You are here

Julian and Basil of Caesarea on Impostor Philosophers

Stefan Hodges-Kluck

In his Oration Against the Uneducated Cynics (Oration 6), Julian attacked “false” Cynics who adopted the external features of Cynic philosophers (clothing, hairstyle, wallet, and staff) while eschewing more “ascetic” behaviors like taking cold baths and eating raw meat. My paper situates Julian’s rhetoric against “false” Cynics (Orations 6 and 7) within a wider fourth-century concern of both Christians and non-Christians to identify and delegitimize rival intellectual ascetics as impostors. While Julian drew on earlier Greek authors like Plutarch and Lucian to assail certain Cynics as impostors, he did so as part of his wider effort to claim for himself authority as a genuine philosopher (through both his physical and mental virtue) and as leader of what Arnaldo Marcone has called “Hellenic orthodoxy” (Marcone, 2012). For Julian, Cynics like Herakleios (the target of Oration 7) presented a threat to this orthodoxy not only because they espoused “heretical” ideas in the emperor’s mind, but also because they presented themselves publicly as intellectual leaders through their external appearance by means of their robes, hair, wallets, and staves.

I further examine Julian’s rhetoric against “heretical” Cynics alongside Basil of Caesarea’s conflict with the “heretic” Eustathius of Sebaste. While Basil spent much of his lifetime as a student and admirer of Eustathius, once the two split in the late 360s over theological differences, Basil increasingly presented Eustathius and his circle as impostors in much the same language as Julian presented Cynics like Herakleios. Indeed, the condemnations of the Council of Gangra emphasize Eustathian dress as a key element of dispute, and Eustathius presented himself as an intellectual leader (the Council even recommends against wearing a “philosopher’s mantle” as a pretense to ascetic virtue). After their split, Basil claimed that as a young man in the late 350s, he followed Eustathius only because he was allured by the clothing that he and his followers wore, and mistakenly believed it was a sign of their philosophy.

Julian and Basil both asserted themselves as ideal philosophers whose intellect and askesis provided them the virtue necessary to lead their communities to the correct god or gods. Their caricatures of rivals as impostors contributed to this goal: by classifying their rivals (Herakleios for Julian and Eustathius for Basil) as impostors, they presented themselves as intellectuals whose authority enabled them to identify and unmask “false” intellectuals. My paper situates both Julian’s attack on “false” Cynics and Basil’s on Eustathian ascetics within a wider rhetorical strategy. In the fourth century, as several people sought to assert themselves as intellectual ascetic leaders, the identification of impostors served as a rhetorical strategy to create boundaries between different philosophical and theological positions within the broad categories of “Christian” and “pagan.”

Session/Panel Title

The Emperor Julian

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy