Apollonius of Tyana is one of the most extraordinary exemplars in human history. What he shows us clearly is the living of the life, the life-long practice of theosophical ethics.
It is said that at a very young age Apollonius became set upon living what he referred to as the Pythagorean Life. This included a high code of non-violence and asceticism, such that “he remained a vegetarian the whole of his long life, fed only on fruit and herbs, drank no wine, wore vestments made only of plant-fibres, walked barefooted, and let his hair grow to its full length, as all the Initiates before and after him” 1, and in the Pythagorean tradition, he began this life by undertaking a vow of silence for 5 years.
In Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius, we read of Apollonius’ famous journey to India, wherein he was directed to the “abode of the sages” by an Indian King. It is reported by his traveling companion Damis that he remained with these sages for some time, being instructed by them in their mysteries before beginning the long return journey to his homeland. His instruction is the culmination of a life devoted wholly to philosophy and the practice of the core virtues of discipleship, and from this instruction he emerges a sage himself.
It is following his return from this journey that our western historical accounts of Apollonius begin. He is shown to have traveled extensively through Greece and surrounding nations, teaching philosophy, producing phenomena and prophesying many notable events. It is related that “The writings of Apollonius show him to have been a man of learning, with a consummate knowledge of human nature, imbued with noble sentiments and the principles of a profound philosophy,” and that “the wonderful things done by Apollonius, thought to be miraculous . . . were extensively believed in, in the second century, and hundreds of years subsequent; and by Christians as well as others.” 2 Of Apollonius’ deeds, the early Church Father Justin Martyr asks: “How is it that the talismans of Apollonius have power over certain members of creation, for they prevent, as we see, the fury of the waves, the violence of the winds, and the attacks of wild beasts. And whilst Our Lord’s miracles are preserved by tradition alone, those of Apollonius are most numerous, and actually manifested in present facts … ?” 3 Indeed of all historical figures, the phenonema of Apollonius are as well attested to as any.
Apollonius moved not only with the regular classes of men, but in the company of Emperors and Kings, instructing all in matters of philosophy and ethics; he faced his enemies with courage and conviction, as demonstrated by his appearance before the Emperor of Rome and his defense against spurious accusations, and everywhere he went he taught the age-old morality of Man, leaving behind him a well-respected and highly revered name. Of his mission, a biographer relates:
“He maintained that the only good was moral excellence, the only true satisfaction, independence of external circumstances, and consequently held that wealth was an obstacle to the development of virtue. The whole of his life was spent, the whole of his teachings are founded, on the idea that all men are called to receive and practice truth. He speaks and acts as a reformer everywhere. He had no narrow notions of nationality, no local clique to serve. He came to no chosen people, but to all mankind.”4
It is reported that “for several centuries after his death Apollonius was worshiped as a god, in many parts of the world” 5
Yet on the subject of his status as a god, Philostratus relates that before the court of the Emperor, Apollonius’ accuser posed to him the following question:
“Why is it that men call you a god?”
To which Apollonius replied:
“Because, every man that is thought to be good, is honored by the title of god.”
Indeed Apollonius was a good man, and in his deeds we see this goodness demonstrated, time and time again. If modeling our moral life upon some historical figure, we could do no better than Apollonius of Tyana.
For more on Apollonius, see: Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana.
1. Theosophical Glossary, H.P. Blavatsky, 1892
2. Article “Apollonius Tyaneus and Simon Magus”, H.P. Blavatsky, Theosophist, June, 1881
3. Quaest, XXIV
4. Apollonius of Tyana, Daniel M. Tredwell
5. History of the Christian religion: to the year two hundred, Charles Burlingame Waite