Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.26-30

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.

[7.26] Several prisoners, for there were about fifty of them in this prison, approaches Apollonius inside it, and uttered such lamentations as the above. Some of them were sick, some of them had given way to dejection, some of them expected death with certainty and with resignation, some of them bewailed and called upon their children and their parents and their wives.

Whereupon, "O Damis," said Apollonius, affected by the spectacle, "it seems to me that these people need the drug which I alluded to when I first entered. Whether it be an Egyptian remedy, or whether it grows in every land and only needs wisdom enough to cut it from its root out of her own gardens, let us administer some of it to these poor people, lest their own feelings destroy them before Domitian can do it."

"Let us do so," said Damis, "for they seem in need of it."

Accordingly Apollonius called them all together and said: "Gentlemen, who are sharing with me the hospitality of this poor roof, I am wrung with pity for you, because I feel that you are undoing yourselves, before you know in the least whether the accuser will undo you. For it seems to me that you are ready to put yourselves to death and anticipate the death sentence which you expect will be pronounced against you; and so you show actual courage where you should feel fear, and fear where you should be courageous.

This should not be; but you should bear in mind the words of [the poet] Archilochus of Paros who says that the patience under adversity which he called endurance was a veritable discovery of the gods; for it will bear you up in your misery, just as a skillful pilot carries the bow of his ship above the wash of the sea, whenever the billows are raised higher than his bark. Nor should you consider as desperate this situation into which you have been brought against your wills, but I myself of my own accord.

For if you admit the charges brought against you, you ought rather to deplore the day when your judgment and impulses betrayed you into unjust and cruel courses of action. But if you, my friend yonder, deny that you took up your residence in the island of Achelous for the reason which your accuser alleges; and you there, that you ever raised your wealth to the peril and endangering of the sovereignty; and you again that you of set purpose deprived the sovereign of his pretension to be called the son of Athena, - if, I say, you can prove that the several reasons alleged for your being, each of you, here in such parlous plights, are unfounded, what then is the meaning of all this lamentation about things which have no existence or reality? For instead of crying after your friends and relatives, you ought rather to feel just as much courage as you now feel despair; for such I imagine are the rewards of the endurance I have described.

But perhaps you would argue that confinement here and life in a prison are hard to bear in themselves? Or do you look upon them as the mere beginning of what you expect to suffer? Or do you think that they are punishment sufficient in themselves, even if you are exposed to nothing else in the way of penalty?

Well, I understand human nature, and I will preach you a sermon which is very unlike the prescriptions of physicians, for I shall implant strength in you and will avert death from you. We men are in a prison all that time which we choose to call life. For this soul of ours, being bound and fettered in a perishable body, has to endure many things, and be the slave of all the affections which visit humanity; and the men who first invented a dwelling seem to me not to have known that they were only surrounding their kind in a fresh prison; for, to tell you the truth, all those who inhabit palaces and have established themselves securely in them, are, I consider, in closer bonds in them than any whom they may throw into bonds.

And when I think of cities and walls, it seems to me that these are common prisons, so that the merchants are in chains, in chains no less than the members of the Assembly, and the frequenters also of spectacles, as well as those who organize public processions.

Then there are the Scythians who go about upon wagons; they are just as much in chains as ourselves; for rivers like the Ister and the Thermodon and the Tanais hem them in, and they are very difficult to cross, except when they are hard frozen; and they fix up their houses on their wagons, and they imagine they are driving about, when they are merely cowering in them.

And if you don't think it too silly a thing to say, there are those who teach that the ocean also encompasses the earth in order to chain it in. Come, O ye poets, for this is your domain. Recite your rhapsodies to this despondent crowd, and tell them how Kronos was once put in bonds by the wiles of Zeus; and Ares, the most warlike of gods, was first enchained in heaven by Hephaestus, and later upon earth by the sons of Aloeus.

When we think of these things, and reflect on the many wise and blessed men who have been thrown into prison by wanton mobs, or insulted by despots, let us accept our fate with resignation, that we may not be found inferior to those who have accepted the same before us."note

Such were the words which he addressed to his companions in the prison, and they had such an effect upon them that most of them took their food and wiped away their tears, and walked in hope, believing that they could never come to harm as long as they were in his company.

[7.27] On the next day he was haranguing them in a discourse of the same tenor, when a man was sent into the prison privately by Domitian to listen to what he said. In his deportment this person had a downcast air and, as he himself admitted, looked as if he ran a great risk. He had great volubility of speech, as is usually the case with sycophants who have been chosen to draw up eight or ten informations.

Apollonius saw through the trick and talked about themes which could in no way serve his purpose; for he told his audience about rivers and mountains, and he described wild animals and trees to them, so that they were amused, while the informer gained nothing to his purpose. And when he tried to draw him away from these subjects, and get him to abuse the tyrant, "My good friend," said Apollonius, "you say what you like, for I am the last man in the world to inform against you; but if I find anything to blame in the Emperor, I'll say it to his face."

[7.28] There followed other episodes in this prison, some of them insidiously contrived, and others of mere chance, and not of sufficient importance to merit my notice. But Damis, I believe, has recorded them in his anxiety to omit nothing; I only give what is to the point.

It was evening, and it was already the fifth day of his imprisonment, when a certain person entered the prison, who spoke the Hellenic tongue, and said: "Where is the man of Tyana?"

And taking Apollonius aside he said: "It is tomorrow that the Emperor will give you an audience." And this he appeared to have heard direct from Aelian.

"I will keep your secret," said Apollonius, "for it is only Aelian, I think, who can know so much."

"Moreover," said the other, "word has been given to the chief jailer to supply you with everything which you may want."

"You are very kind," said Apollonius, "but I lead exactly the same life here as I would outside; for I converse about casual topics, and I do not need anything."

"And do you not, O Apollonius, need someone to advise you how to converse with the Emperor?"

"Yes by heaven," he replied, "if only he will not try to get me to flatter him."

"And what if he merely advised you not to slight him nor flout him?"

"He could give no better advice," said Apollonius, "and it is what I have made up my own mind to do."

"Well, it was about this that I am come," said the other, "and I am delighted to find you so sensibly disposed; but you ought to be prepared for the way in which the Emperor speaks, and also for the disagreeable quality of his face; for he talks in a deep voice, even if he is merely engaged in a gentle conversation, and his eyebrows overhang the sockets of his eyes and his cheeks are so bloated with bile, that this distinguishes him more than anything else. We must not be frightened, O man of Tyana, by these characteristics, for they rather belong to nature than to anything else, and they always are the same."

And Apollonius replied: "If Odysseus could go into the cave of Polyphemus, without having been informed beforehand either of the giant's size, or what he ate, or of how he thundered with his voice, and yet did not lose his presence of mind, though he was in some trepidation to begin with; and if he left his cave after acquitting himself like a man, I too shall be quite satisfied if I get off with my own life and with that of my companions, in whose behalf I incur this risk."

Such were the words that passed between him and his visitor, and after reporting them to Damis he went to sleep.

[7.29] And about dawn a notary came from the Royal court, and said: "It is the Emperor's orders, O Apollonius, that you should repair to his court at the time when the market-place is full; not indeed as yet to make your defense, for he wants to see you and find out who you are, and to talk with you alone."

"And why," said Apollonius, "do you trouble me with these details?"

"Are you not then Apollonius?" said the other.

"Yes, by Heaven," he said, "and of Tyana too."

"To whom then," said the other, "should I give this message?"

"To those who will take me thither," he replied, "for I suppose that I shall have to get out of this prison somehow."

"Orders have already been given," replied the other, "to them, and I will come here in good time, and I only came to give you the message now, because the orders were issued late last night."

[7.30] He accordingly went away: but Apollonius after resting himself a little while on his bed said, "Damis, I need sleep, for I have had a bad night trying to remember what Phraotes once told me."

"Well," said the other, "if you had to keep awake, you had much better have occupied yourself in preparing for so great an occasion as now is announced to you."

"And how could I prepare myself," said Apollonius, "when I do not even know what questions he will ask of me?"

"Then are you going to defend your life extempore?" said Damis.

"Yes, by Heaven," he replied, "for it is an extempore life that I have always led. But I want to tell you what I could remember of the conversation with Phraotes, for I think you will find it very profitable under the circumstances. Phraotes enjoined the tamers of lions not to strike them, for he said that they bear you a grudge if they are struck; but also not to flatter them, because that tends to make them proud and fierce; but he advised them rather to stroke them with the hand at the same time that they threatened them, as the best way of reducing them to obedience and docility.

Well, he made these remarks not really about lions -for we were not interested about how to keep lions and wild beasts- but he was really supplying a curb and rein for tyrants of such a kind as he thought would in practice keep them within the lines of good sense and moderation."

"This story," said Damis, "is indeed most apposite to the manners of tyrants; but there is also a story in Aesop about a certain lion who lived in a cave, and Aesop says that he was not sick, but only pretended to be so, and that he seized on other wild animals who went to visit him; and accordingly the fox made the remark: 'What are we to do with him, for no one ever quits his residence, nor are any tracks to be seen of his visitors going out again?'"

And Apollonius remarked: "Well, as for myself I should have regarded your fox as a cleverer animal, if he had gone in to see the lion, and instead of being caught had issued from the cave safely and left clear tracks behind him."