Continued from a previous blog.
It is seen through his biography that Apollonius was chiefly brought before the Emperor on trumped up charges, due most likely to his opposition to the tyranny in the land imposed in part by the Emperor and, perhaps in greater part, by those he refers to as “miscreants”, his accuser included. The questions on diet and lifestyle brought to him were due, it would seem, to the prosecutor's tactic of defamation, which did not have the results he'd intended.
Following the questions posed to Apollonius and his replies, the story continues straight to the Emperor's verdict ...
[the] Emperor ... deeming the audience to have borne witness in favor of the accused, and also not a little impressed himself by the answers he had received, for they were both firm and sensible, said: "I acquit you of the charges; but you must remain here until we have had a private interview."
Credit to the Emperor for siding with reason in this instance. Apollonius seems to have disliked this idea of a "private interview", though (being acquitted, but not allowed to leave seemed to have not suited him), and thus he opted to use his opportunity to speak before the court of the Emperor:
Thereat Apollonius was much encouraged and said: "I thank you indeed, my sovereign, but I would fain tell you that by reason of these miscreants your cities are in ruin, and the islands full of exiles, and the mainland of lamentations, and your armies of cowardice, and the Senate of suspicion. Accord me also, if you will, opportunity to speak;* but if not, then send someone to take my body, for my soul you cannot take. ...
We see another side of Apollonius here, and another measure of his greatness. Given the opportunity, he spoke out directly and firmly against tyranny, unapologetically and with truth and argument as his weapons.
Following these words, Apollonius concluded:
Nay, you cannot take even my body, ... And with these words he vanished from the court...
He is said to have literally disappeared from court. After all, as we know, modern day vegans have superpowers too ;)
It's worthwhile, for those interested in the history of non-violence and civil-disobedience to read fully the contents of this speech (contained in Book VIII, Chapter VII). The speech has a characteristically “Gandhian” flavor to it, with a noble tolerance and civility in the face of tyranny but a firmness in opposition to it.
A few selections are made here, in direct relation to veganism and animal rights.
In addressing his accuser, Apollonius says:
But without descending to such silly arguments, I would like to ask the accuser which of his counts I ought to take first. And yet why need I ask him? for at the beginning of his speech he dwelt upon my dress, and by Zeus, upon what I eat and what I do not eat. O divine Pythagoras, do thou defend me upon these counts; for we are put upon our trial for a rule of life of which thou wast the discoverer, and of which I am the humble partisan. For the earth, my prince, grows everything for mankind; and those who are pleased to live at peace with the brute creation want nothing, for some fruits they can cull from earth, others they win from her furrows, for she is the nurse of men, as suits the seasons; but these men, as it were, deaf to the cries of mother earth, whet their knife against her children in order to get themselves dress and food. Here then is something which the Brahmans of India themselves condemned, and which they taught the naked sages of Egypt also to condemn; and from them Pythagoras took his rule of life, and he was the first of Hellenes who had intercourse with the Egyptians. And it was his rule to give up and leave her animals to the earth; but all things which she grows, he declared, were pure and undefiled, and ate of them accordingly, because they were best adapted to nourish both body and soul.
Herein we have the ancient history of veganism from the mouth of one of its learned members. The lifestyle he lived, of pure veganism, non-violence and respect of animal rights, he says, began in India, with the Brahmans (the noble class of ancient India), from which it was taught to the ancient Egyptians, then to Pythagoras and down through history until Apollonius's own time (nearly 600 years after Pythagoras lived!). Veganism, according to Apollonius, has existed since time immemorial, and had been taught continuously for at minimum 7 centuries before his own era!
What we hear from Apollonius in his speech is exactly what we hear from modern vegans: fruit and vegetables are all we need – and not only all we need, but the best, the healthiest foods possible, provided for us directly from Mother Earth herself, with no harm necessary to sentient beings.
Continuing on the subject of veganism and the treatment of animals, Apollonius says:
“But the garments which most men wear made of the hides of dead animals, he [Pythagoras] declared to be impure; and accordingly clad himself in linen, and on the same principles had his shoes woven of byblus. … I have then told you who was the begetter of my own wisdom, and I have shown that it is no discovery of my own, but an inheritance come to me from another.
And as for myself though I do not condemn or judge those who make it part of their luxury to consume the red-plumaged bird, or the fowls from Phasis or the land of the Paeones, which are fattened up for their banquets by those who can deny nothing to their bellies, and though I have never yet brought an accusation against anyone, because they buy fish for their tables at greater prices than grand seigneurs ever gave for their Corinthian chargers, and though I have never grudged anyone his purple garment nor his soft raiment and Pamphylian tissues—yet I am accused and put upon my trial, O ye gods, because I indulge in asphodel and dessert of dried fruits and pure delicacies of that kind.
A peaceful, non-violent vegan, drawn to fight for his beliefs and to make his case against those who consume animals, not by his own desire, but because they brought the fight to him, because they insisted on drawing him into the argument. And with his sense of duty strong, Apollonius was certainly up to the task!
How many times do we see this throughout human history? Those great men and women, who would rather live a quite, peaceful, non-violent life, who find themselves dragged into the conflicts of the day, into noble fights they did not ask for but were perhaps meant to fight. Fit to the challenge he finds before him, Apollonius continues:
And yet apart from my contention about the use of living animals and lifeless things, according as he uses one or the other of which I regard a man as impure or pure, in what way is linen better than wool? Was not the latter taken from the back of the gentlest of animals, of a creature beloved of the gods...? … On the other hand linen is grown and sown anywhere, and there is no talk of gold in connection with it. Nevertheless, because it is not plucked from the back of a living animal, the Indians regard it as pure, and so do the Egyptians, and I myself and Pythagoras on this account have adopted it as our garb …
Now the charges leveled against Apollonius are quite absurd by today's standards, among them being the charge that he was a god, or at least was imitating one (it is interesting to reflect on his own definition of that term, explained in part I). The chief accusation, however, was that he had performed a human sacrifice, as this, logically (reasoned his accuser), was the only way to gain foresight of the coming plague of which he then interceded on behalf of the people and their health.
Addressing this last charge, Apollonius explains:
In the act of the accusation, my prince, a regular dirge is chanted over an Arcadian boy, whom I am accused of having cut up by night, perhaps in a dream, for I am sure I do not know. … They pretend that I massacred him in spite of his entreaties and lamentations, and that after thus imbruing my hands in the blood of this child I prayed the gods to reveal the truth to me. … Need I say, O my prince, it is defiling even to listen to such stuff?
Apollonius's defense reveals his true colors:
… my defense … shall set the truth before you. In all my actions I have at heart the salvation of mankind, yet I have never offered a sacrifice in their behalf, nor will I ever sacrifice anything, nor touch sacrifices in which there is blood, nor offer any prayer with my eyes fixed upon a knife or the kind of sacrifice that he [the accuser] means.
It is ironic that a vegan, so wholly and unabashedly opposed to committing any harm against any animal life should be accused of committing human sacrifice! Though he does provide more tangible evidence against his charges, Apollonius's first call to defense is his veganism. I have not, he says, I will not and could not do such a thing! Once again, this ancient sage demonstrates what it truly is to be vegan, holding true to his convictions. As another vegan recently said, in regards to this story, “we are in very good company with this way of life”!
The complete biography of Apollonius of Tyana is a wonderful tale, full of philosophical insight, mysticism and wonder. The above article culls out selections related directly to veganism and animal rights, but full context can only be found by reading the complete work.
It is available online here: Philostratus's Life of Apollonius
There is also an interesting, if potentially controversial, book written by G.R.S. Mead called Apollonius of Tyana, that some may be interested in. If nothing else, it will provide greater context for the biographical story.
For more on Apollonius of Tyana, see here: