Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.31-35

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.

[7.31] After making this remark, he took a short nap, just enough to close his eyes, and when day came he offered his prayers to the Sun, as best as he could in prison, and then he conversed with all who came up and asked him questions; and so about the time when the market fills a notary came and ordered him to repair at once to court, adding: "Lest we should not get there in time for the summons in his presence."

And Apollonius said: "Let us go," and eagerly went forth. And on the way four bodyguards followed him, keeping at a greater distance from him than would an escort merely to guard him. And Damis also followed in his train, in some trepidation indeed, but apparently plunged in thought.

Now the eyes were all turned upon Apollonius, for not only were they attracted by his dress and bearing, but there was a godlike look in his eyes, which struck them with astonishment; and moreover the fact that he had come to Rome to risk his life for his friends conciliated the good wishes even of those who were evilly disposed to him before.

When he halted at the Palace and beheld the throng of those who were either being courted or were courting their superiors, and heard the din of those who were passing in and out, he remarked: "It seems to me, O Damis, that this place resembles a bath; for I see people outside hastening in, and those within, hastening out; and some of them resemble people who have been thoroughly washed, and others those who have not been washed at all."

This saying is the inviolable property of Apollonius, and I wish it to be reserved to him and not ascribed to this man and that, for it is so thoroughly and genuinely his, that he has repeated it in one of his letters.

There he saw a very old man who was trying to get an appointment, and in order to do so was groveling before the Emperor and fawning upon him. "Here is one," he said, "O Damis, whom not even Sophocles so far has been able to run away from a master who is raging mad."

"Yes, a master," said Damis, "that we ourselves, Apollonius, have chosen for our own; for that is why we are standing here at such gates as these."

"It seems to me, O Damis," said the other, "that you imagine Aeacus to be warden of these gates, as he is said to be of the gates of Hades; for verily you look like a dead man."

"Not dead yet," said Damis, "but shortly to be so."

And Apollonius answered: "O Damis, you do not seem to me to take very kindly to death, although you have been with me some time, and have studied philosophy from your first youth. But I had imagined that you were prepared for it, and had also acquainted yourself with all the strategy and tactical resources that I have at my command; for just as men in battle, no matter how heavily armed they are, require not merely pluck, but also a knowledge of tactics to interpret to them the right opportunities of battle, so also philosophers must wait for the right opportunities when to die; so that they be not taken off their guard, nor like suicides rush into death, but may greet their enemies upon ground of their own good choosing. But that I made my choice well of a moment to die in and found an occasion worthy of a philosopher, supposing anyone wants to kill him, I have both proved to others before whom I defended myself in your presence, and am tired of teaching yourself the same."

[7.32] So far these matters then; but when the Emperor had leisure, having got rid of all his urgent affairs, to give an audience to our sage, the attendants whose office it was conducted him into the palace, without allowing Damis to follow him. And the Emperor was wearing a wreath of olive leaves, for he had just been offering a sacrifice to Athenanote in the hall of Adonis and this hall was bright with baskets of flowers, such as the Syrians at the time of the festival of Adonis make up in his honor, growing them under their very roofs.

Though the Emperor was engaged with his religious rites, he turned round, and was so much struck by Apollonius' appearance, that he said: "O Aelian, it is a demon that you have introduced to me."

But Apollonius, without losing his composure, made free to comment upon the Emperor's words, and said: "As for myself, I imagined that Athena was your tutelary goddess, O sovereign, in the same way as she was Diomedes' long ago in Troy; for she removed the mist which dulls the eyes of men from those of Diomede, and endowed him with the faculty of distinguishing gods from men. But the goddess has not yet purged your eyes as she did his, my sovereign; yet it were well, if Athena did so, that you might behold her more clearly and not confuse mere men with the forms of demons."

"And you," said the Emperor, "O philosopher, when did you have this mist cleared away from your eyes?"

"Long ago," said he, "and ever since I have been a philosopher."

"How comes it then," said the Emperor, "that you have come to regard as gods persons who are most hostile to myself?"

"And what hostility," said Apollonius, "is there between yourself and Iarchas or Phraotes, both of them Indians and the only human beings that I regard as gods and meriting such a title?"

"Don't try to put me off with Indians," said the Emperor, "but just tell me about your darling Nerva and his accomplices."

"Am I to plead his cause," said Apollonius, "or-?”

"No, you shall not plead it," said the Emperor, "for he has been taken red-handed in guilt; but just prove to me, if you can, that you are not yourself equally guilty as being privy to his designs."

"If," said Apollonius, "you would hear how far I am in his counsel, and privy to his designs, please hear me, for why should I conceal the truth?"

Now the Emperor imagined that he was going to hear Apollonius confess very important secrets, and that whatever transpired would conduce to the destruction of the persons in question.

[7.33] But Apollonius seeing him on tip-toe with expectation, merely said: "For myself, I know Nerva to be the most moderate of men and the gentlest and the most devoted to yourself, as well as a good ruler; though he is so averse to meddling in high matters of State, that he shrinks from office. And as for his friends, for I suppose you refer to Rufus and Orphitus - these men also are discreet, so far as I know, and averse from wealth, somewhat sluggish to do all they lawfully may; while as for revolution, they are the last people in the world either to plan it or to take part with another who should do so."

But the Emperor was inflamed with anger at what he heard and said: "Then you mean to say that I am guilty of slander in their cases, since you assert that they are good men, only sluggish, whom I have ascertained to be the vilest of man kind and usurpers of my throne. For I can imagine that they too, if I put the question to them about you, would in their turn deny that you were a wizard and a hot-head and a braggart and a miser, and that you looked down on the laws. And so it is, you accursed rascals, that you all hold together like thieves. But the accusation shall unmask everything; for I know, as well as if I had been present and taken part in everything, all the oaths which you took, and the objects for which you took them, and when you did it, and what was, your preliminary sacrifice."

At all this Apollonius did not even blench, but merely remarked: "It is not creditable to you, O sovereign, nor is it congruous with the law, that you should either pretend to try a case affecting persons about whom you have already made up your mind, or should have made it up before ever you have tried them. But if you will have it so, permit me at once to begin and plead my defense. You are prejudiced against me, my sovereign, and you do me a greater wrong than could any false informer, for you take for granted, before you hear them, accusations which he only offers to prove."

"Begin your defense," said the Emperor, "at any point you like, but I know very well where to draw the line, and with what it is best to begin."

[7.34] From that moment he began to insult the sage, by cutting off his beard, and hair, and confining him among the vilest felons; and as regards his hair being shaved, Apollonius remarked: "It had not occurred to me, O sovereign, that I risked losing my hair."

And as regards his imprisonment in bonds, he remarked: "If you think me a wizard, how will you ever fetter me? And if you fetter me, how can you say that I am a wizard?"

"Yes," replied the Emperor, "for I will not release you until you have turned into water, or into some wild animal, or into a tree."

"I will not turn into these things," said Apollonius, "even if I could, for I will not ever betray men who, in violation of all justice, stand in peril and what lam, that I will remain; but I am ready to endure all you can inflict upon my vile body, until I have finished pleading the cause of these persons."

"And who," asked the Emperor, "is going to plead your cause?"

"Time," replied Apollonius, "and the spirit of the gods, and the passion for wisdom which animates me."

[7.35] Such was the prelude of his defense, which he made in private to Domitian, as Damis outlines it. But some have, out of malignity, perverted the facts, and say that he first made his defense, and only then was imprisoned, at the same time that he was also shorn; and they have forged a certain letter in the Ionic dialect, of tedious prolixity, in which they pretend that Apollonius went down on his knees to Domitian and besought him to release him of his bonds.

Now Apollonius, it is true, wrote his testament in the Ionian style of language; but I never met with any letter of his composed in that dialect, although I have come across a great many of them; nor did I ever find any verbosity in any letter of the sage's, for they are laconically brief as if they had been unwound from the ferule of a herald. Moreover, he won his cause and quitted the court, so how could he ever have been imprisoned after the verdict was given? But I must defer to relate what happened in the law court. I had best narrate first what ensued after he was shaved and what he said in his discourses, for it is worthy of notice.