Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 5.21-25

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.

[5.21] And when he had sailed as far as Chios, without even setting foot on the shore, he leapt across into another ship hard by, which was advertised to go to Rhodes; and without a word his companions jumped after him, for it was an essential part of their philosophic discipline to imitate his every word and action.

With a favorable wind Apollonius made the passage and held the following conversation in Rhodes. As he approached the statue of the Colossus, Damis asked him, if he thought anything could be greater than that; and he replied, "Yes, a man who loves wisdom in a sound and innocent spirit."note

At that time Canus was living in Rhodes, who was esteemed to be the best of all pipe-players of his age. He therefore called him and said: "What is the business of a pipe-player?"

"To do," replied the other, "everything which his audience wants him to."

"Well, but many," replied Apollonius, "in the audience want to be rich rather than to hear a pipe played; I gather then that what you find them desiring this, namely to be rich, you turn them into rich men."

"Not at all," replied the other, "though I would like to do so."

"Well, then, perhaps you make the young people in your audience good-looking? For all who are still enjoying youth wish to be handsome."

"Nor that either," replied the other, "although I can play many an air of Aphrodite on my instrument."

"What then is it," said Apollonius, "which you think your audience want?"

"Why, what else," replied Canus, "except that the mourner may have his sorrow lulled to sleep by the pipe, and that they that rejoice may have their cheerfulness enhanced, and the lover may wax warmer in his passion, and that the lover of sacrifice may become more inspired and full of sacred song?"

"This then," he said, "O Canus, "would you allow to be the effect of the pipe itself, because it is constructed of gold or brass and of the shin of a stag, or perhaps of the shin of a donkey, or is it something else which has these effects?"

"It is something else," he replied, "O Apollonius; for the music and the modes and the blending of strains and the easy variations of the pipe and the characters of the harmonies, it is all this that composes the souls of listeners and brings them to such a state of contentment as they want."

"I understand," he replied, "O Canus, what it is that your art performs; for you cultivate and exhibit to those who come to learn of you the changefulness of your music and the variety of its modes. But as for myself, I think that your pipe wants other resources in addition to those you have mentioned, namely reserves of breath, and a right use of the lips, and manual skill on the part of the player; and facility of breath consists in its being clear and distinct, unmarred by any husky click in the throat, for that would rob the sound of its musical character. And facility with the lips consists in their taking in the reed of the pipe and blowing without blowing out the cheeks; and manual skill I consider very important, for the wrist must not weary from being bent, nor must the fingers be slow in fluttering over the notes, and manual skill is especially shown in the swift transition from mode to mode. If then you have all these facilities, you may play with confidence, O Canus, for the Muse Euterpe will be with you." 

[5.22] It happened that a young man was building a house in Rhodes who was a nouveau riche without any education, and he collected in his house rare pictures and gems from different countries. Apollonius then asked him how much money he had spent upon teachers and education. "Not a farthing," he replied.

"And how much upon your house?"

"Twelve talents," he replied, "and I mean to spend as much again upon it."

"And what," said the other, "is the good of your house to you?"

"Why, as a residence, it is splendidly suited to my bodily training, for there are colonnades in it and groves, and I shall seldom need to walk out into the market place, but people will come in and talk to me with all the more pleasure, just as if they were visiting a temple."

"And," said Apollonius, "are men to be valued more for themselves or for their belongings?"

"For their wealth," said the other, "for wealth has the most influence."

"And," said Apollonius, "my good youth, which is the best able to keep his money, an educated person or an uneducated?"

And as the other made no answer, he added: "My good boy, it seems to me that it is not you that own the house, but the house rather that owns you. As for myself I would far rather enter a temple, no matter how small, and behold in it a statue of ivory and gold, than behold one of pottery and bad workmanship in a vastly larger one."

[5.23] And meeting a young man who was young and fat and prided himself upon eating more than anybody else, he remarked: "Then you, it seems are the glutton."

"Yes, and I sacrifice to to the gods out of gratitude for the same."

"And what pleasure," said Apollonius, "do you get by gorging yourself in this way?"

"Why, everyone admires me and stares at me; for you have probably heard of Heracles, how people took as much pains to celebrate what he ate as what labors he performed."

"Yes, for he was Heracles," said Apollonius; "but as for yourself, you scum, what good points are there about you? There is nothing left for you but to burst, if you want to be stared at."

[5.24] Such were his experiences in Rhodes, and others ensued in Alexandria, so soon as his voyage ended there. Even before he arrived Alexandria was in love with him, and its inhabitants longed to see Apollonius with the unique devotion of one friend for another; and as the people of Upper Egypt are intensely religious they too prayed him to visit their several societies.

For owing to the fact that so many come hither and mix with us from Egypt, while an equal number pass hence to visit Egypt, Apollonius was already celebrated among them and the ears of the Egyptians were literally pricked up to hear him. It is no exaggeration to say that, as he advanced from the ship into the city, they gazed upon him as if he was a god, and made way for him in the alleys, as they would for priests carrying the sacraments.

As he was being thus escorted with more pomp than if he had been a governor of the country, he met twelve men who were being led to execution on the charge of being bandits, he looked at them and said: "They are not all guilty, for this one," and he gave his name, "has been falsely accused and will escape."

And to the executioners by whom they were being led, he said: "I order you to relax your pace and bring them to the ditch a little more leisurely, and to put this one to death last of all, for he is guiltless of the charge; but you would anyhow act with more piety, if you spared them for a brief portion of the day, since it were better not to slay them at all."

And withal he dwelt upon this theme at what was for him unusual length. And the reason for his doing so was immediately shown; for when eight of them had had their heads cut off, a man on horseback rode up to the ditch, and shouted: "Spare Pharion; for," he added, "he is no robber, but he gave false evidence against himself from fear of being racked, and others of them in their examination under torture have acknowledged that he is guiltless."

I need not describe the exultation of Egypt, nor how the people, who were anyhow ready to admire him, applauded him for this action.

[5.25] And when he had gone up into the temple, he was struck by the orderliness of its arrangements, and thought the reason given for everything thoroughly religious and wisely framed. But as for the blood of bulls and the sacrifices of geese and other animals, he disapproved of them nor would he bring them to repasts of the gods. And when a priest asked him what induced him not to sacrifice like the rest: "Nay, you," he replied," should rather answer me what induces you to sacrifice in this way."

The priest replied: "And. who is so clever that he can make corrections in the rites of the Egyptians?"

"Anyone," he answered, "with a little wisdom, if only he comes from India."

"And," he added, "I will roast a bull to ashes this very day, and you shall hold communion with us in the smoke it makes; for you cannot complain, if you only get the same portion which is thought enough of a repast for the gods."

And as his imagenote was being melted in the fire he said: "Look at the sacrifice."

"What sacrifice," said the Egyptian, "for I do not see anything there."

And Apollonius said: "The Iamidae and the Telliadae and the Clytiadae and the oracle of the black-footed ones, have they talked a lot of nonsense, most excellent priest, when they went on at such length about fire, and pretended to gather so many oracles from it? For as to the fire from pine wood and from the cedar, do you think it is really fraught with prophecy and capable of revealing anything, and yet not esteem a fire lit from the richest and purest gum to be much preferable? If then you had really any acquaintance with the lore of fire worship, you would see that many things are revealed in the disc of the sun at the moment of its rising."