The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 2 p. 3
Ethiopia covers the western wing of the entire earth under the sun, just as India does the eastern wing; and at Meroe it adjoins Egypt, and, after skirting a part of Libya Incognita, it ends at the sea which the poets call by the name of the Ocean, that being the name they applied to the mass of water which surrounds the earth. This country supplies Egypt with the river Nile, which takes its rise at the cataracts (Catadupi), and brings down from Ethiopia all Egypt, the soil of which in flood-time it inundates. Now in size this country is not worthy of comparison with India, not for that matter is any of the continents that are famous among men; and even if you put together all Egypt with Ethiopia, and we may regard the river as so combining the two, we should not compare the two together with India, so vast is the standard of comparison. However their respective rivers, the
p. 4 p. 5
[paragraph continues] Indus and the Nile, resemble one another, if we consider their creatures. For they both spread their moisture over the land in the summer season, when the earth most wants it, and unlike all other rivers they produced the crocodile and the river-horse; and the religious rites celebrated over them correspond with one another, for many of the religious invocations of the Indians are repeated in the case of the Nile. We have a proof of the similarity of the two countries in the spices which are found in them, also in the fact that the lion and the elephant are captured and confined in both the one and the other. They are also the haunts of animals not found elsewhere, and of black men -a feature not found in other continents- and we meet in them with races of pigmies and of people who bark in various ways instead of talking, and other wonders of the kind. And the griffins of the Indians and the ants of the Ethiopians, though they are dissimilar in form, yet, from what we hear, play similar parts; for in each country they are the guardians of gold, and devoted to the gold reefs of the two countries. But we will not pursue these subjects; for we must resume the course of our history and follow in the sage's footsteps.
For when he arrived at the confines of Ethiopia and Egypt, and the name of the place is Sycaminus, he came across a quantity of uncoined gold and linen and an elephant and various roots and myrrh and spices, which are all lying without anyone to
p. 6 p. 7
watch them at the crossways. I will explain the meaning of this, for the same custom still survives among ourselves. It was a market place to which the Ethiopians bring all the products of their country; and the Egyptians in their turn take them all away and bring to the same spot their own wares of equal value, so bartering what they have got for what they have not. Now the inhabitants of the marches are not yet fully black but are half-breeds in matter of color, for they are partly not so black as the Ethiopians, yet partly more so than the Egyptians. Apollonius, accordingly, when he realized the character of the market, remarked: "Contrast our good Hellenes: they pretend they cannot live unless one penny begets another and unless they can force up the price of their goods by chaffering or holding them back; and one pretends that he has got a daughter whom it is time to marry, and another that he has got a son who has just reached manhood, and a third that he has to pay his subscription to his club, and a fourth that he is having a house built for him, and a fifth that he would be ashamed of being thought a worse man of business than his father was before him. What a splendid thing then it would be, if wealth were held in less honor and equality flourished a little more and 'if the black iron were left to rust in the ground,' for all men would agree with one another, and the whole earth would be like one brotherhood."
With such conversations, the occasions providing as usual the topics he talked about, he turned his
p. 8 p. 9
steps towards Memnon; an Egyptian showed them the way, of whom Damis gives the following account: Timasion was the name of this stripling, who was just emerging from boyhood, and was now in the prime of life and strength. He had a stepmother who had fallen in love with him; and when he rejected her overtures, she set upon him and by way of spiting him had poisoned his father's mind against him, condescending to a lower intrigue than ever Phaedra had done, for she accused him of being effeminate, and of finding his pleasure in pederasts rather than in women. He had accordingly abandoned Naucratis, for it was there that all this happened, and was living in the neighborhood of Memphis; and he had acquired and manned a boat of his own and was plying as a waterman on the Nile. He then, was going down the river when he saw Apollonius sailing up it; and he concluded that the crew consisted of wise men, because he judged them by the cloaks they wore and the books they were hard at work studying. So he asked them whether they would allow one who was so passionately fond of wisdom as himself to share their voyage; and Apollonius said: "This youth is wise, my friends, so let him be granted his request." And he further related the story about his stepmother to those of his companions who were nearest to him in a low tone while the stripling was still sailing towards them. But when the ships were alongside of one another, Timasion stepped out of his boat, and after addressing a word or two to his pilot, about the cargo in his own boat, he greeted the company. Apollonius then ordered him to sit down under his eyes, and said: "You stripling of Egypt, for you seem to be one of the natives, tell me what you have done of evil or what of good; for in the one case you
p. 10 p. 11
shall be forgiven by me, in consideration of your youth; but in the other you shall reap my commendation and become a fellow-student of philosophy with me and with these gentlemen." Then noticing that Timasion blushed and checked his impulse to speak, and hesitated whether to say or not what he had been going to say, he pressed his question and repeated it, just as if he had no foreknowledge of the youth at his command. Then Timasion plucked up courage and said: "O Heavens, how shall I describe myself? for I am not a bad boy, and yet I do not know whether I ought to be considered a good one, for there is no particular merit in having abstained from wrong." But Apollonius cried: "Bravo, my boy, you answer me just as if you were a sage from India; for this was just the sentiment of the divine Iarchas. But tell me how you came to form these opinions, and how long ago; for it strikes me that you have been on your guard against some sin." The youth then began to tell them of his stepmother's infatuation for himself, and of how he had rejected her advances; and when he did so, there was a shout in recognition of the divine inspiration under which Apollonius had foretold these details. Timasion, however, caught them up and said: "Most excellent people, what is the matter with you? for my story is one which calls as little for your admiration, I think, as for your ridicule." But Damis said: "It was not that we were admiring, but something else which you don't know about yet. As for you, my boy, we praise you because you think that you did nothing
p. 12 p. 13
very remarkable." And Apollonius said: "Do you sacrifice to Aphrodite, my boy?" And Timasion answered: "Yes, by Zeus, every day; for I consider that this goddess has great influence in human and divine affairs." Thereat Apollonius was delighted beyond measure, and cried: "Let us, gentlemen, vote a crown to him for his continence rather than to Hippolytus the son of Theseus, for the latter insulted Aphrodite; and that perhaps is why he never fell a victim to the tender passion, and why love never ran riot in his soul; but he was allotted an austere and unbending nature. But our friend here admits that he is devoted to the goddess, and yet did not respond to his stepmother's guilty overtures, but went away in terror of the goddess herself, in case he were not on his guard against another's evil passions; and the mere aversion to any one of the gods, such as Hippolytus entertained in regard to Aphrodite, I do not class as a form of sobriety; for it is a much greater proof of wisdom and sobriety to speak well of the gods, especially at Athens, where altars are set up in honor even of unknown gods." So great was the interest which he took in Timasion. Nevertheless he called him Hippolytus for the eyes with which he looked at his stepmother. It seemed also that he was a young man who was particular about his person and enhanced its charms by attention to athletic exercises.
Under his guidance, they say, they went on to the sacred enclosure of Memnon, of whom Damis gives the following account. He says that he was
p. 14 p. 15
the son of the Dawn, and that he did not meet his death in Troy, where indeed he never went; but that he died in Ethiopia after ruling the land for five generations. But his countrymen being the longest lived of men, still mourn him as a mere youth and deplore his untimely death. But the place in which his statue is set up resembles, they tell us, an ancient market-place, such as remain in cities that were long ago inhabited, and where we come on broken stumps and fragments of columns, and find traces of walls as well as seats and jambs of doors, and images of Hermes, some destroyed by the hand of man, others by that of time. Now this statue, says Damis, was turned towards the sunrise, and was that of a youth still unbearded; and it was made of a black stone, and the two feet were joined together after the style in which statues were made in the time of Daedalus; and the arms of the figure were perpendicular to the seat pressing upon it, for though the figure was still sitting it was represented in the very act of rising up. We hear much of this attitude of the statue, and of the expression of its eyes, and of how the lips seem about to speak; but they say that they had no opportunity of admiring these effects until they saw them realized; for when the sun's rays fell upon the statue, and this happened exactly at dawn, they could not restrain their admiration; for the lips spoke immediately the sun's ray touched them, and the eyes seemed to stand out and gleam against the light as do those of men who love to bask in the sun. Then they say they understood that the figure was of one in the act of rising and making obeisance to the sun, in the way those do who worship the
p. 16 p. 17
powers above standing erect. They accordingly offered a sacrifice to the Sun of Ethiopia and to Memnon of the Dawn, for this the priests recommended them to do, explaining that one name was derived from the words signifying "to burn and be warm" 1 and the other from his mother. Having done this they set out upon camels for the home of the naked philosophers.
On the way they met a man wearing the garb of the inhabitants of Memphis, but who was wandering about rather than wending his steps to a fixed point; so Damis asked him who he was and why he was roving about like that. But Timasion said: "You had better ask me, and not him; for he will never tell you what is the matter with him, because he is ashamed of the plight in which he finds himself; but as for me, I know the poor man and pity him, and I will tell you all about him. For he has slain unwittingly a certain inhabitant of Memphis, and the laws of Memphis prescribe that a person exiled for an involuntary offense of this kind,—and the penalty is exile,—should remain with the naked philosophers until he has washed away the guilt of bloodshed, and then he may return home as soon as he is pure, though he must first go to the tomb of the slain man and sacrifice there some trifling victim. Now until he has been received by the naked philosophers, so long he must roam about these marches, until they take pity
p. 18 p. 19
upon him as if he were a suppliant." Apollonius therefore put the question to Timasion: "What do the naked philosophers think of this particular exile?" And he answered: "I do not know anything more than that this is the seventh month that he has remained here as a suppliant, and that he has not yet obtained redemption." Said Apollonius: "You don't call men wise, who refuse to purify him, and are not aware that Philiscus whom he slew was a descendant of Thamus the Egyptian, who long ago laid waste the country of these naked philosophers." Thereat Timasion said in surprise: "What do you mean?" " I mean," said the other, "my good youth, what was actually the fact; for this Thamus once on a time was intriguing against the inhabitants of Memphis, and these philosophers detected his plot and prevented him; and he having failed in his enterprise retaliated by laying waste all the land upon which they live, for by his brigandage he tyrannized the country round Memphis. I perceive that Philiscus whom this man slew was the thirteenth in descent from this Thamus, and was obviously an object of execration to those whose country the latter so thoroughly ravaged at the time in question. Where then is their wisdom? Here is a man that they ought to crown, even if he had slain the other intentionally; and yet they refuse to purge him of a murder which he committed involuntarily on their behalf.". The youth then was astounded and said: "Stranger, who are you?" And Apollonius replied: "He whom you shall find among these naked philosophers. But as it is not allowed me by my religion to address one who
p. 20 p. 21
is stained with blood, I would ask you, my good boy, to encourage him, and tell him that he will at once be purged of guilt, if he will come to the place where I am lodging." And when the man in question came, Apollonius went through the rites over him which Empedocles and Pythagoras prescribe for the purification of such offenses, and told him to return home, for that he was now pure of guilt.
Thence they rode out at sunrise, and arrived before midday at the academy of the naked sages, who dwell, they relate, upon a moderate-sized hill a little way from the bank of the Nile; and in point of wisdom they fall short of the Indians rather more than they excel the Egyptians. And they wear next to no clothes in the same way as people do at Athens in the heat of summer. And in their district there are few trees, and a certain grove of no great size to which they resort when they meet for the transaction of common affairs; but they do not build their shrines in one and the same place, as Indian shrines are built, but one is in one part of the hill and another in another, all worthy of observation, according to the accounts of the Egyptians. The Nile is the chief object of their worship, for they regard this river as land and water at once. They have no need, however, of hut or dwelling, because they live in the open air directly under the heaven itself, but they have built an hospice to accommodate strangers, and it is a portico of no great size, about equal in length to those of Elis, beneath which the athletes await the sound of the midday trumpet.
p. 22 p. 23
At this place Damis records an action of Euphrates, which if we do not regard it as juvenile, was anyhow unworthy of the dignity of a philosopher. Euphrates had heard Apollonius often say that he wished to compare the wisdom of India with that of Egypt, so he sent up to the naked sages one Thrasybulus, a native of Naucratis, to take away our sage's character. Thrasybulus at the same time that he pretended to have come there in order to enjoy their society, told them that the sage of Tyana would presently arrive, and that they would have no little trouble with him, because he esteemed himself more highly than the sages of India did themselves, though he extolled the latter whenever he opened his mouth; and he added that Apollonius had contrived a thousand pitfalls for them, and that he would not allow any sort of influence either to the sun, or to the sky, or to the earth, but pretended to move and juggle and rearrange these forces for whatever end he chose.
Having concocted these stories the man of Naucratis went away; and they, imagining they were true, did not indeed decline to meet Apollonius when he arrived, but pretended that they were occupied with important business and were so intent upon it, that they could only arrange an interview with him if they had time, and if they were informed first of what he wanted and of what attracted him thither.
p. 24 p. 25
[paragraph continues] And a messenger from the bade them stay and lodge in the portico, but Apollonius remarked: "We do not want to hear about a house for ourselves, for the climate here is such that anyone can live naked,"—an unkind reference this to them, as it implied that they went without clothes not to show their endurance, but because it was too to wear any. And he added: "I am not surprised indeed at their nor yet knowing what I want, and what I am come here for, though the Indians never asked me these questions."
Accordingly Apollonius lay down under one of the trees, and let his companions who were there with him ask whatever question they pleased. Damis took Timasion apart and asked him the question in private: "About these naked sages, my good fellow, as you have lived with them, and in all probability know, tell me what their wisdom comes to?" "It is," answered the other, "manifold an profound." "And yet," said Damis, "their demeanor towards us does not evince any wisdom, my fine fellow; for when they refuse to converse about wisdom with so great a man as our master, and assume all sorts of airs against him, what can I say of them except that they are too vain and proud." "Pride and vanity!" said the other, "I have already come among them twice, and I never saw any such thing about them; for they were always very modest and courteous towards those who came to visit them. At any rate a little time ago, perhaps a matter of fifty days, one Thrasybulus was staying here who
p. 26 p. 27
achieved nothing remarkable in philosophy, and they received him with open arms merely because he said he was a disciple of Euphrates." Then Damis cried: "What's that you say, my boy? Then you saw Thrasybulus of Naucratis in this academy of theirs?" "Yes, and what's more," answered the other, "I conveyed him hence, when he went down the river, in my own boat." "Now I have it, by Athena," cried Damis, in a loud tone of indignation. "I warrant he has played us some dirty trick." Timasion then replied: "Your master, when I asked him yesterday who he was, would not answer me at once, but kept his name a secret; but do you, unless this is a mystery, tell me who he is, for then I could probably help you to find what you seek." And when he heard from Damis, that it was the sage of Tyana, "You have put the matter," he said, "in a nutshell. For Thrasybulus, as he descended the Nile with me, in answer to my question what he had gone up there for, explained to me that his love for wisdom was not genuine, and said that he had filled these naked sages with suspicion of Apollonius, to the end that whenever he came here they might flout him; and what his quarrel is with him I know not, but anyhow, it is, I think, worthy of a woman or of a vulgar person to backbite him as he has done. But I will address myself to these people and ascertain their real disposition; for they are friendly to me." And about eventide Timasion returned, though without telling Apollonius any more than that he had interchanged words with them; however he told Damis in private that they meant to come the next morning primed with all that they had heard from Thrasybulus.
p. 28 p. 29
They spent that evening conversing about trifles which are not worth recording, and then they lay down to sleep on the spot where they had supped; but at daybreak Apollonius, after adoring the sun according to his custom, had set himself to meditate upon some problem, when Nilus, who was the youngest of the naked philosophers, running up to him, exclaimed: "We are coming to you." "Quite right," said Apollonius, "for to get to you I have made this long journey from the sea all the way here." And with these words he followed Nilus. So after exchanging greetings with the sages, and they met him close to the portico. "Where," said Apollonius, "shall we hold our interview?" "Here," said Thespesion, pointing to the grove. Now Thespesion was the eldest of the sect, and led them in procession; and they followed him with an orderly and leisurely step, just as the jury of the athletic sports at Olympia follow the eldest of their number. And when they had sat down, which they did anyhow, and without the observing their previous order, they all fixed their eyes on Thespesion as the one who should regale them with a discourse, which he proceeded as follows: "They say, Apollonius, that you have visited the Pythian and Olympian festivals; for this was reported of you here by Stratocles of Pharos, who says he met you there. Now those who come to the Pythian festival are, they say, escorted with the sound of pipe and song and lyre, and are honored with shows of comedies and tragedies; and then last of all they are presented
p. 30 p. 31
with an exhibition of games and races run by naked athletes. At the Olympic festival, however, these superfluities are omitted as inappropriate and unworthy of the place; and those who go to the festival are only provided with the show of naked athletes originally instituted by Heracles. You may see the same contrast between the wisdom of the Indians and our own. For they, like those who invite others to the Pythian festival, appeal to the crowd with all sorts of charms and wizardry; but we, like the athletes of Olympia, go naked. Here earth strews for us no couches, nor does it yield us milk or wine as if we were bacchants, nor does the air uplift us and sustain us aloft. But the earth beneath us is our only couch, and we live by partaking of its natural fruits, which we would have it yield to us gladly and without being tortured against its will. But you shall see that we are not unable to work tricks if we like. Heigh! you tree yonder," he cried, pointing to an elm tree, the third in the row from that under which they were talking, "just salute the wise Apollonius, will you?" And forthwith the tree saluted him, as it was bidden to do, in accents which were articulate and like those of a woman. Now he wrought this sign to discredit the Indians, and in the belief that by doing so he would wean Apollonius of his excessive estimate of their powers; for he was always recounting to everybody what the Indians said and did.
Then the Egyptian added these precepts: he said that it is sufficient for the sage to abstain from eating all flesh of living animals, and from the roving desires which mount up in the soul through the eyes, and from envy which ends by teaching injustice to
p. 32 p. 33
hand and will, and that truth stands not in need of miracle-mongering and sinister arts. "For look," he said, "at the Apollo of Delphi, who keeps the center of Hellas for the utterance of his oracles. There then, as you probably know yourself, a person who desires a response, puts his question briefly, and Apollo tells what he knows without any miraculous display. And yet it would be just as easy for him to convulse the whole mountain of Parnassus, and to alter the springs of the Castalian fountain so that it should run with wine, and to check the river Cephisus and stay its stream; but he reveals the bare truth without any of this show of ostentation. Nor must we suppose that it is by his will, that so much gold and showy offerings enter his treasury, nor that he would care for his temple even if it were made twice as large as it already is. For once on a time this god Apollo dwelt in quite a humble habitation; and a little hut was constructed for him to which the bees are said to have contributed their honeycomb and wax, and the birds their feathers. For simplicity is the teacher of wisdom and the teacher of truth; and you must embrace it, if you would have men think you really wise, and forget all your legendary tales that you have acquired among the Indians. For what need is there to beat the drum over such simple matters as: 'Do this, or do not do it,' or 'I know it, or I do not know it,' or 'It is this and not that'? What do you want with thunder, nay, I would say, What do you want to be thunder-struck for?
You have seen in picture-books the representation of Heracles by Prodicus; in it Heracles is represented as a youth, who has not yet chosen the life he
p. 34 p. 35
will lead; and vice and virtue stand in each side of him plucking his garments and trying to draw him to themselves. Vice is adorned with gold and necklaces and with purple raiment, and her cheeks are painted and her hair delicately plaited and her eyes underlined with henna; and she also wears golden slippers, for she is pictured strutting about in these; but virtue in the picture resembles a woman worn out with toil, with a pinched look; and she has chosen for her adornment rough squalor, and she goes without shoes and in the plainest of raiment, and she would have appeared naked if she had not too much regard for her feminine decency. Now figure yourself, Apollonius, as standing between Indian wisdom on one side, and our humble wisdom on the other; imagine that you hear the one telling you how she will strew flowers under you when you lie down to sleep, yes, and by Heaven, how she will regale you upon milk and nourish you on honey-comb, and how she will supply you with nectar and wings, whenever you want them; and how she will wheel in tripods, whenever you drink, and golden thrones; and you shall have no hard work to do, but everything will be flung unsought into your lap. But the other discipline insists that you must lie on the bare ground in squalor, and be seen to toil naked like ourselves; and that you must not find dear or sweet anything which you have not won by hard work; and that you must not be boastful, not hunt after vanities and pursue pride; and that you must be on your guard against all dreams and visions which lift you off the earth. If then you really make the choice of Heracles, and steel your will resolutely, neither to dishonor truth, nor to decline the simplicity of nature, then you may say
p. 36 p. 37
that you have overcome many lions and have cut off the heads of many hydras and of monsters like Geryon and Nessus, and have accomplished all his other labors, but if you embrace the life of a strolling juggler, you will flatter men's eyes and ears, but they will think you no wiser than anybody else, and you will become the vanquished of any naked philosopher of Egypt."
2:17:1 Aithô = I burn; Aithiôps = an Aethiop.