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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 5:

The first ten chapters of Book 5 recount Apollonius' stay in Hispania. Apollonius and his companions discuss Nero's trip to Greece (5.7). The governor of Andalusia has a private interview with Apollonius, who urges him to join the revolt of the governor of Gaul, Vindex, against Nero (5.10). After traveling through Sicily, Athens and Rhodes, they reach Alexandria. During this journey they receive news of the flight of Nero and the death of Vindex (5.11). Apollonius predicts the political and military events of the year of the three emperors Galba, Vitellius and Otho (5.13). He also discusses volcanic phenomena and the merits of the fables of Aesop with his companions in Catana, at the foot of Mount Etna (5.14-17). He is initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries in Athens and meets Demetrius, who tells him that Musonius has been sentenced to forces labor on the Isthmus (5.19). Apollonius spends the winter in various Greek shrines (5.20). On Rhodes he pays a visit to the Colossus, discusses flute playing with Canus, a virtuoso flautist (5.21), and rebukes a young nouveau riche (5.22). Upon arriving in Alexandria, he rescues an innocent condemned man from the executioner (5.24). He voices his disapproval of the blood sacrifices in the temple, i.e. the Serapeum (5.25), and reproves the Alexandrians for their vandalism at the horse races (5.26). 
   Chapters 27ff are centered on Apollonius' contacts with the new emperor Vespasian. After his arrival in Alexandria, Vespasian immediately inquires about the whereabouts of Apollonius, who proves to be staying in the temple (5.27). Apollonius replies to his request to make him emperor that he has already done so by praying to the gods for a ruler like Vespasian (5.28). The latter justifies his bid for power to Apollonius, who urges him to carry out his resolutions. Apollonius also mentions the destruction of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus the previous day during the struggle between the emperor Vitellius and Vespasian's son Domitian in Rome (5.29). The next day Apollonius pays a visit to the emperor; at his request the philosophers Dio and Euphrates, who are both on Alexandria, are also admitted to the conversation (5.31). Vespasian asks the philosophers to advise him on how to exercise the authority that has been brought into discredit by his predecessors (5.32). Euphrates refuses to met the request; instead, he argues for the abolition of the monarchy and the restoration of the republic (5.33). Dio is in favor of a constitutional referendum (5.34). Apollonius rejects the arguments of these speakers as unrealistic sophistries and puts forward a vigorous plea for the monarchy (5.35), followed by an account of how rule by one man should be carried out (5.36). Euphrates reveals his true colors by attacking Pythagoreanism in the emperor's presence (5.37) and asking him for money (5.38). After Vespasian has left, the conflict between Apollonius and Euphrates reaches a climax (5.39). Dio is criticized by Apollonius for the rhetorical character of his philosophy, but the relations between the two men remain cordial (5.40). The later rift between Apollonius and Vespasian is explained by Apollonius' disapproval of the cancellation of the liberty which Nero had bestowed on Greece (5.41). After Apollonius has recognized a lion as a reincarnation of Egypt's last pharaoh Amasis (5.42), he sets out in the company of ten disciples for the Ethiopian gymnosophists.

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[§1] Now in regard to the Pillars which they say Heracles fixed in the ground as limits of the earth, I shall omit mere fables, and confine myself to recording what is worthy of our hearing and of our narrating. The extremes of Europe and Libya border on a strait sixty stadia wide, through which the ocean is admitted into the inner seas. The extremity of Libya, which bears the name Abinna, furnishes a haunt of lions, who hunt their prey along the brows of the mountains which are to be seen rising inland [the Rif], and it marches with the Gaetuli and Tingae, both of them wild Libyan tribes; and it extends as you sail into the ocean as far as the mouth of the river Salex, some nine hundred stadia, and beyond that point a further distance which no one can compute, because when you have passed this river Libya is a desert which no longer supports a population. 

But the promontory of Europe, known as Calpis, stretches along the inlet of the ocean and tight hand side distance of six hundred stadia, and terminates in the ancient city of Gadeira [Cadiz].

Oceanus, personification of the Ocean. Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Köln (Germany). Photo Jona Lendering.
Oceanus, personification of the Ocean (Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne)

[§2] Now I myself have seen among the Celts [1] the ocean tides just as they are described; and after making various conjectures about why so vast a bulk of waters recedes and advances, I have come to the conclusion that Apollonius discerned the real truth. For in one of his letters to the Indians he says that the ocean is driven by submarine influences or spirits out of several chasms which the earth afford both underneath and around it, to advance outwards, and to recede again, whenever the influence or spirit, like the breath of our bodies, gives way and recedes.

And this theory is confirmed by the course run by diseases in Gadeira; for at the time of high water the souls of the dying do not quit the bodies, and this would hardly happen, he says, unless the influence or spirit I have spoken of was also advancing towards the land.

They also tell you of certain phenomena of the ocean in connection with the phases of the moon, according as it is born and reaches fulness and wanes. These phenomena I verified, for the ocean exactly keeps pace with the size of the moon, decreasing and increasing with her.

[§3] And whereas the day succeeds the night and night succeeds the day in the land of the Celts by a very slow diminution of the darkness and of the light respectively, as in this country, in the neighborhood of Gadeira on the contrary and of the Pillars, it is said that the change bursts upon the eyes all at once, like a flash of lightning. And they also say that the Islands of the Blessed are to be fixed by the limits of Libya where they rise towards the uninhabited promontory.

Heracles and the cattle of Geryon. Sarcophagus from Perge, now at the archaeological museum of Alanya (Turkey). Photo Jona Lendering.
Heracles and Geryon.
Sarcophagus from Perge,
now at the archaeological
museum of Alanya

[§4] Now the city of Gadeira is situated at the extreme end of Europe, and its inhabitants are excessively given to religion; so much so that they have set up an altar to old age, and unlike any other race they sing hymns in honor of death; and altars are found there set up to poverty, and to art, and to Heracles of Egypt, and there are others in honor of Heracles the Theban. For they say that the latter advanced against the neighboring town of Erythea, on which occasion he took captive [the mythological giant]Geryon and his cows; the other, they say, in his devotion to wisdom measured the whole earth up to its limits.

They say moreover that there is a Hellenic culture at Gadeira, and that they educate themselves in our own fashion; anyhow, that they are fonder of the Athenians than of any other Hellenes, and they offer sacrifice to Menestheus the Athenian, and from admiration of Themistocles the naval commander, and to honor him for his wisdom and bravery, they have set up a brazen statue of him in thoughtful attitude and, as it were, pondering an oracle.

[§5] They say that they saw trees here such as are not found elsewhere upon the earth; and that these were called the trees of Geryon. There were two of them, and they grew upon the mound raised over Geryon: they were a cross between the pitch tree and the pine, and formed a third species; and blood dripped from their bark, just as gold does from the Heliad poplar.

Now the island on which the shrine is built is of exactly the same size as the temple, and there is not a rough stone to be found in it, for the whole of it has been given the form of a polished turning-post. In the shrine they say there is maintained a cult both of one and the other Heracles,[2] though there are no images of them; altars however there are, namely, to the Egyptian Heracles two of bronze and perfectly plain, to the Theban, one of stone; on the latter they say are engraved in relief hydras and the mares of Diomedes and the twelve labors of Heracles.

And as to the golden olive of Pygmalion, it too is preserved in the temple of Heracles, and it excited their admiration by the clever way in which the branch work was imitated; and they were still more astonished at its fruit, for this teemed with emeralds. And they say that the girdle of Teucer of Telamon was also exhibited there of gold, but how he ever sailed as far as the ocean, or why he did so, neither Damis by his own admission could understand nor ascertain from the people of the place.

But he says that the pillars in the temple were made of gold and silver smelted together so as to be of one color, and they were over a cubit high, of square form, resembling anvils; and their capitals were inscribed with letters which were neither Egyptian nor Indian nor of any kind which he could decipher. But Apollonius, since the priests would tell him nothing, remarked: "Heracles of Egypt does not permit me not to tell all I know. These pillars are ties between earth and ocean, and they were inscribed by Heracles in the house of the Fates, to prevent any discord arising between the elements, and to save their mutual affection for one another from violation."and approach the gods, and signified all the things that he would achieve.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next

Note 1:
A common name for the inhabitants of Gaul and the country  across the river Rhine.

Note 2:
The Greeks distinguished several gods named Heracles, one of them being their own demigod, another one being born in Egypt. The Heracles of Gadeira was, in fact, the Phoenician god Melqart.

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