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Enjoyable light reading, but better works are out there...
on 10 September 2013
'The Last Pagan' is an enjoyable enough, though lightweight, canter through the life of Julian. What put me off at first was the Italian Renaissance cover, which looks nothing like Julian: surely a sculpture or coin portrait would have been better (and bearded)?
The text will give the general reader a decent enough overview of his reign, but I think Murdoch takes on trust a few things which I would question. Rather than being infatuated with Eusebia, I suspect Julian writing flatteringly of her was a way of keeping in with her husband - the cousin/brother-in-law who was responsible for making him an orphan and could easily have had him executed. He had to tread carefully until he was strong enough to make his own bid for the throne. Also, Murdoch takes on board Lascaratos and Voros's questionable theory about Julian's death, which depends on taking Philostorgios's (5C, surviving only in 9C summary) word over that of Ammianus and Libanios. It doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
If this book whets your appetite for the subject, I recommend Robert Browning's 'The Emperor Julian', Shaun Tougher's works, and, on religion, Rowland Smith's 'Julian's Gods' (which dismantles Bowersock effectively). And of course, nothing beats going back to source: Julian's Works are available in a bilingual Loeb edition, and are extremely enjoyable (some still very funny).