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Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, [1911], at

§ 16. The Case of Apollonius of Tyana.

As regards the historical argument it may be well, finally, to anticipate an objection which may be grounded on the admission that Apollonius of Tyana, who has been plausibly described as a Pagan Christ, 7 was really a historic personage, though his life is clothed upon with myth from birth to death. Here, it may be

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argued, was a real man, who had lived in the first century of the Christian era, represented in the third as born under supernatural circumstances, working miracles, making disciples and converts by his teaching in Europe and Asia, and finally ascending to heaven. If these prodigies could be told of an actual man, it may be asked, why may not Jesus be actual, of whom similar prodigies are told?

The answer is, as aforesaid, that the ascription of prodigies to any ancient personage is not in itself a disproof of his historicity; but that the historical evidence in each case is to be taken on its total merits. It is at bottom the same mythopœic bias that rings with myth the mere name of a phantom God or Demi-God and the slightly known life of a remarkable man; and the task of criticism is to distinguish cases by impartial tests. We hold Charlemagne and Theodoric and Virgil for historical, despite the myths connected with them in the Middle Ages. The case of Apollonius belongs broadly to the same class, as perhaps does that of Solomon.

It is needless here to remark that the abundant attribution of miracles to Apollonius soon after his own day proves the valuelessness of miracle stories as certificates of divinity: these pages are written for students who have put aside the belief in miracles; and when Christian Fathers are found, in the case of Apollonius, attributing to demons the pagan prodigies which they do not deny to have occurred, we have merely to note how absolute was the credulity of the time in regard to any story of strange happenings. They, it is clear, never thought of testing as to whether Apollonius was a real person: they took it for granted that the name of a person said to have existed stood for a real person. Are we, then, entitled to follow their example? The answer is that in the case of Apollonius we have no reason for suspecting invention, 1 save as regards the details of the biography recast for us by Philostratus in the third century. There even the "credible" data are uncertain. But it is likely enough that he was, as there represented, a devout Pythagorean, a vegetarian, an ascetic, a student of medicine and astrology, universalist in his creed, and a believer in immortality. And he may conceivably have travelled to India, though the details offered us are naught. 2

As usual, indeed, there lacks contemporary testimony, apart from that preserved in Philostratus. The Life makes Apollonius die about the reign of Nerva (96-98 C.E.); and our first incidental

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traces of his fame are in Dio Cassius, 1 where he is mentioned as a miraculous seer, and in Origen's reply to Celsus, 2 where one Moiragenes (mentioned by Philostratus) is cited as referring to the accounts of magical feats in the memoirs of Apollonius, and observing that some philosophers of note had been convinced by them. These references belong to the very period of the production of the Life by Philostratus, so that there is no trace of any impression previously made by the memoirs of Damis and Maximus of Ægæ, declared to be used by him. Still, we have no reason for doubting that there was an Apollonius of Tyana, who made an impression in his own day as a wandering teacher, and perhaps as a sorcerer, and whose memory was preserved by statues in several towns, as well as by one or two memoirs, one of them written by his credulous or mendacious disciple, Damis. Of the large number of letters preserved as his, some of them remarkable for their terse force, it is impossible to be sure that they are genuine, though they may very well be so.

The reasons for not doubting on the main point are (1) that there was no cause to be served by fabrication; and (2) that it was a much easier matter to take a known name as a nucleus for a mass of marvels and teachings than to build it up, as the phrase goes about the cannon, "round a hole." The difference between such a case and those of Jesuism and Buddhism is obvious. In those cases, there was a cultus and an organisation to be accounted for, and a biography of the Founder had to be forthcoming. In the case of Apollonius, despite the string of marvels attached to his name, there was no cultus. Posterity was interested in him as it was in Pythagoras or Plato; and Philostratus undertook the recasting of the Life in literary form at the command of the empress Julia Domna, a great eclectic. Even if, as has been so often argued, from Huet and Cudworth to Baur and A. Réville, 3 there was an original intention to set-off Apollonius against Jesus, we should not have ground to doubt that a teaching Apollonius had flourished in the first century: rather the presumption would be that the pagans would seek for some famous wonderworker whose life they could manipulate.

But there is really no reason to suppose that Philostratus, much less Damis, had the gospels before him, though he may well have

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heard of their story. A close comparison of the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter with the story in Philostratus, to which it is so closely parallel, gives rather reason to believe that the gospels copied the pagan narrative, the gospel story being left unmentioned by Arnobius and Lactantius in lists in which they ought to have given it had they known and accepted it. 1 The story, however, was probably told of other thaumaturgs before Apollonius; and in regard to the series of often strained parallels drawn by Baur, as by Huet, it may confidently be said that, instead of their exhibiting any calculated attempt to outdo or cap the gospel narratives, they stand for the general taste of the time in thaumaturgy. Apollonius, like Jesus, casts out devils and heals the sick; and if the Life were a parody of the gospel we should expect him to give sight to the blind. This, however, is not the case; and on the other hand the gospel story of the healing of two blind men is certainly a duplicate of a pagan record. 2

To say, as does Baur, that the casting-out of devils in the Apollonian legend is necessarily an echo of the gospels, on the score that the Greek and Roman literatures at that time show no traces of the idea, 3 is to make the arbitrary assumption that the superstitions of Syria could enter the West only by Judaic or Christian channels. The "Metamorphoses" of Apuleius, to say nothing of those of Ovid, might serve to remind us that the empire imbibed the diablerie of the East at every pore; and the wizardry of Apollonius includes many eastern items of which the gospels show no trace. As for the annunciation of the birth of Apollonius by Proteus, and the manner of its happening, they conform alike to Egyptian myths and to that told concerning the birth of Plato. 4 It is, in fact, the Christian myth that draws upon the common store of Greek and Syrian myth, not the Apollonian legend that borrows from the Christian. The descent of Apollonius to Hades, again, seems to have been alleged, after common Græco-Asiatic precedent, before the same myth became part of the Christian dogmatic code; and to say that his final disappearance without dying and his apparition afterwards must have been motived by the story of Christ's appearing to Saul 5 is once more to ignore the whole lesson of comparative hierology. Baur goes so far as to argue 6 that when Philostratus says the disciples of Apollonius in Greece were called Apollonians,

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he must be merely framing a parallel to the title of the Christians, because there is now no knowledge of a sect of Apollonians. It was very hard, two generations ago, for even a great scholar to realise the broadest laws of religious evolution. Yet Lardner had shown with reasonable force, in his primitive fashion, nearly a century before, that the model before Philostratus, if there be any, is not Jesus but Pythagoras; 1 and his friend De la Roche had rightly and tersely summed up the whole case in the words: "Philostratus said nothing more in the Life of Apollonius than he would have said if there had been no Christians in the world." 2 For once, Baur had not fully grappled with the literature of his subject. 3 His superiority to his Christian predecessors as a critic of Apollonius comes out chiefly in his gravely candid recognition 4 of the high moral purpose set forth in all the discourses ascribed to the hero in the Life.

The habit of pitting Apollonius against Jesus really arose about a century after Philostratus, when the pagan intelligence first began to feel itself menaced by the new creed. Hierocles set the fashion in his Philalethes Logos, to which Eusebius and Lactantius 5 replied in the normal patristic manner. A hundred years later still, in the time of Augustine, the setting of the miracles of Apollonius and Apuleius against those of Jesus was a common line of pagan argument, 6 met in the usual way, neither side convincing the other. If there was any gain, it was on the pagan side; for while Chrysostom 7 triumphs over the failure of the Apollonian movement, such a classically cultured Christian bishop as Sidonius Apollinaris 8 acclaims the personal virtues and philosophic teaching of the pagan sage. The pagans on their part had taken him up all round. In the day of Philostratus, Alexander Severus had eclectically placed a bust of Apollonius, with others of Abraham, Jesus, and Orpheus, in his private chapel or oratory; 9 and later we find Eunapius, 10 Ammianus Marcellinus, 11 Vopiscus, 12 and Apuleius, 13 from their different standpoints

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treating the Tyanean as a demigod, or divinely inspired, or a supreme Mage.

It was not, of course, the high ethic and philosophy of the Apollonian discourses that they stressed as against the Christians. Such a saying as "I have found my reward in the amendment of men" 1 was not a word to conjure with in popular debate. It was the miracles, the prodigies, the fables, that were for ancient readers the warrant of the sage's greatness. To-day we cannot tell any more than they to what extent the remarkable discourses which Philostratus professes to copy from Damis stand for any genuine utterances or writings of Apollonius: 2 we can be satisfied of the historicity of the man without knowing how far to trust the accounts of his travels and teaching. But we know that if Apollonius had uttered every wise or eloquent teaching put in his mouth by his biographers he could not thereby have founded such a cult as the Christians conducted on the basis of an entirely fictitious biography.

Lactantius, in the patristic style, asks Hierocles: "Why therefore, O mad head, doth none worship Apollonius for a God, unless perchance thou alone, worthy indeed of that God, with whom the true God will punish thee to all eternity?" 3 We to-day can give the answer of hierology. No man was ever perdurably deified for his wisdom, or even for his supposed miracles: religions grow up around rites offered immemorially to unknown powers, or round ways of life set up by generations of nameless teachers, all of which abstractions alike take form as named Gods or Sons of Gods, who in one age are the givers of civilisation, agriculture, knowledge, crafts, arts, rites, and laws, and in another of oracles, of revelations, of doctrines and discourses, of their own lives as redeemers. But the really slain man, the true human sacrifice, though he be counted by millions, is not deified: not he, but an abstraction shaped out of the mystic drama and sacrament which have followed on ages of sacrifices and sacraments of human flesh; and neither is the true teacher or thinker deified: not he, but a superposed abstraction distilled from many teachings, wise or unwise, put by many generations in the mouth of the mythical one. For it is by such modes alone that men have been able to create the economic bases without which no

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religion can live. Apollonius, credited with many miracles and wondrous wisdom, like Pythagoras long before him, could become a God only by way of a passing figure of speech, precisely because he had really lived and taught.

Given the culture-stage in which many crave the Teaching God, while the multitude still crave the Sacrificed God, a cult which shall combine these in one Deity, still retaining the cosmic Creator God and adding the attractive appeal of the Mother Goddess, has obviously a maximum chance of survival. And such a religion, we have seen reason to conclude, cannot be founded on concrete personages: it must be developed from personalised abstractions. Such a combination is presented in the Christian cultus. But all such success is finally in terms of political and economic adaptations; and the final explanation of non-survivals, accordingly, is to be found in the lack or frustration of such adaptations. It remains to note, then, how systems historically developed from abstractions like the Christian have disappeared in the struggle for existence.


274:7 A. Réville, Apollonius of Tyana, the Pagan Christ of the Third Century, Eng. tr. 1866.

275:1 Cp. Jean Réville, La Religion à Rome sous les Sévères, pp. 212-213.

275:2 An excellent summary of Philostratus, with extracts from the letters, is given in Mr. Thomas Whittaker's monograph, in Apollonius of Tyana and Other Essays, 1906.

276:1 Hist. Rom. lvii, ad. fin.

276:2 Contra Celsum, vi, 41.

276:3 Cudworth, Intellectual System, Harrison's ed. i, 437; Huet, Demonstratio Evangelica, Prop. ix, c. 147, § 3; Baur, Apollonius von Tyana and Christus, 1832, rep. in Drei Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der alten Philosophie and ihres Verhältnisses zum Christenthum, 1876; A. Réville, Apollonius of Tyana, Eng. tr. pp. 57-69.

277:1 Cp. Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 334-5.

277:2 Id. p. 332.

277:3 Drei Abhandlungen, p. 139. A. Réville (work cited, pp. 61-2) implicitly follows Baur. J. Réville (La Religion à Rome, pp. 230-4) discusses and dismisses the parody theory. Critics in general now do so likewise.

277:4 Christianity and Mythology, 2nd ed. pp. 305-6.

277:5 Baur, as cited, p. 148.

277:6 Id. p. 148, note.

278:1 Works, ed. 1835, vi, 489 sq.

278:2 Cited by Lardner. Cp. also his citation from De la Roche's New Memoirs of Literature (1725), i, 99. In an Appendix to his 39th chapter (Works, vii, 508), Lardner cites a passage from Bishop Parker, published in 1681, rejecting Huet's thesis that Philostratus had copied the gospels.

278:3 Zeller notes in his ed. of the Drei Abhandlungen (p. 201, note) that Baur is wrong in his statement that Porphyry and Jamblichus never mention Apollonius. Lardner had cited their references. Dr. A. Réville follows Baur (p. 80).

278:4 Drei Abhandlungen, p. 45, sq.

278:5 Eusebius, Contra Hieroclem; Lactantius, Div. Inst. v, 2, 3.

278:6 Marcellinus, in Ep. Augustin. 136 (Migne, Patrol. Cursus Compl. T. 33).

278:7 Adv. Judæos, Orat. v, 3.

278:8 Epist. 1. viii, c. 3. The bishop writes of him to a correspondent as noster Tyaneus.

278:9 Lampridius, Vit. Alex. Sev. xxix.

278:10 Proœmium in Vit. Sophistarum.

278:11 L. xxi, c. 14, ad init.

278:12 Vit. Aureliani, xxiv.

278:13 Apologia, ad fin.

279:1 Philostratus, Vit. Apollon. viii, 7, 7.

279:2 Philostratus (viii, 6), in introducing the Apology before Domitian, remarks that it has been criticised for lack of elegance and sublimity of style; but this is no security for its genuineness. "He [Philostratus] puts into the mouth of Apollonius aesthetic theories which he can scarcely have meant us to believe were not his own" (T. Whittaker, Apollonius of Tirana, as cited, p. 2).

279:3 Div. Inst., v, 3.

Next: § 1. Introductory