The imagery used in John Chrysostom’s Homily on Julian the Martyr has many layers including power relationships, collective memory, scripture and biblical exemplars, the call to imitate martyrs, athleticism/gender, martyrdom as a spectacle, cosmic war, and martyr relics. Power relationships between the martyrs and their persecutors are depicted as inverted from their usual societally accepted norms. This is shown in the tale of Julian’s martyrdom, as the judge ordering the drawn-out torture finally “walked towards the acknowledged defeat” (Chrysostom 134). The power relationships shift, as the martyrs do not even feel the pain of their current lives, as they look forward to the glory and bliss of the next. They defy their persecutors and win the contest.
Collective memory is the whole basis of John Chrysostom’s homily. The martyr narrative is part of the collective memory of the Christians – it is told on this occasion, rehearsed even. The martyr’s deaths are a kind of evangelism, and their stories continue to convert as they are passed from person to person in a society’s collective memory. Another several collective memories are used, such as the one from Genesis about Noah. The homily states that it will “recount another old tale” (135), as the point of the narratives are to recount stories that carry meaning.
Scripture and biblical references are used throughout the homily. They are used to support every single point that Chrysostom makes. There are both references to scripture/the Old Testament, and the New Testament. There seems to be an overwhelmingly large amount of quotes from the letter of Paul in the New Testament, though this could simply be that he had one of the greatest influences on the Christian Bible of any writer. One example is when Chrysostom cites 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (131) to support his argument that the martyrs make light of even their tortures because of their anticipation of their coming glory in heaven.
The call to imitate the martyrs is explicitly stated, as Chrysostom actually says “that we won’t just be in the martyr’s presence, but might also imitate martyrs” (136). He also states that God gave the martyrs to humanity so that they might have an example by which to live.
Athletic/gender imagery is employed in reference to martyrs in general, and specifically to Julian. Martyrs are said to have “competed for Christ’s sake” and are “athletes of piety” (129). Julian is also referred to directly as an athlete. He is also very masculine, undergoing large amounts of physical and psychological torture, as the judge decides to bring him forth many times before finally ending his misery. He shows strength and calm, while the judge in comparison loses his self-control and becomes emotional and upset when he is defeated by the martyr.
Martyrdom as a spectacle is mostly portrayed in reference to Julian being paraded around for a great amount of time before his death. He is toured around the city as a criminal, though John Chrysostom asserts that this only added to his fame and influence (132). The martyr is used as a spectacle for the people, yet Julian does not play the part the judge expects him to play – it makes him influential instead of shameful.
The imagery of martyrs as soldiers for God in a cosmic war with the Devil is employed quite often. Specifically, Chrysostom uses the word “boxer” several times throughout the narrative (starting 129). The imagery is that of physical combat, though the actions are that of a spiritual nature. There is also a reference to the “fighter’s armor” (135) that is reminiscent of the passage in Ephesians (“put on the full armor of God”). Finally, martyr relics also play an important role, as they are considered to have special spiritual powers. These might include the power to frighten away people who are possessed with demons (133). They are also considered the holy treasure given by God to the people after the martyr’s death (135).