The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Philostratus, tr. F.C. Conybeare, , at sacred-texts.com
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Now in regard to the Pillars which they say Heracles fixed in the ground as limits of the earth, I shall omit mere fables, and confine myself to recording what is worthy of our hearing and of our narrating. The extremes of Europe and Libya border on a strait sixty stadia wide, through which the ocean is admitted into the inner seas. The extremity of Libya, which bears the name Abinna, furnishes a haunt of lions, who hunt their prey along the brows of the mountains which are to be seen rising inland, and it marches with the Gaetuli and Tingae, both of them wild Libyan tribes; and it extends as you sail into the ocean as far as the mouth of the river Salex, some nine hundred stadia, and beyond that point a further distance which no one can compute, because when you have passed this river Libya is a desert which no longer supports a population. But the promontory of Europe, known as Calpis, stretches along the inlet of the ocean and tight hand side distance of six hundred stadia, and terminates in the ancient city of Gadeira.
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Now I myself have seen among the Celts the ocean tides just as they are described; and after making various conjectures about why so vast a bulk of waters recedes and advances, I have come to the conclusion that Apollonius discerned the real truth. For in one of his letters to the Indians he says that the ocean is driven by submarine influences or spirits out of several chasms which the earth afford both underneath and around it, to advance outwards, and to recede again, whenever the influence or spirit, like the breath of our bodies, gives way and recedes. And this theory is confirmed by the course run by diseases in Gadeira; for at the time of high water the souls of the dying do not quit the bodies, and this would hardly happen, he says, unless the influence or spirit I have spoken of was also advancing towards the land. They also tell you of certain phenomena of the ocean in connection with the phases of the moon, according as it is born and reaches fulness and wanes. These phenomena I verified, for the ocean exactly keeps pace with the size of the moon, decreasing and increasing with her.
And whereas the day succeeds the night and night succeeds the day in the land of the Celts by a very slow diminution of the darkness and of the light respectively, as in this country, in the neighborhood of Gadeira on the contrary and of the Pillars, it is said that the change bursts upon the eyes all at
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once, like a flash of lightning. And they also say that the Islands of the Blessed are to be fixed by the limits of Libya where they rise towards the uninhabited promontory.
Now the city of Gadeira is situated at the extreme end of Europe, and its inhabitants are excessively given to religion; so much so that they have set up an altar to old age, and unlike any other race they sing hymns in honor of death; and altars are found there set up to poverty, and to art, and to Heracles of Egypt, and there are others in honor of Heracles the Theban. For they say that the latter advanced against the neighboring town of Erythea, on which occasion he took captive Geryon and his cows; the other, they say, in his devotion to wisdom measured the whole earth up to its limits. They say moreover that there is a Hellenic culture at Gadeira, and that they educate themselves in our own fashion; anyhow, that they are fonder of the Athenians than of any other Hellenes, and they offer sacrifice to Menestheus the Athenian, and from admiration of Themistocles the naval commander, and to honor him for his wisdom and bravery, they have set up a brazen statue of him in thoughtful attitude and, as it were, pondering an oracle.
They say that they saw trees here such as are not found elsewhere upon the earth; and that these
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were called the trees of Geryon. There were two of them, and they grew upon the mound raised over Geryon: they were a cross between the pitch tree and the pine, and formed a third species; and blood dripped from their bark, just as gold does from the Heliad poplar. Now the island on which the shrine is built is of exactly the same size as the temple, and there is not a rough stone to be found in it, for the whole of it has been given the form of a polished turning-post. In the shrine they say there is maintained a cult both of one and the other Heracles, though there are no images of them; altars however there are, namely, to the Egyptian Heracles two of bronze and perfectly plain, to the Theban, one of stone; on the latter they say are engraved in relief hydras and the mares of Diomedes and the twelve labors of Heracles. And as to the golden olive of Pygmalion, it too is preserved in the temple of Heracles, and it excited their admiration by the clever way in which the branch work was imitated; and they were still more astonished at its fruit, for this teemed with emeralds. And they say that the girdle of Teucer of Telamon was also exhibited there of gold, but how he ever sailed as far as the ocean, or why he did so, neither Damis by his own admission could understand nor ascertain from the people of the place. But he says that the pillars in the temple were made of gold and silver smelted together so as to be of one color, and they were over a cubit high, of square form, resembling anvils; and their capitals were inscribed with letters which were neither Egyptian nor Indian nor of any kind which he could decipher. But Apollonius, since the priests would tell him nothing, remarked: "Heracles
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of Egypt does not permit me not to tell all I know. These pillars are ties between earth and ocean, and they were inscribed by Heracles in the house of the Fates, to prevent any discord arising between the elements, and to save their mutual affection for one another from violation."
They tell also of how they sailed up the river Baetis, which throws no little light upon the nature of the ocean. For whenever it is high tide, the river in its course remounts towards its sources, because apparently a current of air drives it away from the sea. And the mainland of Baetica, after which the river is called, is the best by their account of any continent; for it is well furnished with cities and pastures, and the river is brought by canals through all the towns, and it is very highly cultivated with all sorts of crops; and it enjoys a climate similar to that of Attica in the autumn season when the mysteries are celebrated.
The conversations which Apollonius held about things which met his eyes were, according to Damis, many in number, but the following he said deserve to be recorded. On one occasion they were sitting in the temple of Heracles and Menippus gave a laugh, for it happened that Nero had just come to his mind, "And what," he said, "are we to think of this splendid fellow? In which of the
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contests has he won wreaths of late? Don't you think that self-respecting Hellenes must shake with laughter when they are on their way to the festivals?" And Apollonius replied: "As I have heard from Telesinus, the worthy Nero is afraid of the whips of the Eleans; for when his flatterers urged him to win at Olympia and to proclaim Rome as the victor, he answered: 'Yes, if the Eleans will only not depreciate me, for they are said to use whips and to look down upon me.' And many worse bits of nonsense than this forecast fell from his lips. I however admit that Nero will conquer at Olympia, for who is bold enough to enter the lists against him? But I deny that he will win at the Olympic festival, because they are not keeping it at the right season. For custom requires that this should have been held last year, but Nero has ordered the Eleans to put it off until his own visit, in order that they may sacrifice to him rather than to Zeus. And it is said that he has announced a tragedy and a performance on the harp for people who have neither a theater nor a stage for such entertainments, but only the stadium which nature has provided, and races which are all run by athletes stripped of their clothes. He however is going to take the prize for performances which he ought to have hidden in the dark, for he has thrown off the robes of Augustus and Julius and has dressed himself up in the garb of an Amoebeus or a Terpnus. What can you say of such a record? And then he betrays such a meticulous care in playing the part of Creon and Oedipus, that he is afraid of falling into some error, of coming in by the wrong door, or of wearing the wrong dress, of using the wrong scepter; but he has so entirely forgotten his own dignity and that of
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the Romans, that instead of carrying on the work of making laws, he has taken to singing, and strolls like a player outside the gates within which the Emperor ought to take his seat on his throne, deciding the fate of land and sea. There are, O Menippus, several troupes in which has inscribed himself as an actor. What next? Supposing any one of these actors quitted the theater after playing Oenomaus or Cresphontes, so full of his part as to want to rule others, and imagine himself to be a tyrant, what would you say of him? Surely you would recommend a dose of hellebore and the taking of drugs of a kind that clear the intellect? Well, here is the man himself who wields absolute power, throwing in his lot with actors and artists, cultivating a soft voice and trembling before the people of Elis or of Delphi; or if he does not tremble, yet misrepresenting his art so thoroughly as [not] to anticipate he will be whipped by the people over whom he has been set to rule. What will you say of the unhappy people who have to live under such a scum? And in what light do you think the Hellenes regard him? Is it as a Xerxes burning their houses down or as a Nero singing songs? Think of the supplies they have to collect for his songs, and how they are thrust out of their houses and forbidden to own a decent bit of furniture or slave. Think of how Nero picks out of every other house women and children, to gratify his infamous desires, and of the horrors they will suffer over them, of the crop of prosecutions which will be brought, and without dwelling upon the rest, just fix your attention upon those which will arise out of his theatrical and singing ambitions. This is what you hear: 'You did not come to listen to Nero,' or: 'You were
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present, but you listened to him without enthusiasm, 'You laughed,' or 'You did not clap your hands, 'or 'You have not offered a sacrifice in behalf of his voice not prayed that it may be more splendid than ever at the Pythian festival.' You can imagine that the Greeks will endure whole Iliads of woe at these spectacles. For I have long ago learned by the revelation of heaven that the Isthmus will be cut through and will not be cut through, and just now, they say, it is being cut." Here Damis took him up and said: "As for myself, O Apollonius, I think this scheme of cutting through the Isthmus excels all other undertakings of Nero, for you yourself see how magnificent a project it is." "I admit," he said, "that it is, O Damis; but it will go against him that he never could complete it, that just as he never finished his songs, so he never finished his digging. When I review the career of Xerxes, I am disposed to praise him not because he bridged the Hellespont, but because he got across it; but as for Nero, I perceive that he will neither sail his ships through the Isthmus, nor ever come to an end of his digging; and I believe, unless truth has wholly departed from among men, that he has retired from Hellas in a fit of panic."
At this time a swift runner arrived at Gadeira, and ordered them to offer sacrifices for the good tidings, and to sing hymns in honor of Nero who had thrice won the prize at Olympia. In the city of Gadeira indeed they understood the meaning of the victory, and that there had been some famous contest in
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[paragraph continues] Arcadia; for, as I said before, the people of Gadeira affect Hellenic civilization. But the cities in the neighborhood of Gadeira neither knew what the Olympic Festival was, nor what a contest nor an arena meant; nor did they understand what they were sacrificing for, but they indulged in the most ridiculous suppositions, and imagined that it was a victory in war that Nero had won and that he had taken captive some men called Olympians; for they had never been spectators either of a tragedy or of a harp-playing performance.
Damis indeed speaks of the singular effect which a tragic actor produced upon the minds of the inhabitants of Ipola, which is a city of Baetica, and I think the story is worthy of being reproduced by me. The cities were multiplying their sacrifices in honor of the Emperor's victories, for those at the Pythian festival were already anounced, when an actor of tragedy, who was one of those that had not ventured to contend for the prize against Nero, was on a strolling tour round the cities of the west, and by his histrionic talent he had won no small fame among the less barbarous of the populations, for two reasons, firstly because he found himself among people who had never before heard a tragedy, and secondly because he pretended exactly to reproduce the melodies of Nero. But when he appeared at Ipola, they showed some fear of him before he ever opened his lips upon the stage, and they shrank in dismay at his appearance when they
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saw him striding across the stage, with his mouth all agape, mounted on buskins extra high, and clad in the most wonderful garments; but when he lifted up his voice and bellowed out loud, most of them took to their heels, as if they had a demon yelling at them. Such and so old-fashioned are the manners of the barbarians of that country.
The governor of Baetica was very anxious to have a conversation with Apollonius, and though the latter said that his conversation must seem tedious to any but philosophers, the other insisted in his demand. And as he was said to be a worthy person and detested the mimes of Nero, Apollonius wrote to him a letter asking him to come to Gadeira; and he, divesting himself of all the pomp of authority, came with a few of his most intimate friends. They greeted one another, and no one knows what they said to one another in an interview from which they excluded the rest of the company; but Damis hazards the opinion that they formed a plot against Nero. For after three days spent in private conversations, the governor went away, after embracing Apollonius, while the latter said: "Farewell, and do not forget Vindex." Now what was the meaning of this? When Nero was singing in Achaea, Vindex is said to have stirred up against him the nations of the West, and he was a man quite capable of cutting out the strings which Nero so ignorantly twanged. For he addressed a speech, inspired by the loftiest sentiments which a man can feel against a tyrant, to the troops which he
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commanded, and he declared in it that Nero was anything rather than a harpist, and a harpist rather than a sovereign. And he taxed him with madness and avarice and cruelty and wantonness of every kind, though he omitted to tax him with the cruelest of crimes; for he said that he had quite rightly put to death his mother, because she had borne such a monster. Apollonius, forecasting how all this must be, had accordingly brought into line with Vindex the governor of a neighboring province, and so all but took up arms himself in behalf of Rome.