BMCR 2007.07.16

Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana III (Loeb Classical Library, 458)

, Philostratus, Apollonius of Tyana, Volume III: Letters of Apollonius. Ancient Testimonia. Eusebius's Reply to Hierocles. Loeb classical library 458. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006. Pp. 272. ISBN 9780674996175 $21.50.

1. Introduction

Christopher Jones’ new Loeb edition of Philostratus’ work on Apollonius has now been completed by a third volume that is very unusual for the Loeb series. It is unusual because it contains hardly anything by Philostratus, and is consists instead of all the other major written sources we have on Apollonius, the enigmatic first-century AD philosopher, miracle-worker and all-around religious celebrity. These sources fall into three distinct sections: first, a set of Letters attributed to Apollonius; second, a collection of testimonia from other authors; third, a treatise by Eusebius of Caesarea refuting a now-lost pamphlet by one Sossianus Hierocles, in which Hierocles had made an extended comparison between Apollonius and Jesus Christ that was favorable to the former.

The Letters and the Hierocles treatise were also included in F.C. Conybeare’s 1912 Loeb edition, at the end of the second volume of Philostratus’ “Life of Apollonius” (hereafter VA), but J’s new editions and translations of these texts are a vast improvement. He also provides both texts with informative introductions, where the previous edition had none at all. J’s most valuable contribution, however, is the testimonia section, which provides all the significant references to Apollonius in literature through the fifth century AD. The selection is a generous one, 28 pages of mostly Greek and some Latin. This is much fuller than anything that previously existed on Apollonius and gives readers easy access to texts that would otherwise have been very difficult to find.

Anyone trying to study Apollonius of Tyana comes up against a problem similar to that posed by the historical Socrates. There is one very full source, Philostratus, but that source is heavily fictionalized, if not altogether so. There are other traditions, but they are much less full and not completely trustworthy either, and in many cases are available only indirectly.1 J’s third volume does scholars the considerable service of putting all these traditions together in one highly accessible form. This will allow students to get a more balanced perspective on Apollonius than has sometimes been the case in modern scholarship.

Scholars of Roman religion, the New Testament, Greek culture under the Empire, and Pagan-Christian apologetics and polemic all come across Apollonius sooner or later, and they will not want to be without J’s book. However, they will all likely wish that it was longer and contained fuller explanations of its texts. This volume follows standard Loeb Library procedure in considerably restricting textual notes and commentary.2 Given the content of this particular Loeb, this may not have been the best procedure. The testimonia and Letters especially are difficult texts to approach: testimonia are necessarily fragmentary and detached from their contexts; the Letters are a strange hodge-podge, certainly not all by Apollonius, probably accumulated over a period of centuries, and written for all kinds of different purposes. In addition, the Greek texts themselves present considerable difficulties, and it is not always easy to understand J’s solutions from the minimal apparatus. It would be a boon to both serious scholars and general readers if the Loeb Library made a habit of volumes like this that give us easy access to all the sources on a given figure or issue and, when it did so, allowed for the fuller notes found in, for example, Whittaker’s Loeb of Herodian or Brunt’s of Arrian.

In my detailed consideration of the book, it will be more convenient to deal first with sections 1 and 3 (Letters and Hierocles) and then with section 2 (testimonia). This is because both section 1 and 3 appeared in the earlier Loeb edition, and much of what J has changed is similar in both cases, whereas the testimonia are entirely new.

2. Letters and Hierocles

i) Introductions

The usual practice for editors of the VA has for some time been to include the Letters of Apollonius and Eusebius’ treatise as “bonus items,” which tended to turn them into neglected afterthoughts. The 1912 Loeb followed in this tradition by including them at the end of the second volume with no introduction and virtually no notes, even though very few potential readers could be expected to know anything about these obscure texts.

J has well remedied this situation, and readers can now have a solid idea of what to expect. The Letters especially are very messy: there are 91 letters of widely varying lengths that have come down together in manuscripts, plus 23 short quotations from Stobaeus. Opinions vary widely as to their date and authenticity.3 J gives a clear outline of what the corpus consists of, the kinds of religious and philosophical topics it addresses, and the broad range of recipients, which include famous individuals (e.g. Vespasian, Musonius Rufus), obscure or fictional individuals, cities and abstractly defined groups (“Platonists”; “Learned Writers”; “Those Who Think Themselves Wise”). J also briefly addresses (6-7) the differences between the Apollonius that emerges from the letters as opposed to the protagonist of the VA.

On the issue of the letters’ authenticity, J avoids general statements, beyond that we are clearly not dealing with one authorially edited collection like Pliny’s, and that different writers in antiquity clearly had different sets of letters available to them (4). J’s position is that “the best procedure is to judge each [letter] on its own merits and without preconceptions” (6). While this approach makes sense, in practice such judgments need to be governed by some general model: Was Apollonius the sort of person who wrote letters to emperors? What kind of objectives and motives might the writers of pseudepigrapha have had? These are historical questions in themselves that are at least as interesting as the content of the Letters themselves. J does not really add much to the discussion beyond to state the problem concisely and clearly. To judge from comments on individual letters, he tends to be less skeptical than many scholars and places the burden of proof on the doubter. He is, for example, willing to allow that the anonymous “Scythian King” to whom Letter 28 is addressed is “not necessarily imaginary” (5).

Eusebius’ treatise on Hierocles is not considered an independent source of information about the historical Apollonius, but remains important because it shows the role he and his biography came to play in the intellectual debates between Christian and pagan during the fourth century. J’s introduction succinctly explains who Eusebius and Hierocles were and their relationship to such earlier controversialists as Celsus, Origen and Porphyry (147-49). J also gives a shrewd analysis of Eusebius’ rhetorical techniques (150-51). Eusebius’ authorship of the Hierocles has been doubted on stylistic grounds and, here as with the Letters, J is very much on the “less skeptical” side of the debate, firmly asserting that this text is written by the same man as the Ecclesiastical History.

ii) Texts

The 1870 Kayser text of the VA on which Conybeare based his Loeb remained the standard text of that work until the first two volumes of J’s Loeb came out two years ago. The Letters and the Hierocles have been more fortunate: each one has come out in a modern critical edition in the last thirty years, by Penella and Des Places respectively, and in both cases the improvement has been substantial.4 Kayser’s text was full of unnecessary emendations, especially in the Hierocles, and it was unfortunate that his remained until now the most accessible version of these works.

J’s text is considerably closer to the modern editions than to Kayser, and follows them in rejecting many of his conjectures.5 However, J is on the whole more willing than previous editors to accept conjectures, Kayser’s or otherwise, when they genuinely improve the sense, and in the case of the Hierocles he often agrees with Kayser rather than Des Places when the issue is which manuscript to follow.6 Since the Letters are written in a difficult elliptical style, Kayser’s emendations were mainly clarifications, or in some cases over-clarifications. J’s text, being a middle ground between Penella and Kayser, is on the whole easier to construe than Penella’s, but avoids some instances in which Kayser was correcting the author rather than the scribe. J also follows the recent editors in inserting sub-divisions within the longer letters and within the chapters of Eusebius, neither of which was in the earlier Loeb.7 In the case of the Stobaeus letters, J also follows Penella in re-ordering the letters to reflect their order in the Wachsmuth-Hense edition of Stobaeus, adding four new letters missed by Kayser and removing one spurious one. This will lead to some broken references in modern scholarship, but given that all the Stobaean letters together occupy about two and a half Loeb pages of Greek, re-tracing them should not be an arduous task. A more serious but inevitable problem arises in the Hierocles, because Conybeare adopted chapter divisions all his own, whereas J has followed Des Places in using those of Kayser.

Going beyond the word-and-sentence level, J has made two unusual editorial decisions that, while not unreasonable, would have benefited from more explanation than J gives. The first is that J includes among the letters, as Letter 67a, an inscription from Ephesus of a letter from one Lucius Pompeius Apollonius to Mestrius Florus, proconsul of Asia, regarding the mysteries of Demeter in that city.8 J says in a footnote that “the identification of the writer with Apollonius of Tyana is conjectural” and no more. He is apparently the first author to make the identification, which if accepted would make this a most valuable contemporary source for Apollonius’ activities.9 It would mean, among other things, that he was a Roman citizen and a citizen of Ephesus, that he was in the habit of interceding with Roman governors on behalf of Ephesian dignitaries, and that in Mestrius he shared an important acquaintance with Plutarch.10 One can infer that J bases his identification on the subject matter: the Letters, VA and Cassius Dio all agree that Apollonius was active in Ephesus, and that he was concerned with its religious institutions, and the date of Mestrius’ term there, in the 80s, works well with Apollonius. However, Apollonius is a common name, and there is no evidence elsewhere for the man from Tyana being a Roman citizen: more elaboration by J would have been very welcome.

The second decision is that J has elected to print again in this third volume the 14 letters (42a-h and 77a-f) that are found both in the VA and in our separate manuscripts of Apollonius’ Letters. Conybeare’s Loeb had these only once, in the VA, following Kayser and earlier Olearius. It is useful to be able to see these texts in both of their proper contexts, especially since they give clues to why the collection is ordered as it is, and what its relation might be to the VA. In particular, it is by no means clear whether the editor of the independent collection took the letters out of Philostratus, or whether he found them elsewhere, possibly in a source shared with Philostratus.11 By printing them in his edition, and with a text based primarily on the manuscripts of the independent collection rather than the VA, Penella implicitly considered that they might be independent texts rather than quotations. J departs somewhat from Penella in that his text of these letters is, with one exception, identical to his text in the VA and based primarily on manuscripts of the VA.12 The implication is either that the compiler of the independent collection is quoting Philostratus, or that he had access to a consistently inferior tradition. The textual differences are not huge, but the shared letters are our most important clue as to the relationship between the VA and the independently transmitted letters, and that is a very important interpretive point in dealing with these texts.13 J’s view can be inferred, but might profitably have been made explicit.

iii) Translations

The Letters of Apollonius are the work of many authors, but they share a difficult elliptical style that leaves much to inference; translators therefore always have to decide whether to turn obscure points into clear English or leave them obscure. J’s translation is particularly good at saying what “Apollonius” says and leaving implied what he leaves implied, as well as being faithful to his abrupt and unadorned style, and avoiding archaisms to produce a contemporary English text. Conybeare’s translation was wanting on both points: he too often filled in blanks and gave the letters a rhetorical polish lacking in the Greek. Much the same can be said of their respective translations of the Hierocles.

Letter 28, for example, to “a king of the Scythians,” begins by saying that Zalmoxis was a good man and a philosopher, and that ” εἰ κατ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον τοιοῦτος ἦν ὁ Ῥωμαῖος,” Zalmoxis would have been his friend. J translates simply “if in those days the Roman had been similar,” where Conybeare infers “if in his time the Roman had been such as he is now,” which is probably what “Apollonius” means, but is not what he says.14 It should also be noted that Conybeare’s translation had many plain inaccuracies, which J has remedied.15

3. Testimonia

This is the section that provides the most “value added” to justify the fact that the new Loeb is in three volumes rather than two. Students of Apollonius now have recourse to the continuation of Jacoby’s Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker (Vol. 4a, nos. 1064-67) edited by Jan Radicke, which contains most of the earlier testimonia given in the new Loeb, but J’s selection is considerably fuller for later periods. In particular, he gives a series of passages from fourth- and fifth-century patristic authors. These do not shed much light on the historical Apollonius, but they are essential for understanding his later history as a figure in religious controversy, the would-be pagan alternative to Jesus.

For his 51 testimonia, J has taken his Latin and Greek texts from currently available editions; the translations are his own. He was able to make use of the recent FGH volume mentioned above, and that serves as the base text for many of the earlier passages. These testimonia are presented in approximate order of composition, with dates, bibliographical references and brief footnotes that typically either identify people mentioned out of context in the testimonia, or point out parallel passages in the VA or the Letters.

The great asset of the testimonia section is its inclusiveness and accessibility. Depending on how one counts, there are perhaps 10 to 15 extant literary references to Apollonius that give us meaningful information that is certainly or probably independent of the VA or Letters. Some of them are from readily accessible sources such as Lucian or Cassius Dio, but they also include Philostratus of Lemnos and some of Porphyry’s more obscure works. It is a considerable service to put them all together in a place where readers with limited Greek, time, money and library resources can easily locate them. This is all the more the case with the later patristic references, which can be exceedingly difficult to track down even for those fortunate enough to have ready access to all the various ecclesiastical corpora. Most people who have encountered Apollonius know that he was put forward as a pagan alternative to Jesus, but this volume will make it much clearer to readers exactly who did the putting forward, and just what “pagan alternative to Jesus” might mean.

Because the testimonia are J’s most original contribution, it is with them that readers will most notice the relative dearth of explanatory notes or commentary in the Loeb format. J cannot of course be expected to give full context for every passage, but in many cases his notes are so short as to suggest questions rather than answering them, and on occasion he makes editorial decisions that considerably affect the meaning of the text, but gives little idea of his reasons.

For example J’s single largest testimonium (no. 16), six and a half pages of Greek, comes from Iamblichus’ Vita Pythagorica: Iamblichus gives a variant account of the fall of the Pythagoreans in Croton that he attributes to a work by “Apollonius.” J says simply that “it has been doubted whether this Apollonius is Apollonius of Tyana” (97 n. 15). It would certainly have been useful to include some reference to the literature on this subject.16

A related and puzzling issue is that this volume has far more than the usual share of instances in which whole words or phrases in the Greek or Latin text simply do not appear in the English or vice versa. These are clearly not translation errors or typos, of which the book has very few for such a heterogenous collection.17 The Greek and the English have each been thoroughly proofread, but they have not apparently been checked against each other, and as it stands they seem to represent two different stages of J’s editorial thinking about these texts. Thus in the Latin of no. 33, the second sentence of Jerome’s quotation from Porphyry begins “non est autem grande facere signa,” but there is nothing in English to correspond. The clause is somewhat redundant in context, and might be seen as a scribal over-clarification.18 There are also instances of the reverse, where J.’s base text contains a Greek or Latin phrase that is translated in J’s English but does not appear on the left-hand page: perhaps most notable is in no. 9, where Origen refers to Moeragenes’ work on Apollonius as (in J’s English) “Moeragenes’ memoirs of Apollonius of Tyana, the sorceror and philosopher.” The last four words evidently translate the words ” μάγου καὶ φιλοσόφου” that are found in other editions of the Greek, but not in J’s own Greek, although the issue of whether or not Apollonius was a μάγος was an important polemical point in the VA and subsequent discussions of Apollonius.19

4. Conclusion

This book, along with J’s first two volumes, is a well conceived solution to a long-standing problem. Also like the first two, it has problems of execution that might without too much difficulty be corrected.20 It represents a very great improvement on what was previously available, and while on some points readers may wish for fuller commentary from J, he has made it much easier for them to form their own conclusions. This volume will make the study of Apollonius a considerably easier task and, one hopes, a more common one.21


1. The most extensive recent treatment of the historical Apollonius is Maria Dzielska’s Apollonius of Tyana in Legend and History (Rome, 1986), which tries to construct the best possible account of Apollonius without relying at all on the VA. See also Ewen Bowie, “Apollonius of Tyana: Tradition and Reality” in ANRW 2.16.2 (1978): 1652-99, and Eduard Meyer, “Apollonios von Tyana und die Biographie des Philostratos” in Hermes 52 (1917): 371-424. J’s own views, which are less skeptical than Dzielska’s, can be found in the introduction to the first volume of his Loeb, p. 7-13.

2. J’s stated practice, common with Loebs, is to give textual notes only where he is printing a conjecture that has no manuscript support. There are, however, apparent instances of such conjectures with no notes: e.g. Letter 11.2, last sentence, J has ἡμετέρου where mss and edd have ὑμετέρου; T46, first full line, J has φάσιν where his base edition has φήσιν.

3. The longest discussions are found in the introduction to the standard modern edition, Robert J. Penella. The Letters of Apollonius of Tyana: A Critical Text with Prolegomena, Translation and Commentary. Mnemosyne Supp. 56. Leyden, 1979, esp. 23-29 and in Ferdinando Lo Cascio. Sulla autenticità delle epistole di Apollonio di Tiana. Palermo, 1978. Lo Cascio lies very much on the “less skeptical” end of the spectrum. Penella is somewhat more skeptical. The issue is also discussed in each of the treatments of Apollonius mentioned in n. 1.

4. For Penella, see n.3. For the Hierocles, Édouard des Places. Eusèbe de Césarée: Contre Hieroclès. Sources chrétiennes No. 333. Paris, 1986.

5. E.g. in the Letters: at 48.2, first sentence, adding οἰκέτης after ἐμὸς; 52, penultimate sentence, σύνοντες for ἰδόντες; 58.5, third sentence, ἀθλίους for αἰτίους; in Hierocles 6.4, first sentence, ἐπιόντων for ὄντων; 44.3, first sentence, where Kayser adds an unnecessary παρελθόντα before ἐς τὸ ἱερὸν τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς.

6. E.g. in the Letters: 8.3, top of p. 16, where Olearius changed ἀδύνατος to δυνατός, thus meaning that Apollonius spoke little because he had learned the Pythagorean discipline of silence, not because he was unable to be silent; 44.2, first sentence, where Kayser makes two emendations to get κοινωνίας δ’οὔσης λόγου τε παντὶ καὶ πᾶσι καὶ παθῶν τῆς αὐτῆς for a passage that Penella obelizes; 66, where the manuscripts have Μεγαρεὺς γελοῖον ὄνομα. Penella brackets γελοῖον ὄνομα as a gloss based on the reputation of Megarians in Old Comedy, but J accepts Kayser’s emendation to γε, λῷον δ’ὄνομα, meaning that Apollonius finds it better to be called a Hellene than a citizen of any one polis. There is one case of the opposite, at 47, second sentence, where Penella accepts Kayser’s insertion of an ἂν after πρεπωδέστερον. J obelizes the text, possibly because, though the emendation allows the statement to be construed, its significance is still very obscure in context. In Hierocles: 7, first word, Kayser’s Τίνα (“what sort of a man is this Apollonius?”) as opposed to the mss. Τί (“why are you talking about Apollonius at all?”); 17, line 6, J and Kayser go with ἀναφανήσεται from different mss. than Des Places’ ἀναφανθήσεται, similarly with 24, first line, ἀπολύσαντι vs. ἀπαλλάξαντι. J makes two conjectures of his own: at Letters 75, in the first sentence, where the manuscripts read ἡ Δημήτηρ. Penella read ἡ δὴ Μήτηρ, which J further emends to ἡ δὲ Μήτηρ; at Hierocles 8.1, first sentence, ἅνθρωπος for ἄνθρωπος.

7. J’s divisions within the letters correspond most of the time to those of Penella, who in turn was adopting those originally made by Hercher in his 1873 Epistolographi Graeci. There are a few minor discrepancies, which arise from differences in J’s punctuation or interpretation of the sense of the Greek.

8. SIG 820 (= IGSK Ephesus 213).

9. None of the works cited above in n. 1 mentions the inscription, nor does either of the editions mentioned in n. 8 mention Apollonius.

10. See P-W “Mestrius 3.”

11. The letters occur in two distinct clumps in manuscripts of the separate collection, and within those clumps they are in the same relative order they occur in the VA.

12. The exception is in the third- and second-to-last words of 77a, where in this volume J prints ἐν αὐτῇ from the mss. of the letters, where his first volume has ἐπ’ αὐτῆς. The difference is noted in J’s apparatus, and the English is identical in the two cases. J also does not consistently preserve the greeting and farewell formulae from the letters in the VA.

13. The most important textual difference is that in the separately transmitted collection, Letter 42a, which is one sentence long, has a third clause that is not found in the manuscripts of the VA. J’s text makes no mention of this clause.

14. See also the whole of the short Letter 22 for stylistic comparison, and the final sentence of 54 for another instance of J leaving implied what Conybeare made explicit.

15. E.g. at Letter 43, φυλακτέος translated as active; Letter 73, παιδάρια made out to be older than μείρακες.

16. For fuller refs., see Jaap-Jan Flinterman. Power, Paideia and Pythagoreanism: Greek Identity, Conceptions of the Relationship between Philosophers and Monarchs and Political Ideas in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius. Amsterdam: Gieben, 1995: 77-79; also Peter Gorman, “The ‘Apollonios’ of the Neoplatonic Biographies of Pythagoras” in Mnemosyne 38 (1985): 130-44.

17. J’s nos. 28 and 29 are nos. 10 and 11 in the FGH, not 9 and 10; no. 32 should be PL 23.444; in no. 24, the ἤδει of the last line should have a subscript; also in the Hierocles, at 4.1, the fourth line of the section should surely end with a comma after γεγόνει rather than a period, and at 28.1, Μοῖραι is translated “Muses.” The penultimate word of T46, ἀγαθοῦ, is probably a misprint for ἀγαθὸν, and at Hierocles 39.2, the sixth line from the bottom ends οὐκοῦν but is translated as if it were οὔκουν.

18. Other phrases found in the Greek or Latin but not in the English include: first sentence of no. 7, the last phrase ” ἐπειδὴ θειότερος ἀνθρώπων”; no. 16.257, penultimate sentence of the page, the names of specific anti-Pythagoreans are given in the Greek but not the English; no. 20, opening sentence, “nec tamen negaret,”; no. 22, penultimate line of page, ” μήτε ἀνάπτοι πῦρ”; no. 26, top of p. 118, “viris fortibus conlocutos; no. 38, first sentence, ” μετὰ χάριτος; the last sentence of no. 49, ” ἐχρῆν μὲν ὑπομεῖναι τὴν τιμωρίαν.” In the Hierocles, at 33.1, the sentence beginning ” καὶ αὖθις” is missing in the English, as is, at 43.3, line 14 in the Greek, ” διαλεχθῆναι οἱ.”

19. In the following clause of Radicke’s Greek, there is a τινας that is not in J’s Greek, nor does it seem to be reflected in his English. Similar instances at 25, where J translates “Dionysius sold Plato, Nero banished Musonius,” but omits from his Greek the ” ἐξεκήρυττε of his base text; at 40, where J’s Greek stops one sentence before his English.

20. For the first two volumes, see the review in these pages by Gerard Boter and Jaap-Jan Flinterman.

21. The writer is grateful to David S. Potter for his many helpful suggestions.