Philostratus, Life of Apollonius 7.36-40

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.

[7.36] For after the sage had been confined for two days in prison, some one came to the prison, and said that he had purchased the right to visit him, and that he was come to advise him how to save his life. This person then was. a native of Syracuse, and was mind and mouthpiece of Domitian; and he had been suborned, like the earlier one, by him. But he had a more plausible mission; for whereas the first one beat about the bush, this one took up his parable straight from what he saw before him, and said: "Heavens, who would ever have thought of Apollonius being thrown into chains?"

"The person who threw him," said Apollonius, "for surely he would not have done so, if he had not thought of it."

"And who ever thought that his ambrosial locks could be cut off?"

"I myself," said Apollonius, "who wore them."

"And how can you endure it?" said the other.

"As a man well may bear it who is brought to this pass neither with nor without his will."

"And how can your leg endure the weight of the fetters?"

"I don't know," said Apollonius, "for my mind is intent upon other matters."

"And yet the mind," said the other, "must attend to what causes pain."

"Not necessarily," said Apollonius, "for if you are a man like myself, your mind, will either not feel the pain or will order it to cease."

"And what is it that occupies your mind?"

"The necessity," answered Apollonius, "of not noticing such things."

Then the other reverted to the matter of his locks and led the conversation round to them again, whereupon Apollonius remarked, "It is lucky for you, young man, that you were not one of the Achaeans long ago in Troy; for it seems to me that you would have raised a terrible hullabaloo over the locks of Achilles, when he cut them off in honor of Patroclus, supposing he really did so, and you would at least have swooned at such a spectacle. For if as you say, you are full of pity for my locks which were all grey and frowzy, what would you not have felt over those of Achilles which were nicely curled and auburn?"

The other of course had only made his remarks out of malice, in order to see what would make Apollonius wince, and, by Heaven, to see whether he would reproach his sovereign on account of his sufferings. But he was so shut up by the answers he got that he said: "You have incurred the royal displeasure on several grounds, but in particular on those for which Nerva and his friends are being prosecuted, namely of injuring the government. For certain informations have been conveyed to him about your words in Ionia, when you spoke of him in hostile and embittered tones. But they say that he attaches little importance to that matter, because his anger is whetted by the graver charges, and this although the informer from whom he learnt those first charges is a very distinguished person of great reputation."

"A new sort of Olympic winner is this you tell me of," said Apollonius, "that pretends to win distinction by the weightiness of his slanders. But I quite realize that he is Euphrates, who, I know, does everything against me which he can; and these are far from being the worst injuries which he has done me. For hearing once on a time that I was about to visit the naked sages of Ethiopia, he set himself to poison their minds against me and if I had not seen through his malignant designs, I should probably have gone away without even seeing their company."

The Syracusan then, much astonished at this remark, said: "Then you think it a much lesser thing to be traduced to the Emperor than to forfeit your good repute in the eyes of the naked sages owing to the insinuations dropped against you by Euphrates?"

"Yes, by Heaven," he said, "for I was going there as a learner, whereas I am come here with a mission to teach."

"And what are you going to teach?" said the other.

"That I am," said Apollonius, "a good and honorable man, a circumstance this of which the Emperor is not yet aware."

"But you can," said the other, "get out of your scrape if you only will teach him things, which if you had told him before you came here, you would never have been cast into prison."

Now Apollonius understood that the Syracusan was trying to drive him into some such admission as the Emperor had tried to get out of him, and that he imagined that out of sheer weariness of his imprisonment he would tell some falsehood to the detriment of his friends, and, accordingly he answered: "My excellent friend, if I have been cast into prison for telling Domitian the truth, what would happen to me if I refrained from telling it? For he apparently regards truth as something to be punished with imprisonment, just as I regard falsehood."

[7.37] The Syracusan was so much struck with the superiority of his philosophical talent (for after saying this he went away), that he promptly left the prison; but Apollonius glancing at Damis said: "Do you understand this Python?"

"I understand," said he, "that he has been suborned to trip you up; but what you mean by Python, and what is the sense of such a name, I do nor know."

"Python," replied Apollonius, "of Byzantium, was, they say, a rhetor skillful to persuade men to evil courses. He was sent in the interests of Philip, son of Amyntas, on an embassy to the Hellenes to urge their enslavement, and though he passed by other states, he was careful to go to Athens, just at a time when rhetoric most flourished there. And he told them that they did a great injury to Philip, and made a great mistake trying to liberate the Hellenic nation.

Python delivered these sentiments, as they say, with a flood of words, but no one save Demosthenes of the Paeanian deme spoke to the contrary and checked his presumption; and he reckons it amongst his achievements that he bore the brunt of his attack unaided.

Now I would never call it an achievement that I refused to be drawn into the avowals which he wanted. Nevertheless I said that he was employed on the same job as Python, because he has come here as a despot's hireling to tender me monstrous advice."

[7.38] Damis says that though Apollonius uttered many more discourses of the same kind, he was himself in despair of the situation, because he saw no way out of it except such as the gods have vouchsafed to some in answer to prayer, when they were in even worse straits. But a little before midday, he tells us that he said: "O man of Tyana," -for he took a special pleasure, it appears, in being called by that name,- "what is to become of us?"

"Why what has become of us already," said Apollonius, "and nothing more, for no one is going to kill us."

"And who," said Damis, "is so invulnerable as that? But will you ever be liberated?"

"So far as it rests with the verdict of the court," said Apollonius, "I shall be set at liberty this day, but so far as depend upon my own will, now and here." And with these words he took his leg out of the fetters and remarked to Damis: "Here is proof positive to you of my freedom, to cheer you up."

Damis says that it was then for the first time that he really and truly understood the nature of Apollonius, to wit that it was divine and superhuman, for without sacrifice -and how in prison could he have offered any?- and without a single prayer, without even a word, he quietly laughed at the fetters, and then inserted his leg in them afresh, and behaved like a prisoner once more.

[7.39] Now simple-minded people attribute such acts as this to wizardry, and they make the same mistake in respect of many purely human actions. For athletes resort to this art, just as do all who have to undergo a contest in their eagerness to win; and although it contributes nothing to their success, nevertheless these unfortunate people, after winning by mere chance as they generally do, rob themselves of the credit and attribute it to this art of wizardry.

Nor does any amount of failure in their enterprises shake their faith in it, they merely say such things as this: "If I had only offered this sacrifice or that, if I had only burnt that perfume in place of another, I should not have failed to win." And they really believe what they say.

Magic also besieges the doors of merchants no less, for we shall find them too attributing their successes in trade to the wizard or magician, no less than they ascribe their losses to their own parsimony and to their failure to sacrifice as often as they should have done.

But is especially lovers who are addicted to this art; for as the disease which they suffer from in any case renders them liable to be deluded, so much so that they go to old hags to talk about it, it is no wonder, I think, that they resort to these impostors and give ear to their quackeries. They will accept from them a magic girdle to wear, as well as precious stones, some of the bits of stone having come from the depths of the earth and others from the moon and stars; and then they are given all the spices which the gardens of India yield; and the cheats exact vast sums of money from them for all this, and yet do nothing to help them at all.

For let their favorites only give them the least encouragement, or let the attractions of the lover's presents advance his suit in the very least, and he at once sets out to laud the art as able to achieve anything; while if the experiment does not come off, he is as ready as ever to lay the blame on some omission, for he will say that he forgot to burn the spice, or to sacrifice or melt up that, and that everything turned upon that and it was impossible to do without it.

Now the various devices and artifices by which they work signs from heaven and all other miracles on a wide scale, have been actually recorded by certain authors, who laugh outright at the art in question. But for myself I would gladly denounce such arts in order to prevent young men from resorting to its professors, lest they become accustomed to such things even in fun. This digression has led me far enough from my subject; for why should I attack any further a thing which is equally condemned by nature and by law?

[7.40] After Apollonius had thus revealed himself to Damis, and held some further conversation, about midday someone presented himself to them and made the following intimation verbally: "The Emperor, Apollonius, releases you from these fetters by the advice of Aelian; and he permits you to take up your quarters in the prison where criminals are not bound, until the time comes for you to make your defense, but you will probably be called upon to plead your cause five days from now."

"Who then," said Apollonius, "is to get me out of this place?"

"I," said the messenger, "so follow me."

And when the prisoners in the free prison saw him again, they all flocked round him, as around one restored to them against all expectations; for they entertained the same affectionate longing for Apollonius as children do for a parent who devotes himself to giving them good advice in an agreeable and modest manner, or who tells them stories of his own youth; nor did they try to hide their feelings; and Apollonius continued incessantly to give them advice.