Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 6.36-40

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.

[6.36] There was a youth who, without having any education of his own, undertook to educate birds, which he kept in his home to make them clever; and he taught them to talk like human beings and to whistle tunes like flute-players. Apollonius met him and asked: "How are you occupying yourself?"

And when he replied, and told him all about his nightingales and his blackbirds, and how he trained the tongues of stone curlews -as he had himself a very uneducated accent- Apollonius said: "I think you are spoiling the accents of the birds, in the first place because you don't let them utter their own notes, which are so sweet that not even the best musical instruments could rival or imitate them, and in the second place because you yourself talk the vilest Greek dialects and are only teaching them to stutter like yourself.

And what is more, my good youth, you are also wasting your own substance; for when I look at all your hangers-on, and at your get-up, I should say that you are a delicately bred and somewhat wealthy man; but sycophants steal honey from people like yourself, being ready with tongue poised against them for a sting. And what will be the use to you of all this bird-fancying when the time comes? For if you collected all the songbirds in the world, it would not help you to shake off the parasites that cling to you and oppress you; nay you are forced to shower your wealth upon them and cast your gold before them, and you scatter tidbits before dogs; and to stop their barking you must give again and again, until at last you will find yourself reduced to hunger and to poverty.

What you want is some splendid diversion which will instantly make some alteration in your character, otherwise you will wake up one day and find that you have been plucked of your wealth as if it were plumage, and that you are a fitter subject to excite the birds to lament than to sing. The remedy you need to effect such a change is not a very great one; for there is in all cities a class of men, whose acquaintance you have never made, but who are called schoolmasters. You give them a little of your substance with the certainty of getting it back with interest; for they will teach you the rhetoric of the Forum, and it is not a difficult art to acquire.

I may add that, if I had known you as a child, and come across you then, I should have advised you assiduously to attend at the doors of the philosophers and sophists, so as to be able to hedge round your habitation with a wider learning; but, since it is too late for you to manage that, at any rate learn to plead for yourself; for remember, if you had acquired a more complete training and education, you would have resembled a man who is heavy-armed and therefore formidable; yet, if you thoroughly learn this branch, you will at any rate be equipped like a light-armed soldier or a slinger, for you will be able to fling words at your sycophants, as you would stones at dogs."

The young man took to heart this advice, and he gave up wasting his time over birds and betook himself to school, much to the improvement both of his judgment and of his tongue.

[6.37] Two stories are told in Sardes, one that the River Pactolus used to bring down gold dust to Croesus, and the other that trees are older than earth. The former story Apollonius said he accepted because it was probable, for that there had once been a sand of gold on mount Tmolus, and that the showers of rain had swept it down into the river Pactolus; although subsequently, as is generally the case in such matters, it had given out, being all washed away. But the second story he ridiculed and said: "You pretend that trees were created before the earth; well, I have been studying all this time, yet never heard of the stars being created before the heaven."

The inference he wished to convey was that nothing could be created as long as that in which it grows does not exist.

[6.38] The ruler of Syria had plunged into a feud, by disseminating among the citizens suspicions such that when they met in assembly they all quarreled with one another. But a violent earthquake happening to occur, they were all cowering, and as is usual in the case of heavenly portents, praying for one another. Apollonius accordingly stepped forward and remarked: "It is God who is clearly anxious to reconcile you to one another, and you will not revive these feuds since you cherish the same fears."

And so he implanted in them a sense of what was to happen to them, and made each faction entertain the same fears as the other.

[6.39] Here is another incident worth recording. A certain man was sacrificing to mother Earth in hope of finding a treasure, and he did not hesitate to offer a prayer to Apollonius with that intent. He, perceiving what he was after, said: "I see that you are a formidable man in business."

"Nay, but an unlucky one," remarked the other, "that have nothing except a few pence, and not enough to feed my family."

"You seem," said the other, "to keep a large household of idle servants, for you yourself seem not to be wanting in wits."

But the man shed a quiet tear and answered: "I have four daughters, who want four dowries, and, when my daughters have had their dowries assigned to them, my capital, which is now only 20,000 drachmas, will have vanished; and they will think that they have got all too little, while I shall perish because I shall have nothing at all."

Therefore Apollonius took compassion on him and said: "We will provide for you, myself and mother Earth, for I hear that you are sacrificing to her."

With these words he conducted the man into the suburbs, as if he were going to buy some fruit, and there he saw an estate planted with olive-trees; and being delighted with the trees, for they were very good ones and well grown, and there was a little garden in the place, in which he saw bee-hives and flowers, he went into the garden as if he had important business to examine into, and then, having put up a prayer to Pandora,note he returned to the city.

Then he proceeded to the owner of the field, who had amassed a fortune in the most unrighteous manner, by informing against the estates of Phoenicians, and said: "For how much did you purchase such and such an estate, and how much labor have you spent upon it?"

The other replied that he had bought the estate a year before for the sum of 15,000 drachmas, but that as yet he had spent no labor upon it, whereupon Apollonius persuaded him to sell it to him for 20,000 drachmas, which he did, esteeming the 5,000 a great windfall.

Now the man who wanted to find the treasure did not in the least understand the gift that was made him, indeed he hardly considered it a fair bargain, because, whereas he might have kept the 20,000 drachmas that he had in hand, he now reflected that the estate which he purchased for the sum might suffer from frost and hailstorms and from other influences ruinous to the crops. But when he found a jar almost at once in the field containing 3,000 darics,note close by the beehive in the little garden, and when he got a very large yield from the olive-trees, when everywhere else the crops had failed, he began to hymn the praises of the sage, and his house was crowded with suitors for the hand of his daughters urging their suits upon him.

[6.40] Here is another story which I came upon about Apollonius, and which deserves to be put upon record: There was a man who was in love with a nude statue of Aphrodite which is erected in Cnidus; and he was making offerings to it, and said that he would make yet others with a view to marrying the statue.

But Apollonius, though on other grounds he thought his conduct absurd, yet as the islanders were not averse of the idea, but said that the fame of the goddess would be greatly enhanced if she had a lover, determined to purge the temple of all this nonsense; and when the Cnidians asked him if he would reform their system of sacrifice or their litanies in any way, he replied: "I will reform your eyes, but let the ancestral service of your temple as it is."

Accordingly he called to him the languishing lover and asked him if he believed in the existence of the gods: and when he replied that he believed in their existence so firmly that he was actually in love with them, and mentioned a marriage with one of them which he hoped to celebrate shortly, Apollonius replied: "The poets have turned your poor head by their talk of unions of Anchises and Peleusnote and other heroes with goddess; but I know this much about loving and being loved: gods fall in love with gods, and human beings with human beings, and animals with animals, and in a word like with like, and they have true issue of their own kind; but when two beings of different kinds contract a union, there is no true marriage or love.

And if only you would bear in mind the fate of Ixion,note you would never have dreamed of falling in love with beings so much above you. For he, you remember, is portrayed across the heaven tortured upon a wheel; and you, unless you get out of this shrine, will perish wherever you are upon earth, nor will you be able to say that the gods have been unjust in their sentence upon you."

Thus he put a stop to this mad freak, and the man went away who said he was in love, after sacrificing in order to gain forgiveness.