Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.16-20

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.

[7.16] They sailed from Dicaearchia, and on the third day they put in to the mouth of the Tiber from which it is a fairly short sail up to Rome.

Now the Emperor's sword was at that time in the keeping of Aelianus, a person who long ago had been attached to Apollonius, because he once met him in Egypt. And although he said nothing openly in his favor to Domitian, for that his office did not allow of his doing -for how could he have praised to his sovereign's face one who was supposed to be an object of detestation any more than he could intercede in his behalf as for a friend of his own?- nevertheless whatever means there were of helping him in an unobtrusive way, he resorted to in his behalf; and accordingly at the time when, before he arrived, Apollonius was being calumniated to Domitian, he would say: "My sovereign, sophists ar all prattle and flippancy; and their art is all show, and they are so eager to die because they get no good out of life; and therefore they don't wait for death to come of itself, but try to anticipate and draw it on themselves by provoking those who hold the sword.

This I think was the reason which weighed with Nero and prevented his being drawn on by Demetrius into slaying him. For as he saw that he was anxious for death, he let him off not because he wished to pardon him, but because he disdained to put him to death. Moreover in the case of Musonius the Tyrrhenian, who opposed his rule in many ways, he only kept him in the island called Gyara; and Hellenes are so fond of sophists, that at that time they were all making voyages by ship to visit him, as they now do to visit the spring; for until Musonius went there, there was no water in the island, but he discovered a spring, which the Greeks celebrate as loudly as they do the horse's spring at Helicon."

[7.17] In this way Aelian tried to put off the king until Apollonius arrived, and then he began to use more address; for he ordered Apollonius to be arrested and brought into his presence. And when the counsel for the prosecution began to abuse him as a wizard and an adept at magic, Aelian remarked, "Keep yourself and your charges against him for the Royal Court."

But Apollonius remarked: "If I am a wizard, how is it I am brought to trial? And if I am brought to trial, how can I be a wizard? Unless indeed the power of slander is so great that even wizards cannot get the better of it."

Then when the accuser was about to say something still more foolish, Aelian cut him short and said: "Leave me the time that will elapse until his trial begins; for I intend to examine the sophist's character privately, and not before yourselves; and if he admits his guilt, then the pleadings in the court can be cut short, and you can depart in peace, but if he denies his guilt, the emperor will try him."

He accordingly passed into his secret court where the most important accusations and causes were tried in strict privacy, and said to the company: "Do you depart hence, and let no one remain to listen, for such is the will of the Emperor."

[7.18] And when they were alone, he said: "I, O Apollonius, was a stripling at the time when the father of the present sovereign came to Egypt to sacrifice to the gods, and to consult you about his own affairs. I was a tribune only then, but the Emperor took me with him because I was already versed in war; while you were so friendly with myself, that when the Emperor was receiving deputations from the cities, you took me aside and told me of what country I was and what was my name and parentage; and you foretold to me that I should hold this office which is accounted by the multitude the highest of all, and superior to all human positions at once, although to myself it means much trouble and much unhappiness.

For I am the sentinel of the harshest of tyrants, whom if I betray, I am afraid of the wrath of heaven. But I have shown you how friendly I am towards yourself, for in reminding you how our friendship began, I have surely made it clear to you that it can never cease, as long as we can remember those beginnings.

[possibly a lacuna]

If I have said I would question you in private about the charges which your accuser has drawn up against you, it was only a good-natured pretext on my part for obtaining an interview with you, in order to assure you of my own good will, and to warn you of the Emperor's designs. Now what his verdict will be in your case I do not know; but his temper is that of people who are anxious to condemn a person, but are ashamed to do so except upon some real evidence, and he wishes to make you an excuse for destroying these men of consular rank.

So his wishes you see are criminal, but he observes a certain formality in his actions in order to preserve a semblance of justice. And I, too, in my turn, must pretend to be exasperated with you; for if he suspects me of any leniency, I do not know which of us will be the first to perish."

[7.19] Apollonius replied: "Since we are talking without any restraint and you have told me all that is in your heart, I in turn am bound to tell you no less; and since you also take a philosopher's view of your own position, as one might do who has most thoroughly studied philosophy in my society, and, by Heaven, inasmuch as you are so kindly disposed towards us as to imagine you run a common risk with myself, I will tell you exactly what I think.

It was in my power to run away from you to many parts of the earth, where your authority is not recognized, and where I should have found myself among wise men, men much wiser than myself, and where I might have worshipped the gods in accordance with the principles of sound reason. I had only to go to the haunts of men who are more beloved of the gods than are the people of this city, men among whom such things as informers and writs or accusation are unknown, because, since they neither wrong one another nor are wronged, they stand in no need of law-courts.

But I am come to offer my defense, because I fear to be branded as a traitor; for, if I ran away instead of stating and defending myself, those who are running risks on my account would be brought to ruin. But I would have you tell me what are the accusations against which I have to defend myself."

[7.20] "The counts of the indictment," replied the other, "are as varied as they are numerous; for your style of dress is assailed in them and your way of living in general, and your having been worshipped by certain people, and the fact that in Ephesus once you delivered an oracle about the famine; and also that you have uttered certain sentiments to the detriment of the sovereign, some of them openly, some of them obscurely and privately, and some of them on the pretense that you learned them from heaven.

But the charge which most appeals to the credulity of the Emperor, although I cannot credit it in the least, for I know that you are opposed even to shedding the blood of victims, is the following: they say that you visited Nerva in the country, and that you cut up an Arcadian boy for him when he was consulting the auspices against the Emperor; and that by such rites as these you roused his ambitions; and that all this was done by night when the moon was already on the wane. This is the accusation as compared with which we need not consider any other, because it far outweighs them all.

For if the accuser attacks your dress and your mode of life and your gift of foreknowledge, it is only by way, I assure you, of leading up to this charge; and it was moreover these peculiarities which prompted you to commit the crime of conspiring against the Emperor, so he says, and emboldened you to offer such a sacrifice. You must then be prepared to defend yourself upon these counts, and I would only ask you in what you say to show great respect for the sovereign."

And Apollonius replied: "That I shall show no disrespect, you may clearly gather from the fact that I am come here to justify myself; and even if my circumstances were such as to embolden me to treat a despot in a haughty manner, I should anyhow submit myself to a man like yourself who also loves me.

For though it does not so much matter if you merely fall into the bad graces of an enemy -for your enemies will hate you not for reasons which make you an object of public suspicion, but for private causes of offense which you have given them- nothing is graver than to give a friend reason to think ill of you: this is worse than all your enemies put together can effect, for no man can avoid being disliked by the public too for his ill conduct."