Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.16-20

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.

[3.16] When Apollonius approached, the rest of the sages welcomed him and shook hands; but Iarchas sat down on a high stool - and this was of black copper and chased with golden figures, while the seats of the others were of copper, but plain and not so high, for they sat lower down than Iarchas - and when he saw Apollonius, Iarchas greeted him in the Greek tongue and asked for the Indian's letter. And as Apollonius showed astonishment at his gift of prescience, he took pains to add that a single letter was missing in the epistle, namely a delta, which had escaped the writer; and this was found to be the case. Then having read the epistle, he said " What do you think of us, O Apollonius? "

"Why," replied the latter, "how can you ask, when it is sufficiently shown by the fact that I have taken a Jamey to see you which was never till now accomplished by any of the inhabitants of my country."

"And what do you think we know more than yourself?"

"I," replied the other, "consider that your lore is profounder and much more divine than our own; and if I add nothing to my present stock of knowledge while I am with you, I shall at least have learned that I have nothing more to learn."

Thereupon the Indian replied and said: "Other people ask those who arrive among them, who they are that come, and why, but the first display we make of our wisdom consists in showing that we are not ignorant who it is that comes. And you may test this point to begin with."

And to suit his word he forthwith recounted the whole story of Apollonius' family both on his father's and his mother's side, and he related all his life in Aegae, and how Damis had joined him, and any conversations that they had had on the road, and anything they had found out through the conversation of others with them. All this, just as if he had shared their voyage with them, the Indian recounted straight off, quite clearly and without pausing for breath. And when Apollonius was astounded and asked him how he came to know it all, he replied: "And you too are come to share in this wisdom, but you are not yet an adept."

"Will you teach me, then," said the other, "all this wisdom?"

"Aye, and gladly, for that is a wiser course than grudging and hiding matters of interest; and moreover, O Apollonius, I perceive that you are well endowed with memory, a goddess whom we love more than any other of the divine beings."

"Well," said the other, "you have certainly discerned by your penetration my exact disposition."

"We," said the other, "O Apollonius, can see all spiritual traits, for we trace and detect them by a thousand signs. But as it is nearly midday, and we must get ready our offerings for the Gods, let us now employ ourselves with that, and afterwards let us converse as much as you like; but you must take part in all our religious rites."

"By Zeus," said Apollonius, "I should be wronging the Caucasus and the Indus, both of which I have crossed in order to reach you, if I did not feast myself on your rites to the full."

"Do so," said the other, "and let us depart."

[3.17] Accordingly they betook themselves to a spring of water, which Damis, who saw it subsequently, says resembles that of Dirce in Boeotia; and first they stripped, and then they anointed their heads with an amber-like drug, which imparted such a warmth to these Indians, that their bodies steamed and the sweat ran off them as profusely as if they were washing themselves with fire; next they threw themselves into the water and, having so taken their bath, they betook themselves to the temple with wreaths upon their heads and full of sacred song. And they stood round in the form of a chorus, and having chosen Iarchas as conductor they struck the earth, uplifting their rods, and the earth arched itself like a billow of the sea and raised them up two cubits high into the air. But they sang a song resembling the paean of Sophocles which they sing at Athens in honor of Asclepius.

But when they had alighted upon the ground, Iarchas called the stripling who carried the anchor and said: "Do you look after the companions of Apollonius."

And he went off swifter than the quickest of the birds, and coming back again said: "I have looked after them."

Having fulfilled then the most of their religious rites, they sat down to rest upon their seats, but Iarchas said to the stripling: "Bring out the throne of Phraotes for the wise Apollonius that he may sit upon it to converse with us."

[3.18] And when he had taken his seat, he said: "Ask whatever you like, for you find yourself among people who know everything."

Apollonius then asked him whether they knew themselves also, thinking that he, like the Greeks, would regard self-knowledge as a difficult matter.note But the other, contrary to Apollonius' expectations, corrected him and said: "We know everything, just because we begin by knowing ourselves; for no one of us would be admitted to this philosophy unless he first knew himself."

And Apollonius remembered what he had heard Phraotes say, and how he who would become a philosopher must examine himself before he undertakes the task; and he therefore acquiesced in this answer, for he was convinced of its truth in his own case also. He accordingly asked a fresh question, namely, who they considered themselves to be; and the other answered "We consider ourselves to be Gods."

Apollonius asked afresh: "Why?"

"Because," said the other, "we are good men."

This reply struck Apollonius as so instinct with trained good sense that he subsequently mentioned it to Domitian in his defense of himself.

[3.19] He therefore resumed his questions and said: "And what view do you take of the soul?"

"That," replied the other, "which Pythagoras imparted to you, and which we imparted to the Egyptians."

"Would you then say," said Apollonius, "that as Pythagoras declared himself to be Euphorbus, so you yourself, before you entered your present body, were one of the Trojans or Achaeans or someone else?"

And the Indian replied: "Those Achaean sailors were the ruin of Troy, and your talking so much about it is the ruin of you Greeks. For you imagine that the campaigners against Troy were the only heroes that ever were, and you forget other heroes both more numerous and more divine, whom your own country and that of the Egyptians and that of the Indians have produced. Since then you have asked me about my earlier incarnation, tell me, whom you regard as the most remarkable of the assailants or defenders of Troy."

"I," replied Apollonius, "regard Achilles, the son of Peleus and Thetis, as such, for he and no other is celebrated by Homer as excelling all the Achaeans in personal beauty and size, and he knows of mighty deeds of his. And he also rates very highly such men as Ajax and Nireus, who were only second to him in beauty and courage, and are celebrated as such in his poems."

"With him," said the other, "O Apollonius, I would have you compare my own ancestor, or rather my ancestral body, for that was the light in which Pythagoras regarded Euphorbus.

[3.20] "There was then," he said, "a time when the Ethiopians, an Indian race, dwelt in this country, and when Ethiopia as yet was not; but Egypt stretched its borders beyond Meroe and the cataracts, and on the one side included in itself the fountains of the Nile, and on the other was only bounded by the mouths of the river.

Well, at that time of which I speak, the Ethiopians lived here, and were subject to King Ganges, and the land was sufficient for their sustenance, and the gods watched over them; but when they slew this king, neither did the rest of the Indians regard them as pure, nor did the land permit them to remain upon it; for it spoiled the seed which they sowed in it before it came into ear, and it inflicted miscarriages on their women, and it gave a miserable feed to their flocks; and wherever they tried to found a city, it would give way sink down under their feet. Nay more, the ghost of Ganges drove them forward on their path, a haunting terror to their multitude, and it did not quit them until they atoned to earth by sacrificing the murderers who had shed the king's blood with their hands.

Now this Ganges it seems, was ten cubits high, and in personal beauty excelled any man the world had yet seen, and he was the son of the river Ganges; and when his own father inundated India, he himself turned the flood into the Red Sea, and effected a reconciliation between his father and the land, with the result that the latter brought forth fruits in abundance for him when living, and also avenged him after death.

And since Homer brings Achilles to Troy in Helen's behalf, and relates how he took twelve cities by sea and eleven on land, and how he was carried away by wrath because he had been robbed of a woman by the king, on which occasion, in my opinion, he showed himself merciless and cruel, let us contrast the Indian in similar circumstances. He on the contrary set himself to found sixty cities, which are the most considerable of those hereabouts - and I would like to know who would regard the destruction of cities as a better title to fame than the rebuilding of them - and he also repulsed the Scythians who once invaded this land across the Caucasus. Surely it is better to prove yourself a good man by liberating your country than to bring slavery upon a city, and that too on behalf of a woman who probably was never really carried off against her will.

And he had formed an alliance with the king of the country, over which Phraotes now rules, although that other had violated every law and principle of morality by carrying of his wife, he yet did not break his oath, and so stable, he said, was his pledged word, that, in spite of the injury he had suffered, he would not do anything to harm that other.