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Apollonius of Tyana: notes

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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.

These notes belong to an article in nine pieces; the first one can be found here.

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.


  1. Pliny the Elder mentions that in the age of Apollonius and Philostratus, there were at least 105 colossal statues on Rhodes (Natural history 34.41), which suggests that the Tyanean can have seen another colossus. However, the story looses its point if it is about just a giant statue; it is only meaningful when it is about the wonder of the ancient world. Besides, Pliny makes it clear that the remains of the colossus were still visited by tourists.
  2. One discovery may be mentioned in passing: an inscription (SEG 28 1251) found in Mopsuestra, which proves the existence of a shrine and a statue dedicated to Apollonius. It describes him as a corrector of everything that has gone wrong, sent from heaven. These last words may contain an element of polemic, because everybody knew that Apollonius was born in Tyana.
  3. John Malalas is probably identical with Johannes Scholasticus, patriarch of Constantinople from 565 to 577 (Aramaic malal means scholast).
  4. Musonius is imprisoned and Apollonius offers to bail him out. This offer may look sympathetic, but no ancient philosopher worthy of his title would have allowed it, because he was impressed by the example of Socrates, who had refused release (Plato, Crito). Apollonius' offer shows he is not a real philosopher.
  5. LoA 3.41 and 4.19 indicate that Apollonius' own native tongue was Aramaean, the language spoken in Tyana in the first century CE.
  6. Moeragenes -his name is very rare- can be identified with an Athenian benefactor who is mentioned in an inscription written during the reign of the Roman emperors Hadrian or Antoninus Pius (SEG 14 [1957] 129). He called his daughter Pythagora. Het may also be identical to an Athenian discussing Judaism in the Table talks (=Moralia 671c) of the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (46 - after 122).
  7. There has been some debate about this identification, because Apollonius would take a very strange route if Ninus were identical to ancient Nineveh: he travels from Antioch (LoA 1.18) to Nineveh (1.19) and returns to the bridge across Euphrates (1.20). This is indeed illogical and it has been argued that 'Ninus' was another name of a Syrian town called Bambyce. The only evidence for this is an emendated text from the late fourth century, Ammianus Marcellinus (Roman History, 14.8.7). However, if Philostratus could choose between the names Bambyce and Ninus, he would have chosen the first, because he must have known that every reader would be sceptical about a visit to Ninus; everyone who had read the first book of Herodotus' Histories knew that it had been destroyed centuries ago (more), and nobody knew that it was repopulated in the Parthian age. The most likely explanation is that Philostratus (who was not a great topographer) inserted the anecdote about the bridge at the wrong place in another story, which may be identified as "Damis".
  8. The Christian author Anastasius Sinaitica (561-604) tells in his Questions and answers 524d-525b (ed. Migne) a story about three magicians who are invited by the Roman emperor Domitian to bring an end to a plague. Apollonius is one of them, but fails to do the job quickly.
  9. Domninus wrote a World chronicle, which is quoted by John Malalas (403b, ed. Migne).
  10. It is remarkable that there are no indications at all that Apollonius was interested in mathematics, which is -at the very least- extremely unusual for a Pythagorean. The Pythagorean element is also conspicuously absent from the traditions in the Greek and Asian towns.
  11. It is uncertain whether Porphyry's poem is really independent from Philostratus.
  12. The parallels are as follows (there are more parallels).
    • Initiation in all religious rites and mysteries: LoA 5.19; cf. Iamblichus, Pythagoreanism 1.14, 18-19, 151 
    • Descent in a cave: LoA 8.19; cf. Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras 17 and Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the philosophers 8.41;
    • Visited of Babylon: LoA books 1-2; cf. Porph., Pyth. 6, 11, Iambl., Pyth. 1.19 
    • Visited of EgyptLoA books 6; cf. Porph., Pyth. 7, 11 and Iambl., Pyth. 1.12, 14
    • Remembrance of former incarnations: LoA 3.23; cf. Porph., Pyth. 26-27 and Diog., Lives 8.5;
    • Abstinence from wine and meat: LoA 1.8; cf. Porph., Pyth. 34, Iambl., Pyth. 1.98-99 and Diog., Lives 8.13;
    • Special dress: LoA 1.8; cf. Iambl., Pyth. 1.100, 149, 153, 155;
    • Vow of silenceLoA 1.14; cf. Porph., Pyth. 19 and Iambl., Pyth. 1.104, 226, 246, 252;
    • Bilocation: LoA 8.10; cf. Porph., Pyth. 29 and Iambl., Pyth. 1.134-136;
    • Encounter of a tyrant: LoA 4.35 and book 7; cf. Iambl., Pyth. 1.215, 1.220 (Pythagoras and Phalaris);
    • Death in a temple: LoA 8.30; cf. Porph., Pyth. 57.
  13. This Eusebius should not be confused with his namesake, the famous church historian. 


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

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