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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

 
  [§23] Just at the time when he was holding these conversations with the people of Hellas, the following remarkable portent overspread the heavens. The orb of the sun was surrounded by a wreath which resembled a rainbow, but dimmed the sunlight.[1]

That the heavenly sign portended a revolution was of course clear to all. However, when the governor of Hellas summoned Apollonius from Athens to Boeotia, and said: "I hear that you have a talent for understanding things divine," he replied: "Yes, and perhaps you have heard that I have some understanding of human affairs."

"I have heard it," he replied, "and quite agree."

"Since then," said Apollonius, "you are of one opinion with me, I would advise you not to pry into the intentions of the gods; for this is what human wisdom recommends you to do."

And when he besought Apollonius to tell him what he thought, for he said he was afraid lest night should ensue and swallow up everything. "Be of good cheer," said Apollonius, "for there will be some light following such a night as this."

[§24] After this, seeing that he had enough of the people of Hellas, after living for two years among them, he set sail for Ionia, accompanied by his society; and the greater part of his time he spent teaching philosophy at Smyrna and Ephesus, though he also visited the rest of the cities; and in none of them was he found to be an unwelcome guest, indeed they all considered him to be worth their regret when he left them, and to the better class of people he was a great boon.

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

[§25] And now the gods were about to cast down Domitian from his presidency of mankind. For it happened that he had just slain [Flavius] Clemens, a man of consular rank, to whom he had lately given his own sister [Flavia Domitilla] in marriage; and he issued a command about the third or fourth day after the murder, that she also should follow her husband and join him.

Thereupon Stephanus, a freed man of the lady, he who was signified by the form of the late portent, whether because the latest victim's fate rankled in his mind, or the fate of all others, made an attempt upon the tyrant's life worthy of comparison with the feats of the champions of Athenian liberty [i.e., Harmodius and Aristogeiton]. For he concealed a dagger against his left fore-arm, and carrying his hand in a bandage, as if it were broken, he approached the Emperor as he left the law-court, and said: "I would have a private interview with you, my prince, for I have important news to communicate to you."




The latter did not refuse him the audience, but took him apart into the men's apartment where he transacted business of state. Whereupon the assassin said; "Your bitter enemy, Clemens, is not dead, as you imagine, but he lives and I know where he is; and he is making ready to attack you."

When the emperor uttered a loud cry over this information, before he could recover his composure, Stephanus threw himself upon him and drawing the dagger from the hand which he had trussed up, he stabbed him in the thigh, inflicting a wound which was not immediately mortal, though it was well-timed in view of the struggle that followed.

The Emperor was still strong and full of bodily vigor, although he was about five and forty years of age; and in spite of the wound he closed with his assailant, and throwing him down, kneeled upon him and dug out his eyes and crushed his cheeks with the stand of a gold cup which lay thereby for use in sacred ceremonies, at the same time calling upon Athena to assist him. Thereupon his bodyguard, realizing that he was in distress, rushed into the room pell-mell, and dispatched the tyrant, who had already swooned.


The terrace of the temple of Domitian. Photo Marco Prins.
The temple of Domitian in Ephesus

[§26] Although this deed was done in Rome, Apollonius was a spectator of it in Ephesus. For about midday he was delivering an address in the groves of the colonnade, just at the moment when it all happened in the palace at Rome; and first he dropped his voice, as if he were terrified, and then, though with less vigor than was usual with him, he continued his exposition, like one who between his words caught glimpses of something foreign to his subject, and at last he lapsed into silence, like one who has been interrupted in his discourse. And with an awful glance at the ground, and stepping forward three or four paces from his pulpit, he cried: "Smite the tyrant, smite him" - not like one who derives from some looking glass a faint image of the truth, but as one who sees things with his own eyes, and is taking part in a tragedy.

All Ephesus -for all Ephesus was at his lecture- was struck dumb with astonishment; but he, pausing like those who are trying to see and wait until their doubts are ended, said: "Take heart, gentlemen, for the tyrant has been slain this day; and why do I say today? Now it is, by Athena, even now at the moment I uttered my words, and then lapsed into silence."




The inhabitants of Ephesus thought that this was a fit of madness on his part; and although they were anxious that it should be true, yet they were anxious about the risk they ran in giving ear to his words, whereupon he added: "I am not surprised at those who do not yet accept my story, for not even all Rome as yet is cognizant of it. But behold, Rome begins to know it: for the rumor runs this way and that, and thousands now are convinced of it; and they begin to leap for joy, twice as many as before, and twice as many as they, and four times as many, yea the whole of the populace there. And this news will travel hither also; and although I would have you defer your sacrifices in honor thereof to the fitting season, when you will receive this news, I shall proceed at once to pray to the gods for what I have seen."

Bust of Nerva. Palazzo Massimo, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Nerva (Palazzo Massimo, Roma)

[§27] They were still skeptical, when swift runners arrived with the good news, and bore testimony to the sage's wisdom; for the tyrant's murder, and the day which brought the event to birth, the hour of midday and the murderers to whom he addressed his exhortation, everything agreed with the revelation which the gods had made to Apollonius in the midst of his harangue.

And thirty days later Nerva sent a letter to him to say that he was already in possession of the Empire of the Romans, thanks to the goodwill of the gods and to his good counsels; and he added that he would more easily retain it, if Apollonius would come to advise him. Whereupon at the moment the latter wrote to him the following enigmatically sentence:

We will, my prince, enjoy one another's company for a very long time during which neither shall we govern others, nor others us.
Perhaps he realized, when he wrote thus, that it was not to be long before he himself should quit this human world, and that Nerva was only to retain the throne for a short time; for his reign lasted but one year and four months, when he left behind him the reputation of having been a sober and serious ruler.





Philostratus: Life of Apollonius : next





Note 1:
The description suggests that this is the eclipse of 20 March 71, and not an event in 96. The Greek word for wreath, stephanos, is a reference to Stephanus.




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