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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

[§16] "And I have read in the discourse of Juba that elephants assist one another when they are being hunted, and that they will defend one that is exhausted, and if they can remove him out of danger, they anoint his wounds with the tears of the aloe tree, standing round him like physicians."

Many such learned discussions were suggested to them as one occasion after another worth speaking of arose.

[§17] And the statements by Nearchus and Pythagoras, about the river Acesines, to the effect that it debauches into the Indus, and that snakes breed in it seventy cubits long, were, they say, fully verified by them; but I will defer what I have to say till I come to speak about dragons, on whose capture Damis gives an account.

But when they reached the Indus and were inclined to pass over the river, they asked the Babylonian[guide] whether he knew anything of the river, and questioned him about how to get across it. But he said that he had never navigated it, nor did he know whence he they could get a boat on it. "Why then," said they, "did you not hire a guide?"

"Because," he said, "I have one who will direct us." And with that, he showed them a letter, written to that effect, and this gave them occasion to marvel afresh at the humanity and foresight of Vardanes. For he had addressed the letter in question to the satrap [1] of the Indus, although he was not subject to his dominion; and in it he reminded him of the good service he had done him, but declared that he would not ask any recompense for the same, "for", he said, "it is not my habit to ask for a return of favors." But he said he would be very grateful, if he could give a welcome to Apollonius and send him on wherever he wished to go. And he had given gold to the guide, so that in case he found Apollonius in want thereof, he might give it him and save him from looking to the generosity of anyone else.

And when the Indian received the letter, he declared that he was highly honored, and would interest himself in the sage as much as if the king of India had written in his behalf; and he lent his official boat for him to embark in and other vessels on which the camels were ferried across, and he also sent a guide to the whole of the country which is bordered by the Hydraotes, and he wrote to his own king, begging him not to treat with less respect than Vardanes a man who was a Greek and divine.

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Sandy sediments of the Indus. Photo Marco Prins.
The sediments of tthe Indus

[§18] Thus they crossed the Indus at a point where it was nearly 40 stades broad, for such is the size of its navigable portion; and they write the following account of this river. They say that the Indus arises in the Caucasus and is bigger at its source than any of the other rivers of Asia; and as it advances it absorbs into itself several navigable rivers and, like the Nile, it floods the land of India and brings down soil over it, and so provides the Indians with land to sow in the manner of the Egyptians.

Now it is said that there is snow on the hills in Ethiopia and in the land of the Catadupi, and I do not choose to contradict, out of respect for the authorities; nevertheless, I cannot agree with them, when I consider how the Indus effects the same results as the Nile, without any snow falling on the country that rises behind and above it. And moreover I know that God has set the Ethiopian and the Indian at the two extremes or horns of the entire earth, making black the latter who dwell where the sun rises no less than the former who dwell where it sets; now how should this be the case of the inhabitants, unless they enjoyed summer heat even in the winter? But where the sun warms the earth all over through the year, how can one suppose that it ever snows? And how could it ever snow there so hard, as to supply the rivers there with water, and make them rise above their normal levels? But even if there were frequent snowfalls in regions so exposed to the sun, how could the melted snow ever cover such an expanse as to resemble a sea? And how could it ever supply a river which deluges the whole of Egypt?

[§19] And as they were being conveyed across the Indus, they say that they came across many river-horses [hippopotamuses] and many crocodiles [gavials]; and they say that the vegetation on the Indus resembles that which grows along the Nile, and that the climate of India is sunny in winter, but suffocating in summer; but to conteract this Providence has excellently contrived that it should often rain in their country [the monsoon].

And they also say that they learned from the Indians that the king was in the habit of coming to this river when it rose in the appropriate seasons, and would sacrifice to the river black bulls and horses; for white is less esteemed by the Indians than black, because, I imagine, the latter is their own color; and when he has sacrificed, they say that he plunges into the river a measure of gold made to resemble that which is used in measuring wheat.

And why the king does this, the Indians, they say, have no idea; but they themselves conjectured that this measure was sunk in the river, either to secure the plentiful harvest, whose yield the farmers use such a measure to gauge, or to keep the river within its proper bounds and prevent it from rising to such heights as that it would drown the land.

The main road of Taxila / Sirkap. Photo Marco Prins.
Taxila / Sirkap

[§20] And after they had crossed the river, they were conducted by the satrap's guide direct to Taxila, where the Indian had his royal palace. And they say that on that side of the Indus the dress of the people consists of native linen, with shoes of byblus and a hat when it rains; but that the upper classes there are appareled in byssus; and that the byssus grows upon a tree of which the stem resembles that of the white poplar, and the leaves those of the willow. And Apollonius says that he was delighted with the byssus, because it resembled his sable philosopher's cloak. And the byssus is imported into Egypt from India for many sacred uses.

Taxila, they tell us, is about as big as Nineveh,[2] and was fortified fairly well after the manner of Greek cities; and here was the royal residence of the personage who then ruled the empire of Porus.

The temple at Jandial /Taxila. Photo Marco Prins.
Taxila / Jaulian

And they saw a Temple, they saw, in front of the wall, which was not far short of 100 feet in size, made of porphyry,[3] and there was constructed within it a shrine, somewhat small as compared with the great size of the Temple which is surrounded with columns, but deserving of notice. For bronze tablets were nailed into each of its walls on which were engraved the exploits of Porus and Alexander. But the pattern was wrought with orichalcus and silver and gold and black bronze, of elephants, horses, soldiers, helmets, shields, but spears, and javelins and swords, were all made of iron; and the composition was like the subject of some famous painting by Zeuxis or Polygnotus and Euphranor, who delighted in light and shade; and, they say, here also was an appearance of real life, as well as depth and relief. And the metals were blended in the design, melted in like so many colors; and the character of the picture was also pleasing in itself, for Porus dedicated these designs after the death of the Macedonian, who is depicted in the hour of victory, restoring Porus who is wounded, and presenting him with India which was now his gift.

And it is said that Porus mourned over the death of Alexander, and that he lamented him as generous and a good prince; and as long as Alexander was alive after his departure from India, he never used the royal diction and style, although he had license to do so, nor issued kingly edicts to the Indians, but figured himself as satrap full of moderation, and guided every action by the wish to please Alexander.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next
Note 1:
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, making it include rulers in the Indus valley.

Note 2:
In fact, Taxila is smaller. Still, the following account is an essentially correct description of the part that is called Sirkap; the temple is at Jandial.

Note 3:
A translation error: lithou kogchyliatou does not mean "of porphyry" but "of stone covered with stucco".

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