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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

  [§21] And he is said to have rebuked the Athenians for their conduct of the festival of Dionysus, which they hold at the season of the month Anthesterion [February-March]. For when he saw them flocking to the theater he imagined that the were going to listen to solos and compositions in the way of processional and rhythmic hymns, such as are sung in comedies and tragedies; but when he heard them dancing lascivious jigs to the rondos of a pipe, and in the midst of the sacred epic of Orpheus striking attitudes as the Hours, or as nymphs, or as bacchants, he set himself to rebuke their proceedings and said: "Stop dancing away the reputations of the victors of Salamis as well as of many other good men deported this life. For if indeed this were a Lacedaemonian [i.e., masculine] form of dance, I would say, 'Bravo, soldiers; for you are training yourselves for war, and I will join in your dance'; but as it is a soft dance and one of effeminate tendency, what am I to say of your national trophies? Not as monuments of shame to the Medians or Persians, but to your own shame they will have been raised, should you degenerate so much from those who set them up.

And what do you mean by your saffron robes and your purple and scarlet raiment? For surely the Acharnians [1] never dressed themselves up in this way, nor ever the knights of Colonus rode in such garb. A woman commanded a ship from Caria and sailed against you with Xerxes, and about her there was nothing womanly, but she wore the garb and armor of a man; but you are softer than the women of Xerxes' day, and you are dressing yourselves up to your own despite, old and young and striplings alike, all those who of old flocked to the temple of Agraulus in order to swear to die in battle on behalf of the fatherland.

And now it seems that the same people are ready to swear to become bacchants and don the thyrsus in behalf of their country; and no one bears a helmet, but "disguised as female harlequins", to use the phrase of Euripides,[2] they shine in shame alone. Nay more, I hear that you turn yourselves into winds, and wave your skirts, and pretend that you are ships bellying their sails aloft. But surely you might at least have some respect for the winds that were your allies and once blew mightily to protect you,[3] instead of turning [the northern wind] Boreas who was your patron, and who of all the winds is the most masculine, into a woman; for Boreas would never have become the lover of Oreithya, if he had seen her executing, like you, a skirt dance."

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The theater of Dionysus in Athens. Photo Marco Prins.
The theater of Dionysus in Athens

[§22] He also corrected the following abuse at Athens. The Athenians ran in crowds to the theater beneath the Acropolis to witness human slaughter, and the passion for such [gladiatorial] sports was stronger there than it is in Corinth today; for they would buy for large sums adulterers and fornicators and burglars and cut-purses and kidnappers and such-like rabble, and then they took them and armed them and set them to fight with one another. Apollonius then attacked these practices, and when the Athenians invited him to attend their assembly, he refused to enter a place so impure and reeking with gore.

Gladiators on a Roman oil lamp from Cologne. Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Gladiators on a Roman oil lamp from Cologne  (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln; ©**)

And this he said in an epistle to them; he said that he was surprised
"that the goddess [Athena] had not already quitted the Acropolis, when you shed such blood under her eyes. For I suspect that presently, when you are conducting the pan-Athenaic procession, you will no longer be content with bull, but will be sacrificing hecatombs of men to the goddess. And thou, O Dionysus, dost thou after such bloodshed frequent their theater? And do the wise among the Athenians pour libations to thee there? Nay do thou depart, O Dionysus. Holier and purer is thy Cithaeron."

Such were the more serious of the subjects which I have found he treated of at that time in Athens in his philosophical discourses.

[§23] And he also went as envoy to the Thessalians in behalf of Achilles at the time of the conferences held in Pylaea, at which the Thessalians transact the Amphictyonic business. And they were so frightened that they passed a resolution for the resumption of the ceremonies at the tomb.

The hill of Thermopylae, site of the last stand of the Spartans. Photo Jona Lendering.
The "loftiest spot"

As for the monument of Leonidas the Spartan, he almost clasped it in his arms, so great was his admiration for the hero; and as he was coming to the mound where the Lacedaemonians are said to have been overwhelmed by the bolts which the enemy rained upon them, he heard his companions discussing with one another which was the loftiest hill in Hellas, this topic being suggested it seems by the sight of Oeta which rose before their eyes; so ascending the mound, he said: "I consider this the loftiest spot of all, for those who fell here in defense of freedom raised it to a level with Oeta [where Heracles fell] and carried it to a height surpassing many mountains like Olympus. It is these men that I admire, and beyond any of them Megistias the Acarnanian; for he knew the death that they were about to die, and deliberately made up his mind to share in it with these heroes, fearing not so much death, as the prospect that he should miss death in such company."

Bust of Nero. Glyptothek München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Nero (Glyptothek, Munich)

[§24] And he also visited all the Greek shrines, namely that of Dodona, and the Pythian temple [at Delphi], and the one at Abae, and he betook himself to those of Amphiaraus and of Trophonius, and he went up to the shrine of the Muses on Mount Helicon. And when he visited these temples and corrected the rites, the priests went in his company, and the votaries followed in his steps, and goblets were set up flowing with rational discourse and the thirsty quaffed their wine.

And as the Olympic Games were coming on, and the people of Elis invited him to take part in the contest, he answered: "You seem to me to tarnish the glory of the Olympic Games, if you need to send special invitations to those who intend to visit you at their own promptings."

And as he was at the Isthmus, when the sea was roaring around Lechaeum and hearing it, he said: "This neck of land shall be cut through, or rather it shall not be cut."

And herein he uttered a prediction of the cutting of the Isthmus which was attempted soon afterwards, when Nero after seven years projected it.[4] For the latter left his imperial palace and came to Hellas, with the intention of submitting himself to the heralds' commands, in the Olympic and Pythian festivals; and he also won the prize at the Isthmus, his victories being won in the contest of singing to the harp and in that of the heralds. And he also won the prize for the tragedians at Olympia. It is said that he then formed the novel project of cutting through the Isthmus, in order to make a canal of it for ships to sail through and not right round, uniting the Aegean with the Adriatic Sea. So instead of every ship having to round Cape Malea [at the southern end of the Peloponnese], most by passing through the canal so cut could abridge an otherwise circuitous voyage.

But mark the upshot of the oracle of Apollonius. They began to dig the canal at Lechaeum, but they had not advanced more than about four stadia of continuous excavation, when Nero stopped the work of cutting it. Some say because Egyptian men of science explained him the nature of the seas, and declared that the sea above Lechaeum [in the west] would flood and obliterate the island of Aegina [in the east], and others because he apprehended a revolution in the empire. Such then was the meaning of Apollonius' prediction that the Isthmus would be cut through and would not be cut through.

[§25] Now there was in Corinth at that time a man named Demetrius, who studied philosophy and had embraced in his system all the masculine vigor of the Cynics. Of him Favorinus in several of his works subsequently made the most generous mention, and his attitude towards Apollonius was exactly that which they say Antisthenes took up towards the system of Socrates: for he followed him and was anxious to be his disciple, and was devoted to his doctrines, and converted to the side of Apollonius the more esteemed of his own pupils.

Among the latter was Menippus a Lycian of twenty-five years of age, well endowed with good judgment, and of a physique so beautifully proportioned that in mien he resembled a fine and gentlemanly athlete. Now this Menippus was supposed by most people to be loved by a foreign woman, who was good-looking and extremely dainty, and said that she was rich; although she was really, as it turned out, not one of these things, but was only so in semblance.

For as he was walking all alone along the road towards Cenchraea, he met with an apparition, and it was a woman who clasped his hand and declared that she had been long in love with him, and that she was a Phoenician woman and lived in a suburb of Corinth, and she mentioned the name of the particular suburb, and said: "When you reach the place this evening, you will hear my voice as I sing to you, and you shall have wine such as you never before drank, and there will be no rival to disturb you; and we two beautiful beings will live together."

The youth consented to this, for although he was in general a strenuous philosopher, he was nevertheless susceptible to the tender passion; and he visited her in the evening, and for the future constantly sought her company as his darling, for he did not yet realize that she was a mere apparition.

Then Apollonius looked over Menippus as a sculptor might do, and he sketched an outline of the youth and examined him, and having observed his foibles, he said: "You are a fine youth and are hunted by fine women, but in this case you are cherishing a serpent, and a serpent cherishes you."

And when Menippus expressed his surprise, he added: "For this lady is of a kind you cannot marry. Why should you? Do you think that she loves you?"

"Indeed I do," said the youth, "since she behaves to me as if she loves me."

"And would you then marry her?" said Apollonius.

"Why, yes, for it would be delightful to marry a woman who loves you."

Thereupon Apollonius asked when the wedding was to be. "Perhaps tomorrow," said the other, "for it brooks no delay." 

Apollonius therefore waited for the occasion of the wedding breakfast, and then, presenting himself before the guests who had just arrived, he said: "Where is the dainty lady at whose instance ye are come?"

"Here she is," replied Menippus, and at the same moment he rose slightly from his seat, blushing.

"And to which of you belong the silver and gold and all the rest of the decorations of the banqueting hall?"

"To the lady," replied the youth, "for this is all I have of my own," pointing to the philosopher's cloak which he wore.

And Apollonius said: "Have you heard of the gardens of Tantalus, how they exist and yet do not exist?"

"Yes," they answered, "in the poems of Homer, for we certainly never went down to Hades."

"As such," replied Apollonius, "you must regard this adornment, for it is not reality but the semblance of reality. And that you may realize the truth of what I say, this fine bride is one of the vampires, that is to say of those beings whom the many regard as lamias and hobgoblins. These beings fall in love, and they are devoted to the delights of Aphrodite, but especially to the flesh of human beings, and they decoy with such delights those whom they mean to devour in their feasts."

And the lady said: "Cease your ill-omened talk and begone"; and she pretended to be disgusted at what she heard, and in fact she was inclined to rail at philosophers and say that they always talked nonsense. When, however, the goblets of gold and the show of silver were proved as light as air and all fluttered away out of their sight, while the wine-bearers and the cooks and all the retinue of servants vanished before the rebukes of Apollonius, the phantom pretended to weep, and prayed him not to torture her nor to compel her to confess what she really was.

But Apollonius insisted and would not let her off, and then she admitted that she was a vampire, and was fattening up Menippus with pleasures before devouring his body, for it was her habit to feed upon young and beautiful bodies, because their blood is pure and strong.

I have related at length, because it was necessary to do so, this the best-known story of Apollonius; for many people are aware of it and know that he incident occurred in the center of Hellas; but they have only heard in a general and vague manner that he once caught and overcame a lamia in Corinth, but they have never learned what she was about, nor that he did it to save Menippus, but I owe my own account to Damis and to the work which he wrote.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next

  Note 1:
A village north of Athens, considered to be a bit backward. Colonus had a well-known temple of Poseidon that was the cult center of the Athenian cavalry.

Note 2:
Euripides, Bacchants 980.

Note 3:
During the Persian wars, the Greeks prayed to the winds, which destroyed part of the Persian fleet.

Note 4:
This remark enables us to date Apollonius' visit to Corinth to the year 61. Nero ordered the cutting of the canal in 67.

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