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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

  [§36] While they were thus conversing with one another a hubbub was heard to proceed from the palace, of eunuchs and women shrieking all at once. And in fact an eunuch had been caught misbehaving with one of the royal concubines just as if he were an adulterer. The guards of the harem [1] were now dragging him along by the hair in the way they do royal slaves. The senior of the eunuchs accordingly declared that he had long before noticed he had an affection for this particular lady, and had already forbidden him to talk to her or touch her neck or hand, or assist her toilette, though he was free to wait upon all the other members of the harem; yet he had now caught him behaving as if he were the lady's lover.

Apollonius thereupon glanced at Damis, as if to indicate that the argument they had conducted on the point that even eunuchs fall in love, was now demonstrated to be true; but the king remarked to the bystanders: "Nay, but it is disgraceful, gentlemen, that, in the presence of Apollonius, we should be enlarging on the subject of chastity rather than he. What then, O Apollonius, do you urge us to do with him?"

"Why, to let him live, of course," answered Apollonius to the surprise of them all.

Whereon the king reddened, and said: "Then you do not think he deserves to die may times for thus trying to usurp my rights?"

"Nay, but my answer, O king, was suggested not by any wish to condone his offense, but rather to mete out to him a punishment which will wear him out. For if he lives with this disease of impotence on him, and can never take pleasure in eating or drinking, nor in the spectacles which delight you and your companions, and if his heart will throb as he often leaps up in his sleep, as they say is particularly the case of people in love, - is there any form of consumption so wasting as this, any form of hunger so likely to enfeeble his bowels? Indeed, unless he be one of those who are ready to live at any price, he will entreat you, O king, before long even to slay him, or he will slay himself, deeply deploring that he was not put to death straight away this very day."

Such was the answer rendered on this occasion by Apollonius, one so wise and humane, that the king was moved by it to spare the life of his eunuch. 

[§37] One day the king was going to hunt the animals in the parks in which the barbarians keep lions and bears and leopards, and he asked Apollonius to accompany him on the chase, but the latter replied: "You have forgotten, O king, that I never attend you, even when you are sacrificing. And moreover, it is no pleasure to me to attack animals that have been ill-treated and enslaved in violation of their nature."

And the king asking him what was the most stable and secure way of governing, Apollonius answered: "To respect many, and confide in few."

And on one occasion the governor of Syria sent a mission about two villages, which, I think, are close to the Bridge [Zeugma], alleging that these villages had long ago been subject to [the Seleucid kings] Antiochus and Seleucus, but at present they were under his sway, and belonged to the Romans, and that, whereas the Arabians and Armenians did not disturb these villages, yet the king had traversed so great a distance in order to exploit them, as if they belonged to himself, rather than to the Romans. The king sent the embassy aside, and said: "O Apollonius, these villages were given to my forefathers by the kings whom I mentioned, that they might sustain the wild animals, which are taken by us in our country and sent to theirs across the Euphrates, and they, as if they had forgotten this fact, have espoused a policy that is new [2] and unjust. What then do you think are the intentions of the embassy?"

Apollonius replied: "Their intention, O king, is moderate and fair, seeing that they only desire to obtain from you, with your consent, places which, as they are in their territory, they can equally well retain without it." And he added his opinion that it was a mistake to quarrel with the Romans over villages so paltry that probably bigger ones were owned even by private individuals; he also said that it was a mistake to go to war even over large issues.

And when the king was ill he visited him, and discoursed so weightily and in such a lofty strain of the soul, that the king recovered, and said to his courtiers, that Apollonius had so wrought upon him that he now felt a contempt, not only for his kingdom, but also for death.

[§38] One day the king was showing to him the grotto under the Euphrates, and asked him what he though of so wonderful a thing. Apollonius in answer belittled the wonder of the work, and said: "It would be a real miracle, O king, if you went dry-shod through a river as deep as this and as unfordable."

And when he was shown the walls of Ecbatana, and was told that they were the dwelling-place of gods, he remarked: "They are not the dwelling place of gods at all, and I am not sure that they are of real men either; for, O king, the inhabitants of the city of Lacedaemon do not dwell within walls, and have never fortified their city."

Moreover, on one occasion the king had decided a suit for some villages and was boasting to Apollonius of how he had listened to the one suit for two whole days. "Well," said the other, "you took a mighty long time, anyhow, to find out what was just."

And when the revenues from the subject country came in on one occasion in great quantities at once, the king opened his treasury and showed his wealth to the sage, to induce him to fall in love with wealth; but he admired nothing that he saw and said: "This, for you, O king, represents wealth, but to me it is mere chaff."

"How, then," said the other, "and in what manner can I best make use of it?"

"By spending it," he said, "for you are king." 

[§39] He had addressed many such sayings to the king, and found him ready  to do what he advised him; when finding out that he had enough of the society of the Magi,[2] he said to Damis: "Come, let us start for India. For the people who visited the lotus-eaters in their ships [3] were seduced from their own home-principles by the food; but we, without tasting any of the victuals of this land, have remained here a longer time than is right and fitting."

"And I," said Damis, "am more than of your opinion; but as I bore in mind the period of time which you discovered by the help of the lioness, I was waiting on for it to be completed. Now it has not yet all of it expired, for we have so far only spent a year and four months; however, if we can depart at once, would it be as well?"

"But," said the other, "the king will not let us go, O Damis, before the eighth month has passed; for you, I think, see that he is a worthy man and too superior a person to be ruling over barbarians."

[§40] When at last they were resolved on their departure and the king had consented that they should go away, Apollonius remembered the presents, which he had put off till he should have acquired friends, and he said: "O excellent king, I have in no way remunerated my host and I owe a great reward to the Magi; do you therefore attend to them, and oblige me by bestowing your favors on men who are both wise and wholly devoted to yourself."

The king then was more than delighted, and said: "For you I will to-morrow make their estate enviable and will see that they have been granted great favors; but since you ask for nothing that is mine, I hope you will at least allow these gentlemen to accept from me money and what else they like", and he pointed to Damis and his companions.

And when they too declined the offer, Apollonius said: "You see, O king, how many hands I have, and how closely they resemble one another."

"But do you anyhow take a guide," said the king, "and camels on which to ride; for the road is too long by far for you to walk the whole of it."

"Be it so," said Apollonius, "O king: for they say that the road is a difficult one for him who is not mounted, and moreover this animal is easily fed and finds his pasture easily where there is no herbage. And, methinks, we must lay in a supply of water also, and take it in bottles, like wine."

"Yes," said the king, "for three days the country is waterless,[4] but after that there are plenty of rivers and springs; but you must take the road over the Caucasus, for there you will find plenty of the necessities of life and the country is friendly."

And the king then asked him what he would bring back to him from his destination; and he answered: "A graceful gift, O king, for if I am turned into a wiser man by the society of people yonder, I shall return to you here a better man than I now am."

When he said this the king embraced him and said: "May you come back, for that will indeed be a great gift."

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  Note 1:
The Greek word gynaikônitis means "women's rooms". Although polygamy was known in the ancient Near East, there is no parallel for the Ottoman practice to make the royal concubines live in seclusion. Conybeare's translation "harem" is anachronistic.

Note 2:
The Romans were, in these years, indeed increasing the pressure upon the Parthian Empire by supporting the claims of rebel kings. The Seleucid kings who gave away the two villages cannot be identified, but Seleucus VI Epiphanes Nicator (96-95) is a very strong candidate.

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 reference to a story from the Odyssey.

Note 4:
Probably a reference to the salty desert between modern Qom and Tehran (ancient Rhagae).

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