home  :  index  :  ancient Greece  :  ancient Rome  :  Apollonius of Tyana  :  Philostratus
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

 
[§26] So the Indian was regarded by Apollonius as a philosopher, and addressing him through an interpreter, he said: "I am delighted, O king, to find you living like a philosopher."

"And, I" said the other, "am delighted that you should think of me thus."

"And," said Apollonius, "is this customary among you, or was it you yourself established your government on so modest a scale?"

"Our customs," said the king, "are dictated by moderation, and I am still more moderate in my carrying them out; and though I have more than other men, yet I want little, for I regard most things as belonging to my own friends."

"Blessed are you then in your treasure," said Apollonius, "if you rate your friends more highly than gold and silver, for out of them grows up for you a harvest of blessings."

"Nay more," said the king, "I share my wealth also with my enemies. For the barbarians who live on the border of this country were perpetually quarreling with us and making raids into my territories, but I keep them quiet and control them with money, so that my country is patrolled by them, and instead of their invading my dominions, they themselves keep off the barbarians that are on the other side of the frontier, and are difficult people to deal with."[1]

And when Apollonius asked him, whether Porus also had paid them subsidy, he replied: "Porus was as fond of war as I am of peace."

By expressing such sentiments he quite disarmed Apollonius, who was so captivated by him, that once, when he was rebuking Euphrates for his want of philosophic self-respect, he remarked: "Nay, let us at least reverence Phraotes the Indian," for this was the name of the Indian.

And when a satrap,[2] for the great esteem in which he held the monarch, desired to bind on his brow a golden mitre adorned with various stones, he said: "Even if I were an admirer of such things, I should decline them now, and cast them off my head, because I have met with Apollonius. And how can I now adorn myself with ornaments which I never before deigned to bind upon my head, without ignoring my guest and forgetting myself?"

Apollonius also asked him about his diet, and he replied: "I drink just as much wine as I pour out in libation to the Sun; and whatever I take in the chase I give to others to eat, for I am satisfied with the exercise I get. But my own meal consists of vegetables and of the pith and fruit of date palms, and of all that a well-watered garden yields in the way of fruit. And a great deal of fruit is yielded to me by the trees which I cultivate with these hands."

When Apollonius heard this, he was more than gratified, and kept glancing at Damis.

[§27] And when they had conversed a good deal about which road to take to the Brahmans, the king ordered the guide from Babylon to be well entertained, as it was customary so to treat those who came from Babylon; and the guide from the satrap, to be dismissed after being given provisions for the road.

Then he took Apollonius by the hand, and having bidden the interpreter to depart, he said: "You will then, I hope, choose me for your boon companion."

And he asked question of him in the Greek tongue. But Apollonius was surprised, and remarked: "Why did you not converse with me thus, from the beginning?"

"I was afraid," said the king, "of seeming presumptuous, seeming, that is, not to know myself and not to know that I am a barbarian by decree of fate; but you have won my affection, and as soon as I saw that you take pleasure in my society, I was unable to keep myself concealed. But that I am quite competent in the Greek speech I will show you amply."

"Why then," said Apollonius, "did you not invite me to the banquet, instead of begging me to invite you?"

"Because," he replied, "I regard you as my superior, for wisdom has more of the kingly quality about it."

And with that he led him and his companions to where he was accustomed to bathe. And the bathing-place was a garden, a stade in length, in the middle of which was dug out a pool, which was fed by fountains of water, cold and drinkable; and on each side there were exercising places, in which he was accustomed to practice himself after the manner of the Greeks with javelin and quoit-throwing; for physically he was very robust, both because he was still young, for he was only seven-and-twenty years old, and because he trained himself in this way. And when he had had enough exercise, he would jump into the water and exercised himself in swimming.

But when they had taken their bath, they proceeded into the banqueting chamber with wreaths upon their heads; for this is the custom of the Indians, whenever they drink wine in the palace.

[§28] And I must on no account omit to describe the arrangement of the banquet, since this has been clearly described and recorded by Damis. The king then banquets upon a mattress, and as many as five of his nearest relations with him; but all the rest join in the feast sitting upon chairs.

And the table resembles an altar in that it is built up to the height of a man's knee in the middle of the chamber, and allows rooms for thirty to dispose themselves around it like a choir in a close circle. Upon it laurels are strewn, and other branches which are similar to the myrtle, but yield to the Indians their balm. Upon it are served up fish and birds, and there are also laid upon it whole lions and gazelles and swine and the loins of tigers; for they decline to eat the other parts of this animal, because they say that, as soon as it is born, it lifts up its front paws to the rising Sun.

Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Coin of Alexander the Great, showing an Indian archer.
Indian archer, on a coin struck by Alexander to commemorate his Indian victory (©!!)

Next, the master of ceremonies rises and goes to the table, and he selects some of the viands for himself, and cuts off other portions, and then he goes back to his own chair and eats his full, constantly munching bread with it. And when they all have had enough, goblets of silver and gold are brought in, each of which is enough for ten banqueters, and out of these they drink, stooping down like animals that are being watered.

And while they are drinking, they have brought in performers of various dangerous feats, not undeserving of serious study. For a boy, like one employed by dancing-girls, would be tossed lightly aloft, and at the same moment an arrow is aimed at him, up in the air, and when he was a long way from the ground, the boy would, by a tumblers' leap, raise himself above the weapen, and if he missed his leap, he was sure to be hit. For the archer, before he let fly, went round the banqueters and showed them the point of his weapon, and let them try the missile themselves. Shooting through a ring, too, or hitting a hair with an arrow, or for a man to mark the outline of his own son with arrows, as he stands in front of a board, keeps them occupied at their banquets, and they aim straight, even when they are drinking.

 
[§29] Well, the companions of Damis marveled at the accuracy of their eye, and were surprised at the exactness with which they aimed their weapons; but Apollonius, who ate with the king, since they agreed in diet, was less interested in these feats and said to the king: "Tell me, O King, how you acquired such a command of the Greek tongue, and whence you derived all your philosophical attainments in this place? For I don't imagine that you owe them to teachers, for it is not likely that there are, in India, any who could teach it."

The king smiled and said: "In old days they would ask men who arrived by sea whether they were pirates, so common did they consider that way of living, hard though it is; but so far as I can make out, you Greeks ask your visitors whether they are not philosophers, so convinced you are that everyone you meet with must needs possess the divinest of human attainments. And that philosophy and piracy are one and the same thing among you, I am well aware; for they say that a man like yourself is not to be found anywhere; but that most of your philosophers are like people who have despoiled another man of his garment and then have dressed themselves up in it, although it does not fit them, and proceed to strut about trailing another man's garment. Nay, by Zeus, just as robbers live in luxury, well knowing that they lie at the mercy of justice, so are they, it is said, addicted to gluttony and riotous living and to delicate apparel.

Detail of the decoration of a stupa at the monastery of Jaulian at Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. Buddha (Taxila, Jaulian)

And the reason is this: you have laws, I believe, to the effect that if a man is caught forging money, he must die, and the same if anyone illegally enrolls a child upon the register, or there is some penalty, I know not what; but people who utter counterfeit philosophy or corrupt her are not, I believe, restrained among you by any law, nor is there any authority set to suppress them.

[§30] Now among us few engage in philosophy, and they are sifted and tried as follows: A young man so soon as he reaches the age of eighteen, and this I think is accounted the time of full age among you also, must pass across the river Hyphasis to the men who you are set upon visiting, after first making a public statement that he will become a philosopher, so that those who wish to may exclude him, if he does not approach the study in a state of purity. And by pure I mean, firstly, in respect of his parentage, that no disgraceful deed can be proved against either his father or his mother; next that their parents in turn, and the third generation upwards, are equally pure, that there was no ruffian among them, no debauchee, nor any unjust usurer.

 
And when no scar or reproach can be proved against them, nor any other stain whatever, then it is time narrowly to inspect the young man himself and test him, to see firstly, whether he has a good memory, and secondly, whether he is modest and reserved in disposition, and does not merely pretend to be so, whether he is addicted to drink, or greed, or a quack, or a buffoon, or rash, or abusive, to see whether he is obedient to his father, to his mother, to his teachers, to his school-masters, and above all, if he makes no bad use of his personal attractions.

The particulars then of his parents and of their progenitors are gathered from witnesses and from the public archives. For whenever an Indian dies, there visits his house a particular authority charged by the law to make a record of him, and of how he lived. And if this officer lies or allows himself to be deceived, he is condemned by the law and forbidden ever to hold another office, on the ground that he has counterfeited a man's life.

But the particulars of the youths themselves are duly learnt by inspection of them. For in many cases a man's eyes reveal the secrets of his character, and in many cases there is material for forming a judgment and appraising his value in his eyebrows and cheeks, for from these features the dispositions of people can be detected by wise and scientific men, as images are seen in a looking-glass. For seeing that philosophy is highly esteemed in this country, and it is held in honor by the Indians, it is absolutely necessary that those who take to it should be tested and subjected to a thousand modes of proof.

Well then, that we study philosophy under direction of teachers, and that admission to philosophy is by examination among us, I have clearly explained; and now I will relate to you my own history.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next
Note 1:
The Indo-Greek and Parthian kings had to defend their country against the Yuezhi nomads or Kushans; they may be the barbarians referred to. On the other hand, Philostratus' contemporaries must have read these lines as a comment upon the policy of the emperor Severus Alexander to buy off enemies.

Note 2:
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.

home  :  index  :  ancient Greece  :  ancient Rome  :  Apollonius of Tyana  :  Philostratus