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The Ethics of Diet - A Catena
by Howard Williams M.A., 1883

Apollonius of Tyana

Appolonius on Wikipedia

Apollonius of Tyana c.3 B.C. - c.97 A.D.
(text from the 1st edition, 1883 )

Among the illustrious earlier contemporaries of Plutarch who practised no less than preached rigid abstinence, Apollonius of Tyrana, the Pythagorean, one of the most extraordinary men of any age, deserves particular notice. He came into the world in the same year with the founder of Christianity, B.C. 4. The facts and fictions of his life we owe to Philostratus, who wrote his memoirs at the express desire of the Empress Julia Domna, the wife of Severus.

Apollonius, according to his biographer, came of noble ancestry. He early applied himself to severe study at the ever memorable Tarsus, where he may have known the great persecutor, and afterwards second founder, of Christianity. Disgusted with the luxury of the people, he soon exiled himself to a more congenial atmosphere, and applied himself to the examination of the various schools of philosophy - the Epicurean, the Stoic, the Peripatetic, &c. - finally giving the preference to the Pythagorean. He embraced the strictest ascetic life, and travelled extensively, visiting, in the first instance, Nineveh, Babylon, and, it is said, India, and afterwards Greece, Italy, Spain, and Roman Africa and Ethiopia. At the accession of Domitian, he narrowly escaped from the hands of that tyrant, after having voluntarily given himself up to his tribunal, by an exertion of his reputed supernatural power. He passed the last years of his life at Ephesus, where, according to the well-known story, he is said to have announced the death of Domitian at the very moment of the event at Rome. His alleged miracles were so celebrated, and so curiously resemble the Christian miracles, that they have excited an unusual amount of attention. (1)

Unfortunately, the life by Philostratus, in accordance with the taste of a necessarily uncritical age, is so full of the preternatural and marvellous that the real fact the pythagorean philosopher had acquired and possessed might well be deemed supernatural at that period, is too apt to be discredited. The Life was composed long after the death of the hero, and thus a considerable amount of inventive license was possible to the biographer; but that it rested upon an undoubted substratum of actual occurrences will scarcely be disputed. There is one passage which deserves to be transcribed as of wider application. The people of a town in Pamphylia (in the Lesser Asia), where the great Thaumaturgist chanced to be staying, were starving i the midst of plenty by the selfish policy of the monopolists of grain, and, driven to desperation, were on the point of attacking the responsible authorities. Apollonius, at this crisis, wrote the following address, and gave it to the magistrates to read aloud :-

"Apollonius to the Monopolists of Corn in Aspendos, greeting : The earth is the common mother of all, for she is just. (2) You are unjust, for you have made her the mother of yourselves only. If you will not cease from acting thus, I will not suffer you to remain upon her."

Philostratus assures us that "intimidated by these indignant words they filled the market with grain, and the city recovered from its distress."


    1. "The proclamation of birth of Apollonius to his mother by Proteus, and the incarnation of Proteus himself - the chorus of swans which sang for joy on the occasion - the casting out of devils, raising the dead, and healing the sick - the sudden disappearances and reappearances of Apollonius - his adventures in the cave of Trophonius, and the sacred Voice which called him at his death, to which may be added his claim as a teacher to reform the world - cannot fail to suggest the parallel passages in the Gospel history. . . Still it must be allowed that the resemblances are very general, and on the whole it seems probable that the life of Apollonius was not written with a controversial aim, as the resemblances though real, only indicate that a few things were borrowed, and exhibit no trace of a systematic parallel." - Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography. Edited by Wm. Smith. Ll.D. So great was the estimation in which he was held, that the emperor Alexander Severus (one of the very few good Roman princes) placed his statue or bust in the imperial Larium or private Chapel, together with those of Orpheus an of Christ.
    2. Cf. Virgil, Goergics II. : "Fundit humo facilem victum justissima Tellus."


Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet - index