The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, , at sacred-texts.com
But as matters in the west were in such an inflamed condition, Apollonius and his friends returned thence towards Libya and the Tyrrhenian land; and, partly on foot and partly by sea, they made their way to Sicily, where they stopped at Lilybaeum. Then they coasted along to Messina and to the Straits, where the junction of the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Adriatic gives rise to the dangers of the Charybdis. Here they say they heard that Nero had taken to flight, tough Vindex was dead; and that various claimants were snatching at the throne, some from Rome itself, and others from various countries. Now when his companions asked him what would be the issue of these events, and who would gain possession of the throne, he answered: "Many Thebans will have it." For he compared the pretenders, namely, Vitellius and Galba and Otho, in view of the short lease of power which they enjoyed, to Thebans, for it was only during a very short time that they held dominion over the Hellenic world.
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That he was enabled to make such forecasts by some divine impulse, and that it is no sound inference to infer, as some people do, that our hero was a wizard, is clear from what I have already said. But let us consider these facts also: wizards, whom for my part I reckon to be the most unfortunate of mankind, claim to alter the course of destiny, by having recourse either to the torture of lost spirits or to barbaric sacrifices, or to certain incantations or anointings; and many of them when accused of such practices have admitted that they were adepts in such practices. But Apollonius submitted himself to the decrees of the Fates, and only foretold that things must come to pass; and his foreknowledge was gained not by wizardry, but from what the gods revealed to him. And when among the Indians he beheld their tripods and their dumb waiters and other automata, which I described as entering the room on their own accord, he did not ask how they were contrived, nor did he ask to be informed; he only praised them, but did not aspire to imitate them.
Now when they reached Syracuse a woman of a leading family was brought to bed of such a monster as never any woman had delivered of before: for her child had three heads, and each head had a neck of its own, but below them was a single body. Of the vulgar and stupid interpretations of this prodigy, one was that it signified the impending ruin
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of Sicily—for it has three headlands—unless the inhabitants composed their feuds and could live together in peace; for as a matter of fact several of the cities were at variance both with themselves and with one another, and such a thing as orderly life was unknown in the island. Another explanation was that Typhon, a many-headed monster, was threatening Sicily with his violence. But Apollonius said: "Go, O Damis, and look if the child is really made up as they say." For the thing was exposed to public view for the miracle-mongers to exercise their ingenuity upon it. When Damis reported that it was a three-headed creature and of the male sex, Apollonius got together his companions and said: "It signifies three emperors of Romans, whom yesterday I called Thebans; and not one of them shall enjoy complete dominion, but two of them shall perish after holding sway in Rome itself, and the third after doing so in the countries bordering upon Rome; and they shall shuffle off their masks more quickly than if they were tragic actors playing the part of tyrant." And the truth of his statement was almost immediately revealed; for Galba died in Rome itself, just after he grasped the crown; and Vitellius died after only dreaming of the crown; and Otho died among the Gauls of the west, and was not even accorded a public funeral, but lies buried like any private person. And Fate's episode was past and over within a single year.
Next they came to Catana, where is Mount Etna; and they say that they heard from the inhabitants of
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the city a story about Typho being bound on the spot and about fire rising from him, and this fire sends up the smoke 1 of Etna; but they themselves came to more plausible conclusions and more in keeping with philosophy. And they say that Apollonius began the discussion by asking his companions: "Is there such a thing as mythology?" "Yes, by Zeus," answered Menippus, "and I mean by it that which furnishes poets with their themes." "What then do you think of Aesop?" "He is a mythologist and writer of fables and no more." "And which set of myths show any wisdom?" "Those of the poets," he answered, "because they are represented in the poems as having taken place." "And what then do you think of the stories of Aesop?" "Frogs," he answered, "and donkeys and nonsense only fit to be swallowed by old women and children." "And yet for my own part," said Apollonius, "I find them more conducive to wisdom than the others. For those others, of which all poetry is so fond, and which deal with heroes, positively destroy the souls of their hearers, because the poet relates stories of outlandish passion and of incestuous marriages, and repeats calumnies against the gods, of how they ate their own children, and committed crimes of meanness, and quarreled with one another; and the affectation and pretense of reality leads passionate and jealous people and miserlike and ambitious persons to imitate the stories. Aesop on the other hand had in the first place the wisdom never to identify himself with those who put such stories into verse, but took a line
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of his own; and in the second, like those who dine well off the plainest dishes, he made use of humble incidents to teach great truths, and after serving up a story he adds to it the advice to do a thing or not to do it. Then, too, he was really more attached to truth than the poets are; for the latter do violence to their own stories in order to make them probable; but he by announcing a story which everyone knows not to be true, told the truth by the very fact that he did not claim to be relating real events. And the poet, after telling his story, leaves a healthy-minded reader cudgeling his brains to know whether it really happened; whereas one who, like Aesop, tells a story which is false and does not pretend to be anything else, merely investing it with a good moral, shows that he has made use of the falsehood merely for its utility to his audience. And there is another charm about him, namely, that he puts animals in a pleasing light and makes them interesting to mankind. For after being brought up from childhood with these stories, and after being as it were nursed by them from babyhood, we acquire certain opinions of the several animals and think of some of them as royal animals, of others as silly, of others as witty, and others as innocent. And whereas the poet, after telling us that there are 'many forms of heavenly visitation' 1 or something of the kind, dismisses his chorus and departs, Aesop adds an oracle to his story, and dismisses his hearers just as they reach the conclusion he wished to lead the up to.
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And as for myself, O Menippus, my mother taught me a story about the wisdom of Aesop when I was a mere child, and told me that he was once a shepherd, and was tending his flocks hard by a temple of Hermes, and that he was a passionate lover of wisdom and prayed to Hermes that he might receive it. Many other people, she said, also resorted to the temple of Hermes asking for the same gift, and one of them would hang on the altar gold, another silver, another a herald's wand of ivory, and others other rich presents of the kind. Now Aesop, she said, was not in a position to own any of these things; but he saved up what he had, and poured a libation of as much milk as a sheep would give at one milking in honor of Hermes, and brought a honeycomb and laid it on the altar, big enough to fill the hand, and he thought too of regaling the god with myrtle berries, or perhaps by laying just a few roses or violets at the altar. 'For,' said he, 'would you, O Hermes, have me weave crowns for you and neglect my sheep?' Now when on the appointed day they arrived for the distribution of the gifts of wisdom, Hermes as the god of wisdom and eloquence and also of gain and profit, said to him who, as you may well suppose, had made the biggest offering: 'Here is philosophy for you'; and to him who had made the next handsomest present, he said: 'Do you take your place among the orators'; and to others he said: 'You shall have the gift of astronomy or you shall be a musician, or you shall be an epic poet and write in heroic metre, or you shall
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be a writer of iambics.' Now although he was a most wise and accomplished god he exhausted, not meaning to do so, all the various departments of wisdom, and then found that he had quite forgotten Aesop. Thereupon he remembered the Hours, by whom he himself had been nurtured on the peaks of Olympus, and bethought him of how once, when he was still in swaddling clothes, they had told him a story about the cow, which had a conversation with the man about herself and about the earth, and so set him aflame for the cows of Apollo. Accordingly he forthwith bestowed upon Aesop the art of fable called mythology, for that was all that was left in the house of wisdom, and said: "Do you keep what was the first thing I learnt myself." Aesop then acquired the various forms of his art from that source, and the issue was such as we have seen in the matter of mythology.
Perhaps I have done a foolish thing," went on Apollonius, "for it was my intention to recall you to more scientific and truer explanations than the poetical myths given by the vulgar of Etna; and I have let myself be drawn into a eulogy of myths. However, the digression has not been without a charm of its own, for the myth which we repudiate is not one of Aesop's stories, but belongs to the class of dramatic stories which fill the mouths of our poets. For they say that a certain Typho or Enceladus lies bound under the mountain, and in his death agony breathes out this fire that we see. Now I admit that
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giants have existed, and that gigantic bodies are revealed all over earth when tombs are broken open; nevertheless I deny that they ever came into conflict with the gods; at the most they violated their temples and statues, and to suppose that they scaled the heaven and chased away the gods therefrom—this it is madness to relate and madness to believe. Nor can I any more respect that other story, though it is more reverent in its tone, to the effect that Hephaestus attends to his forge in Etna, and that there is there an anvil on which he smites with his hammer; for there are many other mountains all over the earth that are on fire, and yet we should never be done with it if we assigned to them giants and gods like Hephaestus.
"What then is the explanation of such mountains? It is this: the earth by affording a mixture of asphalt and sulphur, begins to smoke of its own nature, but it does not yet belch out fire; if however it be cavernous and hollow and there be spirit or force circulating underneath it, it at once lifts up into the air as it were a beacon-fire; this flame gathers force, and gets hold of all around, and then like water it streams of the mountains and flows into the plains, and the mass of fire reaches the sea, forming mouths, out of which it issues, like the mouths of rivers. And as for the place of the Pious Ones, around whom the fire flowed, we will allow that such exists even here; but at the same time let us not forget that the whole earth affords secure ground
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for the doers of holiness, and that the sea is safely traversed not only by people in ships but even by people attempting to swim." For in this way he continually ended up his discourses with useful and pious exhortations.
He stayed in Sicily and taught philosophy there as long as he had sufficient interest in doing so, and then repaired to Greece about the rising of Arcturus. After a pleasant sail he arrived at Leucas, where he said: "Let us get out of this ship, for it is better not to continue in it our voyage to Achaea." No one took any notice of the utterance except those who knew the sage well, but he himself together with those who desired to make the voyage with him embarked on a Leucadian ship, and reached the port of Lechaeum; meanwhile the Syracusan ship sank as it entered the Crisaean Gulf.
At Athens he was initiated by the same hierophant of whom he had delivered a prophecy to his predecessor; here he met Demetrius the philosopher, for after the episode of Nero's bath and of his speech about it, Demetrius continued to live at Athens, with such noble courage that he did not quit Athens even during the period when Nero was outraging Greece over the games. Demetrius said that he had fallen in with Musonius at the Isthmus,
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where he was fettered and under orders to dig; and that he addressed to him such consolations as he could, but Musonius took his spade and stoutly dug it into the earth, and then looking up, said: "You are distressed, Demetrius, to see me digging through the Isthmus for Greece; but if you saw me playing the harp like Nero, what would you feel then?" But I must pass over the sayings of Musonius, though they were many and remarkable, else I shall seem to take liberties with the man, who uttered them carelessly.
Apollonius spent the winter in various Hellenic temples, and towards spring he embarked on the road for Egypt, after administering many rebukes indeed, yet giving much good counsel to the cities, many of which won his approval, for he never refused praise when anything was done in a right and sensible way. When he descended to the Piraeus, he found a ship riding there with its sails set, just about to start for Ionia; but the owner would not allow him to embark, for he wished to go on a private cruise. Apollonius asked him what his freight consisted of. "Of gods," he replied, "whose images I am exporting to Ionia, some made of gold and stone, and others of ivory and gold." "And are you going to dedicate them or what?" "I am going to sell them," he replied, "to those who desire to dedicate them." "Then you are afraid, my most excellent man, lest we should steal your images on board ship?" "I am not afraid of that," he answered, "but I do not think
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it proper that they should have to share the voyage with so many people and be defiled by such bad company as you get on board ship." "And may I remind you, most worthy man," answered Apollonius, "for you appear to me to be an Athenian, that on the ships which your countrymen employed against the barbarians, although they were full of a disorderly naval crowd, the gods embarked along with them, yet had no suspicion of being polluted thereby; you however in your gross ignorance drive men who are lovers of wisdom out of your ship, in whose company as in that of none others the gods delight, and this although you are trafficking in the gods? But the image-makers of old behaved not in this way, nor did they go round the cities selling their gods. All they did was to export their own hands and their tools for working stone and ivory; others provided the raw materials, while they plied their handicraft in the temples themselves; but you are leading the gods into harbors and market places just as if they were wares 1 of the Hyrcanians and of the Scythians —far be it from me to name these—and so you think you are doing no impiety? It is true that there are babbling buffoons who hang upon their persons images of Demeter or Dionysus, and pretend that they are nurtured by the gods they carry; but as for feeding on the gods themselves as you do, without ever being surfeited on this diet, that is a horrible commerce and one, I should say, savoring of lunacy, even if you have no misgivings of your own about the consequences." And having administered this rebuke he took his passage on another ship.
1:493:1 There is a pun in the Greek between Typhô = Typhon and typho = to smoke.
1:495:1 Eurip. Alcestis, last line.
1:507:1 Probably temple slaves or prostitutes.