THE GNOSTIC SOCIETY LIBRARY
Apollonius of Tyana -- by G.R.S. Mead (1901)
SECTION 7 - Early Life
APOLLONIUS was born [Legends of the wonderful happenings at his birth were in circulation, and are of the same nature as all such birth-legends of great people.] at Tyana, a city in the south of Cappadocia, somewhere in the early years of the Christian era. His parents were of ancient family and considerable fortune (i 4). At an early age he gave signs of a very powerful memory and studious disposition, and was remarkable for his beauty. At the age of fourteen he was sent to Tarsus, a famous centre of learning of the time, to complete his studies. But mere rhetoric and style and the life of the “schools” were little suited to his serious disposition, and he speedily left for Ægæ, a town on the sea coast east of Tarsus. Here he found surroundings more suitable to his needs, and plunged with ardor into the study of philosophy. He became intimate with the priests of the temple of Æsculapius, when cures were still wrought, and enjoyed the society and instruction of pupils and teachers of the Platonic, Stoic, Peripatetic, and Epicurean schools of philosophy; but though he studied all these systems of thought with attention, it was the lessons of the Pythagorean school upon which he seized with an extraordinary depth of comprehension, [??] and that, too, although his teacher, Euxenus, was but a parrot of the doctrines and not a practiser of the discipline. But such parroting was not enough for the eager spirit of Apollonius; his extraordinary “memory,” which infused life into the dull utterances of his tutor, urged him on, and at the age of sixteen “he soared into the Pythagorean life, winged by some greater one.” [Sci., than his tutor; namely, the “memory” within him, or his “dæmon.”] Nevertheless he retained his affection for the man who had told him of the way, and rewarded him handsomely (i 7).
When Euxenus asked him how he would begin his new mode of life he replied: “As doctors purge their patients.” Hence he refused to touch anything that had animal life in it, on the ground that it densified the mind and rendered it impure. He considered that the only pure form of food was what the earth produced, fruits and vegetables. He also abstained from wine, for though it was made from fruit, “it rendered turbid the æther [This æther was presumably the mind-stuff.] in the soul” and “destroyed the composure of the mind.” Moreover, he went barefoot, let his hair grow long, and wore nothing but linen. He now lived in the temple, to the admiration of the priests and with the express approval of Æsculapius, [That is to say presumably he was encouraged in his efforts by those unseen helpers of the temple by whom the cures were wrought by means of dreams, and help was given psychically and mesmerically.] and he rapidly became so famous for his asceticism and pious life, that a saying [“Where are you hurrying? Are you off to see the youth?”] of the Cilicians about him became a proverb (i 8).
At the age of twenty his father died (his mother having died some years before) leaving a considerable fortune, which Apollonius was to share with his elder brother, a wild and dissolute youth of twenty-three. Being still a minor, Apollonius continued to reside at Ægae, where the temple of Æsculapius had now become a busy centre of study, and echoed from one end to the other with the sound of lofty philosophical discourses. On coming of age he returned to Tyana to endeavour to rescue his brother from his vicious life. His brother had apparently exhausted his legal share of the property, and Apollonius at once made over half of his own portion to him, and by his gentle admonitions restored him to manhood. In fact he seems to have devoted his time to setting in order the affairs of the family, for he distributed the rest of his patrimony among certain of his relatives, and kept for himself but a bare pittance; he required but little, he said, and should never marry (i 13).
He now took the vow of silence for five years, for he was determined not to write on philosophy until he had passed through this wholesome discipline. These five years were passed mostly in Pamphylia and Cilicia, and though he spent much time in study, he did not immure himself in a community or monastery but kept moving about and travelling from city to city. The temptations to break his self-imposed vow were enormous. His strange appearance drew everyone's attention, the laughter-loving populace made the silent philosopher the butt of their unscrupulous wit, and all the protection he had against their scurrility and misconceptions was the dignity of his mien and the glance of eyes that now could see both past and future. Many a time he was on the verge of bursting out against some exceptional insult or lying gossip, but ever He restrained himself with the words: “Heart, patient be, and thou, my tongue, be still.” [Compare Odyssey, xx 18.] (i 14).
Yet even this stern repression of the common mode of speech did not prevent his good doing. Even at this early age he had begun to correct abuses. With eyes and hands and motions of the head, he made his meaning understood, and on one occasion, at Aspendus in Pamphylia, prevented a serious corn riot by silencing the crowd with his commanding gestures and then writing what he had to say on his tablet (i 15).
So far, apparently, Philostratus has been dependent upon the account of Maximus of Ægæ, or perhaps only up to the time of Apollonius’ quitting Ægæ. There is now a considerable gap in the narrative, and two short chapters of vague generalities (i 16, 17) are all that Philostratus can produce as the record of some fifteen or twenty [I am inclined to think, however, that Apollonius was still a youngish man when he set out on his Indian travels, instead of being forty-six, as some suppose. But the difficulties of most of the chronology are insurmountable.] years, until Damis’ notes begin.
After the five years of silence, we find Apollonius at Antioch, but this seems to be only an incident in a long round of travel and work, and it is probable that Philostratus brings Antioch into prominence merely because what little he had learnt of this period of Apollonius’ life, he picked up in this much-frequented city. Even from Philostratus himself we learn incidentally later on (i 20; iv 38) that Apollonius had spent some time among the Arabians, and had been instructed by them. And by Arabia we are to understand the country south of Palestine, which was at this period a regular hot-bed of mystic communities. The spots he visited were in out-of-the-way places, where the spirit of holiness lingered, and not the crowded and disturbed cities, for the subject of his conversation, he said, required “men and not people.” [??] He spent his time in travelling from one to another of these temples, shrines, and communities; from which we may conclude that there was some kind of common freemasonry as it were, among them, of the nature of initiation , which opened the door of hospitality to him.
But whenever he went, he always held to a certain regular division of the day. At sun-rise he practised certain religious exercises alone, the nature of which he communicated only to those who had passed through the discipline of a “four years’ “ (? five years’) silence. He then conversed with the temple priests or the heads of the community, according as he was staying in a Greek or non-Greek temple with public rites, or in a community with a discipline peculiar to itself apart from the public cult. [??]
He thus endeavoured to bring back the public cults to the purity of their ancient traditions, and to suggest improvements in the practices of the private brotherhoods. The most important part of his work was with those who were following the inner life, and who already looked upon Apollonius as a teacher of the hidden way. To these his comrades (eta?????) and pupils (??), he devoted much attention, being ever ready to answer their questions and give advice and instruction. Not however that he neglected the people; it was his invariable custom to teach them, but always after midday; for those who lived the inner life, [??] he said, should on day’s dawning enter the presence of the Gods, [That is to say, presumably, spend the time in silent meditation.] then spend the time till midday in giving and receiving instruction in holy things, and not till after noon devote themselves to human affairs. That is to say, the morning was devoted by Apollonius to the divine science, and the afternoon to instruction in ethics and practical life. After the day’s work he bathed in cold water, as did so many of the mystics of the time in those lands, notably the Essenes and Therapeuts (i 16).
“After these things,” says Philostratus, as vaguely as the writer of a gospel narrative, Apollonius determined to visit the Brachmanes and Sarmanes. [That is the Brâhmans and Buddhists. Sarman is the Greet corruption of the Sanskrit Shramana and Pâli Samano, the technical term for a Buddhist ascetic or monk. The ignorance of the copyists changed Sarmanes first into Germanes and then into Hyrcanians!] What induced our philosopher to make so long and dangerous a journey nowhere appears from Philostratus, who simply says that Apollonius thought it a good thing for a young man [This shows that Apollonius was still young, and not between forty and fifty, as some have asserted. Tredwell (p 77) dates the Indian travels as 41-54 A.D.] to travel. It is abundantly evident, however, that Apollonius never traveled merely for the sake of travelling. What he does he does with a distinct purpose. And his guides on this occasion, as he assures his disciples who tried to dissuade him from his endeavour and refused to accompany him, were wisdom and his inner monitor (dæmon). “Since ye are faint-hearted,” says the solitary pilgrim, “I bid you farewell. As for myself I must go whithersoever wisdom and my inner self may lead me. The Gods are my advisers and I can but rely on their counsels” (i 18).