Apollonius of Tyana
|Born||c. 15 AD (disputed)|
|Died||c. 100 AD (aged c. 85)|
|Occupation(s)||Sage, orator, philosopher|
|Known for||Divination, miracle-work|
Apollonius of Tyana (Ancient Greek: Ἀπολλώνιος; Arabic: بلينس; Sanskrit: अपालुन्यःc. 15 – c. 100 AD) was a first-century Greek philosopher and religious leader from the town of Tyana, Cappadocia in Roman Anatolia, who spent his life travelling and teaching in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. He is a central figure in Neopythagoreanism and was one of the most famous "miracle workers" of his day.
His exceptional personality and his mystical way of life, which was regarded as exemplary, impressed his contemporaries and had a lasting cultural influence. Numerous legends surrounding him and accounts of his life are contained in the extensive Life of Apollonius, which collects a large part of the legendary material about Apollonius' life and work. A large part of the ancient legends of Apollonius consist of numerous reports about miracles that he was said to have performed as a wandering sage with his lifelong companion Damis.
He was tried for allegedly having used magic as a means of conspiring against the emperor; after his conviction and subsequent death-penalty, his followers believed he underwent heavenly ascension. Most modern scholars of antiquity agree that Apollonius existed historically.
Apollonius was born into a respected and wealthy aristocratic Greek household. His primary biographer, Philostratus the Elder (circa 170 – c. 247), places him circa 3 BC – c. 97 AD, however, the Roman historian Cassius Dio (c. 155 – c. 235 AD) writes that Apollonius was in his 40s or 50s in the 90s AD, from which the scholar Maria Dzielska gives a birth year of about 40 AD.
The earliest and by far the most detailed source is the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a lengthy, novelistic biography written by the sophist Philostratus at the request of empress Julia Domna, wife of Septimus Severus. She died in 217 AD, and he completed it after her death, probably in the 220s or 230s AD. Philostratus's account shaped the image of Apollonius for posterity. To some extent it is a valuable source because it contains data from older writings that were available to Philostratus but disappeared later on. Among these works are an excerpt (preserved by Eusebius) from On Sacrifices, and certain alleged letters of Apollonius. The sage may have actually written some of these works, along with the no-longer extant Life of Pythagoras. At least two biographical sources that Philostratus used are lost: a book by the imperial secretary Maximus describing Apollonius's activities in Maximus's home city of Aegaeae in Aeolis and a biography by a certain Moiragenes. There also survives, separately from the life by Philostratus, a collection of letters of Apollonius, but at least some of these seem to be spurious.
One of the essential sources Philostratus claimed to know are the "memoirs" (or "diary") of Damis, an acolyte and companion of Apollonius. Some scholars claim that the notebooks of Damis were an invention of Philostratus, while others think it could have been a real book forged by someone else and naively used by Philostratus. Philostratus describes Apollonius as a wandering teacher of philosophy and miracle-worker who was mainly active in Greece and Asia Minor but also traveled to Italy, Spain, and North Africa, and even to Mesopotamia, India, and Ethiopia. In particular, he tells lengthy stories of Apollonius entering the city of Rome in disregard of emperor Nero's ban on philosophers, and later on being summoned, as a defendant, to the court of Domitian, where he defied the emperor in blunt terms. He had allegedly been accused of conspiring against the emperor, performing human sacrifice, and predicting a plague by means of magic. Philostratus implies that upon his death, Apollonius of Tyana underwent heavenly assumption.
How much of this can be accepted as historical truth depends largely on the extent to which modern scholars trust Philostratus, and in particular on whether they believe in the reality of Damis. Some of these scholars contend that Apollonius never came to Western Europe and was virtually unknown there until the 3rd century AD, when Empress Julia Domna, who was herself from the province of Syria, decided to popularize him and his teachings in Rome. For that purpose, so these same scholars believe, she commissioned Philostratus to write the biography, in which Apollonius is exalted as a fearless sage with supernatural powers, even greater than Pythagoras. This view of Julia Domna's role in the making of the Apollonius legend gets some support from the fact that her son Caracalla worshipped him, and her grandnephew emperor Severus Alexander may have done so as well.
Apollonius was also a well-known figure in the Islamic world, being referred to by the name Balinus.
With the exception of the Adana Inscription from the 3rd or 4th century AD, little can be derived from sources other than Philostratus.
The Adana Inscription has been translated by C.P. Jones as: "This man, named after Apollo, and shining forth from Tyana, extinguished the faults of men. The tomb in Tyana (received) his body, but in truth, heaven received him so that he might drive out the pains of men (or: drive pains from among men)." It is thought to have been brought from Cilicia, perhaps Aegae (Cilicia). However, Miroslav Marcovich translates part of the text as: "Sure enough, Apollonius was born in Tyana, but the full truth is that he was a heaven-sent sage and healer, a new Pythagoras."
As James Francis put it, "the most that can be said ... is that Apollonius appears to have been a wandering ascetic/philosopher/wonderworker of a type common to the eastern part of the early empire." What we can safely assume is that he was indeed a Pythagorean and as such, in conformity with the Pythagorean tradition, opposed animal sacrifice and lived on a frugal, strictly vegetarian diet. A minimalist view is that he spent his entire life in the cities of his native Asia Minor (Turkey) and of northern Syria, in particular his home town of Tyana, Ephesus, Aegae and Antioch, though the letters suggest wider travels, and there seems no reason to deny that, like many wandering philosophers, he at least visited Rome. As for his philosophical convictions, we have an interesting, probably authentic fragment of one of his writings (On sacrifices), in which he expresses his view that God, who is the most beautiful being, cannot be influenced by prayers or sacrifices and has no wish to be worshipped by humans, but can be reached by a spiritual procedure involving nous (intellect), because he himself is pure nous, and nous is the greatest faculty of humankind.
Philostratus implies on one occasion that Apollonius had extra-sensory perception (Book VIII, Chapter XXVI). When emperor Domitian was murdered on 18 September 96 AD, Apollonius was said to have witnessed the event in Ephesus "about midday" on the day it happened in Rome, and told those present "Take heart, gentlemen, for the tyrant has been slain this day ...". Both Philostratus and renowned historian Cassius Dio report this incident, probably on the basis of an oral tradition. Both state that the philosopher welcomed the deed as praiseworthy tyrannicide.
Philostratus devoted two and a half of the eight books of his Life of Apollonius (1.19–3.58) to the description of a journey of his hero to India. According to Philostratus' Life, en route to the Far East, Apollonius reached Hierapolis Bambyce (Manbij) in Syria (not Nineveh, as some scholars believed), where he met Damis, a native of that city who became his lifelong companion. Pythagoras, whom the Neo-Pythagoreans regarded as an exemplary sage, was believed to have traveled to India. Hence such a feat made Apollonius look like a good Pythagorean who spared no pains in his efforts to discover the sources of oriental piety and wisdom. As some details in Philostratus’ account of the Indian adventure seem incompatible with known facts, modern scholars are inclined to dismiss the whole story as a fanciful fabrication, but not all of them rule out the possibility that the Tyanean actually did visit India. Philostratus has him meet Phraotes, the Indo-Parthian king of Taxila, a city located in northern Ancient India in what is now northern Pakistan, around 46 AD. And the description that Philostratus provides of Taxila comports with modern archaeological excavations at the ancient site.
What seemed to be independent evidence showing that Apollonius was known in India has now been proven a forgery. In two Sanskrit texts quoted by Sanskritist Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya in 1943 he appears as "Apalūnya", in one of them together with Damis (called "Damīśa"), it is claimed that Apollonius and Damis were Western yogis, who later on were converted to the correct Advaita philosophy. Some have believed that these Indian sources derived their information from a Sanskrit translation of Philostratus’ work (which would have been a most uncommon and amazing occurrence), or even considered the possibility that it was really an independent confirmation of the historicity of the journey to India. Only in 1995 were the passages in the Sanskrit texts proven to be interpolations by a late 19th-century forger.
Several writings and many letters have been ascribed to Apollonius, but some of them are lost; others have only been preserved in parts or fragments of disputed authenticity. Porphyry and Iamblichus refer to a biography of Pythagoras by Apollonius, which has not survived; it is also mentioned in the Suda. Apollonius wrote a treatise, On sacrifices, of which only a short, probably authentic fragment has come down to us.
Philostratus' Life and the anthology assembled by Joannes Stobaeus contain purported letters of Apollonius. Some of them are cited in full, others only partially. There is also an independently transmitted collection of letters preserved in medieval manuscripts. It is difficult to determine what is authentic and what not. Some of the letters may have been forgeries or literary exercises assembled in collections which were already circulated in the 2nd century AD. It has been asserted that Philostratus himself forged a considerable part of the letters he inserted into his work; others were older forgeries available to him.
In Philostratus's description of Apollonius's life and deeds, there are a number of similarities with the life and especially the claimed miracles of Jesus. In the late 3rd century Porphyry, an anti-Christian Neoplatonic philosopher, claimed in his treatise Against the Christians that the miracles of Jesus were not unique, and mentioned Apollonius as a non-Christian who had accomplished similar achievements. During the Diocletianic Persecution, some writers cited Apollonius as an example in their polemics. Hierocles, one of the campaigners for a stronger policy against Christians, wrote a pamphlet where he argued that Apollonius exceeded Christ as a wonder-worker and yet wasn't worshipped as a god and that the cultured biographers of Apollonius were more trustworthy than the uneducated apostles. This attempt to make Apollonius a hero of the anti-Christian movement provoked sharp replies from bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and from Lactantius. Eusebius wrote an extant reply to the pamphlet of Hierocles (Contra Hieroclem), where he claimed that Philostratus was a fabulist and that Apollonius was a sorcerer in league with demons.
Comparisons between Apollonius and Jesus became commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries in the context of polemic about Christianity. Several advocates of Enlightenment, deism and anti-Church positions saw him as an early forerunner of their own ethical and religious ideas, a proponent of a universal, non-denominational religion compatible with reason. These comparisons continued into the 20th century.
Even before he was born, it was known that he would be someone special. A supernatural being informed his mother that the child she was to conceive would not be a mere mortal but would be divine. He was born miraculously, and he became an unusually precocious young man. As an adult he left home and went on an itinerant preaching ministry, urging his listeners to live, not for the material things of this world, but for what is spiritual. He gathered a number of disciples around him, who became convinced that his teachings were divinely inspired, in no small part because he himself was divine. He proved it to them by doing many miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But at the end of his life, he roused opposition, and his enemies delivered him over to the Roman authorities for judgment. Still, after he left this world, he returned to meet his followers in order to convince them that he was not really dead but lived on in the heavenly realm. Later some of his followers wrote books about him.
Proponents of the Christ myth theory sometimes cite Apollonius as an example of the mythic hero archetype that they allege applies to Jesus as well. However, Erkki Koskenniemi has stated that Apollonius of Tyana is not a representative of a Hellenistic divine man and that there is no evidence that Christians constructed their paradigm of Jesus based on traditions associated with him. Moreover, the Christ myth theory is considered a fringe theory in scholarship and is generally not taken seriously.
In the 2nd century the satirist Lucian of Samosata was a sharp critic of Neo-Pythagoreanism. After 180 AD he wrote a pamphlet wherein he attacked Alexander of Abonoteichus, a student of one of Apollonius's students, as a charlatan and suggested that the whole school was based on fraud. From this we can infer that Apollonius really had students and that his school survived at least until Lucian's time. One of Philostratus's foremost aims was to oppose this view. Although he related various miraculous feats of Apollonius, he emphasized at the same time that his hero was not a magician but a serious philosopher and a champion of traditional Greek values.
When Emperor Aurelian conducted his military campaign against the Palmyrene Empire, he captured Tyana in 272 AD. According to the Historia Augusta he abstained from destroying the city after having a vision of Apollonius admonishing him to spare the innocent citizens.
In Late Antiquity talismans made by Apollonius appeared in several cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, as if they were sent from heaven. They were magical figures and columns erected in public places, meant to protect the cities from afflictions. The great popularity of these talismans was a challenge to the Christians. Some Byzantine authors condemned them as sorcery and the work of demons, others admitted that such magic was beneficial; none of them claimed that it didn't work.
In the Western Roman Empire, Sidonius Apollinaris was a Christian admirer of Apollonius in the 5th century. He produced a Latin translation of Philostratus's Life, which is lost.
Beginning in the early 16th century, there was great interest in Apollonius in Europe, but the traditional ecclesiastical viewpoint prevailed, and until the Age of Enlightenment the Tyanean was usually treated as a demonic magician and a great enemy of the Church who collaborated with the devil and tried to overthrow Christianity.
Eliphas Levi claims to have raised the shade of Apollonius of Tyana in an occult ritual in London as described in his textbook on Magic, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, 1854–1856.
The Tablet of Wisdom, written by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Baháʼí Faith, names "Balinus" (Apollonius) as a great philosopher, who "surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication." In another text Baháʼu'lláh states that he "derived his knowledge and sciences from the Hermetic Tablets and most of the philosophers who followed him made their philosophical and scientific discoveries from his words and statements".
Edward Bulwer-Lytton refers to Apollonius in The Last Days of Pompeii and Zanoni as a great master of occult power and wisdom.
Apollonius appears in Gustave Flaubert's novel The Temptation of Saint Anthony, where he tempts the titular saint with divine wisdom and the power to perform miracles. As a miracle worker and neo-Pythagorean philosopher, the character of Apollonius is used as a bridge between the two sections of the book covering the temptations of human sages and the temptations of the gods.
Apollonius of Tyana is a major character in Steven Saylor's historical novel Empire, which depicts his confrontation with the harsh Emperor Domitian. Apollonius is shown confounding the Emperor (and many others) in quick-witted dialogue, reminiscent of Socrates. The book's plot leaves ambiguous the issue of whether Apollonius possessed true magical power or that he was able to use suggestion and other clever tricks.
Avram Davidson's science fiction novel Masters of the Maze has Apollonius of Tyana as one of a select group of humans (and other sentient beings) who had penetrated to the center of a mysterious "Maze" traversing all of space and time. There he dwells in eternal repose, in company with the Biblical Enoch, the Chinese King Wen and Lao Tze, the 19th-century Briton Bathurst, and various other sages of the past and future, some of them Martians.
In The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935) by Charles G. Finney, Apollonius appears in the employ of Dr. Lao's circus and brings a dead man back to life. Apollonius of Tyana is one of the 7 circus characters portrayed by Tony Randall in the 1964 film The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. This character does not have any philosophical context, rather he is a sideshow attraction similar to a fortune-teller who, besides being blind, has been blessed with clairvoyance. While he always speaks the truth, ugly or not, about the future, he is accursed with an ironic fate - nobody ever believes what he says.
In television, Apollonius of Tyana was portrayed by Mel Ferrer in The Fantastic Journey episode entitled “Funhouse”. Apollonius was banished centuries ago to a time zone by the gods for opposing them. When the time zone travelers led by the 23rd century healer and pacifist named Varian arrive at a seemingly abandoned carnival, Apollonius intends to lure them into his funhouse of horrors so that he can possess the body of one of the travelers and escape his eternal imprisonment.
Keats' poem Lamia mentions and discusses Apollonius.
Apollonius was born around 2 AD in Tyana (modern-day Bor in southern Turkey), in the Roman province of Cappadocia. He was born into a wealthy and respected Cappadocian Greek family, and received the best education, studying grammar and rhetoric in Tarsus, learning medicine at the temple of Aesculapius at Aegae, and philosophy at the school of Pythagoras.
Philostratus likewise emphasizes the pure Greek origin of Apollonius. He calls Tyana "a Greek city in the region of..."