Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.11-15

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.

[7.11] With these words, Demetrius led them to the villa in which Cicero lived of old, and it is close by the city. There they sat down under a plane tree where the grasshoppers were chirping to the soft music of the summer's breeze, when Demetrius glancing up at them, remarked: "O ye blessed insects and unfeignedly wise, it would seem then that the Muses have taught you a song which is neither actionable, nor likely to be informed against; and they made you superior to all wants of the belly, and settled you far above all human envy to live in these trees, in which you sit and sing in your blessedness about your own and the Muses' prerogative of happiness." 

Now Apollonius understood the drift of this apostrophe, but it jarred upon him as inconsistent with the strenuous professions of his friend. "It seems then," he said, "that, though you only wanted to sing the praises of grasshoppers, you could not do it openly, but came cowering hither, as if there were a public law against anyone praising the grasshoppers."

"I said what I did," he replied, "not by way of praising them, but of signifying that while they are left unmolested in their concert halls, we are not allowed even to mutter; for wisdom has been rendered a penal offense. And whereas the indictment of Anytus and Meletus ran: Socrates commits wrong in corrupting youth and introducing a new religion, we are indicted in such terms as these: So and so commits wrong by being wise and just and gifted with understanding of the gods no less than of men, and with a wide knowledge of the laws.

And as for yourself, so far forth as you are cleverer and wiser than the rest of us, so much the more cleverly is the indictment against you drawn up; for Domitian intends to implicate you in the charges for which Nerva and his associates were banished."

"But for what crime," said Apollonius, "are they banished?"

"For what is reckoned by the persecutor to be the greatest of latter-day crimes. He says that he has caught these persons in the act of trying to usurp his throne, and accuses you of instigating their attempt by mutilating, I think, a boy."

"What, as if it were by an eunuch, that I want his empire overthrown?"

"It is not that," he replied, "of which we are falsely accused; but they declare that you sacrificed a boy to divine the secrets of futurity which are to be learned from an inspection of youthful entrails; and in the indictment your dress and manner of life are also impugned, and the fact of your being an object of worship to some. This then is what I have heard from our Telesinus, no less your intimate than mine."

"What luck," exclaimed Apollonius, "if we could meet Telesinus: for I suppose you mean the philosopher who held consular rank in the reign of Nero."

"The same," he said, "but how are we to come across him? For despots are doubly suspicious of any man of rank, should they find him holding communication with people who lie under such an accusation as you do. And Telesinus, moreover, gave way quietly before the edict which has lately been issued against philosophers of every kind, because he preferred to be in exile as a philosopher, to remain in Rome as a consul."

"I would not have him run any risks on my account anyhow," said Apollonius, "for the risks he runs in behalf of philosophy are serious enough.

[7.12] But tell me this, Demetrius, what do you think I had better say or do in order to allay my own fears?"

"You had better not trifle," said the other, "nor pretend to be afraid when you foresee danger; for if you really thought these accusations terrifying, you would have been away by now and evaded the necessity of defending yourself from them."

"And would you run away," said Apollonius, "if you were placed in the same danger as myself?"

"I would not," he replied, "I swear by Athena, if there were someone to judge me; but in fact there is no fair trial, and if I did offer a defense, no one would even listen to me; or if I were listened to, I should be slain all the more certainly because I was known to be innocent. You would not, I suppose, care to see me choose so cold-blooded and lavish a death as that, rather than one which befits a philosopher.

And I imagine that it behoves a philosopher to die in the attempt to liberate his city or to protect his parents and children and brothers and other kinsfolk, or to die struggling for his friends, who in the eyes of the wise are more precious than mere kinsfolk, or for favorites that have been purchased by love. But to be put to death not for true reasons, but for fancy ones, and to furnish the tyrant with a pretext for being considered wise, is much worse and more grievous than to be bowed and bent high in the sky on a wheel, as they say Ixion was. But it seems to me the very fact of your coming here will be the beginning of your trial; for though you may attribute your journey hither to your quiet conscience, and to the fact that you would have never ventured upon it if you were guilty, Domitian will credit you with nothing of the kind; but will merely believe that you ventured on so hardy a course because you possess some mysterious power. For think, ten days, they say, have not elapsed since you were cited to appear, and you turn up at the court, without even having heard as yet that you were to undergo a trial.

Will not that be tantamount to justifying the accusation, for everyone will think that you foreknew the event, and the story of the boy will gain credit therefrom? And take care that the discourse which the say you delivered about the Fates and Necessity in Ionia does not come true of yourself; and that, in case destiny has some cruelty in store, you are not marching straight to meet it with your hands tied, just because you won't see that discretion is the better part of valor.

And if you have not forgotten the affairs of Nero's reign, you will remember my own case, and that I showed no coward's dread of death. But then one gained some respite: for although Nero's harp was ill attuned to the dignity that befits a king, and clashed therewith, yet in other ways its music harmonized not unpleasantly with ours, for he was induced thereby to grant a truce to his victims, and stay his murderous hand. At any rate he did not slay me, although I attracted his sword to myself as much by your discourses as by my own, which were delivered against the bath; and the reason why he did not slay me was that just then his voice improved, and he achieved, as he thought, a brilliant melody.

But where's the royal nightingale, and where the harp to which we can today make our peace-offerings? For the outlook of today is unredeemed by music, and full of spleen, and this tyrant is as little likely to be charmed by himself, as by other people. It is true that Pindar says in praise of the lyre that it charms the savage beast of Ares and stays his hand from war; but this ruler, although he has established a musical contest in Rome, and offers a civic crown for those who win therein, nevertheless slew some of them, for whom it was the proverbial swan-sung that they piped or sang.

And you should also consider our friends and their safety, for you will certainly ruin them as well as yourself, if you make a show of being brave, or use arguments which will not be listened to.

But your life lies within your reach; for here are ships -you see how many there are- some about to sail for Libya, others for Egypt, others for Phoenicia and Cyprus, others direct to Sardinia, other still for places beyond Sardinia. It were best for you to embark on one of these provinces; for the hand of tyranny is less heavy upon these distinguished men, if it perceives that they only desire to live quietly and not put themselves forward."

[7.13] Damis was so impressed by the arguments of Demetrius that he exclaimed: "Well, you anyhow are a friend and by your presence you can do a very great service to my master here. As for me, I am of little account, and if I advised him not to throw somersaults upon naked swords, nor expose himself to risks with tyrants, than whom none were ever yet deemed harsher, he would not listen to me. As a matter of fact I should never have known, if I had not met you, what he meant by his journey hither; for I follow him more readily, more blindly, than another man would follow himself; and if you asked me where I am bound or for what, I should merely excite your laughter by telling you that I was traversing the seas of Sicily and the bays of Etruria, without knowing in the least why I took ship.

And if only I were courting these dangers after I had received open warning, I could then say to those who asked me the question, that Apollonius was courting death, and that I was accompanying him on board ship because I was his rival in his passion. But as I know nothing of this matter, it's time for me to speak of what I do know; and I will say it in the interests of my master.

For if I were put to death, it would not do much harm to philosophy, for I am like the esquire of some distinguished soldier, and am only entitled to consideration because I am his suite. But if someone is going to be set on to slay him, and tyrants find it easy to contrive plots and to remove obstacles from their path, the I think a regular trophy will have been raised over the defeat of philosophy in the person of the noblest of her human representatives; and as there are many people lurking in our path, such as were Anytus and Meletus, writs of information will be scattered from all quarters at once against the companions of Apollonius; one will be accused of having laughed when his master attacked tyranny, another of having encouraged him to talk, a third of having suggested to him a topic to talk about, a fourth of having left his lecture-room with praise on his lips for what he had heard.

I admit that one ought to die in the cause of philosophy in the sense of dying for one's temples, one's own walls, and one's sepulchers; for there are many famous heroes who have embraced death in order to save and protect such interests as those; but I pray that neither I myself may die in order to bring about the ruin of philosophy, and that no one else either may die for such an object who loves philosophy and loves Apollonius."

[7.14] Apollonius answered thus: "We must make allowance for the very timid remarks which Damis has made about the situation; for he is a Syrian and lives on the border of Media, where tyrants are worshipped, and hence does not entertain a lofty idea of freedom; but as for yourself, I do not see how you can defend yourself at the bar of philosophy from the charge of trumping up fears, from which, even if there were really any reason for them, you ought to try to wean him; instead of doing so you try to plunge into terror a man who was not even afraid of such things as were likely to occur.

I would indeed have a wise man sacrifice his life for the objects you have mentioned, but any man without being wise should equally die for them; for it is an obligation of law that we should die in behalf of our freedom, and an injunction of nature that we should die in behalf of our kinsfolk or of our friends or darlings.

Now all men are the slaves of nature and of law; the willing slaves of nature, as the unwilling ones of law. But it is the duty of the wise in a still higher degree to lay down their lives for the tenets they have embraced. Here are interests which neither law has laid upon us, nor nature planted in us from birth, but to which we have devoted ourselves out of mere strength of character and courage.  In behalf therefore of these, should anyone try to violate them, let the wise man pass through fire, let him bare his neck for the axe, for he will not be overcome by any such threats, nor driven to any sort of subterfuge; but he will cleave to all he knows as firmly as if it were a religion in which he had been initiated.

As for myself, I am acquainted with more than other human beings, for I know all things, and what I know, I know partly for good men, partly for wise ones, partly for myself, partly for the gods, but for tyrants nothing.  But that I am not come on any fool's errand, you can see if you will; for I run no risk of my life myself, nor shall I die at the hands of a despot, however much I might wish to do so; but I am aware that I am gambling with the lives of those whom I bear such relation as the tyrant chooses, whether he count me their leader or their supporter.

But if I were to betray them by holding back or by cowardly refusal to face the accusation, what would good men think of me? Who would not justly slay me, for playing with the lives of men to whom was entrusted everything I had besought of heaven? And I would like to point out to you, that I could not  possibly escape the reputation of being a traitor.

For there are two kinds of tyrants; the one kind put their victims to death without trial, the other after they have been brought before a court of law. The former kind resemble the more passionate and prompt of wild beasts, the other kind resemble the gentle and more lethargic ones. That both kinds are cruel is clear to everybody who takes Nero as an example of the impetuous disposition which does not trouble about legal forms, Tiberius, on the other hand of the tardy and lurking nature; for the former destroyed his victims before they had any suspicion of what was coming, and the other after he had tortured them with long drawn-out terror.

For myself I consider those crueler who make a pretense of legal trial, and of getting a verdict pronounced in accordance with the laws; for in reality they set them at defiance, and bring in the same verdict as they would have done without any real trial, giving the name of law to the mere postponement of their own spleen. The very fact of their being put to death in legal form does not deprive the wretches so condemned to death of that compassion on the part of the crowd, which should be tendered like a winding sheet to the victims of injustice.

Well, I perceive that the present ruler cloaks his tyranny under legal forms. But it seems to me that he ends by condemnation without trial; for he really sentences men before they enter the court, and then brings them before it as if they had not yet been tried. Now one who is formally condemned by a verdict in court, can obviously say he perished owing to an illegal sentence, but how can he that evades his trial escape the implied verdict against himself? And supposing, now that the fate of such distinguished persons also rests on me, I do manage to run away from the crisis which equally impends over them and myself, what can save me from no matter where I go on all the earth from the brand of infamy?

For let us suppose that you have delivered yourself of all these sentiments, and that I have admitted their correctness and acted on them, and that in consequence our friends have been murdered, what prayers could I offer in such a case for a favorable voyage? What haven could I cast anchor in? To whom could I set out on any voyage? For methinks I should have to steer clear of any land over which the Romans rule, and should have to seek men who are my friends, and yet do not live in sight of the tyrant, and that would be Phraotes, and the Babylonian, and the divine Iarchas, and the noble Thespesion.

Now supposing I set out for Ethiopia, what, my excellent friend, could I tell Thespesion? For if I concealed this episode, I should prove myself a lover of falsehood, nay worse, a slave; while if I frankly confessed all to him, I could only use such words as these: O Thespesion, Euphrates slandered me to you and accused me of things that are not on my conscience; for he said that I was a boaster and a miracle-monger, and one that violated wisdom, especially that of the Indians; but while I am none of these things, I am nevertheless a betrayer of my own friends, and their murderer, and utterly unreliable and so forth; and if there is any wreath for virtue, I come to wear it, because I have ruined the greatest of the Roman houses so utterly, that henceforth they are left desolate.

You blush, Demetrius, to hear such words; I see that you do so. What then, if you turn from Thespesion to Phraotes and imagine me fleeing to India to take refuge with such a man as he? How should I look him in the face? how should I explain the motive of my flight? Should I not have to say that when I visited him before, I was a gentleman not too faint-hearted to lay down my life for my friends; but that after enjoying his society, I had at your bidding thrown away with scorn this divinest of human privileges.

And as for Iarchas, he surely would not ask me any questions at all when I arrived, but just as Aeolus once bade Odysseus quit his island with ignominy, because he had made a bad use of the gift of a good wind which he had bestowed on him, so Iarchas, I imagine, would drive me from his eminence, and tell me that I had disgraced the draught I there had from the cup of Tantalus. For they require a man who stoops and drinks of that goblet, to share the dangers of his friends.

I know, Demetrius, how clever you are at chopping logic, and this, I believe, is why you will tender me some further advice, such as this: But you must not resort to those you have named, but to men with whom you have never had anything to do, and then your flight will be secure; for you will find it easier to lie hidden among people who do not know you.

Well, let me examine this argument too, and see whether there is anything in it. For this is how I regard it: I consider that a wise man does nothing in private nor by himself alone; I hold that not even his inmost thoughts can be so devoid of witness, that he himself at least is not present with himself; and whether the Pythian inscription was suggested by Apollo himself, or by some man who had a healthy conscience, and was therefore minded to publish it as an aphorism for all, I hold that the sage who 'knows himself,'note and has his own conscience as his perpetual companion, will never cower before things that scare the many, nor venture upon courses which others would engage upon without shame. For being the slaves of despots, they have been ready at times to betray to them even their dearest; because just as they trembled at imaginary terrors, so they felt no fear where they should have trembled.

But Wisdom allows of none these things. For beside the Pythian epigram, she also praises Euripides who regarded 'conscience in the case of human beings as a disease which works their ruin, whenever they realize that they have done wrong.'note For it was such conscience that brought up before Orestes and depicted in his imagination the shapes of the Eumenides, when he had gone mad with wrath against his mother; for whereas reason decides what should be done, conscience revises the resolutions taken by reason.

If then reason chooses the better part, conscience forthwith escorts a man to all the temples, into all the by-streets, into all groves of the gods, and into all haunts of mankind, applauding him and singing his praises. She will even hymn his merits as he sleeps, and will weave around him a chorus of angels from the world of dreams; but if the determination of reason trip and fall into evil courses, conscience permits not the sinner to look others in the face, nor to address them freely and boldly with his lips; and she drives him away from temples and from prayer.

For she suffers him not even to uplift his hands in prayer to the images, but strikes them down as he lifts them, as the law strikes down those who rebel against it; and she drives such men from every social meeting, and terrifies them in their sleep; and while she turns into dreams and windy forms all that they see by day, and any things they think they hear or say, she lends to their empty and fantastic flutterings of heart truth and substantial reality of well-found terror.

I think then that I have clearly shown you, and that truth itself will convince you, that my conscience will convict me wherever I go, whether to people that know me, or to people that do not, supposing I were to betray my friends; but I will not betray even myself, but I will boldly wrestle with the tyrant, hailing him with the words of the noble Homer: Ares is as much my friend as thine."note

[7.15] Damis was so impressed by this address, he tells us, that he took fresh resolution and courage, and Demetrius no longer despaired of Apollonius, but rather praising and agreeing with his appeal, wished godspeed to him in his perilous enterprise and to his mistress Philosophy for whose sake he braved so much.

And he led them, Damis says, to where he was lodging; but Apollonius declined and said: "It is now eventide, and about the time of the lighting up of the lamps and I must set out for the port of Rome, for this is the usual hour at which these ships sail. However we will dine together another time, when my affairs are on a better footing; for just now some charge would be trumped up against yourself of having dined with an enemy of the Emperor. Nor must you come down to the harbor with us, lest you should be accused, merely for having conversed with me, of harboring criminal designs."

Demetrius accordingly consented, and after embracing them he quitted them, though he often turned back to look towards them and wiped tears from his eyes. But Apollonius looked at Damis and said: "If you are firmly resolved, and as courageous as myself, let us both embark upon the ship; but if you are dispirited it is better for you to remain here, for you can live with Demetrius during the interval, since he is as much your friend as mine."

But Damis took him up and said: "What could I think of myself, if after you have so nobly discoursed today about the duty of sharing the dangers of one's friends, when they fall upon them, I let your words fall on deaf ears, and abandoned you in the hour of danger, and this although until now I have never shown cowardice where you are concerned?"

"You speak rightly," said Apollonius, "so let us depart; I will go as I am, but you must needs disguise yourself as a man of the people, nor must you wear your hair long as you do now, and you must exchange your philosopher's cloak for this linen garment, and you must put away the shoes you wear. But I must tell you what my intention is in this; for it were best to hold out as long as we can before the trial: then I do not wish that you should be a sharer of my fate through being detected by your dress, which will certainly betray you and lead to your arrest; but I would rather that you followed me in the guise of one not sworn to my philosophy, but just attached to me for other reasons, and so accompanying me in all I do."

This is the reason why Damis put off his Pythagorean garb; for he says he did not do it through cowardice, nor through any regret at having worn it, but merely because he approved of a device to which he accommodated himself to suit the expedience of the moment.