Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.6-10

Philostratus' Life of Apollonius: third-century biography of a charismatic teacher and miracle worker from the first century CE, who is often likened to Jesus of Nazareth.

In the Life of Apollonius, Athenian author Philostratus (a sophist who lived from c.170 to c.247) tells the story of Apollonius of Tyana, a charismatic teacher and miracle worker from the first century CE. (A summary of this work can be found here.) It is an apologetic vie romancée, in which Philostratus tries to prove that Apollonius was a man with divine powers, but not a magician.

The translation was made by F.C. Conybeare and was published in 1912 in the Loeb Classical Library.

[1.6] Now there is near Tyana a well sacred to Zeus, the god of paths, so they say, and they call it the well of Asbama. Here a spring rises cold, but bubbles up like a boiling cauldron. This water is favorable and sweet to those who keep their paths, but to perjurers it brings hot-footed justice; for it attacks their eyes and hands and feet, and they fall the prey of dropsy and wasting disease; and they are not even able to go away, but are held on the spot and bemoan themselves at the edge of the spring, acknowledging their perjuries.

The people of the country, then, say that Apollonius was the son of this Zeus, but the sage called himself the son of Apollonius.

[1.7] On reaching the age when children are taught their letters, he showed great strength of memory and power of application; and his tongue affected the Attic dialect, nor was his accent corrupted by the race he lived among. All eyes were turned upon him, for he was, moreover, conspicuous for his beauty. When he reached his fourteenth year, his father brought him to Tarsus, to Euthydemus the teacher from Phoenicia.

Now Euthydemus was a good rhetor, and began his education; but, though he was attached to his teacher, he found the atmosphere of the city harsh and strange and little conducive to the philosophic life, for nowhere are men more addicted than here to luxury; jesters and full of insolence are they all; and they attend more to their fine linen than the Athenians did to wisdom; and a stream called the Cydnus runs through their city, along the banks of which they sit like so many water-fowl. Hence the words which Apollonius addresses to them in his letter:

"Be done with getting drunk upon your water."

He therefore transferred his teacher, with his father's consent, to the town of Aegae, which was close by, where he found a peace congenial to one who would be a philosopher, and a more serious school of study and a temple of Asclepius, where that god reveals himself in person to men.

There he had as his companions in philosophy followers of Plato and Chrysippus and peripatetic philosophers.note And he diligently attended also to the discourses of Epicurus, for he did not despise these either, although it was to those of Pythagoras that he applied himself with unspeakable wisdom and ardor. However, his teacher of the Pythagorean system was not a very serious person, nor one who practiced in his conduct the philosophy he taught; for he was the slave of his belly and appetites, and modeled himself upon Epicurus. And this man was Euxenus from the town of Heraclea in Pontus, and he knew the principles of Pythagoras just as birds know what they learn from men; for the birds will wish you "farewell," and say "Good day" or "Zeus help you," and such like, without understanding what they say and without any real sympathy for mankind, merely because they have been trained to move their tongue in a certain manner.

Apollonius, however, was like the young eagles who, as long as they are not fully fledged, fly alongside of their parents and are trained by them in flight, but who, as soon as they are able to rise in the air, outsoar the parent birds, especially when they perceive the latter to be greedy and to be flying along the ground in order to snuff the quarry; like them Apollonius attended Euxenus as long as he was a child and was guided by him in the path of argument, but when he reached his sixteenth year he indulged his impulse towards the life of Pythagoras, being fledged and winged thereto by some higher power.

Notwithstanding he did not cease to love Euxenus, nay, he persuaded his father to present him with a villa outside the town, where there were tender groves and fountains, and he said to him: "Now you live there your own life, but I will live that of Pythagoras."note

[1.8] Now Euxenus realized that he was attached to a lofty ideal, and asked him at what point he would begin it. Apollonius answered: "At the point at which physicians begin, for they, by purging the bowels of their patients prevent some from being ill at all, and heal others."

And having said this he declined to live upon a flesh diet, on the ground that it was unclean, and also that it made the mind gross; so he partook only of dried fruits and vegetables, for he said that all the fruits of the earth are clean. And of wine he said that it was a clean drink because it is yielded to men by so well-domesticated a plant as the vine; but he declared that it endangered the mental balance and system and darkened, as with mud, the ether which is in the soul.

After then having thus purged his interior, he took to walking without shoes by way of adornment and clad himself in linen raiment, declining to wear any animal product; and he let his hair grow long and lived in the Temple. And the people round about the Temple were struck with admiration for him, and the god Asclepius one day said to the priest that he was delighted to have Apollonius as witness of his cures of the sick; and such was his reputation that the Cilicians themselves and the people all around flocked to Aegae to visit him. Hence the Cilician proverb: "Whither runnest thou? Is it to see the stripling?"

Such was the saying that arose about him, and it gained the distinction of becoming a proverb.

[1.9] Now it is well that I should not pass over what happened in the Temple, while relating the life of a man who was held in esteem even by the gods. For an Assyrian stripling came to Asclepius, and though he was sick, yet he lived the life of luxury, and being continually drunk, I will not say he lived, rather he was ever dying. He suffered then from dropsy, and finding his pleasure in drunkenness took no care to dry up his malady. On this account then Asclepius took no care of him, and did not visit him even in a dream.note

The youth grumbled at this, and thereupon the god, standing over him, said, "If you were to consult Apollonius you would be easier."

He therefore went to Apollonius, and said: "What is there in your wisdom that I can profit by? for Asclepius bids me consult you."

And he replied: "I can advise you of what, under the circumstances, will be most valuable to you; for I suppose you want to get well."

"Yes, by Zeus," answered the other, "I want the health which Asclepius promises, but never gives."

"Hush," said the other, "for he gives to those who desire it, but you do things that irritate and aggravate your disease, for you give yourself up to luxury, and you accumulate delicate viands upon your water-logged and worn-out stomach, and as it were, choke water with a flood of mud."

This was a clearer response, in my opinion, than Heraclitus, in his wisdom, gave. For he said when he was visited by this affection that what he needed was someone to substitute a drought for a rainy weather, a very unintelligible remark, it appears to me, and by no means clear; but the sage restored the youth to health by a clear interpretation of the wise saw.

[1.10] One day he saw a flood of blood upon the altar, and there were victims laid out upon it, Egyptian bulls that had been sacrificed and great hogs, and some of them were being flayed and others were being cut up; and two gold vases had been dedicated set with jewels, the rarest and most beautiful that India can provide. So he went to the priest and said: "What is all this; for someone is making a very handsome gift to the god?"

And the priest replied: "You may rather be surprised at a man's offering all this without having first put up a prayer in our fane, and without having stayed with us as long as other people do, and without having gained his health from the god, and without obtaining all the things he came to ask for. For he appears to have come only yesterday, yet he is sacrificing on this lavish scale. And he declares that he will sacrifice more victims, and dedicate more gifts, if Asclepius will hearken to him. And he is one of the richest men in existence; at any rate he owns in Cilicia an estate bigger than all the Cilicians together possess. And he is supplicating the god to restore to him one of his eyes that has fallen out."

But Apollonius fixed his eyes upon the ground, as he was accustomed to do in later life, and asked: "What is his name?"

And when he heard it, he said: "It seems to me, O Priest, that we ought not to welcome this fellow in the Temple: for he is some ruffian who has come here, and that he is afflicted in this way is due to some sinister reason: nay, his very conduct in sacrificing on such a magnificent scale before he has gained anything from the god is not that of a genuine votary, but rather of a man who is begging himself off for the penalty of some horrible and cruel deed."

This was what Apollonius said: and Asclepius appeared to the priest by night, and said: "Send away so and so at once with all his possessions, and let him keep them, for he deserves to lose the other eye as well."

The priest accordingly made inquiries about the Cilician and learned that his wife by a former marriage borne a daughter, and he had fallen in love with the maiden and had seduced her, and was living with her in open sin. For the mother had surprised the two in bed, and had put out both her eyes and one of his by stabbing them with her brooch-pin.