The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, , at sacred-texts.com
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"AND I could enumerate many more merits of this great man, if I did not shrink from pronouncing a panegyric upon myself; for I may tell you I am the person in question, as I clearly proved when I was four years old. For this Ganges on one occasion fixed seven swords made of adamant in the earth, to prevent any monster approaching our country; now the gods ordered us to sacrifice if we came where he had implanted these weapons, though without indicating the spot where he had fixed them. I was a mere child, and yet I led the interpreters of their will to a trench, and told them to dig there, for it was there I said that they had been laid.
"AND you must not be surprised at my transformation from one Indian to another; for here is one," and he pointed to a stripling of about twenty years of age, "who in natural aptitude for philosophy excels everyone, and he enjoys good health as you see, and is furnished with an excellent constitution; moreover he can endure fire and all sorts of cutting and wounding, yet in spite of all these advantages he detests philosophy." "What then," said Apollonius, "O Iarchas, is the matter with the youth? For it is a terrible thing you tell me, if one so well adapted by nature to the pursuit refuses to embrace philosophy, and has no love for learning, and that although he lives with you." "He does not live
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with us," replied the other, "but he has been caught like a lion against his will, and confined here, but he looks askance, at us when we try to domesticate him and caress him. The truth is this stripling was once Palamedes of Troy, and he found his bitterest enemies in Odysseus and Homer; for the one laid an ambush against him of people by whom he was stoned to death, while the other denied him any place in his Epic; and because neither the wisdom with which he was endowed was of any use to him, nor did he meet with any praise from Homer, to whom nevertheless many people of no great importance owe their renown, and because he was outwitted by Odysseus in spite of his innocence, he has conceived an aversion to philosophy, and deplores his ill-luck. And he is Palamedes, for indeed he can write without having learned his letters."
WHILE they were thus conversing, a messenger approached Iarchas and said: "The King will come early in the afternoon to consult you about his own business." And Iarchas replied: "Let him come, for he too will go away all the better for making acquaintance of a man from Hellas." And after this, he went on with his former discourse. He accordingly asked Apollonius the question: "Will you tell us," he said, "about your earlier incarnation, and who you were before the present life?" And he replied: "Since it was an ignoble episode, I do not remember much of it." Iarchas therefore took him up and said: "Then you
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think it ignoble to have been the pilot of an Egyptian vessel, for I perceive that this is what you were?" "What you say," said Apollonius, "is true, Iarchas; for that is really what I was; but I consider this profession not only inglorious but also detestable, and though of as much value to humanity as that of a prince or the leader of an army, nevertheless it bears an evil repute by the reason of those who follow the sea; at any rate the most noble of the deeds which I performed no one at the time saw fit to praise." "Well, and what would you claim for yourself in the way of noble achievement? Is it your having doubled the capes of Malea and Sunium, by checking your ship when it was drifting out of its course, and your having discerned so accurately the quarters from which the winds would blow both fore and aft, or you getting your boat past the reefs in the Hollows of Euboea, where any number of ships’ ornamental signs show sticking up?"
BUT Apollonius replied: "Since you tempt me to talk about pilotage, I would have you hear what I consider to have been my soundest exploit at that time. Pirates at one time infested the Phoenician Sea, and were hanging about the cities to pick up information about the cargoes which different people had. The agents of the pirates spied out accordingly a rich cargo which I had on board my ship, and having taken me aside in conversation, asked me what was my share in the freight; and I told them that it was a thousand drachmas, for there were four people in
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command of the ship. 'And,' said they, 'have you a house?' 'A wretched hut,' I replied, 'on the Island of Pharos, where once upon a time Proteus used to live.' 'Would you like then,' they went on, 'to acquire a landed estate instead of the sea, and a decent house instead of your hut, and ten times as much for the cargo as you are going to get now? And to get rid of a thousand misfortunes which beset pilots owing to the roughness of the sea?' I replied that I would gladly do so, but that I did not aspire to become a pirate just at a time when I had made myself more expert than I ever had been, and had won crowns for my skill in my profession. However they persevered and promised to give me a purse of ten thousand drachmas, if I would be their man and do what they wanted. Accordingly I egged them on to talk by promising not to fail them, but to assist them in every way. Then they admitted that they were agents of the pirates, and besought me not to deprive them of a chance of capturing the ship, and instead of sailing away to the city whenever I weighed anchor thence, they arranged that I should cast anchor under the promontory, under the lee of which the pirate ships were riding; and they were willing to swear that they would not only not kill myself, but spare the life of any for whom I interceded. I for my part did not consider it safe to reprehend them, for I was afraid that if they were driven to despair, they would attack my ship on the high seas and then we would all be lost somewhere at sea; accordingly I promised to assist their enterprise, but I insisted upon their taking oath to keep their promise truly. They accordingly made oath, for our interview took place in a temple, and then I
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said: 'You betake yourselves to the ships of the pirates at once, for we will sail away by night.' And they found me all the more plausible from the way I bargained about the money, for I stipulated that it must all be paid me in current cash, though not before they had captured the ship. They therefore went off, but I put straight out to sea after doubling the promontory." "This then," said Iarchas, "O Apollonius, you consider the behavior of a just man?" "Why yes," said Apollonius, "and of a humane one too! for I consider it was a rare combination of virtues for one who was a mere sailor to refuse to sacrifice men's lives, or to betray the interests of merchants, so rising superior to all bribes of money."
THEREUPON the Indian smiled and said: "You seem to think that mere abstention from injustice constitutes justice, and I am of opinion that all Greeks do the same. For as I once learned from the Egyptians that come hither, governors from Rome are in the habit of visiting your country, brandishing their axes naked over your heads, before they know they have bad men to rule or not; but you acknowledge them to be just if they merely do not sell justice. And I have heard that the slave merchants yonder do exactly the same; for when they come to you with convoys of Carian slaves and are anxious to recommend their characters to you, they make it a great merit of the slaves that they do not steal. In the same way do you recommend on
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such grounds the rulers whose sway you acknowledge, and after decorating them with such praises as you lavish upon slaves, you send them away, objects, as you imagine, of universal admiration. Nay more, your cleverest poets will not give you leave to be just and good, even if you want to. For here was Minos, a man who exceeded all men in cruelty, and who enslaved with his navies the inhabitants of continent and islands alike, and yet they honor him by placing in his hand a scepter of justice and give him a throne in Hades to be umpire of spirits; while at the same time they deny food and drink to Tantalus, merely because he was a good man and inclined to share with his friends the immortality bestowed upon them by the Gods. And some of them hang stones over him, and rain insults of a terrible kind upon this divine and good man; and I would much rather that they had represented him as swimming in a lake of nectar, for he regaled men with that drink humanely and ungrudgingly." And as he spoke he pointed out a statue which stood upon his left hand, on which was inscribed the name "Tantalus". Now this statue was four cubits high, and represented a man of fifty years who was clad in the fashion of Argolis, though he differed in his cloak, that being like a Thessalian's, and he held a cup sufficient at least for one thirsty man and drank your health therefrom, and in the goblet was a liquor, an unmixed draught which frothed and foamed, though without bubbling over the edge of the cup. Now I will presently explain what they consider this cup to be, and for what reason they drink from it. In any case, however, we must suppose that Tantalus was assailed by the poets for not giving rein to his tongue, but because he
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shared the nectar with mankind; but we must not suppose that he was really the victim of the gods’ dislike, for, had he been hateful to them, he would never have been judged by the Indians to be a good man, for they are most religious people and never transgress any divine command.
While they were still discussing this topic, a hubbub down below in the village struck their ears, for it seems the king had arrived equipped in the height of Median fashion and full of pomp. Iarchas then, not too well pleased, remarked: "If it were Phraotes who was halting here, you would find a dead silence prevailing everywhere as if you were attending a mystery." From this remark Apollonius realized that the king in question was not only inferior to Phraotes in a few details, but in the whole of philosophy; and as he saw that the sages did not bestir themselves to make any preparations or provide for the king's wants, though he was come at midday, he said: "Where is the king going to stay?" "Here," they replied, "for we shall discuss by night the objects for which he is come, since that is the best time for taking counsel." "And will a table be laid for him when he comes," said Apollonius. "Why, of course," they answered, "a rich table too, furnished with everything which this place provides". "Then," said he, "you live richly?" "We," they answered, "live in a slender manner, for although we might eat as much as we like, we are contented with little; but the king requires a great
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deal, for that is his pleasure. But he will not eat any living creature, for it is wrong to do here, but only dried fruits and roots and the seasonable produce of the Indian land at this time of year, and whatever else the new year's seasons will provide."
"BUT see," said he, "here he is." And just then the king advanced together with his brother and his son, ablaze with gold and jewels. And Apollonius was about to rise and retire, when Iarchas checked him from leaving his throne, and explained to him that it was not their custom for him to do so. Damis himself says that he was not present on this occasion, because on that day he was staying in the village, but he heard from Apollonius what happened and wrote it in his book. He says then that when they had sat down, the king extended his hand as if in prayer to the sages and they nodded their assent as if they were conceding his request; and he was transported with joy at the promise, just as if he had come to the oracle of a God. But the brother of the king and his son, who was a very pretty boy, were not more considered than if they had been the slaves of the others, that were mere retainers. After that the Indian rose from his place, and in a formal speech bade the king take food, and he accepted the invitation and that most cordially. Thereupon four tripods stepped forth like those of the Pythian Temple, but of their own accord, like those which advanced in Homer's poem Iliad 18. 375, and upon them were cup-bearers of black brass resembling the figures of
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[paragraph continues] Ganymede and of Pelops among the Greeks. And the earth strewed beneath them grass softer than any mattress. And dried fruits and bread and vegetables and the dessert of the season all came in, served in order, and set before them more agreeably that if cooks and waiters had provided it; now two of the tripods flowed with wine, but the other two supplied, the one of them a jet of warm water and the other of cold. Now the precious stones imported from India are employed in Greece for necklaces and rings because they are so small, but among the Indians they are turned into decanters and wine coolers, because they are so large, and into goblets of such size that from a single one of them four persons can slake their thirst at midsummer. But the cup-bearers of bronze drew a mixture, he says, of wine and water made in due proportions; and they pushed cups round, just as they do in drinking bouts. The sages, however, reclined as we do in a common banquet, not that any special honor was paid to the king, although great importance would be attached to him among Greeks and Romans, but each took the first place that he chanced to reach.
AND when the wine had circulated, Iarchas said: "I pledge you to drink the health, O king, of a Hellene," and he pointed to Apollonius, who was reclining just below him, and he made a gesture with his hand to indicate that he was a noble man and divine. But the king said: "I have heard that
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he and the persons who are halting in the village belong to Phraotes."
"Quite, right," he answered, "and true is what you heard: for it is Phraotes who entertains him here also." "What," asked the king, "is his mode of life and pursuit?" "Why, what else," replied Iarchas, "except that of that king himself?" "It is no great compliment you have paid him," answered the king, "by saying that he has embraced a mode of life which has denied even to Phraotes the chance of being a noble man." Thereupon Iarchas remarked: "You must judge more reasonably, O king, both about philosophy and about Phraotes: for as long as you were a stripling, your youth excused in you such extravagances. But now that you have already reached man's estate, let us avoid foolish and facile utterances." But Apollonius, who found an interpreter in Iarchas said: "And what have you gained, O king, by refusing to be a philosopher?" "What have I gained? Why, the whole of virtue and the identification of myself with the Sun." Then the other, by way of checking his pride and muzzling him, said: "If you were a philosopher, you would not entertain such fancies." "And you," replied the king, "since you are a philosopher, what is your fancy about yourself, my fine fellow?" "That I may pass," replied Apollonius, "for being a good man, if only I can be a philosopher." Thereupon the king stretched out his hand to heaven and exclaimed: "By the Sun, you come here full of Phraotes." But the other hailed this remark as a godsend, and catching him up said: "I have not taken this long journey in vain, if I am become full of Phraotes. But if you should meet him presently,
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you will certainly say that he is full of me; and he wished to write to you in my behalf, but since he declared that you were a good man, I begged him not to take the trouble of writing, seeing that in his case no one sent a letter commending me."
THIS put a stop to the incipient folly of the king for having heard that he himself was praised by Phraotes, he not only dropped his suspicions, but lowering his tone he said: "Welcome, goodly stranger." But Apollonius answered: "And my welcome to you also, O king, for you appear to have only just arrived." "And who," asked the other, "attracted you to us?" "These gentlemen here, who are both Gods and wise men." "And about myself, O stranger"; said the king, "what is said among Hellenes?" "Why, as much," said Apollonius, "as is said about the Hellenes here." "As for myself, I find nothing in the Hellenes," said the other, "that is worth speaking of." "I will tell them that," said Apollonius, "and they will crown you at Olympia."
AND stooping towards Iarchas he said: "Let him go on like a drunkard, but do you tell me why do you not invite to the same table as yourself, nor hold worthy of other recognition those who accompany this man, though they are his brother and son, as you tell me?" "Because," said Iarchas," they reckon to be kings
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one day themselves, and by being made themselves to suffer disdain they must be taught not to disdain others." And remarking that the sages were eighteen in number, he again asked Iarchas, what was the meaning of their being just so many and no more. "For," he said, "the number eighteen is not a square number, nor is it one of the numbers held in esteem and honor, as are the numbers ten and twelve and sixteen and so forth." Thereupon the Indian took him up and said: "Neither are we beholden to number nor number to us, but we owe our superior honor to wisdom and virtue; and sometimes we are more in number than we now are, and sometimes fewer. And indeed I have heard that when my grandfather was enrolled among these wise men, the youngest of them all, they were seventy in number but when he reached his 130th year, he was left here all alone, because not one of them survived him at that time, nor was there to be found anywhere in India a nature that was either philosophic or noble. The Egyptians accordingly wrote and congratulated him warmly on being left alone for four years in his tenure of this throne, but he begged them to cease reproaching the Indians for the paucity of their sages. Now we, O Apollonius, have heard from the Egyptians of the custom of the Eleans, and that the Hellanodicæ, who preside over the Olympic games, are ten in number; but we do not approve of the rule imposed in the case of these men; for they leave the choice of them to the lot, and the lot has no discernment, for a worse man might be as easily chosen by lot as a better one. On the other hand would they not make a mistake; if they had made merit the qualification
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and chosen them by vote? Yes, a parallel one, for if you are on no account to exceed the number ten, there may more than ten just men, and you will deprive some of the rank which their merits entitle them to, while if on the other hand there are not so many as ten, then none will be thought to be really qualified. Wherefore the Eleans would be much wiser-minded if they allowed the number to fluctuate, merely preserving the same standard of justice."