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


Having purged the Ephesians of the plague, and having had enough of the people of Ionia, he started for Hellas. Having made his way then to Pergamun, and being pleased with the temple of Asclepius, he gave hints to the supplicants of the god, what to do in order to obtain favorable dreams; and having healed many of them he came to the land of Ilium. And when his mind was glutted with all the traditions of their past, he went to visit the tombs of the Achaeans, and he delivered himself of many speeches over them, and he offered many sacrifices of a bloodless and pure kind; and then he bade his companions go on board ship, for he himself, he said, must spend a night on the mound of Achilles. Now his companions tried to deter him—for in fact the sons of Dioscorus and the Phaedimi, and a whole company of such already followed in the train of Apollonius—alleging that Achilles was still dreadful as a phantom; for such was the conviction about him of the inhabitants of Ilium. "Nevertheless," said Apollonius, "I know Achilles well and that he thoroughly delights in company; for he heartily welcomed Nestor when he came from Pylos, because he always had something

p. 368 p. 369

useful to tell him; and he used to honor Phoenix with the title of foster-father and companion and so forth, because Phoenix entertained him with his talk; and he looked most mildly upon Priam also, although he was his bitterest enemy, so soon as he heard him talk; and when in the course of a quarrel he had an interview with Odysseus, he made himself so gracious that Odysseus thought him more handsome than terrible.

For, I think that his shield and his plumes that wave so terribly, as they say, are a menace to the Trojans, because he can never forget what he suffered at their hands, when they played him false over the marriage. But I have nothing in common with Ilium, and I shall talk to him more pleasantly than his former companions; and if he slays me, as you say he will, why then I shall repose with Memnon and Cycnus, and perhaps Troy will bury me "in a hollow sepulcher" as they did Hector." Such were his words to his companions, half playful and half serious, as he went up alone to the barrow; but they went on board ship, for it was already evening.


But Apollonius came about dawn to them and said: "Where is Antisthenes of Paros"? And this person had joined their society seven days before in Ilium. And when Antisthenes answered that he was there, he said: "Have you, O young man, any Trojan blood in your veins?" "Certainly I have," he said, "for I am a Trojan by ancestry." "And a descendant of Priam as well?" asked Apollonius.

p. 370 p. 371

[paragraph continues] "Why yes, by Zeus," answered the other, "and that is why I consider myself a good man and of good stock." "That explains then," said the sage, "why Achilles forbids me to associate with you; for after he bade me go as his deputy to the Thessalians in the matter of a complaint which he has against them, and I asked him whether there was anything else which I could do to please him, 'yes', he said, 'you must take care not to initiate the young man from Paros in your wisdom, for he is too much of a descendant of Priam, and the praise of Hector is never out of his mouth.'"


Accordingly, Antisthenes went off though against his will; and when the day broke and the wind off shore increased in strength, and the ship was ready to put to sea, it was invaded in spite of its small dimensions by a number of other people who were anxious to share the voyage with Apollonius; for it was already autumn and the sea was not much to be trusted. They all then regarded Apollonius as one who was master of the tempest and of fire and of perils of all sorts, and so wished to go on board with him. But as the company was many times too great for the ship, spying a larger ship—for there were many in the neighborhood of the tomb of Ajax—he said: "Let us go on board this, for it is a good thing to get home safely with as many as may be." He accordingly doubled the promontory of Troy, and then commanded the pilot

p. 372 p. 373

to shape his course towards the country of the Aeolians, which lies over against Lesbos, and then to turn as close as he could to Methymna, and there to cast anchor. For there it was, he said, that Achilles declared Palamedes lay,, where also they would find his image a cubit high, representing however a man older than was ever Palamedes. And at the moment of disembarking from the ship, he said: "Let us show our respect, O ye Greeks, for so good a man to whom we owe all wisdom. For we shall anyhow prove ourselves better men than the Achaeans, if we pay tribute to the excellence of one whom they so unjustly slew." They then had hardly leapt of the ship, when he hit upon the tomb and found the statue buried beside it. And there were inscribed on the base of the statue the words: "To the divine Palamedes." He accordingly set it up again in its place, as I myself saw; and he raised a shrine around it of the size which the worshippers of the goddess of the crossways, called Enodia, use; for it was large enough for ten persons at once to sit and drink and keep good cheer in; and having done so he offered up the following prayer: "O Palamedes, do thou forget the wrath, wherewith thou wast wroth against the Achaeans, and grant that men may multiply in numbers and wisdom. Yea, O Palamedes, author of all eloquence, author the Muses, author of myself."


He also visited in passing the shrine of Orpheus when he had put in at Lesbos. And they tell that

p. 374 p. 375

it was here that Orpheus once on a time loved to prophesy, before Apollo had turned his attention to him. For when the latter found that men no longer flocked to Gryneium for the sake of oracles nor to Clarus nor (to Delphi) where is the tripod of Apollo, and that Orpheus was the only oracle, his head having come from Thrace, he presented himself before the giver of oracles and said: "Cease to meddle with my affairs, for I have already put up long enough with your vaticinations."


After this they continued their voyage along the sea of Euboea, which Homer considered to be one of the most dangerous and difficult to traverse. However the sea was smooth and was much better than you expected in that season; and their conversation turned upon the many and famous islands they were visiting, and upon shipbuilding and pilotage and other topics suitable to a voyage. But as Damis found fault with some of the things they said, and cut short many of their remarks, and would not allow some of their questions to be put, Apollonius realized that he was anxious to discuss some other topic and said: "What ails you, Damis, that you break in on the course of our questions in this way? For I am sure that it is not because you are seasick or in any way inconvenienced by the voyage, that you object to our conversation; for you see how smoothly our ship is wafted over her bosom by the submissive sea. Why then are you so uneasy?" "Because," replied the other, "when a

p. 376 p. 377

great topic suggests itself, which we surely ought rather to be asking about, we are asking questions about these threadbare and antiquated subjects." "And what," said Apollonius, "may be this topic which makes you regard all others as superfluous?" "You have," he answered, "had an interview with Achilles, O Apollonius, and probably you have heard him speak at length of many things so far unknown to ourselves; and yet you tell us nothing about these, nor do you describe to us the figure of Achilles, but you fill you conversation with talk of the islands we are sailing round and of ship-building." "If you will not accuse me of bragging," said Apollonius, "you shall ear everything."


The rest of the company also besought him to tell them all about it, and as they were in a mood to listen to him, he said: "Well, it was not by digging a ditch like Odysseus, nor by tempting souls with the blood of sheep, that I obtained a conversation with Achilles; but I offered up the prayer which the Indians say they use in approaching their heroes. 'O Achilles,' I said, 'most of mankind declare that you are dead, but I cannot agree with them, nor can Pythagoras, my spiritual ancestor. If then we hold the truth, show to us your own form; for you would profit not a little by showing yourself to my eyes, if you should be able to use them to attest your existence.' Thereupon a slight earthquake shook the neighborhood of the barrow, and a youth issued forth five cubits high, wearing a cloak of

p. 378 p. 379

[paragraph continues] Thessalian fashion; but in appearance he was by no means the braggart figure which some imagine Achilles to have been. Though he was stern to look upon, he had never lost his bright look; and it seems to me that his beauty has never received its meed of praise, even though Homer dwelt at length upon it; for it was really beyond the power of words, and it is easier for the singer to ruin his fame in this respect than to praise him as he deserved. At first sight he was of the size which I have mentioned, but he grew bigger, till he was twice as large and even more than that; at any rate he appeared to me to be twelve cubits high just at that moment when he reached his complete stature, and his beauty grew apace with his length. He told me then that he had never at any time shorn off his hair, bit preserved it to inviolate for the river Spercheus, for this was the river of his first intimacy; but on his cheeks you saw the first down.

And he addressed me and said: 'I am pleased to have met you, since I have long wanted a man like yourself. For the Thessalians for a long time past have failed to present their offerings to my tomb, and I do not yet wish to show my wrath against them; for if I did so, they would perish more thoroughly than ever the Hellenes did on this spot; accordingly I resort to gentle advice, and would warn them not to violate ancient custom, nor to prove themselves worse men than the Trojans here, who though they were robbed of so many of their heroes by myself, yet sacrifice publicly to me, and also give me the tithes of their fruits of season, and olive branch in hand ask for a truce from my hostility. But this I will not grant,

p. 380 p. 381

for the perjuries which they committed against me will not suffer Ilium ever to resume its pristine beauty, nor to regain the prosperity which yet has favored many a city that was destroyed of old; nay, if they rebuild it, things shall go as hard with them as if their city had been captured only yesterday. In order then to save me from bringing the Thessalian polity then to the same condition, you must go as my envoy to their council in behalf of the object I have mentioned.' 'I will be your envoy,' I replied, 'for the object of my embassy were to save them from ruin. But, O Achilles, I would ask something of you.' 'I understand,' said he, 'for it is plain you are going to ask about the Trojan war. So ask me five questions about whatever you like, and that the Fates approve of.' I accordingly asked him firstly, if he had obtained burial in accordance with the story of the poets. 'I lie here,' he answered, 'as was most delightful to myself and Patroclus; for you know we met in mere youth, and a single golden jar holds the remains of both of us, as if we were one. But as for the dirges of the Muses and Nereids, which they say are sung over me, the Muses, I may tell you, never once came here at all, though the Nereids still resort to the spot.' Next I asked him, if Polyxena was really slaughtered over his tomb; and he replied that this was true, but that she was not slain by the Achaeans, but that she came of her own free will to the sepulcher, and that so high was the value she set on her passion for him and she for her, that she threw herself upon an upright sword. The third questions was this: 'Did Helen, O Achilles, really come to Troy or was it Homer that was

p. 382 p. 383

pleased to make up the story?' 'For a long time,' he replied, 'we were deceived and tricked into sending envoys to the Trojans and fighting battles in her behalf, in the belief that she was in Ilium, whereas she really was living in Egypt and in the house of Proteus, whither she had been snatched away by Paris. But when we became convinced thereof, we continued to fight to win Troy itself, so as not to disgrace ourselves by retreat.' The fourth question which I ventured upon was this: 'I wonder,' I said, 'that Greece ever produced at any one time so many and such distinguished heroes as Homer says were gathered against Troy.' But Achilles answered: 'Why even the barbarians did not fall far short of us, so abundantly then did excellence flourish all over the earth.' And my fifth question was this: 'Why was it that Homer knew nothing about Palamedes, or if he knew him, then kept him out of your story?' 'If Palamedes,' he answered, 'never came to Troy, then Troy never existed either. But since this wisest and most warlike hero fell in obedience to Odysseus' whim, Homer does not introduce him into his poems, lest he should have to record the shame of Odysseus in his song.' And withal Achilles raised a wail over him as over one who was the greatest and most beautiful of men, the youngest and also the most warlike, one who in sobriety surpassed all others, and had often foregathered with the Muses. 'But you,' he added, 'O Apollonius, since sages have a tender regard for one another, you must care for his tomb and restore the image of Palamedes that has been so contemptuously cast aside; and it lies in Aeolis close to Methymna

p. 384 p. 385

in Lesbos.' Wit these words and with the closing remarks concerning the youth from Paros, Achilles vanished with a flash of summer lightning, for indeed the cocks were already beginning their chant."


So much for the conversation on board; but having sailed into the Piraeus at the season of the mysteries, when the Athenians keep the most crowded of Hellenic festivals, he went post haste up from the ship into the city; but as he went forward, he fell in with quite a number of students of philosophy on their way down to Phaleron. Some of them were stripped and enjoying the heat, for in autumn the sun is hot upon the Athenians; and others were studying books, and some were rehearsing their speeches, and others were disputing. But no one passed him by, for they all guessed that it was Apollonius, and they turned and thronged around him and welcomed him warmly; and ten youths in a body met him and holding up their hands to the Acropolis, they cried: "By Athena yonder, we were on the point of going down to the Piraeus there to take ship to Ionia in order to visit you." And he welcomed them and said how much he congratulated them on their study of philosophy.


It was then the day of the Epidaurian festival, at which it is still customary for the Athenians to

p. 386 p. 387

hold the initiation at a second sacrifice after both proclamation and victims have been offered; and this custom was instituted in honor of Asclepius, because they still initiated him when on one occasion he arrived from Epidaurus too late for the mysteries. Now most people neglected the initiation and hung around Apollonius, and thought more of doing that than of being perfected in their religion before they went home; but Apollonius said that he would join them later on, and urged them to attend at once to the rites of the religion, for that he himself would be initiated. But the hierophant was not disposed to admit him to the rites, for he said that he would never initiate a wizard and charlatan, nor open the Eleusinian rite to a man who dabbled in impure rites. Thereupon Apollonius, fully equal to the occasion, said: "You have not yet mentioned the chief of my offense, which is that knowing, as I do, more about the initiatory rite than you do yourself, I have nevertheless come for initiation to you, as if you were wiser than I am." The bystanders applauded these words, and deemed that he had answered with vigor and like himself; and thereupon the hierophant, since he saw that his exclusion of Apollonius was not by any means popular with the crowd, changed his tone and said: "Be thou initiated, for thou seemest to be some wise man who has come here." But Apollonius replied: "I will be initiated at another time, and it is so and so," mentioning a name, "who will initiate me." Herein he showed his gift of prevision, for he glanced at the hierophant who succeeded the one he addressed, and presided over the temple four years later.

p. 388 p. 389


Many were the discourses which according to Damis the sage delivered at Athens; though he did not write down all of them, but only the more indispensable ones in which he handled great subjects. He took for the topic of his first discourse the matter of rite and ceremonies, and this because he saw that the Athenians were much addicted to sacrifices; and in it he explained how a religious man could best adapt his sacrifice, his libations, or prayers to any particular divinity, and at what hours of day and night he ought to offer them. And it is possible to obtain a book of Apollonius, in which he gives instructions in his own words. But Athens he discussed these topics with a view to improving his own wisdom and that of others in the first place, and in the second of convincing the hierophant of blasphemy and ignorance in the remarks he had made; for who could continue to regard as one impure in his religion a man who taught philosophically how the worship of the gods is to be conducted?


Now while he was discussing the question of libations, there chanced to be present in his audience a young dandy who bore so evil a reputation for licentiousness that his conduct had long been the subject of coarse street-corner songs. His home was Corcyra, and he traced his pedigree to Alcinous the Phaeacian who entertained Odysseus. Apollonius then

p. 390 p. 391

was talking about libations, and was urging them not to drink out of a particular cup, but to reserve it for the gods, without ever touching it or drinking out of it. But when he also urged them to have handles on the cup, and to pour the libation over the handle, because that is the part at which men are least likely to drink, the youth burst out into loud and coarse laughter, and quite drowned his voice. Then Apollonius looked up and said: "It is not yourself that perpetrates this insult, but the demon, who drives you without your knowing it." And in fact the youth was, without knowing it, possessed by a devil; for he would laugh at things that no one else laughed at, and then would fall to weeping for no reason at all, and he would talk and sing to himself. Now most people thought that it was boisterous humor of youth which led him into excesses; but he was really the mouthpiece of a devil, though it only seemed a drunken frolic in which on that occasion he was indulging. Now, when Apollonius gazed on him, the ghost in him began to utter cries of fear and rage, such as one hears from people who are being branded or racked; and the ghost swore that he would leave the you man alone and never take possession of any man again. But Apollonius addressed him with anger, as a master might a shifty, rascally, and shameless slave and so on, and he ordered him to quit the young man and show by a visible sign that he had done so. "I will throw down yonder statue," said the devil, and pointed to one of the images which were there in the king's portico, for there it was that the scene took place. But when the statue began by moving gently, and then fell down, it would defy anyone to describe

p. 392 p. 393

the hubbub which arose thereat and the way they clapped their hand with wonder. But the young man rubbed his eyes as if he had just woke up, and he looked towards the rays of the sun, and assumed a modest aspect, as all had their attention concentrated on him; for he no longer showed himself licentious, nor did he stare madly about, but he had returned to his own self, as thoroughly as if he had been treated with drugs; and he gave up his dainty dress and summery garments and the rest of his sybaritic way of life, and he fell in love with the austerity of philosophers, and donned their cloak, and stripping off his old self modeled his life and future upon that of Apollonius.

Next: Chapters 21-30