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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

 
  [26] With these words he rebuked and silenced the Egyptian, showing that he was ignorant of religion. But because the Alexandrians are devoted to horses, and flock into the racecourse to see the spectacle, and murder one another in their partisanship, he therefore administered a grave rebuke to them over these matters, and entering the temple, he said: "How long will you persist in meeting your deaths, not in behalf of your families or of your shrines, but because you are determined to pollute the sacred precincts by entering them reeking with gore and to slaughter one another within the walls?

And Troy it seems was ravaged and destroyed by a single horse, which the Achaeans of that day had contrived; but your chariots and horses are yoked to your own despite and leave you no chance of living in submission to the reins of law. You are being destroyed therefore not by the sons of Atreus nor by the sons of Ajax, but by one another, a thing that the Trojans would not have done even when they were drunk.

At Olympia, however, where there are prizes for wrestling and boxing and for the mixes athletic contests, no one is slain in behalf of the athletes, though it were quite excusable if one should show an excess of zeal in the rivalry of human beings like himself.

But here I see you rushing at one another with drawn swords, and ready to hurl stones, all over a horse race. I would like to call down fire upon a city as this, where amidst the groans and insulting shouts 'of the destroyers and the destroyers the earth runs with blood.'[1] Can you not feel reference for the Nile, the common mixing bowl of Egypt? But why mention the Nile to men whose gauges measure a rising tide of blood rather than of water?"

And many other rebukes of the same kind he addressed to him, as Damis informs us.

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Bust of Vespasian from Narona. Archaeological museum of Vid (Croatia). Photo Marco Prins.Bust of Vespasian from Narona (Archaeological museum of Vid)
 

[27] [The Roman general] Vespasian [who had been sent out to subdue the Jewish revolt] was harboring thoughts of seizing the absolute power, and was at this time in the countries bordering upon Egypt [i.e., Judaea]; and when he advanced as far as Egypt, people like [the sophist] Dio [of Prusa] and [the Stoic philosopher] Euphrates, of whom I shall have something to say lower down, urged that a welcome should be given to him. For the first autocrat, by whom the Roman state was organized [i.e., Augustus], was succeeded for the space of fifty years by tyrants so harsh and cruel, that not even Claudius, who reigned thirteen years in the interval between them, could be regarded as a good ruler, and that, although he was fifty years of age when he succeeded to the throne, an age when a man's judgment is most likely to be sane, and though he had the reputation of being fond of culture of all kinds; nevertheless he too in spite of his advanced age committed many youthful follies, and gave up the empire to be devoured, as sheep devour a pasture, by silly women,[2] who murdered him, because he was so indolent that, though he knew beforehand what was in store for him, he would not be on his guard even against what he foresaw.

Apollonius no less than Euphrates and Dion rejoiced in the new turn of events; but he did not make use of them as a theme in his public utterances, because he considered such an argument too much in the style of a rhetor.

When the autocrat approached the city [in the autumn of 69], the priests met him before the gates, together with the magistrates of Egypt [3] and the representatives of the different provinces into which Egypt is divided. The philosophers also were present and all their schools. Apollonius however did not put himself forward in this way, but remained conversing in the temple. The autocrat delivered himself of noble and gentle sentiments, and after making a short speech, said: "Is the man of Tyana living here?"

"Yes," they replied, "and he has much improved us thereby."

"Can he then be induced to give us an interview?" said the emperor. "For I am very much in want of him." 

"He will meet you," said Dion, "at the temple, for he admitted as much to me when I was on my way here."

"Let us go on," said the king, "at once to offer our prayers to the gods, and to meet so noble a man."

This is how the story grew up, that it was during his conduct of the siege of Jerusalem that the idea of making himself emperor suggested itself to him; and that he sent for Apollonius to ask his advice on the point; but that the latter declined to enter a country [Judaea] which its inhabitants polluted both by what they did and by what they suffered, which was the reason why Vespasian came in person to Egypt, as well because he now had possession of the throne, as in order to hold with our sage the conversations which I shall relate.




[28] For after he had sacrificed, and before he gave official audiences to the cities, he addressed himself to Apollonius, and as if making prayer he said to him: "Do thou make me king."[4]

And he answered: "I have done so already, for I have already offered a prayer for a king who should be just and noble and temperate, endowed with the wisdom of grey hairs, and the father of legitimate sons; and surely in my prayer I was asking from the gods for none other but thyself."

The emperor was delighted with this answer, for the crowd too in the temple shouted their agreement with it. "What then," said the emperor, "did you think of the reign of Nero?"

And Apollonius answered: "Nero perhaps understood how to tune a lyre, but he disgraced the empire both by letting the strings go too slack and by drawing them too tight."

"Then," said the other, "you would like a ruler to observe the mean?"

"Not I," said Apollonius, "but God himself, who has defined equity as consisting in the mean. And these gentlemen here, they too are good advisers in this matter," he added, pointing to Dion and Euphrates, for the latter had not yet quarreled with him.

Thereupon the king held up his hand and said: "O Zeus, may I hold sway over wise men, and wise men hold sway over me." And turning himself round towards the Egyptians he said: "You shall draw as liberally upon me as you do upon the Nile."[5]

[29] The result as that the Egyptians regained their prosperity, for they were already exhausted by the oppressions they suffered; but as he [Vespasian] went down from the temple he grasped the hand of Apollonius, and taking him with him into the palace, said: "Perhaps some will think me young and foolish because I assume the reins of kingship nigh on the sixtieth year of my life. I will then communicate to you my reasons for doing so, in order that you may justify my actions to others.

For I was never the slave of wealth that I know of, even in my youth; and in the matter of the magistracies and honors in the gift of the Roman sovereign, I bore myself with so much soberness and moderation as to avoid being thought either overbearing or, on the other hand, craven and cowardly. Nor did I cherish any but loyal feelings towards Nero; but, inasmuch as he had received the crown, if not in strict accordance with the law, at any rate from an autocrat, I submitted to him for the sake of Claudius, who made me consul and sharer of his counsels.

And, by Athena, I never saw Nero demeaning himself without shedding tears, when I thought of Claudius, and contrasted with him the wretch who had inherited the greatest of his possessions. And now when I see that even the disappearance from the scene of Nero has brought no change for the better in the fortunes of humanity, and that the throne has fallen into such dishonor as to be assigned to Vitellius, I boldly advance to take it myself; firstly, because I wish to endear myself to men and win their esteem, and secondly, because the man I have to contend with is a mere drunkard.

For Vitellius uses more ointment in his bath than I do water, and I believe that if you ran a sword into him, more ointment would issue from the wound than blood; and his continuous bouts of drinking have made him mad, and one who -were he dicing- would be full of apprehension lest the pieces should play him false, is yet hazarding the empire in play; and though he is the slave of mistresses, he nevertheless insults married women, and says that he likes to spice his amours with a little danger. His worst excesses I will not mention for I would rather not allude to such matters in your presence.[6]

May I then never submit tamely, while the Romans are ruled by such a man as he; let me rather ask the gods to guide me so that I may be true to myself. And this, Apollonius, is why I, as it were, make fast my cable to yourself, for they say that you have the amplest insight into the will of the gods, and why I ask you to share with me in my anxieties and aid me in my plans on which rests the safety of sea and land; to the end that, supposing the goodwill of heaven show itself on my side, I may fulfill my task; but if heaven opposes and favors neither myself nor the Romans, that I may not trouble the gods against their wills."

[30] Apollonius clinched his words with an appeal to heaven: "O Zeus," said he, "of the Capitol, for thou art he whom I know to be the arbiter of the present issue, do thou preserve thyself for this man and this man for thyself. For this man who stands before thee is destined to raise afresh unto thee the temple which only yesterday the hands of malefactors set on fire."[7]

And on the emperor expressing astonishment at his words: "The facts themselves," he said, "will reveal, so do thou ask nothing of me; but continue and complete that which thou hast so rightly purposed."

Now it happened that just then as a matter of fact that in Rome Domitian, the son of Vespasian, was matched with Vitellius in the struggle to gain the empire for his father, and was besieged in the Capitol, with the result that although he escaped the fury of the besiegers, the temple was burnt down; and all this was revealed to Apollonius more quickly than if it had taken place in Egypt.

When they had held their conversation, he left the emperor's presence, saying that it was not permitted him by the religion of the Indians to proceed at midday in any other way than the Indians do themselves; at the same time the emperor brightened up, and with fresh enthusiasm, instead of allowing matters to slip through his hands, persevered in his policy, convinced by Apollonius' words that his future was stable and assured to him by heaven.






Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next





Note 1:
Homer, Iliad 4.451.

Note 2:
The empresses Messalina and Agrippina Minor.

Note 3:
This must have included the governor, Tiberius Julius Alexander.

Note 4:
This is the first reference to a monarch praying to a philosopher in western literature. In fact, Philostratus (or, more probably, his source Damis) introduces a new notion of the relationship between kings and philosophers.


Statue of the Nile from Vespasian's Temple of Peace. Musei Vaticani, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Statue of the Nile from the
Temple of Peace
(Musei Vaticani, Rom)

Note 5:
That the ruler should be like the Nile, was an ancient pharaonic theme. This river was also a theme in Vespasian's propaganda: a statue of the Nile graced the gardens of the Temple of Peace that Vespasian inaugurated in Rome.

Note6:
The propagandists of Vespasian said that Vitellius had been one of the children who had performed sexual games in the palace of Tiberius.

Note 7:
In December 69, relatives of Vespasian occupied the Capitol, where they tried to defend themselves against the troops of Vitellius until the moment on which Quintus Petillius Cerialis, a pro-Vespasian commander, would have liberated Rome. However, the Vitellians captured the hill. During the fights, the temple of Jupiter OPtimus Maximus was destroyed.





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