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Statue of a sophist from the reign of Septimius Severus. Archaeological museum of Izmir (Turkey).

Flavius Philostratus:

The Life of Apollonius

Translated by F.C. Conybeare

 
  [31] Now the king [1] caught sight of Apollonius approaching, for the vestibule of the Temple was of considerable length, and insisted to those by him that he recognized the sage; and when he came still nearer he cried out with a loud voice and said: "This is Apollonius, whom Megabates, my brother, said he saw in Antioch, the admired and respected of serious people; and he depicted him to me at that time just such a man as now comes to us."

And when Apollonius approached and saluted him, the king addressed him in the Greek language and invited him to sacrifice with him; and it chanced that he was on the point of sacrificing to the Sun as a victim a horse of the true Nisaean breed, which he had adorned with trappings as if for a triumphal procession. But Apollonius replied: "Do you, O king, go on with your sacrifice, in your own way, but permit me to sacrifice in mine."

And he took up a handful of frankincense and said: "O thou Sun, send me as far over the earth as is my pleasure and thine, and may I make the acquaintance of good men, but never hear anything of bad ones, nor they of me."

And with these words he threw the frankincense into the fire, and watched to see how the smoke of it curled upwards, and how it grew turbid, and in how many points it shot up; and in a manner he caught the meaning of the fire, and watched how it appeared of good omen and pure. Then he said: "Now, O king, go on with your sacrifice in accordance with your own traditions, for my traditions are such as you see."

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Coin of Vardanes I.
Vardanes I (!!)

[32] And he quitted the scene of sacrifice in order not to be present at the shedding of blood. But after the sacrifice was over he approached and said: "O king, do you know the Greek tongue thoroughly, or have you a smattering of it perhaps, in order to be able to express yourself and appear polite in case any Greek arrives?"

"I know it thoroughly," replied the king, "as well as I do my native language; so say you what you like, for this I suppose is the reason why you put the question to me."

"It was my reason," said the other; "so listen. The goal of my voyage is India, but I had no intention of passing you by; for I heard that you were such a man as from a slight acquaintance I already perceive you to be, and was desirous also of examining the wisdom which is indigenous among you and is cultivated by the Magi,[2] and of finding out whether they are such wise theologians as they are reported to be.


 
Now my own system of wisdom is that of Pythagoras, a man of Samos, who taught me to worship the gods in the way you see, and to be aware of them whether they are seen or not seen, and to be frequent in my converse with them, and to dress myself in this land-wool; for it was never worn by sheep, but is the spotless product of spotless parents, the gift of water and of earth, namely linen. And the very fashion of letting my hair grow long, I have learnt from Pythagoras as part of his discipline, and also it is a result of his wisdom that I keep myself pure from animal food. I cannot therefore become either for you or for anybody else a companion in drinking or an associate in idleness and luxury; but if you have problems of conduct that are difficult and hard to settle, I will furnish you with solutions, for I not only know matters of practice and duty, but I even know them beforehand."

Such was the conversation which Damis declares the sage to have held; and Apollonius himself composed a letter containing them, and has sketched out in his epistles much else of what he said in conversation. 

[33] Since the king said that he was more pleased and delighted with his arrival than if he had added to his own possessions the wealth of Persia and India, and added that Apollonius must be his guest and share with him the royal roof, Apollonius remarked: "Supposing, O king, that you came to my country of Tyana and I invited you to live where I live, would you care to do so?"

"Why no," answered the king, "unless I had a house to live in that was big enough to accommodate not only my escort and bodyguard, but myself as well, in a handsome manner."

"Then," said the other, "I may use the same argument to you; for if I am housed above my rank, I shall be ill at ease, for superfluity distresses wise men more than deficiency distresses you. Let me therefore be entertained by some private person who has the same means as myself, and I will visit with you as often as you like."

The king conceded this point, lest he should be betrayed into doing anything that might annoy him, and Apollonius took up his quarters with a gentleman of Babylon of good character and besides high-minded.

But before he had finished dinner one of the eunuchs presented himself and addressed him thus: "The king," he said, "bestows upon you ten presents, and leaves you free to name them; but he is anxious that you should not ask for small trifles, for he wishes to exhibit to you and to us his generosity."

Apollonius commended the message, and asked: "Then when am I to ask for them?"

And the messenger replied: "To-morrow," and at once went off to all the king's friends and kinsmen and bade them be present when the sage should prefer his demand and receive the honor.

But Damis says that he expected him to ask for nothing, because he had studied his character and knew that he offered to the gods the following prayer: "O ye gods, grant unto me to have little and to want nothing."

However, as he saw him much preoccupied and, as it were, brooding, he determined that he was going to ask and anxiously turning over in his mind, what he should ask. But at eventide: "Damis," said Apollonius, "I am thinking over with myself the question of why the barbarians have regarded eunuchs as men sufficiently chaste to be allowed the free entry of the women's apartments."

"But," answered the other, "O Apollonius, a child could tell you. For inasmuch as the operation has deprived them of the faculty, they are freely admitted into those apartments, no matter how far their wishes may go."

"But do you suppose the operation has removed their desires or the further aptitude?"

"Both," replied Damis, "for if you extinguish in a man the unruly member that lashes the body to madness, the fit of passion will come on him no more."

After a brief pause, Apollonius said: "To-morrow, Damis, you shall learn that even eunuchs are liable to fall in love, and that the desire which is contracted through the eyes is not extinguished in them, but abides alive and ready to burst into a flame; for that will occur which will refute your opinion. And even if there were really any human art of such tyrannical force that it could expel such feelings from the heart, I do not see how we could ever attribute to them any chastity of character, seeing that they would have no choice, having been by sheer force and artificially deprived of the faculty of falling in love. For chastity consists in not yielding to passion when the longing and impulse is felt, and in the abstinence which rises superior to this form of madness."

Accordingly Damis answered and said: "Here is a thing that we will examine another time, O Apollonius; but we had better consider now that answer you can make to-morrow to the king's magnificent offer. For you will perhaps ask for nothing at all, but you should be careful and be on your guard lest you should seem to decline any gift the king may offer, as they say, out of mere empty pride, for you see the land that you are in and that we are wholly in his power. And you must be on your guard against the accusation of treating him with contempt, and understand, that although we have sufficient means to carry us to India, yet what we have will not be sufficient to bring us back thence, and we have no other supply to fall back upon."

[34] And by such devices he tried to wheedle Apollonius into not refusing to take anything he might be offered; but Apollonius, as if by way of assisting him in his argument, said: "But, O Damis, are you not going to give me some examples? Let me supply you with some: Aeschines, the son of Lysanias, went off to Dionysius in Sicily in quest of money, and Plato is said thrice to have traversed Charybdis in quest of the wealth of Sicily, and Aristippus of Cyrene, and Helicon of Cyzicus, and Phyton of Rhegium, when he was in exile, buried their noses so deep in the treasure-houses of Dionysius, that they could barely tear themselves away.

Moreover they tell of how Eudoxus of Cnidus once arrived in Egypt and both admitted that he had come there in quest of money, and conversed with the king about the matter. And not to take away more characters, they say that Speusippus, the Athenian, was so fond of money, that he reeled off festal songs, when he romped off to Macedonia, in honor of Cassander's marriage, which were frigid compositions, and that he sang these songs in public for the sake of money.

Well, I think, O Damis, that a wise man runs more risk than do sailors and soldiers in action, for envy is ever assailing him, whether he holds his tongue or speaks, whether he exerts himself or is idle, whether he passes by anything or takes care to visit anyone, whether he addresses others or neglects to address them. And so a man must fortify himself and understand that a wise man who yields to laziness or anger or passion, or love of drink, or who commits any other action prompted by impulse and inopportune, will probably find his fault condoned; but if he stoops to greed, he will not be pardoned, but render himself odious with a combination of all vices at once. For surely they will not allow that he could be the slave of money, unless he was already the slave of his stomach or of fine raiment or of wine or of riotous living.

But you perhaps imagine that it is a lesser thing to go wrong in Babylon than to go wrong at Athens or at the Olympian or Pythian games; and you do not reflect that a wise man finds Hellas everywhere, and that a sage will not regard or consider any place to be a desert or barbarous, because he, at any rate, lives under the eyes of virtue, and although he only sees a few men, yet he is himself looked at by ten thousand eyes.

Now if you came across an athlete, Damis, one of those who practice and train themselves in wrestling and boxing, surely you would require him, in case he were contending in the Olympic games, or went to Arcadia, to be both noble in character and good; nay, more, of the Pythian or Nemean contest were going on, you would require him to take care of his physique, because these games are famous and the race-courses are made much of in Hellas; would you then, if Philip were sacrificing with Olympic rites after capturing certain cities, or if his son Alexander were holding games to celebrate his victories, tell the man forthwith to neglect the training of his body and to leave off being keen to win, because the contest was to be held in Olynthus or in Macedonia or in Egypt, rather than among the Hellenes, and on your native race-courses?"

These then were the arguments by which Damis declares that he was so impressed as to blush at what he had said, and to ask Apollonius to pardon him for having through imperfect acquaintance with him, ventured to tender him such advice, and use such arguments. But the sage caught him up and said: "Never mind, for it was not by way of rebuking and humbling you that I have spoken thus, but in order to give you some idea of my own point of view."

[35] Now when the eunuch arrived and summoned him before the king, he said: "I will come as soon as I have duly discharged my religious duties."

Accordingly he sacrificed and offered his prayer, and then departed, and everyone looked at him and wondered at his bearing. And when he had come within, the king said: "I present you with ten gifts, because I consider you such a man as never before has come hither from Hellas."

And he answered and said: "I will not, O king, decline all your gifts; but there is one which I prefer to may tens of gifts, and for that I will most eagerly solicit."

And he at one told the story of the Eretrians, beginning it from the time of Datis. "I ask then," he said, "that these poor people should not be driven away from their borders and from the hill, but should be left to cultivate the span of earth, which Darius allowed them; for it is very hard if they are not to be allowed to retain the land which was substituted for their own when they were driven out of the latter."

The king then consented and said: "The Eretrians were, until yesterday, the enemies of myself and of my fathers; for they once took up arms against us, and they have been neglected in order that their race might perish; but henceforth they shall be written among my friends, and they shall have, as a satrap,[3] a good man who will judge their country justly. But why," he said, "will you not accept the other nine gifts?"

"Because," he answered, "I have not yet, O king, made any friends here."

"And do you yourself require nothing?" said the king.

"Yes," he said, "I need dried fruits and bread, for that is a repast which delights me and which I find magnificent."






Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next




  Note 1:
The presence of a Parthian king in Babylon is a bit strange; his palace was in Ctesiphon. On the other hand, there is no reason why Vardanes could not have visited Babylon.

Note 2:
The Babylonian sages were usually called Chaldaeans, but Philostratus calls them Magi, which is in fact the name of the sages of ancient Persia. The confusion is not unusual: the author of the gospel of Matthew also mentions Magi but ascribes to them the study of astral omens, a typical Chaldaean activity.

Note 3:
A satrap was a governor of a Persian province. The title was still used in the Parthian age, but Philostratus uses the foreign expression in a very loose way.





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