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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

 
  [6] Thence they rode out at sunrise, and arrived before midday at the academy of the naked sages, who dwell, they relate, upon a moderate-sized hill a little way from the bank of the Nile; and in point of wisdom they fall short of the Indians rather more than they excel the Egyptians.

And they wear next to no clothes in the same way as people do at Athens in the heat of summer. And in their district there are few trees, and a certain grove of no great size to which they resort when they meet for the transaction of common affairs; but they do not build their shrines in one and the same place, as Indian shrines are built, but one is in one part of the hill and another in another, all worthy of observation, according to the accounts of the Egyptians.

The Nile is the chief object of their worship, for they regard this river as land and water at once. They have no need, however, of hut or dwelling, because they live in the open air directly under the heaven itself, but they have built an hospice to accommodate strangers, and it is a portico of no great size, about equal in length to those of Elis, beneath which the athletes await the sound of the midday trumpet.

[7] At this place Damis records an action of Euphrates, which if we do not regard it as juvenile, was anyhow unworthy of the dignity of a philosopher. Euphrates had heard Apollonius often say that he wished to compare the wisdom of India with that of Egypt, so he sent up to the naked sages one Thrasybulus, a native of Naucratis, to take away our sage's character.

Thrasybulus at the same time that he pretended to have come there in order to enjoy their society, told them that the sage of Tyana would presently arrive, and that they would have no little trouble with him, because he esteemed himself more highly than the sages of India did themselves, though he extolled the latter whenever he opened his mouth; and he added that Apollonius had contrived a thousand pitfalls for them, and that he would not allow any sort of influence either to the sun, or to the sky, or to the earth, but pretended ot move and juggle and rearrange these forces for whatever end he chose.

[8] Having concocted these stories the man of Naucratis went away; and they, imagining they were true, did not indeed decline to meet Apollonius when he arrived, but pretended that they were occupied with important business and were so intent upon it, that they could only arrange an interview with him if they had time, and if they were informed first of what he wanted and of what attracted him thither.

And a messenger from the bade them stay and lodge in the portico, but Apollonius remarked: "We do not want to hear about a house for ourselves, for the climate here is such that anyone can live naked," - an unkind reference this to them, as it implied that they went without clothes not to show their endurance, but because it was too to wear any. And he added: "I am not surprised indeed at their nor yet knowing what I want, and what I am come here for, though the Indians never asked me these questions."

[9] Accordingly Apollonius lay down under one of the trees, and let his companions who were there with him ask whatever question they pleased. Damis took Timasion apart and asked him the question in private: "About these naked sages, my good fellow, as you have lived with them, and in all probability know, tell me what their wisdom comes to?"

"It is," answered the other, "manifold an profound."

"And yet," said Damis, "their demeanor towards us does not evince any wisdom, my fine fellow; for when they refuse to converse about wisdom with so great a man as our master, and assume all sorts of airs against him, what can I say of them except that they are too vain and proud."

"Pride and vanity!" said the other, "I have already come among them twice, and I never saw any such thing about them; for they were always very modest and courteous towards those who came to visit them. At any rate a little time ago, perhaps a matter of fifty days, one Thrasybulus was staying here who achieved nothing remarkable in philosophy, and they received him with open arms merely because he said he was a disciple of Euphrates."

Then Damis cried: "What's that you say, my boy? Then you saw Thrasybulus of Naucratis in this academy of theirs?"

"Yes, and what's more," answered the other, "I conveyed him hence, when he went down the river, in my own boat."

"Now I have it, by Athena," cried Damis, in a loud tone of indignation. "I warrant he has played us some dirty trick."

Timasion then replied: "Your master, when I asked him yesterday who he was, would not answer me at once, but kept his name a secret; but do you, unless this is a mystery, tell me who he is, for then I could probably help you to find what you seek."

And when he heard from Damis, that it was the sage of Tyana, "You have put the matter," he said, "in a nutshell. For Thrasybulus, as he descended the Nile with me, in answer to my question what he had gone up there for, explained to me that his love for wisdom was not genuine, and said that he had filled these naked sages with suspicion of Apollonius, to the end that whenever he came here they might flout him; and what his quarrel is with him I know not, but anyhow, it is, I think, worthy of a woman or of a vulgar person to backbite him as he has done. But I will address myself to these people and ascertain their real disposition; for they are friendly to me."

And about eventide Timasion returned, though without telling Apollonius any more than that he had interchanged words with them; however he told Damis in private that they meant to come the next morning primed with all that they had heard from Thrasybulus.

[10] They spent that evening conversing about trifles which are not worth recording, and then they lay down to sleep on the spot where they had supped; but at daybreak Apollonius, after adoring the sun according to his custom, had set himself to meditate upon some problem, when Nilus, who was the youngest of the naked philosophers, running up to him, exclaimed: "We are coming to you."

"Quite right," said Apollonius, "for to get to you I have made this long journey from the sea all the way here."

And with these words he followed Nilus. So after exchanging greetings with the sages, and they met him close to the portico. "Where," said Apollonius, "shall we hold our interview?"

"Here," said Thespesion, pointing to the grove. Now Thespesion was the eldest of the sect, and led them in procession; and they followed him with an orderly and leisurely step, just as the jury of the athletic sports at Olympia follow the eldest of their number. And when they had sat down, which they did anyhow, and without the observing their previous order, they all fixed their eyes on Thespesion as the one who should regale them with a discourse, which he proceeded as follows:

"They say, Apollonius, that you have visited the Pythian and Olympian festivals; for this was reported of you here by Stratocles of Pharos, who says he met you there. Now those who come to the Pythian festival are, they say, escorted with the sound of pipe and song and lyre, and are honored with shows of comedies and tragedies; and then last of all they are presented with an exhibition of games and races run by naked athletes. At the Olympic festival, however, these superfluities are omitted as inappropriate and unworthy of the place; and those who go to the festival are only provided with the show of naked athletes originally instituted by Heracles.

You may see the same contrast between the wisdom of the Indians and our own. For they, like those who invite others to the Pythian festival, appeal to the crowd with all sorts of charms and wizardry; but we, like the athletes of Olympia, go naked. Here earth strews for us no couches, nor does it yield us milk or wine as if we were bacchants, nor does the air uplift us and sustain us aloft. But the earth beneath us is our only couch, and we live by partaking of its natural fruits, which we would have it yield to us gladly and without being tortured against its will.

But you shall see that we are not unable to work tricks if we like. Heigh! you tree yonder," he cried, pointing to an elm tree, the third in the row from that under which they were talking, "just salute the wise Apollonius, will you?"

And forthwith the tree saluted him, as it was bidden to do, in accents which were articulate and like those of a woman. Now he wrought this sign to discredit the Indians, and in the belief that by doing so he would wean Apollonius of his excessive estimate of their powers; for he was always recounting to everybody what the Indians said and did.

Then the Egyptian added these precepts: he said that it is sufficient for the sage to abstain from eating all flesh of living animals, and from the roving desires which mount up in the soul through the eyes, and from envy which ends by teaching injustice to hand and will, and that truth stands not in need of miracle-mongering and sinister arts. "For look," he said, "at the Apollo of Delphi, who keeps the center of Hellas for the utterance of his oracles. There then, as you probably know yourself, a person who desires a response, puts his question briefly, and Apollo tells what he knows without any miraculous display. And yet it would be just as easy for him to convulse the whole mountain of Parnassus, and to alter the springs of the Castalian fountain so that it should run with wine, and to check the river Cephisus and stay its stream; but he reveals the bare truth without any of this show of ostentation.

Nor must we suppose that it is by his will, that so much gold and showy offerings enter his treasury, nor that he would care for his temple even if it were made twice as large as it already is. For once on a time this god Apollo dwelt in quite a humble habitation; and a little hut was constructed for him to which the bees are said to have contributed their honeycomb and wax, and the birds their feathers. For simplicity is the teacher of wisdom and the teacher of truth; and you must embrace it, if you would have men think you really wise, and forget all your legendary tales that you have acquired among the Indians.

For what need is there to beat the drum over such simple matters as: 'Do this, or do not do it,' or 'I know it, or I do not know it,' or 'It is this and not that'? What do you want with thunder, nay, I would say, What do you want to be thunder-struck for?

You have seen in picture-books the representation of Heracles by Prodicus; in it Heracles is represented as a youth, who has not yet chosen the life he will lead; and vice and virtue stand in each side of him plucking his garments and trying to draw him to themselves. Vice is adorned with gold and necklaces and with purple raiment, and her cheeks are painted and her hair delicately plaited and her eyes underlined with henna; and she also wears golden slippers, for she is pictured strutting about in these; but virtue in the picture resembles a woman worn out with toil, with a pinched look; and she has chosen for her adornment rough squalor, and she goes without shoes and in the plainest of raiment, and she would have appeared naked if she had not too much regard for her feminine decency.

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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

Now figure yourself, Apollonius, as standing between Indian wisdom on one side, and our humble wisdom on the other; imagine that you hear the one telling you how she will strew flowers under you when you lie down to sleep, yes, and by Heaven, how she will regale you upon milk and nourish you on honey-comb, and how she will supply you with nectar and wings, whenever you want them; and how she will wheel in tripods, whenever you drink, and golden thrones; and you shall have no hard work to do, but everything will be flung unsought into your lap. But the other discipline insists that you must lie on the bare ground in squalor, and be seen to toil naked like ourselves; and that you must not find dear or sweet anything which you have not won by hard work; and that you must not be boastful, not hunt after vanities and pursue pride; and that you must be on your guard against all dreams and visions which lift you off the earth.

If then you really make the choice of Heracles, and steel your will resolutely, neither to dishonor truth, nor to decline the simplicity of nature, then you may say that you have overcome many lions and have cut off the heads of many hydras and of monsters like Geryon and Nessus, and have accomplished all his other labors, but if you embrace the life of a strolling juggler, you will flatter men's eyes and ears, but they will think you no wiser than anybody else, and you will become the vanquished of any naked philosopher of Egypt."






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