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ési se poza mw. in 9-10-1920


In the last half of the fifth century that engaging “man of letters, imperial functionary, country gentleman and bishop," Sidonius Apollinaris, sent a copy of Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius" to his friend Leo, the chancellor of a Frankish king at Toulouse, with this message: "Throw aside your endless labors and steal a respite from the burdens and bustle of the Court, so that you may really study this long-expected volume as it deserves. When once absorbed in it you will wander with our Tyanean over Caucasus and Indus, to the Brahmins of India and to the naked philosophers of Nubia. It describes the life of very much such a man as you are, with due respect to your Catholic faith. Courted by sovereigns, but never courting them; eager for knowledge; aloof from money-getting; fasting at feasts; linen-clad among wearers of purple; rebuking luxury; self-contained; plain-spoken; shock-headed in the midst of perfumed nations; revered and admired for his simplicity by the satraps of tiara-ed kings, who themselves were reeking with myrrh and malobathrum and polished with pumice-stone; taking from the flocks nothing to eat or to wear; and notwithstanding all these peculiarities not distrusted but honored wherever he went throughout the world, and although royal treasures were placed at his disposal accepting from them merely those gifts to his friends which it suited him better to bestow than to receive. In short, if we measure and weigh realities, no philosopher's biography equal to this has ever appeared in the times of our ancestors, so far as I know; and I am certain that in my time it finds a worthy reader in you.” This appreciative tribute might well stand as the prelude of our own book, but the obloquy heaped upon Apollonius ever since, and the suspicion with which he is still regarded, when he is remembered at all, seem to require a more extended introduction.

He was born in Tyana, a Greek city of Asia Minor, three years before the birth of Christ, and he lived about a hundred years, until the reign of Nerva. As with Moses, no man knoweth his grave unto this day. Devoted to philosophy from his boyhood, he studied it after the unequalled method of those days, by listening to lectures and to disputations of rival thinkers in every market-place and from the steps of every temple. He chose as his own the philosophy of Pythagoras, and enthusiastically practiced its austerities, maintaining absolute silence for five years as a mental discipline, avoiding all relations with women, giving away his patrimony, and wearing only linen garments. In the phraseology of today he was a vegetarian and a total abstainer. He claimed that by this mode of life his senses were made abnormally acute, so that he had a premonition of future events and became aware of the minds of men and of distant happenings; and he successfully set up that defense when he was tried for sorcery before the emperor. He prayed to the Sun three times a day, offering incense but never sacrificing victims. He believed in the immortality of the soul, in metempsychosis, and in a supreme deity, the creator of the universe. Indeed it may be argued that in the deities whom he worshipped he saw merely phases and agencies of this supreme deity, for in referring to the gods collectively he is frequently quoted by Philostratus as using indiscriminately the words “gods” or “god;" and the Indian sage Iarchas with his evident approval likens the universe to a ship of which the creator is the master and the subordinate gods are petty officers. All his life long his advice and help were constantly sought by cities, temples, and rulers everywhere, and were freely given without reward. He journeyed over the known world from the Atlantic ocean to the Ganges river, and south to the Cataracts of the Nile, acquiring and imparting wisdom. In middle age, when his travels were not half completed, he told his disciples that he had already seen more of the earth's surface that any other man had ever done. During his long and laborious life he wrought many wonders, and many men regarded him as an incarnate divinity. The kings of Persia and of India vied with each other to do him honor. After his death the emperor Hadrian built a temple and endowed a priesthood for his worship at Tyana. The emperor Aurelian vowed to do the like, calling him the most godlike, holy, and venerable of mankind, endowed with more than mortal powers, and declaring: "if I live I will publish at least a summary of his wonderful deeds, not because they need anything my words can give, but to make them as familiar to all lips as they are marvellous.” Another emperor, Alexander Severus, with questionable taste, set the image of Apollonius in his private chapel or lararium, among his tutelary deities, in company with Orpheus, Abraham, and Christ! This very history we owe to the reverence paid to his memory by the empress Julia Domna, the wife of Septimius Severus, who commissioned Philostratus to write it and supplied him with most of the materials. For two hundred years after his death Apollonius was generally acclaimed as more divine than human, until in the reign of Diocletian a Roman pro-consul Hierocles attempted to sweep back the rising tide of Christianity by publishing his “Candid Words to Christians," in which he drew an unfavorable comparison of Christ with Apollonius. The nascent Church easily confuted this attack, but could not forget nor forgive it; and not content with its victory over its rash assailant it stigmatized the long-dead philosopher as a charlatan inspired and aided by the devil. This chorus of detraction has been very persistent. As late as the time of Charles the Second, when one Charles Blount tried to publish in England a translation of Philostratus' biography, he complains in his preface that the clergy would only let him print the first two of its eight books, and that the Catholic priesthood was especially active in its opposition.

It cannot be denied that the work contains many statements which tax our credulity. Its ideas of natural history and of demonology are those which were universally prevalent in the first century of our era, and which lasted with little change until the eighteenth. Apollonius' exorcism of ghouls, satyrs, hobgoblins and plagues may perhaps have been honest selfdeception. His resuscitation of the apparently dead girl in Rome is attributed to possibly natural causes by Philostratus himself. Mesmerism or sleight of hand may account for other strange occurrences; but no such ready explanation can be given of his instantaneous transits from Smyrna to Ephesus, and from Rome to Puteoli; or of his watching in Ephesus the simultaneous assassination of Domitian in Rome; or of his vanishing before the eyes of the emperor and of the crowded courtroom, after his trial, in proof of which Philostratus cites the court-records then extant. Apollonius either had such command of occult forces as has been claimed in modern times for his instructors, the so-called Adepts of India, or he was a singularly successful impostor,-highminded, altruistic, but an impostor. The judicious Gibbon says of him that "his life is related in so fabulous a manner by his disciples that we are at a loss to discover whether he was a sage, an impostor or a fanatic;" and Professor Basil L. Gildersleeve in his “Essays and Studies” declares that to disengage the real Apollonius from the romance of Philostratus is quite impossible. We do not attempt to solve the riddle of Apollonius' interesting personality, but we do insist that Philostratus and his predecessor Damis acted in entire good faith in portraying him. It seems unfair to hold either of them answerable for this doubt in order to acquit Apollonius. The theory that this biography is an ingenious romance like DeFoe's "Robinson Crusoe,” composed presumably as an anti-Christian polemic, attributes to the imperial court of Rome at the beginning of the third century the hostility and fear which actuated Hierocles' intemperate zeal at its close. Aside from the consideration that such a literary tour de force was foreign to the taste of classical writers, we find no historical justification for this belief, and no other conceivable motive is assigned. The third century saw the greatest expansion of the Church, and yet fifty years after Philostratus wrote the Christians in Rome constituted less than one-fifth of the population, and far less than one-fifth in power and influence. Why would the empress publish such an elaborate tract to undermine the faith of an infant sect, one of hundreds in the empire, few of whose adherents would see the book or be able to read it? The book itself contains no allusion to Christianity, and apparently Apollonius had never heard of Christ, although he was born and bred in Asia Minor, spent much of his after-life there, visited Syria, and was insatiable in his search and study of new systems of philosophy. If any attack on the Church was intended by this history it was too covert to be effective, which was not a usual fault of controversial literature in those days. The internal evidence of the book is even more convincing that it is what it purports to be, a faithful and painstaking compilation from Damis' notes, and from all other available memoirs and records, including the voluminous correspondence of Apollonius himself which had been preserved and collected. If either Philostratus or Damis consciously exaggerated the miracles of Apollonius, they must have been astounded by their own moderation, like Warren Hastings in the begum's treasure-house. They rarely describe any exercise of his supernatural powers, and never enlarge upon them, seeming to take them for granted as being well-known. Damis was an Assyrian, a kind of Asiatic Boswell, who attached himself to Apollonius at the outset of his pilgrimage to the Sages of India. Both were young men then, and they remained inseparable companions in travel and adventure until just before Apollonius' death. Damis' mental attitude toward his master was that of a faithful and affectionate dog. Every night he noted down all the sayings and doings and sights of that day, in unwearying detail. This huge mass of memoranda, which he entitled “Droppings from the Manger," became an heirloom of his family and was brought by them to Julia Domna, who employed Philostratus to condense it into a narrative, "paying especial attention to the style of composition,” as he tells us complacently, because the Assyrian lacked style. We are tantalized on every page by a reminder of the unconsidered trifles which he discarded in making his selections. What a storehouse of information now would be the original unstylish manuscript of Damis! Even in its pruned and abridged condition the story is the most vivid and comprehensive presentation of the daily life of the first century which has come down to us. Rome, Greece, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, Spain, Egypt, Nubia, Sicily, and the islands of the Ægæan Sea pass in a panorama before our eyes, with all sorts and conditions of men in their habit as they lived, and working out their own answers to the problems which still perplex us. It is a wonderful picture, and after making every allowance for error and deception the central figure remains essentially vital and dominating.

The original text employed for this version is Ant. Westermann's edition of the text of C. L. Kayser, as published by A. F. Didot at Paris in 1849.


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