Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 3.26-30

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.

[3.26] While they were still discussing this topic, a hubbub down below in the village struck their ears, for it seems the king had arrived equipped in the height of Median fashion and full of pomp. Iarchas then, not too well pleased, remarked: "If it were Phraotes who was halting here, you would find a dead silence prevailing everywhere as if you were attending a mystery."

From this remark Apollonius realized that the king in question was not only inferior to Phraotes in a few details, but in the whole of philosophy; and as he saw that the sages did not bestir themselves to make any preparations or provide for the king's wants, though he was come at midday, he said: "Where is the king going to stay?"

"Here," they replied, "for we shall discuss by night the objects for which he is come, since that is the best time for taking counsel."

"And will a table be laid for him when he comes," said Apollonius.

"Why, of course," they answered, "a rich table too, furnished with everything which this place provides". 

"Then," said he, "you live richly?"

"We," they answered, "live in a slender manner, for although we might eat as much as we like, we are contented with little; but the king requires a great deal, for that is his pleasure. But he will not eat any living creature, for it is wrong to do here, but only dried fruits and roots and the seasonable produce of the Indian land at this time of year, and whatever else the new year's seasons will provide."

[3.27] "But see," said he, "here he is."

And just then the king advanced together with his brother and his son, ablaze with gold and jewels. And Apollonius was about to rise and retire, when Iarchas checked him from leaving his throne, and explained to him that it was not their custom for him to do so.

Damis himself says that he was not present on this occasion, because on that day he was staying in the village, but he heard from Apollonius what happened and wrote it in his book. He says then that when they had sat down, the king extended his hand as if in prayer to the sages and they nodded their assent as if they were conceding his request; and he was transported with joy at the promise, just as if he had come to the oracle of a God. But the brother of the king and his son, who was a very pretty boy, were not more considered than if they had been the slaves of the others, that were mere retainers. After that the Indian rose from his place, and in a formal speech bade the king take food, and he accepted the invitation and that most cordially. Thereupon four tripods stepped forth like those of the Pythian Temple, but of their own accord, like those which advanced in Homer's poem,note and upon them were cup-bearers of black brass resembling the figures of Ganymede and of Pelops among the Greeks.

And the earth strewed beneath them grass softer than any mattress. And dried fruits and bread and vegetables and the dessert of the season all came in, served in order, and set before them more agreeably that if cooks and waiters had provided it; now two of the tripods flowed with wine, but the other two supplied, the one of them a jet of warm water and the other of cold. Now the precious stones imported from India are employed in Greece for necklaces and rings because they are so small, but among the Indians they are turned into decanters and wine coolers, because they are so large, and into goblets of such size that from a single one of them four persons can slake their thirst at midsummer. But the cup-bearers of bronze drew a mixture, he says, of wine and water made in due proportions; and they pushed cups round, just as they do in drinking bouts. The sages, however, reclined as we do in a common banquet, not that any special honor was paid to the king, although great importance would be attached to him among Greeks and Romans, but each took the first place that he chanced to reach.

[3.28] And when the wine had circulated, Iarchas said: "I pledge you to drink the health, O king, of a Hellene," and he pointed to Apollonius, who was reclining just below him, and he made a gesture with his hand to indicate that he was a noble man and divine. But the king said: "I have heard that he and the persons who are halting in the village belong to Phraotes".

"Quite, right," he answered, "and true is what you heard: for it is Phraotes who entertains him here also."

"What," asked the king, "is his mode of life and pursuit?"

"Why, what else," replied Iarchas, "except that of that king himself?"

"It is no great compliment you have paid him," answered the king, "by saying that he has embraced a mode of life which has denied even to Phraotes the chance of being a noble man."

Thereupon Iarchas remarked: "You must judge more reasonably, O king, both about philosophy and about Phraotes: for as long as you were a stripling, your youth excused in you such extravagances. But now that you have already reached man's estate, let us avoid foolish and facile utterances."

But Apollonius, who found an interpreter in Iarchas said: "And what have you gained, O king, by refusing to be a philosopher?"

"What have I gained? Why, the whole of virtue and the identification of myself with the Sun."

Then the other, by way of checking his pride and muzzling him, said: "If you were a philosopher, you would not entertain such fancies."

"And you," replied the king, "since you are a philosopher, what is your fancy about yourself, my fine fellow?"

"That I may pass," replied Apollonius, "for being a good man, if only I can be a philosopher."

Thereupon the king stretched out his hand to heaven and exclaimed: "By the Sun, you come here full of Phraotes."

But the other hailed this remark as a godsend, and catching him up said: "I have not taken this long journey in vain, if I am become full of Phraotes. But if you should meet him presently, you will certainly say that he is full of me; and he wished to write to you in my behalf, but since he declared that you were a good man, I begged him not to take the trouble of writing, seeing that in his case no one sent a letter commending me."

[3.29] This put a stop to the incipient folly of the king for having heard that he himself was praised by Phraotes, he not only dropped his suspicions, but lowering his tone he said: "Welcome, goodly stranger."

But Apollonius answered: "And my welcome to you also, O king, for you appear to have only just arrived."

"And who," asked the other, "attracted you to us?"

"These gentlemen here, who are both Gods and wise men."

"And about myself, O stranger"; said the king, "what is said among Hellenes?"

"Why, as much," said Apollonius, "as is said about the Hellenes here."

"As for myself, I find nothing in the Hellenes," said the other, "that is worth speaking of."

"I will tell them that," said Apollonius, "and they will crown you at Olympia."

[3.30] And stooping towards Iarchas he said: "Let him go on like a drunkard, but do you tell me why do you not invite to the same table as yourself, nor hold worthy of other recognition those who accompany this man, though they are his brother and son, as you tell me?"

"Because," said Iarchas", they reckon to be kings one day themselves, and by being made themselves to suffer disdain they must be taught not to disdain others."

And remarking that the sages were eighteen in number, he again asked Iarchas, what was the meaning of their being just so many and no more. "For," he said, "the number eighteen is not a square number, nor is it one of the numbers held in esteem and honor, as are the numbers ten and twelve and sixteen and so forth."

Thereupon the Indian took him up and said: "Neither are we beholden to number nor number to us, but we owe our superior honor to wisdom and virtue; and sometimes we are more in number than we now are, and sometimes fewer. And indeed I have heard that when my grandfather was enrolled among these wise men, the youngest of them all, they were seventy in number but when he reached his 130th year, he was left here all alone, because not one of them survived him at that time, nor was there to be found anywhere in India a nature that was either philosophic or noble. The Egyptians accordingly wrote and congratulated him warmly on being left alone for four years in his tenure of this throne, but he begged them to cease reproaching the Indians for the paucity of their sages.

Now we, O Apollonius, have heard from the Egyptians of the custom of the Eleans, and that the Hellanodicae, who preside over the Olympic games, are ten in number; but we do not approve of the rule imposed in the case of these men; for they leave the choice of them to the lot, and the lot has no discernment, for a worse man might be as easily chosen by lot as a better one. On the other hand would they not make a mistake; if they had made merit the qualification and chosen them by vote? Yes, a parallel one, for if you are on no account to exceed the number ten, there may more than ten just men, and you will deprive some of the rank which their merits entitle them to, while if on the other hand there are not so many as ten, then none will be thought to be really qualified. Wherefore the Eleans would be much wiser-minded if they allowed the number to fluctuate, merely preserving the same standard of justice."