The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, , at sacred-texts.com
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THE votaries of Pythagoras of Samos have this story to tell of him, that he was not an Ionian at all, but that, once on a time in Troy, he had been Euphorbus, and that he had come to life after death, but had died as the songs of Homer relate. And they say that he declined to wear apparel made from dead animal products and, to guard his purity, abstained from all flesh diet, and from the offering of animals in sacrifice. For that he would not stain the altars with blood; nay, rather the honey-cake and frankincense and the hymn of praise, these they say were the offerings made to the Gods by this man, who realized that they welcome such tribute more than they do the hecatombs and the knife laid upon the sacrificial basket. For they say that he had of a certainty social intercourse with the gods, and learnt from them the conditions under which they take pleasure in men or are disgusted, and on this intercourse he based his account of nature. For he said that, whereas other men only make conjectures about divinity and make guesses that
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contradict one another concerning it,—in his own case he said that Apollo had come to him acknowledging that he was the god in person; and that Athena and the Muses and other gods, whose forms and names men did not yet know, had also consorted with him though without making such acknowledgment. And the followers of Pythagoras accepted as law any decisions communicated by him, and honored him as an emissary from Zeus, but imposed, out of respect for their divine character, a ritual silence on themselves. For many were the divine and ineffable secrets which they had heard, but which it was difficult for any to keep who had not previously learnt that silence also is a mode of speech.
Moreover they declare that Empedocles of Acragas had trodden this way of wisdom when he wrote the line
[paragraph continues] And this also:
And the story that he made at Olympia a bull of pastry and sacrificed it to the god also shows that he approved of the sentiments of Pythagoras. And there is much else that they tell of those sages who observe the rule of Pythagoras; but I must not now enter upon such points, but hurry on to the work which I have set myself to complete.
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FOR quite akin to theirs was the ideal which Apollonius pursued, and more divinely than Pythagoras he wooed wisdom and soared above tyrants; and he lived in times not long gone by nor quite of our own day, yet men know him not because of the true wisdom, which he practiced as sage and sanely; but one man singles out one feature for praise in him and another another; while some, because he had interviews with the wizards of Babylon and with the Brahmans of India, and with the nude ascetics of Egypt, put him down as a wizard, and spread the calumny that he was a sage of an illegitimate kind, judging of him ill. For Empedocles and Pythagoras himself and Democritus consorted with wizards and uttered many supernatural truths, yet never stooped to the black art; and Plato went to Egypt and mingled with his own discourses much of what he heard from the prophets and priests there; and though, like a painter, he laid his own colors on to their rough sketches, yet he never passed for a wizard, although envied above all mankind for his wisdom. For the circumstance that Apollonius foresaw and foreknew so many things does not in the least justify us in imputing to him this kind of wisdom; we might as well accuse Socrates of the same, because, thanks to his familiar spirit, he knew things beforehand, and we might also accuse Anaxagoras because of the many things which he foretold. And indeed who does not know the story of how Anaxagoras at Olympia in a season when least rain falls came forward wearing a fleece into the stadium, by way of predicting rain, and of how he
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foretold the fall of the house,—and truly, for it did fall; and of how he said that day would be turned into night, and stones would be discharged from heaven round Aegospotami, and of how his predictions were fulfilled? Now these feats are set down to the wisdom of Anaxagoras by the same people who would rob Apollonius of the credit of having predicted things by dint of wisdom, and say that he achieved these results by art of wizardry.
It seems to me then that I ought not to condone or acquiesce in the general ignorance, but write a true account of the man, detailing the exact times at which he said or did this or that, as also the habits and temper of wisdom by means of which he succeeded in being considered a supernatural and divine being.
And I have gathered my information partly from the many cities where he was loved, and partly from the temples whose long-neglected and decayed rites he restored, and partly from the accounts left of him by others and partly from his own letters. For he addressed these to kings, sophists, philosophers, to men of Elis, of Delphi, to Indians, and Ethiopians; and in his letters he dealt with the subjects of the gods, of customs, of moral principles, of laws, and in all these departments he corrected the errors into which men had fallen. But the more precise details which I have collected are as follows.
THERE was a man, Damis, by no means stupid, who formerly dwelt in the ancient city of Nineveh. He resorted to Apollonius in order to study wisdom, and having shared, by his own account, his
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wanderings abroad, wrote an account of them. And he records his opinions and discourses and all his prophecies. And a certain kinsmen of Damis drew the attention of the empress Julia to the documents containing these documents hitherto unknown. Now I belonged to the circle of the empress, for she was a devoted admirer of all rhetorical exercises; and she commanded me to recast and edit these essays, at the same time paying more attention to the style and diction of them; for the man of Nineveh had told his story clearly enough, yet somewhat awkwardly. And I also read the book of Maximus of Aegae, which comprised all the life of Apollonius in Aegae; and furthermore a will was composed by Apollonius, from which one can learn how rapturous and inspired a sage he really was. For we must not pay attention anyhow to Moeragenes, who composed four books about Apollonius, and yet was ignorant of many circumstances of his life. That then I combined these scattered sources together and took trouble over my composition, I have said; but let my work, I pray, redound to the honor of the man who is the subject of my compilation, and also be of use to those who love learning. For assuredly, they will here learn things of which as yet they were ignorant.
APOLLONIUS’ home, then, was Tyana, a Greek city amidst a population of Cappadocians. His father was of the same name, and the family descended from the first settlers. It excelled in wealth the surrounding families, though the district is a rich one. To his mother, just before
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he was born, there came an apparition of Proteus, who changes his form so much in Homer, in the guise of an Egyptian demon. She was in no way frightened, but asked him what sort of child she would bear. And he answered: "Myself." "And who are you?" she asked. "Proteus," answered he, "the god of Egypt." Well, I need hardly explain to readers of the poets the quality of Proteus and his reputation as regards wisdom; how versatile he was, and for ever changing his form, and defying capture, and how he had a reputation of knowing both past and future. And we must bear Proteus in mind all the more, when my advancing story shows its hero to have been more of a prophet than Proteus, and to have triumphed over many difficulties and dangers in the moment when they beset him most closely.
NOW he is said to have been born in a meadow, hard by which there has been now erected a sumptuous temple to him; and let us not pass by the manner of his birth. For just as the hour of his birth was approaching, his mother was warned in a dream to walk out into the meadow and pluck the flowers; and in due course she came there and her maids attended to the flowers, scattering themselves over the meadow, while she fell asleep lying on the grass. Thereupon the swans who fed in the meadow set up a dance around her as she slept, and lifting their wings, as they are wont to do, cried out aloud all at once, for there was somewhat of a breeze blowing in the meadow. She then leaped up at the sound of their song and bore her child, for any
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sudden fright is apt to bring on a premature delivery. But the people of the country say that just at the moment of the birth, a thunderbolt seemed about to fall to earth and then rose up into the air and disappeared aloft; and the gods thereby indicated, I think, the great distinction to which the sage was to attain, and hinted in advance how he should transcend all things upon earth and approach the gods, and signified all the things that he would achieve.
NOW there is near Tyana a well sacred to Zeus, the god of paths, so they say, and they call it the well of Asbama. Here a spring rises cold, but bubbles up like a boiling cauldron. This water is favorable and sweet to those who keep their paths, but to perjurers it brings hot-footed justice; for it attacks their eyes and hands and feet, and they fall the prey of dropsy and wasting disease; and they are not even able to go away, but are held on the spot and bemoan themselves at the edge of the spring, acknowledging their perjuries. The people of the country, then, say that Apollonius was the son of this Zeus, but the sage called himself the son of Apollonius.
ON reaching the age when children are taught their letters, he showed great strength of memory and power of application; and his tongue affected the Attic dialect, nor was his accent corrupted by the race he lived among. All eyes were turned upon
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him, for he was, moreover, conspicuous for his beauty. When he reached his fourteenth year, his father brought him to Tarsus, to Euthydemus the teacher from Phoenicia. Now Euthydemus was a good rhetor, and began his education; but, though he was attached to his teacher, he found the atmosphere of the city harsh and strange and little conducive to the philosophic life, for nowhere are men more addicted than here to luxury; jesters and full of insolence are they all; and they attend more to their fine linen than the Athenians did to wisdom; and a stream called the Cydnus runs through their city, along the banks of which they sit like so many water-fowl. Hence the words which Apollonius addresses to them in his letter: "Be done with getting drunk upon your water." He therefore transferred his teacher, with his father's consent, to the town of Aegae, which was close by, where he found a peace congenial to one who would be a philosopher, and a more serious school of study and a temple of Asclepius, where that god reveals himself in person to men. There he had as his companions in philosophy followers of Plato and Chrysippus and peripatetic philosophers. And he diligently attended also to the discourses of Epicurus, for he did not despise these either, although it was to those of Pythagoras that he applied himself with unspeakable wisdom and ardor. However, his teacher of the Pythagorean system was not a very serious person, nor one who practiced in his conduct the philosophy he taught; for he was the slave of his belly and appetites, and modeled himself upon Epicurus. And this man was Euxenus from the town of Heraclea in Pontus, and he knew the principles of Pythagoras just as
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birds know what they learn from men; for the birds will wish you "farewell," and say "Good day" or "Zeus help you," and such like, without understanding what they say and without any real sympathy for mankind, merely because they have been trained to move their tongue in a certain manner. Apollonius, however, was like the young eagles who, as long as they are not fully fledged, fly alongside of their parents and are trained by them in flight, but who, as soon as they are able to rise in the air, outsoar the parent birds, especially when they perceive the latter to be greedy and to be flying along the ground in order to snuff the quarry; like them Apollonius attended Euxenus as long as he was a child and was guided by him in the path of argument, but when he reached his sixteenth year he indulged his impulse towards the life of Pythagoras, being fledged and winged thereto by some higher power. Notwithstanding he did not cease to love Euxenus, nay, he persuaded his father to present him with a villa outside the town, where there were tender groves and fountains, and he said to him: "Now you live there your own life, but I will live that of Pythagoras."
NOW Euxenus realized that he was attached to a lofty ideal, and asked him at what point he would begin it. Apollonius answered: "At the point at which physicians begin, for they, by purging the bowels of their patients prevent some from being ill at all, and heal others." And having said this he declined to live upon a flesh diet, on the ground that it was unclean, and also that it made the mind gross; so he partook only of dried fruits and vegetables,
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for he said that all the fruits of the earth are clean. And of wine he said that it was a clean drink because it is yielded to men by so well-domesticated a plant as the vine; but he declared that it endangered the mental balance and system and darkened, as with mud, the ether which is in the soul. After then having thus purged his interior, he took to walking without shoes by way of adornment and clad himself in linen raiment, declining to wear any animal product; and he let his hair grow long and lived in the Temple. And the people round about the Temple were struck with admiration for him, and the god Asclepius one day said to the priest that he was delighted to have Apollonius as witness of his cures of the sick; and such was his reputation that the Cilicians themselves and the people all around flocked to Aegae to visit him. Hence the Cilician proverb: "Whither runnest thou? Is it to see the stripling?" Such was the saying that arose about him, and it gained the distinction of becoming a proverb.
NOW it is well that I should not pass over what happened in the Temple, while relating the life of a man who was held in esteem even by the gods. For an Assyrian stripling came to Asclepius, and though he was sick, yet he lived the life of luxury, and being continually drunk, I will not say he lived, rather he was ever dying. He suffered then from dropsy, and finding his pleasure in drunkenness took no care to dry up his malady. On this account then Asclepius took no care of him, and did not visit him even
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in a dream. The youth grumbled at this, and thereupon the god, standing over him, said, "If you were to consult Apollonius you would be easier." He therefore went to Apollonius, and said: "What is there in your wisdom that I can profit by? for Asclepius bids me consult you." And he replied: "I can advise you of what, under the circumstances, will be most valuable to you; for I suppose you want to get well." "Yes, by Zeus," answered the other, "I want the health which Asclepius promises, but never gives." "Hush," said the other, "for he gives to those who desire it, but you do things that irritate and aggravate your disease, for you give yourself up to luxury, and you accumulate delicate viands upon your water-logged and worn-out stomach, and as it were, choke water with a flood of mud." This was a clearer response, in my opinion, than Heraclitus, in his wisdom, gave. For he said when he was visited by this affection that what he needed was someone to substitute a drought for a rainy weather, a very unintelligible remark, it appears to me, and by no means clear; but the sage restored the youth to health by a clear interpretation of the wise saw.
ONE day he saw a flood of blood upon the altar, and there were victims laid out upon it, Egyptian bulls that had been sacrificed and great hogs, and some of them were being flayed and others were being cut up; and two gold vases had been dedicated set with jewels, the rarest and most beautiful that India can provide. So he went to the priest and said: "What is all this; for someone is making a
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very handsome gift to the god?" And the priest replied: "You may rather be surprised at a man's offering all this without having first put up a prayer in our fane, and without having stayed with us as long as other people do, and without having gained his health from the god, and without obtaining all the things he came to ask for. For he appears to have come only yesterday, yet he is sacrificing on this lavish scale. And he declares that he will sacrifice more victims, and dedicate more gifts, if Asclepius will hearken to him. And he is one of the richest men in existence; at any rate he owns in Cilicia an estate bigger than all the Cilicians together possess. And he is supplicating the god to restore to him one of his eyes that has fallen out." But Apollonius fixed his eyes upon the ground, as he was accustomed to do in later life, and asked: "What is his name?" And when he heard it, he said: "It seems to me, O Priest, that we ought not to welcome this fellow in the Temple: for he is some ruffian who has come here, and that he is afflicted in this way is due to some sinister reason: nay, his very conduct in sacrificing on such a magnificent scale before he has gained anything from the god is not that of a genuine votary, but rather of a man who is begging himself off for the penalty of some horrible and cruel deed." This was what Apollonius said: and Asclepius appeared to the priest by night, and said: "Send away so and so at once with all his possessions, and let him keep them, for he deserves to lose the other eye as well." The priest accordingly made inquiries about the Cilician and learned that his wife by a former marriage borne a daughter, and he had fallen in love with the maiden and had seduced her, and was living with her in open sin. For the
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mother had surprised the two in bed, and had put out both her eyes and one of his by stabbing them with her brooch-pin.