Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 8.21-25

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.

[8.21] From Ionia also there came to see him the band of companions who were named in Hellas the company of Apollonius; and mixing with the people of the place they formed a band of youths, remarkable for their number and for their philosophical enthusiasm. For the science of rhetoric had been left neglected and little attention was paid to the professors of the art, on the ground that their tongue was their only teacher; but now they were all impelled to study his philosophy. But he, like Gyges and Croesus, who they left the door of their treasures unlocked, in order that all who needed might fill their pockets from them, threw open the treasures of his wisdom to those who loved it, and allowed them to ask him questions upon every subject.

[8.22] But certain persons accused him of avoiding attendance on governors at their visits, and of influencing his hearers rather to live in retirement instead; and one of them uttered the jest that he drove away his sheep as soon as he found any forensic orator approaching. "Yes, by Zeus," said Apollonius, "lest these wolves should fall upon my flock."

What was the meaning of this sally? He saw these forensic orators looked up to by the multitude as they made their way up from poverty to great riches; and he saw that they so welcomed the feuds of others, that they actually conducted a traffic in hatred and feud; accordingly he tried to dissuade these young men from associating with them, and those that did so associate with them he sharply reproved, as if to wash off them a monstrous stain.

For he had been long before on bad terms with them; and his experience of the prisons in Rome, and of the persons who were confined and perishing in them, so prejudiced him against the forensic art, as that he believed all these evils were due to sycophants and lawyers puffed up by their own cleverness, rather than to the despot himself.

[8.23] Just at the time when he was holding these conversations with the people of Hellas, the following remarkable portent overspread the heavens. The orb of the sun was surrounded by a wreath which resembled a rainbow, but dimmed the sunlight.note

That the heavenly sign portended a revolution was of course clear to all. However, when the governor of Hellas summoned Apollonius from Athens to Boeotia, and said: "I hear that you have a talent for understanding things divine," he replied: "Yes, and perhaps you have heard that I have some understanding of human affairs."

"I have heard it," he replied, "and quite agree."

"Since then," said Apollonius, "you are of one opinion with me, I would advise you not to pry into the intentions of the gods; for this is what human wisdom recommends you to do."

And when he besought Apollonius to tell him what he thought, for he said he was afraid lest night should ensue and swallow up everything. "Be of good cheer," said Apollonius, "for there will be some light following such a night as this."

[8.24] After this, seeing that he had enough of the people of Hellas, after living for two years among them, he set sail for Ionia, accompanied by his society; and the greater part of his time he spent teaching philosophy at Smyrna and Ephesus, though he also visited the rest of the cities; and in none of them was he found to be an unwelcome guest, indeed they all considered him to be worth their regret when he left them, and to the better class of people he was a great boon.

[8.25] And now the gods were about to cast down Domitian from his presidency of mankind. For it happened that he had just slain Clemens, a man of consular rank, to whom he had lately given his own sister,note in marriage; and he issued a command about the third or fourth day after the murder, that she also should follow her husband and join him.

Thereupon Stephanus, a freed man of the lady, he who was signified by the form of the late portent, whether because the latest victim's fate rankled in his mind, or the fate of all others, made an attempt upon the tyrant's life worthy of comparison with the feats of the champions of Athenian liberty.{{I.e., Harmodius and Aristogeiton.}] For he concealed a dagger against his left fore-arm, and carrying his hand in a bandage, as if it were broken, he approached the Emperor as he left the law-court, and said: "I would have a private interview with you, my prince, for I have important news to communicate to you."

The latter did not refuse him the audience, but took him apart into the men's apartment where he transacted business of state. Whereupon the assassin said; "Your bitter enemy, Clemens, is not dead, as you imagine, but he lives and I know where he is; and he is making ready to attack you."

When the emperor uttered a loud cry over this information, before he could recover his composure, Stephanus threw himself upon him and drawing the dagger from the hand which he had trussed up, he stabbed him in the thigh, inflicting a wound which was not immediately mortal, though it was well-timed in view of the struggle that followed.

The Emperor was still strong and full of bodily vigor, although he was about five and forty years of age; and in spite of the wound he closed with his assailant, and throwing him down, kneeled upon him and dug out his eyes and crushed his cheeks with the stand of a gold cup which lay thereby for use in sacred ceremonies, at the same time calling upon Athena to assist him. Thereupon his bodyguard, realizing that he was in distress, rushed into the room pell-mell, and dispatched the tyrant, who had already swooned.