Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 2.31-35

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.

[2.31] "Mynote grandfather was king, and had the same name as myself; but my father was a private person. For he was left quite young and two of his relations were appointed guardians in accordance with the laws of the Indians. But they did not carry on the king's government honestly on his behalf. No, by the Sun, but so unfairly that their subjects found their regime oppressive and the government fell into bad repute. A conspiracy then was formed against them by some of the magnates, who attacked them and slew them when they were sacrificing to the river Indus. The conspirators than seized upon the reins of government and took control of the State.

Now my father's kinsmen entertained apprehensions of him, because he was not yet sixteen years of age, so they sent him across the Hyphasis to the king there. And he has more subjects than I have, and his country is much more fertile than this one. This monarch wished to adopt him, but this my father declined on the ground that he would not struggle with fate that robbed him of his kingdom; but he besought to allow him to take his way to the sages and become a philosopher, for he said that this would make it easier for him to bear the reverses of his house. The king however being anxious to restore him to his father's kingdom, my father said: "If you see that I am become a genuine philosopher, then restore me; but if not, let me remain as I am."

The king accordingly went in person to the sages, and said that he would lie under great obligation to them if they would take care of a youth who had already showed such nobility of character, and they, discerning in him something out of the common run, were delighted to impart to him their wisdom, and were glad to educate him when they saw how addicted he was to learning.

Now seven years afterwards the king fell sick, and at the very moment when he was dying, he sent for my father, and appointed him co-heir in the government with his own son, and promised his daughter in marriage to him as she was already of marriageable age. And my father, since he saw that the king's son was the victim of flatterers and of wine and of such like vices, and was also full of suspicions of himself, said to him: "Do you keep all this and swill down the whole Empire as your own; for it is ridiculous that one who could not even gain the kingdom which belonged to him should presume to meddle with one which does not; but give me your sister, for this is all I want of yours."

So having obtained her in marriage he lived hard by the sage in seven fertile village which the king bestowed upon his sister as her pin-money. I then am the issue of this marriage, and my father after a Greek education brought me to the sages at an age somewhat too early perhaps, for I was only twelve at the time, but they brought me up like their own son; for any that they admit knowing the Greek tongue they are especially fond of, because they consider that in virtue of the similarity of his disposition he already belongs to themselves.

[2.32] And when my parents had died, which they did almost together, the sages bade me repair to the villages and look after my own affairs, for I was now nineteen years of age. But, alas, my good uncle had already taken away the villages, and didn't even leave me the few acres my father had acquired; for he said that the whole of them belonged to his kingdom, and that I should get more than I deserved if he spared my life. I accordingly raised a subscription among my mother's freedmen, and kept four retainers.

And one day when I was reading the play The Children of Heracles,note a man presented himself from my own country, bringing a letter from a person devoted to my father, who urged me to cross the river Hydraotes and confer with him about my present kingdom; for he said there was a good prospect of recovering it, if I did not dawdle. I cannot but think that some god set me on reading this drama at the moment, and I followed the omen; and having crossed the river I learnt that one of the usurpers of the throne was dead, and that the other was besieged in this very palace.

Accordingly I hurried forward, and proclaimed to the inhabitants of the villages through which I passed that I was the sons of so and so, naming my father, and that I was come to take possession of my own kingdom; but they received me with open arms and escorted me, recognizing my resemblance to my grandfather, and they had daggers and bows, and our numbers increased from day to day. And when I approached the gates the population received me with such enthusiasm that they snatched up torches off the altar of the Sun and came before the gates and escorted me hither with many hymns in praise of my father and grandfather. But the drone that was within they walled up, although I protested against his being put to such death."

[2.33] Here Apollonius interrupted and said: "You have exactly played the part of the restored sons of Heracles in the play, and praised be the gods who have helped so noble a man to come by his own and restored you by their noble intervention. But tell me this about these sages: were they not once actually subject to Alexander, and were they not brought before him to philosophize about the heavens?"note

"Those were the Oxydracae," he said, "and a race that has always been independent and well equipped for war; and they assert that they deal in wisdom, though they know nothing of value. But the genuine sages live between the Hyphasis and the Ganges, in a country which Alexander never assailed; not I imagine because he was afraid of what was in it, but, I think, because the omens warned him against it.note But if he had crossed the Hyphasis, and had been able to take the surrounding country, he could certainly never have taken possession of their castle in which they live, not even if he had had ten thousand like Achilles, and thirty thousand like Ajax behind him; for they do not do battle with those who approach them, but they repulse them with prodigies and thunderbolts which they send forth, for they are holy men and beloved of the gods.

It is related, anyhow, that Heracles of Egyptnoteand Dionysus after they had overrun the Indian people with their arms, at last attached them in company, and that they constructed engines of war, and tried to take the place by assault; but the sages, instead of taking the field against them, lay quiet and passive, as it seemed to the enemy; but as soon as the latter approached they were driven off by rockets of fire and thunderbolts which were hurled obliquely from above and fell upon their armor.

It was on that occasion, they say, that Hercules lost his golden shield, and the sages dedicated it as an offering, partly out of respect for Hercules' reputation, and partly because of the reliefs upon the shield. For in these Hercules is represented fixing the frontier of the world at Gadira,note and turning the mountains into pillars, and confining the ocean within its bounds. Thence it is clear that it was not the Theban Hercules, but the Egyptian one, that came to Gadira, and fixed the limits of the world." 

[2.34] While they were thus talking, the strain of the hymn sung to the pipe fell upon their ears, and Apollonius asked the king what was the meaning of their cheerful ode. "The Indians," he answered, "sing their admonitions to the king, at the moment of his going to bed; and they pray that he may have good dreams, and rise up propitious and affable towards his subjects."

"And how," said Apollonius, "do you, O king, feel in regard to this matter? For it is yourself I suppose that they honor with their pipes."

"I don't laugh at them," he said, "for I must allow it because of the law, although I do not require any admonition of the kind: for in so far as a king behaves himself with moderation and integrity, he will bestow, I imagine, favors on himself rather than on his subjects."

[2.35] After this conversation they laid themselves down to repose; but when a new day had dawned, the king himself went to the chamber in which Apollonius and his companions were sleeping, and gently stroking the bed he addressed the sage, and asked him what he was thinking about. "For," he said, "I don't imagine you are asleep, since you drink water and despise wine."

Said the other: "Then you don't think that those who drink water go to sleep?"

"Yes," said the king, "they sleep, but with a very light sleep, which just sits upon the tips of their eyelids, as we say, but not upon their minds."

"Nay with both do they sleep," said Apollonius, "and perhaps more with the mind than with the eyelids. For unless the mind is thoroughly composed, the eyes will not admit of sleep either. For note how madmen are not able to go to sleep because their mind leaps with excitement, and their thoughts run coursing hither and thither, so that their glances are full of fury and morbid impulse, like those of the dragons who never sleep.

Since then, O king," he went on, "we have clearly intimated the use and function of sleep, and what it signifies for men, let us examine whether the drinker of water need sleep less soundly than the drunkard."

"Do not quibble," said the king, "for if you put forward the case of a drunkard, he, I admit, will not sleep at all, for his mind is in a state of revel, and whirls him about and fills him with uproar. All, I tell you, who try to go to sleep when in drink seem to themselves to be rushed up on the roof, and then to be dashed down to the ground, and to fall into a whirl, as they say happened to Ixion.note Now I do not put the case of a drunkard, but of a man who has merely drunk wine, but remains sober; I wish to consider whether he will sleep, and how much better he will sleep than a man who drinks no wine."

And when no scar or reproach can be proved against them, nor any other stain whatever, then it is time narrowly to inspect the young man himself and test him, to see firstly, whether he has a good memory, and secondly, whether he is modest and reserved in disposition, and does not merely pretend to be so, whether he is addicted to drink, or greed, or a quack, or a buffoon, or rash, or abusive, to see whether he is obedient to his father, to his mother, to his teachers, to his school-masters, and above all, if he makes no bad use of his personal attractions.

The particulars then of his parents and of their progenitors are gathered from witnesses and from the public archives. For whenever an Indian dies, there visits his house a particular authority charged by the law to make a record of him, and of how he lived. And if this officer lies or allows himself to be deceived, he is condemned by the law and forbidden ever to hold another office, on the ground that he has counterfeited a man's life.

But the particulars of the youths themselves are duly learnt by inspection of them. For in many cases a man's eyes reveal the secrets of his character, and in many cases there is material for forming a judgment and appraising his value in his eyebrows and cheeks, for from these features the dispositions of people can be detected by wise and scientific men, as images are seen in a looking-glass. For seeing that philosophy is highly esteemed in this country, and it is held in honor by the Indians, it is absolutely necessary that those who take to it should be tested and subjected to a thousand modes of proof.

Well then, that we study philosophy under direction of teachers, and that admission to philosophy is by examination among us, I have clearly explained; and now I will relate to you my own history.