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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

  [§31] The conversations which Apollonius held in Olympia turned upon the most profitable topics, such as wisdom and courage and temperance, and in a word upon all the virtues. He discussed these from the platform of the temple, and he astonished everyone not only by the insight he showed but by his forms of expression. 

And the Lacedaemonians flocked round him and invited him to share their hospitality at their shrine of Zeus, and made him father of their youths at home, and legislator of their lives and the honor of their old men. Now there was a Corinthian who felt piqued at all this, and asked whether they were also going to celebrate a theophany [1] for him. "Yes," said the other, "by Castor and Pollux, everything is ready anyhow." But Apollonius did not encourage them to pay him such honors, for he feared they would arouse envy.

And when having crossed the mountain Taygetus, he saw a Lacedaemon hard at work before him and all the institutions of [the legendary legislator] Lycurgus in full swing, he felt that it would be a real pleasure to converse with the authorities of the Lacedaemonians about things which they might ask his opinion upon; so they asked him when he arrived how the gods are to be revered, and he answered: "As your lords and masters."

Secondly, they asked him: "And how the heroes?"

"As fathers," he replied.

And their third question was: "How are men to be revered?"

And he answered: "Your question is not one which any Spartan should put."

They asked him also what he thought of their laws, and he replied that they were most excellent teachers, adding that teachers will gain fame in proportion as their disciples are industrious. And when they asked him what advice he had to give them about courage, he answered: "Why what else, but that you should display it?"[2]

[§32] And about this time it happened that a certain youth of Lacedaemon was charged by his fellow citizens with violating the customs of his country. For though he was descended from Callicratidas who led the navy at the battle of Arginusae [in which the Spartans were defeated by the Athenians], yet he was devoted to seafaring and paid not attention to public affairs; but, instead of doing so, would sail off to Carthage or Sicily in the ships which he had had built.

Apollonius then hearing that he was arraigned for this conduct, thought it a pity to desert the youth who had just fallen under the hand of justice, and said to him: "My excellent fellow, why do you go about so full of anxiety and with such a gloomy air?"

"A public prosecution," said the other, "has been instituted against me, because I go in for seafaring and take no part in public affairs."

"And was your father or your grandfather a mariner?"

"Of course not," said the other; "they were all of them chiefs of the gymnasium and Ephors and public guardians; Callicratidas, however, my ancestor, was a real admiral of the fleet."

"I suppose," said Apollonius, "you hardly mean him of Arginusae fame?"

"Yes, that fell in the naval action leading his fleet."

"Then," said Apollonius, "your ancestor's mode of death has not given you any prejudice against a seafaring life?"

"No, by Zeus," said the other, "for it is not with a view to conducting battles by sea that I set sail."

"Well, and can you mention any rabble of people more wretched and ill-starred than merchants and skippers? In the first place they roam from sea to sea, looking for some market that is badly stocked; and then they sell and are sold, associating with factors and brokers, and they subject their own heads to the most unholy rate of interest in their hurry to get back to the principal; and if they do well, their ship has a lucky voyage, and they tell you a long story of how they never wrecked it either willingly or unwillingly; but if their gains do not balance their debts, they jump into their long boats and dash their ships on to the rocks, and make no bones as sailors of robbing others of their substance, pretending in the most blasphemous manner that it is an act of God.

And even if the seafaring crowd who go on voyages be not so bad as I make them out to be; yet is there any shame worse than this, for a man who is a citizen of Sparta and the child of forbears who of old lived in the heart of Sparta, to secrete himself in the hold of a ship, oblivious of [the legendary legislator] Lycurgus and Iphitus, thinking of nought but of cargoes and petty bills of lading? For if he thinks of nothing else, he might at least bear in mind that Sparta herself, so long as she stuck to the land, enjoyed a fame reaching to heaven; but when she began to covet the sea, she sank down and down, and was blotted out at last, not only on the sea but on the land as well."

The young man was so overcome by these arguments, that he bowed his head to the earth and wept, because he heard he was so degenerate from his fathers; and he sold the ships by which he lived. And when Apollonius saw that he was restored to his senses and inclined to embrace a career on land, he led him before the Ephors and obtained his acquittal.

[§33] Here is another incident that happened in Lacedaemon. A letter came from the Emperor [Nero] heaping reproaches upon the public assembly of the Lacedaemonians, and declaring that in their license they abused liberty, and this letter had been addressed to them at the instance of the governor of Greece, who had maligned them. The Lacedaemonians then were at a loss what to do, and Sparta was divided against herself over the issue, whether in their reply to the letter they should try to appease the Emperor's wrath or take a lofty tone towards him.

Under the circumstances they sought the counsel of Apollonius and asked him how to pitch the tone of their letter. And he, when he saw them to be divided on the point, came forward in their public assembly and delivered himself of the following short and concise speech: "Palamedes discovered writing not only in order that people might write, but also in order that they might know what they must not write." In this way accordingly he dissuaded the Lacedaemonians from showing themselves to be either too bold or cowardly.

[§34] He stayed in Sparta for some time after the Olympic Festival, until the winter was over; and at the beginning of the spring proceeded to Malea with the intention of setting out for Rome. But while he was still pondering this project, he had the following dream: It seemed as if a woman both very tall and venerable in years embraced him, and asked him to visit her before he set sail for Italy; and she said that she was the nurse of Zeus, and she wore a wreath that held everything that is on the earth or in the seas.

He proceeded to ponder the meaning of the vision, and came to the conclusion that he ought first to sail to Crete, which we regard as the nurse of Zeus, because in that island Zeus was born; although the wreath might perhaps indicate some other island.

Now there were several ships at Malea, making ready to set sail to Crete, so he embarked upon one sufficient for his association, which is the title he gave to his companions, and also his companions' servants, for he did not think it right to pass over the latter. And he bent his course for Cydonia, and sailed past that place to Knossus, where a labyrinth is shown, which, I believe, once on a time, contained the Minotaur. As his companions were anxious to see this he allowed them to do so, but refused himself to be a spectator of the injustice of [the legendary king] Minos, and continued his course to Gortyna because he longed to visit [Mount] Ida. He accordingly climbed up, and after visiting the sacred sites he passed on to the shrine of Lebena.

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The lion of Lebena
The "lion" of Lebena (©!!!)

And this is a shrine of Asclepius, and just as the whole of Asia flocks to Pergamon, so the whole of Crete flocked to this shrine; and many Libyans [from the Cyrenaica] also cross the sea to visit it, for it faces towards the Libyan sea close to Phaestus, where the little rock keeps out a might sea. And they say that this shrine is named that of Lebena, because a promontory juts out from it which resembles a lion, for here, as often, a chance arrangement of the rocks suggests an animal form; and they tell a story about this promontory, how it was once one of the lion which were yoked in the chariot of Rhea [=Cybele].

Here Apollonius was haranguing on one occasion about midday, and was addressing quite a number of people who were worshipping at the shrine, when an earthquake shook the whole of Crete at once,[3] and a roar of thunder was heard to issue not from the clouds but from the earth, and the sea receded about seven stadia. And most of them were afraid that the sea by receding in this way would drag the temple after it, so that they would be carried away. But Apollonius said: "Be of good courage, for the sea has given birth and brought forth land."

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

And they thought that he was alluding to the harmony of the elements, and was urging that the sea would never wreak any violence upon the land; but after a few days some travelers arrived from Cydoniatis and announced that on the very day on which this portent occurred and just at the same hour of midday, an island rose out of the sea in the firth between Thera and Crete. However, I must give up all prolixity and hurry on to relate the conversations which he held in Rome, subsequently to his stay in Crete.

[§35] Nero was opposed to philosophy, because he suspected its devotees to be addicted to magic, and of being diviners in disguise; and at last the philosopher's mantle brought its wearers before the law courts, as if it were a mere cloak of the divining art.

I will not mention other names, but Musonius of Babylon,[4] a man only second to Apollonius, was thrown into prison for the crime of being a sage, and there lay in danger of death; and he would have died for all his gaoler cared, of it had not been for the strength of his constitution.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next

  Note 1:
A meeting in which Apollonius would be hailed as a manifestation of a god.

Note 2:
In this game of question-and-reply, Apollonius is out-Sparta-ing the Spartans, who were known for their brief, "Laconic", answers.

Note 3:
Earthquakes on Crete are recorded in 62 and 66.

Note 4:
He is usually held to be from Etruria. Perhaps, he was born in the Etruscan city Populonia, which can easily have been rendered as Babylonia.

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