Apollonius of Tyana

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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 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 illusionto 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.


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.

Apollonius of Tyana

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Neopythagorean philosopher and alleged wonder-worker; b. Tyana in Cappadocia; fl. first century a.d. The chief source for his career is the Life of Apollonius, written in Greek, by Philostratus II (b. c. a.d. 170), a typical representative of the second sophistic, who enjoyed the patronage of the Emperor Septimius Severus (a.d. 193211) and his wife Julia Domna. Apollonius is described as a wandering ascetic and teacher, a miracle-worker, who traveled as far East as India and who barely escaped death under Nero and Domitian. As a clairvoyant he foretold the death of the latter. Philostratus apparently wished to present his hero as an ideal representative of Pythagoreanism and to refute charges that Apollonius was a common magician or charlatan. It is quite possible, as De Labriolle suggests, that Philostratus became acquainted with the Gospel narrative and utilized some of its elements to transform Apollonius into a kind of pagan Christ.

In spite of the unreliability of the Life, Apollonius should be regarded as a historical person and as a Neopythagorean teacher, although there is no precise information extant on his doctrine. The Life was very popular among pagans in the third and fourth centuries. Sossianus Hierocles, a high official under Diocletian, wrote a book against the Christians in which he employed the work of Philostratus to make an unfavorable comparison between the life and miracles of Christ and those of Apollonius. The great Church historian, Eusebius, refuted this attack on Christianity in his Contra Hieraclem.

Bibliography: a. bigelmair, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 1:718720. k. gross, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum, ed. t. klauser (Stuttgart 1950) 1:529533, with bibliography. p. de labriolle, La Réaction paiënne: Étude sur la polémique antichrétienne du I er au VIe siècle (6th ed. Paris 1942) 175189.

[m. r. p. mcguire]