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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

 

[§41] I must also explain how it came about that he never approached the emperor again, nor visited him after their encounter in Egypt, although the latter invited him and wrote often to him in that sense. The fact is, Nero restored the liberties of Hellas with a wisdom and moderation quite alien to his character; and the cities regained their Doric and Attic characteristics, and a general rejuvenescence accompanied the institution among them of a peace and harmony such as not even ancient Hellas ever enjoyed. Vespasian, however, on his arrival in the country took away her liberty, alleging their factiousness with other pretexts hardly justifying such extreme severity.

This policy seemed not only to those who suffered by it, but to Apollonius as well, of a harshness quite out of keeping with a royal temper and character, and accordingly he addressed the following letters to the Emperor:

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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)

Apollonius to the Emperor Vespasian, Greeting:
     You have, they say, enslaved Hellas, and you imiagine you have excelled Xerxes. You are mistaken. You have only fallen below Nero. For the latter held our liberties in his hand and respected them. Farewell.

To the same.
     You have taken such a dislike to the Hellenes, that you have enslaved them although they were free. What do you want with my company? Farewell.

To the same.
     Nero freed the Hellenes in play, but you have imprisoned them in all seriousness. Farewell.

Such were the grounds of Apollonius' taking a dislike to Vespasian. However, when he heard of the excellence of his subsequent acts of government he made no attempt to conceal his satisfaction, but looked at it in the light of a benefaction conferred on himself. 

Bust of Amasis. Louvre, Paris (France). Photo Marco Prins.Bust of Amasis (Louvre)

[§42] The following incident also of Apollonius' stay in Egypt was thought remarkable. There was a man [who] led a tame lion about by a string, as if it had been a dog; and the animal not only fawned upon him, but on anyone who approached it. It went collecting alms all around the towns, and was admitted even in the temples, being a pure animal; for it never licked up the blood of the victims, nor pounced on them when they were being flayed and cut up, but lived upon honeycakes and bread and dried fruits and cooked meat; and you also came on it drinking wine without losing its character.

One day it came up to Apollonius when he was sitting in the temple, and whined and fawned at his knees, and begged of him more earnestly than it had ever done of anybody. The bystanders imagined it wanted some solid reward, but Apollonius exclaimed: "This lion is begging me to make you understand that a human soil is within him, the soul namely of Amasis, the king of Egypt in the province of Sais."[1]

And when the lion heard that, he gave a piteous and plaintive roar, and crouching down began to lament, shedding tears. Thereupon Apollonius stroked him, and said: "I think the lion ought to be sent to Leontopolis ["Lion's city"] and dedicated to the temple there [of the god Mihos], for I consider it wrong that a king who has been changed into the most kingly of beasts should go begging, like any human mendicant."




In consequence the priests met and offered sacrifice to Amasis; and having decorated the animal with a collar and ribbons, they conveyed him up country into Egypt with pipings, hymns and songs composed in his honor.

[§43] Having had enough of Alexandria the sage set out for Egypt an Ethiopia to visit the naked sages. Menippus then, as he was by now a qualified disputant and remarkably outspoken, he left behind to watch Euphrates: and perceiving that Dioscorides had not a strong enough propensity for foreign travel, he deprecated his undertaking the journey. The rest of his company he mustered, for though some had left him at Aricia, many others had subsequently joined him, and he explained to them about his impending journey and began as follows:

"I must needs preface in Olympic wise my address to you, my brave friends; and the following is an Olympic exordium. When the Olympic games are coming on, the people of Elis train the athletes for thirty days in their own country. Likewise, when the Pythian games approach, the natives of Delphi; and when the Isthmian, the Corinthians assemble them and say: 'Go now into the arena and prove yourselves men worthy of victory.'

The Eleans however on their way to Olympia address the athletes thus: 'If ye have labored so hard as to be entitled to go to Olympia and have banished all sloth and cowardice from your lives, then march boldly on; but as for those who have not so trained themselves, let them depart whithersoever they like'."

The companions of the sage understood his meaning, and about of twenty of them remained with Menippus; but the rest, ten in number, I believe, offered prayer to the gods, and having sacrificed such an offering as men offer when they embark for a voyage, they departed straight for the pyramids, mounted on camels [2] and keeping the Nile on their right hand. In several places they took boats across the river in order to visit every sight on it; for there was not a city, fane or sacred site in Egypt, that they passed by without discussion. For at each they either learned or taught some holy story, so that any ship on which Apollonius embarked resembled the sacred galley of a religious legation.






Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next





Note 1:
The last king of Egypt before it was conquered by the Persian king Cambyses II (in 525). Cambyses remained a popular figure in Egyptian folk lore.

Note 2:
An error. The Greek word kamęlos can mean both camel and dromedary, but of course a dromedary must be meant; camels are from Central Asia.





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