Apollonius of Tyana
The Philosopher Explorer
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He knew the hidden things of Nature by sight and not by hearing; for him the path of philosophy was a life whereby the man himself became an instrument of knowing. Religion, for Apollonius, was not a faith only, it was a science. For him the shows of things were but ever-changing appearances; cults and rites, religions and faiths, were all one to him, provided the right spirit were behind them. The Tyanean knew no differences of race or creed; such narrow limitations were not for the philosopher.
Beyond all others would he have laughed to hear the word “miracle” applied to his doings. “Miracle,” in its Christian theological sense, was an unknown term in antiquity, and is a vestige of superstition today. For though many believe that it is possible by means of the soul to effect a multitude of things beyond the possibilities of a science which is confined entirely to the investigation of physical forces, none but the unthinking believe that there can be any interference in the working of the laws which Deity has impressed upon Nature - the credo of Miraculists.
Most of the recorded wonder-doings of Apollonius are cases of prophecy or foreseeing; of seeing at a distance and seeing the past; of seeing or hearing in vision; of healing the sick or curing cases of obsession or possession.
Already as a youth, in the temple of Ægæ, Apollonius gave signs of the possession of the rudiments of this psychic insight; not only did he sense correctly the nature of the dark past of a rich but unworthy suppliant who desired the restoration of his eyesight, but he foretold, though unclearly, the evil end of one who made an attempt upon his innocence (i 12).
On meeting with Damis, his future faithful henchman volunteered his services for the long journey to India on the ground that he knew the languages of several of the countries through which they had to pass. “But I understand them all, though I have learned none of them,” answered Apollonius, in his usual enigmatical fashion, and added: “Marvel not that I know all the tongues of men, for I know even what they never say” (i 19). And by this he meant simply that he could read men's thoughts, not that he could speak all languages. But Damis and Philostratus cannot understand so simple a fact of psychic experience; they will have it that he knew not only the language of all men, but also of birds and beasts (i 20).
In his conversation with the Babylonian monarch Vardan, Apollonius distinctly claims foreknowledge. He says that he is a physician of the soul and can free the king from the diseases of the mind, not only because he knows what ought to be done, that is to say the proper discipline taught in the Pythagorean and similar schools, but also because he foreknows the nature of the king (i 32). Indeed we are told that the subject of foreknowledge (p?????se?? ), of which science ( s?f?a ) Apollonious was a deep student, was one of the principal topics discussed by our philosopher and his Indian hosts (iii 42).
In fact, as Apollonius tells his philosophical and studious friend the Roman Consul Telesinus, for him wisdom was a kind of divinizing or making divine of the whole of nature, a sort of perpetual state of inspiration ( fe?asµs? ), (iv 40). And so we are told that Apollonius was apprised of all things of this nature by the energy of his dæmonial nature ( da?µ????? ) (vii 10). Now for the student of the Pythagorean and Platonic schools the “dæmon” of a man was what may be called the higher self, the spiritual side of the soul as distinguished from the purely human. It is the better part of the man, and when his physical consciousness is at-oned with this “dweller in heaven,” he has (according to the highest mystic philosophy of ancient Greece) while still on earth the powers of those incorporeal intermediate beings between Gods and men called “dæmons”; a state higher still, the living man becomes at-oned with the divine soul, he becomes a God on earth; and yet a stage higher he becomes at one with the Good and so becomes God.
Hence we find Apollonius indignantly rejecting the accusation of magic ignorantly brought against him, an art which achieved its results by means of compacts with those low entities with which the outermost realm of inner Nature swarms. Our philosopher repudiated equally the idea of his being a soothsayer or diviner. With such arts he would have nothing to do; if ever he uttered anything which savoured of foreknowledge, let them know it was not by divination in the vulgar sense, but owing to “that wisdom which God reveals to the wise” (iv 44).
The most numerous wonder-doings ascribed to Apollonius are instances precisely of such foreknowledge or prophecy. 8 [See i 22 (cf 40), 34; iv 4, 6, 18 (cf v 19), 24, 43; v 7, 11, 13, 30, 37; vi 32; viii 26.] It must be confessed that the utterances recorded are often obscure and enigmatical, but this is the usual case with such prophecy; for future events are most frequently either seen in symbolic representations, the meaning of which is not clear until after the event, or heard in equally enigmatical sentences. At times, however, we have instances of very precise foreknowledge, such as the refusal of Apollonius to go on board a vessel which foundered on the voyage (v 18).
The instances of seeing present events at a distance, however - such as the burning of a temple at Rome, which Apollonius saw while at Alexandria - are clear enough. Indeed, if people know nothing else of the Tyanean, they have at last heard how he saw at Ephesus the assassination of Domitian at Rome at the very moment of its occurrence.
It was midday, to quote from the graphic account of Philostratus, and Apollonius was in one of the small parks or groves in the suburbs, engaged in delivering an address on some absorbing topic of philosophy. “At first he sank his voice as though in some apprehension; he, however, continued his exposition, but haltingly, and with far less force than usual, as a man who had some other subject in his mind than that on which he is speaking; finally he ceased speaking altogether as though he could not find his words. Then staring fixedly on the ground, he started forward three or four paces, crying out: ‘Strike the tyrant; strike!’ And this, not like a man who sees an image in a mirror, but as one with the actual scene before his eyes, as though he were himself taking part in it.”
Turning to his astonished audience he told them what he had seen. But though they hoped it were true, they refused to believe it, and thought that Apollonius had taken leave of his senses. But the philosopher gently answered: You, on your part, are right to suspend your rejoicings till the news is brought you in the usual fashion; “as for me, I go to return thanks to the Gods for what I have myself seen” (viii 26).
Little wonder, then, if we read, not only of a number of symbolic dreams, but of their proper interpretation, one of the most important branches of the esoteric discipline of the school. (See especially i 23 and iv 34). Nor are we surprised to hear that Apollonius, relying entirely on his inner knowledge, was instrumental in obtaining the reprieve of an innocent man at Alexandria, who was on the point of being executed with a batch of criminals (v 24). Indeed, he seems to have known the secret past of many with whom he came in contact (vi 3, 5).
The possession of such powers can put but little strain on the belief of a generation like our own, to which such facts of psychic science are becoming with every day more familiar. Nor should instances of curing diseases by mesmeric processes astonish us, or even the so-called “casting out of evil spirits,” if we give credence to the Gospel narrative and are familiar with the general history of the times in which such healing of possession and obsession was a commonplace. This, however, does not condemn us to any endorsement of the fantastic descriptions of such happenings in which Philostratus indulges. If it be credible that Apollonius was successful in dealing with obscure mental cases - cases of obsession and possession - with which our hospitals and asylums are filled today, and which are for the most part beyond the skill of official science owing to its ignorance of the real agencies at work, it is equally evident that Damis and Philostratus had little understanding of the matter, and have given full rein to their imagination in their narratives (See ii 4; iv 20, 25; v 42; vi 27, 43) Perhaps, however, Philostratus in some instances is only repeating popular legend, the best case of which is the curing of the plague at Ephesus which the Tyanean had foretold on so many occasions. Popular legend would have it that the cause of the plague was traced to an old beggar man, who was buried under a heap of stones by the infuriated populace. On Apollonius ordering the stones to be removed, it was found that what had been a beggar man was now a mad dog foaming at the mouth (iv 10)!
On the contrary, the account of Apollonius’ “restoring to life” a young girl of noble birth at Rome, is told with great moderation. Our philosopher seems to have met the funeral procession by chance; whereupon he suddenly went up to the bier, and, after making some passes over the maiden, and saying some inaudible words, “waked her out of her seeming death.” But, says Damis, “whether Apollonius noticed that the spark of the soul was still alive which her friends had failed to perceive - they say it was raining lightly and a slight vapour showed on her face - or whether he made the life in her warm again and so restored her,” neither himself nor any who were present could say (iv 45).
Of a distinctly more phenomenal nature are the stories of Apollonius causing the writing to disappear from the tablets of one of his accusers before Tigellinus (iv 44); of his drawing his leg out of the fetters to show Damis that he was not really a prisoner though chained in the dungeons of Domitian (vii 38); and of his “disappearing”(?fa?s??) from the tribunal (viii 5). [This expression is, however, perhaps only to be taken as rhetorical, for in viii 8, the incident is referred to in the simple words “when he departed (ap???e) from the tribunal.”
We are not, however, to suppose that Apollonius despised or neglected the study of physical phenomena in his devotion to the inner science of things. On the contrary, we have several instances of his rejection of mythology in favour of a physical explanation of natural phenomena. Such, for instance, are his explanations of the volcanic activity of Ætna (v 14, 17), and of a tidal wave in Crete, the latter being accompanied with a correct indication of the more immediate result of the occurrence. In fact an island had been thrown up far out to sea by a submarine disturbance as was subsequently ascertained (iv 34). The explanation of the tides of Cadiz may also be placed in the same category (v 2).