The Praise of the Emperor Julian the Apostate

The Praise of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, second and last paradox included in Essayes or rather, Encomions, prayses of sadnesse: and of the emperour Iulian the Apostata. By Sir William Cornewallis, the younger knight, is a complex text full of numerous references to classical sources.

Divided into three different sections, it is considered by critics “a rather complex imitation of both Julian’s literary forays into satire, the Misopogon and the Caesares” (Poole, 174). The text opens on a traditional praise: Cornwallis admits his awareness of the general opinion about the subject he discusses – “he was an ill man, that was his loss, but this ill was only ill at the journey’s end; for most of his actions were good here, and had been good for ever, if they had not served an ill master” (ll. 73-7) – and then continues his argumentation with a few biographical references taken from Petrus Martinius Morentinus Navarrus’s 1566 Praefatio to Julian’s Misopogon and quotations from the Latin text. Cornwallis addresses some of Julian’s features such as his temperance, chastity, valour and prudence; amongst his vices, he covers his inconstancy, ill directed knowledge and ambition. In doing so, he also references other classical authors such as Ovid (citing his Ars Amatoria) and Tacitus (bringing extracts from his Annales).

For the second and third part of the paradox, titled “Julian’s Dialogue of the Caesars” and “Comparison between Alexander and Caesar”, Cornwallis’s main source is clearly Julian’s own satirical work The Caesars: according to his opinion, the best means to know a man is to become familiar with written works about him, either authored by him or by historians. In Julian’s text, Romulus invites to a feast his successors, who at their entrance are judged about their virtues and faults by Silenus, Jupiter’s jester. In his paradox, Cornwallis examines Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Severus, Macrinus and Severus Alexander, and includes Latin quotes from Julian’s The Caesars, Cassius Dio’s Roman History and Herodian’s Roman History as evidences of his assertions about them. In the last section, Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great are compared with regard to their faults, vices, rise to power, military conquests and relationship with both their enemies and their soldiers, before Augustus, Trajan and Marcus Aurelius speak again to defend their own actions. Besides the already mentioned classical sources, Cornwallis draws quotes from Suetonius’s De Vita Caesarum (also known as The Twelve Caesars), Quintus Curtius Rufus’s Historiae Alexandri Magni, John Xiphilinus’s epitome of Cassius Dio’s Roman History, Petronius’ Satyricon and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations translated into English by Wilhelm Xylander in 1558.


Works Cited

Poole, William (2016), “John Milton and the Beard-Hater: encounters with Julian the Apostate”, The Seventeenth Century 31 (2), 161-89.