Misopogon).

15 Amm. Marc. 22.12.8; Rufinus 10.36; Theodoret 3.6.

16 Amm. Marc. 22.13.1–3; Julian, Or. 12.361b (Misopogon); Theodoret 3.12.1; cf. Mayer, W. and Allen, P., The Churches of Syrian Antioch (300–638 CE) (Leuven, 2012), 77 Google Scholar.

17 Wiemer (n. 6), 162–4.

18 Cribiore, R., Libanius the Sophist: Rhetoric, Reality, and Religion in the Fourth Century (Ithaca and London, 2013), 217 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Zeus Hypatos is a standard Homeric epithet, originally referring to elevation, but note the explicit comparison Libanius makes between Julian and Zeus in Or. 13.47 (see p. 611 below and n. 27).

19 Campbell, L. (ed.), The Sophistes and Politicus of Plato (Oxford, 1867), i Google Scholar.

20 See also discussion of this passage in Lane, M.S., Method and Politics in Plato's Statesman (Cambridge, 1998), 102–3CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Cornford, F.M., Plato's Cosmology (London, 1937), 207 Google Scholar.

21 Dillon, J., ‘The theology of Julian's Hymn to King Helios’, Itaca 14–15 (1995), 103–15Google Scholar.

22 Amm. Marc. 22.9.14; Matthews, J., The Roman Empire of Ammianus (London, 1989), 108 Google Scholar, contra Seeck (n. 6), 210. Julian later looked back on his initial optimism and generous treatment of the city, recalling his plans to make Antioch ‘greater and more powerful’. Julian, Or. 12 367c–d (Misopogon); cf. Gleason, M., ‘Festive satire: Julian's Misopogon and the New Year at Antioch’, JRS 76 (1986), 106–19Google Scholar.

23 Compare the parallel at Julian, Or. 7 229d (To the Cynic Heracleios); cf. Greenwood (n. 1 [2014]), 142. Julian's Or. 7 is treated in detail in section III of this paper.

24 While it does not affect Libanius’ use of Julian's nautical metaphor, the possibility exists that this refers back to Julian's travails in the purge of 337. Wiemer (n. 6), 89 regards this passage as an allegorical retelling of Eusebia's rescue of Julian following Constantius’ execution of Julian's half-brother Gallus. While Wiemer is correct that Libanius generally follows the chronological sequence in Julian's life from beginning his studies in 340/341 (13.9) to going to Athens in 354 (13.18), I believe that Libanius’ non-chronological parallel with Julian's Or. 7 at 13.11 leaves both possibilities open.

25 Wiemer (n. 6), 101.

26 Although Libanius used this term elsewhere in a different sense, his use in this context and in parallel with Julian's turns as the son of God, respectively Heracles, Asclepius and Christ (see nn. 1 and 2), strengthens the Platonic connection.

27 Described similarly in Plato's myth, which Kahn, C.H., ‘The myth of the Statesman’, in Partenie, C. (ed.), Plato's Myths (Cambridge, 2009), 206–38Google Scholar describes as the true statesman being more divine than human.

28 Wiemer (n. 6), 111.

29 Eusebius cast Constantine as a Mosaic saviour-figure in Vit. Const. 1.3.17, 1.12.2, 1.20.2, 1.27.2–3, 1.18.1–2, 1.31.3; cf. Cameron, A. and Hall, S. (transl.), Eusebius, Life of Constantine (Oxford and New York, 1999), 35–8Google Scholar, and as an earthly Christ-figure in De Laud. 2.2–5, 3.4, 6.9, 7.13; cf. Drake, H. (transl.), Eusebius, In Praise of Constantine: A Historical Study and New Translation of Eusebius’ Tricennial Orations (Berkeley, 1976), 75 Google Scholar. For that matter, this was not unlike Ptolemy's title Πτολεμαῖος Σωτήρ, or Augustus’ diui filius.

30 Glover, T.R., Life and Letters in the Fourth Century (Cambridge, 1901), 58 Google Scholar.

31 While admittedly Synesius post-dates Julian (born 370), this highlights the trend in Neoplatonic thought.

32 Cf. Or. 7 To the Cynic Heracleios; Or. 8 Hymn to the Mother of the Gods; Or. 11 Hymn to King Helios.

33 Dillon (n. 21), 103–15; Smith, A., ‘Julian's hymn to King Helios: the economical use of complex Neoplatonic concepts’, in Baker-Brian, N. and Tougher, S. (edd.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Swansea, 2012), 229–35Google Scholar. de Vita, M. Carmen, ‘ Philosophiae magister: Giuliano interprete di Platone’, Atti Accademia Pontaniana, Napoli 51 (2012), 97109, at 106Google Scholar cautions that, although Julian was unique as a ‘philosopher militant’, he was not, properly speaking, a philosopher.

34 Julian, Ep. 8.441c; Ep. 80.

35 Bouffartigue, J., L'Empereur Julien et la culture de son temps (Paris, 1992), 170 Google Scholar.

36 E.g. Price, S., Rituals and Power: The Roman Imperial Cult in Asia Minor (Cambridge, 1984)Google Scholar; Gradel, I., Emperor Worship and Roman Religion (Oxford, 2002)Google Scholar; Ando, C., The Matter of the Gods: Religion and the Roman Empire (Berkeley, 2008)Google Scholar. Although Julian initially rebutted divine rulership in his Ep. Them., Themistius’ response addressed those points in a way that Julian seems to have taken on board by the time of his Or. 3 (see p. 611 below).

37 Hopkins, K., Conquerors and Slaves: Sociological Studies in Roman History (Cambridge, 1978), 242 Google Scholar.

38 Athanassiadi-Fowden, P., Julian and Hellenism: An Intellectual Biography (Oxford, 1981)Google Scholar; reprinted with new introduction as Julian: An Intellectual Biography (London, 1992)Google Scholar; the citation is from page 113 of the reprinted edition.

39 While there is no consensus regarding dating, scholarship largely supports the occasion being Julian's becoming Caesar in 355; e.g. Bradbury, S., ‘The date of Julian's Letter to Themistius ’, GRBS 28 (1987), 235–51Google Scholar, Bouffartigue, J., ‘La lettre de Julien à Thémistios: histoire d'une fausse manœuvre et d'un désaccord essentiel’, in Galvez, A. Gonzalez and Malosse, P.-L. (edd.), Mélanges A.F. Norman (Topoi Suppl. 7) (Lyon, 2006), 113–38, at 120–7Google Scholar; Swain, S., Themistius, Julian, and Greek Political Theory under Rome: Texts, Translations, and Studies of Four Key Works (Cambridge and New York, 2013), 56–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Barnes, T.D. and Vanderspoel, J., ‘Julian and Themistius’, GRBS 22 (1981), 187–9Google Scholar and Brauch, T., ‘Themistius and the Emperor Julian’, Byzantion 63 (1993), 79–115, at 85–8Google Scholar suggest that it was written at that time but published in 361, when Julian became sole Augustus in 361. Others, such as Criscuolo, U., ‘Sull’ epistola di Giuliano imperatore al filosofo Temistio’, Koinonia 7 (1983), 89–111, at 91Google Scholar, argue for both writing and publication in 361.

40 Julian, Or. 6.259a, 6.260d (To Themistius).

41 E.g. Bouffartigue (n. 35), 127–8, 136–7.

42 Themistius, Risāla 1.82.2–2.84.15; cf. Croissant, J., ‘Un nouveau discours de Thémistius’, in Serta Leodiensia (Bibliothèque de la faculté de philosophie et lettres de l'université de Liège 44) (Liège and Paris, 1930), 730 Google Scholar; Watt, J., ‘Julian's Letter to Themistius – and Themistius’ response?’, in Baker-Brian, N. and Tougher, S. (edd.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Swansea, 2012), 91103, at 97Google Scholar; and see now the edition of Swain (n. 39).

43 Drake, H., ‘“But I digress …”: rhetoric and propaganda in Julian's second oration to Constantius’, in Baker-Brian, N. and Tougher, S. (edd.), Emperor and Author: The Writings of Julian the Apostate (Swansea, 2012), 35–46, at 41–2Google Scholar; cf. Athanassiadi-Fowden (n. 38), 66, who describes Julian's work as a ‘panegyric of his own deeds’. It must be dated after the lowland campaigns mentioned, but probably before the end of the peace with Persia (56b, 66d), suggesting to me summer 358; cf. Drake (this note), 39. Curta, F., ‘Atticism, Homer, Neoplatonism, and Fürstenspiegel: Julian's second panegyric on Constantius’, GRBS 36 (1995), 177–211, at 196Google Scholar argues for a date as late as 360.

44 Or. 3 97d, 100d (The Heroic Deeds of Constantius, or On Kingship).

45 While some might see this epithet as too ubiquitous to be significant, it is surely important that Julian's uncle Constantine, whom Julian reacted against so resolutely, was written about so much in this vein: e.g. ‘the sovereign dear to God, in imitation of the higher power, directs the helm and sets straight all things on earth’, Euseb. De laudibus Constantini 1.6 (transl. Drake); cf. Euseb. Vit. Const. 1.1.6, 3.1.8, 3.49.

46 For analysis of the manipulated acclamation, see Müller-Seidl, I., ‘Die Usurpation Julians des Abtrünnigen im Lichte seiner Germanenpolitik’, HZ 180 (1955), 225–44, at 241–4Google Scholar; Rosen, K., ‘Beobachtungen zur Ehrebung Julians 360–361 n. Chr.’, AClass 12 (1969), 121–49Google Scholar.

47 Lib. Or. 18.157 (Funeral Oration over Julian) places the composition of Julian's Or. 7 at the same time as his Or. 8 To the Mother of the Gods, in which Julian's statement at 161c dates that work to the festival of Cybele in March 362.

48 Julian, Or. 7.219d–220a, 7.228d–229a, 7.229c–230a (To the Cynic Heracleios). For dating, see Rochefort, G. (ed.), L'empereur Julien. Œuvres complètes, vol. 2.1 (Paris, 1963), 36 Google Scholar; Smith, R.B.E., Julian's Gods: Religion and Philosophy in the Thought and Action of Julian the Apostate (London, 1995), 89 Google Scholar; Guido, R. (ed.), Giuliano l'Apostate: al cinico Eraclio (Galatina, 2000), viii Google Scholar.

49 Julian, Or. 7.234a–b (To the Cynic Heracleios); cf. Athanassiadi-Fowden (n. 38), 172, 174; Glazov, G., The Bridling of the Tongue and the Opening of the Mouth in Biblical Prophecy (Sheffield, 2001), 107–8Google Scholar.

50 Julian, Ep. 30; Bidez, J. (ed.), L'empereur Julien. Œuvres completes, tom. 1, part. 2, Lettres et Fragments (Paris, 1924), 35 Google Scholar. Bidez, J. and Cumont, F. (edd.), Iuliani epistulae leges poemata fragmenta varia (Oxford and Paris, 1922)Google Scholar, v note that Libanius was a likely candidate for editor of Julian's letters.

51 ‘Those at anchor’ is, of course, literally ‘those not sailing’, but that makes for a rather confusing translation.

52 Athanassiadi-Fowden (n. 38), 185; Bidez, J., La vie de l'empereur Julien (Paris, 1930), 267 Google Scholar. As Christianity had offered an alternate respectable career, so Julian took the opportunity to offer the same patronage to Neoplatonists.

53 Julian, Ep. 30, 89a.452d, 89a.452a, 89b.298b; cf. Jones et al. (n. 6), 897 s.v. Theodorus 8.

54 Julian, Or. 7.229c, 7.232d (To the Cynic Heracleios); Or. 10.336a (Caesares); Or. 11.157a (Hymn to King Helios).

55 Lib. Or. 13.11, 12.28, 18.87; Eunapius, frr. 28.5, 28.6 Blockley; cf. Athanassiadi-Fowden (n. 38), 168.

56 Julian, Or. 11.144b, 11.153b (Hymn to King Helios); Against the Galilaeans 200a–b; a concept that Libanius reflected back in his language of Julian as ‘healer’, Or. 15.69, 17.36, 18.124–5, 18.281; cf. Greenwood (n. 1 [forthcoming]).

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