Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Emperor and Galilean

Go To

'Emperor And Galilean is considered Henrik Ibsen's Magnum Opus, and for the sheer length of it, it is seldom performed, as it is a Two-Part Episode with Loads and Loads of Characters. The play relates, quite correctly, the story of emperor Julian of The Roman Empire, in its waning years. We follow Julian from his days as a seeking youth, trying to grasp his role as a prince of the family of emperor Constantius, and how he more or less unwittingly drifts into position as an actual heir to the realm. The first part concludes with his ascension to the role of emperor. At the same time, and because he is Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life, he abandons Christianity altogether, ending up as the last pagan emperor of Rome, although he is a worshiper of Sol Invictus (almost as close to monotheism as possible), and proclaiming full religious freedom.


The second part of the play relates Julian's time as The Emperor, and how he descends into decadence, paranoia and abuse. He loses support, and is finally killed by one of his childhood friends, a Knight Templar Christian named Agathon, while campaigning against the Persians. His loyal general Jovian, a christian, takes the helm, and his former friends mourn him.

This play contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Aerith and Bob: Of course, the play is filled with Romano-Greek characters and names. Constantius, Gallus, Julian(us), Helen, Potamon, Fokion, and so on. Even a Germanic officer gets a name check.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Julian is smitten by this, and does not survive it. Starting out as an idealistic emperor, who decrees full religious freedom, he ends up pursuing Christians and throws them to the lions. His lust for personal power gets more and more apparent throughout the last play.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Bait: Helen. Julian is tempted into the assignment as commander of the Lutetia garrison when he is told Helen will come with him (of course, her husband Gallus was recently killed).
  • The Chosen One: It is pointed out to Julian a number of times that he in fact is chosen for something. He is not able to find out what, until he suddenly finds himself the last surviving and most logical choice to be the next emperor.
  • Cue the Sun: Quite prominently. The god Julian chooses is the Sun God (Sol Invictus). He finally dies at sunrise, his last words being: "Sun, why did you betray me?"
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Julian searches for meaning, going from philosophy over mysticism to... something completely different.
  • Dub Name Change: Although many of the names from the imperial family originally was written in Latin (and derived from Latin) Ibsen wrote them in Greek. Thus, Constantius, The Emperor at the start of the play, is pronounced Konstanzios. Justified by the fact that Constantinople was a Greek city, although the emperors still used Latin at the time.
  • Advertisement:
  • The Emperor: Constantius, later Julian.
  • The Fettered: Julian feels quite fettered by his moral duties as a christian. Later, he is just as fettered by his duties as a designated heir to the empire, and as an emperor. Somebody give that man a break.
  • Freedom from Choice: Julian. It is questionable whether he truly chose anything. If he tries to choose, he is violently pulled back to the path of earthly power. The play debates whether he truly has the freedom to choose at all.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Julian has some problems with Christianity. As time goes by, he decides to break off the religion because he feels fettered by it. His last words in the first play is "Free. The realm is mine", when he has denounced Christianity completely. And became emperor at the same time. The scene leans heavily on the Rule of Symbolism.
    • It seems Julian uses a lot of effort to just get the hell away from it all, from Constantinople, the emperor and all the other stuff. He would have been far happier on a remote island somewhere, meditating. But he is constantly pulled back by duties, flattery, prophecy, and other things. He is getting fairly confused during the story arc.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: The cast list is jarringly long, spanning over 30 names at least. And then there is the crowd scenes, and a spectacular battle scene.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Julian has a quite trippy session in the first play, instigated by Maximos the Mystic. Here, he is trying to find higher meaning through communication with different spirits. It is at least som kind of incense involved. The session is significant, because the lack of explicit answers from the other side does little to help Julian at all. Maximos is in on it, and visibly freaks out.
  • Historical-Domain Character: All around. Some of the church fathers living at the time is thrown in, like Gregor of Nyssa and Basilius of Caesarea.
  • Kill the Cutie: Helen, spouse of Gallus, and then of Julian, is conveniently poisoned in Lutetia, leaving Julian utterly alone.
  • Knight Templar: Agathon, the young idealist who tails Julian at the start of the story, is turned Knight Templar at the end of it. In his book, Julian is an obstacle which has to be removed. In the end, Julian just happened to be at the wrong end of his spear...
  • Mind Screw: During his "mystical trip", Julian meets some spiritual guides. One of them is a "being of light", who gives him some rather screwy answers. Julian misinterprets them, and so do the audience. One wonders if there was a Vorlon involved...
  • Multi-Part Episode: Type I. The first play, in five acts, is called the apostasy of Caesar, the second part, just as long, is called Julian the Emperor.
  • Mushroom Samba: The "mystical" sequence in the first play, where some beings (among them Cain and Judas Iscariot) tries to tell Julian of his purpose in life. The dialogue in this sequence is particularly weird, and Maximos the Mystic, who staged it all, gets more and more freaked out by it. As for Julian, he comes down from it more confused than ever...
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The commoners in Constantinople fall into this category. They fawn for the Christian emperor at the start of the play, beating the crap out of heathens. Come the second play, they still fawn for the emperor, beating the crap out of Christians.
  • Properly Paranoid: The roman emperors. Constantius is far into this at the start of the play. Julian is just as far at the end of it. Being fair, Julian is the sole survivor of a family purge instigated by Constantius, so he is a little nervous at the beginning as well.
  • The Purge: The Emperor Constantius had his entire family "removed" at some point. Only Julian and his brother Gallus, who were too small to be an actual threat, survived it. And as time went by, Julian turned a little nervous, trying to get as far away from the emperor as possible. Gallus loses his life (wonder why?) because of his ambitions, leaving the empire to Julian.
  • Shown Their Work: Ibsen seems to have read his sources to detail, especially Ammianus Marcellinus, the historian who wrote most on the fourth century.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Only three female cast members should qualify: Eusebia, the empress of Constantius, and Helen, spouse of Julian. At the end of the play, Makrina, sister of Gregor from Nyssa, enters the stage.
  • Sole Survivor: Julian is the last surviving member of the Constantine family. It dies with him.
  • Take a Third Option: Julian is told to by his spiritual guide, but he never figures out what that option is. The definition of "the third realm" enters into this area. It is, however, pointed out to him that it is meant to be a path between faith (the tree of the cross) and knowledge (the tree of, well, Knowledge). But how do you merge faith and knowledge without screwing up? At some level, Julian is far below what is expected of him.
  • Unintentional Period Piece: The discussions of sin in the christian doctrine. A Christian layman movement had swiped Norway in the 1860s, followed by an intensely dark Lutheranism where almost everything funny was sinful. So, having the fourth century character Julian discussing how to get free from the doctrines of sin, may seem a mite more "modern" than intended.
  • Vision Quest: Julian on his search for spiritual enlightenment, gets into a drug-induced one, assisted by Maximos the Mystic.
  • Wham Line: Constitute the realm on the road of freedom. That is what Julian is told to do. And, of course, he misunderstands it completely.
  • Yes-Man: Julian has a problem with this. Being a prince of the imperial house, and later emperor, it is hard to find somebody not turning sycophantic. In the first part of the story, he is apparently looking for an honest friend.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: