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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 8:

The first five chapters of Book 8 contain an account of Apollonius' trial before Domitian, his acquittal, and his miraculous departure from the court. This is followed by the full text of the speech which Apollonius wrote for the defense, though it was never actually delivered (8.7). Domitian is astonished by Apollonius' inexplicable departure (8.8f). After a mere half day's travel from Rome, Apollonius joins Damis and Demetrius in Dicaearchia (8.10-14) and sets out for Greece. The Tyanean sage visits Olympia again (8.15-18) and the oracle of Trophonius in a cave near Lebadea; he spends seven days there underground and returns with a book containing the teachings of Pythagoras (8.19). Philostratus mentions that this book and a number of letters written by Apollonius are preserved in the emperor Hadrian's villa in Antium (8.20). After staying in Greece for two years, Apollonius moves on to Ionia, staying in Smyrna, Ephesus and elsewhere (8.24). During his stay in Ephesus he miraculously witnesses the murder of Domitian in Rome (8.25-27). Apollonius rejects Nerva's request to act as his advisor, and sends Damis to the new emperor with his recommendations in writing instead (8.28). According to Philostratus (8.29), this is where the memoirs of Damis, which have served him as a main source for the adventures of Apollonius since the start of his journey to the East, come to an end. The writer culls various versions of the end of Apollonius' earthly existence from other sources, devoting the most attention to Apollonius' ascension from the Dictynna temple on Crete (8.30). The sage of Tyana appears posthumously to a young man in a dream to confirm the immortality of the soul (8.31).

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Bust of Domitian. Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla (Spain). Photo Marco Prins.
Domitian (Museo Arqueológico,  Sevilla)

[§1] Let us now repair to the law court to listen to the sage pleading his cause; for it is already sunrise and the doors are thrown open to admit the celebrities. And the companions of the Emperor [Domitian] say that he had taken no food today, because, I imagine, he was so absorbed in examining the documents of the case. For they say he was holding in his hands a roll of writing of some sort, sometimes reading it with anger, and sometimes more calmly. And we must needs figure him as one who was angry with the law for having invented such things as courts of justice.

[§2] But Apollonius, as we meet him in this conjuncture seems to regard the trial as a dialectical discussion, rather than as a race to be run for his life; and this we may infer from the way he behaved before he entered the court. For on his way thither he asked the secretary who was conducting him, where they were going; and when the latter answered that he was leading him to the court, he said: "Whom am I going to plead against?"

"Why," said the other, "against the accuser of course, and the Emperor will be judge."

"And," said Apollonius, "who is going to judge between myself and the Emperor? For I shall prove that he is wronging philosophy."

"And what concern," said the other, "has the Emperor for philosophy, even if he does happen to be wrong?"

"Nay, but philosophy," said Apollonius, "is much concerned about the Emperor, that he should govern as he should."

The secretary commanded this sentiment, for indeed he was already favorably disposed to Apollonius, as he proved from the very beginning. "And how long will your pleading last by the water-clock's reckoning? For I must know this before the trial begins."

"If," said Apollonius, "I am allowed to plead as long as the necesseties of the suit require me to, the whole of the Tiber might tun through the meter before I should have done; but if I am only to answer the questions put to me, then it depends on the cross-examiner how long I shall be making my answers."

"You have cultivated," remarked the other, "contrary talents when you thus engage to talk about one and the same matter both with brevity and with prolixity."

"They are not contrary talents," said Apollonius, "but resemble each other. And moreover there is a mean composed between the two, which I should not myself allege to be a third, but a first requisite for a pleader; and for my own part I am sure that silence constitutes a fourth excellence much required in a law-court."

"Anyhow," said the other, "it will do you no good nor anyone who stands in great peril."

"And yet," said Apollonius, "it was of great service to Socrates of Athens, when he was prosecuted."

"And what good did it do him," said the other, "seeing that he died just because he would say nothing?"

"He did not die," said Apollonius, "though the Athenians thought he did."

[§3] This was how he prepared himself to confront the despot's maneuvers; and as he waited before the court another secretary came up and said: "Man of Tyana, you must enter the court with nothing on you."

"Are we then to take a bath," said Apollonius, "or to plead?"

"The rule," said the other, "does not apply to dress, but the Emperor only forbids you to bring in here either amulet, or book, or any papers of any kind."

"And not even a cane," said Apollonius, "for the back of the idiots who gave him such advice as this?"

Whereat the accuser burst into shouts: "O my Emperor," he said, "this wizard threatens to beat me, for it was I who gave you this advice."

"Then," said Apollonius, "it is you who are a wizard rather than myself; for you say that you have persuaded the Emperor of my being that which so far I have failed to persuade him that I am not."

While the accuser was indulging in this abuse, one of the freedmen of Euphrates was at his side, whom the latter was said to have sent from Ionia with news of what Apollonius had there said in his conversations, and also with a sum of money which was presented to the accuser.

[§4] Such were the preliminary skirmishes which preceded the trial, but the conduct of the trial itself was as follows: The court was fitted up as if for an audience listening to a panegyrical discourse; and all the illustrious men of the city were present at the trial, because the Emperor was intent upon proving before as many people as possible that Apollonius was an accomplice of Nerva and his friends.

Apollonius, however, ignored the Emperor's presence so completely as not even to glance at him; and when his accuser upbraided him for want of respect, and bade him turn his eyes upon the god of all mankind, Apollonius raised his eyes to the ceiling, bu way of giving a hint that he was looking up to Zeus, and that he regarded the recipient of such profane flattery as worse than he who administered it.

Whereupon the accuser began to bellow and spoke somewhat as follows: "'Tis time, my sovereign, to apportion the water, for if you allow him to talk as long as he chooses, he will choke us. Moreover I have a roll here which contains the heads of the charges against him, and to these he must answer, so let him defend himself against them one by one."

[§5] The Emperor approved of this plan of procedure and ordered Apollonius to make his defense according to the informer's advice; however, he dropped out other accusations, as not worth discussion, and confined himself to four questions which he thought were embarrassing and difficult to answer. "What induces you, he said, "Apollonius, to dress yourself differently from everybody else, and to wear this peculiar and singular garb?"

"Because," said Apollonius, "the earth which feeds me also clothes me, and I do not like to bother the poor animals."

The emperor next asked the question: "Why is it that men call you a god?"

"Because," answered Apollonius, "every man that is thought to be good, is honored by the title of god." I have shown in my narrative of India how this tenet passed into our hero's philosophy.

The third question related to the plague in Ephesus: "What motived," he said, "or suggested your prediction to the Ephesians that they would suffer from a plague?"

"I used," he said, "O my sovereign, a lighter diet than others, and so I was the first to be sensible of the danger; and if you like, I will enumerate the causes of pestilences."

But the Emperor, fearful, I imagine, lest Apollonius should reckon among the causes of such epidemics his own wrong-doing, and his incestuous marriage, and his other misdemeanors, replied: "Oh, I do not want any such answers as that."

And when he came to the fourth question which related to Nerva and his friends, instead of hurrying straight on to it, he allowed a certain interval to elapse, and after long reflection, and with the air of one who felt dizzy, he put his question in a way which surprised them all; for they expected him to throw off all disguise and blurt out the names of the persons in question without any reserve, complaining loudly and bitterly of the sacrifice; but instead of putting the question in this way, he beat about the bush, and said: "Tell me, you went out of your house on a certain day, and you traveled into the country, and sacrificed the boy - I would like to know for whom?"

And Apollonius as if he were rebuking a child replied: "Good words, I beseech you; for I did leave my house, I was in the country; and if this was so, then I offered sacrifice: and if I offered it, then I ate of it. But let these assertions be proved by trustworthy witnesses."

Such a reply on the part of the sage aroused louder applause than beseemed the court of an Emperor; and the latter deeming the audience to have borne witness in favor of the accused, and also not a little impressed himself by the answers he had received, for they were both firm and sensible, said: "I acquit you of the charges; but you must remain here until we have had a private interview."

Thereat Apollonius was much encouraged and said: "I thank you indeed, my sovereign, but I would fain tell you that by reason of these miscreants your cities are in ruin, and the islands full of exiles, and the mainland of lamentations, and your armies of cowardice, and the Senate of suspicion. Accord me also, if you will, opportunity to speak; but if not, then send someone to take my body, for my soul you cannot take. Nay, you cannot take even my body,

For thou shalt not slay me, since -I tell thee- I am not mortal."[Homer, Iliad 22.13]
And with these words he vanished from the court, which was the best thing he could do under the circumstances, for the Emperor clearly intended not to question him sincerely about the case, but about all sorts of irrelevant matters. For he took great credit to himself for not having put Apollonius to death, nor was the latter anxious to be drawn into such discussions.

And he thought that he would best effect his end if he left no one in ignorance of his true nature, but allowed it to be known to all to be such that he had it in him never to be taken prisoner against his own will. Moreover he had no longer any cause for anxiety about his friends; for as the despot had not the courage to ask any questions about them, how could he possibly put them to death with any color of justice upon charges for which no evidence had been presented in court?

Such was the account of the proceedings of the trial which I found.

[§6] But inasmuch as he had composed an oration which he would have delivered by the clock in defense of himself, only the tyrant confined him to the questions which I have enumerated, I have determined to publish this oration also. For I am well aware, indeed, that those who highly esteem the style of buffoons will find fault in it, as being less chaste and severe in its style than they consider it should be, and as too bombastic in language and tone.

However, when I consider that Apollonius was a sage, it seems to me that he would have unworthily concealed his true character if he had merely studied symmetry of endings, and antithesis, clicking his tongue as if it had been a castanet. For these tricks suit the genius of rhetoricians, though they are not necessary even to them. For forensic art, if it be too obvious, is apt to betray him who resorts to it as anxious to impose upon the judges; whereas if it is well concealed, it is likely to carry off a favorable verdict; for true cleverness consists in concealing from the judges the very cleverness of the pleader.

But when a wise man is defending his cause -and I need not say that a wise man will not arraign another for faults which he has the will and strength to rebuke- he requires quite another style than that of the hacks of the law-court; and though his oration must be well-prepared, it must not seem to be so, and it should possess a certain evalation almost amounting to scorn, and he must take care in speaking not to throw himself on the pity of the judges. For how can he appeal to the pity of others who would not condescend to solicit anything? Such an oration will my hero's seem to those who shall diligently study both myself and him; for it was composed by him in the following manner:

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