Sacred Texts  Classics  Apollonius of Tyana  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, [1912], at


WHILE they were thus conversing, the king kept trying to interrupt them, constantly breaking off their every sentence by his silly and ignorant remarks. He accordingly again asked them what they were conversing about, and Apollonius replied: "We are discussing matters important and held in great repute among the Hellenes; though you would think of them but slightly, for you say that you detest everything Hellenic." "I do certainly detest them," he said, "but nevertheless I want to hear; for I imagine you are talking about those Athenians the slaves of Xerxes." But Apollonius replied: "Nay we are discussing other things; but since you have alluded to the Athenians in a manner both absurd and false, answer me this question: Have you, O King, any slaves?" "Twenty thousand," said the other, "and not a single one of them did I buy myself, but they were all born in my household." Thereupon Apollonius, using Iarchas as his interpreter, asked him afresh whether he was in the habit of running away from his slaves or his slaves from

p. 300 p. 301

him. And the king by way of insult answered him: "Your very question is worthy of a slave, nevertheless I will answer it: a man who runs away is not only a slave but a bad one to boot, and his master would never run away from him, when he can if he likes both torture and card him." "In that case," said Apollonius, "O king, Xerxes has been proved out of your mouth to have been a slave of the Athenians, and like a bad slave to have run away from them; for when he was defeated by them in the naval action in the Straits, he was so anxious about his bridge of boats over the Hellespont that he fled in a single ship." "Yes, but he anyhow burned Athens with his own hands," said the king. And Apollonius answered: "And for that act of audacity, O king, he was punished as never yet was any other man. For he had to run away from those whom he imagined he had destroyed; and when I contemplate the ambitions with which Xerxes set out on his campaign I can conceive that some were justified in exalting him and saying that he was Zeus; but when I contemplate his flight, I arrive at the conviction that he was the most ill-starred of men. For if he had fallen at the hands of the Hellenes, no one would have earned a brighter fame than he. For to whom would the Hellenes have raised and dedicated a loftier tomb? What jousts of armed men, what contests of musicians would not have been instituted in honor of him? For, if men like Melicertes and Palaemon and Pelops the Lydian immigrant, the former of whom died in childhood at the breast, while Pelops enslaved Arcadia and Argolis and the land within the Isthmus,—if these were commemorated by the Greeks as Gods, what would not

p. 302 p. 303

have been done for Xerxes by men who are by nature more enthusiastic admirers of the virtues, and who consider that they praise themselves in praising those whom they have defeated?"


THESE words of Apollonius caused the king to burst into tears, and he said: "Dearest friend, in what an heroic light do you represent these Hellenes to me." "Why then, O king, were you so hard upon them?" "The visitors who come hither from Egypt, O guest," replied the king, "malign the race of Hellenes, and while declaring that they themselves are holy men and wise, and the true law-givers who fixed all the sacrifices and rites of initiation which are in vogue among the Greeks, they deny to the latter any and every sort of good quality, declaring them to be ruffians, and a mixed herd addicted to every sort of anarchy, and lovers of legend and miracle mongers, and though indeed poor, yet making their poverty not a title of dignity, but a mere excuse for stealing. But now that I have heard this from you and understand how fond of honor and how worthy the Hellenes are, I am reconciled for the future to them and I engage both that they shall have my praise and that I will pray all I can for them, and will never set trust in another Egyptian." But Iarchas remarked: "I too, O king, was aware that your mind had been poisoned by these Egyptians; but I would not take the part of the Hellenes until you met some such counselor as this. But since you have been put right by a wise man, let us

p. 304 p. 305

now proceed to quaff the good cheer provided by Tantalus, and let us sleep over the serious issues which we have to discuss tonight. But at another time I will fill you full with Hellenic arguments, and no other race is so rich in them; and you will delight in them whenever you come hither." And forthwith he set an example to this fellow guests, by stooping the first of them all to the goblet which indeed furnished an ample draught for all; for the stream refilled itself plenteously, as if with spring waters welling up from the ground; and Apollonius also drank, for this cup is instituted by the Indians as a cup of friendship; and they feign that Tantalus is the wine-bearer who supplies it, because he is considered to have been the most friendly of men.


AND when they had drunk, the earth received them on the couches which she had spread for them; but when it was midnight they rose up and first they sang a hymn to the ray of light, suspended aloft in the air as they had been at midday; and then they attended the king, as much as he desired. Damis, however, says that Apollonius was not present at the king's conversation with them, because he thought that the interview had to do with secrets of state. Having then at daybreak offered his sacrifice, the king approached Apollonius and offered him the hospitality of his palace, declaring that he would send him back to Greece an object of envy to all. But he commended him for his kindness, nevertheless he excused himself from

p. 306 p. 307

inflicting himself upon one with whom he was on no sort of equality; moreover, he said that he had been longer abroad than he liked, and that he scrupled to give his friends at home cause to think they were being neglected. The king thereupon said that he entreated him, and assumed such an undignified attitude in urging his request, that Apollonius said: "A king who insists upon his request in such terms at the expense of his dignity, is laying a trap." Thereupon Iarchas intervened and said: "You wrong, O king, this sacred abode by trying to drag away from it a man against his will; and moreover, being one of those who can read the future, he is aware that his staying with you would not conduce to his own good, and would probably not be in any way profitable to yourself."


THE king accordingly went down into the village, for the law of the sages did not allow a king to be with them more than one day; but Iarchas said to the messenger: "We admit Damis also hither to our mysteries; so let him come, but do you look after the rest of them in the village." And when Damis arrived, they sat down together, as they were wont to do, and they allowed Apollonius to ask questions; and he asked them of what they thought the cosmos was composed; but they replied: "Of elements." "Are there then four?" he asked. "Not four," said Iarchas, "but five." "And how can there be a fifth," said Apollonius, "alongside of water and air

p. 308 p. 309

and earth and fire?" "There is the ether," replied the other, "which we must regard as the stuff of which gods are made; for just as all mortal creatures inhale the air, so do immortal and divine natures inhale the ether." Apollonius again asked which of the elements came first into being, and Iarchas answered: "All are simultaneous, for a living creature is not born bit by bit." "Am I," said Apollonius, "to regard the universe as a living creature?" "Yes," said the other, "if you have a sound knowledge of it, for it engenders all living things." "Shall I then," said Apollonius, "call the universe female, or of both the male and the opposite gender?" "Of both genders," said the other, "for by commerce with itself it fulfills the role both of mother and father in bringing forth living creatures; and it is possessed by a love for itself more intense than any separate being has for its fellow, a passion which knits it together into harmony. And it is not illogical to suppose that it cleaves unto itself; for as the movement of an animal dictates the function of its hands and feet, in co-operation with a soul in it by which it is set in motion, so we must regard the parts of the universe also as adapting themselves through its inherent soul to all creatures which are brought forth or conceived. For example, the sufferings so often caused by drought are visited on us in accordance with the soul of the universe, whenever justice has fallen into disrepute and is disowned by men; and this animal shepherds itself not with a single hand only, but with many mysterious ones, which it has at its disposal; and though from its immense size it is controlled by no other, yet it moves obediently to the rein and is easily guided.

p. 310 p. 311


"AND the subject is so vast and so far transcends our mental powers, that I do not know any example adequate to illustrate it; but we will take that of a ship, such as the Egyptians construct for our seas and launch for the exchange of Egyptian goods against Indian wares. For there is an ancient law in regard to the Red Sea, which the king Erythras laid down, when he held sway over that sea, to the effect that the Egyptians should not enter it with a vessel of war, and indeed should employ only a single merchant ship. This regulation obliged the Egyptians to contrive a ship equivalent to several at once of those which other races have; and they ribbed the sides of this ship with bolts such as hold a ship together, and they raised its bulwarks and its mast to a great height, and they constructed several compartments, such as are built upon the timber balks which run athwart a ship, and they set several pilots in this boat and subordinated them to the oldest and wisest of their number, to conduct the voyage; and there were several officers on the prow and excellent and handy sailors to man the sails; and in the crew of this ship there was a detachment of armed men, for it is necessary to equip the ship and protect it against the savages of the Gulf that live on the right hand as you enter it, in case they should ever attack and plunder it on the high seas. Let us apply this imagery to the universe, and regard it in the light of a naval construction; for then you must apportion the first and supreme position to God the begetter of this animal, and subordinate posts to the gods

p. 312 p. 313

who govern its parts; and we may well assent to the statements of the poets, when they say that there are many gods in heaven and many in the sea, and many in the fountains and streams, and many round about the earth, and that there are some even under the earth. But we shall do well to separate from the universe the region under the earth, if there is one, because the poets represent it as an abode of terror and corruption."


AS the Indian concluded this discourse, Damis says that he was transported with admiration and applauded loudly; for he could never have thought that a native of India could show such mastery of the Greek tongue, nor even that, supposing he understood that language, he could have used it with so much ease and elegance. And he praises the look and smile of Iarchas, and the inspired air with which he expressed his ideas, admitting that Apollonius, although he had a delivery as graceful as it was free from bombast, nevertheless gained a great deal by contact with this Indian, and he says that whenever he sat down to discuss a theme, as he very often did, he resembled Iarchas.


AS the rest of the company praised, no less, the contents of Iarchas’ speech than the tone in which he spoke, Apollonius resumed by asking him which they considered the bigger, the sea or the land; and

p. 314 p. 315

[paragraph continues] Iarchas replied: "If the land be compared with the sea it will be found to be bigger, for it includes the sea in itself; but if it be considered in relation to the entire mass of water, we can show that the earth is the lesser of the two, for it is upheld by the water."


THIS discussion was interrupted by the appearance among the sages of the messenger bringing in certain Indians who were in want of succor. And he brought forward a poor woman who interceded in behalf of her child, who was, she said, a boy of sixteen years of age, but had been for two years possessed by a devil. Now the character of the devil was that of a mocker and a liar. Here one of the sages asked, why she said this, and she replied: "This child of mine is extremely good-looking, and therefore the devil is amorous of him and will not allow him to retain his reason, nor will he permit him to go to school, or to learn archery, nor even to remain at home, but drives him out into desert places. And the boy does not even retain his own voice, but speaks in a deep hollow tone, as men do; and he looks at you with other eyes rather than with his own. As for myself I weep over all this and I tear my cheeks, and I rebuke my son so far as I well may; but he does not know me. And I made my mind to repair hither, indeed I planned to do so a year ago; only the demon discovered himself using my child as a mask, and what he told me was this, that he was the ghost of man, who fell long ago in battle, but that at death he was passionately

p. 316 p. 317

attached to his wife. Now he had been dead for only three days when his wife insulted their union by marrying another man, and the consequence was that he had come to detest the love of women, and had transferred himself wholly into this boy. But he promised, if I would only not denounce him to yourselves, to endow the child with many noble blessings. As for myself, I was influenced by these promises; but he has put me off and off for such a long time now, that he has got sole control of my household, yet has no honest or true intentions." Here the sage asked afresh, if the boy was at hand; and she said not, for, although she had done all she could to get him to come with her, the demon had threatened her with steep places and precipices and declared that he would kill her son, "in case," she added, "I haled him hither for trial." "Take courage," said the sage, "for he will not slay him when he has read this." And so saying he drew a letter out of his bosom and gave it to the woman; and the letter, it appears, was addressed to the ghost and contained threats of an alarming kind.


THERE also arrived a man who was lame. He already thirty years old and was a keen hunter of lions; but a lion had sprung upon him and dislocated his hip so that he limped with one leg. However when they massaged with their hands his hip, the youth immediately recovered his upright gait. And another man had had his eyes put out, and he went away having recovered the sight of both of them.

p. 318 p. 319

[paragraph continues] Yet another man had his hand paralyzed; but left their presence in full possession of the limb. And a certain woman had suffered in labor already seven times, but was healed in the following way through the intercession of her husband. He bade the man, whenever his wife should be about to bring forth her next child, to enter her chamber carrying in his bosom a live hare; then he was to walk once round her and at the same moment to release the hare; for that the womb would be extruded together with the fetus, unless the hare was at once driven out.


AND again a certain man who was a father said that he had had several sons, but that they had died the moment they began to drink wine. Iarchas took him up and said: "Yes, and it is just as well they did die; for they would inevitably have gone mad, having inherited, as it appears, from their parents too warm a temperament. Your children," he added, "must therefore abstain from wine, but in order that they may be never led even to desire wine, supposing you should have another boy, and I perceive you had one only six days ago, you must carefully watch the hen owl and find where it builds its nest; then you must snatch its eggs and give them to the child to chew after boiling them properly; for if it is fed upon these, before it tastes wine, a distaste for wine will be bred in it, and it will keep sober by your excluding from its temperament any but natural warmth."

With such lore as this then they surfeited

p. 320 p. 321

themselves, and they were astonished at the many-sided wisdom of the company, and day after day they asked all sorts of questions, and were themselves asked many in turn.

Next: Chapters 41-50