Apollonius of Tyana
The Philosopher Explorer
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
The Travels of Apollonius
>From this point Philostratus professes to base himself to a great extent on the narrative of Damis, and before going further, it is necessary to try to form some estimate of the character of Damis, and discover how far he was admitted to the real confidence of Apollonius.
Damis was an enthusiast who loved Apollonius with a passionate affection. He saw in his master almost a divine being, possessed of marvellous powers at which he continually wondered, but which he could never understand. Like Ânanda, the favourite disciple of the Buddha and his constant companion, Damis advanced but slowly in comprehension of the real nature of spiritual science; he had ever to remain in the outer courts of the temples and communities into whose shrines and inner confidence Apollonius had full access, while he frequently states his ignorance of his master’s plans and purposes. [See especially iii, 15, 41; v 5, 10; vii 10, 13; viii 28.] The additional fact that he refers to his notes as the “crumbs” [ e?fat??sµata ] from the “feasts of the Gods” (i 19), those feasts of which he could for the most part only learn at secondhand what little Apollonius thought fit to tell him, and which he doubtless largely misunderstood and clothed in his own imaginings, would further confirm this view, if any further confirmation was necessary. But indeed it is very manifest everywhere that Damis was outside the circle of initiation, and this accounts both for his wonder-loving point of view and his general superficiality.
Another fact that comes out prominently from the narrative is his timid nature.[ See especially Vii. 13, 14, 15, 223 ]He is continually afraid for himself or for his master; and even towards the end, when Apollonius is imprisoned by Domitian, it requires the phenomenal removal of the fetters before his eyes to assure him that Apollonius is a willing victim.
Damis loves and wonders; seizes on unimportant detail and exaggerates it, while he can only report of the really important things what he fancies to have taken place from a few hints of Apollonius. As his story advances, it is true it takes on a soberer tint; but what Damis omits, Philostratus is ever ready to supply from his own store of marvels, if chance offers.
Nevertheless, even were we with the scalpel of criticism to cut away every morsel of flesh from this body of tradition and legend, there would still remain a skeleton of fact that would still represent Apollonius and give us some idea of his stature.
Apollonius was one of the greatest travellers known to antiquity. Among the countries and places he visited the following are the chief ones recorded by Philostratus. [The list is full of gaps, so that we cannot suppose that Damis’ notes were anything like the complete records of the numerous itineraries; not only so, but one is tempted to believe that whole journeys, in which Damis had no share, are omitted.]
>From Ninus (i 19) Apollonius journeys to Babylon (i 21), where he stops one year and eight months (i 40) and visits surrounding cities such as Ecbatana, the capital of Media (i 39); from Babylon to the Indian frontier no names are mentioned; India was entered in every probability by the Khaibar Pass (ii 6) [Here at any rate they came in sight of the giant mountains, the Imaus (Himavat) or Himâlayan Range, where was the great mountain Meros (Meru), The name of the Hindu Olympus being changed into Meros in Greek had, ever since Alexander’s expedition, given rise to the myth that Bacchus was born from the thigh (meros) of Zeus - presumably one of the facts which led Professor Max Müller to stigmatise the whole of mythology as a “disease of language.”] for the first city mentioned is Taxila (Attock) (ii 20); and so they make their way across the tributaries of the Indus (ii 43) to the valley of the Ganges (iii 5), and finally arrive at the “monastery of the wise men” (iii 10), where Apollonius spends four months (iii 50).
This monastery was presumably in Nepâl; it is in the mountains, and the “city” nearest it is called Paraca. The chaos that Philostratus has made of Damis’ account, and before him the wonderful transformations Damis himself wrought in Indian names, are presumably shown in this word. Paraca is perchance all that Damis could make of Bharata, the general name of the Ganges valley in which the dominant Âryas were settled. It is also probable that these wise men were Buddhists, for they dwelt in a t??s??, a place that looked like a fort or fortress to Damis.
I have little doubt that Philostratus could make nothing out of the geography of India from the names in Damis’ diary; they were all unfamiliar to him, so that as soon as he has exhausted the few Greek names known to him from the accounts of the expedition of Alexander, he wanders in the “ends of the earth,” and can make nothing of it till he picks up our travellers again on their return journey at the mouth of the Indus. The salient fact that Apollonius was making for a certain community, which was his peculiar goal, so impressed the imagination of Philostratus (and perhaps of Damis before him) that he has described it as being the only centre of the kind in India. Apollonius went to India with a purpose and returned from it with distinct mission; [Referring to his instructors he says, “I ever remember my masters and journey through the world teaching what I have learned from them” (vi 18).] and perchance his constant inquiries concerning the particular “wise men” whom he was seeking, led Damis to imagine that they alone were the “Gymnosophists,” the “naked philosophers” (if we are to take the term in its literal sense) of popular Greek legend, which ignorantly ascribed to all the Hindu ascetics the most striking peculiarity of a very small number. But to return to our itinerary.
Philostratus embellishes the account of the voyage from the Indus to the mouth of the Euphrates (iii 52-58) with the travellers’ tales and names of islands and cities he has gleaned from the Indica which were accessible to him, and so we again return to Babylon and familiar geography with the following itinerary:
Babylon, Ninus, Antioch, Seleucia, Cyprus; thence to Ionia (iii 58), where he spends some time in Asia Minor, especially at Ephesus (iv 1), Smyrna (iv 5), Pergamus (iv 9), and Troy (iv II). Thence Apollonius crosses over to Lesbos (iv 13), and subsequently sails for Athens, where he spends some years in Greece (iv 17-33) visiting the temples of Hellas, reforming their rites and instructing the priests (iv 24). We next find him in Crete (iv 34), and subsequently at Rome in the time of Nero (iv 36-46).
In A.D. 66 Nero issued a decree forbidding any philosopher to remain in Rome, and Apollonius set out for Spain, and landed at Gades, the modern Cadiz; he seems to have stayed in Spain only a short time (iv 47); thence crossed to Africa, and so by sea once more to Sicily, where the principal cities and temples were visited (v 11-14). Thence Apollonius returned to Greece (v 18), four years having elapsed since his landing at Athens from Lesbos (v 19). [According to some, Apollonius would be now about sixty-eight years of age. But if he were still young (say thirty years old or so) when he left for India, he must either have spent a very long period in that country, or we have a very imperfect record of his doings in Asia Minor, Greece, Italy, and Spain, after his return.]
>From Pirćus our philosopher sails for Chios (v 21), thence to Rhodes, and so to Alexandria (v 24). At Alexandria he spends some time, and has several interviews with the future Emperor Vespasian (v 27-41), and thence he sets out on a long journey up the Nile so far as Ethopia beyond the cataracts, where he visits an interesting community of ascetics called loosely Gymnosophists (vi 1-27).
On his return to Alexandria (vi 28), he was summoned by Titus, who had just become emperor, to meet him at Tarsus (vi 29-34). After this interview he appears to have returned to Egypt, for Philostratus speaks vaguely of his spending some time in Lower Egypt, and of visits to the Phśnicians, Cilicians, Ionians, Achćans, and also to Italy (vi 35).
Now Vespasian was emperor from 69 to 79, and Titus from 79 to 81. As Apollonius’ interviews with Vespasian took place shortly before the beginning of that emperor’s reign, it is reasonable to conclude that a number of years was spent by our philosopher in his Ethiopian journey, and that therefore Damis’ account is a most imperfect one. In 81 Domitian became emperor, and just as Apollonius opposed the follies of Nero, so did he criticise the acts of Domitian. He accordingly became an object of suspicion to the emperor; but 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 (vii 10-16). Here Apollonius was tried and acquitted (vii 17—viii 10). Sailing from Puteoli again Apollonius returned to Greece (viii 15), where he spent two years (viii 24). Thence once more he crossed over to Ionia at the time of the death of Domitian (viii 25), visiting Smyrna and Ephesus and other of his favourite haunts. Hereupon he sends away Damis on some pretext to Rome (viii 28) and - disappears; that is to say, if it be allowed to speculate, he undertook yet another journey to the place which he loved above all others, the “home of the wise men.”
Now Domitian was killed 96 A.D., and one of the last recorded acts of Apollonius is his vision of this event at the time of its occurrence. Therefore the trial of Apollonius at Rome took place somewhere about 93, and we have a gap of twelve years from his interview with Titus in 81, which Philostratus can only fill up with a few vague stories and generalities.
As to his age at the time of his mysterious disappearance from the pages of history, Philostratus tells us that Damis says nothing; but some, he adds, say he was eighty, some ninety, and some even a hundred.
The estimate of eighty years seems to fit in best with the rest of the chronological indications, but there is no certainty in the matter with the present materials at our disposal.
Such then is the geographical outline, so to say, of the life of Apollonius, and even the most careless reader of the bare skeleton of the journeys recorded by Philostratus must be struck by the indomitable energy of the man, and his power of endurance.
We will now turn our attention to one or two points of interest connected with the temples and communities he visited.