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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

Detail of the decoration of a stupa at the monastery of Jaulian at Taxila. Photo Marco Prins. Buddha (Taxila, Jaulian)
[§41] Apollonius and Damis then took part in the interviews devoted to abstract discussions; not so with the conversations devoted to occult themes, in which they pondered the nature of astronomy or divination, and considered the problem of foreknowledge, and handled the problems of sacrifice and of the invocations in which the gods take pleasure.

In these Damis says that Apollonius alone partook of the philosophic discussion together with Iarchas, and that Apollonius embodied the results in four books concerning the divination by the stars, a work which Moeragenes has mentioned. And Damis says that he composed a work on the way to offer sacrifice to the several gods in a manner pleasing to them.

Not only then do I regard the work on the science of the stars and the whole subject of such divination as transcending human nature, but I do not even know if anyone has these gifts; but I found the treatise On sacrifice in several cities, and in the houses of several learned men; moreover, if anyone should translate it,[1] he would find it to be a grave and dignified composition, and one that rings of the author's personality.

And Damis says that Iarchas gave seven rings to Apollonius named after the seven stars [i.e., the planets], and that Apollonius wore each of these in turn on the day of the week which bore its name.

[§42] As to the subject of foreknowledge, they presently had a talk about it, for Apollonius was devoted to this kind of lore, and turned most of their conversations on to it. For this Iarchas praised him and said: "My good friend Apollonius, those who take pleasure in divination, are rendered divine thereby and contribute to the salvation of mankind. For here we have discoveries which we must go to a divine oracle in order to make; yet these, my good friend, we foresee of our unaided selves and foretell to others things which they know not yet. This I regard as the gift of one thoroughly blessed and endowed with the same mysterious power as the Delphic Apollo.

Now the ritual insists that those who visit a shrine with a view to obtaining a response, must purify themselves first, otherwise they will be told to "depart from the temple." Consequently I consider that one who would foresee events must be healthy in himself, and must not have his soul stained with any sort of defilement nor his character scarred with the wounds of any sins; so he will pronounce his predictions with purity, because he will understand himself and the sacred tripod in his breast, and with ever louder and clearer tone and truer import will he utter his oracles. Therefore you need not be surprised, if you comprehend the science, seeing that you carry in your soul so much ether."

[§43] And with these words he turned to Damis and said playfully: "And you, O Assyrian, have you no foreknowledge of anything, especially as you associate with such a man as this ?"

"Yes, by Zeus," answered Damis, "at any rate of the things that are necessary for myself; for when I first met with Apollonius here, he at once struck me as full of wisdom and cleverness and sobriety and of true endurance; but when I saw that he also had a good memory, and that he was very learned and entirely devoted to the love of learning, he became to me something superhuman; and I came to the conclusion that if I stuck to him I should be held a wise man instead of an ignoramus and a dullard, and an educated man instead of a savage; and I saw that, if I followed him and shared his pursuits, I should visit the Indians and visit you, and that I should be turned into a Hellene by him and be able to mix with the Hellenes. Now of course you set your oracles, as they concern important issues, on a level with those of Delphi and Dodona and of any other shrine you like; as for my own premonitions, since Damis is the person who has them, and since his foreknowledge concerns himself alone, we will suppose that they resemble the guesses of an old beggar wife foretelling what will happen to sheep and such like."

[§44] All the sages laughed of course at this sally, and when their laughter had subsided, Iarchas led back the argument to the subject of divination, and among the many blessings which that art had conferred upon mankind, he declared the gift of healing to be the most important. "For," said he, "the wise sons of Asclepius would have never attained to this branch of science, if Asclepius had not been the son of Apollo; and as such had not in accordance with the latter's responses and oracles concocted and adapted different drugs to different diseases; these he not only handed on to his own sons, but he taught his companions what herbs must be applied to running wounds, and what to parched and dry wounds, and in what doses to administer liquid drugs for drinking, by means of which dropsical patients are drained and bleeding is checked, and diseases of decay and the cavities due to their ravages are put an end to. And who," he said, "can deprive the art of divination of the credit of discovering simples which heal the bites of venomous creatures, and in particular of using the virus itself as a cure for many diseases? For I do not think that men without the forecasts of a prophetic wisdom would ever have ventured to mingle with medicines that save life these most deadly of poisons." 

[§45] And inasmuch as the following conversation also has been recorded by Damis as having been held upon this occasion with regard to the mythological animals and fountains and men met with in India, I must not leave it out, for there is much to be gained by neither believing nor yet disbelieving everything. Accordingly Apollonius asked the question, whether there was there an animal called the man-eater (martichoras) [2]; and Iarchas replied: "And what have you heard about the make of this animal? For it is probable that there is some account given of its shape."

"There are," replied Apollonius, "tall stories current which I cannot believe; for they say that the creature has four feet, and that his head resembles that of a man, but that in size it is comparable to a lion; while the tail of this animal puts out hairs a cubit long and sharp as thorns, which it shoots like arrows at those who hunt it."

And he further asked about the golden water which they say bubbles up from a spring, and about the stone which behaves like a magnet, and about the men who live underground and the pigmies also and the shadow-footed men; and Iarchas answered his questions thus: "What have I to tell you about animals or plants or fountains which you have seen yourself on coming here? For by this time you are as competent to describe these to other people as I am; but I never yet heard in this country of an animal that shoots arrows or of springs of golden water."

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Note 1:
As an inhabitant of Tyana, Apollonius must have spoken Aramaic.

Note 2:
A dangerous beast mentioned for the first time by the Greek author Ctesias of Cnidus (Indica, §15). His account goes back to an exaggerated description of the tiger (Old Persian: mardomxôr).

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