Greek Literature in Late Antiquity: Dynamism, Didacticism, Classicism

Apollonius of Tyana in Late Antiquity

Christopher P. Jones, Harvard University

Apollonius of Tyana, the itinerant Pythagorean of the first century, exercised a powerful hold on the imagination of later centuries. The fullest expression of this is to be found in the biography of him that Philostratus of Athens wrote approximately in the 220’s CE. Philostratus’ Life is in part a symptom and in part a cause of the transformation of Apollonius into an icon of Hellenic culture, a position in which he also entered into the debates between Christians and ‘Hellenes’. The subject of Apollonius’ afterlife in Christianity has been discussed many times, [1] but for several reasons deserves a fresh consideration. The attribution of Eusebius’ Contra Hieroclem (henceforth CH), the crucial document of what may be called the Christian counter-offensive, has recently been questioned, and in general more attention should go to differences between Apollonius’ reception in the Christian East and in the Latin West, especially during the all-important fifth century.


Several commentators have found the CH to be different in form or manner from Eusebius’ other works. Thus Schwartz: ‘Die Form des Werkchens ist von einer bei E(usebius) ungewöhnliche Affektation, wozu ihn vielleicht die Lektüre Philostrats verführt hatil occupe une place à part parmi les écrits d’Eusèbe’; similarly the latest editor, Madeline Forrat, ‘’. [2] In 1992 Tomas Hägg advanced the thesis that the work was not in fact by Eusebius at all, but had been included among his works either because of its ‘apologetic character’ or by confusion with another Eusebius.

T.D. Barnes has embraced Hägg’s thesis, adding the further refinement that the author was ‘an otherwise accidental homonym, who was probably a Christian sophist active in Asia Minor’. [3]

Hägg has several arguments, of which some are ex silentio: the author does not indicate that Hierocles was an energetic persecutor of Christians, or cite the Bible, while the authentic Eusebius fails to cite the work in his other extant ones. These considerations are not very weighty, since Eusebius also fails to cite his gigantic Contra Porphyrium, [4] and in the first six books of his Praeparatio Evangelica (henceforth PE) rarely cites the Bible in comparison to pagan writings: in the sixth book, which has several similarities to the CH, he has only one Christian citation, from the Apocryphal Prayer of Joseph (VI 11.64). There is a greater problem with Eusebius’ claim that Hierocles ‘alone among those who have ever written against us has now made a specific juxtaposition and comparison of this person [Apollonius] and our Saviour’ (CH 1.3, μόνῳ παρὰ τοὺς πώποτε καθ’ ἡμῶν γεγραφότας ἐξαίρετος νῦν τούτῳ γέγονεν ἡ τοῦδε πρὸς τὸν ἡμέτερον Σωτῆρα παράθεσίς τε καὶ σύγκρισις). Hägg objects, as have others, that Porphyry had already done so in his Adversus Christianos. But only one of the relevant ‘fragments’ in von Harnack’s collection certainly comes from Porphyry, and it concerns not Jesus but Paul and the other apostles. The other two are from the Apokritikos or Monogenes of Macarius of Magnesia, and it is far from certain that the anti-Christian arguments in this work are derived from Hierocles, as Harnack believed. [5] Whatever Eusebius means by ἐξαίρετος, it is compatible with a page or two of synkrisis, not unlike the synkriseis in Plutarch’s Lives, and there is no evidence that Porphyry had done the same.

The question therefore comes back to the alleged differences in form and style between Eusebius and the author of the CH. A long comparison is perhaps not necessary, but as to both form and content it is worth comparing the already mentioned sixth book of the PE. [6] Here, where Eusebius’ principal target is Porphyry, he uses many of the same formal devices: excerpting passages from the work in question with connecting phrases such as τούτοις ἑξῆς ἐπιλέγει, ‘next after this he adds’ (VI 18.25), cf. CH 2.28, μεθ’ ἂ καὶ ἐπιλέγει ταῦτα κατὰ λέξιν, ‘after which he adds this verbatim’; making heavy use of sarcasm and irony, e.g. PE VI 2.2, οἱ γενναῖοι θεοί, ‘the fine gods’; 6.7, οἱ θαυμασίοι θεοί, ‘the wonderful gods’; 6.73, τῶν σεπτῶν σου φιλοσόφων, ‘your venerable philosophers’, τοὺς θαυμασίους χρησμούς, ‘the marvelous oracles’; cf. CH 19.2, οὗτος ὁ θαυμάσιος συγγραφεύς, ‘this wonderful author’; 29.1, τῆς θαυμαστῆς ταύτης ὄψεώς τε καὶ ὁμιλίας, ‘this wonderful vision and conversation’.

The main subject of this book is that of Destiny (Heimarmene), especially in its connection with oracular prophecy. Now the author of the CH, after going book by book through Philostratus’ Life, closes with a long section (chs. 45–48) ‘on the Fates and Destiny’ (περὶ Μοιρῶν καὶ Εἱμαρμένης). This section has several phrases in common with PE VI. These similarities are especially frequent in chapter 45.1 of the CH, which I give here with the letters A, B and C marking the parallels with the PE.

Ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἐν τούτοις περιγραφομένου τοῦ λόγου βραχέ’ ἄττα περὶ Μοιρῶν καὶ εἱμαρμένης φέρε διαλάβωμεν, ὅ τι καὶ βούλοιτο δι’ ὅλης αὐτῷ τῆς ὑποθέσεως ὁ λόγος (A) τὸ μὲν ἐφ’ ἡμῖν ἀναιρῶν, ἀνάγκην δὲ εἰσάγων καὶ εἱμαρμένην καὶ Μοίρας, διαθροῦντες, ταύτῃ γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐντελῶς καὶ ἡ ἐν δόγμασι ψευδοδοξία τἀνδρὸς διευθυνθήσεται. εἰ δὴ οὖν κατὰ τὸν τῆς ἀληθοῦς φιλοσοφίας λόγον “ψυχὴ πᾶσα ἀθάνατος, τὸ γὰρ ἀεικίνητον ἀθάνατον, τὸ δ’ ἄλλο κινοῦν καὶ ὑφ’ ἑτέρου κινούμενον παῦλαν ἔχον κινήσεως παῦλαν ἔχει ζῳῆς,” καὶ (B) “αἰτία ἑλομένου, θεὸς ἀναίτιος,” τίς αἱρεῖ λόγος, (C) ἄκουσαν, οὐχὶ δὲ κατὰ προαίρεσιν, ἀψύχου δίκην σώματος ἔξωθέν ποθεν κινουμένην, καὶ ὡσπερεὶ νευροσπαστουμένην ὧδε κἀκεῖσε, τὴν ἀεικίνητον ἄγεσθαι φύσιν, μηδὲν μηδαμῶς ἐξ ἰδίας ὁρμῆς καὶ κινήσεως ἐνεργοῦσαν, μηδὲ εἰς ἑαυτὴν τὴν τῶν δρωμένων ἀναφέρουσαν αἰτίαν, ταύτῃ τε μήτε φιλοσοφοῦσαν ἐπαινετέαν τυγχάνειν μήτ’ αὖ ψεκτὴν κακίας ἔμπλεων καὶ πονηρίας;

Nonetheless, since the account ends with this incident, let us briefly examine a few points concerning the Fates and Destiny, scrutinizing the tendency of the whole work (A), which abolishes the principle of responsibility, and brings in Necessity, Destiny, and the Fates. By this method we will perfectly see the falsity of the man’s beliefs. Now, according to the account of true philosophy, ‘Every soul is immortal, for what is ever moving is immortal, and what moves others and is moved by others, by ceasing to move ceases to live,’ and (B) ‘The reason is in the chooser, not in God.’ How then could it follow that the ever-moving nature, (C) unwillingly and without any choice like a lifeless object, is carried by some external force back and forth like a puppet on strings, drives nothing at all by its own impulse and movement, and does not refer the cause of its actions to itself, and in this way deserves neither praise for pursuing wisdom, nor blame if it is full of evil and wickedness?

With this compare (A) PE VI 1.7, τὰ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν ἀναιροῦσι (‘they abolish the principle of responsibility’); VI 6.4, τὸ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν ἀνελών (‘abolishing the principle of responsibility’); (B) PE VI 6.50, the same quotation from Plato, Rep. X 617 E; (C) PE VI 6.20, τὸ δὲ δίκην ἀψύχων λέγειν κινεῖσθαι ἡμᾶς, τῇδε καὶ τῇδε ὑπό τινος ἔξωθεν δυνάμεως νευροσπαστουμένους (‘to say that we are whirled around like lifeless things, carried by some external force back and forth like a puppet on strings’).

In addition one can compare the following two passages:

τί δὲ δεῖ λοιβῆς τε κνίσης τε καὶ τὸ ἐκ τούτων γέρας τοῖς μηδὲ τούτων ἀξίοις ἀπονέμειν, εἰ κατ’ οὐδὲν ἡμᾶς ὠφελεῖν δύνανται; (PE VI 3.3)

Why should one devote the ‘reward of libation and savour’ [Homer, Iliad 4, 49] and what results from these to beings who are not worthy even of these, if they cannot help us in any way?

τί δὲ καὶ οἷς νομίζεις θεοῖς τὰ μελιττοῦτα καὶ τὸν λιβανωτὸν εἰς μάτην ῥιπτεῖς…οὕτω δ’ ἄν σοι θεοὶ μὲν οὐκέτ’ ἂν ἦσαν καὶ εἰκότως, ἅτε μηδὲν ἀνθρώπους οἷοί τε ὠφελεῖν. (CH 45.3)

Why, pray, do you pointlessly toss honey-cake and incense before your supposed gods…In that way you would no longer have gods, and rightly, since they cannot help humankind in any way.

The conclusion must be that if Eusebius is not the author of the CH, that person will have to be one who employed very similar techniques and language. In addition, he will have to be close to Eusebius in date, since Hierocles has published his work ‘recently’ (nun, 1.3). It is surely easier to infer that the usual view is correct, and that Eusebius wrote the CH.

The disputed question of the work’s date does not greatly affect the present discussion, but may be noted here. A passage in ch. 4 strikes a strikingly triumphal tone: ‘[Jesus] even to this day attracts countless numbers from everywhere to his divine teaching; [and] after being attacked for very many years by almost all humankind, one may say, both rulers and subjects, proved himself mightier and far stronger than the unbelievers who cruelly persecuted him.’ Though some have used this passage to argue for a terminus ante of 303 (the beginning of Diocletian’s persecution), it surely implies a terminus post of 312 (the end of persecution by Maximinus Daia and the conversion of Constantine). [7] Eusebius might also have waited to launch his attack until Hierocles had vanished from the scene, and it so happens that he disappears from the historical record in the first half of 311. This ferocious persecutor might well have found himself out of favor after Galerius’ Edict of Toleration in April of that year. [8]


A recent article on Isidore of Pelusium (approx. 360/370–after 431) says of him, ‘I(sidor) ist keiner der bedeutenden Theologen der alten Kirche geworden…und die Philologen der neueren Zeit haben ihn wenig gelesen.’ Nonetheless his letters, of which a modern edition has at last begun to appear, are full of interest, not least for the reception of Greek literature. [9] One of them, addressed to an otherwise unknown Zacchaeus, contains a remarkably sympathetic reference to Philostratus and Apollonius: [10]

Some people have deceived mankind with empty words, bringing in Apollonius of Tyana, who has produced many talismans in many places (πολλαχόσε πολλὰ τελεσάμενον), [11] for the protection of dwellings, so they say. But they can show nothing of which he is the source (παρ’ ἐκείνου γενόμενον). For those who have recorded the man’s own words, and made exact note of everything about him, would not have omitted the celebrated deeds. You have Philostratus, who set out his history exactly, and you may see that in all likelihood his enemies devised an obviously false charge of magical practices (against him).

Though some have thought that the writer agrees with the charges, or thinks Apollonius a magician, Wolfgang Speyer has rightly argued against this reading, and infers that this sympathetic view shows the letter to be spurious: ‘a Christian would not have given any weight to the argument that Apollonius was not a magician. On the contrary, many Christian authors called Apollonius a magician in order thus to distinguish him from Jesus the miracle-worker.’ [12]

In making this argument Speyer appeals to the work of R. Riedinger, who in a series of articles has expressed skepticism about many of the letters, and even about the existence of Isidore himself. However, the pendulum has now swung back, and Isidore’s latest editor is inclined to accept a majority of the letters as genuine. [13] Moreover, the author does not in fact deny that Apollonius was a magician, but only that he was the author of the talismans (telesmata) attributed to him. To this end, he correctly observes that Philostratus says nothing about such talismans: similarly Eusebius knows of magical devices passing under Apollonius’ name, but does not ascribe them to him (CH 44.2). When Isidore argues that such allegations probably go back to Apollonius’ enemies, he may well be relying again on Philostratus, who at several points of his biography represents Apollonius as falsely charged with magic, especially in his trial before Domitian. [14]

Nor is it true, as Speyer argues, that a Christian could not have absolved Apollonius from the charge of magic, as emerges from several authors whom Speyer himself cites. The Quaestiones et responsa of Pseudo-Justin, a work believed to be roughly contemporary with Theodoret of Cyrrhus (ca. 393–ca. 466), raises the question why, if God is the omnipotent Creator, he allows the talismans of Apollonius to work, as they evidently do. The answer is that they owe their effectiveness to his knowledge of ordinary matter and its natural properties, not to supernatural power. Since their only use is material, God did not forbid them, whereas He did silence the demon lurking in Apollonius’ statue (agalma) that gave prophecies and deceived people into thinking Apollonius a god. [15] Similarly the so-called Pseudo-Nonnus, a commentator on Gregory of Nazianzus possibly contemporary with Pseudo-Justin, observes, ‘Magic differs from sorcery and sorcery from witchcraft (διαφέρει δὲ μαγεία γοητείας καὶ γοητεία φαρμακείας). Magic is summoning beneficent demons for the accomplishment of something good, as the prophecies (thespismata) of Apollonius of Tyana were for good.’ [16] Even Eusebius is sometimes prepared to be moderately sympathetic towards Apollonius, and considers a number of his deeds ‘not far removed from philosophy and truth’ (φιλοσοφίας καὶ ἀληθείας οὐ πόρρω, CH 12.3), for example his opposition to blood-sacrifice and his lifelong chastity. In due course, Apollonius was made a prophet of the birth of Christ, and his portrait even decorated churches. [17]

When it suits his purpose, however, Eusebius is fully prepared to consider Apollonius a sorcerer, and to cite Philostratus as proving that he consorted with demons (29.1, 30.1, 35.2, 39.1). Later Christians were ready to consider him a sorcerer or worse. Nilus of Ancyra, a close contemporary of Isidore of Pelusium, writes to a certain exceptor (legal secretary) called Nicander as follows:

I have often told you, and I say again, that the talismans performed through magic by Apollonius of Tyana contain absolutely no heavenly benefit, nor do they bring any profit to the soul, and so they would appear to be no different from the grace (derived from) a handful of barley for wise and pious men who yearn for those things that are heavenly and imperishable, and are not subject to dissolution. Do not therefore admire the works of sorcery, or be disturbed by them, and rid yourself of an easily shaken opinion and a juvenile way of thinking. [18]

Another such view is found in a work often ascribed to St. Basil of Seleuceia (archbishop from ca. 440, died after 468), but more probably anonymous, the Life and Miracles of St. Thecla. This author, however, appeals to pagan sources for confirmation. [19]

Anyone who knows Apollonius of Tyana from those who have written his life…knows the disgusting and accursed talismans of the man’s art of sorcery, his calling up of gods and souls, his summoning of demons and secret abominations; so that he was not eagerly received by the Gymnosophists in Egypt and India but quickly dismissed, as a person neither pure nor holy, not even a true philosopher, but with much of the pollution of sorcery about him.

It is true that Philostratus several times represents Apollonius as charged with sorcery, and also makes the Naked Ones of Egypt slow to receive him (6.8), but that is because they have been persuaded by the slanders of his enemy Euphrates of Tyre (6.7); the Indians, by contrast, are reluctant to let him go (3.50). Because of these divergences from Philostratus, Speyer has argued that the Pseudo-Basil had consulted another source. This source he tentatively identifies as the Moeragenes dismissed by Philostratus as an unreliable authority (VA 1.3.2, 3.41.1), and Speyer finds support for this conjecture in Moeragenes’ being from ‘eastern Asia Minor’. In fact, next to nothing is known of him, though it has sometimes been suggested that he is an Athenian known to Plutarch. Philostratus alleges that he was completely ignorant about Apollonius, and Origen is the only other writer known to have consulted him directly, since Eusebius clearly borrows his reference from Philostratus. [20] Philostratus’ Life presumably drove others off the market; it may have formed the basis for the versified Life of Apollonius by Soterichos of Oasis, which was probably written under Diocletian, and is perhaps connected with the emperor’s anti-Christian policies. [21] Pseudo-Basil’s inaccuracy is surely due to a lapse of memory, no doubt facilitated by his dislike of Apollonius. A similar lapse occurs in Jerome, summarizing the Life in one of his letters: he puts the visits of Apollonius to the Babylonians, Elymaeans and other Asian peoples after rather than before his visit to India. [22]


Among polytheists of late antiquity, both eastern and western, the tendency to treat Apollonius as a semi-divine figure, already evident in Philostratus, becomes more marked. This is the Apollonius of Ammianus Marcellinus, Eunapius and the Historia Augusta, and doubtless of Porphyry and other Neoplatonists like Iamblichus. [23] An epigram first seen in Adana in Cilicia, but now known to be from Mopsouhestia, celebrates him as one ‘named after Apollo’ who ‘extinguished the errors of men’ (ἀνθρώπων ἔσβεσεν ἀμπλακίας) and was sent by heaven (or taken up into heaven) ‘to drive out the sorrows of mortals’ (ὅπως θνητῶν ἐξελάσειε πόνους). To judge by the script this might be as late as the fifth century, rather than the third or the fourth where it is usually placed. [24] Similarly what appears to be a school of Neoplatonic philosophy in Aphrodisias has produced a portrait of Apollonius, along with figures of the distant Greek past such as Pindar and Alcibiades. [25] This and other items of evidence, such as the Roman ‘contorniates’ to be discussed below, have conspired with the use of Apollonius by anti-Christians such as Porphyry and Hierocles to build him up into an icon of a supposed ‘pagan resistance’ to Christianity. [26] In fact such indications show him serving as an exemplar of philosophical Hellenism, but not necessarily fulfilling the function that Porphyry and Hierocles intended for him.


A discussion involving Apollonius’ relations to Byzantine Christianity must refer to the mysterious work called the Apotelesmata (‘astrological effects’ or ‘results’) of Apollonius of Tyana. François Nau and Franz Boll produced editions of this at almost the same time, in 1907 and 1908 respectively. Boll thought the work an ‘impudent fiction’ composed shortly before Eusebius’ Reply to Hierocles, while Nau was inclined to defend it as genuine; the obviously later ingredients, such as the reference to a church built by Apollonius in Tyana, he explained as later interpolations. [27] The work cannot be by Apollonius and, as Speyer has noted, [28] must be much later than Boll supposed, though it is still an interesting document deserving of consideration here. It begins:

The Book of Wisdom and Understanding, (that is), of the astrological effects of Apollonius of Tyana, which he wrote and taught to Dustumos Thulassos his pupil, saying thus: ‘My son, hear me, and I will reveal to you the mystery of wisdom, that to the many is unknown and unknowable and hidden, about occasions (kairoi) and times, the hours of the day and night, and the naming and influence of them, of the true wisdom that is hidden in them, and I will show you the astrological effects of the knowledge given to me by God, by which all things are influenced that God made upon the earth. For behold, I have acquired four books more precious than gold and precious stones, one of astronomy, the second of astrology, the third theoretical (scholastikē), and the fourth more valuable than all, in which there are great and fearful signs, I mean about the influencing (stoicheiōsis) of the things created and moved by God.’

Further on, the writer says:

He that is destined to be born in Bethlehem of the Virgin will himself become a great teacher, and he will save the human race and destroy the temples of idols, but he will not abolish the astrology (apotelesmatikē) that I will make, for whatever the power that is in him will perform, that I have performed and predicted. And the church (naos) that I have built in Tyana, in which I have set up a golden pillar, this will be revered (proskunētos) by all.

Nau observes that Philostratus refers to four books on astral prophecy (περὶ μαντείας ἀστέρων, 3.41.1) written by Apollonius, which he claims never to have seen. This claim might be questioned, since to admit the opposite might corroborate the charge of sorcery that he is concerned to dispel. Whatever the facts about this work, it cannot possibly be the present treatise. The writer reveals his Christianity at every point, both in his subject-matter and in his choice of words. He thinks that Apollonius was born early enough to predict the birth of Christ, and even (if the obvious interpretation is correct) that he founded a church in Tyana. As for language, ναός denoting a Christian church is first apparently found in Eusebius, and προσκυνητός seems almost entirely a Christian usage. [29] For στοιχειόω in the sense of ‘enchant’, ‘perform talismanic operations upon’, Sophocles’ Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods cites no example before Theophanes Continuatus (not earlier than the ninth century). A span of 800–1200 is presumably about right for the composition of the work. It may be relevant that Tyana was an episcopal see as early as 325, and after being lost to the Arabs was recovered for the Byzantine empire in the tenth century; the site has also produced remains of a church datable to that same century. [30] Though irrelevant to Apollonius’ fortunes in late antiquity, therefore, the treatise shows the same acceptance of him into Byzantine Christianity that is implied inter alia by his appearance in art as a prophet of Christ.


In the West attitudes towards Apollonius inevitably reflect a Roman conservatism, especially in senatorial circles. Certain ‘contorniates’, the New Year’s medallions struck in late fourth-century Rome, show Apollonius along with other literary figures such as Sallust and Apuleius. Some have connected these objects with a supposed ‘pagan resistance’ or ‘revival’, but they may simply celebrate a past in which all these figures had blended as culture-heroes. [31] Nor is it easy to evaluate the interest that Roman aristocrats of the late fourth and early fifth centuries had in Philostratus’ Life. The sole evidence comes from a letter of Sidonius Apollinaris (8.3.1):

Apollonii Pythagorici vitam, non ut Nicomachus senior e Philostrati sed ut Tascius Victorianus e Nicomachi schedio exscripsit, quia iusseras, misi; quam, dum parare festino, celeriter eiecit in tumultuarium exemplar turbida et praeceps et Opica translatio.

I have sent you the Life of Apollonius the Pythagorean, since you requested it, not in the transcription that Nicomachus the Elder made from Philostratus’s copy but in the one that Tascius Victorianus made from Nicomachus’. I was in such a hurry to obey you that a crude, rushed and uncouth translation has tossed it into an improvised version.

Sidonius clearly talks of three persons involved in different stages of transmission. The first, ‘the elder Nicomachus’, is the celebrated senator who at the end of his career supported Eugenius and committed suicide in 394; the second, Tascius Victorianus, is otherwise only known as an ‘editor’ of Livy associated with the Symmachi; and the third is Sidonius. [32] Every possible permutation has been proposed, that Sidonius refers to three successive copies of the Greek text, or that he means a translation, whether made by Nicomachus, Tascius, or himself. The answer to this puzzle is not of great importance here, though the last solution seems the most likely; and if Sidonius did make a translation, there is no way of knowing how faithful or complete it was. [33]

Among Christian writers in Latin, especially those who wrote in the West, attitudes towards Apollonius, while as varied as those of their eastern counterparts, are noticeably more restrained. The first to mention him is Arnobius, who merely includes him in a list of magi. [34] Lactantius had had direct experience of Hierocles from his years in Nicomedia, but even so his remarks about Apollonius in the Divine Institutes do little more than make him a magus comparable to Apuleius. [35] So also his fellow-African Augustine links Apollonius and Apuleius, who is ‘better known to us Africans’, as magicians, but he too is more concerned with the absurdity of comparing them to Christ. In Augustine’s eyes, Apollonius was ‘much better than that author and perpetrator of so many sexual crimes (stupra) whom they call Jupiter’; here Apollonius’ reputation for chastity seems to have stood him in even better stead than Apuleius. [36]

In general, it appears, the writings of Porphyry and of Hierocles had much less effect in the West than in the East, and despite the allusions to magic there is no trace of the talismans that so bothered Greek-speaking Christians from Eusebius onwards. Attention goes rather to other items, among them Apollonius’ comportment in the face of tyranny, and especially his trial before Domitian. This note is first sounded in Lactantius. Using an argument similar to one attributed to Porphyry, Hierocles had argued that Apollonius surpassed Christ in wonderworking, since rather than submitting to trial before Domitian he ‘suddenly disappeared from the court’ (repente in iudicio non comparuit, Div. Inst. V 3.9). The same story, and much of the same language, appears in Jerome, but curiously Jerome uses this incident to rebut Marcion of Pontus, and to prove the reality of Christ’s body after the Resurrection: ‘It is written that Apollonius of Tyana, when he was standing before Domitian in his consistory, suddenly disappeared’ (cum ante Domitianum staret in consistorio, repente non comparuisse). [37]

In one of his Letters, Jerome expresses an even more positive view of Apollonius. Giving a catalog of pagans such as Pythagoras and Plato who traveled far in search of wisdom, he observes:

Apollonius of Tyana, whether he was a magician, as the vulgar say, or a philosopher, as the Pythagoreans say, entered Persia, traversed the Caucasus, Albanians, Scythians, and Massagetae, penetrated the most opulent kingdoms of India, and after crossing the very wide river Phison came to the Brahmans, so that he might hear Iarchas sitting on a golden throne and drinking from the fountain of Tantalus, and discoursing amid a few disciples about nature, about customs, and about the course of the stars. Then, returning through the Elamites, Babylonians, Chaldaeans, Assyrians, Parthians, Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabs to Palestine he reached Alexandria and approached Ethiopia, so that he might see the Gymnosophists and the very famous Table of the Sun amid the sand. Everywhere that great man (ille uir) found something to learn, so that always improving he always made himself better. Philostratus writes in great detail (plenissime) about him in eight books. [38]

Jerome’s summary is far from accurate (for example, Apollonius returned from India to Babylon by sea, not overland), but however well he knew Philostratus’ biography, he clearly considers its hero a worthy exemplar; in this he is close to Augustine, who thought Apollonius a ‘much better’ comparison with Christ than Jupiter.


The last mention of Apollonius in the Christian West is also one of the most remarkable. When Sidonius Apollinaris (ca. 430–before ca. 490) undertook his translation or adaptation of Philostratus (above, section V), he was near the end of a long career. He had variously been the son-in-law of the western emperor Avitus, Prefect of the City of Rome, and bishop of Augustonemetum (Clermont-Ferrand), in which position he organized the defense of the city against the Visigoths. When the new Augustus, Julius Nepos, ceded Arvernia to the Visigothic king Euric, Sidonius was exiled to Livia (near modern Carcassonne), where his friend Leo of Narbo, a descendant of the orator Fronto and a consiliarius of Euric, commissioned him to make the already-mentioned copy or translation of Philostratus’ Life. After Sidonius had obtained his release with Leo’s help, he resumed his episcopate, and held it until his death at an unknown date in the 480s, and was later canonized. [39]

Soon after his release, Sidonius sent his work to Leo. In his covering letter, he makes a long apology for its crudeness; among other things, he had been kept awake at night ‘by two Gothic hags’ quarreling beneath his window. Nonetheless, he is clearly proud of the results:

Divest yourself somehow of your never-ending cares and steal respite of your own from the burdens and commotions of the court. You will not study advantageously and adequately the tale you have requisitioned unless you give undivided attention to the reading of it and, so to speak, travel in person along with our man of Tyana, now to the Caucasus or the Indus, now to the gymnosophists of Aethiopia and the Brahmins of India. Read of a man who—be it said with all due deference to the Catholic faith— was in most respects like you, that is, sought after by the rich but not seeking riches for himself; greedy for knowledge but chary of money-making; abstemious in feasts, clad in plain linen amid the purple-robed, severe as a censor amid luxurious perfumes; unkempt, hairy, and bristly in the midst of scented foreigners, and treasured for dignified squalor among the myrrh-scented, pumice-rubbed, cinnamon-soaked satraps of tiara’d kings; more respected than suspected in the Eastern kingdoms he traversed because he derived no article of food or clothing from an animal; and asking from the royal resources which were placed fully at his disposal only such boons as he was accustomed to accept for bestowal on others, not for retention by himself. I need say no more. If we weigh and reckon the truth of the matter, it comes to this: it may be questioned whether the philosopher’s life has found a narrator on a level with the writers of our ancestors’ time; but unquestionably this generation of mine has found in you a reader to match the subject. [40]

At first sight it may surprise that a Christian bishop in fifth-century Gaul should so highly praise a figure whom his contemporaries in the Greek East condemned as a sorcerer in league with the Evil One. But apart from the already mentioned differences between Apollonius’ reputation in the east and the west, Sidonius might have removed from his version of the Life elements that would have disturbed a Christian reader such as his summoning the ghost of Achilles. Drawing on the same positive elements already conceded by Eusebius, he builds Apollonius into a paradigm for Leo at the Visigothic court, a philosopher who remained true to his principles among the seductions of luxury and power.


So various are the reactions to Apollonius in late antiquity that a summary is not easy to achieve. There is a tendency in modern scholarship to be over-influenced by Eusebius’ Reply to Hierocles, and to suppose that Apollonius was always and everywhere the hero of a ‘pagan reaction’, and by the same token an object of fear or detestation on the part of Christians. The truth is rather that for non-Christian Greeks, and especially philosophers, he was in the first place an embodiment of their ancestral culture. Even educated Christians in both East and West recognized aspects of him that recalled the Christian ‘philosophy’, but in other ways their views diverged. In the East, belief in his talismans, shared by many of the laity, disturbed clergymen such as Isidore of Pelusium; on the other hand, the use of his memory by anti-Christians such as Hierocles had little effect, and Eusebius’ Reply is never mentioned, for example in Jerome’s De viris illustribus. It is not therefore so paradoxical as might appear that in the Byzantine realm Apollonius ends by being integrated into Christian art and thought, or that Philostratus’ Life should come down in so many copies. By contrast, his memory rested on a much slighter foundation in the West, and did not return until manuscripts of Philostratus’ Life and Eusebius’ Reply reached Italy in the late Middle Ages. The first person to conjoin the two works was Aldus Manutius, who appended Eusebius’s pamphlet to his editio princeps of Philostratus’ Life ‘so that the antidote may accompany the poison’. [41] Once he had done that, the two authors began their journey together, indissolubly linked.

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———. ‘Eusebius von Caesarea’ in Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 3 (1995): 1007– 1009.

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Bloch, H. ‘The Pagan Revival in the West at the End of the Fourth Century’, in A. Momigliano (ed.), The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century (Oxford: 1960), 193–218.

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———. ‘Neue Fragmente des Werkes des Porphyrius gegen die Christen’, Sitzungsb. Akad. Berlin (1921): 266–284.

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[ back ] 1. Dulière, 1970: 247–277; W. Speyer, 1974: 47–63; Jones, 1980: 190–94; Dzielska, 1986: 153–183; Forrat, 1986: 44–55.

[ back ] 2. E. Schwartz, 1907: 1394 = Schwartz, 1957: 531; Forrat, 1986: 10.

[ back ] 3. T. Hägg, 2003: 138–150; T.D., 1994: 60; cf. Barnes, 1995: 1009: ‘von einem christlichen Sophisten gleichen Namens verfasst’.

[ back ] 4. For this work, Bardenhewer, 1912: 247; Harnack, 1916; Barnes, 1981: 174–175; Goulet, 2003: 1.128–131.

[ back ] 5. Apollonius and Paul: Jer. Tract. de Ps. LXXXI, Corpus Christianorum Latinorum 78, 89 = Harnack, Porphyrius, fr. 4. Macarius Magnes: III 1, IV 5 = frr. 63, 60. On Macarius as a source for the fragments of Porphyry, Harnack, 1916: 6–11 (in favor); Barnes, 1973: 428– 430 (skeptical); Goulet, 2003: 1.126–136 (in favor).

[ back ] 6. I cite by chapter and section of Places, 1980.

[ back ] 7. Thus Forrat, 1986: 20–26.

[ back ] 8. Hierocles: Barnes, 1982: 150. Galerius’ edict: Barnes, 1981: 39.

[ back ] 9. Treu, 1998: 999–1000. Edition: Evieux, 1997 and 2000.

Letter 148 (Migne, 1857–1866: 78: 406).

[ back ] 11. For this sense of τελέω, see lexica such as Stephanus and Sophocles; the corresponding noun, from which comes the English ‘talisman’, is τέλεσμα.

[ back ] 12. Speyer, 1974: 57.

[ back ] 13. Riedinger, 1960: 154–192. By contrast, Evieux, 1997: 987 cite the same article of Riedinger as an example of unwarranted skepticism.

[ back ] 14. Vita Ap. 1.2, 4.18.1, 6.7, 8.7.7–10, 8.19.2.

[ back ] 15. Ps. Justin, Quaest. et Respons. 24, Otto, 1881: 34–39.

[ back ] 16. PG 36: 1021 C–D; Smith, 1992: 139. She characterizes the author as ‘a Christian from the Eastern Mediterranean [who] composed his Commentaries towards the beginning of the sixth century A.D.’ (p. 3).

[ back ] 17. On this, Speyer, 1974, 62 with n. 105.

[ back ] 18. Nil. Anc. Ep. 148, PG 79, 269; on the problems associated with Nilus’ correspondence, see Baldwin, 1991: 1450.

[ back ] 19. Ps.-Bas. Vita Theclae 22 = Dagron, 1978: 256.

[ back ] 20. Bowie, 1978: 1673–1679; Raynor, 1984: 222–226; FGrHist IV A 7, 1067. Origen: Contra Celsum 6.41 = FGrHist T 3.

[ back ] 21. Suda Σ 877: PLRE I 850, Soterichos 1; Livrea, 1999: 69–73.

[ back ] 22. Hilberg, 1996, Ep. 53.1.4: see further below, section V.

[ back ] 23. Amm. Marc. 21.14.5, 23.6.19; Eunap. VS 2.1.4, 23.1.8: 346, 542 Wright; Historia Augusta, Alex. Sev. 29.2, Aurel. 24.2–9.

[ back ] 24. Jones, 1978, no. 1251; Forrat, 1986: 215–219; FGrHist 1064 T 6; Berges, 2000: 420–422, no. 112. In C. Roueché, 1989, Pl. XI 45 and XVI 64 (both ‘fifth century’) look fairly similar.

[ back ] 25. Smith, 1990: 141–143; cf. Alföldi in A. and Alföldi, 1990: 102–103. For literary references to such portraits, Historia Augusta, Aurel. 24.5, and possibly Synes. Laus Calv. 6. See also below, Section V.

[ back ] 26. For this term see for example Bloch, 1960: 194.

[ back ] 27. Nau, 1907: 1363– 1392, cf. Nau, 1924: 1016–1018; Boll, 1908: 174–181. Liddell and Scott translate ἀποτέλεσμα as ‘result of certain positions of the stars on human destiny’.

[ back ] 28. Speyer, 1974: 63 n. 108.

[ back ] 29. See Lampe, Patristic Greek Lexicon, for both words. The few examples of προσκυνητός in Liddell and Scott are all late Christian and/or late antique.

[ back ] 30. Berges, 2000: 385–393 (episcopal see): 517–518 (in tenth century).

[ back ] 31. For the ‘pagan’ view, Alföldi, 1990: 53–5; against, Cameron, 1990: 63–69.

[ back ] 32. Nicomachus: PLRE I 347–348, Flavianus 15; O’Donnell, 1978: 129–143; Alan Cameron in Alföldi 1990: 66–67. Tascius: PLRE II 1160–1161, Victorianus 2.

[ back ] 33. See further below, Section VI.

[ back ] 34. Adv. gent. I 52 (PL 5: 790).

[ back ] 35. Inst. Div. 5.3.7–21, especially 21, Christ’s divinity was foretold by the prophets, quod neque Apollonio neque Apuleio neque cuiquam magorum potuit aut potest aliquando contingere.

[ back ] 36. Aug. Epp. 102, 32 (PL 33: 383; CSEL 34.2: 572), 138, 18 (PL 33: 533; CSEL 44: 145: Parsons, 1953: 50, mistakenly translates ‘Apuleius’ in place of ‘Apollonius’).

[ back ] 37. In Joh. Chrys. 34, PL 23: 404 C: borrowed by Ps.-Ambrose, De Trinitate 29, PL 17: 570 B.

[ back ] 38. Ep. 53.1.3–4 = Hilberg, 1996: 444–445. Hilberg deletes the last sentence as a gloss, but who would gloss Jerome with a reference to Philostratus?

[ back ] 39. For Sidonius’s career, Stevens, 1933 and now Harries, 1994; a useful summary in Anderson, 1936–1965: I: xxxii–lii; PLRE II: 115–118, Apollinaris 6. For the other persons mentioned see PLRE II: 196–198, Eparchius Avitus 5; 777–778, Iulius Nepos 3; 427–428, Euricus; 662–663, Leo 5. [ back ]

[ back ] 40. Sid. Ap. Ep. 8.3.4–6, trans. Anderson, 1936-1964: II: 411–413.

[ back ] 41. Manutius, 1501–1502.