Apollonius of Tyana, was a Greek philosopher of the1st century AC, who is about to become one of my favourites!
Apollonius’s life has so many similarities to that of Jesus Christ that he is almost concealed from our official history and philosophy books. Yet he seems to have been a true practical philosopher, especially open-minded and very fond of travelling and meeting philosophers of other traditions. His so-called magical skills remind me of Indian yogis and Persian Magis but his thought remains solid and filled with logic, whereas his words and actions reveal a compassionate, tempered nature. This golden balance between heart, mind and action appears to me to be the very definition of a philosopher.
This passage is a letter to a friend, Valerius (who has suffered the loss of his son), explaining why one should not mourn about death as there is no such thing!
58.1. Οὐαλερίῳ. Θάνατος οὐδεὶς οὐδενὸς ἢ μόνον ἐμφάσει, καθάπερ οὐδὲ γένεσις οὐδενὸς ἢ μόνον ἐμφάσει. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἐξ οὐσίας τραπὲν εἰς φύσιν ἔδοξε γένεσις, τὸ δὲ ἐκ φύσεως εἰς οὐσίαν κατὰ ταὐτὰ θάνατος οὔτε γιγνομένου κατ’ ἀλήθειάν τινος, οὔτε φθειρομένου ποτέ, μόνον δὲ ἐμφανοῦς ὄντος ἀοράτου τε ὕστερον τοῦ μὲν διὰ παχύτητα τῆς ὕλης, τοῦ δὲ διὰ λεπτότητα τῆς οὐσίας, οὔσης μὲν αἰεὶ τῆς αὐτῆς, κινήσει δὲ διαφερούσης καὶ στάσει.
58.1. There is no death of anyone, but only in appearance, even as there is no birth of any, save only in appearance. The change from being to becoming is considered birth, and the change from becoming to being is considered death, but in reality no one is ever born, nor does one ever die. It is simply visible at one time 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, only subject to differences of movement and state.
58.2. τοῦτο γάρ που τὸ ἴδιον ἀνάγκῃ, τῆς μεταβολῆς οὐκ ἔξωθεν γινομένης ποθέν, ἀλλά τοῦ μὲν ὅλου μεταβάλλοντος εἰς τὰ μέρη, τῶν μερῶν δὲ εἰς τὸ ὅλον τρεπομένων ἑνότητι τοῦ παντός. εἰ δὲ ἐρήσεταί τις, “τί τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ ποτὲ μὲν ὁρατόν ποτὲ δὲ ἀόρατον ἢ τοῖς αὐτοῖς γινόμενον ἢ ἄλλοις;” φαίη τις ἄν, ὡς ἔθος ἑκάστου ἐστὶ τῶν ἐνθάδε γενῶν, ὃ πληρωθὲν μὲν ἐφάνη διὰ τὴν τῆς παχύτητος ἀντιτυπίαν, ἀόρατον δέ ἐστιν, εἰ κενωθείη διὰ λεπτότητα τῆς ὕλης βίᾳ περιχυθείσης ἐκρυείσης τε τοῦ περιέχοντος ἀυτὴν αἰωνίου μέτρου, γεννητοῦ δ’ οὐδαμῶς, οὐδὲ φθαρτοῦ.
58.2 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. But if someone asks: What is this which sometimes is seen and sometimes not seen, as it presents itself to the same or to different observers?—one can answer that it is a feature of everything in this world that, when it is filled out with matter it is visible, owing to the resistance of its density, but is invisible, when it is emptied of its matter, owing to its subtlety. This matter is perforce shed abroad and flowing away from the eternal measure which confined it, albeit the measure itself is never created nor destroyed.
58.3. τί δὲ καὶ τὸ τῆς πλάνης ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον ἀνέλεγκτον; οἴονται γάρ τινες, ὂ πεπόνθασιν, αὐτοὶ τοῦτο πεποιηκέναι, μὴ εἰδότες, ὡς ὁ γεννηθεὶς διὰ γονέων γεγέννηται, οὐχ ὑπὸ γονέων, καθάπερ τὸ διὰ γῆς φυὲν οὐκ ἐκ γῆς φύεται, πάθος τε οὐδὲν τῶν φαινομένων περὶ ἕκαστον, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον περὶ ἓν ἑκάστου. τοῦτο δὲ τί ἄν ἄλλο τις εἰπὼν ἢ τὴν πρώτην οὐσίαν ὀρθῶς ἄν ὀνομάσειεν; ἣ δὴ μόνη ποιεῖ τε καὶ πάσχει πᾶσι γινομένη πάντα διὰ πάντων, θεὸς ἀίδιος, ὀνόμασι και προσώποις ἀφαιρουμένη τὸ ἴδιον ἀδικουμένη τε.
58.3. But why has this false notion [of birth and death] remained so long without a refutation? The reason is that some imagine that they have themselves actively brought about what they have merely suffered and experienced. They don’t know 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 each of his visible surroundings, but rather a change produced by the one thing which is in every individual.And what other name can we give to it but primal being? For this alone is agent and patient, becoming all for all through all, eternal God, deprived and wronged of its own self by names and forms.
58.4. καὶ τοῦτο μὲν ἔλαττον, τὸ δὲ κλαίεταί τις, ὅταν θεὸς ἐξ ἀνθρώπου γένηται τόπου μεταβάσει καὶ οὐχί φύσεως, ὡς δὲ ἔχει τὸ ἀληθές, οὐ πενθητέον σοι θάνατον, ἀλλὰ τιμητέον καὶ σεβαστέον. τιμὴ δὲ ἡ ἀρίστη τε καὶ πρέπουσα, εἰ ἀφεὶς θεῷ τὸν ἐκεῖ γενόμενον ἀνθρώπων τῶν πεπιστευμένων τὰ νῦν ἄρχοις, ᾗ πρότερον ἦρχες, αἰσχρόν, εἰ χρόνῳ μὴ λογισμῷ γένοιο βελτίων, εἰ χρόνος καὶ τοὺς κακοὺς λύπης ἔπαυσε. μέγιστον ἀρχὴ ἱκανή, καὶ περὶ μεγίστων· ἅρχων ἅριστος, ὃς ἂν αὑτοῦ πρότερον ἄρχῃ.
58.4. But this is of lesser importance; what is greater is this: a man should be bewailed, when he has passed from man to God by change of state and not by change of nature. In reality you shouldn’t mourn death but honour and respect it. And the best and the fittest way for you to honour death is 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 did before. It would be a disgrace for such a man to owe his cure to time and not to reason, for time makes even bad people cease from grief. The greatest thing is a strong ruler, and, of the greatest rulers, the best is the one who first can rule himself.
58.5. ποῦ δὲ καὶ ὅσιον ἀπεύχεσθαι τὸ βουλήσει θεοῦ γενόμενον; εἰ τάξις ἐστὶ τῶν ὄντων, ἔστι δὲ, καὶ θεὸς ἐπιστατεῖ ταύτης, ὁ δίκαιος οὐ βουλήσεται τὰ ἀγαθά, πλεονεκτικὸν γὰρ καὶ παρὰ τάξιν τὸ τοιοῦτον, ἡγήσεται δὲ τὰ γινόμενα συμφέρειν. πρόελθε καὶ θεράπευσαι δίκας, καὶ παρηγόρησον τοὺς αἰτίους, τῶν δὲ δακρύων οὕτως ἀποτρέψῃ. οὐ τὰ ἴδια τῶν κοινῶν, ἀλλὰ τὰ κοινὰ τῶν ἰδίων προτιμητέον. οἷον δέ σοι καὶ τὸ τῆς παραμυθίας ἐἶδος· σὺν ὄλω τὸν υἱὸν ἔθνει πεπένθηκας.
58.5. 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 change good things, for such a wish is selfish, and counter to the law. Instead, he will think that all that comes to pass is a good thing. Go foreward then and heal yourself, give justice to the wretched and console them; so shall you dry your tears. You should not set your private interest above the public one, but rather the contrary. And see as well what consolation you already have: you have mourned for your son together with the entire nation.
Chosen and translated by Kelly Zeppou, based on translations at the following sites:
This edition is also highly recommended – Philostratus: Apollonius of Tyana, Vol III; Loeb Classical Library Volume 458, edited and translated by Christopher P Jones, 2006