Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.21-25

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.

[7.21] These words impressed Aelian as very sensible; and he bade him be of good courage, while he himself formed the conviction that here was a man whom nothing could terrify or startle, and who would not flinch, even if the head of the Gorgon were brandished over him. He accordingly summoned the jailors who had charge of such cases and said: "My orders are to detain this man, until the Emperor be informed of his arrival and learn from his lips all he has said to me."

And he said this with the air of a man very much enraged; and then he went into the palace and began to attend to the duties of his office.

At this point Damis records an incident which in a way resembles and in a way is unlike the episode related of Aristides long ago at Athens. For they were ostracizing Aristidesnote because of his virtue, and he had no sooner passed the gates of the city than a rustic came up to him and begged him to fill up his voting sherd against Aristides. This rustic knew no more to whom he was speaking than he knew how to write; he only knew that Aristides was detested because he was so just.note 

Now on this occasion a tribune who knew Apollonius perfectly well, addressed him and asked him in an insolent manner, what had brought him to such a pass. Apollonius replied that he did not know.

"Well," said the other, "I can tell you: for it is allowing yourself to be worshipped by your fellow-men that has led you to be accused of setting yourself on a level with the gods."

"And who is it," asked the other, "that has paid me this worship?"

"I myself," said the other, "when I was still a boy in Ephesus, at a time when you stayed our epidemic."

"Lucky it was both for you," and for the city of Ephesus that was saved."

"Well this is a reason," said the other, "why I have prepared a method of defense for yourself, which will rid you of the charge against you. For let us go outside the gates, and if I cut of your head off with my sword, the accusation will have defeated itself and you will go scot free; but if you terrify me to such an extent that I drop my sword, you must needs be thought a divine being, and then it will be seen that there is a basis of truth in the charges made against you."

So much coarser and ruder was this fellow than the man who wished to banish Aristides, and he uttered his words with grimace and mocking laughter, but Apollonius affected not to have heard him, and went on with his conversation with Damis about the delta, about which they say the Nile is divided into two branches.

[7.22] Aelian next summoned him and ordered him into prison, where the captives were not bound, "until," he said, "the Emperor shall have leisure, for he desires to talk with you privately before taking any further steps."

Apollonius accordingly left the law-court and passed into the prison, where he said: "Let us talk, Damis, with the people here. For what else is there for us to do until the time comes when the despot will give me such audience as he desires?"

"Will they not think us babblers," said Damis, "and bores, if we interrupt them in the preparation of their defense, and moreover, it is a mistake to talk philosophy with men so broken in spirit as they."

"Nay," said Apollonius, "they are just the people who most want someone to talk to them and comfort them. For you may remember the verses of Homer in which he relates how Helen mingled in the bowl of wine certain drugs from Egypt to drown the heartache of the heroes;note well, I think that Helen must have picked up the lore of the Egyptians, and have sung spells over the dejected heroes through their bowl of wine, so healing them by a blending of words and wine."

"And that is likely enough," said Damis, "seeing that she came to Egypt and was escorted by Proteus; or, if we prefer Homer's account, was well acquainted with Polydamna, the daughter of Thon. However let us dismiss these topics for the moment, for I want to ask you something."

"I know," said Apollonius, "what you are going to ask me, for I am sure you wish me to tell you what my conversation was about with the consul, and what he said, and whether he was formidable and severe or gentle to me."

And forthwith he told Damis all that had passed. Thereupon Damis prostrated himself before him and said: "Now I am ready to believe that Leucothea did really once give her veil to Odysseus, after he had fallen out of his ship and was paddling himself over the sea with his hands.note For we are reduced to just as awful and impossible a plight, when some god, as it seems to me, stretches out his hand over us, that we fall not away from all hope of salvation."

But Apollonius disapproved of the way he spoke, and said: "How long will you continue to cherish these fears, as if you could never understand that wisdom amazes all that is sensible of her, but is herself not amazed by anything."

"But we," said Damis, "are brought here before one who is quite insensible, and who not only cannot be amazed by us, but would not allow anything in the world to amaze him."

"Seest thou not," said Apollonius, "O Damis, that he is maddened with pride and vanity?"

"I see it, how can I not?" said the other.

"Well," said Apollonius, "you have just got do despise the despot just in proportion as you get to know him."

[7.23] They were talking like this, when someone, a Cilician I think, came up and said: "I, gentlemen, am brought to this pass by my wealth."

And Apollonius replied: "If your wealth was acquired by other than holy methods, for example by piracy and administration of deadly drugs, or by disturbing the tombs of ancient kings which are full of gold and treasure, you deserve not only to be put on your trial, but also to forfeit your life; for these things are wealth no doubt, but of an infamous and inhuman kind. But if you acquired your wealth by inheritance or by commerce such as befits free men and not by petty traffic, who could be so cruel as to deprive you under color of law of what you have acquired with its venerable sanction?"

"My property," said the other, has accrued to me from several of my relations, and has centered itself in my single household; and I use it, not as if it belonged to other people, for it is my own; yet not as my own, for I share it freely with all good men. But the informers accused me of having acquired my wealth to the prejudice of the despot; for they say that, if I attached myself to another as his accomplice, my wealth would weigh heavily in his favor.

And there is actually an oracular air about the charges made against us, such as that all excess of wealth engenders insolence, or that more than ordinary wealth makes its owner carry his head too high and rouses in him a spirit of pride; and that it prevents him from being a good subject and obeying the laws and rulers who are sent to the provinces; they say indeed that it is very nearly tantamount to giving them a box on the ears, because they grovel to wealthy men or connive at their crime, on account of the influence which wealth gives.

Now when I was a stripling, before I had as much as a hundred talent to call my own, I used to think such apprehensions as ridiculous and I had small anxiety on the score of my property; but when my paternal uncle died and in a single day I came in for a reversion of five hundred talents, my mind underwent such a change as those who break horses effect, when they cure them of being unruly and intractable. And as my riches increased and flowed in to me by land and by sea, I became so much the slave of anxiety about them, that I poured out my substance, partly upon sycophants whom I had to flatter in order to stop their mouths by means of such blackmail, and partly upon governors whose influence I wished to to enlist on my side against those who plotted against me, and partly on my kinsmen, to prevent them being jealous of my wealth, and partly on my slaves for fear they should become worse than they were and complain of being neglected. And I also had to support a magnificent flock of friends, for the latter were full of solicitude for me; and some insisted on helping me with their own hands, and others with their warnings and advice.

But although I thus fenced my wealth about, and surrounded myself so securely with fortifications, I now am imperiled by it, and I am not yet sure that I shall escape with my life."

And Apollonius answered: "Take heart, for you have your wealth to go surety for your life; for if it is your wealth which has led to your being confined in bonds, it is your wealth also which, when it is dissipated, will not only release you from this prison, but from the necessity of cherishing and flattering those sycophants and slaves whose yoke it has imposed upon your neck."

[7.24] Another man came and said that he was being prosecuted, because at a public sacrifice in Tarentum, where he held office, he had omitted to mention in the public prayers that Domitian was the son of Athena. Said Apollonius: "You imagined that Athena could not possibly have a son, because she is a virgin for ever and ever; but you forgot, methinks, that this goddess once on a time bore a dragon to the Athenians."note

[7.25] Another man was confined in the prison on the following charge: He had a property in Acarnania near the mouth of the Achelous; and he had been in the habit of sailing about the islands called the Echinades in a small boat, and he noticed that one of them was already joined to the mainland;note and he planted it all over with fruitful trees and vines producing sweet wine. So he made it a convenient habitation for himself, for he also brought in water in sufficient quantities for the island from the mainland.

In consequence, an accusation was trumped up against him, that he had a guilty conscience, and that it was because he was conscious of having committed crimes beyond description, that he transported himself and quitted all other land, feeling that he polluted it, and at the same time had chosen for himself the same form of release as Alcmaeon the son of Amphiareus had done, when after his mother's murder he went and lived on the delta of the Achelous. Even if he had not committed the same crime as Alcmaeon, he must yet, they said, have on his conscience horrible deeds, not falling short of his.

Although he denied these insinuations, and declared that he only went to live there for the sake of peace and quiet, he had nevertheless, they said, been accused and brought to justice, and for this reason he was cast into prison.