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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

 
  [§36] Such was the condition in which philosophy stood when Apollonius was approaching Rome; and at a distance of one hundred and twenty stadia from its walls he met Philolaus of Cittium in the neighborhood of the Grove of Aricia.

Now Philolaus was a polished speaker, but too soft to bear any hardships. He had quitted Rome, and was virtually a fugitive, and any philosopher he met with he urged to take the same course. He accordingly addressed himself to Apollonius, and urged him to give way to circumstances, and not to proceed to Rome, where philosophy was in such bad odor; and he related to him what had taken place there, and as he did so he kept turning his head round, lest anybody should be listening behind him to what he said. "And you," he said, "after attaching this band of philosophers to yourself, a thing which will bring you into suspicion and odium, are on your way thither, knowing nothing of the officers set over the gates by Nero, who will arrest you and them before ever you enter or get inside."

"And what," said Apollonius, "O Philolaus, are the occupations of the autocrat said to be?"

"He drives a chariot," said the other, "in public; and he comes forward on the boards of the Roman theaters and sings songs, and he lives with gladiators, and hem himself fights as one and slays his man."

Apollonius therefore replied and said: "Then, my dear fellow, do you think that there can be any better spectacle for men of education than to see an emperor thus demeaning himself? For if in Plato's opinion man is the sport of the gods, what a theme we have here provided for philosophers by an emperor who makes himself the sport of man and sets himself to delight the common herd with the spectacle of his own shame?"

"Yes, by Zeus," said Philolaus, "if you could do it with impunity; but if you are going to be taken up and lose your life, and if Nero is going to devour you alive before you see anything of what he does, your interview with him will cost you dear, much dearer than it ever cost Ulysses to visit the Cyclops in his home; though he lost many of his comrades in his anxiety to see him, and because he yielded to the temptation of beholding so cruel a monster."

But Apollonius said: "So you think that this ruler is less blinded than the Cyclops if he commits such crimes?"

And Philolaus answered: "Let him do what he likes, but do you at least save these your companions."

[§37] And these words he uttered in a loud voice and with an air of weeping; whereupon Damis conceived a fear lest the younger men of his party should be unmanned by the craven terrors of Philolaus. So he took aside Apollonius and said: "This hare, with all his panicky fears, will ruin these young men, and fill them with discouragement."

But Apollonius said: "Well, of all the blessings which have been vouchsafed to me by the gods, often without my praying for them at all, this present one, I may say, is the greatest that I have ever enjoyed; for chance has thrown in my way a touchstone to test these young men, of a kind to prove most thoroughly which of them are philosophers, and which of them prefer some other line of conduct than that of philosopher."

And in fact the knock-kneed among them were detected in no time, for under the influence of what Philolaus said, some of them declared that they were ill, others that they had no provisions for the journey, others that they were homesick, others that they had been deterred by dreams; and in the result thirty-four companions of Apollonius were willing to accompany him to Rome were reduced to eight. And all the rest ran away from Nero and philosophy, both at once, and took to their heels.

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

[§38] He therefore assembled those who were left, among whom were Menippus, who had foregathered with the hobgoblin, and Dioscorides the Egyptian, and Damis, and said to them: "I shall not scold those who have abandoned us, but I shall rather praise you for being men like myself: nor shall I think a man a coward because he has disappeared out of dread of Nero, but anyone who rises superior to such fear I will hail as a philosopher, and I will teach him all I know.

I think then that we ought first of all to pray to the gods who have suggested these different courses to you and to them; and then we ought to solicit their direction and guidance, for we have not any succor to rely upon apart from the gods. We must then march forward to the city which is the mistress of so much of the inhabited world; but how can anybody go forward thither, unless the gods are leading him? The more so, because a tyranny has been established in this city so harsh and cruel, that it does not suffer men to be wise.

And let not anyone think it foolish so to venture along a path which many philosophers are fleeing from; for in the first place I do not esteem any human agency so formidable that a wise man can ever be terrified by it; and in the second place, I would not urge upon you the pursuit of bravery, unless it were attended with danger.

Moreover, in traversing more of the earth than any man yet has visited,[1] I have seen hosts of Arabian and Indian wild beasts; but as to this wild beast, which many call a tyrant, I know not either how many heads he has, nor whether he has crooked talons and jagged teeth. In any case, though this monster is said to be a social beast and to inhabit the heart of cities, yet he is also much wilder and fiercer in his disposition than animals of the mountain and forest, that whereas you can sometimes tame and alter the character of lions and leopards by flattering them, this one is only roused to greater cruelty than before by those who stroke him, so that he rends and devours all alike.

And again there is no animal anyhow of which you can say that it ever devours its own mother, but Nero is gorged with such quarry. It is true, perhaps, that the same crime was committed in the case of Orestes and Alcmaeon, but they had some excuse for their deeds, in that the father of the one was murdered by his own wife, while the other's had been sold for a necklace; this man, however, has murdered the very mother [Agrippina Minor] to whom he owes his adoption by the aged emperor [Claudius] and his inheritance of the empire; for he shipwrecked and so slew her close to land in a vessel built for the express purpose of doing her to death.

If, however, anyone is disposed to dread Nero for these reasons, and is led abruptly to forsake philosophy, conceiving that it is not safe for him to thwart his evil temper, let him know that the quality of inspiring fear really belongs to those who are devoted to temperance and wisdom, because they are sure of divine succor. But let him snap his fingers at the threats of the proud and insolent, as he would at those of drunken men; for we regard the latter surely as daft and silly, but not as formidable.

Let us then go forward to Rome, if we are good men and true; for to Nero's proclamations in which he banishes philosophy, we may well oppose the verse of Sophocles:

For in no wise was it Zeus who made this proclamation unto me [Antigone 450],
nor the Muses either, nor Apollo the god of eloquence. But it may well be that Nero himself knows this iambic line, for he is, they say, addicted to tragedy."

This occasion reminds one of the saying of Homer, that when warriors are knit together with reason, they become as it were a single plume and helmet, and a single shield [Iliad 13.130]; and it seems to me that this very sentiment found its application in regard to these heroes; for they were welded together and encouraged by the words of Apollonius to die in behalf of their philosophy, and strengthened to show themselves superior to those who had run away.

[§39] They accordingly approached the gates of Rome, and the sentries asked them no questions, although they scanned their dress with some curiosity; for the fashion of it was that of religious ascetics, and did not in the least resemble that of beggars.

And they put up at an inn close to the gate, and were taking their supper, for it was already eventide, when a drunken fellow with a far from harsh voice turned up as it were for a revel; and he was one it seems who was in the habit of going round about Rome singing Nero's songs and hired for the purpose, and anyone who neglected to listen to him or refused to pay him for his music, he had the right to arrest for violating Nero's majesty. And he carried a harp and all the outfit proper for a harpist, and he also had put away in a casket a second-hand string which others had fastened on their instruments and tuned up before him, and this he said he had purchased off Nero's own lyre for two minas, and that he would sell it to no one who was not a first-rate harpist and fit to contend for the prize at [the Pythian Games at] Delphi.

He then struck up a prelude, according to his custom, and after performing a short hymn composed by Nero, he added various lays, some out of the story of Orestes, and some from the Antigone, and others from one or another of the tragedies composed by Nero, and he proceeded to drawl out the rondos which Nero was in the habit of murdering by his miserable writhings and modulations.

As they listened with some indifference, he proceeded to accuse them of violating Nero's majesty and of being enemies of his divine voice; but they paid no attention to him. Then Menippus asked Apollonius how he appreciated these remarks, whereupon he said: "How do I appreciate them? Why, just a I did his songs. Let us, however, O Menippus, not take too much offence at his remarks, but let us give him something for his performance and dismiss him to sacrifice to the Muses of Nero."

[§40] So ended the episode of this poor drunken fool. But at daybreak Telesinus,[2] one of the consuls, called Apollonius to him, and said: "What is this dress which you wear?"

And he answered: "A pure garment made from no dead matter."

"And what is your wisdom?"

"An inspiration," answered Apollonius, "which teaches men how to pray and sacrifice to the gods."

"And is there anyone, my philosopher, who does not know that already?"

"Many," said the sage, "and if there is here and there a man who understands these matters aright, he will be very much improved by hearing from a man who is wiser than himself that, what he knows, he knows for a certainty."

When Telesinus heard this, for he was a man fairly disposed to worship and religion, he recognized the sage from the rumors which he had long before heard about him; and though he did not think he need openly ask him his name, in case he wished to conceal his identity from anyone, he nevertheless led him on to talk afresh about religion, for he was himself an apt reasoner, and feeling that he was addressing a sage, he asked: "What do you pray for when you approach the altars?"

"I," said Apollonius, "for my part pray that justice may prevail, that the laws may not be broken, that the wise may continue to be poor, but that others may be rich, as long as they are so without fraud."

"Then," said the other, "when you ask for so much, do you think you will get it?"

"Yes, by Zeus," said Apollonius, "for I string together all my petitions in a single prayer, and when I reach the altars this is how I pray: 'O ye gods, bestow on me whatever is due.' If therefore I am of the number of worthy men, I shall obtain more than I have said; but if the gods rank me among the wicked, then they will send to me the opposite of what I ask; and I shall not blame the gods, because for my demerit I am judged worthy of evil."

Telesinus then was greatly struck by these words, and wishing to show him a favor, he said: "You may visit all the temples, and written instructions shall be sent by me to the priests who minister in them to admit you and adopt your reforms."

"And supposing you did not write," said Apollonius, "would they not admit me?"

"No, by Zeus," said he, "for that is my own office and prerogative."

"I am glad," said Apollonius, "that so generous a man as yourself holds such a high office, but I would like you to know this much too about me: I like to live in such temples as are not too closely shut up, and none of the gods object to my presence, for they invite me to share their habitation. So let this liberty too be accorded to me, inasmuch as even the barbarians always permitted it."

And Telesinus said: "The barbarians have more to be proud of in this matter than the Romans, for I would that as much could be said of ourselves."

Apollonius accordingly lived in the temples, though he changed them and passed from one to another; and when he was blamed for doing so, he said: "Neither do the gods live all their time in heaven, but they take journeys to Ethiopia, as also to Olympus and to Athos, and I think it is a pity that the gods should go roaming around all the nations of men, and yet that men should not be allowed to visit all the gods alike. What is more, though masters would incur no reproach for neglecting slaves, for whom they probably may feel a contempt because they are not good, yet the slaves who did not devote themselves wholly to their masters, would be destroyed by them as cursed wretches and chattels hateful to the gods."






Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next




  Note 1:
This statement is not confirmed by the preceding part of Philostratus' narrative.

Note 2:
A curious jump in the chronology of the story. Gaius Luccius Telesinus and Gaius Suetonius Paullinus were consuls in 66. In §4.42, we will be back in 60 or 61.





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