Apollonius of Tyana
The Philosopher Explorer
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His Mode of Life
Our philosopher was an enthusiastic follower of the Pythagorean discipline; nay, Philostratus would have us believe that he made more super-human efforts to reach wisdom than even the great Samian (i 2). The outer forms of this discipline as exemplified in Pythagoras are thus summed up by our author.
“Naught would he wear that came from a dead beast, nor touch a morsel of a thing that once had life, nor offer it in sacrifice; not for him to stain with blood the altars; but honey-cakes and incense, and the service of his song went upward from the man unto the Gods, for well he knew that they would take such gifts far rather than the oxen in their hundreds with the knife. For he, in sooth, held converse with the Gods and learned from them how they were pleased with men and how displeased, and thence as well he drew his nature-lore. As for the rest, he said, they guessed at the divine, and held opinions on the Gods which proved each other false; but unto him Apollo’s self did come, confessed, without disguise, [That is to say not in a “form,” but in his own nature.] and there did come as well, though unconfessed, Athena and the Muses, and other Gods whose forms and names mankind did not yet know.
Hence his disciples regarded Pythagoras as an inspired teacher, and received his rules as laws. “In particular did they keep the rule of silence regarding the divine science. For they heard within them many divine and unspeakable things on which it would have been difficult for them to keep silence, had they not first learned that it was just this silence which spoke to them” (i I).
Such was the general declaration of the nature of the Pythagorean discipline by its disciples. But, says Apollonius in his address to the Gymnosphists, Pythagoras was not the inventor of it. It was the immemorial wisdom, and Pythagoras himself had learnt it from the Indians. [See in this connection L. v. Schroeder, Pythagoras und die Inder, eine Untersuchung über Herkunft und Abstammung der pythagoreischen Lehren (Leipzig 1884).] This wisdom, he continued, had spoken to him in his youth; she had said:
“For sense, young sir, I have no charms; my cup is filled with toils unto the brim. Would anyone embrace my way of life, he must resolve to banish from his board all food that once bore life, to lose the memory of wine, and thus no more to wisdom's cup befoul— the cup that doth consist of wine-untainted souls. Nor shall wool warm him, nor aught that’s made from any beast. I give my servants shoes of bast and as they can to sleep. And if I find them overcome with love’s delights, I’ve ready pits down into which that justice which doth follow hard on wisdom's foot, doth drag and thrust them; indeed, so stern am I to those who choose my way, that e’en upon their tongues I bind a chain. Now hear from me what things thou’lt gain, if thou endure. An innate sense of fitness and of right, and ne’er to feel that any’s lot is better than they own; tyrants to strike with fear instead of being a fearsome slave to tyranny; to have the Gods more greatly bless thy scanty gifts than those who pour before them blood of bulls. If thou are pure, I’ll give thee how to know what things will be as well, and fill thy eyes so full of light, that thou may’st recognise the Gods, the heroes know, and prove and try the shadowy forms that feign the shapes of men “ (vi II).
The whole life of Apollonius shows that he tried to carry out consistently this rule of life, and the repeated statements that he would never join in the blood-sacrifices of the popular cults (see especially i 24, 31; iv 11; v 25), but openly condemned them, show not only that the Pythagorean school had ever set the example of the higher way of purer offerings, but that they were not only not condemned and persecuted as heretics on this account, but were rather regarded as being of peculiar sanctity, and as following a life superior to that of ordinary mortals.
The refraining from the flesh of animals, however, was not simply based upon ideas of purity, it found additional sanction in the positive love of the lower kingdoms and the horror of inflicting pain on any living creature. Thus Apollonius bluntly refused to take any part in the chase, when invited to do so by his royal host at Babylon. “Sire,” he replied, “have you forgotten that even when you sacrifice I will not be present? Much less then would I do these beasts to death, and all the more when their spirit is broken and they are penned in contrary to their nature” (i 38). [This has reference to the preserved hunting parks, or “paradises,” of the Babylonian monarchs.]
But though Apollonius was an unflinching task-master unto himself, he did not wish to impose his mode of life on others, even on his personal friends and companions (provided of course they did not adopt it of their own free will). Thus he tells Damis that he has no wish to prohibit him from eating flesh and drinking wine, he simply demands the right of refraining himself and of defending his conduct if called on to do so (ii 7). This is an additional indication that Damis was not a member of the inner circle of discipline, and the latter fact explains why so faithful a follower of the person of Apollonius was nevertheless so much in the dark.
Not only so, but Apollonius even dissuades the Râjâh Phraotes, his first host in India, who desired to adopt his strict rule, from doing so, on the ground that it would estrange him too much from his subjects (ii 37).
Three times a day Apollonius prayed and meditated; at daybreak (vi 10, 18; vii 31), at midday (vii 10), and at sun-down (viii 13). This seems to have been his invariable custom; no matter where he was he seems to have devoted at least a few moments to silent meditation at these times. The object of his worship is always said to have been the “Sun,” that is to say the Lord of our world and its sister worlds, whose glamorous symbol is the orb of day.
We have already seen in the short sketch devoted to his “Early Life” how he divided the day and portioned out his time among his different classes of hearers and inquirers. His style of teaching and speaking was the opposite of that of a rhetorician or professional orator. There was no art in his sentences, no striving after effect, no affectation. But he spoke “as from a tripod,” with such words as “I know,” “Methinks,” “Why do ye,” “Ye should know.” His sentences were short and compact, and his words carried conviction with them and fitted the facts. His task, he declared, was no longer to seek and to question as he had done in his youth, but to teach what he knew (i 17). He did not use the dialectic of the Socratic school, but would have his hearers turn from all else and give ear to the inner voice of philosophy alone (iv 2). He drew his illustrations from any chance occurrence or homely happening (iv 3; vi 3, 38), and pressed all into service for the improvement of his listeners.
When put on his trial, he would make no preparation for his defence. He had lived his life as it came from day to day, prepared for death, and would continue to do so (viii 30). Moreover it was now his deliberate choice to challenge death in the cause of philosophy. And so to his old friend’s repeated solicitations to prepare his defence, he replied:
“Damis, you seem to lose your wits in face of death, though you have been so long with me and I have loved philosophy e’en from my youth; [Reading ????s?f? for ????s?f?? ] I thought that you were both yourself prepared for death and knew full well my generalship in this. For just as warriors in the field have need not only of good courage but also of that generalship which tells them when to fight, so too must they who wisdom love make careful study of good times to die, that they may choose the best and not be done to death all unprepared. That I have chosen best and picked the moment which suits wisdom best to give death battle—if so it be that any one should wish to slay me - I' ve proved to other friends when you were by, nor ever ceased to teach you it alone” (vii 31).
The above are some few indications of how our philosopher lived, in fear of nothing but disloyalty to his high ideal. We will now make mention of some of his more personal traits, and of some of the names of his followers.