Rome (3/3)

Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana in Asia Minor was born nearly at the same time as Jesus Christ, and acquired great reputation while he lived, and for a considerable time after. He was born of wealthy parents, and seems early to have betrayed a passion for philosophy. His father, perceiving this, placed him at fourteen years of age under Euthydemus, a rhetorician of Tarsus; but the youth speedily became dissatisfied with the indolence and luxury of the citizens, and removed himself to Aegas, a neighbouring town, where was a temple of Aesculapius, and where the God was supposed sometimes to appear in person. Here he became professedly a disciple of the sect of Pythagoras. He refrained from animal food, and subsisted entirely on fruits and herbs. He went barefoot, and wore no article of clothing made from the skins of animals. He further imposed on himself a noviciate of five years silence. At the death of his father, he divided his patrimony equally with his brother; and, that brother having wasted his estate by prodigality, he again made an equal division with him of what remained. He travelled to Babylon and Susa in pursuit of knowledge, and even among the Brachmans of India, and appears particularly to have addicted himself to the study of magic. He was of a beautiful countenance and a commanding figure, and, by means of these things, combined with great knowledge, a composed and striking carriage, and much natural eloquence, appears to have won universal favour wherever he went. He is said to have professed the understanding of all languages without learning them, to read the thoughts of men, and to be able to interpret the language of animals. A power of working miracles attended him in all places.

On one occasion he announced to the people of Ephesus the approach of a terrible pestilence; but the citizens paid no attention to his prophecy. The calamity however having overtaken them, they sent to Apollonius who was then at Smyrna, to implore his assistance. He obeyed the summons. Having assembled the inhabitants, there was seen among them a poor, old and decrepid beggar, clothed in rags, hideous of visage, and with a peculiarly fearful and tremendous expression in his eyes. Apollonius called out to the Ephesians, “This is an enemy to the Gods; turn all your animosity against him, and stone him to death!” The old man in the most piteous tones besought their mercy. The citizens were shocked with the inhumanity of the prophet. Some however of the more thoughtless flung a few stones, without any determined purpose. The old man, who had stood hitherto crouching, and with his eyes half-closed, now erected his figure, and cast on the crowd glances, fearful, and indeed diabolical. The Ephesians understood at once that this was the genius of the plague. They showered upon him stones without mercy, so as not only to cover him, but to produce a considerable mound where he had stood. After a time Apollonius commanded them to take away the stones, that they might discover what sort of an enemy they had destroyed. Instead of a man they now saw an enormous black dog, of the size of a lion, and whose mouth and jaws were covered with a thick envenomed froth.

Another miracle was performed by Apollonius in favour of a young man, named Menippus of Corinth, five and twenty years of age, for whom the prophet entertained a singular favour. This man conceived himself to be beloved by a rich and beautiful woman, who made advances to him, and to whom he was on the point of being contracted in marriage. Apollonius warned his young friend against the match in an enigmatical way, telling him that he nursed a serpent in his bosom. This however did not deter Menippus. All things were prepared; and the wedding table was spread. Apollonius meanwhile came among them, and prevented the calamity. He told the young man that the dishes before him, the wine he was drinking, the vessels of gold and silver that appeared around him, and the very guests themselves were unreal and illusory; and to prove his words, he caused them immediately to vanish. The bride alone was refractory. She prayed the philosopher not to torment her, and not to compel her to confess what she was. He was however inexorable. She at length owned that she was an empuse (a sort of vampire), and that she had determined to cherish and pamper Menippus, that she might in the conclusion eat his flesh, and lap up his blood.

One of the miracles of Apollonius consisted in raising the dead. A young woman of beautiful person was laid out upon a bier, and was in the act of being conveyed to the tomb. She was followed by a multitude of friends, weeping and lamenting, and among others by a young man, to whom she had been on the point to be married. Apollonius met the procession, and commanded those who bore it, to set down the bier. He exhorted the proposed bridegroom to dry up his tears. He enquired the name of the deceased, and, saluting her accordingly, took hold of her hand, and murmured over her certain mystical words. At this act the maiden raised herself on her seat, and presently returned home, whole and sound, to the house of her father.

Towards the end of his life Apollonius was accused before Domitian of having conspired with Nerva to put an end to the reign of the tyrant. He appears to have proved that he was at another place, and therefore could not have engaged in the conspiracy that was charged upon him. Domitian publicly cleared him from the accusation, but at the same time required him not to withdraw from Rome, till the emperor had first had a private conference with him. To this requisition Apollonius replied in the most spirited terms. “I thank your majesty,” said he, “for the justice you have rendered me. But I cannot submit to what you require. How can I be secure from the false accusations of the unprincipled informers who infest your court? It is by their means that whole towns of your empire are unpeopled, that provinces are involved in mourning and tears, your armies are in mutiny, your senate full of suspicion and alarms, and the islands are crowded with exiles. It is not for myself that I speak, my soul is invulnerable to your enmity; and it is not given to you by the Gods to become master of my body.” And, having thus given utterance to the virtuous anguish of his spirit, he suddenly became invisible in the midst of a full assembly, and was immediately after seen at Puteoli in the neighbourhood of Mount Vesuvius.

Domitian pursued the prophet no further; and he passed shortly after to Greece, to Ionia, and finally to Ephesus. He every where delivered lectures as he went, and was attended with crowds of the most distinguished auditors, and with the utmost popularity. At length at Ephesus, when he was in the midst of an eloquent harangue, he suddenly became silent. He seemed as if he saw a spectacle which engrossed all his attention. His countenance expressed fervour and the most determined purpose. He exclaimed, “Strike the tyrant; strike him!” and immediately after, raising himself, and addressing the assembly, he said, “Domitian is no more; the world is delivered of its bitterest oppressor.”—The next post brought the news that the emperor was killed at Rome, exactly on the day and at the hour when Apollonius had thus made known the event at Ephesus.

Nerva succeeded Domitian, between whom and Apollonius there subsisted the sincerest friendship. The prophet however did not long survive this event. He was already nearly one hundred years old. But what is most extraordinary, no one could tell precisely when or where he died. No tomb bore the record of his memory; and his biographer inclines to the opinion that he was taken up into heaven.

Divine honours were paid to this philosopher, both during his life, and after his death. The inhabitants of Tyana built a temple to him, and his image was to be found in many other temples. The emperor Adrian collected his letters, and treated them as an invaluable relic. Alexander Severus placed his statue in his oratory, together with those of Jesus Christ, Abraham and Orpheus, to whom he was accustomed daily to perform the ceremonies of religion. Vopiscus, in his Life of Aurelian, relates that this emperor had determined to rase the city of Tyana, but that Apollonius, whom he knew from his statues, appeared to him, and said, “Aurelian, if you would conquer, do not think of the destruction of my citizens: Aurelian, if you would reign, abstain from the blood of the innocent: Aurelian, if you would conquer, distinguish yourself by acts of clemency.” It was at the desire of Julia, the mother of Severus, that Philostratus composed the life of Apollonius, to which he is now principally indebted for his fame.

The publicity of Apollonius and his miracles has become considerably greater, from the circumstance of the early enemies of the Christian religion having instituted a comparison between the miracles of Christ and of this celebrated philosopher, for the obvious purpose of undermining one of the most considerable evidences of the truth of divine revelation. It was probably with an indirect view of this sort that Philostratus was incited by the empress Julia to compose his life of this philosopher; and Hierocles, a writer of the time of Dioclesian, appears to have penned an express treatise in the way of a parallel between the two, attempting to shew a decisive superiority in the miracles of Apollonius.

Apuleius
Apuleius of Madaura in Africa, who lived in the time of the Antonines, appears to have been more remarkable as an author, than for any thing that occurs in the history of his life. St. Augustine and Lactantius however have coupled him with Apollonius of Tyana, as one of those who for their pretended miracles were brought into competition with the author of the Christian religion. But this seems to have arisen from their misapprehension respecting his principal work, the Golden Ass, which is a romance detailing certain wonderful transformations, and which they appear to have thought was intended as an actual history of the life of the author.

The work however deserves to be cited in this place, as giving a curious representation of the ideas which were then prevalent on the subjects of magic and witchcraft. The author in the course of his narrative says: “When the day began to dawn, I chanced to awake, and became desirous to know and see some marvellous and strange things, remembering that I was now in the midst of Thessaly, where, by the common report of the world, sorceries and enchantments are most frequent. I viewed the situation of the place in which I was; nor was there any thing I saw, that I believed to be the same thing which it appeared. Insomuch that the very stones in the street I thought were men bewitched and turned into that figure, and the birds I heard chirping, the trees without the walls, and the running waters, were changed from human creatures into the appearances they wore. I persuaded myself that the statues and buildings could move, that the oxen and other brute beasts could speak and tell strange tidings, and that I should see and hear oracles from heaven, conveyed on the beams of the sun.”

Alexander the Paphlagonian
At the same time with Apuleius lived Alexander the Paphlagonian, of whom so extraordinary an account is transmitted to us by Lucian. He was the native of an obscure town, called Abonotica, but was endowed with all that ingenuity and cunning which enables men most effectually to impose upon their fellow-creatures. He was tall of stature, of an impressive aspect, a fair complexion, eyes that sparkled with an awe-commanding fire as if informed by some divinity, and a voice to the last degree powerful and melodious. To these he added the graces of carriage and attire. Being born to none of the goods of fortune, he considered with himself how to turn these advantages to the greatest account; and the plan he fixed upon was that of instituting an oracle entirely under his own direction. He began at Chalcedon on the Thracian Bosphorus; but, continuing but a short time there, he used it principally as an opportunity for publishing that Aesculapius, with Apollo, his father, would in no long time fix his residence at Abonotica. This rumour reached the fellow-citizens of the prophet, who immediately began to lay the foundations of a temple for the reception of the God. In due time Alexander made his appearance; and he so well managed his scheme, that, by means of spies and emissaries whom he scattered in all directions, he not only collected applications to his prophetic skill from the different towns of Ionia, Cilicia and Galatia, but presently extended his fame to Italy and Rome. For twenty years scarcely any oracle of the known world could vie with that of Abonotica; and the emperor Aurelius himself is said to have relied for the success of a military expedition upon the predictions of Alexander the Paphlagonian.

Lucian gives, or pretends to give, an account of the manner in which Alexander gained so extraordinary a success. He says, that this young man in his preliminary travels, coming to Pella in Macedon, found that the environs of this city were distinguished from perhaps all other parts of the world, by a breed of serpents of extraordinary size and beauty. Our author adds that these serpents were so tame, that they inhabited the houses of the province, and slept in bed with the children. If you trod upon them, they did not turn again, or shew tokens of anger, and they sucked the breasts of the women to whom it might be of service to draw off their milk. Lucian says, it was probably one of these serpents, that was found in the bed of Olympias, and gave occasion to the tale that Alexander the Great was begotten by Jupiter under the form of a serpent. The prophet bought the largest and finest serpent he could find, and conveyed it secretly with him into Asia. When he came to Abonotica, he found the temple that was built surrounded with a moat; and he took an opportunity privately of sinking a goose-egg, which he had first emptied of its contents, inserting instead a young serpent just hatched, and closing it again with great care. He then told his fellow-citizens that the God was arrived, and hastening to the moat, scooped up the egg in an egg-cup in presence of the whole assembly. He next broke the shell, and shewed the young serpent that twisted about his fingers in presence of the admiring multitude. After this he suffered several days to elapse, and then, collecting crowds from every part of Paphlagonia, he exhibited himself, as he had previously announced he should do, with the fine serpent he had brought from Macedon twisted in coils about the prophet’s neck, and its head hid under his arm-pit, while a head artfully formed with linen, and bearing some resemblance to a human face, protruded itself, and passed for the head of the reptile. The spectators were beyond measure astonished to see a little embryo serpent, grown in a few days to so magnificent a size, and exhibiting the features of a human countenance.

Having thus far succeeded, Alexander did not stop here. He contrived a pipe which passed seemingly into the mouth of the animal, while the other end terminated in an adjoining room, where a man was placed unseen, and delivered the replies which appeared to come from the mouth of the serpent. This immediate communication with the God was reserved for a few favoured suitors, who bought at a high price the envied distinction.

The method with ordinary enquirers was for them to communicate their requests in writing, which they were enjoined to roll up and carefully seal; and these scrolls were returned to them in a few days, with the seals apparently unbroken, but with an answer written within, strikingly appropriate to the demand that was preferred.—It is further to be observed, that the mouth of the serpent was occasionally opened by means of a horsehair skilfully adjusted for the purpose, at the same time that by similar means the animal darted out its biforked tongue to the terror of the amazed bystanders.

Revolution Produced in the History of Necromancy and Witchcraft upon the Establishment of Christianity
It is necessary here to take notice of the great revolution that took place under Constantine, nearly three hundred years after the death of Christ, when Christianity became the established religion of the Roman empire. This was a period which produced a new era in the history of necromancy and witchcraft. Under the reign of polytheism, devotion was wholly unrestrained in every direction it might chance to assume. Gods known and unknown, the spirits of departed heroes, the Gods of heaven and hell, abstractions of virtue or vice, might unblamed be made the objects of religious worship. Witchcraft therefore, and the invocation of the spirits of the dead, might be practised with toleration; or at all events were not regarded otherwise than as venial deviations from the religion of the state.

It is true, there must always have been a horror of secret arts, especially of such as were of a maleficent nature. At all times men dreaded the mysterious power of spells and incantations, of potent herbs and nameless rites, which were able to control the eternal order of the planets, and the voluntary operations of mind, which could extinguish or recal life, inflame the passions of the soul, blast the works of creation, and extort from invisible beings and the dead the secrets of futurity. But under the creed of the unity of the divine nature the case was exceedingly different. Idolatry, and the worship of other Gods than one, were held to be crimes worthy of the utmost abhorrence and the severest punishment. There was no medium between the worship of heaven and hell. All adoration was to be directed to God the Creator through the mediation of his only begotten Son; or, if prayers were addressed to inferior beings, and the glorified spirits of his saints, at least they terminated in the Most High, were a deprecation of his wrath, a soliciting his favour, and a homage to his omnipotence. On the other hand sorcery and witchcraft were sins of the blackest dye. In opposition to the one only God, the creator of heaven and earth, was the “prince of darkness,” the “prince of the power of the air,” who contended perpetually against the Almighty, and sought to seduce his creatures and his subjects from their due allegiance. Sorcerers and witches were supposed to do homage and sell themselves to the devil, than which it was not in the mind of man to conceive a greater enormity, or a crime more worthy to cause its perpetrators to be exterminated from the face of the earth. The thought of it was of power to cause the flesh of man to creep and tingle with horror: and such as were prone to indulge their imaginations to the utmost extent of the terrible, found a perverse delight in conceiving this depravity, and were but too much disposed to fasten it upon their fellow-creatures.

Magical Consultations Respecting the Life of the Emperor
It was not within the range of possibility, that such a change should take place in the established religion of the empire as that from Paganism to Christianity, without convulsions and vehement struggle. The prejudices of mankind on a subject so nearly concerned with their dearest interests and affections must inevitably be powerful and obstinate; and the lucre of the priesthood, together with the strong hold they must necessarily have had on the weakness and superstition of their flocks, would tend to give force and perpetuity to the contention. Julian, a man of great ability and unquestionable patriotism, succeeded to the empire only twenty-four years after the death of Constantine; and he employed the most vigorous measures for the restoration of the ancient religion. But the reign of Julian was scarcely more than eighteen months in duration: and that of Jovian, his successor, who again unfurled the standard of Christianity, lasted hardly more than half a year. The state of things bore a striking similarity to that of England at the time of the Protestant Reformation, where the opposite faiths of Edward the Sixth and his sister Mary, and the shortness of their reigns, gave preternatural keenness to the feelings of the parties, and instigated them to hang with the most restless anticipation upon the chances of the demise of the sovereign, and the consequences, favourable or unfavourable, that might arise from a new accession.

The joint reign of Valentinian and Valens, Christian emperors, had now lasted several years, when information was conveyed to these princes, and particularly to the latter, who had the rule of Asia, that numerous private consultations were held, as to the duration of their authority, and the person of the individual who should come after them. The succession of the Roman empire was elective; and consequently there was almost an unlimited scope for conjecture in this question. Among the various modes of enquiry that were employed we are told, that the twenty-four letters of the alphabet were artificially disposed in a circle, and that a magic ring, being suspended over the centre, was conceived to point to the initial letters of the name of him who should be the future emperor. Theodorus, a man of most eminent qualifications, and high popularity, was put to death by the jealousy of Valens, on the vague evidence that this kind of trial had indicated the early letters of his name. It may easily be imagined, that, where so restless and secret an investigation was employed as to the successor that fate might provide, conspiracy would not always be absent. Charges of this sort were perpetually multiplied; informers were eager to obtain favour or rewards by the disclosures they pretended to communicate; and the Christians, who swayed the sceptre of the state, did not fail to aggravate the guilt of those who had recourse to these means for satisfying their curiosity, by alleging that demons were called up from hell to aid in the magic solution. The historians of these times no doubt greatly exaggerate the terror and the danger, when they say, that the persons apprehended on such charges in the great cities outnumbered the peaceable citizens who were left unsuspected, and that the military who had charge of the prisoners, complained that they were wholly without the power to restrain the flight of the captives, or to control the multitude of partisans who insisted on their immediate release. The punishments were barbarous and indiscriminate; to be accused was almost the same thing as to be convicted; and those were obliged to hold themselves fortunate, who escaped with a fine that in a manner swallowed up their estates.

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