trast, believed in everything, especially the more exotic demonsrnof Egypt and Syria. To tell the truth, lamblichus was a bit of arnnut, but his mishmash of Egyptian supershtion and Greek philosophyrnappealed to the mob.rnAt the last minute, he invited an old-fashioned patrician, AniciusrnPriscus, expert in Etruscan augury. Priscus was a wellknownrnsnob, an expert on senatorial procedures—as if the senaternhad really mattered for a hundred years.rnThe meeting opened with an interminable prayer fromrnlamblichus, who invoked every god Maximian had everrnheard of (and then some), culminating with “Oh gods of Egypt,rnlook down with favor on your brothers Maximian and Galerius,rnyou gods who expelled the impious Jews from your land whichrnthey had polluted with a plague of leprosy . . . ” Wlien it was finallyrnover, Maximian got down to business. “You guys didn’trntell nobody you were coming here, did ya? All right. Now listen.rnThe Caesar here and me, we’re verv concerned about thisrnChristian business. The most illustrious Galerius has been doingrnhis part to eliminate this conspiracy, and don’t think that therndivine Dioclehan and me aren’t grateful. But even if the CaesarrnConstanfius did his best to eradicate these pests, we’d stillrnhave a problem. They are like rats who can live on the poisonrnwe’re feeding them. We need a really long-range plan, a solutionrnto the problem that will be final. Let’s hear first from thernmost noble and illustrious Caesar.”rnGalerius outlined his own thorough system of persecutionrnand repression, concluding with the confident prediction that,rnwith a little more help from Constantius and the rest of thernboys, within ten years he would have burnt up all their books,rntorn down all their meetinghouses, and rooted out ever)- last ofrnthese maggots and forced them to renounce or die.rn”Hear! Hear!” chimed in Maxentius, nursing his hangoverrnwith a bottle of unwatered wine mixed with foul-smelling herbs.rn”But if you fail,” the boy added shrewdly, “doesn’t that meanrnwe’ll just have to learn to live with the problem?” Galerius assuredrnhim that would never happen.rnPorphyry said nothing, but his expression suggested doubt.rnPressed, he explained that ideas could not be rooted out so easilyrnwith fire and sword. “It’s not as if Christians are completelyrnwrong, after all. hi their crude and primitive way, they are onlyrntalking about ideas that the divine Plato and Plotinus had discoveredrnand worked out in detail. This Christ of theirs, as somernof His own followers are saying, is only a name for the Mind ofrnGod that emanates from the One.”rn”Then what’s the problem?” interjected Maxentius.rn”The problem,” continued the philosopher, “is that these idiotsrninsist on claiming to be not only original but to have an exclusiverngrasp of the truth. Intellectualh’, they’re babies, but withrnall their mumbo-jumbo, they can appeal to the uneducatedrnmasses who, even in these enlightened times, are in the majority.rnBut truth, as they say, will out, and with a little help from thernsacred purse, I could send out a squad of young philosophersrnwho woidd totally discredit them.”rn”You, lamblichus,” asked the Augustus, “you agree with this,rnright? I mean, this guy is your teacher.”rnlamblichus conceded that Porphyry had made an excellentrnbeginning, but that, as always, he put too much faith in the powerrnof reason. “New ages,” he said, “require new methods,” andrnalthough the Christians were undoubtedly a plague upon thernempire, they did ha’e the merit of seeing through the dull sterilifyrnof the official religion. “Of course, the soldiers have theirrnMithra, and some others are initiated into the mysteries eitherrnat Eleusis or somewhere else; but for most people, religionrnmeans simply going to this or that official ceremony and waitingrnfor the free barbecue. Not exactly inspiring, is it?”rnPressed to offer an alternative, lamblichus sketched out arnrough plan for a new religion that would include the old ritualsrnand gods but would also provide the mystery, magic, and excitementrnthat his students knew how to create. They wouldrnneed an organization, like the Christian one, and an officialrntheology that could be put together from lamblichus’s own writings,rnwhich not only reflected the authentic traditions of Platornand Plotinus (Porphyrv winced visibly), but also went back tornthe most ancient wisdom of the Eg)ptians who built the pyramids.rn”As a philosopher, I quite see the need for reason and science,rnbut not the abstract science of Aristotle and Strato but therntrue science of Thoth and Isis that confers power. And frankly,rnit will give them an opportunit)’ for sexual thrills that is sadlyrnlacking in the enemy’s religion.”rnPriscus, meanwhile, looking distracted, remained silent.rnMaximian, who could not have said who his father was, muchrnless have produced an ancestral mask, could not stand the noblernRoman t}’pe and consoled himself by remembering that herncould have the jerk tortured to death at the end of the meeting.rn”So you, the patrician, ou don’t go along \ith this? What’s thernmatter—you don’t like getting advice from a Syrian, and maybernyou don’t like taking orders from an Illyrian Hunkey?”rn”Lord, I would never presume even to form, much less to expressrnan opinion, in the presence of the divine Hercules himselfrn(as Maximian was often represented).rnThese Anicii had been practicing the art of apple-polishingrnfor 500 years. No wonder they were so good at it. Pressed torncontribute his two dinars to the conversation, the aged senatorrnexplained that the days of his people and their gods had comernand probably gone. “The temples in Rome are virtually deserted,rnexcept when there is food to be had, and the only gods thernpeople love are divinities from Egypt or Persia or Syria. Neitherrnthe little Latin godlets of the fields and farms nor the majesticrndeities of the Capitol are revered. My family and a few others,rnlike the Symmachi, we follow the old wavs because they are oldrnand they are ours. We wish these Christians would go away, butrnwe wish them no harm. If their young god defeats our old ones,rnit is because he is kept strong on the wine of their faith. We,rnalas, have not faith enough to keep a fly alive.”rn”Well,” interjected the emperor, “what about this plan forrntaking over their ideas and using them?”rn”Sire, if I must speak plainly, I am against it. We Romans andrnGreeks are civilized people, and we despise the degeneraterncults of these Oriental impostors. Porphyrv is a good man in hisrnown way, but this lamblichus is no more a philosopher thanrnvou are — “rn”Wliat’s that?” snapped Hercules-on-earth.rn” — than you are an ordinary man, sire. If we must be displacedrnby these newcomers, then let us preserve our dignity andrnnot get down into the same Eastern gutter with the followers ofrnthe Nazarene. Some of my grandchildren are already readingrnthese scriptures of theirs and stud’ing their books. Well,rn’What’s the harm?’ I ask myself After all, what difference, ultimately,rndoes it make, if we offer sacrifices to Mary the Motherrnof Chrishis or to the Great Mother?rn”If we can sun-ive Mithra and the Unconquered Sun, we canrnsurvive Christus. And to tell the truth, I prefer the compan’ ofrntheir bishops, who are sincerely mistaken, to these greasy fraudsrnMARCH 2001/11rnrnrn