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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] The rest of the company also besought him to tell them all about it, and as they were in a mood to listen to him, he said: "Well, it was not by digging a ditch like Odysseus, nor by tempting souls with the blood of sheep, that I obtained a conversation with Achilles; but I offered up the prayer which the Indians say they use in approaching their heroes. 'O Achilles,' I said, 'most of mankind declare that you are dead, but I cannot agree with them, nor can Pythagoras, my spiritual ancestor. If then we hold the truth, show to us your own form; for you would profit not a little by showing yourself to my eyes, if you should be able to use them to attest your existence.'

Thereupon a slight earthquake shook the neighborhood of the barrow, and a youth issued forth five cubits high, wearing a cloak of Thessalian fashion; but in appearance he was by no means the braggart figure which some imagine Achilles to have been. Though he was stern to look upon, he had never lost his bright look; and it seems to me that his beauty has never received its meed of praise, even though Homer dwelt at length upon it; for it was really beyond the power of words, and it is easier for the singer to ruin his fame in this respect than to praise him as he deserved.

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Kesik tepe, perhaps the tomb of Achilles. Photo Marco Prins.
Kesik Tepe: perhaps the tomb of Achilles

At first sight he was of the size which I have mentioned, but he grew bigger, till he was twice as large and even more than that; at any rate he appeared to me to be twelve cubits high just at that moment when he reached his complete stature, and his beauty grew apace with his length. He told me then that he had never at any time shorn off his hair, bit preserved it to inviolate for the river Spercheus, for this was the river of his first intimacy; but on his cheeks you saw the first down.

And he addressed me and said: 'I am pleased to have met you, since I have long wanted a man like yourself. For the Thessalians for a long time past have failed to present their offerings to my tomb, and I do not yet wish to show my wrath against them; for if I did so, they would perish more thoroughly than ever the Hellenes did on this spot; accordingly I resort to gentle advice, and would warn them not to violate ancient custom, nor to prove themselves worse men than the Trojans here, who though they were robbed of so many of their heroes by myself, yet sacrifice publicly to me, and also give me the tithes of their fruits of season, and olive branch in hand [1] ask for a truce from my hostility. But this I will not grant, for the perjuries which they committed against me will not suffer Ilium ever to resume its pristine beauty, nor to regain the prosperity which yet has favored many a city that was destroyed of old; nay, if they rebuild it, things shall go as hard with them as if their city had been captured only yesterday. In order then to save me from bringing the Thessalian polity then to the same condition, you must go as my envoy to their council in behalf of the object I have mentioned.'


'I will be your envoy,' I replied, 'for the object of my embassy were to save them from ruin. But, O Achilles, I would ask something of you.'

'I understand,' said he, 'for it is plain you are going to ask about the Trojan war. So ask me five questions about whatever you like, and that the Fates approve of.'

I accordingly asked him firstly, if he had obtained burial in accordance with the story of the poets. 'I lie here,' he answered, 'as was most delightful to myself and Patroclus; for you know we met in mere youth, and a single golden jar holds the remains of both of us, as if we were one. But as for the dirges of the Muses and Nereids, which they say are sung over me, the Muses, I may tell you, never once came here at all, though the Nereids still resort to the spot.'

Next I asked him, if Polyxena was really slaughtered over his tomb; and he replied that this was true, but that she was not slain by the Achaeans, but that she came of her own free will to the sepulcher, and that so high was the value she set on her passion for him and she for her, that she threw herself upon an upright sword.

The third questions was this: 'Did Helen, O Achilles, really come to Troy or was it Homer that was pleased to make up the story?'

'For a long time,' he replied, 'we were deceived  and tricked into sending envoys to the Trojans and fighting battles in her behalf, in the belief that she was in Ilium, whereas she really was living in Egypt and in the house of Proteus, whither she had been snatched away by Paris. But when we became convinced thereof, we continued to fight to win Troy itself, so as not to disgrace ourselves by retreat.'

The fourth question which I ventured upon was this: 'I wonder,' I said, 'that Greece ever produced at any one time so many and such distinguished heroes as Homer says were gathered against Troy.'

But Achilles answered: 'Why even the barbarians did not fall far short of us, so abundantly then did excellence flourish all over the earth.'

And my fifth question was this: 'Why was it that Homer knew nothing about Palamedes, or if he knew him, then kept him out of your story?'

'If Palamedes,' he answered, 'never came to Troy, then Troy never existed either. But since this wisest and most warlike hero fell in obedience to Odysseus' whim, Homer does not introduce him into his poems, lest he should have to record the shame of Odysseus in his song.'

And withal Achilles raised a wail over him as over one who was the greatest and most beautiful of men, the youngest and also the most warlike, one who in sobriety surpassed all others, and had often foregathered with the Muses. 'But you,' he added, 'O Apollonius, since sages have a tender regard for one another, you must care for his tomb and restore the image of Palamedes that has been so comtemptuously cast aside; and it lies in Aeolis close to Methymna in Lesbos.'

Wit these words and with the closing remarks concerning the youth from Paros, Achilles vanished with a flash of summer lightning, for indeed the cocks were already beginning their chant."

[§17] So much for the conversation on board; but having sailed into the Piraeus at the season of the mysteries, when the Athenians keep the most crowded of Hellenic festivals, he went post haste up from the ship into the city; but as he went forward, he fell in with quite a number of students of philosophy on their way down to Phaleron. Some of them were stripped and enjoying the heat, for in autumn the sun is hot upon the Athenians; and others were studying books, and some were rehearsing their speeches, and others were disputing. But no one passed him by, for they all guessed that it was Apollonius, and they turned and thronged around him and welcomed him warmly; and ten youths in a body met him and holding up their hands to the Acropolis, they cried: "By Athena yonder, we were on the point of going down to the Piraeus there to take ship to Ionia in order to visit you." And he welcomed them and said how much he congratulated them on their study of philosophy.

[§18] It was then the day of the Epidaurian festival, at which it is still customary for the Athenians to hold the initiation at a second sacrifice after both proclamation and victims have been offered;[2] and this custom was instituted in honor of Asclepius, because they still initiated him when on one occasion he arrived from Epidaurus too late for the mysteries. Now most people neglected the initiation and hung around Apollonius, and thought more of doing that than of being perfected in their religion before they went home; but Apollonius said that he would join them later on, and urged them to attend at once to the rites of the religion, for that he himself would be initiated.

But the hierophant was not disposed to admit him to the rites, for he said that he would never initiate a wizard and charlatan, nor open the Eleusinian rite to a man who dabbled in impure rites. Thereupon Apollonius, fully equal to the occasion, said: "You have not yet mentioned the chief of my offense, which is that knowing, as I do, more about the initiatory rite than you do yourself, I have nevertheless come for initiation to you, as if you were wiser than I am."

The bystanders applauded these words, and deemed that he had answered with vigor and like himself; and thereupon the hierophant, since he saw that his exclusion of Apollonius was not by any means popular with the crowd, changed his tone and said: "Be thou initiated, for thou seemest to be some wise man who has come here."

But Apollonius replied: "I will be initiated at another time, and it is so and so," mentioning a name, "who will initiate me." Herein he showed his gift of prevision, for he glanced at the hierophant who succeeded the one he addressed, and presided over the temple four years later.

[§19] Many were the discourses which according to Damis the sage delivered at Athens; though he did not write down all of them, but only the more indispensable ones in which he handled great subjects. He took for the topic of his first discourse the matter of rite and ceremonies, and this because he saw that the Athenians were much addicted to sacrifices; and in it he explained how a religious man could best adapt his sacrifice, his libations, or prayers to any particular divinity, and at what hours of day and night he ought to offer them. And it is possible to obtain a book of Apollonius, in which he gives instructions in his own words.

But Athens he discussed these topics with a view to improving his own wisdom and that of others in the first place, and in the second of convincing the hierophant of blasphemy and ignorance in the remarks he had made; for who could continue to regard as one impure in his religion a man who taught philosophically how the worship of the gods is to be conducted?

[§20] Now while he was discussing the question of libations, there chanced to be present in his audience a young dandy who bore so evil a reputation for licentiousness that his conduct had long been the subject of coarse street-corner songs. His home was Corcyra, and he traced his pedigree to Alcinous the Phaeacian who entertained Odysseus.

Apollonius then was talking about libations, and was urging them not to drink out of a particular cup, but to reserve it for the gods, without ever touching it or drinking out of it.  But when he also urged them to have handles on the cup, and to pour the libation over the handle, because that is the part at which men are least likely to drink, the youth burst out into loud and coarse laughter, and quite drowned his voice. Then Apollonius looked up and said: "It is not yourself that perpetrates this insult, but the demon, who drives you without your knowing it."

And in fact the youth was, without knowing it, possessed by a devil; for he would laugh at things that no one else laughed at, and then would fall to weeping for no reason at all, and he would talk and sing to himself. Now most people thought that it was boisterous humor of youth which led him into excesses; but he was really the mouthpiece of a devil, though it only seemed a drunken frolic in which on that occasion he was indulging.

Now, when Apollonius gazed on him, the ghost in him began to utter cries of fear and rage, such as one hears from people who are being branded or racked; and the ghost swore that he would leave the you man alone and never take possession of any man again. But Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. "I will throw down yonder statue," said the devil, and pointed to one of the images which were there in the king's portico,[3] for there it was that the scene took place.

But when the statue began by moving gently, and then fell down, it would defy anyone to describe the hubbub which arose thereat and the way they clapped their hand with wonder. But the young man rubbed his eyes as if he had just woke up, and he looked towards the rays of the sun, and assumed a modest aspect, as all had their attention concentrated on him; for he no longer showed himself licentious, nor did he stare madly about, but he had returned to his own self, as thoroughly as if he had been treated with drugs; and he gave up his dainty dress and summery garments and the rest of his sybaritic way of life, and he fell in love with the austerity of philosophers, and donned their cloak, and stripping off his old self modeled his life and future upon that of Apollonius.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next
  Note 1:
A symbol of peace, used by messengers who came to ask for a favor. It often indicated the acceptance that one had been defeated.

Note 2:
On the 17th Boedromium. In the year 60, this is 1 November.

Note3:
The Stoa Basileia on the agora (market) of Athens.

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