Apollonius of Tyana
The Philosopher Explorer
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
From His Letters
It is evident that Philostratus had access to letters attributed to Apollonius, for he quotes a number of them, [See i 7, 15, 24, 32; iii 51; iv 5, 22, 26, 27, 46; v 2, 10, 39, 40, 41; vi 18, 27, 29, 31, 33; viii 7, 20, 27, 28.], and there seems no reason to doubt their authenticity. Whence he obtained them does not inform us, unless it be that they were the collection made by Hadrian at Antium (viii 20).
That the reader may be able to judge of the style of Apollonius we append one or two specimens of these letters, or rather notes, for they are too short to deserve the title of epistles. Here is one to the magistrates of Sparta:
“Apollonius to the Ephors, greeting!
“It is possible for men not to make mistakes, but it requires noble men to acknowledge they have made them.”
All of which Apollonius gets into just half as many words in Greek. Here, again, is an interchange of notes between the two greatest philosophers of the time, both of whom suffered imprisonment and were in constant danger of death.
“Apollonius to Musonius, the philosopher, greeting!
“I want to go to you, to share speech and roof with you, to be of some service to you. If you still believe that Hercules once rescued Theseus from Hades, write what you would have. Farewell!”
“Musonius to Apollonius, the philosopher, greeting! “Good merit shall be stored for you for your good thoughts; what is in store for me is one who waits his trial and proves his innocence. Farewell.”
“Apollonius to Musonius, greeting!
“Socrates refused to be got out of prison by his friends and went before the judges. He was put to death. Farewell.”
“Musonius to Apollonius, the philosopher, greeting!
“Socrates was put to death because he made no preparation for his defence. I shall do so. Farewell!”
However, Musonius, the Stoic, was sent to penal servitude by Nero.
Here is a note to the Cynic Demetrius, another of our philosopher’s most devoted friends.
“Apollonius, the philosopher, to Demetrius, the Dog, [I.e., Cynic.] greeting!
“I give thee to Titus, the emperor, to teach him the way of kingship, and do you in turn give me to speak him true; and be to him all things but anger. Farewell!”
In addition to the notes quoted in the text of Philostratus, there is a collection of ninety-five letters, mostly brief notes, the text of which is printed in most editions. [Chassang (op cit., pp 395 sqq) gives a French translation of them.] Nearly all the critics are of opinion that they are not genuine, but Jowett [Art. “Apollonius,” Smith’s Dict of Class Biog.] and others think that some of them may very well be genuine.
Here is a specimen or two of these letters. Writing to Euphrates, his great enemy, that is to say Champion of pure rationalistic ethic against the science of sacred things, he says:
17. “The Persians call those who have the divine faculty (or are god-like) Magi. A Magus, then, is one who is a minister of the Gods, or one who has by nature the god-like faculty. You are no Magus but reject the Gods (i.e., are an atheist).”
Again, in a letter addressed to Criton, we read:
23. “Pythagoras said that the most divine art was that of healing. And if the healing art is most divine, it must occupy itself with the soul as well as with the body; for no creature can be sound so long as the higher part in it is sickly.”
Writing to the priests of Delphi against the practice of blood-sacrifice, he says:
27. “Heraclitus was a sage, but even he [That is to say, a philosopher of 600 years ago.] never advised the people of Ephesus to wash out mud with mud.” [That is to expiate blood-guiltiness with blood-sacrifice.]
Again, to some who claimed to be his followers, those “who think themselves wise,” he writes the reproof:
43. “If any say he is my disciple, then let him add he keeps himself apart out of the Baths, he slays no living thing, eats of no flesh, is free from envy, malice, hatred, calumny, and hostile feelings, but has his name inscribed among the race of those who’ve won their freedom.”
Among these letters is found one of some length addressed to Valerius, probably P. Valerius Asiaticus, consul in A.D. 70. It is a wise letter of philosophic consolation to enable Valerius to bear the loss of his son, and runs as follows: [Chaignet (A. É), in his Pythagore et la Philosophie pythagoricienne (Paris 1873, 2nd ed 1874), cites this as a genuine example of Apollonius philosophy.]
“There is no death of anyone, but only in appearance, even as there is no birth of any, save only in seeming. The change from being to becoming seems to be birth, and the change from becoming to being seems to be death, but in reality no one is ever born, nor does one ever die. It is simply a being visible and then invisible; the former through the density of matter, and the latter because of the subtlety of being - being which is ever the same, its only change being motion and rest. For being has this necessary peculiarity, that its change is brought about by nothing external to itself; but whole becomes parts and parts become whole in the oneness of the all. And if it be asked: What is this which sometimes is seen and sometimes not seen, now in the same, now in the different?—it might be answered: It is the way of everything here in the world below that when it is filled out with matter it is visible, owing to the resistance of its density, but is invisible, owing to its subtlety, when it is rid of matter, though matter still surround it and flow through it in that immensity of space which hems it in but knows no birth or death.
“But why has this false notion [of birth and death] remained so long without a refutation? Some think that what has happened through them, they have themselves brought about. They are ignorant that the individual is brought to birth through parents, not by parents, just as a thing produced through the earth is not produced from it. The change which comes to the individual is nothing that is caused by his visible surroundings, but rather a change in the one thing which is in every individual.
“And what other name can we give to it but primal being? ‘Tis it alone that acts and suffers becoming all for all through all, eternal deity, deprived and wronged of its own self by names and forms. But this is a less serious thing than that a man should be bewailed, when he has passed from man to God by change of state and not by the destruction of his nature. The fact is that so far from mourning death you ought to honour it and reverence it. The best and the fittest way for you to honour death is now to leave the one who’s gone to God, and set to work to play the ruler over those left in your charge as you were wont to do. It would be a disgrace for such a man as you to owe your cure to time and not to reason, for time makes even common people cease from grief. The greatest things is a strong rule, and of the greatest rulers he is best who first can rule himself. And how is it permissible to wish to change what has been brought to pass by will of God? If there’s a law in things, and there is one, and it is God who has appointed it, the righteous man will have no wish to try to change good things, for such a wish is selfishness, and counter to the law, but he will think that all that comes to pass is a good thing. On! heal yourself, give justice to the wretched and console them; so shall you dry your tears. You should not set your private woes above your public cares, but rather set your public cares before your private woes. And see as well what consolation you already have! The nation sorrows with you for your son. Make some return to those who weep with you; and this you will more quickly do if you will cease from tears than if you still persist. Have you not friends? Why! you have yet another son. Have you not even still the one that’s gone? You have!—will answer anyone who really thinks. For ‘that which is’ doth cease not - nayis just for the very fact that it will be for aye; or else the ‘is not’ is, and how could that be when the ‘is’ doth never cease to be?
“Again it will be said you fail in piety to God and are unjust. ‘Tis true. You fail in piety to God, you fail in justice to your boy; nay more, you fail in piety to him as well. Would’st know what death is? Then make me dead and send me off to company with death, and if you will not change the dress you’ve put on it, [That is his idea of death.] you will have straightway made me better than yourself.” [The text of the last sentence is very obscure].