Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 8.26-31

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.

[8.26] Although this deed was done in Rome, Apollonius was a spectator of it in Ephesus. For about midday he was delivering an address in the groves of the colonnade, just at the moment when it all happened in the palace at Rome; and first he dropped his voice, as if he were terrified, and then, though with less vigor than was usual with him, he continued his exposition, like one who between his words caught glimpses of something foreign to his subject, and at last he lapsed into silence, like one who has been interrupted in his discourse. And with an awful glance at the ground, and stepping forward three or four paces from his pulpit, he cried: "Smite the tyrant, smite him" - not like one who derives from some looking glass a faint image of the truth, but as one who sees things with his own eyes, and is taking part in a tragedy.

All Ephesus - for all Ephesus was at his lecture - was struck dumb with astonishment; but he, pausing like those who are trying to see and wait until their doubts are ended, said: "Take heart, gentlemen, for the tyrant has been slain this day; and why do I say today? Now it is, by Athena, even now at the moment I uttered my words, and then lapsed into silence."

The inhabitants of Ephesus thought that this was a fit of madness on his part; and although they were anxious that it should be true, yet they were anxious about the risk they ran in giving ear to his words, whereupon he added: "I am not surprised at those who do not yet accept my story, for not even all Rome as yet is cognizant of it. But behold, Rome begins to know it: for the rumor runs this way and that, and thousands now are convinced of it; and they begin to leap for joy, twice as many as before, and twice as many as they, and four times as many, yea the whole of the populace there. And this news will travel hither also; and although I would have you defer your sacrifices in honor thereof to the fitting season, when you will receive this news, I shall proceed at once to pray to the gods for what I have seen."

[8.27] They were still skeptical, when swift runners arrived with the good news, and bore testimony to the sage's wisdom; for the tyrant's murder, and the day which brought the event to birth, the hour of midday and the murderers to whom he addressed his exhortation, everything agreed with the revelation which the gods had made to Apollonius in the midst of his harangue.

And thirty days later Nerva sent a letter to him to say that he was already in possession of the Empire of the Romans, thanks to the goodwill of the gods and to his good counsels; and he added that he would more easily retain it, if Apollonius would come to advise him. Whereupon at the moment the latter wrote to him the following enigmatically sentence:

We will, my prince, enjoy one another's company for a very long time during which neither shall we govern others, nor others us.

Perhaps he realized, when he wrote thus, that it was not to be long before he himself should quit this human world, and that Nerva was only to retain the throne for a short time; for his reign lasted but one year and four months, when he left behind him the reputation of having been a sober and serious ruler.

[8.28] But as he did not wish to seem to neglect so good a friend and ruler,note he composed later on for him a letter giving him advice about matters of state; and calling Damis to him, he said: "You are wanted here, for this letter which I have written to the king contains secrets, and though it is written, they are of such a kind that they must be communicated orally either by myself or through you."

And Damis declares that he only understood his master's device much later; for that the letter was composed in admirable style, and though it treated of important subjects, yet it might equally well have been sent through anyone else.

What then was the sage's device? All though his life, he is said often to have exclaimed: "Live unobserved, and if that cannot be, slip unobserved from life." His letter then, and Damis' visit to Rome were of the nature of an excuse for getting the latter out of the way, in order that he might have not witness of his dissolution.

Damis accordingly says that, though he was much affected at leaving him, in spite of his having no knowledge of what was coming, yet Apollonius, who knew full well, said nothing of it to him, and far from addressing him after the manner of those who are never to see one another again, so abundant was his conviction that he would exist forever, merely pledged him in these words: "O Damis, even if you have to philosophize by yourself, keep your eyes upon me."

[8.29] The memoirs then of Apollonius of Tyana which Damis the Assyrian composed, end with the above story; for with regard to the manner in which he died, if he did actually die, there are many stories, though, Damis has repeated none.

But as for myself I ought not to omit even this, for my story should, I think, have its natural ending. Neither has Damis told us anything about the age of our hero; but there are some who say that he was eighty, others that he was over ninety, others again who say that his age far exceeded a hundred. He was fresh in all his body and upright, when he died, and more agreeable to look at than in his youth. For there is a certain beauty even in wrinkles, which was especially conspicuous in his case, as is clear from the likenesses of him which are preserved in the temple at Tyana, and from accounts which praise the old age of Apollonius more than was once praised the youth of Alcibiades.

[8.30] Now there are some who relate that henote died in Ephesus, tended by two maid servants; for the freedmen of whom I spoke at the beginning of my story were already dead. One of these maids he emancipated, and was blamed by the other one for not conferring the same privilege upon her, but Apollonius told her that it was better for her to remain the other's slave, for that would be the beginning of her well-being.

Accordingly after his death this one continued to be the slave of the other, who for some insignificant reason sold her to a merchant, from whom she was purchased. Her new master, although she was not good-looking, nevertheless fell in love with her; and being a fairly rich man, made her his legal wife and had legitimate children with her.

Others again say that he died in Lindus, where he entered the temple of Athena and disappeared within it. Others again say that he died in Crete in a much more remarkable manner than the people of Lindus relate. For they say that he continued to live in Crete, where he became a greater center of admiration than ever before, and that he came to the temple of Dictynna late at night. Now this temple is guarded by dogs, whose duty it is to watch over the wealth deposited in it, and the Cretans claim that they are as good as bears or any other animals equally fierce. None the less, when he came, instead of barking, they approached him and fawned upon him, as they would not have done even with people they knew familiarly.

The guardians of the shrine arrested him in consequence, and threw him in bonds as a wizard and a robber, accusing him of having thrown to the dogs some charmed morsel. But about midnight he loosened his bonds, and after calling those who had bound him, in order that they might witness the spectacle, he ran to the doors of the temple, which opened wide to receive him; and when he had passed within, they closed afresh, as they had been shut, and there was heard a chorus of maidens singing from within the temple, and their song was this. "Hasten thou from earth, hasten thou to Heaven, hasten." In other words: "Do thou go upwards from earth."

[8.31] And even after his death, he continued to preach that the soul is immortal; but although he taught this account of it to be correct, he discouraged men from meddling in such high subjects.

For there came to Tyana a youth who did not shrink from acrimonious discussions, and would not accept truth in argument. Now Apollonius had already passed away from among men, but people still wondered at his passing, and no one ventured to dispute that he was immortal. This being so, the discussions were mainly about the soul, for a band of youth were there passionately addicted to wisdom. The young man in question, however, would on no account allow the tenet of immortality of the soul, and said: "I myself, gentlemen, have done nothing now for over nine months but pray to Apollonius that he would reveal to me the truth about the soul; but he is so utterly dead that he will not appear to me in response to my entreaties, nor give me any reason to consider him immortal."

Such were the young man's words on that occasion, but on the fifth day following, after discussing the same subject, he fell asleep where he was talking with them, and of the young men who were studying with him, some were reading books, and others were industriously drawing geometrical figures on the ground, when on a sudden, like one possessed, he leapt up still in a half sleep, streaming with perspiration, and cried out: "I believe thee."

And, when those who were present asked him what was the matter; "Do you not see," said he, "Apollonius the sage, how that he is present with us and is listening to our discussion, and is reciting wondrous verses about the soul?"

"But where is he?" the others asked, "For we cannot see him anywhere, although we would rather do so than possess all the blessings of mankind."

And the youth replied: "It would seem that he is come to converse with myself alone concerning the tenets which I would not believe. Listen therefore to the inspired argument which he is delivering:

The soul is immortal, and 'tis no possession of thine own, but of Providence,
And after the body is wasted away, like a swift horse freed from its traces,
It lightly leaps forward and mingles itself with the light air,
loathing the spell of harsh and painful servitude which it has endured.
But for thee, what use is there in this? Some day, when thou art no more, thou shalt believe it.
So why, as long as thou art among living beings, dost thou explore these mysteries?"

Here we have a clear utterance of Apollonius, established like an oracular tripod, to convince us of the mysteries of the soul, to the end that cheerfully, and with due knowledge of our own true nature, we may pursue our way to the goal appointed by the Fates.

With any tomb, however, or cenotaph of the sage I never met, that I know of, although I have traversed most of the earth, and have listened everywhere to stories of his divine quality. And his shrine in Tyana is singled out and honored with royal officers: for neither have the Emperors denied to him the honors of which they themselves were held worthy.