Philostratus, Life of Apollonius

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.

[] Let us next defend ourselves from the attack occasioned by the hair which we formerly wore, for one of the counts of the accusation turns upon the squalor thereof. But surely the Egyptian is not entitled to judge me for this,note but rather the dandies with their yellow and well-combed locks; and let them bring dangling along the company of their lovers and the mistresses of their revels. Let them congratulate and compliment themselves upon their locks and on the myrrh which drips from them; but think me everything that is unattractive, and if a lover of anything, of abstention from love.

For I am inclined to address them thus: O ye poor wretches, do not falsely accuse an institution of the Dorians; for the wearing of your hair long has come down from the Lacaedemonians who affected it in the period when they reached the height of their military fame; and a king of Sparta, Leonidas, wore his hair long in token of his bravery, and in order to appear dignified to his friends, yet terrible to his enemies. For these reasons Sparta wears her hair long no less in his honor than in that of Lycurgus and of Iphitus.

And let every sage be careful that the iron knife does not touch his hair, for it is impious to apply it thereto; inasmuch as in his head are all the springs of his senses, and all his intuitions, and it is the source from which his prayers issue forth and also his speech, the interpreter of his wisdom. And whereas Empedocles fastened a fillet of deep purple around his hair, and walked proudly about the streets of the Hellenes, composing hymns to prove that he would pass from humanity and become a god, I only wear my hair disheveled, and I have never needed to sing such hymns about it, yet am hailed before the law courts as a criminal. And what shall I say of Empedocles? Which had he most reason to praise, the man himself or his contemporaries for their happiness, seeing that they never leveled false accusation against him for such a reason?

[8.7.vii] But let us say no more about my hair, for it has been cut off, and the accusation has been forestalled by the same hatred which inspires the next count, a much more serious one from which I must now defend myself. For it is one calculated to fill not only you, my prince, but Zeus himself with apprehension. For he declares that men regard me as a god, and that those who have been thunderstruck and rendered stark-mad by myself proclaim this tenet in public.

And yet before accusing me there are things which they should have informed us of, to wit, by what discourses, or by what miracles of word or deed I induced men to pray to me; for I never talked among Hellenes of the goal and origin of my soul's past and future transformations, although I knew full well what they were; nor did I ever disseminate such opinions about myself; nor came forth with presages and oracular strains, which are the harvest of candidates for divine honors.

Nor do I know of a single city in which a decree was passed that the citizens should assemble and sacrifice in honor of Apollonius. And yet I have been much esteemed in the several cities which asked for my aid, whatever the objects were for which they asked it, and they were such as these: that their sick might be healed of their diseases, that both their initiations and their sacrifices might be rendered more holy, that insolence and pride might be extirpated, and the laws strengthened. And whereas the only reward which I obtained in all this was that men were made much better than they were before, they were all so many boons bestowed upon yourself by me.

For as cow-herds, if they get the cows into good order earn the gratitude of their owners, and as shepherds fatten the sheep for the owner's profit, and as bee-keepers remove diseases from the hive, so that the owner may not lose his swarm, so also I myself, I think, by correcting the defects of their polities, improved the cities for your benefit. Consequently if they did regard me as a god, the deception brought profit to yourself; for I am sure they were the more ready to listen to me, because they feared to do that which a god disapproved of.

But in fact they entertained no such illusion, though they were aware that there is between man and God a certain kinship ,which enables him alone of the animal creation to recognize the Gods, and to speculate both about his own nature and the manner in which it participates in the divine substance. Accordingly man declares that his very form resembles God, as it is interpreted by sculptors and painters; and he is persuaded that his virtues come to him from God, and that those who are endowed with such virtues are near to God and divine.

But we need not hail the Athenians as the teachers of this opinion, because they were the first to apply to men the titles of just and Olympic beings and the like, though they are too divine, in all probability, to be applicable to man, but we must mention the Apollo in the Pythian temple as their author. For when Lycurgus from Sparta came to his temple, having just penned his code for the regulation of the affairs of Lacedaemon, Apollo addressed him, and weighed and examined the reputation he enjoyed; and at the commencement of his oracle the god declares that he is puzzled whether to call him a god or a man, but as he advances he decides in favor of the former appellation and assigns it to him as being a good man. And yet the Lacedaemonians never forced a lawsuit on this account upon Lycurgus, nor threatened him on the ground that he claimed to be immortal; for he never rebuked the Pythian god for so addressing him, but on the contrary the citizens agreed with the oracle, for I believe they were already persuaded of the fact before ever it was delivered.

And the truth about the Indians and the Egyptians is the following: The Egyptians falsely accuse the Indians of several things and in particular find fault with their ideas of conduct; but though they do so, they yet approve of the account which they have given of the creator of the Universe, and even have taught it to others, though originally it belonged to the Indians. Now this account recognizes God as the creator of all things, who brought them into being and sustains them; and it declares further that his motive in designing was his goodness.

Since then these notions are kindred to one another, I carry the argument further and declare that good men have in their composition something of God. And by the universe which depends upon God the creator we must understand things in heaven and all things in the sea and on earth, which are equally open to all men to partake of, though their fortunes are not equal.

But there is also a universe dependent on the good man which does not transcend the limits of wisdom, which I imagine you yourself, my prince, will allow stands in need of a man fashioned in the image of God. And what is the fashion of this universe? There are undisciplined souls which in their madness clutch at every fashion, and in their eyes laws are out of date and vain; and there is no good sense among them, but the honors which they pay to the gods really dishonor them; and they are in love with idle chatter and luxury which breed idleness and sloth, the worst of all practical advisers. And there are other souls which are drunken and rush in all directions at once, and nothing will repress their antics, nor could do so, even if they drank all the drugs accounted, as the Mandragoras is, to be soporific.

Now you need a man to administer and care for the universe of such souls, a god sent down by wisdom. For he is able to wean them from the lusts and passions, which they rush to satisfy with instincts too fierce for ordinary society, and from their avarice, which is such that they deny they have anything at all unless they can hold their mouths open and have the stream of wealth flow into it. For perhaps such a man as I speak of could even restrain them from committing murder; however, neither I myself nor even the God who created all things, can wash off them the guilt of that.

[8.7.viii] Let me now, my prince, take the accusation which concerns Ephesus, since the salvation of that city was gained; and let the Egyptian be my judge, according as it best suits his accusation. For this is the sort of thing the accusation is. Let us suppose that among the Scythians or Celts, who live along the river Ister and Rhine, a city has been founded every whit as important as Ephesus in Ionia. Here you have a sally-port of barbarians, who refuse to be subject to yourself; let us then suppose that it was about to be destroyed by a pestilence, and that Apollonius found a remedy and averted it.

I imagine that a wise man would be able to defend himself even against such a charge as that, unless indeed the sovereign desires to get rid of his adversaries, not by use of arms, but by plague; for I pray, my prince, that no city may ever be wholly wiped out, either to please yourself or to please me, nor may I ever behold in temples a disease to which those who lie sick should succumb in them.

But granted that we are not interested in the affairs of barbarians, and need not restore them to health, since they are our bitter enemies, and not at peace with our race; yet who would desire to deprive Ephesus of her salvation, a city which took the basis of its race from the purest Attic source, and which grew in size beyond all other cities of Ionia and Lydia, and stretched herself out to the sea outgrowing the land on which she is built, and is filled with studious people, both philosophers and rhetoricians, thanks to whom the city owes her strength, not to her cavalry, but to the tens of thousands of her inhabitants in whom she encourages wisdom?

And do you think that there is any wise man who would decline to do his best in behalf of such a city, when he reflects that Democritus once liberated the people of Abdera from pestilence, and when he bears in mind the story of Sophocles of Athens, who is said to have charmed the winds when they were blowing unseasonably, and who has heard how Empedocles stayed a cloud in its course when it would have burst over the heads of the people of Acragas?

[8.7.ix] The accuser here interrupts me, you hear him yourself do so, my prince, and he remarks that I am not accused for having brought about the salvation of the Ephesians, but for having foretold that the plague would befall them; for this, he says, transcends the power of wisdom and is miraculous, so that I could never have reached such a pitch of truth if I were not a wizard and an unspeakable wretch.

What then will Socrates say here of the lore which he declared he learned from his demonic genius? Or what would Thales and Anaxagoras, both Ionians, say, of whom one foretold a plenteous crop of olives, and the other not a few meteorological disturbances? Why, is it not a fact that they were brought before the law-courts upon other charges, but that no one ever heard among their accusations that of their being wizards, because they had the gift of foreknowledge? For that would have been thought ridiculous, and it would not have been a plausible charge to bring against men of wisdom even in Thessaly, where the women had a bad reputation for drawing the moon down to earth.

How then did I get my sense of the coming disaster at Ephesus? You have listened to the statement made even by my accuser, that instead of living like other people, I keep to a light diet of my own, and prefer it to the luxury of others, and I began by saying so myself. This diet, my king, guards my senses in a kind of indescribable ether or clear air, and forbids them to contract any foul or turbid matter, and allows me to discern, as in the sheen of a looking glass, everything that is happening or is to be.

For the sage will not wait for the earth to send up its exhalations, or for the atmosphere to be corrupted, in case the evil is shed from above; but he will notice these things when they are impending, not so soon indeed as the gods, yet sooner than the many. For the gods perceive what lies in the future, and men what is going on before them, and wise men what is approaching.

But I would have you, my prince, ask of me in private about the causes of pestilence; for they are secrets of a wisdom which should not be divulged to the many.

Was it then my mode of living which alone develops such a subtlety and keenness of perception as can apprehend the most important and wonderful phenomena? You can ascertain the point in question, not only from other considerations, but in particular from what took place in Ephesus in connection with that plague. For the genius of the pestilence -and it took the form of a poor old man- I both detected, and having detected took it captive: and I did not so much stay the disease as pluck it out.

And who the god was to whom I had offered my prayers is shown in the statue which I set up in Ephesus to commemorate the event; and it is a temple of the Heracles who averts disease, for I chose him to help me, because he is the wise and courageous god, who once purged of the plague the city of Elis, by washing away with the river-tide the foul exhalations which the land sent up under the tyranny of Augias.

Who then do you think, my prince, being ambitious to be considered a wizard, would dedicate his personal achievement to a god? And whom would he get to admire his art, if he gave the credit of the miracle to God? And who offer his prayers to Heracles, if he were a wizard? For in fact these wretches attribute such feats to the trenches they dig and to the gods of the under-earth, among whom we must not class Heracles, for he is a pure deity and kindly to men.

I offered my prayer to him once on a time also in the Peloponnese, for there was an apparition of a lamia there too; and it infested the neighborhood of Corinth and devoured good-looking young men. And Heracles lent me his aid in my contest with her, without asking of me any wonderful gifts - nothing more than honey-cake and frankincense, and the chance to do a salutary turn to mankind; for in the case of Eurystheus also this was the only guerdon which he thought of for his labors.

I would ask you, my prince, not to be displeased at my mention of Heracles; for Athena had him under her care because he was good and kind and a Savior of man.

[8.7.x] But inasmuch as you bid me vindicate myself in the matter of the sacrifice, for I observe you beckoning with your hand for me to do so, hear my defense. It shall set the truth before you.

In all my actions I have at heart the salvation of mankind, yet I have never offered a sacrifice in their behalf, nor will I ever sacrifice anything, nor touch sacrifices in which there is blood, nor offer any prayer with my eyes fixed upon a knife or the kind of sacrifice that henote means. It is no Scythian, my prince, that you have got before you, nor a native of some savage and inhospitable land; nor did I ever mingle with Massagetae or Taurians, for in that case I should have reformed even them and altered their sacrificial custom.

But to what depth of folly and inconsequence should I have descended if, after talking so much about divination and about the conditions under which it flourishes or does not flourish, I, who understand better than anyone that the gods reveal their intentions to holy and wise men even without their possessing prophetic gifts, made myself guilty of bloodshed, by meddling with the entrails of victims, as unacceptable to myself as they are ill-omened? In that case the revelation of heaven would surely have abandoned me as impure.

However, if we drop the fact that I have a horror of any such sacrifice, and just examine the accuser in respect to the statements which he made a little earlier, he himself acquits me of this charge. For if, as he says, I could foretell the Ephesians the impending pestilence without use of any sacrifice whatever, what need had I of slaying victims in order to discover what lay within my cognizance without offering any sacrifice at all? And what need had I of divination in order to find out things of which I myself was already assured as well as another?

For if I am to be put upon my trial on account of Nerva and his companions, I shall repeat what I said to you the day before yesterday when you accused me of such matters. For I regard Nerva as a man worthy of the highest office and of all the consideration that belongs to a good name and fame, but as one ill-calculated to carry through any difficult plan; for his frame is undermined by a disease which fills his soul with bitterness, and incapacitates him even for his home affairs.

As to yourself, certainly he admires your vigor of body no less than he admires your judgment; and in doing so I think he is not singular, because men are by nature more prone to admire what they themselves lack the strength to do. But Nerva is also animated towards myself by feelings of respect; and I never saw him in my presence laughing or joking as he is accustomed to do among his friends; but like young men towards their fathers and teachers, he observes a reverence in every thing that he says in my presence, nay he even blushes; and because he knows that I appreciate and set so high a value upon modesty, he therefore so sedulously cultivates that quality, as sometimes to appear even to me humbler than beseems him.

Who then can regard it as probable that Nerva is ambitious of Empire, when he is only too glad if he can govern his own household; or that a man who has not the nerve to discuss with me the greatest of all, or would concert with me plans which, if he thought like myself, he would not even concert with others? How again could I retain my reputation for wisdom and interpreting a man's judgment, if I believed overmuch in divination, yet wholly distrusted wisdom?

As for Orphitus and Rufus, who are just and sensible men though somewhat sluggish, as I well know to be the case, if they that they are under suspicion of aspiring to become despots, I hardly know over which they make the greater mistake, over them or over Nerva; if however they are accused of being his accomplices, then I ask, which you would most readily believe, that Nerva was usurping the throne, or that they had conspired with him.