Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.21-25

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.

[6.21] "Let us," said Thespesion, tackle the subject; for it is one very suitable to men, whether they are wise or not wise. But lest we should drag in the opinions of Indians, and so confuse our discussion, and go off without having formed any conclusions, do you first impart to us the views held by the Indians concerning justice, for you probably examined their views on the spot; and if their opinion is proved to be correct we will adopt it; but if we have something wiser to put in its place, you must adopt our view, for that too is plain justice."

Said Apollonius: "Your plan is excellent and most satisfactory to me; so do listen to the conversation which I held there. For I related to them how I had once been captain of a large ship, in the period when my soul was in command of another body, and how I thought myself extremely just because, when robbers offered me a reward, if I would betray my ship by running it into roads where they were going to lie in wait for it, in order to seize its cargo, I agreed and made the promise, just to save them from attacking us, but intending to slip by them and get beyond the place agreed upon."

"And,"  said Thespesion, "did the Indians agree that this was justice?" 

"No, they laughed at the idea," he said, "for they said  that justice was something more than not being unjust."

"It was very sensible,"  said the other, "of the Indians to reject such a view; for good sense is something more than not entertaining nonsense, just as courage is something more than not running away from the ranks; and so temperance is something more than the avoidance of adultery, and no one reserves his praise for a man who has simply shown himself to be not bad. For because a thing, no matter what, is equidistant between praise and punishment, it is not on that account to be reckoned off-hand to be virtue"

"How then. O Thespesion," said Apollonius, "are we to crown the just man and for what actions?"

"Could you have discussed justice more completely and more opportunely," said the other, "than when the sovereign of so large and flourishing a country intervened in your philosophic discussion of the art of kingship, a thing intimately connected with justice?"

"If it had been Phraotes,"  said Apollonius, "who turned up on that occasion, you might rightly blame me for not gravely discussing the subject of justice in his presence. But you from the account which I gave of himnote yesterday that the man is a drunkard and an enemy of all philosophy. What need therefore was there to inflict on him the trouble? Why should we try to win credit for ourselves in the presence of a sybarite who thinks of nothing but his own pleasures?

But inasmuch as it is incumbent upon wise men like ourselves to explore and trace out justice, more so than on kings and generals, let us proceed to examine the absolutely just man. For though I thought myself just in the affair of the ship, and thought others just too because they do not practice injustice, you deny that this in itself constitutes them just or worthy of honor." 

"And rightly so," said the other, " for whoever heard of a decree drafted by Athenians or Lacedaemonians in favor of crowning so and so, because he is not a libertine, or of granting the freedom of the city to so and so, because the temples have not been robbed by him? Who then is the just man and what are is actions? For neither did I ever hear of anyone being crowned merely for his justice, nor of a decree being proposed over a just man to the effect that so and so shall be crowned, because such and such actions of his show him to be just.

For anyone who considers the fate of Palamedes in Troy or Socrates in Athens, will discover that even justice is not sure of success among men, for assuredly these men suffered most unjustly being themselves most just. Still they at least were put to death on the score of acts of injustice imputed on them, and the verdict was a distortion of the truth; whereas in the case of Aristides the son of Lysimachus, it was very justice that was the undoing of him, for he in spite of his integrity was banished merely because of his reputation for this very virtue.note And I am sure that justice will appear in a very ridiculous light; for having been appointed by Zeus and by the Fates to prevent men being unjust to one another, she has never been able to defend herself against injustice.

And the history of Aristides is sufficient to me to show the difference between one who is nor unjust and one who is really just. For, tell me, is not this the same Aristides of whom your Hellenic compatriots when they come here tell us that he undertook a voyage to the islands to fix the tribute of the allies,note and after settling it on a fair basis, returned again to his country still wearing the same cloak in which he left it?"

"It is he," answered Apollonius, "who made the love of poverty once to flourish."

"Now," said the other, "let us suppose that there were at Athens two public orators passing an encomium upon Aristides, just after he had returned from the allies; one of the proposes that he shall be crowned, because he has come back again without enriching himself or amassing any fortune, but the poorest of the Athenians, poorer than he was before; and the other orator, we will suppose, drafts his motion somewhat as follows: 'Whereas Aristides has fixed the tribute of the allies according to their ability to pay, and not in excess of the resources of their respective countries; and whereas he has endeavored to keep them loyal to the Athenians, and to see that they shall feel it no grievance to pay upon this scale, it is hereby resolved to crown him for justice.'

Do you not suppose that Aristides himself would have opposed the first of these resolutions, as an indignity to his entire life, seeing that it only honored him for not doing injustice; whereas, he might perhaps have supported the other resolution as a fair attempt to express his intentions and policy?

For I imagine it was with an eye to the interest of Athenians and subject states alike, that he took care to fix the tribute on a fair and moderate basis, and in fact his wisdom in this matter was conclusively proved after his death. For when the Athenians exceeded his valuations and imposed heavier tributes upon the islands,note their naval supremacy at once went to pieces, though it more than anything else had made them formidable; on the other hand the prowess of the Lacedaemonians passed on to the sea itself; and nothing was left of Athenian supremacy, for the whole of the subject states rushed into revolution and made good their escape.

It follows then, O Apollonius, that rightly judged, it is not the man who abstains from injustice that is just, but the man who himself does what is just, and also influences others not to be unjust; and from such justice as his there will spring up a crop of other virtues, especially those of the law-court and of the legislative chamber. For such a man as he will make a much fairer judge than people who take their oaths upon the dissected parts of victims, and his legislation will be similar to that of Solon and of Lycurgus; for assuredly these great legislators were inspired by justice to undertake their work."

[6.22] Such, according to Damis, was the discussion held by them with regard to the just man, and Apollonius, he says, assented to their argument, for he always agreed with what was reasonably put. They also had a philosophic talk about the soul, proving its immortality, and about nature, along much the same lines which Plato follows in his Timaeus; and after some further remarks and discussions of the laws of the Hellenes, Apollonius said: "For myself I have come all this way to see yourselves and visit the springs of the Nile; for a person who only comes as far as Egypt may be excused if he ignores the latter, but if he advances as far as Ethiopia, as I have done, he will be rightly reproached if he neglects to visit them, and to draw as it were from their well-springs some arguments of his own."

"Farewell then," said the other, "and pray to the springs for whatever you desire, for they are divine. But I imagine you will take as your guide Timasion, who formerly lived at Naucratis, but is now of Memphis; for he is well acquainted with the springs of the Nile and he is not so impure as to stand in need of further lustrations. But as for you, O Nilus, we would like to have a talk to you by ourselves."

The meaning of this sally was clear enough to Apollonius, for he well understood their annoyance at Nilus' preference for himself; but to give them an opportunity of speaking him apart, he left them to prepare and pack up for his journey, for he meant to start at daybreak. And after a little time Nilus returned, but did not tell them anything of what they had said to him, though he laughed a good deal to himself. And no one asked him what he was laughing about, but they respected his secret.

[6.23] They then took their supper and after a discussion of certain trifles they laid them down to sleep where they were; but at daybreak they said goodbye to the naked sages, and started off along the road which leads to the mountains, keeping the Nile on their right hand, and they saw the following spectacles deserving of notice. The Catadupinote are mountains formed of good soil, about the same size as the hill of the Lydians called Tmolus; and from them the Nile flows rapidly down, washing with it the soil of which it creates Egypt; but the roar of the stream, as it breaks down in a cataract from the mountains and hurls itself into the Nile, is terrible and intolerable to the ears, and many of those have approached it too close have returned with the loss of their hearing.

[6.24] Apollonius, however, and his party pushed on till they saw some round-shaped hills covered with trees, the leaves and bark and gum of which the Ethiopians regard as of great value; and they also saw lions close to the path, and leopards and other such wild animals; but they were not attracted by any of them, for they fled from them in haste as if they were scared at the sight of men.

And they also saw stags and gazelles, and ostriches an asses, the latter in great numbers, and also many wild bulls and ox-goats, the former of these two animals being a mixture of the stag and the ox, that latter of the creatures from which its name is taken.

They found moreover on the road the bones and half-eaten carcases of these; for the lions, when they have gorged themselves with fesh prey, care little for what is left over of it, because, I think, they feel sure of catching fresh quarry whenever they want it.

[6.25] It is here that the nomad Ethiopians live in a sort of colony upon wagons, and not far from them the elephant-hunters, who cut up these animals and sell the flesh, and are accordingly called by a name which signifies the selling of elephants.

And the Nasamones and the man-eaters and the pigmies and the shadow-footed people are also tribes of Ethiopia, and they extend as far as the Ethiopian ocean, which no mariners ever enter except castaways who do so against their will.