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Apollonius of Tyana

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Statue of a sophist from the reign of Septimius Severus. Archaeological museum of Izmir (Turkey).
Statue of a sophist from the reign of Septimius Severus (Izmir)
The charismatic teacher and miracle worker Apollonius lived in the first century AD. He was born in Tyana and may have belonged to a branch of ancient philosophy called neo-Pythagoreanism. He received divine honors in the third century. Although the Athenian sophist (professional orator) Philostratus wrote a lengthy Life of Apollonius, hardly anything about the sage is certain. However, there are several bits and pieces of information that may help us reconstruct something of the life of this man, who was and is frequently compared to the Jewish sage and miracle worker Jesus of Nazareth.

This is the fifth part of an article in nine pieces.

Philostratus' Life of Apollonius
Local traditions
Apollonius' Letters
Apollonius' books
Maximus of Aegae
Damis of Nineveh
Evaluation of the sources
'Divine men'
Magic in what sense?
Apollonius' world. Map design Jona Lendering.

Other sources

Apollonius' biographer Philostratus mentions in his Life of Apollonius (LoA) several earlier, written sources on the life of Apollonius. It is possible that these works contained information from local traditions and quotations from Apollonius' letters and publications, so we cannot make a clear distinction between these sources on the one hand and the the letters, books, and local traditions on the other hand.

Maximus of Aegae

Philostratus claims to have used a book about the youth of Apollonius that was written by Maximus of Aegae, the 'minister of Greek letters' (ab epistulis Graecis) in the cabinet of an unnamed second century emperor. This book contained several traditions about Apollonius' infancy, which the pious boy spent at the temple of Asclepius at Aegae, not far from Tyana.

There is no reason to doubt Philostratus' claim. The main argument for the existence of this book is that Maximus' information cannot be reconciled with the other events described in the LoA; for example, Maximus is said to have told a story about a Roman official who tried to seduce a twenty year old Apollonius in the year 17 AD (LoA 1.12). This is almost incompatible with the well known story about Apollonius' vision of the murder of Domitian in 96 (see above), and this chronological incompatibility proves beyond reasonable doubt that Philostratus used at least two independent sources.

Maybe, we may compare the book of Maximus of Aegae with the Protogospel of James: a Christian forgery from the second century, meant as an addition to the gospels, telling about the youth of Jesus. The disciples of Apollonius may have felt a similar need for information about the early years of their hero. This confirms our idea that the charismatic teacher was a well known figure in the second century.


Nobody denies the existence of the Reminiscences of Apollonius about Tyana, magician and philosopher by Moeragenes [note 6], because it is quoted by Origen of Alexandria a in his treatise Against Celsus (6.41). The Christian author -a younger contemporary of Philostratus- informs us that in the Reminiscences, Apollonius discusses with the Stoic philosopher Euphrates and an unnamed Epicurean. Moeragenes' work consisted of four books and this arrangement and the title suggest that Moeragenes tried to imitate the famous Reminiscences about Socrates by the author Xenophon (c.430-c.355), a disciple of the Athenian philosopher.

Reminiscences were a literary genre, and it was necessary that the author had actually known the man or woman he was writing about. If Moeragenes knew Apollonius, we may argue that it is more plausible that Apollonius called himself 'magician and philosopher' (as Moeragenes says) than that he abhorred from magic (as Philostratus leads us to believe).

Philostratus frequently stresses that Apollonius was not a magician, and this may be the reason why he writes that Moeragenes 'was ignorant of many circumstances of Apollonius' life'. But we have already seen that there are some indications that Apollonius was a magician indeed: the author of the letters admits it, it is maintained in the Antiochene tradition, and Lucian and Cassius Dio state the same. We will see that Damis contains the same information.


 Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 1998
Revision: 2 June 2009

Part six

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