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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 4:

Most of Book 4 is concerned with Apollonius' visits to the Greek cities in Ionia and the mainland. He provides their citizens with advice, admonition and assistance. In Ephesus (4.1-4) he condemns the idle amusement to which the Ephesians are addicted, urges them to adopt a sense of community, and warns them of the outbreak of a plague epidemic. In Smyrna (4.5-9) the Ionian league comes under attack because a number of Roman names occur in one of its decrees. Apollonius also discusses how civic life should function with the people of Smyrna. When the plague breaks out in Ephesus, Apollonius miraculously travels there, exposes an old beggar as the plague demon, and eggs the Ephesians on to stone him (4.10). A statue is erected for Apollonius near the theater.
     He then proceeds to Pergamon, where he visits the shrine of Asclepius, and to Troy, where he spends the night on the mound of Achilles (4.11). He boards a ship bound for Greece, visiting the grave of Palamedes on the Aeolian coast (4.13) and the shrine of Orpheus on Lesbos (4.14) on the way. During the rest of the voyage, at Damis' request, he describes his nocturnal meeting with the ghost of Achilles (4.15f). After arriving in Athens (4.17), Apollonius wants to be initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. At first the hierophant refuses to admit a charlatan to the mysteries. A match for the occasion, Apollonius gives the name of the hierophant who will initiate him on a subsequent occasion (4.18).
     He lectures the Athenians on cultic practices (4.19), on the effeminate manner in which they celebrate the Anthesteria (4.21), and criticizes the gladiatorial shows held in the theater of Dionysus (4.22). He also expels a demon (4.20). On behalf of Achilles, he convinces the Thessalians of the need to resume his cult, and he pays a visit to Thermopylae (4.23). He corrects cultic practices during his visits to Greek shrines and predicts Nero's (unsuccessful) attempt to dig a canal through the Isthmus (4.24). In Corinth he is joined by the Cynic philosopher Demetrius, where he rescues the latter's pupil Menippus from the claws of a female vampire (4.25). After a brief reference to Apollonius' conflict  with the Corinthian Bassus (4.26), the scene shifts to Olympia. As he is on his way there, Apollonius comes across Spartan envoys; he criticizes their effeminate appearance in a letter to the ephors, resulting in an ethical revival in Sparta (4.27). In Olympia he discusses a few of the statues with his companions, takes part in the religious ceremonies, and rebukes the pretentious young author of an encomium on Zeus (4.28-30). His ethical exhortations meet with general admiration, but he refuses divine honors. In Sparta (4.31-33) he discusses religious and judicial affairs with the magistrates. He brings a young man who shuns community responsibilities to see the error of his ways, and he advises the Spartans on how to answer an imperial letter. He sails from the Peloponnese to Crete, where he visits the shrine of Asclepius in Leben and diagnoses the geological effect of an earthquake (4.34).
     Chapters 35ff of Book 4 deal with Apollonius' first stay in Italy and his conflict with the regime of Nero. As they are traveling to Rome, Apollonius and his disciples encounter Philolaus of Cittium, who is on the run from Nero and urges Apollonius to follow his example. These words result in a radical diminution in the number of Apollonius' followers. The sage of Tyana discusses philosophical resolution in the face of tyrants with those disciples who are left (4.36-38). Not long after their arrival in Rome, Apollonius and his companions become engaged in a conflict with a drunken harpist who sings Nero's songs (4.39). Next day Apollonius has a meeting with the consul Telesinus, who is well disposed toward him and gives the sage permission to stay in various temples in Rome (4.40). After Demetrius is banished from Rome by the praetorian prefect, Tigellinus, for criticizing the baths which Nero has had built, suspicion also falls on Apollonius (4.42). These suspicions grow after Apollonius interprets an eclipse of the sun as an omen of Nero's narrow escape from being killed by lightning (4.43). A remark by Apollonius on Nero's vocal capacities serves as a pretext for his arrest by Tigellinus on a charge of lese majesty. When the scroll containing the indictment is unrolled, the text proves to have been mysteriously erased. Apollonius gets the better of Tigellinus during a private hearing, and the prefect has him released out of fear of his supernatural powers (4.44). Apollonius brings a young woman, a member of a consular family, back to life (4.45). Using Menippus and Damis as intermediaries, he corresponds with the philosopher Musonius Rufus, who has been imprisoned by Nero. Musonius declines the offer to release him (4.46). Book 4 closes with Apollonius' departure for Hispania, occasioned by a prohibition on all philosophical activity which Nero had decreed before his departure for Greece.

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The temple of Didyma. Photo Jona Lendering.
The temple of Didyma

[1] And when they saw our sage in Ionia and he had arrived in Ephesus, even the mechanics would not remain at their handicrafts, but followed him, one admiring his wisdom, another his beauty, another his way of life, another his bearing, some of them everything alike about him.

Reports also were current about him which originated from various oracles; thus from the oracle at Colophon it was announced that he shared its peculiar wisdom and was absolutely wise, and so forth; from that of Didyma similar rumors emanated, as also from the shrine of Pergamon; for the God [Asclepius] urged not a few of these who were in need of health to betake themselves to Apollonius, for this was what "he himself approved and was pleasing to the Fates."

Deputations also waited upon him from various cities offering him their hospitality, and asking his advise about life in general as well as about the dedication of altars and images; and he regulated their several affairs in some case by letter, but in others he said would visit them.

And the city of Smyrna also sent a deputation, but they would not say what they wanted, though they besought him to visit them; so he asked the legate what they wanted of him, but he merely said, "to see him and to be seen." So Apollonius said: "I will come, but, O ye Muses, grant that we may also like one another."

[2] The first discourse then which he delivered was to the Ephesians from the platform of their temple, and its tone was not that of the Socratic school; for he dissuaded and discouraged them from other pursuits, and urged them to fill Ephesus with real study rather than with idleness and revelry such as he found around him there; for they were devoted to dancers and taken up with pantomimes, and the whole city was full of pipers, and full of effeminate rascals, and full of noise. So, though the Ephesians had come over to him, he determined not tot wink at such things, but cleared them out and made them odious to most of them. 

[3] His other discourses he delivered under the trees which grow hard by the cloisters; and in these he dealt with the question of communism, and taught that they ought to support and be supported by one another. While he was doing so on one occasion, sparrows were sitting quite silent upon the trees, but one of them suddenly set to chirping as it flew up, just as if he had some exhortations to give to his fellows; and the latter, on hearing it, themselves set up a chirping and rose and flew up under the guidance of the one.

Now Apollonius went on with his argument, for he knew what it was that made the sparrows take wing, but he did not explain the matter to the multitude who were listening to him; but when they all looked at the birds and some of them in their silliness thought it a miraculous occurrence, Apollonius interrupted his argument and said: "A boy has slipped who was carrying some barley in a bowl, and after carelessly gathering together what was fallen, he has gone off, leaving much of if scattered about it in yonder alley, and this sparrow, witnessing the occurrence has come here to acquaint his fellows with the good luck, and to invite them to come and eat it with him."

Most of his audience accordingly ran off to the spot, but Apollonius continued to those who remained with him the discourse he had proposed to himself  on the topic of communism; and when they returned talking loudly and full of wonder, he continued thus: "You see how the sparrows care for one another and delight in communism, but we are far from approving of it, nay, should we happen to see anyone sharing his own in common with others, we set him down as a spendthrift and talk about his extravagance and so forth, while as for those who are supported by him, we call them parasites and flatterers. What then is left for us to do, except to shut ourselves up like birds that are being fed up and fattened, and gorge ourselves in the dark until we literally burst with fat?"

The theater of Ephesus. Photo Jona Lendering.
Theater of Ephesus

[4] A pestilence was creeping over Ephesus; but the disease had not yet reached its full violence, before Apollonius understood that it was approaching, and impressed with the danger he foretold it, and interspersed his discourses with such exclamations as "O earth, remain true to thyself!" and he added in a tone of menace such appeals as these: "Do thou  preserve these men here," and "Thou shalt not pass hither."

But his hearers did not attend to these warnings and thought them mere rodomontade, all the more because they saw him constantly visiting all the temples in order to avert and deprecate the calamity. And since they conducted themselves so foolishly in respect of the scourge, he thought that it was not necessary to do anything more for them, but began a tour of the rest of Ionia, regulating their several affairs, and from time to time recommending in his discourses what was salutary for his audiences.

[5] But when he came to Smyrna the Ionians went out to meet him, for they were just celebrating the pan-Ionian sacrifices. And he there read a decree of the Ionians, in which they besought him to take part in their solemn meeting; and in it he met with a name which had not at all an Ionian ring, for a certain Lucullus [1] had signed the resolution. He accordingly sent a letter to their council expressing his astonishment at such an instance of barbarism; for he had, it seems, also found the name Fabricius and other such names in the decrees. The letter on this subject shows how sternly he reprimanded them. 

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next

Note 1:
A Latin name.

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