They Do History Differently There; or, Did Apollonius meet with emperors?

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by Neil Godfrey

In these dark times when our heads ache from the thunderous reverberations of there is no reason to doubt or we must avoid ‘hyperscepticism’, I felt my soul lifted up and filled with the purest joy when, on turning away from biblical studies publications I picked up a compendium of essays by a classicist and specialist in ancient Greek fiction to see what he had to say about Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana.

It has been easy to dismiss them as unhistorical. There is no external evidence for any contacts between Apollonios and these emperors. The only event of this kind that is confirmed by an historical source (Dio Cassius, Roman History 67.18) is the scene in Ephesus in AD 96 when Apollonios in a vision sees Domitian being murdered in Rome and cries out in triumph (VA 8.26).

(Hägg, pp. 393f)

My god. Tomas Hägg is in a world where independent corroboration is assumed to be necessary in order to confirm the historicity of a text’s narrative.

Hägg, Tomas. 2004. “Apollonios of Tyana — Magician, Philosopher, Counter-Christ. The Metamorphoses of a Life.” In Parthenope, edited by Lars Boje Mortensen and Tormod Eide, 379–404. Museum Tusculanum Press.

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Neil Godfrey

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8 thoughts on “They Do History Differently There; or, Did Apollonius meet with emperors?”

  1. A book by a scholar of Christian history that I found to be god is Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution. She applies appropriate historical methods to the biographies to saints and martyrs and reaches the conclusion that none of the accounts have any merit. I thought her book did a very good job.

  2. Corroboration… of a vision? Colour me skeptical. We owe memory of Apollonios to Julia Domina, the emperor Severus’ wife; the Severan emerors all seem to have paid cult to Apolionios. Cassius Dio was a prominent senator, proconsuar governor, and suffect consul under the Severans. First rule for prominent senatorials: suck up to the imperial family and don’t piss them off. It was healthier that way.

  3. Thank you for yet another citation from the late Tomas Hägg. Though I never had the privilege to meet him, his work has been paramount over the last couple of decades in my own study of Greek literature in the imperial period of Rome. His helpful distinctions, such as « life » as it is lived and « Life » as biography, found in his essays and his posthumously published, The Art of Biography in Antiquity, offer insight to the questions that Neil astutely grapples with on this site. As I draw near to my 7th decade of life, I strongly urge Hägg’s writings for us all to study. Thank you again, Neil, for bringing his work to our attention.

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