Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 4.41-45

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.

[4.41] The result of his discourses about religion was that the gods were worshipped with more zeal, and that men flocked to the temples where he was, in the belief that by doing so they would obtain an increase of divine blessings. And our sage's conversations were so far not objected to, because he held them in public and addressed himself to all men alike; for he did not hover about rich men's doors, nor hang about the mighty, though he welcomed them if they resorted to him, and he talked with them just as much as he did to the common people.

[4.42] Now Demetrius being attracted to Apollonius, as I have said above in my account of the events at Corinth, betook himself subsequently to Rome, and proceeded to court Apollonius, at the same time that he launched out against Nero. In consequence our sage's profession was looked at askance, and he was thought to have set Demetrius on to proceed thus, and the suspicion was increased on the occasion of Nero's completion of the most magnificent gymnasium in Rome:note for the auspicious day was being celebrated therein by Nero himself and the great Senate and all the knights of Rome, when Demetrius made his way into the gymnasium itself and delivered himself of a philippic against people who bathed, declaring that they enfeebled and polluted themselves; and he showed that such institutions were a useless expense.

He was only saved from immediate death as the penalty of such language by the fact that Nero was in extra good voice when he sang on that day, and he sang in the tavern which adjoined the gymnasium, naked except for a girdle round his waste, like any low tapster.

Demetrius, however, did not wholly escape the risk which he had courted by his language; for Tigellinus,note to whom Nero had committed the power of life and death, proceeded to banish him from Rome, on the plea that he had ruined and overthrown the bath by the words he used; and he began to dog the steps of Apollonius secretly, in the hope that he would catch him out too in some compromising utterance.

[4.43] The latter, however, showed no disposition to ridicule the government, nor on the other hand did he display any of the anxiety usually felt by those who are on their guard against some danger. He merely continued to discuss in simple and adequate terms the topics laid before him; and Telesinus and others continued to study philosophy in his company, for although philosophy was just then in a perilous condition, they did not dream that they would imperil themselves with his studies.

Yet henote was suspected as I have said, and the suspicion was intensified by words he uttered in connection to a prodigy. For presently when there was an eclipse of the sun and a clap of thunder was heard, a thing that very rarely occurs at the moment of an eclipse, he glanced up to heaven and said: "There shall be some great event and there shall not be."

Now at the time those who heard these words were unable to comprehend their meaning; but on the third day after the eclipse, everyone understood what was meant: for while Nero sat at meat a thunderbolt fell on the table, and clove asunder the cup that was in his hand and was close to his lips. And the fact that he so narrowly escaped being struck was intended by the words that a great event would happen and yet should not happen.

Tigellinus when he heard this story began to dread Apollonius as one who was wise in supernatural matters; and though he felt that he had better not prefer any open charges against him, lest he should incur at his hands some mysterious disaster, nevertheless he used all the eyes with which the government sees, to watch Apollonius, whether he was talking or holding his tongue, or sitting down or walking about, and to mark what he ate, and in whose houses, and whether he offered sacrifice or not.

[4.44] Just then a distemper broke out in Rome, called by the physicians influenza; and it was attended, it seems, by coughings, and the voice of speakers was affected by it. Now the temples were full of people supplicating the gods, because Nero had a swollen throat, and his voice was hoarse. But Apollonius vehemently denounced the folly of the crowd, though without rebuking anyone in particular; nay, he even restrained Menippus, who was irritated by such goings on, and persuaded him to moderate his indignation, urging him to pardon the gods if they did show pleasure in the mimes of buffoons.

This utterance was reported to Tigellinus, who immediately sent police to take him to prison, and summoned him to defend himself from the charge of impiety against Nero. And an accuser was retained against him who had already undone a great many people, and won a number of such Olympic victories. This accuser too held in his hands a scroll of paper on which the charge was written out, and he brandished it like a sword against the sage, and declared that it was so sharp that it would slay and ruin him.

But when Tigellinus unrolled the scroll, and did not find upon it the trace of a single word or letter, and his eyes fell on a perfectly blank book, he came to the conclusion that he had to do with a demon; and this is said also subsequently to have been the feeling which Domitian afterwards entertained towards Apollonius.

Tigellinus then took his victim apart into a secret tribunal, in which this class of magistrate tries in private the most important charges; and having ordered all to leave the court he plied him with questions, asking who he was. Apollonius gave his father's name and that of his country, and explained his motive in practicing wisdom, declaring that the sole use he had made of it was to gain knowledge of the gods and an understanding of human affairs, for that the difficulty of knowing another man exceeded that of knowing oneself.note

"And about the demons," said Tigellinus, "and the apparitions of specters, how, O Apollonius, do you exorcise them?"

"In the same way," he answered, "as I should murderers and impious men." This was a sarcastic allusion to Tigellinus himself, for he taught and encouraged in Nero every excess of cruelty and wanton violence.

"And," said the other, "could you prophesy, if I asked you to?"

"How," said Apollonius, "can I, being no prophet?"

"And yet," replied the other, "they say that it is you who predicted that some great event would come to pass and yet not come to pass."

"Quite true," said Apollonius, "is what you heard; but you must not put this down to any prophetic gift, but rather to the wisdom which God reveals to wise men."

"And," said the other, "why are you not afraid of Nero?"

"Because," said Apollonius, "the same God who allows him to seem formidable, has also granted to me to feel no fear."

"And what do you think," said the other, "about Nero?"

And Apollonius answered: "Much better than you do; for you think it dignified for him to sing, but I think it dignified for him to keep silent."

Tigellinus was astonished and said: "You may go, but you must give sureties for your person."

And Apollonius answered: "And who can go surety for a body that no one can bind?"

This answer struck Tigellinus as inspired and above the wit of man; and as he was careful not to fight with a god, he said: "You may go wherever you choose, for you are too powerful to be controlled by me."

[4.45] Here too is a miracle which Apollonius worked: A girl had died just in the hour of her marriage, and the bridegroom was following her bier lamenting as was natural his marriage left unfulfilled, and the whole of Rome was mourning with him, for the maiden belonged to a consular family. Apollonius then witnessing their grief, said: "Put down the bier, for I will stay the tears that you are shedding for this maiden."

And withal he asked what was her name. The crowd accordingly thought that he was about to deliver such an oration as is commonly delivered to grace the funeral as to stir up lamentation; but he did nothing of the kind, but merely touching her and whispering in secret some spell over her, at once woke up the maiden from her seeming death; and the girl spoke out loud, and returned to her father's house, just as Alcestis did when she was brought back to life by Heracles. And the relations of the maiden wanted to present him with the sum of 150,000 sesterces, but he said that he would freely present the money to the young lady by way of dowry.

Now whether he detected some spark of life in her, which those who were nursing her had not noticed -for it is said that although it was raining at the time, a vapor went up from her face- or whether her life was really extinct, and he restored it by the warmth of his touch, is a mysterious problem which neither I myself nor those who were present could decide.