Apollonius of Tyre

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In the city of Antioch there was a certain king called Antiochus: the city was called Antioch after the king’s name. This king's queen, by whom he had a very beautiful daughter of marvellous beauty, had departed from life. When she came to a marriageable age, many a powerful man desired her, and offered many treasures. Then a grievous thing occurred: when the father thought about who of the highest status he might give her, he fell in love with her in his own mind with illegal desire, in such a way that he forgot the duty proper to a father and desired his own daughter as a wife. And that desire was not long delayed, but on a certain day at daybreak when he awoke from sleep, he broke into the chamber where she lay and ordered all his servants to go away from him, as if he wanted to hold a secret conversation with his daughter. Indeed, then he occupied himself in that evil crime, and overcame the resisting woman with difficulty by his greater strength, and he wanted to conceal the sin that he committed.

Then it happened that the maiden’s foster-mother1 went into the chamber and saw her sitting there in great distress, and said to her: ‘Lady, why are you so anxious in mind?’ The maiden answered her: ‘Dear foster-mother, now today two noble names have been destroyed in this chamber.’ The foster-mother said: ‘Lady, about whom do you say that?’ She answered her and said: ‘Before my wedding day, I am defiled with evil sin.’ Then the foster-mother said: ‘Who was ever so presumptuous that he would dare to defile the king's daughter before her wedding day, and not fear the king’s anger?’ The girl said: ‘Wickedness has committed this sin on me.’ The foster-mother said: ‘Why do you not reveal this to your father?’ The maiden said: ‘Where is this father? Certainly, within me, a wretch, the name of my father has been grievously destroyed, and because of this, death would now very pleasing to me.’ Truly, when the foster-mother heard that the maiden wished for her death, she implored her with calm talk and beseeched that she should turn her mind from that desire, and submit to her father's will, even though she might be compelled.


In truth, the wicked king Antiochus persisted in these affairs, and with a false mind he showed himself to his citizens as is he was a devoted father to his daughter, and among his domestic servants he rejoiced in that he was a husband to his own daughter, and in order that he could enjoy for longer the wicked bridal bed of his daughter, and drive those who desired her in proper marriage away from him, he set them a riddle, saying: ‘Whichever man interprets my riddle correctly will receive my daughter as his wife, and he who misinterprets it will be beheaded.’

What more can be said about his now except that kings and noblemen came from all regions because of the maiden’s marvellous beauty, and they disdained death and resolved to interpret the riddle. However, if any of them interpreted the riddle correctly through the examination of scholarly wisdom, then he was taken to be beheaded just the same as those who did not interpret it correctly. And the heads of all of them were set on the highest part of the gate.

During the time that Antiochus, the cruel king, actually persisted in this cruelty, there was a young man called Apollonius. He was very wealthy and intelligent and was a nobleman in the region of Tyre; he trusted in his intelligence and in scholarly learning, and set about journeying by sea until he arrived in Antioch. He went into the king and said: ‘Be of good health, king! Indeed, I have come now to you just as to a good and devout father. Truly, I am descended from a royal family, and I ask to have your daughter as my wife.’ When the king heard that he would not be subject to his desire, he looked at the young nobleman with a very angry expression, and said: ‘You, young man, do you know the case of my daughter’s betrothal?’ Apollonius said: ‘I know the case and I saw it at the gate.’ Then the king spoke in anger: ‘Listen to the riddle now: “Scelere vereor, materna carne vescor.”’ That is in English: ‘I suffer wickedness, I enjoy the flesh of the mother.’ Again he said: ‘“Quaero patrem meum, meae matris virum, uxoris meae filiam nec invenio.”’ That is in English: ‘I seek my father, the husband of my mother, the daughter of my wife, and can not find them.’ When, truly, Apollonius received the riddle, he turned away slightly from the king, and when he had thought about the meaning he solved it with wisdom, and with God’s help he interpreted the truth. He turned to the king then and said: ‘Good king, you set the riddle; listen to the solution then. About what you said—that you suffer crime—you are not lying about that. Look to yourself. And in that you said “I enjoy a mother’s flesh”—you are not lying in that. Look to your daughter.’


When the king heard that Apollonius had interpreted the riddle correctly in this way, he dreaded that it might become known too widely. He looked at him then with an angry expression, and said: ‘You are far from right, young man; you are wrong and it is not at all as you say; therefore you have warranted beheading. Now I will let you have thirty days grace so that you can consider the riddle correctly, and afterwards you will receive my daughter to wife, and if you do not do that you must acknowledge the established judgement.’ Then Apollonius was very troubled, and boarded his ship with his companions and sailed until he came to Tyre.


Truly, after Apollonius had gone, Antiochus the king called his steward who was called Thaliarcus to him: ‘Thaliarcus, of all my secrets you are my most trustworthy servant, and you know that Apollonius has correctly interpreted my riddle. Quickly now board a ship and sail after him, and when you come to him, then kill him with a sword or with poison so that when you might receive your freedom when you come back again.’ As soon as Thaliarcus heard that, he took with him both money and poison and went boarded a ship, and journeyed after the unwitting Apollonius until he came to his native land. But Apollonius nevertheless had previously arrived at his own land, and he went into his house and opened his book and considered the riddle in the manner of all the philosophers and wisdom of the Chaldeans. When he could find nothing else except that which he had previously guessed, he said to himself: ‘Now what do you do, Apollonius? You have interpreted the king’s riddle and you have not received his daughter; because of this you are now sentenced such that you will be killed.’ And then he went out and ordered that his ship be loaded with wheat and with a substantial amount of gold and silver and with various and plentiful garments, and so with a few of his most trustworthy men he boarded the ship at three in the night and cast out to sea.


Then on the day after, people looked and asked for Apollonius, but he could be found nowhere. Then there was a great deal of sorrow and intense weeping, so that the crying echoed throughout the entire city. Truly, such great love had all the citizens for him that for a long time they went about completely unshaven and long haired and their theatrical entertainments were neglected and their baths locked. As these things were being done in this way in Tyre, the aforesaid Thaliarcus, who was sent from Antioch by the king so that he might kill Apollonius, arrived there. When he saw that all these things were locked, he said to a boy: ‘In order that you remain in good health, tell me for what cause does this city reside in such great sorrow and misery?’ The boy answered and said this to him: ‘Alas, how wicked a man you are, you who know what it is you ask after: for what man does not know that these city-dwellers remain in sorrow because Apollonius the nobleman has suddenly not been seen since he came back from Antiochus the king.’ When Thaliarcus heard that, he went back to the ship with much joy, and with certain sailing within one day arrived at Antioch, and went into the king and said: ‘Lord king, be glad now and rejoice, because Apollonius dreads the might of your power so that he does not dare remain anywhere.’ Then the king said: ‘He might run away, but he cannot escape.’ Then Antiochus the king made this decree saying this: ‘Whichever man brings Apollonius to me living, I will give him fifty pounds of gold; and to him who brings me his head, I will give a hundred pounds of gold.’ When this decree was made in this way, then there were those who were overcome with avarice—not only his enemies but also his friends—and they went after him and searched for him through the entire earth, both in open country and in woodland and in secluded places; but he could not be found anywhere.


Then the king commanded that ships be prepared and journey after him; but it was a long while before the ships were ready, and Apollonius had already arrived at Tarsus. When he walked along the beach one day, he saw a man who was known to him, who was called Hellanicus and who had come to that place first. He went to Apollonius and said: ‘Be of good health, Lord Apollonius!’ Then Apollonius scorned the churlish man’s greeting as is the custom of more powerful men. Hellanicus greeted him again immediately and said: ‘Be of good health, Apollonius, and do not scorn a churlish man who is favoured with honourable manners. But hear from me now that which you yourself do not know. There is a truly great need that you watch out for yourself because you have been condemned.’ Then Apollonius said: ‘Who can condemn me, a nobleman among his own people?’ Hellanicus said: ‘Antiochus the king.’ Apollonius said: ‘For what cause has he condemned me?’ Hellanicus said: ‘Because you desire to be what the father is.’ Apollonius said: ‘How severely have I been condemned?’ Hellanicus said: ‘Whichever man brings you to him living will receive fifty pounds of gold; he who brings your head will get a hundred pounds of gold. Because of this I advise that you flee and save your life.’

After these words Hellanicus went from him, and Apollonius asked him to be called back to him, and said to him: ‘That is the worst thing that you have done by warning me. Here, take from me now a hundred pounds of gold, and travel to Antiochus the king and tell him that my head has been cut off from my neck, and bring these words for the king’s delight: then you will have reward and also clean hands from the blood of the innocent.’ Then Hellanicus said: ‘It cannot be honourable, lord, that I should take reward from you for such a thing, because among good men neither gold nor silver can compare with a good man’s friendship.’ Then with these words they separated.

And straightaway Apollonius met coming towards him another man he knew the name of whom was Stranguillo. ‘Young Lord Apollonius, what are you doing in this land so disturbed in mind?’ Apollonius said: ‘I heard it said that I was condemned.’ Stranguillo said: ‘Who has condemned you?’ Apollonius said: ‘Antiochus the king.’ Stranguillo said: ‘For what cause?’ Apollonius said: ‘Because I asked for his daughter in marriage, about whom I may say truly that she was his own wife. Because of this, I will, if I am able, hide myself in your country.’ Then Stranguillo said: ‘Lord Apollonius, our city is poor and will not be able to support your nobility, because we are suffering the hardest and most cruel famine, and for my citizens, there is no hope of salvation, but the most cruel of deaths looms before our eyes.’ Then Apollonius said: ‘My dearest friend Stranguillo, thank God that he led me here as a fugitive to your territory. I can give to your citizens a hundred thousand measures of wheat if you will conceal my flight.’ As soon as Stranguillo heard that, he prostrated himself at his feet and said: ‘Lord Apollonius, if you help these hungry citizens, not only will we conceal your flight, but in addition, if the need arises, we will fight for your salvation.’


Then Apollonius ascended the judgement seat in that street and said to those citizens present: ‘You people of Tarsus, I Apollonius the prince of Tyre, inform you that I believe that you will be mindful of this generosity and will conceal my flight. You also know that Antiochus the king has made me flee from my country, but with the help of God, for your happiness I have come here. Certainly, I will give you a hundred thousand measures of wheat at the price for which I bought it in my country.’

When the people heard that, they became joyful and eagerly thanked him and avidly lifted the wheat up. Indeed then Apollonius cast off his noble status and took there the name of a merchant rather than a benefactor, and that price which he took for the wheat he immediately gave back again to benefit the city. Then the people were so pleased at his munificence and so thankful that they made a bronze statue of him; and it stood in the street, and in the right hand it held the wheat and with the left foot trod on the measure; and they wrote this upon it: ‘This gift was given by the citizens of Tarsus Apollonius the Tyrenian, because he released the people from hunger and restored their city.’

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