(Essentials of European Literature)

Athens in the fourth century, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantius, was divided by three factions. Dominant among the three was one Christian faction headed by Bishop Peter of Athens. Opposing them, though less in number, was the faction which adhered to the heresy of Athanasius. The third faction was the group which still clung to the gods of ancient Greece and the reasonable philosophy of Plato. The last group was headed by Chrysanteus, archon of Athens and its richest citizen. Representing Rome in the city was Annaeus Domitius, the proconsul, who by traveling a middle path hoped to keep some semblance of order in and about the city. His efforts were hindered by the fact that Julian the Apostate was about to succeed Constantius as the emperor of Rome; Constantius, a Christian, had favored the non-Athanasian Christians, but Julian, who was a pagan, favored the people who clung to the old gods.

Under the favor of Constantius, Bishop Peter and his followers practically ruled Athens and dictated orders to the proconsul. When the Athanasians were accused of killing Bishop Peter’s father, a hermit who lived at the top of a pillar, Domitius turned over the troops of Rome to the bishop and discreetly left Athens to evade responsibility for what might happen. He did not want to take sides in the quarrel, and he feared that the hatred of the Christians might be turned against the pagans, including Chrysanteus. Domitius knew that if Constantius succeeded in retaining the empire, Chrysanteus’ death would be of little consequence; but if Julian were to succeed in becoming emperor, his old tutor, for Chrysanteus had been that, would be a very important person, one whom the proconsul did not want as a corpse about his neck.

As Domitius feared, riot and slaughter broke out in Athens, for Bishop Peter turned the troops and his followers against the heretic Christians and against the pagans. Word came to Domitius at his country villa, however, that Constantius had died and that Julian was emperor. Domitius immediately went back to Athens with the news, arriving in time to prevent a Christian mob from entering Chrysanteus’ dwelling to pillage and murder. Within a few hours, the Roman troops, having returned to the proconsul’s command, restored quiet in Athens and published Julian’s order that freedom of worship and belief were to be accorded all men. Bishop Peter and his Christian faction were reduced, to all appearances, to a position no better than that of any other group. They were ordered to restore to the pagans all the temples they had taken over and to replace treasures they had plundered and destroyed.

Actually, the bishop was more dangerous than ever. He had many spies within and without the city; he had, in addition, a large body of devoted and obedient fanatics at his call. Furthermore, he had as his foster son a young man who was actually Chrysanteus’ long-lost son, Clemens....

(The entire section is 1197 words.)