Apollonius of Tyana
A Neo-Pythagorean philosopher of Greece who had a great
reputation for magical powers. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana,
written by Philostratus at the urging of Julia, mother of the Emperor
Severus, is the only extant source of information concerning
the sage, although other biographies, now lost, are
known to have existed.
Born at Tyana in Asia Minor, Apollonius was contemporary
with Christ. He was educated at Tarsus and at the Temple of
Aesculapius in Aegae. At the temple he became an adherent of
the sect of Pythagoras, to whose strict discipline he submitted
himself throughout his life. In his desire for knowledge he traveled
widely in eastern countries, and is said to have performed
miracles wherever he went. At Ephesus, for instance, he warned
the people of the approach of a terrible plague, but they paid
no attention to him until the pestilence was actually in their
midst; then they recalled the warning and summoned the potent
magician who had uttered it. Apollonius identified a poor,
maimed beggar as the cause of the plague and an enemy of the
gods, and he advised them to stone the unfortunate wretch to
death. The citizens were at first reluctant to comply with the
cruel injunction, but something in the expression of the beggar
confirmed the prophet’s accusation, and the wretch was soon
covered with a mound of stones. When the stones were removed,
the man had disappeared. In his place was a huge black
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dog, the cause of the plague that had come upon the Ephesians.
In Rome Apollonius raised from death or apparent death
(his biographer does not seem to know which) a young lady of
a consular family who had been betrothed and was mourned by
the entire city. Yet another story relates how Apollonius saved
a friend of his, Menippus of Corinth, from marrying a vampire.
The youth neglected all the earlier warnings of his counselor,
and the preparations for the wedding proceeded. Just as the
ceremony was about to begin, Apollonius appeared and caused
the wedding feast, the guests, and all the evidences of wealth—
which were but illusion—to vanish; then he wrung from the
bride the confession that she was a vampire. Many other similar
tales are told of the philosopher’s clairvoyant and magical powers.
His death is wrapped in mystery, although he is said to have
lived to be nearly one hundred years of age. His disciples were
quick to say that he had not died at all, but had been caught
up to heaven. When he had vanished from the Earth, the inhabitants
of his native Tyana built a temple in his honor, and
statues were raised to him in various other temples.
The account given by Philostratus was compiled from the
memoirs of ‘‘Damis the Assyrian,’’ a disciple of Apollonius, but
Damis may be a literary fiction. The work seems largely a romance;
fictitious stories are often introduced, and the whole account
is mystical and symbolical. Nevertheless, it is possible to
glimpse the real character of Apollonius beyond the literary artifices
of the writer. The purpose of the philosopher of Tyana
seems to have been to infuse into paganism practical morality
combined with a transcendental doctrine. He himself practiced
a very severe asceticism and supplemented his own knowledge
by revelations from the gods. Because of his claim to divine enlightenment,
some would have refused him a place among the
philosophers, but Philostratus holds that this in no way detracts
from his philosophic reputation. He points out that Pythagoras,
Plato, and Democritus used to visit eastern sages, and they
were not charged with dabbling in magic. Divine revelations
had been given to earlier philosophers; why not also to the Philosopher
of Tyana It may be that Apollonius borrowed considerably
from Oriental sources and that his doctrines were more
Brahminical than magical.
Sources
Eells, Charles P. Life and Times of Apollonius of Tyana, Rendered
into English from the Greek of Philostratus the Elder. Stanford,
Calif. Stanford University Press, 1923.
Mead, G. R. S. Apollonius of Tyana The Philosopher-Reformer
of the First Century A.D. 1901. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.
University Books, 1966.
Philostratus. The Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Translated by F.
C. Conybeare. London Macmillan, 1912.