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Storytime: Reading Eunapius Part II, The Emperor and the Thaumaturge

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[Corrigendum: We mention Constantius’ death in the year 360; it was actually 5 October, 361, as we know from Ammianus’ admirably accurate chronicle]

We return to the marvellous text of Eunapius of Sardis’ Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists for a second Storytime episode, now concentrating on the Emperor Julian’s chosen teacher, guide, and confidante, Maximus of Ephesus. Maximus is a really, really interesting character. He is, on the one hand, a philosopher with a few books under his belt (including a didactic poem on astrology, which survives in a single manuscript!). On the other, he is an addressative practitioner who is depicted by Eunapius as animating statues, divining and curing magical afflictions, reading the future, and espousing an ethos of forcing the gods to obey one’s will.

What happens when a man like that has the ear of the sole emperor of Rome? Crazy stuff, that’s what.

Works Cited in this Episode:

Primary (more or less in order discussed in the episode):

Ammianus Marcellinus (all refs. to John C. Rolfe, editor. Ammianus Marcellinus. Loeb Classical Library. William Heinemann/Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1935-1939):

  • Julian’s death and final conversation with Maximus and Priscus: XXV.3.13-20.
  • Julian sent to Gaul: XV.8. Kicking ass and taking names in Gaul: XVI passim. And even across the Rhine frontier: XXI.4 (at which point he decides to announce himself as Augustus, with a great speech to the troops, highly recommended).
  • Constantius dies of a fever, but no magic is implied: XXI.15.
  • Maximus arrives in Constantinople: XXII.7.3-4.

Eunapius (all refs. to Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922):

  • Julian says of Maximus ‘You have shewn me the one I was seeking (ἐμοὶ δὲ ἐμήνυσας ὅν ἐζήτουν)’: 475.
  • Maximus cures Sosipatra of a love charm and gets even more prideful: 470.
  • Eunapius met him when Max. was an old man. He taught Julian: 473.
  • Eusebius tries to talks some sense into Julian: 474-5.
  • Maximus’ statue-animation: 475.
  • Julian’s career in Gaul and accession; Maximus and Chrysanthius debate whether to go to Constantinople: 476.

Maximus on katarchic astrology: see Nicola Zito, ed. and trans. Perı̀ katarchôn (Des initiatives). Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2016.

The Suda on Maximus’ works: μ 174.


Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922. On Maximus as the most unscrupulous and successful successor of Iamblichus: p. 327.