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.
[3.1] It is now time to notice the river Hyphasis, and to ask what is its size as it traverses India, and, what remarkable features it possesses. The springs of this river well forth out of the plain, and close to its source its streams are navigable, but as they advance they soon become impossible for boats, because spits of rock alternating with one another, rise up just below the surface; round these the current winds of necessity, so rendering the river unnavigable. And in breadth it approaches to the river Ister, and this is allowed to be the greatest of all the rivers which flow through Europe.
Now the woods along the bank closely resemble those of the river in question, and a balm also is distilled from the trees, out of which the Indians make a nuptial ointment; and unless the people attending the wedding have besprinkled the young couple with this balm, the union is not considered complete nor compatible with Aphrodite bestowing her grace upon it. Now they say that the grove in the neighborhood of the river is dedicated to this goddess, as also the fishes called peacock fish which are bred in this river alone, and which have been given the same name as the bird, because their fins are blue, and their scales spotty, and their tails golden, and because they can fold and spread the latter at will.
There is also a creature in this river which resembles a white worm. By melting down they make an oil, and from this oil, it appears, there is given off a flame such that nothing but glass can contain it. And this creature may be caught by the king alone, who utilizes it for the capture of cities; for as soon as the fat in question touches the battlements, a fire is kindled which defies all the ordinary means devised by men against combustibles.
[3.2] And they say that wild assesnote["Indian ass" is Aristotle's name for the rhinoceros.] are also to be captured in these marshes, and these creatures have a horn upon the forehead, with which they butt like a bull and make a noble fight of it; the Indians make this horn into a cup, for they declare that no one can ever fall sick on the day on which he has drunk out of it, nor will any one who has done so be the worse for being wounded, and he will be able to pass through fire unscathed, and he is even immune from poisonous draughts which others would drink to their harm. Accordingly, this goblet is reserved for kings, and the king alone may indulge in the chase of this creature.
And Apollonius says that he saw this animal, and admired its natural features; but when Damis asked him if he believed the story about the goblet, he answered: "I will believe it, if I find the king of the Indians hereabout to be immortal; for surely a man who can offer me or anyone else a draught potent against disease and so wholesome, will he not be much more likely to imbibe it himself, and take a drink out of this horn every day even at the risk of intoxication? For no one, I conceive, would blame him for exceeding in such cups."
[3.3] At this place they say that they also fell in with a woman who was black from her head to her bosom, but was altogether white from her bosom down to her feet; and the rest of the party fled from her believing her to be a monster, but Apollonius clasped the woman by the hand and understood what she was; for in fact such a woman in India is consecrated to Aphrodite, and a woman is born piebald in honor of this goddess, just as is Apis among the Egyptians.
[3.4] They say that from this point they crossed the part of the Caucasus which stretches down to the Red Sea; and this range is thickly overgrown with aromatic shrubs. The spurs then of the mountain bear the cinnamon tree, which resembles the young tendrils of the vine, and the goat gives sure indication of this aromatic shrub; for if you hold out a bit of cinnamon to a goat, she will whine and whimper after your hand like a dog, and will follow you when you go away, pressing her nose against it; and if the goat herd drags her away, she will moan as if she were being torn away from the lotus. But on the steeps of this mountain there grow very lofty frankincense trees, as well as many other species, for example the pepper trees which are cultivated by the apes.
Nor did they neglect to record the look and appearance of this tree, and I will repeat exactly their account of it. The pepper tree resembles in general the willow of the Greeks, and particularly in regard to the berry of the fruit; and it grows in steep ravines where it cannot be got at by men, and where a community of apes is said to live in the recesses of the mountain and in any of its glens; and these apes are held in great esteem by the Indians, because they harvest the pepper for them, and they drive the lions off them with dogs and weapons. For the lion, when he is sick, attacks the ape in order to get a remedy, for the flesh of the ape stays the course of his disease; and he attacks it when he is grown old to get a meal, for the lions when they are past hunting stags and wild boars gobble up the apes, and husband for their pursuit whatever strength they have left. The inhabitants of the country, however, are not disposed to allow this, because they regard these animals as their benefactors, and so make war against the lions in behalf of them. For this is the way they go to work in collecting the pepper; the Indians go up to the lower trees and pluck off the fruit, and they make little round shallow pits around the trees, into which they collect the pepper, carelessly tossing it in, as if it had no value and was of no serious use to mankind. Then the monkeys mark their actions from above out of their fastnesses, and when the night comes on they imitate the action of the Indians, and twisting off the twigs of the trees, they bring and throw them into the pits in question; then the Indians at daybreak carry away the heaps of the spice which they have thus got without any trouble, and indeed during the repose of slumber.
[3.5] After crossing the top of the mountain, they say they saw a smooth plain seamed with cuts and ditches full of water, some of which were carried crosswise, whilst others were straight; these are derived from the river Ganges, and serve both for boundaries and also are distributed over the plain, when the soil is dry. But they say that this soil is the best in India, and constitutes the greatest of the territorial divisions of that country, extending in length towards the Ganges a journey of fifteen days and of eighteen from the sea to the mountain of the apes along which it skirts
The whole soil of the plain is a dead level, black and fertile of everything; for you can see on it standing grain as high as reeds and you can also see beans three times as large as the Egyptian kind, as well as sesame and millet of enormous size. And they say that nuts also grow there, of which many are treasured up in our temples here as objects of curiosity. But the vines which grow there are small, like those of the Lydians and Maeones; their vintage however is not only drinkable, but has a fine bouquet from the first. They also say that they came upon a tree there resembling the laurel, upon which there grew a cup or husk resembling a very large pomegranate; and inside the cup there was a kernel as blue as the cups of the hyacinth, but sweeter to the taste than any of the fruits the seasons bring.