Apollonius of Tyana.

The annals of ancient history are peculiarly rich in narratives of pretension and imposition, and either owing to the greater ignorance and credulity of mankind, or the superior skill of gifted but unscrupulous men in those days, present a few examples that even surpass the most remarkable products of the modern science of humbug.

One of their most surprising instances⁠—in fact, perhaps, absolutely the leading impostor⁠—was the sage or charlatan (for it is difficult to determine which) known as Apollonius Tyanaeus so called from Tyana, in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, his birthplace, where he first saw the light about four years earlier than Christ, and consequently more than eighteen and a half centuries ago. His arrival upon this planet was attended with some very amazing demonstrations. With his first cry, a flash of lightning darted from the heavens to the Earth and back again, dogs howled, cats mewed, roosters crowed, and flocks of swans, so say the olden chroniclers⁠—probably geese, every one of them⁠—clapped their wings in the adjacent meadows with a supernatural clatter. Ushered into the world with such surprising omens as these, young Apollonius could not fail to make a noise himself, ere long. Sent by his doting father to Tarsus, in Cilicia, to be educated, he found the dissipations of the place too much for him, and soon removed to Aegae, a smaller city, at no great distance from the other. There he adopted the doctrines of Pythagoras, and subjected himself to the regular discipline of that curious system whose first process was a sort of juvenile gag-law, the pupils being required to keep perfectly silent for a period of five years, during which time it was forbidden to utter a single word. Even in those days, few female scholars preferred this practice, and the boys had it all to themselves, nor were they by any means numerous. After this probation was over, they were enjoined to speak and argue with moderation.

At Aegae there stood a temple dedicated to Aesculapius, who figured on Earth as a great physician and compounder of simples, and after death was made a god. The edifice was much larger and more splendid than the Brandreth House on Broadway, although we have no record of Aesculapius having bestowed upon the world any such benefaction as the universal pills. However, unlike our modern M.D.s, the latter was in the habit of reappearing after death, in this temple, and there holding forth to the faithful on various topics of domestic medicine. Apollonius was allowed to take up his residence in the establishment, and, no doubt, the priests initiated him into all their dodges to impose upon the people. Another tenet of the Pythagorean faith was a total abstinence from beans, an arrangement which would be objectionable in New England and in Nassau Street eating houses.

Apollonius however, who knew nothing of Yankees or Nassau Street, manfully completed his novitiate. Restored at length to the use of beans and of his talking apparatus, he set forth upon a lecturing tour through Pamphylia and Cilicia. His themes were temperance, economy, and good behavior, and for the very novelty of the thing, crowds of disciples soon gathered about him. At the town of Aspenda he made a great hit, when he “pitched into” the corn merchants who had bought up all the grain during a period of scarcity, and sold it to the people at exorbitant prices. Of course, such things are not permitted in our day! Apollonius moved by the sufferings of women and children, took his stand in the market place, and with his stylus wrote in large characters upon a tablet the following advice to the speculators in grain:

“The Earth, the common mother of all, is just. But, ye being unjust, would make her a bountiful mother to yourselves alone. Leave off your dishonest traffic, or ye shall be no longer permitted to live.”

The grain-merchants, upon beholding this appeal, relented, for there was conscience in those days; and, moreover, the populace had prepared torches, and proposed to fry a few of the offenders, like oysters in breadcrumbs. So they yielded at once, and great was the fame of the prophet. Thus elevated in his own opinion, Apollonius, still preaching virtue by the wayside, set out for Babylon, after visiting the cities of Antioch, Ephesus, etc., always attracting immense crowds. As he penetrated further toward the remote East, his troops of followers fell off, until he was left with only three companions, who went with him to the end. One of these was a certain Damis, who wrote a description of the journey, and, by the way, tells us that his master spoke all languages, even those of the animals. We have men in our own country who can talk “horse-talk” at the races, but probably none so perfectly as this great Tyanean. The author of The Ruined Cities of Africa, a recent publication, informs us that at Lamba, an African village, there is a leopard who can “speak.” This would go to show that the “animals,” are aspiring in a direction directly the opposite of the acquirements of Apollonius, and I shall secure that leopard, if possible, for exhibition in the Museum, and for a fair consideration send him to any public meeting where someone is needed who will come up to the scratch!

But, to resume. On his way to Babylon, Apollonius saw by the roadside a lioness and eight whelps, where they had been killed by a party of hunters, and argued from the omen that he should remain in that city just one year and eight months, which of course turned out to be exactly the case. The Babylonish monarch was so delighted with the eloquence and skill of the noted stranger, that he promised him any twelve gifts that he might choose to ask for, but Apollonius declined accepting anything but food and raiment. However, the King gave him camels and escort to assist his journey over the northern mountains of Hindustan, which he crossed, and entered the ancient city of Taxilia. On the way, he had a high time in the gorges of the hills with a horrible hobgoblin of the species called empusa by the Greeks. This demon terrified his companions half out of their wits, but Apollonius bravely assailed him with all sorts of hard words, and, to literally translate the old Greek narrative, “blackguarded” him so effectually that the poor devil fled with his tail between his legs. At Taxilia, Phraortes, the King, a lineal descendant of the famous Porus⁠—and truly a porous personage, since he was renowned for drinking⁠—gave the philosopher a grand reception, and introduced him to the chief of the Brahmins, whose temples he explored. These Hindu gentlemen opened the eyes of Apollonius wider than they had ever been before, and taught him a few things he had never dreamed of, but which served him admirably during his latter career. He returned to Europe by way of the Red Sea, passing through Ephesus, where he vehemently denounced the speculators in gold and other improper persons. As they did not heed him, he predicted the plague, and left for Smyrna. Sure enough, the pestilence broke out just after his departure, and the Ephesians telegraphed to Smyrna, by the only means in their power, for his immediate return; gold, in the meanwhile, falling at least ten percent. Apollonius reappeared in the twinkling of an eye, suddenly, in the very midst of the wailing crowd, on the market place. Pointing to a beggar, he directed the people to stone that particular unfortunate, and they obeyed so effectually, that the hapless creature was in a few moments completely buried under a huge heap of brickbats. The next morning, the philosopher commanded the throng to remove the pile of stones, and as they did so, a dog was discovered instead of the beggar. The dog sprang up, wagged his tail, and made away at “two-forty” and with him the pestilence departed. For this feat, the Ephesians called Apollonius a god, and reared a statue to his honor. The appellation of divinity he willingly accepted, declaring that it was only justice to good men. In these degenerate days, we have accorded the term to only one person, “the divine Fanny Ellsler!” That, too, was a tribute to superior understanding!

Our hero next visited Pergamus, the site of ancient Troy, where he shut himself up all night in the tomb of Achilles; and having raised the great departed, held conversation with him on a variety of military topics. Among other things, Achilles told him that the theory of his having been killed by a wound in the heel was all nonsense, as he had really died from being bitten by a puppy, in the back. If the reader does not believe me, let him consult the original MS. of Damis. The same accident has disabled several great generals in modern times.

Apollonius next made a tour through Greece, visiting Athens, Sparta, Olympia, and other cities, and exhorting the dissolute Greeks to mend their evil courses. The Spartans, particularly, came in for a severe lecture on the advantages of soap and water; and, it is said, that the first clean face ever seen in that republic was the result of the great Tyanean’s teachings. At Athens, he cured a man possessed of a demon; the latter bouncing out of his victim, at length, with such fury and velocity as to dash down a neighboring marble statue.

The Isle of Crete was the next point on the journey, and an earthquake occurring at the time, Apollonius suddenly exclaimed in the streets:

“The Earth is bringing forth land.”

Folks looked as he pointed toward the sea, and there beheld a new island in the direction of Therae.

He arrived at Rome, whither his fame had preceded him, just as the Emperor Nero had issued an edict against all who dealt in magic; and, although he knew that he was included in the denunciation, he boldly went to the forum, where he restored to life the dead body of a beautiful lady, and predicted an eclipse of the sun, which shortly occurred. Nero caused him to be arrested, loaded with chains, and flung into an underground dungeon. When his jailers next made their rounds, they found the chains broken and the cell empty, but heard the chanting of invisible angels. This story would not be believed by the head jailer at Sing Sing.

Prolonging his trip as far as Spain, Apollonius there got up a sedition against the authority of Nero, and thence crossed over into Africa. This was the darkest period of his history. From Africa, he proceeded to the South of Italy and the island of Sicily, still discoursing as he went. About this time, he heard of Nero’s death, and returned to Egypt, where Vespasian was endeavoring to establish his authority. While in Egypt, he explored the supposed sources of the Nile, and learned all the lore of the Ethiopean necromancers, who could do anything, even to making a black man white; thus greatly excelling the skill of after ages.

Vespasian had immense faith in the Tyanean sage, and consulted him upon the most important matters of State. Titus, the successor of that monarch, manifested equal confidence, and regarded him absolutely as an oracle. Apollonius, who really seems to have been a most sensible politician, wrote the following brief but pithy note to Titus, when the latter modestly refused the crown of victory, after having destroyed Jerusalem.

“Apollonius to Titus, Emperor of Rome, sendeth greeting. Since you have refused to be applauded for bloodshed and victory in war, I send you the crown of moderation. You know to what kind of merit crowns are due.”

Yet Apollonius was by no means an ultra peace man, for he strongly advocated the shaving and clothing of the Ethiopians, and their thorough chastisement when they refused to be combed and purified.

When Domitian grasped at the imperial sceptre, the great Tyanean sided with his rival, Nerva, and having for this offense been seized and cast into prison, suddenly vanished from sight and reappeared on the instant at Puteoli, one hundred and fifty miles away. The distinguished Mr. Jewett, of Colorado, is the only instance of similar rapidity of locomotion known to us in this country and time.

After taking breath at Puteoli, the sage resumed his travels and revisited Greece, Asia Minor, etc. At Ephesus he established his celebrated school, and then, once more returning to Crete, happened to give his old friends, the Cretans, great offense, and was shut up in the temple Dictymna to be devoured by famished dogs; but the next morning was found perfectly unharmed in the midst of the docile animals, who had already made considerable progress in the Pythagorean philosophy, and were gathered around the philosopher, seated on their hind legs, with open mouths and lolling tongues, intently listening to him while he lectured them in the canine tongue. So devoted had they become to their eloquent instructor, and so enraged were they at the interruption when the Cretans reopened the temple, that they rushed out upon the latter and made a breakfast of a few of the leading men.

This is one of the last of the remarkable incidents that we find recorded of the mighty Apollonius. How he came to his end is quite uncertain, but some veracious chroniclers declare that he simply dried up and blew away. Others aver that he lived to the good old age of ninety-seven, and then quietly gave up the ghost at Tyana, where a temple was dedicated to his memory.

However that may be, he was subsequently worshiped with divine honors, and so highly esteemed by the greatest men of after days, that even Aurelian refused to sack Tyana, out of respect to the philosopher’s ashes.

Dion Cassius, the historian, records one of the most remarkable instances of his clairvoyance or second sight. He states that Apollonius, in the midst of a discourse at Ephesus, suddenly paused, and then in a different voice, exclaimed, to the astonishment of all:⁠—“Have courage, good Stephanus! Strike! strike! Kill the tyrant!” On that same day, the hated Domitian was assassinated at Rome by a man named Stephanus. The humdrum interpretation of this “miracle” is simply that Apollonius had a foreknowledge of the intended attempt upon the tyrant’s life.

Long afterwards, Cagliostro claimed that he had been a fellow-traveler with Apollonius, and that his mysterious companion, the sage Athlotas, was the very same personage, who, consequently, at that time, must have reached the ripe age of some 1784 years⁠—a lapse of time beyond the memory of even “the oldest inhabitant,” in these parts, at least!