Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 8.15-20

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.

[8.15] They then said farewell to Demetrius, who was despondent about them, but they bade him hope for the best, as one brave man should for others as brave as himself, and then they sailed for Sicily with a favorable wind, and having passed Messina they reached Tauromenium on the third day. After that they arrived at Syracuse and put out for the Peloponnese about the beginning of the autumn; and having traversed the gulf they arrived after six days at the mouth of the Alpheus, where that river pours its waters, still sweet, into the Adriatic and Sicilian Sea.

Here then they disembarked, and thinking it well worth their while to go to Olympia, they went and stayed there in the temple of Zeus, though without ever going further away than Scillus. A rumor as sudden as insistent now ran through the Hellenic world that the sage was alive and had arrived at Olympia. At first the rumor seemed unreliable; for besides that they were humanly speaking unable to entertain any hope for him inasmuch as they heard that he was cast into prison, they had also heard such rumors as that he had been burnt alive, or dragged about alive with grapnels fixed in his neck, or cast into a deep pit, or into a well. But when the rumor of his arrival was confirmed, they all flocked to see him from the whole of Greece, and never did any such crowd flock to any Olympic festival as then, all full of enthusiasm and expectation.

People came straight from Elis and Sparta, and from Corinth away at the limits of the Isthmus; and the Athenians too, although they are outside the Peloponnese; nor were they behind the cities which are at the gates of Pisa, for it was especially the most celebrated of the Athenians that hurried to the temple, together with the young men who flocked to Athens from all over the earth. Moreover there were people from Megara just then staying at Olympia, as well as many from Boeotia, and from Argos, and all the leading people of Phocis and Thessaly.

Some of them had already made Apollonius' acquaintance anxious to pick up his wisdom afresh, for they were convinced that there remained much to learn, more striking than what they had so far heard; but those who were not acquainted with him thought it a shame that they should seem never to have heard so great a man discourse.

In answer to their questions then, of how he had escaped the clutches of the tyrant, he did not deem it right to say anything boastful; but he merely told them that he had made his defense and got away safely. However when several people arrived from Italy, who bruited abroad the episode of the lawcourt, the attitude of Hellas came near to that of actual worship; the main reason why they thought him divine was this, that he never made the least parade about the matter.

[8.16] Among the arrivals from Athens there was a youth who asserted that the goddess Athena was very well disposed to the Emperor, whereupon Apollonius said to him: "In Olympia please to stop your chatter of such things, for you will prejudice the goddess in the eyes of her father."

But as the youth increased their annoyance by declaring that the goddess was quite right, because the Emperor was Archon Eponym of the city of Athens, he said: "Would that he also presided the Panathenaic festival."

By the first of his answers he silenced him, for he showed that he held a poor opinion of the gods, if he considered them to be well disposed to tyrants: by his second he showed that the Athenians would stultify the decree which they passed in honor of Harmodius and Aristogeiton, if after seeing fit to honor these two citizens with statues in the market place for the deed they committed at the Panathenaic festival, they ended by conferring on tyrants the privilege of being elected to govern them.

[8.17] Damis approached him at this time to ask him about money, because they had so very little left to defray the expense of their journey. "Tomorrow," said Apollonius, "I will attend to this."

And on the next day he went into the temple and said to the priest: "Give me a thousand drachmas out of the treasury of Zeus, if you think he will not be too much annoyed."

And the priest answered: "Not at that; what will annoy him will be if you do not take more." 

[8.18] There was a man of Thessaly, named Isagoras, whom he met in Olympia and said: "Tell me, Isagoras, is there such a thing as a religious fair or festival?"

"Why yes," he replied, "and by heaven there is nothing in the world of men, so agreeable and so dear to the gods."

"And what is the material of which it is composed?" asked Apollonius; "It is as if I asked you about the material of which this image is made, and you answered me that it was composed of gold and ivory."

"But," said the other, "what material, Apollonius, can a thing which is incorporeal be composed of?"

"A most important material," replied Apollonius, "and most varied in character; for there are sacred groves in it, and race-courses and, of course, a theater, and tribes of men, some of them from neighboring countries, and others from over the borders, and even from across the sea. Moreover," he added, "many arts go to make up such a festival, and many designs, and much true genius, both of poets, and of civil counselors, and of those who deliver harangues on philosophic topics, and contests between naked athletes, and contests of musicians, as is the custom in the Pythian festival."

"It seems to me," said the other, "O Apollonius, that the festival is not only something corporeal, but is made up of more wonderful material than are cities; for there is summoned together into one community on such occasions the best of the best, and the most celebrated of the celebrated."

"Then," said Apollonius, "O Isagoras, are we to consider the people we meet there in the same light as some people regard walls and ships, or do you need some other opinion of the festival?"

"The opinion," answered the other, "which we have formulated, is quite adequate and complete, O man of Tyana, and we had better adhere to it."

"And yet," said the other, "it is neither adequate nor complete to one who considers about is as I do; for it appears to me that ships are in need of men and men of ships, and that men would never have thought about the sea at all if they had not had a ship; and men are kept safe by walls and walls by men; and in the same way I consider a festival to be not only the meeting of human beings, but also the place itself in which they have to meet, and the more so, because walls and ships would never have come into being, unless there had been men's hands to build them, while these places, so far forth as they are deprived of their natural and original characteristics, are by the hands of men spoiled; for it was owing to their natural advantages that they were held worthy of being made their meeting-places; for though the gymnasiums and porticoes and fountains and houses have been all created by human art, just like the walls and the ships, yet this river Alpheus with the hippodrome and the stadium and the groves, existed, I suppose, before men came here, the one providing water for drinking and for the bath, and the second a broad plain for the horses to race in, and the third provided just the space required fro the athletes to raise the dust in as they run along in their races, namely a valley a stadium in length, and the groves supplied wreaths for the winners and served the athletes who were runners as a place to practice in. For I imagine that Heraclesnote considered these facts, and because he admired the natural advantages of Olympia, he found the place worthy of the festival and games which are still held here."

[8.19] After forty days, given up to discussions in Olympia, in which many topics were handled, Apollonius said: "I will also, O men of Hellas, discourse to you in your several cities, at your festivals, at your religious processions, at your mysteries, your sacrifices, at your public libations, and they require the services of a clever man; but for the present I must go down to Lebadea, for I have never yet had an interview with Trophonius,note although I once visited his shrine." And with these words he at once started for Boeotia attended by every one of his admirers.

Now the cavern in Lebadea is dedicated to Trophonius, the son of Apollo, and it can only be entered by those who resort thither in order to get an oracle, and it is not visible in the temple, but lies a little above it on a mound; and it is shut in by iron spits which surround it, and you descend into it as it were sitting down and being drawn down. Those who enter it are clad in white raiment, and are escorted thither with honey-cakes in their hands to appease the reptiles which assail them as they descend. But the earth brings them to the surface again, in some cases close by, but in other cases a long way off; for they are sent up to the surface beyond Locri and beyond Phocis, but most of them about the borders of Boeotia.

Accordingly Apollonius entered the shrine and said: "I wish to descend into the cave in the interests of philosophy."

But the priests opposed him and though they told the multitude that they would never allow a wizard like him to examine and test the shrine, they pretended to the sage himself that there were forbidden days and days unclean for consulting. So on that day he delivered a discourse at the springs of Hercyne, about the origin and conduct of the shrine; for it is the only oracle which gives responses through the person himself who consults it.

And when the evening approached, he went to the mouth of the cave with his train of youthful followers, and having pulled up four of the obelisks,note which constitute a bar to the passage, he went down below ground wearing his philosopher's mantle, having dressed himself as if he were going to deliver an address upon philosophy - a step which the god Trophonius so thoroughly approved of, that he appeared to the priests and not only rebuked them for the reception they had given Apollonius, but enjoined them all to follow him to Aulis, for he said it was there that he note would come to surface in such a marvelous fashion as no man before.

And in fact he emerged after seven days, a longer period than it had taken anyone of those who until then had entered the oracle, and he had with him a volume thoroughly in keeping with the questions he had asked: for had gone down saying: "What, O Trophonius, do you consider the most complete and purest philosophy?" And the volume contained the tenets of Pythagoras, a good proof this, that the oracle was in agreement with this form of wisdom.

[8.20] This book is preserved in Antium, and the village in question, which is on the Italian seaboard, is much visited for the purpose of seeing it. I must acknowledge that I only heard these details from the inhabitants of Lebadea; but in regard to the volume in question I must set on record my conviction, that it was subsequently conveyed to the Emperor Hadrian at the same time as certain letters of Apollonius, though by no means all of them; and it remained in the palace at Antium, which was that one of his Italian palaces in which this Emperor took most pleasure.