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.
[6.1] Ethiopianote["Ethiopians" means "people with burnt faces"; it is the usual word for the native African population. Philostratus uses the expression for the ancient kingdom of Nubia, what we call the Sudan.] covers the western wing of the entire earth under the sun, just as India does the eastern wing; and at Meroenote[The capital of Nubia.] it adjoins Egypt, and, after skirting a part of Libya Incognita, it ends at the sea which the poets call by the name of the Ocean, that being the name they applied to the mass of water which surrounds the earth. This country supplies Egypt with the river Nile, which takes its rise at the cataracts (Catadupi), and brings down from Ethiopia all Egypt,note[Philostratus tries to say that Egypt is an alluvial plain, created by sediments from Ethiopia. This geological observation can already be found in the Histories by Herodotus of Halicarnassus.] the soil of which in flood-time it inundates.
Now in size this country is not worthy of comparison with India, not for that matter is any of the continents that are famous among men; and even if you put together all Egypt with Ethiopia, and we may regard the river as so combining the two, we should not compare the two together with India, so vast is the standard of comparison.
However their respective rivers, the Indus and the Nile, resemble one another, if we consider their creatures. For they both spread their moisture over the land in the summer season, when the earth most wants it, and unlike all other rivers they produced the crocodile and the river-horse;note[Hippopotamus.] and the religious rites celebrated over them correspond with one another, for many of the religious invocations of the Indians are repeated in the case of the Nile.
We have a proof of the similarity of the two countries in the spices which are found in them, also in the fact that the lion and the elephant are captured and confined in both the one and the other. They are also the haunts of animals not found elsewhere, and of black men - a feature not found in other continents - and we meet in them with races of pigmies and of people who bark in various ways instead of talking, and other wonders of the kind.
And the griffins of the Indians and the ants of the Ethiopians, though they are dissimilar in form, yet, from what we hear, play similar parts; for in each country they are the guardians of gold, and devoted to the gold reefs of the two countries. But we will not pursue these subjects; for we must resume the course of our history and follow in the sage's footsteps.
[6.2] For when he arrived at the confines of Ethiopia and Egypt, and the name of the place is Sycaminus,note[It is more often called Hierasycaminus.] he came across a quantity of uncoined gold and linen and an elephant and various roots and myrrh and spices, which are all lying without anyone to watch them at the crossways.
I will explain the meaning of this, for the same custom still survives among ourselves. It was a market place to which the the Ethiopians bring all the products of their country; and the Egyptians in their turn take them all away and bring to the same spot their own wares of equal value, so bartering what they have got for what they have not.
Now the inhabitants of the marches are not yet fully black but are half-breeds in matter of color, for they are partly not so black as the Ethiopians, yet partly more so than the Egyptians. Apollonius, accordingly, when he realized the character of the market, remarked: "Contrast our good Hellenes: they pretend they cannot live unless one penny begets another and unless they can force up the price of their goods by chaffering or holding them back; and one pretends that he has got a daughter whom it is time to marry, and another that he has got a son who has just reached manhood, and a third that he has to pay his subscription to his club, and a fourth that he is having a house built for him, and a fifth that he would be ashamed of being thought a worse man of business than his father was before him. What a splendid thing then it would be, if wealth were held in less honor and equality flourished a little more and 'if the black iron were left to rust in the ground,'note[Hesiod, Works and Days 151.] for all men would agree with one another, and the whole earth would be like one brotherhood."
[6.3] With such conversations, the occasions providing as usual the topics he talked about, he turned his steps towards Memnon; an Egyptian showed them the way, of whom Damis gives the following account: Timasion was the name of this stripling, who was just emerging from boyhood, and was now in the prime of life and strength. He had a stepmother who had fallen in love with him;note[Fairly normal in Antiquity. When a man remarried, his second wife was about fifteen years old and could easily fall in love with her husband's son.] and when he rejected her overtures, she set upon him and by way of spiting him had poisoned his father's mind against him, condescending to a lower intrigue than ever Phaedranote[Philostratus is alluding to the tragedy Hippolytus by Euripides.] had done, for she accused him of being effeminate, and of finding his pleasure in pederasts rather than in women.
He had accordingly abandoned Naucratis,note[A Greek town in northwestern Egypt.] for it was there that all this happened, and was living in the neighborhood of Memphis; and he had acquired and manned a boat of his own and was plying as a waterman on the Nile. He then, was going down the river when he saw Apollonius sailing up it; and he concluded that the crew consisted of wise men, because he judged them by the cloaks they wore and the books they were hard at work studying.
So he asked them whether they would allow one who was so passionately fond of wisdom as himself to share their voyage; and Apollonius said: "This youth is wise, my friends, so let him be granted his request."
And he further related the story about his stepmother to those of his companions who were nearest to him in a low tone while the stripling was still sailing towards them. But when the ships were alongside of one another, Timasion stepped out of his boat, and after addressing a word or two to his pilot, about the cargo in his own boat, he greeted the company. Apollonius then ordered him to sit down under his eyes, and said: "You stripling of Egypt, for you seem to be one of the natives, tell me what you have done of evil or what of good; for in the one case you shall be forgiven by me, in consideration of your youth; but in the other you shall reap my commendation and become a fellow-student of philosophy with me and with these gentlemen."
Then noticing that Timasion blushed and checked his impulse to speak, and hesitated whether to say or not what he had been going to say, he pressed his question and repeated it, just as if he had no foreknowledge of the youth at his command. Then Timasion plucked up courage and said: "O Heavens, how shall I describe myself? for I am not a bad boy, and yet I do not know whether I ought to be considered a good one, for there is no particular merit in having abstained from wrong."
But Apollonius cried: "Bravo, my boy, you answer me just as if you were a sage from India; for this was just the sentiment of the divine Iarchas. But tell me how you came to form these opinions, and how long ago; for it strikes me that you have been on your guard against some sin."
The youth then began to tell them of his stepmother's infatuation for himself, and of how he had rejected her advances; and when he did so, there was a shout in recognition of the divine inspiration under which Apollonius had foretold these details. Timasion, however, caught them up and said: "Most excellent people, what is the matter with you? for my story is one which calls as little for your admiration, I think, as for your ridicule."
But Damis said: "It was not that we were admiring, but something else which you don't know about yet. As for you, my boy, we praise you because you think that you did nothing very remarkable."
And Apollonius said: "Do you sacrifice to Aphrodite, my boy?"
And Timasion answered: "Yes, by Zeus, every day; for I consider that this goddess has great influence in human and divine affairs."
Thereat Apollonius was delighted beyond measure, and cried: "Let us, gentlemen, vote a crown to him for his continence rather than to Hippolytus the son of Theseus, for the latter insulted Aphrodite; and that perhaps is why he never fell a victim to the tender passion, and why love never ran riot in his soul; but he was allotted an austere and unbending nature.
But our friend here admits that he is devoted to the goddess, and yet did not respond to his stepmother's guilty overtures, but went away in terror of the goddess herself, in case he were not on his guard against another's evil passions; and the mere aversion to any one of the gods, such as Hippolytus entertained in regard to Aphrodite, I do not class as a form of sobriety; for it is a much greater proof of wisdom and sobriety to speak well of the gods, especially at Athens, where altars are set up in honor even of unknown gods."
So great was the interest which he took in Timasion. Nevertheless he called him Hippolytus for the eyes with which he looked at his stepmother. It seemed also that he was a young man who was particular about his person and enhanced its charms by attention to athletic exercises.
[6.4] Under his guidance, they say, they went on to the sacred enclosure of Memnon, of whom Damis gives the following account. He says that he was the son of the Dawn, and that he did not meet his death in Troy, where indeed he never went; but that he died in Ethiopia after ruling the land for five generations. But his countrymen being the longest lived of men, still mourn him as a mere youth and deplore his untimely death.
But the place in which his statue is set up resembles, they tell us, an ancient market-place, such as remain in cities that were long ago inhabited, and where we come on broken stumps and fragments of columns, and find traces of walls as well as seats and jambs of doors, and images of Hermes, some destroyed by the hand of man, others by that of time.
Now this statue, says Damis, was turned towards the sunrise, and was that of a youth still unbearded; and it was made of a black stone, and the two feet were joined together after the style in which statues were made in the time of Daedalus; and the arms of the figure were perpendicular to the seat pressing upon it, for though the figure was still sitting it was represented in the very act of rising up.
We hear much of this attitude of the statue, and of the expression of its eyes, and of how the lips seem about to speak; but they say that they had no opportunity of admiring these effects until they saw them realized; for when the sun's rays fell upon the statue, and this happened exactly at dawn, they could not restrain their admiration; for the lips spoke immediately [when] the sun's ray touched them, and the eyes seemd to stand out and gleam against the light as do those of men who love to bask in the sun. Then they say they understood that the figure was of one in the act of rising and making obeisance to the sun, in the way those do who worship the powers above standing erect.
They accordingly offered a sacrifice to the Sun of Ethiopia and to Memnon of the Dawn, for this the priests recommended them to do, explaining that one namenote[Ethiopia.] was derived from the words signifying "to burn and be warm" and the other from his mother. Having done this they set out upon camels for the home of the naked philosophers.
[6.5] On the way they met a man wearing the garb of the inhabitants of Memphis, but who was wandering about rather than wending his steps to a fixed point; so Damis asked him who he was and why he was roving about like that. But Timasion said: "You had better ask me, and not him; for he will never tell you what is the matter with him, because he is ashamed of the plight in which he finds himself; but as for me, I know the poor man and pity him, and I will tell you all about him. For he has slain unwittingly a certain inhabitant of Memphis, and the laws of Memphis prescribe that a person exiled for an involuntary offense of this kind, -and the penalty is exile,- should remain with the naked philosophers until he has washed away the guilt of bloodshed, and then he may return home as soon as he is pure, though he must first go to the tomb of the slain man and sacrifice there some trifling victim. Now until he has been received by the naked philosophers, so long he must roam about these marches, until they take pity upon him as if he were a suppliant."
Apollonius therefore put the question to Timasion: "What do the naked philosophers think of this particular exile?"
And he answered: "I do not know anything more than that this is the seventh month that he has remained here as a suppliant, and that he has not yet obtained redemption."
Said Apollonius: "You don't call men wise, who refuse to purify him, and are not aware that Philiscus whom he slew was a descendant of Thamus the Egyptian, who long ago laid waste the country of these naked philosophers."
Thereat Timasion said in surprise: "What do you mean?"
"I mean," said the other, "my good youth, what was actually the fact; for this Thamus once on a time was intriguing against the inhabitants of Memphis, and these philosophers detected his plot and prevented him; and he having failed in his enterprise retaliated by laying waste all the land upon which they live, for by his brigandage he tyrannized the country round Memphis. I perceive that Philiscus whom this man slew was the thirteenth in descent from this Thamus, and was obviously an object of execration to those whose country the latter so thoroughly ravaged at the time in question. Where then is their wisdom? Here is a man that they ought to crown, even if he had slain the other intentionally; and yet they refuse to purge him of a murder which he committed involuntarily on their behalf.".
The youth then was astounded and said: "Stranger, who are you?"
And Apollonius replied: "He whom you shall find among these naked philosophers. But as it is not allowed me by my religion to address one who is stained with blood, I would ask you, my good boy, to encourage him, and tell him that he will at once be purged of guilt, if he will come to the place where I am lodging."
And when the man in question came, Apollonius went through the rites over him which Empedocles and Pythagoras prescribe for the purification of such offenses, and told him to return home, for that he was now pure of guilt.