Apollonius of Tyana
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The Apollonius of Early Opinion
The following study will be simply an attempt to put before the reader a brief sketch of the problem which the records and traditions of the life of the famous Tyanean present; but before we deal with the Life of Apollonius, written by Flavius Philostratus at the beginning of the third century, we must give the reader a brief account of the references to Apollonius among the classical writers and the Church Fathers, and a short sketch of the literature of the subject in more recent times, and of the varying fortunes of the war of opinion concerning his life in the last four centuries.
First, then, with regard to the references in classical and patristic authors. Lucian, the witty writer of the first half of the second century, makes the subject of one of his satires the pupil of a disciple of Apollonius, of one of those who were acquainted with “all the tragedy” [Alexander sive Pseudomantis, vi.] of his life. And Appuleius, a contemporary of Lucian, classes Apollonius with Moses and Zoroaster, and other famous Magi of antiquity. [De Magia, xc (ed Hildebrand, 1842, ii 614.)
About the same period, in a work entitled Quæstiones et Responsiones ad Orthodoxos, formerly attributed to Justin Martyr, who flourished in the second quarter of the second century, we find the following interesting statement:
“Question 24: If God is the maker and master of creation, how do the consecrated objects [te?esµata. Telesma was “a consecrated object, turned by the Arabs into telsam (talisman)” ; see Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon, sub voc.] of Apollonius have power in the [various] orders of that creation? For, as we see, they check the fury of the waves and the power of the winds and the inroads of vermin and attacks of wild beasts.” ‡ [Justin Martyr, Opera ed. Otto (2nd edition ; Jena 1849) iii 32.]
Dion Cassius in his history [Lib Ixxvii 18.] which he wrote A.D., 211-222, states that Caracalla (Emp 211-216) honoured the memory of Apollonius with a chapel or monument (heroum).
It was just at this time (216) that Philostratus composed his Life of Apollonius, at the request of Domna Julia, Caracalla’s mother, and it is with this document principally that we shall have to deal in the sequel.
Lampridius, who flourished about the middle of the third century, further informs us that Alexander Severus (Emp 222-235) placed the statue of Apollonius in his lararium together with those of Christ, Abraham, and Orpheus. [Life of Alexander Severus xxix.]
Vopiscus, writing in the last decade of the third century, tells us that Aurelian (Emp 270-275) vowed a temple to Apollonius, of whom he had seen a vision when besieging Tyana. Vopiscus speaks of the Tyanean as “a sage of the most wide-spread renown and authority, an ancient philosopher, and a true friend of the Gods,” nay, as a manifestation of deity. “For what among men,” exclaims the historian, “was more holy, what more worthy of reverence, what more venerable, what more god-like than he? He, it was, who gave life to the dead. He it was, who did and said so many things beyond the power of men.” [Life of Aurelian xxiv.] So enthusiastic is Vopiscus about Apollonius, that he promises, if he lives, to write a short account of his life in Latin, so that his deeds and words may be on the tongue of all, for as yet the only accounts are in Greek. [“Quae qui velit nosse, groecos legat libros qui de ejus vita conscripti sunt.” These accounts were probably the books of Maximus, Mœragenes, and Philostratus.] Vopiscus, however, did not fulfil his promise, but we learn that about this date both Soterichus [An Egyptian epic poet, who wrote several poetical histories in Greek; he flourished in the last decade of the third century.] and Nichomachus wrote Lives of our philosopher, and shortly afterwards Tascius Victorianus, working on the papers of Nichomachus, [Sidonius Apollinaris, Epp., viii 3. See also Legrand d’Aussy, Vie d’Apollonius de Tyane (Paris 1807), p xIvii.] also composed a Life. None of these Lives, however, have reached us.
It was just at this period also, namely, in the last years of the third century and the first years of the fourth, that Porphyry and Iamblichus composed their treatises on Pythagoras and his school; both mention Apollonius as one of their authorities, and it is probable that the first 30 seconds of Iamblichus are taken from Apollonius. [Porphyry, De Vita Pythagoræ, section ii., ed Kiessling (Leipzig 1816). Iamblichus De Vita Pythagorica, chap xxv., ed Kiessling (Leipzig 1813); see especially K’s note, pp II Sqq. See also Porphyry, Frag., De Styge, p 285, ed Holst.]
We now come to an incident which hurled the character of Apollonius into the arena of Christian polemics, where it has been tossed about until the present day. Hierocles, successively governor of Palmyra, Bithynia, and Alexandria, and a philosopher, about the year 305 wrote a criticism on the claims of the Christians, in two books, called A Truthful Address to the Christians, or more shortly The Truth-lover. He seems to have based himself for the most part on the previous work of Celsus and Porphyry, [See Duchesne on the recently discovered works of Macarious Magnes (Paris 1877)], but introduced a new subject of controversy by opposing the wonderful works of Apollonius to the claims of the Christians to exclusive right in “miracles” as proof of the divinity of their Master. In this part of his treatise Hierocles used Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius.
To this pertinent criticism of Hierocles Eusebius of Cæsarea immediately replied in a treatise still extant, entitled Contra Hieroclem. [The most convenient text is by Gaisford (Oxford 1852), Eusebii Pamphili contra Hieroclem; it is also printed in a number of editions of Philostratus. There are two translations in Latin, one in Italian, one in Danish, all bound up with Philostratus’ Vita, and one in French printed apart (Discours d’Eusèbe Evêque de Cesarée touchant les Miracles attribuez par les Payens à Apollonius de Tyane, tr by Cousin. Paris; 1584, 12mo, 135 pp.] Eusebius admits that Apollonius was a wise and virtuous man, but denies that there is sufficient proof that the wonderful things ascribed to him ever took place; and even if they did take place, they were the work of “dæmons,” and not of God. The treatise of Eusebius is interesting; he severely scrutinises the statements in Philostratus, and shows himself possessed of a first rate critical faculty. Had he only used the same faculty on the documents of the Church, of which he was the first historian, posterity would have owed him an eternal debt of gratitude. But Eusebius, like so many other apologists, could only see one side; justice, when anything touching Christianity was called into question, was a stranger to his mind, and he would have considered it blasphemy to use his critical faculty on the documents which relate the “miracles” of Jesus. Still the problem of “miracle” was the same, as Hierocles pointed out, and remains the same to this day.
After the controversy reincarnated again in the sixteenth century, and when the hypothesis of the “Devil” as the prime-mover in all “miracles” but those of the Church lost its hold with the progress of scientific thought, the nature of the wonders related in the Life of Apollonius was still so great a difficulty that it gave rise to a new hypothesis of plagiarism. The life of Apollonius was a Pagan plagiarism of the life of Jesus. But Eusebius and the Fathers who followed him had no suspicion of this; they lived in times when such an assertion could have been easily refuted. There is not a word in Philostratus to show he had any acquaintance with the life of Jesus, and fascinating as Baur’s “tendency-writing” theory is to many, we can only say that as a plagiarist of the Gospel story Philostratus is a conspicuous failure. Philostratus writes the history of a good and wise man, a man with a mission of teaching, clothed in the wonder stories preserved in the memory and embellished by the imagination of fond posterity, but not the drama of incarnate Deity as the fulfilment of world prophecy.
Lactantius, writing about 315, also attacked the treatise of Hierocles, who seems to have put forward some very pertinent criticisms; for the Church Father says that he enumerates so many of their Christian inner teachings (intima) that sometimes he would seem to have at one time undergone the same training (disciplina). But it is in vain, says Lactantius, that Hierocles endeavours to show that Apollonius performed similar or even greater deeds than Jesus, for Christians do not believe that Christ is God because he did wonderful things, but because all the things wrought in him were those which were announced by the prophets. [Lactantius, Divinae Institutiones, v 2, 3; ed Fritsche (Leipzig 1842) pp 233, 236] And in taking this ground Lactantius saw far more clearly than Eusebius the weakness of the proof from “miracle.”
Arnobius, the teacher of Lactantius, however, writing at the end of the third century, before the controversy, in referring to Apollonius simply classes him among Magi, such as Zoroaster and others mentioned in the passage of Appuleius to which we have already referred. [Arnobius, Adversus Nationes, i, 52; ed Hildebrand (Halle 1844) p 86. The Church Father, however, with that exclusiveness peculiar to the Judæo-Christian view, omits Moses from the list of Magi.]
But even after the controversy there is a wide difference of opinion among the Fathers, for although at the end of the fourth century John Chrysostom with great bitterness calls Apollonius a deceiver and evil-doer, and declares that the whole of the incidents in his life are unqualified fiction, [John Chrysostom, Adversus Judæos, v 3 (p 631); De Laudibus Sancti Pauli Apost. Homil., iv (p 493 d; ed Montfauc] Jerome, on the contrary, at the very same date, takes almost a favourable view, for, after perusing Philostratus, he writes that Apollonius found everywhere something to learn and something whereby he might become a better man. [Hieronymus, Ep ad Paullinum, 53 (text ap. Kayser, præf ix]. At the beginning of the fifth century also Augustine, while ridiculing any attempt at comparison between Apollonius and Jesus, says that the character of the Tyanean was “far superior” to that ascribed to Jove, in respect of virtue. [August., Epp., cxxxviii. Text quoted by Legrand D’aussy, op,cit., p 294.]
About the same date also we find Isidorus of Pelusium, who died in 450, bluntly denying that there is any truth in the claim made by “certain,” whom he does not further specify, that Apollonius of Tyana “consecrated many spots in many parts of the world for the safety of the inhabitants.” [Isidorus Pelusiota, Epp., p 138; ed J Billius (Paris 1585)] It is instructive to compare the denial of Isidorus with the passage we have already quoted from Pseudo-Justin. The writer of Questions and Answers to the Orthodox in the second century could not dispose of the question by a blunt denial; he had to admit it and argue the case of other grounds - - namely, the agency of the Devil. Nor can the argument of the Fathers, that Apollonius used magic to bring about his results, while the untaught Christians could perform healing wonders by a single word, [See Arnobius, loc cit.] be accepted as valid by the unprejudiced critic, for there is no evidence to support the contention that Apollonius employed such methods for his wonder-workings; on the contrary, both Apollonius himself and his biographer Philostratus strenuously repudiate the charge of magic brought against him.
On the other hand, a few years later, Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Claremont, speaks in the highest terms of Apollonius. Sidonius translated the Life of Apollonius into Latin for Leon, the councillor of King Euric, and in writing to his friend he says:” Read the life of a man who (religion apart) resembles you in many things; a man sought out by the rich, yet who never sought for riches; who loved wisdom and despised gold; a man frugal in the midst of feastings, clad in linen in the midst of those clothed in purple, austere in the midst of luxury . . . . In fine, to speak plainly, perchance no historian will find in ancient times a philosopher whose life is equal to that of Apollonius.” [Sidonius Apollinaris, Epp., viii 3. Also Fabricius, Bibliotheca Græca, pp 549, 565 (ed Harles). The work of Sidonius on Apollonius is unfortunately lost.]
Thus we see that even among the Church Fathers opinions were divided; while among the philosophers themselves the praise of Apollonius was unstinted.
For Ammianus Marcellinus, “the last subject of Rome who composed a profane history in the Latin language,” and the friend of Julian the philosopher-emperor, refers to the Tyanean as “that most renowned philosopher”; [Amplissimus ille philosophus (xxiii 7). See also xxi 14; xxiii 19] while a few years later Eunapius, the pupil of Chrysanthius, one of the teachers of Julian, writing in the last years of the fourth century says that Apollonius was more than a philosopher; he was “a middle term, as it were, between gods and men.” [ ? , meaning thereby presumably one who has reached the grade of being superior to man, but not yet equal to the gods. This was called by the Greeks the “dæmonian” order. But the word “dæmon,” owing to sectarian bitterness, has long been degraded from its former high estate, and the original idea is now signified in popular language by the term “angel.” Compare Plato, Symposium, xxiii.,?, “all that is dæmonian is between God and man.” Not only was Apollonius an adherent of the Pythagorean philosophy, but “he fully exemplified the more divine and practical side in it.” In fact Philostratus should have called his biography “The Sojourning of a God among Men.” [Eunapius, Vitæ Philosophorum, Proœmium, vi ; ed Boissonade (Amsterdam 1822) p 3.] This seemingly wildly exaggerated estimate may perhaps receive explanation in the fact that Eunapius belonged to a school which knew the nature of the attainments ascribed to Apollonius.
Indeed, “as late as the fifth century we find one Volusian, a proconsul of Africa, descended from an old Roman family and still strongly attached to the religion of his ancestors, almost worshipping Apollonius of Tyana as a supernatural being.” [Réville, Apollonius of Tyana (tr from the French) p 56 (London 1866). I have, however, not been able to discover on what authority this statement is made.]
Even after the downfall of philosophy we find Cassiodorus, who spent the last years of his long life in a monastery, speaking of Apollonius as the “renowned philosopher.” [Insignis philosophus; see his Chronicon, written down to the year 519.] So also among Byzantine writers, the monk George Syncellus, in the eighth century, refers several times to our philosopher, and not only without the slightest adverse criticism, but he declares that he was the first and most remarkable of all the illustrious people who appeared under the Empire. † [In his Chronographia. See Legrand d’Aussy, op.cit., p 313.] Tzetzes also, the critic and grammarian, calls Apollonius “all-wise and a fore-knower of all things.” [Chiliades ii 60]
And though the monk Xiphilinus, in the eleventh century, in a note to his abridgment of the history of Dion Cassius, calls Apollonius a clever juggler and magician, § [Cited by Legrand d’Aussy, op cit., p 286] nevertheless Cedrenus in the same century bestows on Apollonius the not uncomplimentary title of an “adept Pythagorean philosopher,” [ ? — Cedrenus, Compendium Historiarium, i 346; ed Bekker. The word which I have rendered by “adept” signifies one “who has power over the elements.” and relates several instances of the efficacy of his powers in Byzantium. In fact, if we can believe Nicetas, as late as the thirteenth century there were at Byzantium certain bronze doors, formerly consecrated by Apollonius, which had to be melted down because they had become an object of superstition even for the Christians themselves. [Legrand d’Aussy, op cit., p 308.]
Had the work of Philostratus disappeared with the rest of the Lives, the above would be all that we should have known about Apollonius. [If we except the disputed Letters and a few quotations from one of Apollonius’ lost writings.] Little enough, it is true, concerning so distinguished a character, yet ample enough to show that, with the exception of theological prejudice, the suffrages of antiquity were all on the side of our philosopher.