Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 5.16-20

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.

[5.16] Perhaps I have done a foolish thing," went on Apollonius, "for it was my intention to recall you to more scientific and truer explanations than the poetical myths given by the vulgar of Etna; and I have let myself be drawn into a eulogy of myths. However, the digression has not been without a charm of its own, for the myth which we repudiate is not one of Aesop's stories, but belongs to the class of dramatic stories which fill the mouths of our poets. For they say that a certain Typho or Enceladus lies bound under the mountain, and in his death agony breathes out this fire that we see.

Now I admit that giants have existed, and that gigantic bodies are revealed all over earth when tombs are broken open; nevertheless I deny that they ever came into conflict with the gods; at the most they violated their temples and statues, and to suppose that they scaled the heaven and chased away the gods therefrom - this it is madness to relate and madness to believe.

Nor can I any more respect that other story, though it is more reverent in its tone, to the effect that Hephaestus attends to his forge in Etna, and that there is there an anvil on which he smites with his hammer; for there are many other mountains all over the earth that are on fire, and yet we should never be done with it if we assigned to them giants and gods like Hephaestus.

[5.17] "What then is the explanation of such mountains? It is this: the earth by affording a mixture of asphalt and sulphur, begins to smoke of its own nature, but it does not yet belch out fire; if however it be cavernous and hollow and there be spirit or force circulating underneath it, it at once lifts up into the air as it were a beacon-fire; this flame gathers force, and gets hold of all around, and then like water it streams of the mountains and flows into the plains, and the mass of fire reaches the sea, forming mouths, out of which it issues, like the mouths of rivers.

And as for the place of the Pious Ones,note around whom the fire flowed, we will allow that such exists even here; but at the same time let us not forget that the whole earth affords secure ground for the doers of holiness, and that the sea is safely traversed not only by people in ships but even by people attempting to swim." 

For in this way he continually ended up his discourses with useful and pious exhortations.

[5.18] He stayed in Sicily and taught philosophy there as long as he had sufficient interest in doing so, and then repaired to Greece about the rising of Arcturus. After a pleasant sail he arrived at Leucas, where he said: "Let us get out of this ship, for it is better not to continue in it our voyage to Achaea."

No one took any notice of the utterance except those who knew the sage well, but he himself together with those who desired to make the voyage with him embarked on a Leucadian ship, and reached the port of Lechaeum; meanwhile the Syracusan ship sank as it entered the Crisaean Gulf.

[5.19] At Athens he was initiated by the same hierophant of whom he had delivered a prophecy to his predecessor; here he met Demetrius the philosopher, for after the episode of Nero's bath and of his speech about it, Demetrius continued to live at Athens, with such noble courage that he did not quit Athens even during the period when Nero was outraging Greece over the games.

Demetrius said that he had fallen in with Musonius at the Isthmus, where he was fettered and under orders to dig; and that he addressed to him such consolations as he could, but Musonius took his spade and stoutly dug it into the earth, and then looking up, said: "You are distressed, Demetrius, to see me digging through the Isthmus for Greece; but if you saw me playing the harp like Nero, what would you feel then?"

But I must pass over the sayings of Musonius, though they were many and remarkable, else I shall seem to take liberties with the man, who uttered them carelessly.

[5.20] Apollonius spent the winter in various Hellenic temples, and towards spring he embarked on the road for Egypt, after administering many rebukes indeed, yet giving much good counsel to the cities, many of which won his approval, for he never refused praise when anything was done in a right and sensible way.

When he descended to the Piraeus, he found a ship riding there with its sails set, just about to start for Ionia; but the owner would not allow him to embark, for he wished to go on a private cruise. Apollonius asked him what his freight consisted of. "Of gods," he replied, "whose images I am exporting to Ionia, some made of gold and stone, and others of ivory and gold."

"And are you going to dedicate them or what?"

"I am going to sell them," he replied, "to those who desire to dedicate them."

"Then you are afraid, my most excellent man, lest we should steal your images on board ship?"

"I am not afraid of that," he answered, "but I do not think it proper that they should have to share the voyage with so many people and be defiled by such bad company as you get on board ship."

"And may I remind you, most worthy man," answered Apollonius, "for you appear to me to be an Athenian, that on the ships which your countrymen employed against the barbarians, although they were full of a disorderly naval crowd, the gods embarked along with them, yet had no suspicion of being polluted thereby; you however in your gross ignorance drive men who are lovers of wisdom out of your ship, in whose company as in that of none others the gods delight, and this although you are trafficking in the gods?

But the image-makers of old behaved not in this way, nor did they go round the cities selling their gods. All they did was to export their own hands and their tools for working stone and ivory; others provided the raw materials, while they plied their handicraft in the temples themselves; but you are leading the gods into harbors and market places just as if they were wares of the Hyrcanians and of the Scythiansnote -far be it from me to name these- and so you think you are doing no impiety?

It is true that there are babbling buffoons who hang upon their persons images of Demeter or Dionysus, and pretend that they are nurtured by the gods they carry; but as for feeding on the gods themselves as you do, without ever being surfeited on this diet, that is a horrible commerce and one, I should say, savoring of lunacy, even if you have no misgivings of your own about the consequences."

And having administered this rebuke he took his passage on another ship.