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Apollonius Tyanaeus

Ἀπολλώνίος Τυαναῖος), a Pythagorean philosopher, born at Tyana in Cappadocia about four years before the Christian era. Much of his reputation is to be attributed to the belief in his magical or supernatural powers, and the parallel which modern and ancient writers have attempted to draw between his character and supposed miracles, and those of the Author of our religion. His life by Philostratus is a mass of incongruities and fables: whether it have any groundwork of historical truth, and whether it were written wholly or partly with a controversial aim, are questions we shall be better prepared to discuss after giving an account of the contents of the work itself.

Apollonius, according to the narrative of his biographer, was of noble ancestry, and claimed kindred with the founders of the city of Tyana. We need not stop to dispute the other story of the incarnation of the god Proteus, or refer it, with Tillemont, to demoniacal agency. At the age of fourteen he was placed under the care of Euthydemus, a rhetorician of Tarsus; but, being disgusted at the luxury of the inhabitants, he obtained leave of his father and instructor to retire to the neighbouring town of Aegae. Here he is said to have studied the whole circle of the Platonic, Sceptic, Epicurean, and Peripatetic philosophy, and ended by giving his preference to the Pythagorean, in which he had been trained by Euxenus of Heraclea. (Phil. 1.7.) Immediately, as if the idea of treading in the footsteps of Pythagoras had seized him in his earliest youth, he began to exercise himself in the severe asceticism of the sect; abstained from animal food and woollen clothing, foreswore wine and the company of women, suffered his hair to grow, and betook himself to the temple of Aesculapius at Aegae, who was supposed to regard him with peculiar favour. He was recalled to Tyana, in the twentieth year of his age, by his father's death: after dividing his inheritance with a brother whom he is said to have reclaimed from dissolute living, and giving the greater part of what remained to his poorer relatives (Phil. 1.13), he returned to the discipline of Pythagoras, and for five years preserved the mystic silence, during which alone the secret truths of philosophy were disclosed. At the end of the five years, he travelled in Asia Minor, going from city to city, and everywhere disputing, like Pythagoras, upon divine rites. There is a blank in his biography, at this period of his life, of about twenty years, during which we must suppose the same employment to have continued, unless indeed we have reason to suspect that the received date of his birth has been anticipated twenty years. He was between forty and fifty years old when he set out on his travels to the east; and here Philostratus sends forth his hero on a voyage of discovery, in which we must be content rapidly to follow him. From Aegae he went to Nineveh, where he met Damis, the future chronicler of his actions, and, proceeding on his route to India, he discoursed at Babylon with Bardanes, the Parthian king, and consulted the magi and Brahmins, who were supposed to have imparted to him some theurgic secrets. He next visited Taxila, the capital of Phraortes, an Indian prince, where he met Iarchas, the chief of the Brahmins, and disputed with Indian Gymnosophists already versed in Alexandrian philosophy. (Phil 3.51.) This eastern journey lasted five years: at its conclusion, he returned to the Ionian cities, where we first hear of his pretensions to miraculous power, founded, as it would seem, on the possession of some divine knowledge derived from the east. If it be true that the honours of a god were decreed to him at this period of his life, we are of course led to suspect some collusion with the priests (4.1), who are said to have referred the sick to him for relief. From Ionia he crossed over into Greece (4.11), visited the temples and oracles which lay in his way, everywhere disputing about religion, and assuming the authority of a divine legislator. At the Eleusinian mysteries he was rejected as a magician, and did not obtain admission to them until a later period of his life: the same cause excluded him at the cave of Trophonius (from whence he pretended to have obtained the sacred books of Pythagoras), and which he entered by force. (8.19.) After visiting Lacedaemon, Corinth, and the other towns of Greece, he bent his course towards Rome, and arrived there just after an edict against magicians had been issued by Nero. He was immediately brought before Telesinus the consul, and Tigellinus, the favourite of the emperor, the first of whom dismissed him, we are told, from the love of philosophy, and the latter from the fear of a magic power, which could make the letters vanish from the indictment. On his acquittal, he went to Spain, Africa, and Athens, where, on a second application, he was admitted to the mysteries; and from Athens proceeded to Alexandria, where Vespasian, who was maturing his revolt, soon saw the use which might be made of such an ally. The story of their meeting may be genuine, and is certainly curious as exhibiting Apollonius in the third of the threefold characters assumed by Pythagoras -philosopher, mystic, and politician. Vespasian was met at the entrance of the city by a body of magistrates, praefects and philosophers, and hastily asked whether the Tyanean was among the number. Being told that he was philosophizing in the Serapeum, he proceeded thither, and begged Apollonius to make him emperor: the philosopher replied that "he had already done so, in praying the gods for a just and venerable sovereign ;" upon which Vespasian declared that he resigned himself entirely into his hands. A council of philosophers was forthwith held, including Dio and Euphrates, Stoics in the emperor's train, in which the question was formally debated, Euphrates protesting against the ambition of Vespasian and the base subserviency of Apollonius, and advocating the restoration of a republic. (5.31.) This dispute laid the foundation of a lasting quarrel between the two philosophers, to which Philostratus often alludes. The last journey of Apollonius was to Ethiopia, whence he returned to settle in the Ionian cities. The same friendship which his father had shewn was continued towards him by the emperor Titus, who is said to have invited him to Argos in Cilicia, and to have obtained a promise that he would one day visit Rome. On the accession of Domitian, Apollonius endeavoured to excite the provinces of Asia Minor against the tyrant. An order was sent to bring him to Rome, which he thought proper to anticipate by voluntarily surrendering himself, to avoid bringing suspicion on his companions. On being conducted into the emperor's presence, his prudence deserted him: he launched forth into the praise of Nerva, and was hurried to prison, loaded with chains. The charges against him resolved themselves into three heads--the singularity of his dress and appearance, his being worshipped as a god, and his sacrificing a child with Nerva for an augury. As destruction seemed impending, it was a time to display his miraculous powers: he vanished from his persecutors; and after appearing to Darius at Puteoli at the same hour he disappeared from Rome, he passed over into Greece, where he remained two years, having given out that the emperor had publicly acquitted him. The last years of his life were probably spent at Ephesus, where he is said to have proclaimed the death of the tyrant Domitian at the instant it took place. Three places--Ephesus, Rhodes, and Crete, laid claim to the honour of being his last dwelling-place. Tyana, where a temple was dedicated to him, became henceforth one of the sacred cities, and possessed the privilege of electing its own magistrates.

We now proceed to discuss very briefly three questions. I. The historical groundwork on which the narrative of Philostratus was founded. II. How far, if at all, it was designed as a rival to the Gospel history. III. The real character of Apollonius himself.

I. However impossible it may be to separate truth from falsehood in the narrative of Philostratus, we cannot conceive that a professed history, appealed to as such by contemporary authors, and written about a hundred years after the death of Apollonius himself, should be simply the invention of a writer of romance. It must be allowed, that all the absurd fables of Ctesias, the confused falsehoods of all mythologies (which become more and more absurd as they are farther distant), eastern fairy tales, and perhaps a parody of some of the Christian miracles, are all pressed into the service by Philostratus to adorn the life of his hero: it will be allowed further, that the history itself, stripped of the miracles, is probably as false as the miracles themselves. Still we cannot account for the reception of the narrative among the ancients, and even among the fathers themselves, unless there had been some independent tradition of the character of Apollonius on which it rested. Eusebius of Caesarea, who answered the Λόγος φιλαλήθης πρὸς Χριστιάνους of Hierocles (in which a comparison was attempted between our Lord and Apollonius), seems (c. v.) to allow the truth of Philostratus's narrative in the main, with the exception of what is miraculous. And the parody, if it may be so termed, of the life of Pythagoras, may be rather traceable to the impostor himself than to the ingenuity of his biographer. Statues and temples still existed in his honour; his letters and supposed writings were extant; the manuscript of his life by Damis the Assyrian was the original work which was dressed out by the rhetoric of Philostratus; and many notices of his visits and acts might be found in the public records of Asiatic cities, which would have at once disproved the history, if inconsistent with it. Add to this, that another life of Apollonius of Tyana, by Moeragenes, is mentioned, which was professedly disregarded by Philostratus, because, he says, it omitted many important particulars, and which Origen, who had read it, records to have spoken of Apollonius as a magician whose imposture had deceived many celebrated philosophers. The conclusion we seem to come to on the whole is, that at a period when there was a general belief in magical powers Apollonius did attain great influence by pretending to them, and that the history of Philostratus gives a just idea of his character and reputation, however inconsistent in its facts and absurd in its marvels.

II. We have purposely omitted the wonders with which Philostratus has garnished his narrative, of which they do not in general form an essential part. Many of these are curiously coincident with the Christian miracles. The proclamation of the birth of Apollonius to his mother by Proteus, and the incarnation of Proteus himself, the chorus of swans which sung for joy on the occasion, the casting out of devils, raising the dead, and healing the sick, the sudden disappearances and reappearances of Apollonius, his adventures in the cave of Trophonius, and the sacred voice which called him at his death, to which may be added his claim as a teacher having authority to reform the world--cannot fail to suggest the parallel passages in the Gospel history. We know, too, that Apollonius was one'among many rivals set up by the Eclectics (as, for instance, by Hierocles of Nicomedia in the time of Diocletian) to our Saviour--an attempt, it may be worth remarking, renewed by the English freethinkers, Blount and Lord Herbert. Still it must be allowed that the resemblances are very general, that where Philostratus has borrowed from the Gospel narrative, it is only as he has borrowed from all other wonderful history, and that the idea of a controversial aim is inconsistent with the account which makes the life written by Damis the groundwork of the more recent story. Moreover, Philostratus wrote at the command of the empress Julia Domna, and was at the time living in the palace of Alexander Severus, who worshipped our Lord with Orpheus and Apollonius among his Penates: so that it seems improbable he should have felt any peculiar hostility to Christianity; while, on the other hand, he would be acquainted with the general story of our Lord's life, from which he might naturally draw many of his own incidents. On the whole, then, we conclude with Ritter, that the life of Apollonius was not written with a controversial aim, as the resemblances, although real, only indicate that a few things were borrowed, and exhibit no trace of a systematic parallel. (Ritter, Geschichte der Phil. vol. iv. p. 492.)

III. The character of Apollonius as well as the facts of his life bear a remarkable resemblance to those of Pythagoras, whom he professedly followed. Travel, mysticism, and disputation, are the three words in which the earlier half of both their lives may be summed up. There can be no doubt that Apollonius pretended to supernatural powers, and was variously regarded by the ancients as a magician and a divine being. The object of his scheme, as far as it can be traced, was twofold--partly philosophical and partly religious. As a philosopher, he is to be considered as one of the middle terms between the Greek and Oriental systems, which he endeavoured to harmonize in the symbolic lore of Pythagoras. The Pythagorean doctrine of numbers, and their principles of music and astronomy, he looked upon as quite subordinate, while his main efforts were directed to reestablish the old religion on a Pythagorean basis. His aim was to purify the worship of Paganism from the corruptions which he said the fables of the poets had introduced, and restore the rites of the temples in all their power and meaning. In his works on divination by the stars, and on offerings, he rejects sacrifices as impure in the sight of God. All objects of sense, even fire, partook of a material and corruptible nature: prayer itself should be the untainted offering of the heart, and was polluted by passing through the lips. (Euseb. Prep. Ev. 4.13.) This objection to sacrifice was doubtless connected with the Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls. In the miracles attributed to him we see the same trace of a Pythagorean character: they are chiefly prophecies, and it is not the power of controlling the laws of nature which Apollonius lays claim to, but rather a wonderworking secret, which gives him a deeper insight into them than is possessed by ordinary men. Upon the whole we may place Apollonius midway between the mystic philosopher and the mere impostor, between Pythagoras and Lucian's Alexander; and in this double character he was regarded by the ancients themselves.

The following list of Apollonius's works has come down to us : 1. Ὕμνος ἐις Μνημοσύναν. (Philostr. Vit. Apoll. 1.14; Suidas, s. v. Apoll.) 2. Πυθαγόρου δόξαι, and 3. Πυθαγόρου βίος, mentioned by Suidas, and probably (see Ritter) one of the works which, according to Philostratus (8.19), Apollonius brought with him from the cave of Trophonius. 4. Διαθήκη, written in Ionic Greek. (Phil. 1.3; 7.39.) 5. Ἀπολογία against a complaint of Euphrates the philosopher to Domitian. (8.7.) 6. Περὶ μαντείας ἀοστέρων. 7. Τελεταὶ περὶ Δυαιῶν. (3.41, 4.19; Euseb. Prep. Ev. 4.13.) 8. Χρησμοὶ, quoted by Suidas. 9. Νυχθήμερον, a spurious work. 10. Ἐπιστολαὶ LXXXV. Bp. Lloyd supposes those which are still extant to be a spurious work. On the other hand, it must be allowed that the Laconic brevity of their style suits well with the authoritative character of the philosopher. They were certainly not inventions of Philostratus, and are not wholly the same with the collection to which he refers. The Ἀπολογία which is given by Philostratus (8.7) is the only other extant writing of Apollonius.


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