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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

 
  Summary of Book 2:

Book 2 recounts the adventures of Apollonius and his followers on their journey to India. They pass through the 'Caucasus' (i.e. the Hindu Kush), where they marvel at the chains of Prometheus (2.3) and drive away a hobgoblin (2.4). This journey is the pretext for an exchange between Apollonius and Damis, leading to the conclusion that mountaineering does not benefit those in search of the Divine (2.5). The company of travelers cross the river Cophen, visit the shrine of Dionysus on mount Nysa (2.8), but decline to go and see the Aornus rock which Alexander the Great captured (2.10). They kill time on the way to the Indus with learned discussions about the training, character, life expectancy, physical and habits of elephants (2.11-16). With the assistance of the satrap of the Indus region, Apollonius and his followers cross the river (2.17-19) and continue their journey to Taxila (2.20). Chapters 23ff contain an account of their three-day stay with the Indian philosopher king Phraotes, who tells Apollonius about the place where the Indian sages live (2.33). Apollonius discusses dream divination with the king (2.35-37) and advises him on a legal dispute (2.39). The travelers leave Taxila for the castle of the Indian sages, visit the scene of the battle between Alexander and Porus (2.42), cross the Hydraotes and the Hyphasis, and pass the point where Alexander was forced to turn back. 

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[1] In the summer our travelers, together with their guide, left Babylon and started out, mounted on camels; and the king had supplied them with the camel-driver, and plenty of provisions, as much as they wanted. The country through which they traveled was fertile; and the villages received them very respectfully, for the leading camel bore upon his forehead a chain of gold, to intimate to all who met them that the king was sending on their way some of his own friends. And as they approached the Caucasus they say that they found the land becoming more fragrant.

[2] We may regard this mountain as the beginning of the Taurus, which extends through Armenia and Cilicia as far as Pamphylia and Mycale, and it ends at the sea on the shore of which the Carians live, and we may regard this as the extreme end of the Caucasus, and not as its beginning, as some people say. For the height of Mycale is not very great, whereas the peaks of the Caucasus are so lofty that the sun is cloven asunder by them. And it encompasses with the rest of the Taurus the whole of Scythia which borders on India, and skirts Maeotis and the left side of the Pontus, a distance almost of 20,000 stades; for no less than this is the extent of land enclosed by the elbow of the Caucasus.[1]

As to the statement made about such part of the Taurus as is in our country, to the effect that it projects beyond Armenia, -it was long disbelieved, but has received definite confirmation from the conduct of the [leo]pards, which I know are caught in the spice-bearing region of Pamphylia. For these animals delight in fragrant odors, and scenting their smell from afar off they quit Armenia and traverse the mountains in search of the tear or gum of the Styrax, whenever the winds blow from its quarter and the trees are distilling.

And they say that a pard was once caught in Pamphylia which was wearing a chain round its neck, and the chain was of gold, and on it was inscribed in Armenian lettering:

"The king Arsaces to the Nysian god."

The Nesaean plain. Photo Marco Prins.
The Zagros
Now the king of Armenia was certainly at that time Arsaces, and he, I imagine, finding the pard, had let it go free in honor of Dionysus because of its size. For Dionysus is called Nysian by the Indians and by all the Oriental races from Nysa in India.[2]

And this animal had been for a time under the restraint of a man, and would let you pat with your hand and caress it; bit when it was goaded to excitement by the springtime, for in that season pards begin to rut, it would rush into the mountains, from longing to meet the male, decked as it was with the ring; and it was taken in the lower Taurus whither it had been attracted by the fragrance of the gum.

And the Caucasus bounds India and Media, and stretches down by another arm [the Zagros] to the Red Sea.


Prometheus freed by Heracles. Group from Pergamon. Altes Museum, Berlin (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Prometheus freed by Heracles. Group from Pergamon (Altes Museum, Berlin)

[3] And legends are told of this mountain by the barbarians, which also have an echo in the poems of the Greeks about it, to the effect that Prometheus, because of his love of man, was bound there, and that Heracles -another Heracles, for of course the Theban is not meant- could not brook the ill-treatment of Prometheus, and shot the bird which was feeding upon his entrails. And some say that he was bound in a cave, which as a matter of fact is shown in a foot-hill of the mountain;[3] and Damis says that his chains still hung from the rocks, though you could not easily guess at the material of which they were made, but others say that they bound him on the peak of the mountain; and it has two summits, and they say that his hands were lashed to them, although they are distant from one another not less than as stade, so great was his bulk.

But the inhabitants of the Caucasus regard the eagle as a hostile bird, and burn out the nests which they build among the rocks by hurling into them fiery darts, and they also set snares for them, declaring that they are avenging Prometheus; to such an extent are their imaginations dominated by the fable.




[4] Having passed the Caucasus our travelers say they saw men four cubits height, and they were already black, and that when they passed over the river Indus they saw others five cubits high. But on their way to this river our wayfarers found the following incidents worth of notice. For they were traveling by bright moonlight, when the figure of an empusa or hobgoblin appeared to them, that changed from one form into another, and sometimes vanished into nothing. And Apollonius realized what it was, and himself heaped abuse on the hobgoblin and instructed his party to do the same, saying that this was the right remedy for such a visitation. And the phantasm fled away shrieking even as ghosts do.

[5] And as they were passing over the summit of the mountain, going on foot, for it was very steep, Apollonius asked of Damis the following question. "Tell me," he said, "where we were yesterday."

And he replied: "On the plain."

"And today, O Damis, where are we?"

"In the Caucasus," said he, "if wholly I mistake not."

"Then when were you lower down than you are now?" he asked again, and Damis replied: "That's a question hardly worth asking. For yesterday we were traveling through the valley below, while today we are close up to heaven."

"Then you think," said the other, "O Damis, that our road yesterday lay low down, whereas our road today lies high up?"

"Yes, by Zeus," he replied, "unless at least I'm mad."

"In what respect then," said Apollonius, "do you suppose that our roads differ from one another, and what advantage has todays' path for you over that of yesterday?"

"Because," said Damis, "yesterday I was walking along where a great many people go, but today, where are very few."

"Well," said the other, "O Damis, can you not also in a city turn out of the main street and walk where you will find very few people?"

"I did not say that," replied Damis, "but that yesterday we were passing through villages and populations, whereas today we are ascending through an untrodden and divine region: for you heard our guide say that the barbarians declare this tract to be the home of the gods."

And with that he glanced up to the summit of the mountain. But Apollonius recalled his attention to the original question by saying: "Can you tell me then, O Damis, what understanding of divine mystery you get by walking so near the heavens?"

"None whatever," he replied.

"And yet you ought," said Apollonius. "When your feet are placed on a platform so divine and vast as this, you ought henceforth to publish more accurate conceptions of the heaven and about the sun and moon, since you think, I suppose, that you will even lay a rod to them as you stand as close to the heavens here."

"Whatever," said he, "I knew about God's nature yesterday, I equally know today, and so far no fresh idea has occurred to me concerning him."

"So then," replied the other, "you are, O Damis, still below, and have won nothing from being high up, and you are as far from heaven as you were yesterday. And my question which I asked you to begin with was a fair one, although you thought that I asked it in order to make fun of you."

"The truth is," replied Damis, ''that I thought I should anyhow go down from the mountain wiser than I came up it, because I had heard, O Apollonius, that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae observed the heavenly bodies from the mountain Mimas in Ionia, and Thales of Miletus from Mycale which was close by his home; and some are said to have used as their observation mount Pangaeus and others Athos. But I have come up a greater height than any of these, and yet shall go down again no wiser than I was before."

"For neither did they," replied Apollonius: "and such lookouts show you indeed a bluer heaven and bigger stars and the sun rising out of the night; but all these phenomena were manifest long ago to shepherds and goatherds, but neither Athos will reveal to those who climb up it, nor Olympus, so much extolled by the poets, in what way God cares for the human race and how he delights to be worshipped by them, nor reveal the nature of virtue and of justice and temperance, unless the soul scan these matters narrowly, and the soul, I should say, if it engages on the task pure and undefiled, will sour much higher than this summit of Caucasus." 






Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next




  Note 1:
This theory about the Taurus as a continuing mountain range from Mycale to the far east, where it is called "Caucasus" (i.e., Zagros, Elburz, Hindu Kush, Himalaya), was proposed by Eratosthenes of Cyrene.

Note 2:
Since Alexander the Great had visited India, it was believed that Nysa, where Dionysus was born, was in the far east. The truth behind the story of the leopard may be that it was of the Arsacid king (i.e., the ruler of the Parthian Empire); one of his most important towns was Nisaia.

Note 3:
A story from the Alexander historians that can also be found in Chinese and Avestan sources; more...





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