Apollonius of Tyana
by Dr. R. W. Bernard (1964)
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
Part 9: he Trials of Apollonius by Nero and Domitan
Entering Rome, Apollonius publicly denounced the reigning tyranny, as one so grievous that under it men were not permitted to be wise. His discourses being all public, no accusations were made against him for a time. He spoke to men of standing in the same manner as to the common people. A public protest against luxury, delivered on a feast-day in a gymnasium which the Emperor was opening in person, led to his expulsion from Rome by Nero's minister Tegellinus, who henceforth kept a close watch on Apollonius.
His opportunity came at last when there was an epidemic of colds and the temples were full of people making supplicants for the Emperor, because he had a sore throat and the "divine voice" was hoarse. Apollonius, bursting with indignation at the folly of the multitudes remained quiet, but tried to calm a disciple by telling him to pardon the gods if they delight in buffoons."
This saying reported to Tigellinius, he had him arrested. Bringing him to trial, however, he found himself baffled, and in fear of his superhuman powers, let him go. Philostratus tells us that at his trial, "an informer, well instructed, came forward, who had been the ruin of many. He held in his hand a scroll wherein was written the accusation, which he flourished about him like a sword before the eyes of Apollonius, boasting that he had given it a sharp edge, and that now his hour had come. Upon this Tegellinus enfolded the scroll, when, lo, and behold, neither letter nor character was to be seen...All these things appeared, in the eyes of Tigellinus, divine, and above human power, and to show he did not wish to contend with a god, he bid him go where he pleased as he was too strong to be subject to authority."
When Domitian ascended the throne and began to show the same morbid vanity and cruelty which had characterized Nero, we find Apollonius traveling up and down the Empire, spreading seeds of discontent and rebellion against the crowned monster. To Domitian, he fearlessly said, "I am Apollo's subject not thine."*
Discovering the plot against him, Domitian ordered Apollonius to be arrested, but even this did not deter him. When Vespasian was emperor, Apollonius supported and counselled him so long as he worthily tried to follow out his instructions, but when he deprived th&127 Greek cities of their privileges, he immediately rebuked the Emperor to his face. "You have enslaved Greece," he wrote him. "You have reduced a free people to slavery."
When under Domitian, Apollonius became an object of suspicion to the Emperor for criticizing his acts as he did the follies of Nero, instead of keeping away from Rome, he determined to brave the tyrant to his face. Crossing from Egypt to Greece and taking ship at Corinth, he sailed by way of Sicily to Puteoli and thence to the Tiber mouth, and so to Rome where he was tried and acquitted.
Apollonius always considered wisdom his sovereign mistress and defended liberty even under Domitian. He entertained no fears of his own life, for, although many philosophers were going into involuntary exile during Domitian's reign, Apollonius determined to remain and take up arms for the good of Rome against Domitian, as he had done against Nero, although well knowing that Domitian would condemn him to destruction. To the pleading of hid disciple, Demetrius, not to enter Rome at the risk of his life after Domitian threatened to imprison and put to death any philosopher that remained in the city or attempted to enter it, Apollonius replied:
This was brought to Domitian's ears by means of Euphrates. Foreknowing that the Emperor had decided on his arrest, Apollonius anticipated the summons by setting out with Damis for Italy. At Puteoli, he met Demetrius, who told him that he has been accused of "sacrificing a boy to get divinations for the conspirators;" and that the further charges against him were his strange dress and the worship that was said to have been paid him by certain people. Demetrius tried to dissuade his master from staying to brave the anger of a tyrant unmoved by the most just defense, but Apollonius replied that he intended to remain and answer the charges against him, for to flee from a legal trial would, he believed, have the appearance of self-condemnation. And whither could he flee? It must be beyond the limits of the Roman Empire. Should he then seek refuge with men who knew him already, to whom he would have to acknowledge that he has left his friends to be destroyed by an accusation which he has not dared to face himself?
Before the tribunal, Aelian, Domitian's prefect, accused Apollonius of being worshipped by men and thinking himself worthy of equal honors with the gods. Apollonius was thrown into prison, where he spent his time exhorting the prisoners to courage and raising their spirits. Brought before Domitian, he bravely defended Nerva, Rufus and Orfitus, whom Domitian, had imprisoned as conspirators. Domitian insisted that he should defend himself alone from the charges, and not the others who were condemned. Apollonius, rather than defend himself, declared them innocent and protested against the injustice of assuming their guilt before the trial.
Domitian replied, telling him that as regards his own defense, he could take what course he liked; and thereupon he ordered his beard and hair cut, and put him into fetters such as are reserved for the worst criminals. (A letter attributed to Apollonius in which he supplicatingly entreats the Emperor to release him from his bonds, Philostratus pronounced as spurious.)
Being uneasy about his master's fate in Domitian's prison, Damis was reassured by Apollonius who said, "There is no one who will put us to death."
"Tomorrow," answered he, "if it depended on the judge, and this instant if it depended on myself."
While in prison, Domitian sent a Saracusan, who was his "eye and tongue," to Apollonius, telling him that he could gain his release if he gave information about the supposed conspiracy against the Emperor, but he had to leave without result. Apollonius then sent Damis to Puteoli, to expect with.Demetrius his appearance there, after he had made his defense.
Among the charges that Domitian made against Apollonius were the following:
Charge 2nd: With allowing and encouraging men to call him a god.
After his triumphant defense, which he made spontaneously, since he was not permitted to read the long defense he had previously prepared, Domitian acquitted him, asking him, however, to remain so that he could converse with him in private. Apollonius thanked him, but added the stern reproof: