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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] The emperor [Vespasian] listened gladly to the above and remarked: "If you were the tenant of my breast, you could not more accurately report my inmost thoughts. 'Tis yourself then I will follow, for every word which falls from your lips I regard as inspired; therefore instruct me, I pray, in all the duties of a good king."

Apollonius answered: "You ask of me a lore which cannot be imparted by any teacher; for kingship is at once the greatest of human attainments, and not to be taught. However, I will mention you all the things which, if you do them, you will in my opinion do wisely.

Look not on that which is laid by as wealth -for how is it better than so much sand drifted no matter whence- nor on what flows into your coffers from populations racked by the tax-gatherer, for gold lacks luster and is mere dross, if it be wrung from men's tears; you will make better use of your wealth than every sovereign did if you employ it in succoring the poor, at the same time that you render their wealth secure for the rich.

Tremble before the very absoluteness of your prerogative, for so you will exercise it with the greater moderation.

Mow not down the loftier stalks which overtop the rest, for this maxim of Aristotle's is unjust; but try rather to pluck disaffection out of men's hearts, as you would tares out of your cornfields; and inspire awe of yourself in revolutionists less by actual punishment than by showing them that they will not go unpunished.

Let the law govern you as well as them, O king; for you will be all the wiser as a legislator for so holding the laws in respect.

Reverence the gods more than ever before, for you have received great blessings at their hands and have still great ones to pray for.

In what appertains to your prerogative, act as a sovereign; in what to your own person, as a private citizen.

About dice and drink and dissipation and the necessity of abhorring these vices, why need I tender you any advice, who, they say, never approved of them even in youth.

You have, my sovereign, two sons, both, they say, of generous disposition. Let them before all obey your authority, for their faults will be charged to your account. Let your disciplining of them even proceed the to length of threatening not to bequeath them your throne, unless they remain good men and honest; otherwise they will be prone to regard it not as a reward of excellence so much as a mere heritage.

As for the pleasures which have made of Rome their home and residence -and they are many- I would advise you, my sovereign, to use much discretion in suppressing them; for it is not easy to convert an entire people on a sudden to wisdom and temperance; but you must feel your way and instill order and rhythm in their characters step by step, partly by open, partly by secret correction.

Let us put an end to pride and luxury on the part of the freedmen and slaves whom your high position assigns to you, by accustoming them to think all the more humbly of themselves, because their master is so powerful.

There remains only one topic to address you on;[1] it concerns the governors sent out to rule the provinces. Of those you will yourself select, I need say nothing, for I am sure you will assign commands by merit; I only refer to those who will acquire them by lot. In their case too, I maintain, those only should be sent out to the various provinces so obtained who are in sympathy, so far as the system of appointing by lot allows of it, with the populations they will rule.

I mean, that over Hellenes should be set men who can speak Greek, and Romans over those who speak that language or dialects allied to it. I will tell you what made me think of this. During the period in which I lived in the Peloponnese Hellas was governed by a man who knew as little of the Hellenes and their tongue as they understood of his. What was the result? He was in his mistakes as much sinned against as sinner, for his assessors and those who shared with him judicial authority trafficked in justice, and abused his authority as if he had been not their governor but their slave.

This, my sovereign, is all that occurs to me today; but if anything else should come into my mind, we can hold another interview. So now apply yourself to the duties of your throne, lest your subjects accuse you of indolence."

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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)

[§37] Euphrates declared his assent to all these conclusions, "For," said he, "what can I gain by continuing to oppose such teaching? But, O my sovereign, as henceforth we must address you, I have only one thing left to say, and that is that while you approve and countenance that philosophy which accords with nature, you should have nothing to do with that which affects a secret intercourse with the gods, for we are easily puffed up by the many absurdities this lying philosophy falsely ascribes to providence."

The above remark was aimed at Apollonius, who, however, without paying any attention to it, departed with his companions as soon as he had ended his discourses. And Euphrates would have taken further liberties with his character, only the emperor noticed it and put him aside by saying: "Call in those who have business with the government, and let my council resume its usual form."

Thus Euphrates failed to see that he only prejudiced himself, and gained with the emperor the reputation of being a jealous and insolent fellow, who aired these sentiments in favor of democracy, not because he really entertained them, but only by way of contradicting the opinions Apollonius held in regard to the empire. Notwithstanding, the emperor did not cast him off or shew any resentment at his opinions.

As for Dion, he did not cease to be fond of him, though he regretted his seconding the opinions of Euphrates. For Dion was a delightful conversationalist and always declined to quarrel. He moreover imparted to his discourses that sort of charm which exhales from the perfumes at a sacrifice; and he had also, better than any living man, the talent of extempore oratory.

Apollonius the emperor nor merely loved for his own sake, but was ever ready to listen to his accounts of antiquity, to his descriptions of the Indian Phraotes, and to his graphic stories of the rivers of India, and of the animals that inhabit it; above all to the forecasts and revelations imparted to him by the gods concerning the future of the empire. On quitting Egypt, after settling and rejuvenating the country, he invited Apollonius to share his voyage; but the latter declined, on the ground that he had not yet visited or conversed with the naked sages of that land, whose wisdom he was very anxious to compare with that of India. "Nor," he added, "have I drunk of the sources of the Nile."

The emperor understood that he was about to set out for Ethiopia and said: "Will you not bear me in mind?"

"I will indeed," replied the sage, "if you continue to be a good sovereign and mindful of yourself."

[§38] Thereafter the emperor offered his sacrifice in the temple and publicly promised him presents. But Apollonius, as if he had a favor to ask, said: "And what presents, O king, will you give me?"

"Ten," he replied, "now; and when you come to Rome everything I have."

And Apollonius answered: "Then I must husband your riches as if they were my own, and squander in the present what is hereafter to be reserved to me in its entirety. But I pray you, O king, to attend rather to these gentlemen here, for they look as if they wanted something."

And suiting his words, he pointed to Euphrates and his friends. The emperor accordingly pressed them to ask boldly what they desired, whereupon Dion with a blush said: "Reconcile me, O king, with Apollonius my teacher for that I lately ventured to oppose him in argument; for never till now have I ventured to contradict him."

The emperor, approving, said: "As long ago as yesterday I asked for this favor, and it is already granted. But do you ask for some gift."

"Lasthenes," replied Dion, "of Apamea, a Bithynian city, who was my companion in philosophy, fell in love with the uniform and took to a soldier's life. Now, he says, he longs afresh to wear the sage's cloak, so would you let him out from the service, for that is the extent of his own request; and you will confer on me the privilege of turning him into a saint, and on him the liberty of living as he wishes to."

"Let him be released," said the emperor, "but I confer on him the rights of a veteran, since he is equally fond of wisdom and of yourself."

Next the emperor turned to Euphrates, who had drawn up a letter embodying his requests, and held it out in expectation that his sovereign would peruse it in private. But the latter was determined to expose him to criticism, so he read it out loud before everyone; and it was found to contain various petitions, some for himself, some for others; and of the presents asked some consisted of cash down and others of credit notes. Whereupon Apollonius with a laugh remarked: "Then your intention of asking a monarch for all this did not prevent you from giving him that good advice in favor of democracy."

[§39] Such I find was the occasion of the quarrel between Apollonius and Euphrates; and after the emperor had departed they openly attacked one another, Euphrates in his anger resorting to coarse insults, which his antagonist met in a philosophical spirit, only refuting him. His accusations, I may remark, of Euphrates to the effect that his conduct violated the decencies of philosophical life, can be learned from the epistles Apollonius addressed to him, for they are not a few.

For myself I herewith dismiss this gentleman; for it is not part of my scheme to say ill of him, but only to furnish with a life of Apollonius those who were as yet ignorant. As to the tale of the stick, which he is said to have brandished against Apollonius when he was discoursing, though without applying it - most people attribute his having so refrained to the skill at single-stick of the man he was about to strike; but I prefer to set it down to the good sense of the would-be striker, and to think that it was that which enabled him to overcome an angry impulse which had all but overmastered him.

[§40] Dion's philosophy struck Apollonius as being too rhetorical and overmuch adapted to please and flatter, an that is why he addressed to him by way of correction the words: "You should use a pipe and a lyre, if you want to tickle men's senses, not a speech." And in many passages of his letters to Dion he censures his use of words to captivate the crowd.

Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next
Note 1:
The above list of ten point of advice is completely topical. Only the eleventh point appears to correspond to an actual change in imperial policy in the age of Philostratus.
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