Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 1.11-15

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.

[1.11] Again he inculcated the wise rule that in our sacrifices or dedications we should no go beyond the just mean, in the following way. On one occasion several people had flocked to the Temple, not long after the expulsion of the Cilician, and he took the occasion to ask the priest the following questions: "Are then," he said, "the gods just?"

"Why, of course, most just," answered the priest.

"Well, and are they wise?"

"And what," said the other, "can be wiser than the godhead?"

"But do they know the affairs of men, or are they without experience of them?"

"Why," said the other, "this is just the point in which the gods excel mankind, for the latter, because of their frailty, do not understand their own concerns, whereas the gods have the privilege of understanding the affairs both of men and of themselves."

"All your answers," said Apollonius, "are excellent, O Priest, and very true. Since then, they know everything, it appears to me that a person who comes to the house of God and has a good conscience, should put up the following prayer:

'O ye gods, grant unto me that which I deserve.'

For," he went on, "the holy, O Priest, surely deserve to receive blessings, and the wicked the contrary. Therefore the gods, as they are beneficent, if they find anyone who is healthy and whole and unscarred by vice, will send him on his way, surely, after crowning him, not with golden crowns, but with all sorts of blessings; but if they find a man branded with sin and utterly corrupt, they will hand him over and leave him to justice, after inflicting their wrath upon him all the more, because he dared to invade their Temple without being pure."

And at the same moment he looked towards Asclepius, and said: "O Asclepius, the philosophy you teach is secret and congenial to yourself, in that you suffer not the wicked to come hither, not even if they pour into your lap all the wealth of India and Sardes. For it is not out of reverence for the divinity that they sacrifice these victims and suspend these offerings, but in order to purchase a verdict, which you will not concede to them in your perfect justice."

And much similar wisdom he delivered himself of in this Temple, while he was still a youth.

[1.12] This tale also belongs to the period of his residence in Aegae. Cilicia was governed at the time by a ruffian addicted to infamous forms of passion. No sooner did he hear the beauty of Apollonius spoken of, than he cast aside the matters he was busy upon (and he was just then holding a court in Tarsus), and hurrying off to Aegae pretended he was sick and must have the help of Asclepius.

There he came upon Apollonius walking alone and prayed him to recommend him to the god. But he replied: "What recommendation can you want from anyone if you are good? For the gods love men of virtue and welcome them without any instructions."

"Because, to be sure," said the other, "the god, O Apollonius, has invited you to be his guest, but so far has not invited me."

"Nay," answered Apollonius, "'tis my humble merits, so far as a young man can display good qualities, which have been my passport to the favor of Asclepius, whose servant and companion I am. If you too really care for uprightness, go boldly up to the god and tender what prayer you will."

"By heaven, I will," said the other, "if you will allow me to address you one first."

"And what prayer," said Apollonius, "can you make to me?"

"A prayer which can only be offered to the beautiful, and which is that they may grant to others participation in their beauty and not grudge their charms."

This he said with a vile leer and voluptuous air and all the usual wriggles of such infamous debauchees; but Apollonius with a stern fierce glance at him, said: "You are mad, you scum."

The other not only flamed up at these words, but threatened to cut off his head, whereat Apollonius laughed at him and cried out loud, "Ha," naming a certain day. And in fact it was only three days later that the ruffian was executed by the officers of justice on the high road for having intrigued with Archelaus the king of Cappadocia against the Romans.note

These and many similar incidents are given by Maximus of Aegae in his treatise, a writer whose reputation won him a position in the emperor's Secretariat.

[1.13] Now when he heard that his father was dead, he hurried to Tyana, and with his own hands buried him hard by his mother's sepulcher, for she too had died not long before; and he divided the property, which was very ample, with his brother, who was an incorrigibly bad character and given to drunk.

Now the latter had reached his twenty-third year; Apollonius, on the other hand, was only twenty, and the law subjected him to guardians. He therefore spent afresh some time in Aegae, and turned the temple into a Lyceum and Academy,note for it resounded with all sorts of philosophical discussions.

After that he returned to Tyana, by this time grown to manhood and his own master. Someone said to him that it was his duty to correct his brother and convert him from his evil ways; whereupon he answered: "This would seem a desperate enterprise; for how can I who am the younger one correct and render wise an older man? but so far as I can do anything, I will heal him of these bad passions."

Accordingly he gave to him the half of his own share of the property, on the pretense that he required more than he had, while he himself needed little; and then he pressed him and cleverly persuaded him to submit to the counsels of wisdom, and said: "Our father has departed this life, who educated us both and corrected us, so that you are all that I have left, and I imagine, I am all that you have left. If therefore I do anything wrong, please advise me and cure me of my faults; and in turn if you yourself do anything wrong, suffer me to teach you better."

And so he reduced his brother to a reasonable state of mind, just as we break in skittish and unruly horses by stroking and patting them; and he reformed him from his faults, numerous as they were, for he was the slave of play and of wine, and he serenaded courtesans and was vain of his hair, which he dressed up and dyed, strutting about like an arrogant dandy.

So when all was well between himnote and his brother, he at once turned his attention to his other relatives, and conciliated such of them as were in want by bestowing on them the rest of his property, leaving only a trifle to himself; for he said that Anaxagoras of Clazomenae kept his philosophy for cattle rather than for men when he abandoned his fields to flocks and goats, and that Crates of Thebes, when he threw his money into the sea benefited neither man nor beast.

And as Pythagoras was commended for his saying that "a man should have no intercourse except with his own wife," he declared that this was intended by Pythagoras for others than himself, for that he was resolved never to wed nor have any connexion whatever with women. In laying such restraint on himself he surpassed Sophocles, who only said that in reaching old age he had escaped from a mad and cruel master; but Apollonius by dint of virtue and temperance never even in his youth was so overcome. While still a mere stripling, in full enjoyment of his bodily vigor, he mastered and gained control of the maddening passion.note

And yet there are those who accuse him falsely of an addiction to venery, alleging that he fell a victim of such sins and spent a whole year in their indulgence among the Scythians, the facts being that he never once visited Scythia nor was ever carried away by such passions. Not even Euphratesnote ever accused the sage of venery, though he traduced him otherwise and composed lying treatises against him, as we shall show when we come to speak of him below. And his quarrel with Apollonius was that the latter rallied him for doing anything for money and tried to wean him of his love of filthy lucre and of huckstering his wisdom. But these matters I must defer to the times to which they belong.

[1.14] On one occasion, Euxenus asked Apollonius why so noble a thinker as he and one who was master of a diction so fine and nervous did not write a book. He replied: "I have not yet kept silence".

And forthwith he began to hold his tongue from a sense of duty, and kept absolute silence, though his eyes and his mind were taking note of very many things, and though most things were being stored in his memory. Indeed, when he reached the age of a hundred, he still surpassed Simonidesnote in point of memory, and he used to chant a hymn addressed to memory, in which it is said that everything is worn and withered away by time, whereas time itself never ages, but remains immortal because of memory.

Nevertheless his company was not without charm during the period of his silence; for he would maintain a conversation by the expression of his eyes, by gestures of his hands and nodding his head; nor did he strike men as gloomy or morse; for he retained his fondness for company and cheerfulness.

This part of his life he says was the most uphill work he knew, since he practiced silence for five whole years; for he says he often had things to say and could not do so, and he was often obliged not to hear things the hearing of which would have enraged him, and often when he was moved and inclined to break out in a rebuke to others, he said to himself: "Bear up then, my heart and tongue;"note and when reasoning offended him he had to give up for the time the refuting of it. 

[1.15] These years of silence he spent partly in Pamphylia and partly in Cilicia; and though his paths lay through such effeminate races as these, he never spoke nor was even induced to murmur.

Whenever, however, he came on a city engaged in civil conflict (and many were divided into fractions over spectacles of a low kind), he would advance and show himself, and by indicating part of his intended rebuke by manual gesture or by look on his face, he would put an end to all the disorder, and people hushed their voices, as if they were engaged in the mysteries.

Well, it is not so very difficult to restrain those who have started a quarrel about dances and horses, for those who are rioting about such matters, if they turn their eyes to a real man, blush and check themselves and easily recover their senses; but a city hard pressed by famine is not so tractable, nor so easily brought to a better mood by persuasive words and its passion quelled. But in the case of Apollonius, mere silence on his part was enough for those so affected.

Anyhow, when he came to Aspendus in Pamphylia (and this city is built on the river Eurymedon, lesser only than two others about there), he found vetches on sale in the market, and the citizens were feeding upon this and on anything else they could get; for the rich men had shut up all the grain and were holding it up for export from the country.

Consequently an excited crowd of all ages had set upon the governor, and were lighting a fire to burn him alive, although he was clinging to the statues of the Emperor, which were more dreaded at that time and more inviolable than the Zeus in Olympia;note for they were statues of Tiberius, in whose reign a master is said to have been held guilty of impiety, merely because he struck his own slave when he had on his person a silver drachma coined with the image of Tiberius.

Apollonius then went up to the governor and with a sign of his hand asked him what was the matter; and he answered that he had done no wrong, but was indeed being wronged quite as much as the populace; but, he said, if he could not get a hearing, he would perish along with the populace.

Apollonius then turned to the bystanders, and beckoned to them that they must listen; and they not only held their tongues from wonderment at him, but they laid the brands they had kindled on the altars which were there.

The governor then plucked up courage and said: "This man and that man," and he named several, "are to blame for the famine which has arisen; for they have taken away the grain and are keeping it, one in one part of the country and another in another." The inhabitants of Aspendus thereupon passed the word to one another to make for these men's estates, but Apollonius signed with his head, that they should do no such thing, but rather summon those who were to blame and obtain the grain from them with their consent.

And when, after a little time the guilty parties arrived, he very nearly broke out in speech against them, so much was he affected by the tears of the crowd; for the children and women had all flocked together, and the old men were groaning and moaning as if they were on the point of dying by hunger. However, he respected his vow of silence and wrote on a writing board his indictment of the offenders and handed it to the governor to read out aloud; and his indictment ran as follows:

Apollonius to the grain dealers of Aspendus. The earth is mother of us all, for she is just; but you, because you are unjust have pretended that she is your mother alone; and if you do not stop, I will not permit you to remain upon her.

They were so terrified by these words, that they filled the market-place with grain and the city revived.