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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

 
[§6] And having passed beyond the mountain, they at once came upon elephants with men riding on them; and these people dwell between the Caucasus and the river Cophen, and they are rude in their lives and they are nomad riders on the herds of elephants; some of them however rode on camels, which are used by Indians for carrying dispatches, and they will travel 1,000 stades a day without ever bending the knee or lying down anywhere.

One of the Indians, then, who was riding on such a camel, asked the guide where they were going, and when he was told the object of their voyage, he informed the nomads thereof; and they raised a shout of pleasure, and bade them approach, and when they came up they offered them wine which they had made out of palm dates and honey from the same tree, and steaks from the flesh of lions and leopards which they had just flayed. And our travelers accepted everything except the flesh, and then started off for India and betook themselves eastwards.

[§7] And as they were taking breakfast by a spring of water, Damis poured out a cup of the Indians' wine, and said: "Here's to you, Apollonius, on the part of Zeus the Savior; for it is a long time since you have drunk any wine. But you will not, I am sure, refuse this as you do wine that is made from the fruit of the vine."

And withal he poured out a libation, because he had mentioned the name of Zeus. Apollonius then gave a laugh and said: "Do we not also abstain from money, O Damis?"

"Yes, by Zeus," said the other, "as you have often demonstrated to us."

"Shall we then," said the other, "abstain from the use of a golden drachma and a silver piece, and be proof against temptation by any such coin, although we see not private individuals only, but kings as well, agape for money, and then if anyone offers us a brass coin for a silver coin, or a gilded one and a counterfeit, shall we accept it, merely because it not what it pretends to be, and what the many itch to have? And be sure the Indians have coins of orichalcus and black brass, with which, I suppose, all who come the Indian haunts must purchase everything; what then?

Supposing the nomads, good people as they are, offered us money, would you in that case, Damis, seeing me decline it, have advised me better and have explained that what is coined by the Romans or by the king of Media [1] is really money, whereas this is another sort of stuff polished up among the Indians?

And what would you think of me, if you could persuade me of such things? Would you not think I was a cheat and abandoned my philosophy as thoroughly as cowardly soldiers do their shields? And yet, when you have thrown away your shield you can procure another that is quite as good as the first, in the opinion of [the poet] Archilochus. But how can one who has dishonored and cast away philosophy, ever recover her?

And in this case Dionysus might will pardon one who refuses all wine whatever, but if I chose date wine in preference to that made of grapes, he would be aggrieved, I am sure, and say that this gift had been scorned and flouted. And we are not far away from this god, for you hear the guide saying that the mountain of Nysa is close by, upon which Dionysus works, I believe, a great many miracles.

Moreover, drunkenness, Damis, invades men not from drinking the wine of grapes alone, for they are equally well roused to frenzy by date wine. Anyhow we have seen a great many Indians overcome by this wine, some of them dancing till they fell, and others singing drowsily, just like the people among us, who end drinking bouts at night and don't go home till dawn. And that you yourself regard this drink as genuine wine, is clear from the fact that you poured out a libation of it to Zeus and offered up the prayers which usually accompany wine.

And this, Damis, is the defense which I have to make of  myself against you; for neither do I wish to dissuade you from drinking, nor these companions of ours either; nay, I would allow you also to eat meat; for the abstinence from these things has, I perceive, profited you nothing, though it has profited me in the philosophic profession which I have made from my boyhood."

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The river Kabul, the ancient Cophen, near Peshawar seen to the east. Photo Marco Prins.
The Cophen

The companions of Damis welcomed this speech and took to their good cheer with a will, thinking that they would find the journey easier if they lived rather better. 

[§8] They crossed the river Cophen, themselves in boats, but the camels by a ford on foot; for the river has not yet reached its full size here. They were now in a continent subject to the king, in which the mountain of Nysa rises, covered to its very top with plantations, like the mounntain of Tmolus in Lydia, and you can ascend it, because paths been made by cultivators.

The river Indus and the mountain Pir-Sar, seen from the northwest. Photo Marco Prins.
Aornus and Indus

They say then that when they ascended it, they found the shrine of  Dionysus, which it is said Dionysus founded in honor of himself, planting round it a circle of laurel trees which encloses just as much ground as suffices to contain a moderate sized temple. He also surrounded the laurels with a border of ivy and vines; and he set up inside an image of himself, knowing that in time the trees would grow together and make themselves into a kind of roof; and this had now formed itself, so that neither rain can wet nor wind blow upon the shrine. And there were sickles and wine-presses and their dedicated to Dionysus, as if to one who gathers grapes, all made of gold and silver. And the image resembled a youthful Indian, and was carved out of polished white stone. And when Dionysus celebrates his orgies and shakes Nysa, the cities underneath the mountain hear the noise and exult in sympathy.

[§9] Now the Hellenes disagree with the Indians, and the Indians among themselves, concerning this Dionysus. For we declare that the Theban Dionysus made an expedition to India in the role both of soldier and of reveler, and we base our arguments, among other things, on the offering at Delphi, which is secreted in the treasuries there. And it is a disk of silver bearing the inscription:

"Dionysus the son of Semele and of Zeus,
from the men of India
to the Apollo of Delphi."
But the Indians who dwell in the Caucasus and along the river Cophen say that he was an Assyrian visitor when he came to them, who knew the religious rites of the Theban. But those who inhabit the district between the Indus and the Hydraotes and the continental region beyond, which ends at the river Ganges, declare that Dionysus was son of the river Indus, and that the Dionysus of Thebes having become his disciple adopted the thyrsus and devoted himself to the orgies; that this Dionysus on saying that he was the son of Zeus and had lived safe inside his father's thigh until he was born, gained from this Dionysus a mountain called Merus or "Thigh" on which Nysa borders, and planted Nysa in honor of Dionysus with the vine of which he had brought the suckers from Thebes; and that it was there that Alexander held his orgies.

But the inhabitants of Nysa deny that Alexander ever went up the mountain, although he was eager to do so, being an ambitious person and fond of old-world things; but he was afraid lest his Macedonians, if they got among vines, which they had not seen for a long time, would fall into a fit of home-sickness or recover their taste for wine, after they had become accustomed to water only. So they say he passed by Nysa, making his vow to Dionysus, and sacrificing at the foot of the mountain.


Well I know that some people will take amiss what I write, because the companions of Alexander on his campaigns did not write down the truth in reporting this, but I at any rate insist upon the truth, and hold that, if they had respected it more, they would never have deprived Alexander of the praise due to him in this matter; for, in my opinion, it was a greater thing that he never went up, in order to maintain the sobriety of his army, than that he should have ascended the mountain and have himself held a revel there, which is what they tell you.

[§10] Damis says that he did not see the rock called the "Birdless" (Aornus), which is not far distant from Nysa, because this lay off their road, and their guide feared to diverge from the direct path.[2] But he says he heard that it had been captured by Alexander, and was called "Bridles", not because it rises 9,000 feet, for the sacred birds fly higher than that; but because on the summit of the rock there is, they say, a cleft which draws into itself the birds which fly over it, as we may see at Athens also in the vestibule of the Parthenon, and in several places in Phrygia and Lydia. And this is why the rock was called and actually is "Birdless".[3

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next
  Note 1:
"Media" may or may not be Philostratus' archaic name for the Parthian Empire.

Note 2:
This is correct. A traveler arriving from the west would enter the valley of the Indus along the Uttaräpatha, "the upper road", the ancestor of the modern Grand Trunk Road, and cross the river north of modern Attock, at a place once called Wahind ("Gate to India") and now known as Hund. Aornus, now called Pir Sar, is further to the north.

Note 3:
Aornus in fact is derived from Old Indian Âvárana, "hiding place". Alexander captured the rock in the spring of 326 BCE.

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