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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

 
Bust of Domitian. Museo Arqueológico, Sevilla (Spain). Photo Marco Prins.
Domitian (Museo Arqueológico,  Sevilla)
[§7.i] "My prince, we are at issue with one another concerning matters of grave moment; for you run such a risk as never autocrat did before you, that namely of being thought to be animated by a wholly unjust hatred of philosophy; while I am exposed to a worse peril than was ever Socrates at Athens, for though the accusers taxed him in their indictment with introducing new beliefs about demons, they never went so far as to call him or think him a demon.

Since, however, so grave a peril besets us both, I will not hesitate to tender you the advice of whose excellence I am myself convinced. For since the accuser has plunged us into this struggle, the many have been led to form a false opinion of both myself and of you. They have come to imagine that you will listen only to the counsels of anger, with the result that you will even put me to death, whatever death means, and that I in turn shall try to evade this tribunal in some of the ways there are -and they were, my prince, myriad- of escaping from it.

Though rumors have reached my ears, I have not contracted any prejudice against you, nor have I done you the injury of supposing you will hear my cause otherwise than in accordance with the strictest principles of equity; for in conformity with the laws I submit myself to their pronouncement.

And I would advise you also to do the same; for justice demands that you should neither prejudge the case, nor take your seat on the bench with your mind made up to the belief that I have done you any wrong. If you were told that the Armenian, the Babylonian and other foreign potentates were about to inflict some disaster on you, which must lead to the loss of your empire, you would, I am sure, laugh outright; although they have hosts of cavalry, all kinds of archers, a gold bearing soil and, as I know full well, a teeming population. And yet you distrust a philosopher, naked of means of offense, and are ready to believe he is a menace to the autocrat of the Romans - all this on the mere word of an Egyptian sycophant.

Never did you here such tales from Athena, whom you allege to be your guardian spirit, unless indeed, great Heavens!, their flattering and falsely accusing others has so increased the influence of these miscreants, that you would pretend that whereas in insignificant matters, such as sore eyes, and avoidance of fevers and inflammation of the bowels, the Gods are your apt advisers, manipulating and healing you after the manner of physicians of anyone of these maladies you may be suffering from, they, nevertheless, in matters which imperil your throne and your life, give you no counsel either as to the persons you should guard against or as to the weapons you should employ against them, but, instead of coming to your aid, leave you to the tender mercies of false accusers, whom you regard as the Aegis of Athena or the hand of Zeus, just because they assert that they understand your welfare better even than do the gods, and that they watch over you in the hours of their waking and sleeping, if indeed these wretches can sleep after pouring out such wicked lies and compiling ever and anon whole Iliads such as this one.

That they should keep horses and roll theatrically into the forum in chariots drawn by snowy teams, that they should gorge themselves off dishes of silver and gold, parade favorites that cost them two or three myriad sesterces, that they should go on committing adultery as long as they are not found out and then and not before, marry the victims of their lusts when they are caught red-handed, that their splendid successes should be hailed with applause, as often as some philosopher or consul, absolutely innocent, falls into their toils and is put to death by yourself - all this I am willing to concede to the license of these accursed wretches and to their brazen indifference to the public eye and to law; but that they should give themselves the airs of superhuman beings and presume to know better than the gods, I cannot approve or allow; and the mere rumor of it fills me with horror. And if you allow such things to be, they will perhaps accuse even yourself of offending against established religion.

I know that my tone is rather that of a censor than that of a defendant; if so, you must pardon me for thus speaking up in behalf of the laws, with the recognition of whose authority by yourself stands and falls that of your own.

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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)

[§7.ii] Who then will be my advocate while I am defending myself? For if I called upon Zeus to help me, under whom I am conscious of having passed my life, they will accuse me of being a wizard and of bringing heaven down to earth. Let us then appeal in this matter to one whom I deny to be dead, although the many assert it, I mean your own father [Vespasian], who held me in the same esteem in which you behold him; for he made you, and was in turn made by me. He, my prince, shall assist my defense, because he knows my character much better than yourself; for he came to Egypt before he was raised to the throne, as much to converse with me about the Empire as to sacrifice to the gods of Egypt.

And when he found me with my long hair and dressed as I am at this moment, he did not ask me a single question about my costume, because he considered that everything about me was well; but he admitted that he had come thither on my account, and after commending me and saying to me things which he would have said to no one else, and having heard from me what he would have heard from no one else, he departed.

I most confirmed him in his aspirations for the throne, when others had already sought to dissuade him, - in no unfriendly spirit, I admit, though you anyhow can not agree with them; for those who tried to persuade him not to assume the reins of Empire were assuredly on their way to deprive you of the succession to him by which you now hold.


But by my advice he did not hold himself unworthy, he said, of the kingdom which lay within his grasp and of making you the heirs thereto; and he fully acknowledged the entire wisdom of my advice, and he was raised himself to the pinnacle of greatness, as in turn he raised yourselves. Now if he had looked upon me as a wizard, he would never have taken me into his confidence, for he did not come and say such things as this to me: Compel the Fates or compel Zeus to appoint me tyrant, or to work miracles and portents in my behalf, and show me the sun rising in the west and setting at the point where he rises.[1] For I should not have thought him a fit person for empire in he had either considered me as an adept in such art, or resorted to such tricks in pursuit of a crown which it behoved him to win by his virtues alone.

More than this my conversation with him was held publicly in a temple, and wizards do not affect temples of the gods as their places of reunion; for such places are inimical to those who deal in magic, and they cloak their art under the cover of night and every sort of darkness, so as to preclude their dupes from the use of their eyes and ears.

It is true that he also had a private conversation with me, but there were present at it beside myself Euphrates and Dion, one of them my bitter enemy, but the other my firmest friend; for may never come a time when I shall not reckon Dion among my friends. Now I ask you, who would begin to talk wizardry in the presence of wise men or of men anyhow laying claim to wisdom? And who would not be equally on his guard both among friends and among enemies of betraying his villainy?

And moreover our conversation on that occasion was directed against wizards; for you surely will not suppose that your own father when he was aspiring to the throne set more confidence in wizards than in himself, or that he got me to put pressure upon heaven, that he might obtain his object, when, on the contrary, he was confident of winning the crown before ever he came to Egypt; and subsequently he had more important matters to talk over with me, namely the laws and the just acquisition of wealth, and how the gods ought to be worshipped, and what blessings they have in store for those monarchs who govern their people in accordance with the laws.

These are the subjects which he desired to learn about, and they are all the direct opposite of wizardry; for if they count for anything at all, there will be an end of the black art.

[§7.iii] And there is another point, my prince, which merits your attention. The various arts known to mankind, in spite of the differences of their functions and achievements, are yet all concerned to make money, some earning less, some earning more, and some just enough to live upon; and not only the base mechanic arts, but of the rest those which are esteemed liberal arts as well as those which only border upon being liberal, and true philosophy is the only exception. And by liberal arts I mean poetry, music, astronomy, the art of the sophist and of the orator, the merely forensic kinds excepted; and by the arts which border upon liberal I mean those of the painter, modeller, sculptor, navigator, agriculturist, in case the latter waits upon the seasons; for these arts are not very inferior to the liberal professions.

And on the other hand, my prince, there are the pseudo-liberal arts of jugglers, which I would not have you confuse with divination, for this is highly esteemed, if it be genuine and tell the truth, though whether it is an art, I am not sure. But I anyhow affirm wizards to be professors of a pseudo-liberal art, for they have get men to believe that the unreal is real, and to distrust the real as unreal, and I attribute all such efforts to the imaginative fancy of the dupes; for the cleverness of this art is relative to the folly of the persons who are deceived by them, and who offer the sacrifices they prescribe; and its professors are given up wholly to filthy lucre, for all their parade of skill is devised by them in hope of gain, and they try to persuade people who are passionately attached to something or another that they are capable of getting everything for them.

Do you then find me so opulent  as to warrant me in supposing that I cultivate the sort of false and illiberal wisdom, the more so as your own father considered me to be above all pecuniary considerations? And to show you that I speak the truth, here is a letter to me from that noble and divine man, who in it praises me more especially for my poverty. It runs thus:

The autocrat Vespasian to Apollonius the philosopher sends greetings.
     If all men, Apollonius, were disposed to be philosophers in the same spirit as yourself, then the lot no less of philosophy than poverty would be an extremely happy one; for your philosophy is pure and disinterested, and your poverty is voluntary. Farewell.
Let this be your sire's pleading in my behalf, when he thus lays stress upon the disinterestedness of my philosophy, and the voluntariness of my poverty. For I have no doubt he had in mind the episode in Egypt, when Euphrates and several of those who pretended to be philosophers approached him, and in no obscure language begged for money; whereas I myself not only did not solicit him for money, but repudiated them as impostors for doing so.

And I also showed an aversion from money from my first youth; for realizing that my patrimony, and it was a considerable property, was at best but a transitory toy, I gave it up to my brothers and to my friends and to the poorer of my relatives, so disciplining myself from my very home and hearth to want nothing.

I will not dwell upon Babylon and the parts of India beyond the Causasus and the river Hyphasis, through which I journeyed ever true to myself. But in favor of my life here and no less of the fact that I have never coveted money, I will invoke the testimony of the Egyptian here; for he accuses me of every sort of evil deed and design, yet we hear nothing from him of how much money I made by these villainies, nor of how much gain I had in view; indeed he thinks me such a simpleton as to practice my wizardry for nothing, and whereas others only commit its crimes for much money, he thinks that I commit them for none at all.

It is as if I cried my wares to the public in such terms as the following: Come, O ye Dupes, for I am a wizard; and I practice my art not for money, but free, gratis, and for nothing; and so you shall earn a great reward, for each of you will go off with nothing but dangers and writs of accusation.

[§7.iv] But without descending to such silly arguments, I would like to ask the accuser which of his counts I ought to take first. And yet why need I ask him? for at the beginning of his speech he dwelt upon my dress, and by Zeus, upon what I eat and what I do not eat.

O divine Pythagoras, do thou defend me upon these counts; for we are put upon our trial for a rule of life of which thou wast the discoverer, and of which I am the humble partisan.

For the earth, my prince, grows everything for mankind; and those who are pleased to live at peace with the brute creation want nothing, for some fruits they can cull from earth, others they win from her furrows, for she is the nurse of men, as suits the seasons; but these men, as it were deaf to the cries of mother earth, whet their knife against her children in order to get themselves dress and food.

Here then is something which the Brahmans of India themselves condemned, and which they taught the naked sages of Egypt also to condemn; and from them Pythagoras took his rule of life, and he was the first of Hellenes who had intercourse with the Egyptians. And it was his rule to give up and leave her animals to the earth; but all things which she grows, he declared, were pure and undefiled, and ate of them accordingly, because they were best adapted to nourish both body and soul. But the garments which most men wear made of the hides of dead animals, he declared to be impure; and accordingly clad himself in linen, and on the same principles had his shoes woven of byblus.

And what were the advantages which he derived from such purity? Many, and before all the privilege of recognizing his own soul. For he had existed in the age when Troy was fighting about Helen, and he had been the fairest of the sons of Panthus, and the best equipped of them all, yet he died at so young an age as to excite the lamentations even of Homer. Well after that he passed into several bodies according to the decree of Adrastea, which transfers the soul from body to body, and then he again resumed the form of man, and was born to Mnesarchides of Samos, this time a sage instead of a barbarian, and an Ionian instead of a Trojan, and so immune from death that he did not even forget that he was Euphorbus.

I have then told you who was the begetter of my own wisdom, and I have shown that it is no discovery of my own, but an inheritance come to me from another. And as for myself though I do not condemn or judge those who make it part of their luxury to consume the red-plumaged bird, or the fowls from Phasis or the land of the Paeones, which are fattened up for their banquets by those who can deny nothing to their bellies, and though I have never yet brought an accusation against anyone, because they buy fish for their tables at greater prices than grand seigneurs ever gave for their Corinthian chargers, and though I have never grudged anyone his purple garment nor his soft raiment and Pamphylian tissues - yet I am accused and put upon my trial, O ye gods, because I indulge in asphodel and dessert of dried fruits and pure delicacies of that kind.

[§7.v] Nor even is my mode of dress protected from their calumnies, for the accuser is ready to steal even that off my back, because it has such vast value for wizards. And yet apart from my contention about the use of living animals and lifeless things, according as he uses one or the other of which I regard a man as impure or pure, in what way is linen better than wool? Was not the latter taken from the back of the gentlest of animals, of a creature beloved of the gods, who do not disdain themselves to be shepherds, and, by Zeus, once held the fleece to be worthy of a golden form,[2] if it was really a god that did so, and if it be not a mere story?

On the other hand linen is grown and sown anywhere, and there is no talk of gold in connection with it. Nevertheless, because it is not plucked from the back of a living animal, the Indians regard it as pure, and so do the Egyptians, and I myself and Pythagoras on this account have adopted it as our garb when we are discoursing or praying or offering sacrifice. And it is a pure substance under which to sleep of a night, for to those who live as I do dreams bring the truest of their revelations.

Philostratus : Life of Apollonius : next
Note 1:
A reference to the legend of Atreus and Thyestes.

Note 2:
The golden fleece.

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