One of the many intellectuals, who suffered the wrath of power, was Demetrius of Corinth (ca.7 / 10 AD -ca.90), Greek prestigious intellectual and cynic philosopher, who lived a long life of 80 years in Roman imperial era, full of disappointments. There are many ideas from him, cited by many authors, and he had a significant influence on many Roman authors, like Seneca.
He lived in the manner of cynics, no frills, no attachment to wealth or power. Like other Greeks, he went to Rome, center of power, as a young man in time of Emperor Caligula. He was a friend of Seneca and he won the respect of the Roman intellectuals, whose cliques he ran with remarkable success pronouncing his lectures.
Part of his life, reflected in a few texts allows us to recreate the atmosphere of tyranny and oppression to which they are subjected thinkers, philosophers, intellectuals when they dare to express their views freely and to criticize the actions of the powerful. This atmosphere of terror was especially oppressive under Domitian.
I reproduce a letter of Seneca to his friend Lucilius in which he records the affection and respect that he has to Demetrius:
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius LXII
We are deceived by those who would have us believe that a multitude of affairs blocks their pursuit of liberal studies; they make a pretence of their engagements, and multiply them, when their engagements are merely with themselves. As for me, Lucilius, my time is free; it is indeed free, and wherever I am, I am master of myself. For I do not surrender myself to my affairs, but loan myself to them, and I do not hunt out excuses for wasting my time. And wherever I am situated, I carry on my own meditations and ponder in my mind some wholesome thought. When I give myself to my friends, I do not withdraw from my own company, nor do I linger with those who are associated with me through some special occasion or some case which arises from my official position. But I spend my time in the company of all the best; no matter in what lands they may have lived, or in what age, I let my thoughts fly to them. Demetrius, for instance, the best of men, I take about with me, and, leaving the wearers of purple and fine linen, I talk with him, half-naked as he is, and hold him in high esteem. Why should I not hold him in high esteem? I have found that he lacks nothing. It is in the power of any man to despise all things, but of no man to possess all things. The shortest cut to riches is to despise riches. Our friend Demetrius, however, lives not merely as if he has learned to despise all things, but as if he has handed them over for others to possess. Farewell. (Translated by Richard Mott Gummere. A Loeb Classical Library edition; volume 1 published 1917)
Mentiuntur, qui sibi obstare ad studia liberali turbam negotiorum videri volunt; simulant occupationes et augent et ipsi se occupant. Vaco, Lucili, vaco et ubicumque sum, ibi meus sum. Rebus enim me non trado, sed commodo, nec consector perdendi temporis causas. Et quocumque constiti loco, ibi cogitationes meas tracto et aliquid in animo salutare converso.
Cum me amicis dedi non tamen mihi abduco, nec cum illis moror, quibus me tempus aliquod congregavit aut causa ex officio nata civili, sed cum optimo quoque sum; ad illos, in quocumque loco, in quocumque saeculo fuerunt, animum meum mitto.
Demetrium, virorum optimum, mecum circumfero et relictis conchyliatis cum illo seminudo loquor, illum admiror. Quidni admirer? Vidi nihil ei deesse. Contemnere aliquis omnia potest, omnia habere nemo potest. Brevissima ad divitias per contemptum divitiarum via est. Demetrius autem noster sic vivit, non tamquam contempserit omnia, sed tamquam aliis habenda permiserit. Vale.
Philostratus presents him in Corinth (circa 61) and as friend of Apollonius of Tiana, but this is not very reliable source for some, although Lucian attest their stay in Corinth in "Against ignorance, 19":
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius, IV, 25
Now there was in Corinth at that time a man named Demetrius, who studied philosophy and had embraced in his system all the masculine vigor of the Cynics. Of him Favorinus in several of his works subsequently made the most generous mention, and his attitude towards Apollonius was exactly that which they say Antisthenes took up towards the system of Socrates: for he followed him and was anxious to be his disciple, and was devoted to his doctrines, and converted to the side of Apollonius the more esteemed of his own pupils. (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library).
He was banished at the first time by Tigellinus, the praetorian prefect of Nero in the year 62 because his ironic comments critical to the monarchy, on the inauguration of a great gym for the emperor. See http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/nero-inaugurates-a-gym-demetrius
At the same time he was also banished another cynical called Isidore, whom also I will comment.
On a occasion the emperor Caligula (governed from 37 to 41) wanted to make him a gift with a small amount of money that the proud philosopher rejected. Seneca tells us, On Duties VII, 11.1-2:
When, therefore, Gaius Caesar offered him two hundred thousand sesterces, he laughingly refused it, thinking it unworthy of himself to boast of having refused so small a sum. Ye gods and goddesses, what a mean mind must the emperor have had, if he hoped either to honour or to corrupt him. I must here repeat a proof of his magnanimity. I have heard that when he was expressing his wonder at the folly of Gaius at supposing that he could be influenced by such a bribe, he said, "If he meant to tempt me, he ought to have tried to do so by offering his entire kingdom."(Translated by Aubrey StewartTranslated 1887)
De beneficiis VII,11,1-2
Itaque cum C.1 Caesar illi ducenta donaret, ridens reiecit ne dignam quidem summam iudicans, qua non accepta gloriaretur. Di deaeque, quam pusillo animo illum aut honorare voluit aut corrumpere ! Reddendum egregio viro testimonium est ; ingentem rem ab illo dici audivi, cum miraretur Gai dementiam, quod se putasset tanti posse mutari. " Si temptare," inquit, " me constituerat, toto illi fui experiendus imperio."
Demetrius criticized the famous Baths of Nero inaugurated in 61 because unhygienic and excessively costly. When a year later collapsed as a result of lightning, the words of Demetrius were considered the cause of the collapse and Demetrius was sent into exile by Tigellinus, the praetorian prefect (the chief of police and executive arm) of Nero.
Philostratus tells us in Life of Apollonius IV 42.
Now Demetrius being attracted to Apollonius, as I have said above in my account of the events at Corinth, betook himself subsequently to Rome, and proceeded to court Apollonius, at the same time that he launched out against Nero. In consequence our sage's profession was looked at askance, and he was thought to have set Demetrius on to proceed thus, and the suspicion was increased on the occasion of Nero's completion of the most magnificent gymnasium in Rome: for the auspicious day was being celebrated therein by Nero himself and the great Senate and all the knights of Rome, when Demetrius made his way into the gymnasium itself and delivered himself of a philippic against people who bathed, declaring that they enfeebled and polluted themselves; and he showed that such institutions were a useless expense.
He was only saved from immediate death as the penalty of such language by the fact that Nero was in extra good voice when he sang on that day, and he sang in the tavern which adjoined the gymnasium, naked except for a girdle round his waste, like any low tapster.
Demetrius, however, did not wholly escape the risk which he had courted by his language; for [the praetorian prefect] Tigellinus, to whom Nero had committed the power of life and death, proceeded to banish him from Rome, on the plea that he had ruined and overthrown the bath by the words he used; and he began to dog the steps of Apollonius secretly, in the hope that he would catch him out too in some compromising utterance. (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library
Philostratus again gives us some reason why the Emperor Nero didn’t sentenced to death Demetrius and other sophists. He says it in Life of Apollonius VII 16:
"My sovereign, sophists ar all prattle and flippancy; and their art is all show, and they are so eager to die because they get no good out of life; and therefore they don't wait for death to come of itself, but try to anticipate and draw it on themselves by provoking those who hold the sword.
This I think was the reason which weighed with Nero and prevented his being drawn on by Demetrius into slaying him. For as he saw that he was anxious for death, he let him off not because he wished to pardon him, but because he disdained to put him to death. Moreover in the case of Musonius the Tyrrhenian, who opposed his rule in many ways, he only kept him in the island called Gyara. (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library)
There is also a story of Philostratus that relates Demetrius to Musonius Rufus, master of Epictetus. On the occasion of the conspiracy of Piso against Nero on 65-66 year, Seneca was forced to suicide opening veins with his wife Pompeia Paulina and his nephew Lucanus. For the same reason they were expelled from Rome philosophers, especially the Stoics, among them Musonius Rufus, master of Epictetus.
Phiostratus, an unreliable source, as I said, according to some authors, makes the two men coincide in Greece: Musonius was there condemned to dig the Isthmus of Corinth, as a thousand times it has happened with prisoners and dissidents sentenced to hard labor for building great and dangerous public works.
The story, despite its curious interest does not seem very credible to the historians, although they are no serious grounds to doubt; in any case we will read the text of Philostratus, Life of Apollonius V, 19:
At Athens he was initiated by the same hierophant of whom he had delivered a prophecy to his predecessor; here he met Demetrius the philosopher, for after the episode of Nero's bath and of his speech about it, Demetrius continued to live at Athens, with such noble courage that he did not quit Athens even during the period when Nero was outraging Greece over the games.
Demetrius said that he had fallen in with Musonius at the Isthmus, where he was fettered and under orders to dig; and that he addressed to him such consolations as he could, but Musonius took his spade and stoutly dug it into the earth, and then looking up, said: "You are distressed, Demetrius, to see me digging through the Isthmus for Greece; but if you saw me playing the harp like Nero, what would you feel then?"
But I must pass over the sayings of Musonius, though they were many and remarkable, else I shall seem to take liberties with the man, who uttered them carelessly. (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library)
This conspiracy also led the condemnation of Barea Soranus and Thrasea Petus, patrician, stoic, who was master of Demetrius, who comforted him at the time and day when the sentence came.
Thrasea is who uttered the phrase, according to Epictetus:
"I would rather be killed to-day than banished to-morrow."
Epictetus recommends accept things as they come with wise stoicism. Discourses I, 1, 21
…..What then should a man have in readiness in such circumstances? What else than "What is mine, and what is not mine; and permitted to me, and what is not permitted to me." I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment? "Tell me the secret which you possess." I will not, for this is in my power. "But I will put you in chains." Man, what are you talking about? Me in chains? You may fetter my leg, but my will not even Zeus himself can overpower. "I will throw you into prison." My poor body, you mean. "I will cut your head off." When, then, have I told you that my head alone cannot be cut off? These are the things which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves.
Thrasea used to say, "I would rather be killed to-day than banished to-morrow." What, then, did Rufus say to him? "If you choose death as the heavier misfortune, how great is the folly of your choice? But if, as the lighter, who has given you the choice? Will you not study to be content with that which has been given to you?" (Translation by George Long)
I will transcribe the information that Tacitus gives us in his Annals about the decision and death of Thraseas, an episode that still moves us today.
Tacitus, Annals, XVI, 21
Nero after having butchered so many illustrious men, at last aspired to extirpate virtue itself by murdering Thrasea Pætus and Barea Soranus. Both men he had hated of old, Thrasea on additional grounds, because he had walked out of the Senate when Agrippina's case was under discussion, as I have already related, and had not given the Juvenile games any conspicuous encouragement. Nero's displeasure at this was the deeper, since this same Thrasea had sung in a tragedian's dress at Patavium, his birth-place, in some games instituted by the Trojan Antenor. On the day, too, on which the prætor Antistius was being sentenced to death for libels on Nero, Thrasea proposed and carried a more merciful decision. Again, when divine honours were decreed to Poppæa, he was purposely absent and did not attend her funeral. All this Capito Cossutianus would not allow to be forgotten. He had a heart eager for the worst wickedness, and he also bore ill-will to Thrasea, the weight of whose influence had crushed him, while envoys from Cilicia supported by Thrasea's advocacy, were accusing him of extortion.
Then, as evening approached, the consul's quæstor was sent to Thrasea, who was passing his time in his garden. He had had a crowded gathering of distinguished men and women, giving special attention to Demetrius, a professor of the Cynic philosophy. With him, as might be inferred from his earnest expression of face and from words heard when they raised their voices, he was speculating on the nature of the soul and on the separation of the spirit from the body, till Domitius Cæcilianus, one of his intimate friends, came to him and told him in detail what the Senate had decided. When all who were present, wept and bitterly complained, Thrasea urged them to hasten their departure and not mingle their own perils with the fate of a doomed man. Arria, too, who aspired to follow her husband's end and the example of Arria, her mother, he counselled to preserve her life, and not rob the daughter of their love of her only stay.
Then he went out into a colonnade, where he was found by the quæstor, joyful rather than otherwise, as he had learnt that Helvidius, his son-in-law, was merely excluded from Italy. When he heard the Senate's decision, he led Helvidius and Demetrius into a chamber, and having laid bare the arteries of each arm, he let the blood flow freely, and, as he sprinkled it on the ground, he called the quæstor to his side and said, "We pour out a libation to Jupiter the Deliverer. Behold, young man, and may the gods avert the omen, but you have been born into times in which it is well to fortify the spirit with examples of courage." Then as the slowness of his end brought with it grievous anguish, turning his eyes on Demetrius. . . . (Complete Works of Tacitus. Tacitus. Alfred John Church. William Jackson Brodribb. Sara Bryant.)
Trucidatis tot insignibus viris ad postremum Nero virtutem ipsam excindere concupivit interfecto Thrasea Paeto et Barea Sorano, olim utrisque infensus et accedentibus causis in Thraseam, quod senatu egressus est cum de Agrippina referretur, ut memoravi, quodque Iuvenalium ludicro parum spectabilem operam praebuerat; eaque offensio altius penetrabat, quia idem Thrasea Patavi, unde ortus erat, ludis †cetastis† a Troiano Antenore institutis habitu tragico cecinerat. die quoque quo praetor Antistius ob probra in Neronem composita ad mortem damnabatur, mitiora censuit obtinuitque; et cum deum honores Poppaeae decernuntur sponte absens, funeri non interfuerat. quae oblitterari non sinebat Capito Cossutianus, praeter animum ad flagitia praecipitem iniquus Thraseae quod auctoritate eius concidisset, iuvantis Cilicum legatos dum Capitonem repetundarum interrogant.
Tum ad Thraseam in hortis agentem quaestor consulis missus vesperascente iam die. inlustrium virorum feminarumque coetus frequentis egerat, maxime intentus Demetrio Cynicae institutionis doctori, cum quo, ut coniectare erat intentione vultus et auditis, si qua clarius proloquebantur, de natura animae et dissociatione spiritus corporisque inquirebat, donec advenit Domitius Caecilianus ex intimis amicis et ei quid senatus censuisset exposuit. igitur flentis queritantisque qui aderant facessere propere Thrasea neu pericula sua miscere cum sorte damnati hortatur, Arriamque temptantem mariti suprema et exemplum Arriae matris sequi monet retinere vitam filiaeque communi subsidium unicum non adimere.
Tum progressus in porticum illic a quaestore reperitur, laetitiae propior, quia Helvidium generum suum Italia tantum arceri cognoverat. accepto dehinc senatus consulto Helvidium et Demetrium in cubiculum inducit; porrectisque utriusque brachii venis, postquam cruorem effudit, humum super spargens, propius vocato quaestore 'libamus' inquit 'Iovi liberatori. specta, iuvenis; et omen quidem dii prohibeant, ceterum in ea tempora natus es quibus firmare animum expediat constantibus exemplis.' post lentitudine exitus gravis cruciatus adferente, obversis in Demetrium …
At this point the Annals are broken off because surely the death of its author prevented him from continuing. The missing lines in the codex free us to attend the end of so dramatic episode.
But I do not will deprive interested readers of another fragment of the work of Suetonius, that shows the cruelty with which Nero ordered suicides. Suetonius tells us, ( his work, in which mainly anecdotes are collected, must be read critically, knowing that, as secretary of Hadrian, he had before official archives).
Suetonius, Nero 37
The only charge objected against Paetus Thrasea was, that he had a melancholy cast of features, and looked like a school-master. He allowed but one hour to those whom he obliged to kill themselves; and, to prevent delay, he sent them physicians " to cure them immediately, if they lingered beyond that time ;" for so he called bleeding them to death. There was at that time an Egyptian of a most voracious appetite, who would digest raw flesh, or any thing else that was given him. It was credibly reported, that the emperor was extremely desirous of furnishing him with living men to tear and devour. Being elated with his great success in the perpetration of crimes, he declared. " that no prince before himself ever knew the extent of his power." (Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Publishing Editor. J. Eugene Reed. Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889.)
(37.1)…Paeto Thraseae tristior et paedagogi uultus.
(37.2) mori iussis non amplius quam horarum spatium dabat; ac ne quid morae interueniret, medicos admouebat qui cunctantes continuo curarent: ita enim uocabatur uenas mortis gratia incidere. creditur etiam polyphago cuidam Aegypti generis crudam carnem et quidquid daretur mandere assueto, concupisse uiuos homines laniandos absumendosque obicere.
(37.3)elatus inflatusque tantis uelut successibus negauit “quemquam principum scisse quid sibi liceret”,
But against these powerful dictators, free men, as Demetrius, can tell them, as Arrian tells in Epictetus, Discourses I , 25.21 to 23:
I will live in Gyarus, but it seems like a great smoke to live in Gyarus; and I depart to the place where no man will hinder me from living, for that dwelling place is open to all; and as to the last garment, that is the poor body, no one has any power over me beyond this. This was the reason why Demetrius said to Nero, “You threaten me with death, but nature threatens you.” (George Long. translator. London. George Bell and Sons. 1890.)
In the year 75, under the emperor Vespasian, he was expelled for the second time, together with other philosophers, to the Cyclades islands. Some think that the expulsion was in the year 71 according to Dio Cassius 65 (66) 13 and Suetonius, Vespasian 13.
We read the text of Dio Cassius, Roman History 65 (66) 12 et seq.
Helvidius Priscus, the son-in law of Thrasea, had been brought up in the doctrines of the Stoics and imitated Thrasea's frankness of speech, sometimes unseasonably. He was at this time praetor, but instead of doing aught to increase the honour due to the emperor he would not cease reviling him. Therefore the tribunes once arrested him and gave him in charge of their assistants, a procedure at which Vespasian was overcome by emotion went out of the senate-chamber in tears, saying merely: "My successor shall be my son or no one at all."
Inasmuch as many others, too, including Demetrius the Cynic, actuated by the Stoic principles, were taking advantage of the name of philosophy to teach publicly many doctrines inappropriate to the times, and in this way were subtly corrupting some of their hearers, Mucianus, prompted rather by anger than by any passion for philosophy, inveighed at length against them and persuaded Vespasian to expel all such persons from the city.
Mucianus made a great number of remarkable statements to Vespasian against the Stoics, asserting, for instance, that they are full of empty boasting, and that if one of them lets his beard grow long, elevates his eyebrows, wears his coarse brown mantle thrown back over his shoulder and goes barefooted, he straightway lays claim to wisdom, bravery and righteousness, and gives himself great airs, even though he may not know either his letters or how to swim, as the saying goes. They look down upon everybody and call a man of good family a mollycoddle, the low-born slender-witted, a handsome person licentious, an ugly person a simpleton, the rich man greedy, and the poor man servile.
And Vespasian immediately expelled from Rome all the philosophers except Musonius; Demetrius and Hostilianus he even deported to islands. Hostilianus, though he decidedly would not desist when he was told about the sentence of exile (he happened to be conversing with somebody), but merely inveighed all the more strongly against monarchy, nevertheless straightway withdrew. Demetrius, on the contrary, would not yield even then, and Vespasian commanded that this message should be given to him: "You are doing everything to force me to kill you, but I do not slay a barking dog."
It became strikingly clear that Vespasian hated Helvidius Priscus, not so much on his own account or that of his friends whom the man had abused, as because he was a turbulent fellow who cultivated the favour of the rabble and was for ever denouncing royalty and praising democracy. Helvidius' behaviour, moreover, was consistent with this opinion of him; for he banded various men together, as if it were the function of philosophy to insult those in power, to stir up the multitudes, to overthrow the established order of things, and to bring about a revolution. He was Thrasea's son-in law and affected to emulate his conduct, but he fell far short of doing so. For whereas Thrasea, though living in Nero's time and displeased with him, nevertheless had neither said nor done anything that was insulting to him, save merely that he refused to share in his practices, Helvidius, on the other hand, bore a grudge against Vespasian and would not let him alone either in private or in public. Thus by his conduct he was courting death and by his meddlesome interference he was destined eventually to pay the penalty. (Loeb Classical Library, 9 volumes, Greek texts and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1914 thru 1927. Translation by Earnest Cary.)
It's funny how similar I find this fearful attitude of power against anyone movement and social behavior at the time, with which personally I experienced ( I am old few years) in the aftermath of Franco dictatorship in Spain: long beard, different clothing to conventional, They meddle with everyone, pick on everyone, persuade people with their talk , etc.)
But Suetonius paints us Vespasian as caring and benevolent, against the use of excessive punishment. About Demetrius and Vespasian he says:
Suetonius, Vespasian 13:
Demetrius, the Cynic philosopher,1 who had been sentenced to banishment, meeting him on the road, and refusing to rise up or salute him, nay, snarling at him in scurrilous language, he only called him a cur. (English Translation, Publishing Editor. J. Eugene Reed. Alexander Thomson. Philadelphia. Gebbie & Co. 1889.)
Demetrium Cynicum in itinere obuium sibi post damnationem ac neque assurgere neque salutare se dignantem, oblatrantem etiam nescio quid, satis habuit canem appellare.
His relationship with Titus seems to have been better. Philostratus tells us how Apollonius recommended Titus that he should serve of the teachings of the master Demetrius. He tells us in his Life of Apollonius, VI, 31
"And for myself, O man of Tyana," answered Titus, "can you give me any precepts as to how to rule and exercise the authority of a sovereign?"
"Only such rules," replied the other, "as you have laid upon yourself; for in so submitting yourself to your father's will, it is, I think, certain that you will grow like him. And I should like to repeat to you on this occasion a saying of Archytas, which is a noble one and worth committing to memory. Archytas was a man of Tarentum who was learned in the lore of Pythagoras, and he wrote a treatise on the education of children, in which he says:
Let the father be an example of virtue to his children, for fathers also will the more resolutely walk in the path of virtue because their children are coming to resemble them.
But for myself, I propose to associate with you my own companion Demetrius, who will attend you as much as you like and instruct you in the whole duty of a good ruler."
"And what sort of wisdom, O Apollonius, does this person possess?"
"Courage," he replied, "to speak the truth unabashed by anyone, for he possesses the constancy and strength of character of a cynic."
And as Titus did not seem very pleased to hear the name of dog, he continued: "And yet in Homer, Telemachus, when he was young, required, it appears, two dogs, and the poet sends these to accompany the youth to the market place of Ithaca, in spite of their being irrational animals; but you will have a dog to accompany you who will bark in your behalf not only at other people, but at yourself in case you go wrong, and he will bark withal wisely, and never irrationally."
"Well," said the other, "give me your dog to accompany me, and I will even let him bite me, in case he feels I am committing injustice."
"I will write him a letter, for he teaches philosophy in Rome."
"Pray do so," said Titus, "and I wish I could get someone to write to you in my behalf, and induce you to share with me my journey to Rome."
"I will come there," said the other, "whenever it is best for both of us." (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library).
And little later, in Life of Apollonius VI 33, he gives us the letter:
But the letter to Demetrius ran as follows:
"Apollonius, the Philosopher, sends greeting to Demetrius the cynic.
I have made a present of you to the Emperor Titus, that you may instruct him how to behave as a sovereign, and take care that you confirm the truth of my words to him, and make yourself, anger apart, everything to him. Farewell." (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library).
In the year 75 Titus wants to marry Jewish princess Berenice, a relationship that the people do not look kindly; Diogenes the Sophist and a certain Heras criticized in the theater the vices of the emperors and that fed the royal anger and they were punished for it, as Cassius Dio tells us, Roman History LXV 15, 3-5:
Berenice was at the very height of her power and consequently came to Rome along with her brother Agrippa. 4 The latter was given the rank of praetor, while she dwelt in the palace, cohabiting with Titus. She expected to marry him and was already behaving in every respect as if she were his wife; but when he perceived that the Romans were displeased with the situation, he sent her away. 5 For, in addition to all the other talk that there was, certain sophists of the Cynic school managed somehow to slip into the city at this time, too; and first Diogenes, entering the theatre when it was full, denounced the pair in a long, abusive speech, for which he was flogged; and after him Heras, expecting no harsher punishment, gave vent to many senseless yelpings in true Cynic fashion, and for this was beheaded. (Loeb Classical Library, 9 volumes, Greek texts and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1914 thru 1927. Translation by Earnest Cary.)
Demetrius perhaps lived until the time of Domitian, who created a great atmosphere of terror. To Domitian they were awarded two ejections of philosophers (philosophy proved to be a high risk activity) and also astrologers and "mathematical", term that may relate to teachers in general. The first took place in the year 89 and the second, more violent, in 93/95. Let's see what Dio Cassius says in History of Rome LXVII 13.2:
As censor, likewise, his behaviour was noteworthy. He expelled Caecilius Rufinus from the senate because he acted pantomimes, and rest Claudius Pacatus, though an ex-centurion, to his master, because he was proved to be a slave. But the deeds now to be related — deeds which he performed as emperor — cannot be described in similar terms. I refer to his killing of Arulenus Rusticus because he was a philosopher and because he called Thrasea holy, and to his slaying of Herennius Senecio because in his long career he had stood for no office after his quaestorship and because he had written the biography of Helvidius Priscus. Many others also perished as a result of this same charge of philosophizing, and all the philosophers that were left in Rome were banished once more. One Juventius Celsus, however, who had taken a leading part in conspiring with certain others against Domitian and had been accused of this, saved his life in a remarkable way. When he was on the point of being condemned, he begged that he might speak to the emperor in private, and thereupon did obeisance before him and after repeatedly calling him "master" and "god" (terms that were already being applied to him by others), he said: "I have done not of this sort, but if I obtain a respite, I will pry into everything and will not only bring information against many persons for you but also secure their conviction." He was released on this condition, but did not report any one; instead, by adding different excuses at different times, he lived until the death of Domitian. (Loeb Classical Library, 9 volumes, Greek texts and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1914 thru 1927. Translation by Earnest Cary.)
The following text of Philostratus perfectly describes the atmosphere of concern and fear in which many times they they have been numerous intellectuals, awaiting the decision of the tyrant and doubting whether to run away to be spared.
Philostratus, Life of Apollonius VII 10-12
… and having landed at Corinth and worshipped the Sun about midday, with his usual rites, embarked in the evening for Sicily and Italy. And falling in with a favorable wind and a good current that ran in his direction, he reached Dicaearchia [Puteoli] on the fifth day.
There he met Demetrius who passed for being the boldest of the philosophers, simply because he did not live far away from Rome, and knowing that he had moved to get out of the way of the tyrant, yet said by way of amusing himself: "I have caught you in your luxury, dwelling here in the most blessed part of happy Italy, if indeed she be happy, here where Odysseus is said to have forgotten in the company of Calypso the smoke of his Ithacan home."
Thereupon Demetrius embraced him and after sundry pious ejaculations said: "O ye gods, what will come upon philosophy, if she risks the loss of such a man as yourself?"
"And what risks does she run?" asked he.
"Those, surely, a foreknowledge of which brought you here," said the other; "for if I do not know what is in your mind, then I do not know what is in my own. But let us not conduct our conversation here, but let us retire where we can talk together alone, and let only Damis be present whom, by Heracles, I am inclined to consider an Iolaus of your labors."
With these words, Demetrius led them to the villa in which [the Roman orator] Cicero lived of old, and it is close by the city. There they sat down under a plane tree where the grasshoppers were chirping to the soft music of the summer's breeze, when Demetrius glancing up at them, remarked: "O ye blessed insects and unfeignedly wise, it would seem then that the Muses have taught you a song which is neither actionable, nor likely to be informed against; and they made you superior to all wants of the belly, and settled you far above all human envy to live in these trees, in which you sit and sing in your blessedness about your own and the Muses' prerogative of happiness."
Now Apollonius understood the drift of this apostrophe, but it jarred upon him as inconsistent with the strenuous professions of his friend. "It seems then," he said, "that, though you only wanted to sing the praises of grasshoppers, you could not do it openly, but came cowering hither, as if there were a public law against anyone praising the grasshoppers."
"I said what I did," he replied, "not by way of praising them, but of signifying that while they are left unmolested in their concert halls, we are not allowed even to mutter; for wisdom has been rendered a penal offense. And whereas the indictment of Anytus and Meletus ran: Socrates commits wrong in corrupting youth and introducing a new religion, we are indicted in such terms as these: So and so commits wrong by being wise and just and gifted with understanding of the gods no less than of men, and with a wide knowledge of the laws.
And as for yourself, so far forth as you are cleverer and wiser than the rest of us, so much the more cleverly is the indictment against you drawn up; for Domitian intends to implicate you in the charges for which Nerva and his associates were banished."
"But for what crime," said Apollonius, "are they banished?"
"For what is reckoned by the persecutor to be the greatest of latter-day crimes. He says that he has caught these persons in the act of trying to usurp his throne, and accuses you of instigating their attempt by mutilating, I think, a boy."
"What, as if it were by an eunuch, that I want his empire overthrown?"
"It is not that," he replied, "of which we are falsely accused; but they declare that you sacrificed a boy to divine the secrets of futurity which are to be learned from an inspection of youthful entrails; and in the indictment your dress and manner of life are also impugned, and the fact of your being an object of worship to some. This then is what I have heard from our Telesinus, no less your intimate than mine."
"What luck," exclaimed Apollonius, "if we could meet Telesinus: for I suppose you mean the philosopher who held consular rank in the reign of Nero."
"The same," he said, "but how are we to come across him? For despots are doubly suspicious of any man of rank, should they find him holding communication with people who lie under such an accusation as you do. And Telesinus, moreover, gave way quietly before the edict which has lately been issued against philosophers of every kind, because he preferred to be in exile as a philosopher, to remain in Rome as a consul."
"I would not have him run any risks on my account anyhow," said Apollonius, "for the risks he runs in behalf of philosophy are serious enough.
But tell me this, Demetrius, what do you think I had better say or do in order to allay my own fears?"
"You had better not trifle," said the other, "nor pretend to be afraid when you foresee danger; for if you really thought these accusations terrifying, you would have been away by now and evaded the necessity of defending yourself from them."
"And would you run away," said Apollonius, "if you were placed in the same danger as myself?"
"I would not," he replied, "I swear by Athena, if there were someone to judge me; but in fact there is no fair trial, and if I did offer a defense, no one would even listen to me; or if I were listened to, I should be slain all the more certainly because I was known to be innocent. You would not, I suppose, care to see me choose so cold-blooded and lavish a death as that, rather than one which befits a philosopher.
And I imagine that it behoves a philosopher to die in the attempt to liberate his city or to protect his parents and children and brothers and other kinsfolk, or to die struggling for his friends, who in the eyes of the wise are more precious than mere kinsfolk, or for favorites that have been purchased by love. But to be put to death not for true reasons, but for fancy ones, and to furnish the tyrant with a pretext for being considered wise, is much worse and more grievous than to be bowed and bent high in the sky on a wheel, as they say Ixion was.
But it seems to me the very fact of your coming here will be the beginning of your trial; for though you may attribute your journey hither to your quiet conscience, and to the fact that you would have never ventured upon it if you were guilty, Domitian will credit you with nothing of the kind; but will merely believe that you ventured on so hardy a course because you possess some mysterious power. For think, ten days, they say, have not elapsed since you were cited to appear, and you turn up at the court, without even having heard as yet that you were to undergo a trial.
Will not that be tantamount to justifying the accusation, for everyone will think that you foreknew the event, and the story of the boy will gain credit therefrom? And take care that the discourse which the say you delivered about the Fates and Necessity in Ionia does not come true of yourself; and that, in case destiny has some cruelty in store, you are not marching straight to meet it with your hands tied, just because you won't see that discretion is the better part of valor.
And if you have not forgotten the affairs of Nero's reign, you will remember my own case, and that I showed no coward's dread of death. But then one gained some respite: for although Nero's harp was ill attuned to the dignity that befits a king, and clashed therewith, yet in other ways its music harmonized not unpleasantly with ours, for he was induced thereby to grant a truce to his victims, and stay his murderous hand. At any rate he did not slay me, although I attracted his sword to myself as much by your discourses as by my own, which were delivered against the bath; and the reason why he did not slay me was that just then his voice improved, and he achieved, as he thought, a brilliant melody.
But where's the royal nightingale, and where the harp to which we can today make our peace-offerings? For the outlook of today is unredeemed by music, and full of spleen, and this tyrant is as little likely to be charmed by himself, as by other people. It is true that Pindar says in praise of the lyre that it charms the savage beast of [the war god] Ares and stays his hand from war; but this ruler, although he has established a musical contest in Rome, and offers a civic crown for those who win therein, nevertheless slew some of them, for whom it was the proverbial swan-sung that they piped or sang.
And you should also consider our friends and their safety, for you will certainly ruin them as well as yourself, if you make a show of being brave, or use arguments which will not be listened to.
But your life lies within your reach; for here are ships -you see how many there are- some about to sail for Libya, others for Egypt, others for Phoenicia and Cyprus, others direct to Sardinia, other still for places beyond Sardinia. It were best for you to embark on one of these provinces; for the hand of tyranny is less heavy upon these distinguished men, if it perceives that they only desire to live quietly and not put themselves forward."
Damis was so impressed by the arguments of Demetrius that he exclaimed:
(Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library).
The following text describes the anguish of those who, feeling persecuted, feared engage others with their mere contact and relationship. How many times they should have produced similar situations, given the inaction of the remaining citizens.
Let us read Philostratus, VII, 14-15:
I know, Demetrius, how clever you are at chopping logic, and this, I believe, is why you will tender me some further advice, such as this: But you must not resort to those you have named, but to men with whom you have never had anything to do, and then your flight will be secure; for you will find it easier to lie hidden among people who do not know you.
Well, let me examine this argument too, and see whether there is anything in it. For this is how I regard it: I consider that a wise man does nothing in private nor by himself alone; I hold that not even his inmost thoughts can be so devoid of witness, that he himself at least is not present with himself; and whether the Pythian inscription was suggested by Apollo himself, or by some man who had a healthy conscience, and was therefore minded to publish it as an aphorism for all, I hold that the sage who 'knows himself, and has his own conscience as his perpetual companion, will never cower before things that scare the many, nor venture upon courses which others would engage upon without shame. For being the slaves of despots, they have been ready at times to betray to them even their dearest; because just as they trembled at imaginary terrors, so they felt no fear where they should have trembled.
But Wisdom allows of none these things.
I think then that I have clearly shown you, and that truth itself will convince you, that my conscience will convict me wherever I go, whether to people that know me, or to people that do not, supposing I were to betray my friends; but I will not betray even myself, but I will boldly wrestle with the tyrant, hailing him with the words of the noble Homer: Ares is as much my friend as thine."
Damis was so impressed by this address, he tells us, that he took fresh resolution and courage, and Demetrius no longer despaired of Apollonius, but rather praising and agreeing with his appeal, wished godspeed to him in his perilous enterprise and to his mistress Philosophy for whose sake he braved so much.
And he led them, Damis says, to where he was lodging; but Apollonius declined and said: "It is now eventide, and about the time of the lighting up of the lamps and I must set out for the port of Rome, for this is the usual hour at which these ships sail. However we will dine together another time, when my affairs are on a better footing; for just now some charge would be trumped up against yourself of having dined with an enemy of the Emperor. Nor must you come down to the harbor with us, lest you should be accused, merely for having conversed with me, of harboring criminal designs."
Demetrius accordingly consented, and after embracing them he quitted them, though he often turned back to look towards them and wiped tears from his eyes. (Translation by F.C. Conybeare, 1912, in the Loeb Classical Library).
Demetrius died around AD 90. He had a long life; certainly he could overcome the pitfalls with skill and the help of the goddess Fortuna.