A Summary of Pythagorean Theology

John Opsopaus

© 2002-4

Epitome Theologiae Pythagoricae

a Ioanne Opsopoeo

electa composita scripta


Being a Summary and Synthesis of Pythagorean Doctrine

on Goddesses, Gods, The One, and Theurgy

from the Master Himself until the Italian Renaissance

Part I: Introduction

Part II: Goddesses

Part III: Gods

Part IIII: The One

Part V: Theurgy 

Principal Sources

Apollonius of Tyana

Apollonius of Tyana

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Apollonius (philosopher)" redirects here. For other philosophers called Apollonius, see Apollonius.
Apollonius of Tyana
Apollonius of Tyana.jpg
Apollonius of Tyana, engraving of a 4th-century Roman bronze medallion in the Cabinet des MédaillesNational Library of France[1]
Born c. 1st-2nd Century AD
Died c. 1st-2nd Century AD
Era Ancient philosophy
Region Anatolia
School Hellenistic philosophy
Main interests

Apollonius of Tyana (Ancient GreekἈπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς; c. 15 – c. 100 AD),[2] sometimes also called Apollonios of Tyana, was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Anatolia. Being a 1st-century orator and philosopher around the time of Jesus, he was compared with Jesus of Nazareth by Christians in the 4th century[3]and by other writers in modern times.



Life dates[edit]

Apollonius was born into a respected and wealthy Greek family.[4][5] Although the precise dates of his birth and death are uncertain, most scholars agree that he was a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. His primary biographer, Philostratus the Elder (circa 170 – c. 247), places him circa 3 B.C. – c. 97 A.D.[2][6]


By far the most detailed source is the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a lengthy, novelistic biography written by the sophist Philostratus at the request of empress Julia Domna. She died in 217 A.D.,[7] and he completed it after her death, probably in the 220s or 230s A.D. Philostratus’s account shaped the image of Apollonius for posterity and still dominates discussions about him in our times. To some extent it is a valuable source because it contains data from older writings which were available to Philostratus but disappeared later on. Among these works are an excerpt (preserved by Eusebius) from On Sacrifices, and certain alleged letters of Apollonius. The sage may have actually written some of these works, along with the no-longer extant Biography of Pythagoras.[8] At least two biographical sources that Philostratus used are lost: a book by the imperial secretary Maximus describing Apollonius’s activities in Maximus's home city of Aegaeae in Cilicia, and a biography by a certain Moiragenes. There also survives, separately from the life by Philostratus, a collection of letters of Apollonius, but at least some of these seem to be spurious.[9]

One of the essential sources Philostratus claimed to know are the “memoirs” (or “diary”) of Damis, an acolyte and companion of Apollonius. Some scholars claim that the notebooks of Damis were an invention of Philostratus,[10] while others think it could have been a real book forged by someone else and naively used by Philostratus.[11]Philostratus describes Apollonius as a wandering teacher of philosophy and miracle-worker who was mainly active in Greece and Asia Minor but also traveled to Italy, Spain, and North Africa, and even to MesopotamiaIndia, and Ethiopia. In particular, he tells lengthy stories of Apollonius entering the city of Rome in disregard of emperor Nero’s ban on philosophers, and later on being summoned, as a defendant, to the court of Domitian, where he defied the emperor in blunt terms. He had allegedly been accused of conspiring against the emperor, performing human sacrifice, and predicting a plague by means of magic. Philostratus implies that upon his death, Apollonius of Tyana underwent heavenly assumption.[12]

How much of this can be accepted as historical truth depends largely on the extent to which modern scholars trust Philostratus, and in particular on whether they believe in the reality of Damis. Some of these scholars contend that Apollonius never came to Western Europe and was virtually unknown there until the 3rd century AD, when Empress Julia Domna, who was herself from the province of Syria, decided to popularize him and his teachings in Rome.[13] For that purpose, so these same scholars believe, she commissioned Philostratus to write the biography, where Apollonius is exalted as a fearless sage with supernatural powers, even greater than Pythagoras. This view of Julia Domna's role in the making of the Apollonius legend gets some support from the fact that her son Caracalla worshipped him,[14] and her grandnephew emperor Severus Alexander may have done so as well.[15]

Apollonius was also a known figure in the medieval Islamic world.[16]

Comparisons with Jesus[edit]

Biblical scholar Bart D. Ehrman relates that in the introduction to his textbook on the New Testament, he describes an important figure from the first century without first revealing he is writing about the stories attached to Apollonius of Tyana:

Even before he was born, it was known that he would be someone special. A supernatural being informed his mother the child she was to conceive would not be a mere mortal but would be divine. He was born miraculously, and he became an unusually precocious young man. As an adult he left home and went on an itinerant preaching ministry, urging his listeners to live, not for the material things of this world, but for what is spiritual. He gathered a number of disciples around him, who became convinced that his teachings were divinely inspired, in no small part because he himself was divine. He proved it to them by doing many miracles, healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead. But at the end of his life he roused opposition, and his enemies delivered him over to the Roman authorities for judgment. Still, after he left this world, he returned to meet his followers in order to convince them that he was not really dead but lived on in the heavenly realm. Later some of his followers wrote books about him.[17]

Ehrman goes on to say that Apollonius was a real person and that his followers believed Jesus to be a fraud.

Sossianus Hierocles argued in the 3rd century that the doctrines and the life of Apollonius were more valuable than those of Jesus', a viewpoint reportedly held by both Voltaire and Charles Blount during the Age of Enlightenment.[18] In his 1909 book The ChristJohn Remsburg postulated that the religion of Apollonius disappeared because the proper conditions for its development did not exist. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam thrived however, because the existing conditions were favorable.[19] In his 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell lists both Apollonius and Jesus as examples of individuals who shared similar hero stories, along with KrishnaBuddha and others.[20] Similarly, Robert M. Price in his 2011 The Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems, notes that the ancients often compared Jesus with Apollonius and that they both fit the mythic hero archetype.[21] G. K. Chesterton (the writer and Christian apologist), however, noted that the unique trial, suffering and death of Christ stand in stark opposition to the stories about Apollonius which he felt were very likely spurious.[22]

Similarities shared by the stories about Apollonius and the life of Jesus [23]

  • Birth miraculously announced by God
  • Religiously precocious as a child
  • Asserted to be a native speaker of Aramaic
  • Influenced by Plato/ reflected Platonism (Jesus)
  • [Renounced/ denounced (Jesus)] wealth
  • Followed abstinence and asceticism
  • Wore long hair and robes
  • Were unmarried and childless
  • Were anointed with oil
  • Went to Jerusalem
  • Spoke in [metaphors/ parables] (Jesus)
  • Saw and predicted the future
  • Performed miracles
  • Healed the sick
  • Cast out evil spirits/ Drove out demons (Jesus)
  • Raised the daughter of a [Roman official/ Jewish official (Jesus)] from the dead
  • Spoke as a "law-giver"
  • Was on a mission to bring [Greek culture/ Jewish culture (Jesus)] to [the "barbarians"/ the " nations" (Jesus)]
  • Believed to be "saviors" from heaven
  • Were accused of being a magician
  • Were accused of killing a boy
  • Condemned [by Roman emperor/ by Roman authorities (Jesus)]
  • Imprisoned [at Rome/ at Jerusalem (Jesus)]
  • Was assumed into heaven/ Ascended into heaven (Jesus)
  • Appeared posthumously to a detractor as a brilliant light
  • Had his image revered [in temples/ in churches (Jesus)]

Historical facts[edit]

With the exception of the Adana Inscription,[clarification needed] little can be derived from sources other than Philostratus. As James Francis put it, "the most that can be said ... is that Apollonius appears to have been a wandering ascetic/philosopher/wonderworker of a type common to the eastern part of the early empire."[24] What we can safely assume is that he was indeed a Pythagorean and as such, in conformity with the Pythagorean tradition, opposed animal sacrifice, and lived on a frugal, strictly vegetarian diet.[25] A minimalist view is that he spent his entire life in the cities of his native Asia Minor (Turkey) and of northern Syria, in particular his home town of Tyana, EphesusAegae, and Antioch,[26]though the letters suggest wider travels, and there seems no reason to deny that, like many wandering philosophers, he at least visited Rome. As for his philosophical convictions, we have an interesting, probably authentic fragment of one of his writings (On sacrifices) where he expresses his view that God, who is the most beautiful being, cannot be influenced by prayers or sacrifices and has no wish to be worshipped by humans, but can be reached by a spiritual procedure involving nous (intellect), because he himself is pure nous and nous is also the greatest faculty of humankind.[27]


Philostratus implies on one occasion that Apollonius had extra-sensory perception (Book VIII, Chapter XXVI). When emperor Domitian was murdered on September 18, 96 AD, Apollonius was said to have witnessed the event in Ephesus "about midday" on the day it happened in Rome, and told those present "Take heart, gentlemen, for the tyrant has been slain this day...". Both Philostratus and renowned historian Cassius Dio report this incident, probably on the basis of an oral tradition.[citation needed] Both state that the philosopher welcomed the deed as a praiseworthy tyrannicide.[28]

Journey to India[edit]

Philostratus devoted two and a half of the eight books of his Life of Apollonius (1.19–3.58) to the description of a journey of his hero to India. According to Philostratus' Life, en route to the Far East, Apollonius reached Hierapolis Bambyce (Manbij) in Syria (not Nineveh, as some scholars believed), where he met Damis, a native of that city who became his lifelong companion. Pythagoras, whom the Neo-Pythagoreans regarded as an exemplary sage, was believed to have travelled to India. Hence such a feat made Apollonius look like a good Pythagorean who spared no pains in his efforts to discover the sources of oriental piety and wisdom. As some details in Philostratus’ account of the Indian adventure seem incompatible with known facts, modern scholars are inclined to dismiss the whole story as a fanciful fabrication, but not all of them rule out the possibility that the Tyanean actually did visit India.[29]

What seemed to be independent evidence showing that Apollonius was known in India has now been proved to be forged. In two Sanskrit texts quoted by Sanskritist Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya in 1943[30] he appears as "Apalūnya", in one of them together with Damis (called "Damīśa"), it is claimed that Apollonius and Damis were Western yogis, who later on were converted to the correct Advaita philosophy.[31] Some have believed that these Indian sources derived their information from a Sanskrit translation of Philostratus’ work (which would have been a most uncommon and amazing occurrence), or even considered the possibility that it was really an independent confirmation of the historicity of the journey to India.[32] Only in 1995 were the passages in the Sanskrit texts proven to be interpolations by a late 19th century forger.[33]


Several writings and many letters have been ascribed to Apollonius, but some of them are lost; others have only been preserved in parts or fragments of disputed authenticity. Porphyry and Iamblichus refer to a biography of Pythagoras by Apollonius, which has not survived; it is also mentioned in the Suda.[34] Apollonius wrote a treatise On sacrifices, of which only a short, probably authentic fragment has come down to us.[35]

Philostratus' Life and the anthology assembled by Joannes Stobaeus contain purported letters of Apollonius. Some of them are cited in full, others only partially. There is also an independently transmitted collection of letters preserved in medieval manuscripts. It is difficult to determine what is authentic and what not. Some of the letters may have been forgeries or literary exercises assembled in collections which were already circulated in the 2nd century AD.[citation needed] It has been asserted that Philostratus himself forged a considerable part of the letters he inserted into his work; others were older forgeries available to him.[36]

A wandering philosopher, probably representing Apollonius of Tyana, who lived a part of his life in Crete and died there. Found in Gortyn (late 2nd century AD), now in Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Crete.



In the 2nd century the satirist Lucian of Samosata was a sharp critic of Neo-Pythagoreanism. After 180 AD he wrote a pamphlet where he attacked Alexander of Abonoteichus, a student of one of Apollonius’ students, as a charlatan; and suggested that the whole school was based on fraud.[37] From this we can infer that Apollonius really had students and that his school survived at least until Lucian’s time. One of Philostratus’ foremost aims was to oppose this view. Although he related various miraculous feats of Apollonius, he emphasized at the same time that his hero was not a magician, but a serious philosopher and a champion of traditional Greek values.[38]

When Emperor Aurelian conducted his military campaign against the Palmyrene Empire, he captured Tyana in 272 AD. According to the Historia Augusta he abstained from destroying the city after having a vision of Apollonius admonishing him to spare the innocent citizens.[39]

In Philostratus’ description of Apollonius’ life and deeds there are a number of similarities with the life and especially the claimed miracles of Jesus. Perhaps this parallel was intentional, but the original aim was hardly to present Apollonius as a rival of Jesus. However, in the late 3rd century Porphyry, an anti-Christian Neoplatonic philosopher, claimed in his treatise Against the Christians that the miracles of Jesus were not unique, and mentioned Apollonius as a non-Christian who had accomplished similar achievements. Around 300, Roman authorities used the fame of Apollonius in their struggle to wipe out Christianity. Hierocles, one of the main instigators of the persecution of Christians in 303, wrote a pamphlet where he argued that Apollonius exceeded Christ as a wonder-worker and yet wasn’t worshipped as a god, and that the cultured biographers of Apollonius were more trustworthy than the uneducated apostles. This attempt to make Apollonius a hero of the anti-Christian movement provoked sharp replies from bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and from Lactantius.[40]Eusebius wrote an extant reply to the pamphlet of Hierocles, where he claimed that Philostratus was a fabulist and that Apollonius was a sorcerer in league with demons. This started a debate on the relative merits of Jesus and Apollonius that has gone on in different forms into modern times.

In Late Antiquity talismans made by Apollonius appeared in several cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, as if they were sent from heaven. They were magical figures and columns erected in public places, meant to protect the cities from afflictions. The great popularity of these talismans was a challenge to the Christians. Some Byzantine authors condemned them as sorcery and the work of demons, others admitted that such magic was beneficial; none of them claimed that it didn’t work.[41]

In the Western Roman EmpireSidonius Apollinaris was a Christian admirer of Apollonius in the 5th century. He produced a Latin translation of Philostratus’ Life, which is lost.[42]


The Tablet of Wisdom written by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, names "Balinus" (Apollonius) as a great philosopher, who "surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication."[43][44] The use of talismans is commonplace in Bábí and (to a lesser extent) Bahá'í writings.[45]

Modern era[edit]

Beginning in the early 16th century, there was great interest in Apollonius in Europe, but the traditional ecclesiastical viewpoint prevailed, and until the Age of Enlightenment the Tyanean was usually treated as a demonic magician and a great enemy of the Church who collaborated with the devil and tried to overthrow Christianity.[46]

Comparisons between Apollonius and Jesus became commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries in the context of polemic about Christianity.[47] Several advocates of Enlightenment, deism and anti-Church positions saw him as an early forerunner of their own ethical and religious ideas, a proponent of a universal, non-denominational religion compatible with Reason. These comparisons continued into the 20th century.

  • In 1680, Charles Blount, a radical English deist, published the first English translation of the first two books of Philostratus' Life with an anti-Church introduction.
  • In the Marquis de Sade's Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man, the Dying Man compares Jesus to Apollonius as a false prophet.
  • Some early to mid 20th century Theosophists, notably C.W. LeadbeaterAlice A. Bailey, and Benjamin Creme, have maintained that Apollonius of Tyana was the reincarnation of the being they call the Master JesusHelena Blavatsky in 1881 refers to Appolonius of Tyana as "the great thaumaturgist of the second century A.D"[48]
  • In the mid 20th century, the American ex-patriate poet Ezra Pound evoked Apollonius in his later Cantos as a figure associated with sun-worship and as a messianic rival to Christ. Pound identified him as Aryan within an anti-semitic mythology, and celebrated his Sun worship and aversion to ancient Jewish animal sacrifice.
  • In Gerald Messadié's The Man Who Became God, Apollonius appeared as a wandering philosopher and magician of about the same age as Jesus; the two of them supposedly met.
  • In his 1965 introduction to a reprint of Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie's 1900 book The Gospel of Apollonius of Tyana (a retelling of Philostratus' biography), Hilton Hotema compared Apollonius to Jesus by noting that there is much historical data surrounding the life of the Tyanean, but that "Jesus is unknown outside of the New Testament. [49]

In fiction[edit]

  • In Bengali poet Alaol's translation of Nizami Ganjavi's Iskandernamah, Apollonius (mentioned as Balinas) helps Alexander ward off magic spells of a Zarthustrian fire-worshiper on the way to Ispahan.
  • In Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Anthony, Apollonius appears as one of the magicians who tempt the main character.
  • Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao and its 1964 film adaptation, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In these, Apollonius works in the circus as a fortune-teller, who is under a curse — he sees the future, but can only speak the exact truth, thus seeming to be cruel and hateful. In the film version, he is blind and weary after many years of predicting disappointment for his clients.
  • The plot of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's 1948 fantasy novel The Carnelian Cube hinges on a magical artifact passed down by Apollonius.
  • In the 1975 work The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, Apollonius appears in discussion with Abbie Hoffman.
  • Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1977 television series The Fantastic Journey in the seventh episode, "Funhouse". In this episode, Apollonius attempts to take possession of the scientist Willaway in a funhouse but is thwarted by Varian, "a man from the future possessing awesome powers".
  • Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1996 short story "The Garden of Tantalus" by Brian Stableford, which combines two of the accounts from Life of Apollonius of Tyana and removes the mystical aspects, turning it into a detective story. The narrator, Menippus from the account of Apollonius and the lamia, blames Damis for making Apollonius a magician by elaborating on what little of the story he knew. The story was published in Classical Whodunnits (1996).
  • Apollonius serves as mentor to a main character in Steven Saylor's historical novel Empire for much of the work.
  • In Keats' poem about the lamia myth, he mentions Apollonius' intervention, revealing Lamia's true form to her lover Lycius (commonly called Menippus in the myth).
  • in Friedrich Schiller's gothic novel "The Ghost-Seer", the Sicilian trickster suggests Apollonius as one of the possible identities of the Incomprehensible.
  • Apollonius of Tyana has a major role in the background to Richard Cowper's story "The Custodians". The story assumes that Apollonius discovered a scientific way of "seeing" the future and that his method was re-discovered by a Medieval sage. A succession of "Custodians" at a monastery in South France, using an "Apolloniän Nexus" then saw and wrote down events fifty years in their future, until a final one in the 20th century saw in advance - but could not prevent - a destructive nuclear war.
  • In Ki Longfellow's The Secret Magdalene Apollonius meets Yehoshua the Nazarene (Jesus) in a monastery atop Mount Carmel. While there Apollonius, who was legendarily told he would be overshadowed by a greater man, recognized Yehoshua as that greater man.
  • In Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Found in Saragossa the story of Menippus of Lycia's encounter with Apollonius of Tyana is recounted. It is taken from book three of Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana. The story is recounted during the eleventh day.


  • Philostratus: Apollonius of Tyana. Letters of Apollonius, Ancient Testimonia, Eusebius’s Reply to Hierocles, ed. Christopher P. Jones, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 2006 (Loeb Classical Library no. 458), ISBN 0-674-99617-8 (Greek texts and English translations)
  • Philostratus: The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, ed. Christopher P. Jones, vol. 1 (Books I–IV) and 2 (Books V–VIII), Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 2005 (Loeb Classical Library no. 16 and no. 17), ISBN 0-674-99613-5 and ISBN 0-674-99614-3 (Greek text and English translation)

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ Elsner, J (2007). Roman eyes: visuality and subjectivity in art and text. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-691-09677-3.
  2. Jump up to:a b Dzielska, M (1986). "On the memoirs of Damis". Apollonius of Tyana in legend and history. Rome: L'Erma di Bretschneider. pp. 19–50. ISBN 88-7062-599-0.
  3. Jump up^ Eusebius of Caesarea, Contra Hieroclem discusses the claim.
  4. Jump up^ Haughton, B (2009). Hidden History: Lost Civilizations, Secret Knowledge, and Ancient Mysteries. ReadHowYouWant. p. 448. ISBN 1442953322Apollonius was born around AD2 in Tyana (modern day Bor in southern Turkey), in the Roman province of Cappadocia. He was born into a wealthy and respected Cappadocian Greek family, and received the best education, studying grammar and rhetoric in Tarsus, learning medicine at the temple of Aesculapius at Aegae, and philosophy at the school of Pythagoras.
  5. Jump up^ Abraham, RJ (2009). Magic and religious authority in Philostratus' "Life of Apollonius of Tyana". ScholarlyCommons. p. 37. OCLC 748512857Philostratus likewise emphasizes the pure Greek origin of Apollonius. He calls Tyana "a Greek city in the region of..."
  6. Jump up^ Philostratus, LF; Eells, CP (1923). Life and times of Apollonius of Tyana. Stanford, California: Stanford University publications: University series. p. 3.
  7. Jump up^ Philostratus; Jones, Christopher P. (2005), The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Harvard University Press, p. 2, ISBN 0-674-99613-5
  8. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 138–146.
  9. Jump up^ For discussion see Bowie, 1676-1678.
  10. Jump up^ Among others, E. L. Bowie, "Apollonius of Tyana: Tradition and Reality" (ANRW 2, no. 16, 2) [1978] pp. 1663-1667.
  11. Jump up^ Jaap-Jan Flinterman: Power, Paideia and Pythagoreanism, Amsterdam 1995, pp. 79–88; Dzielska pp. 12–13, 19–49, 141
  12. Jump up^ Philostratus, LIfe of Apollonius 8.30-31.
  13. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 83–85, 186–192.
  14. Jump up^ Cassius Dio 77.18.4; see on this Dzielska pp. 56, 59–60.
  15. Jump up^ Historia AugustaVita Alexandri 29.2; the credibility of this information is doubted by Dzielska p. 174.
  16. Jump up^ Martin Plessner: Balinus, in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 1, Leiden 1960, pp. 994-995; Ursula Weisser: Das „Buch über das Geheimnis der Schöpfung“ von Pseudo-Apollonios von Tyana, Berlin 1980, pp. 23-39; Dzielska pp. 112-123.
  17. Jump up^ Bart D. Ehrman Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth HarperCollins, USA. 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-220460-8 pp. 208-209
  18. Jump up^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2
  19. Jump up^ Remsburg, JE (1909). "Christ's real existence impossible". The Christ: a critical review and analysis of the evidences of his existence. New York: The Truth Seeker Company. pp. 13–23.
  20. Jump up^ Clinton Bennett. In Search of Jesus: Insider and Outsider Images Continuum, 2001, p. 206, ISBN 0826449166
  21. Jump up^ Robert M. PriceThe Christ-Myth Theory and its Problems, Atheist Press, 2011, p.20, ISBN 9781578840175
  22. Jump up^ G.K.Chesteron "Everlasting Man"
  23. Jump up^ Conybeare, Frederick Cornwallis (1989). The life of Apollonius of Tyana. Harvard University Press.
  24. Jump up^ James A. Francis: "Truthful Fiction: New Questions to Old Answers on Philostratus' Life of Apollonius", in: American Journal of Philology 119 (1998) p. 419.
  25. Jump up^ Johannes Haussleiter: Der Vegetarismus in der Antike, Berlin 1935, pp. 299–312.
  26. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 51–79.
  27. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 139–141.
  28. Jump up^ Cassius Dio 67.18; Philostratus, Vita Apollonii 8.26–27. See also Dzielska pp. 30–32, 41.
  29. Jump up^ Graham Anderson: Philostratus, London 1986, pp. 199–215; Flinterman pp. 86–87, 101–106.
  30. Jump up^ Bhattacharya, The Āgamaśātra of Gaudapāda (University of Calcutta Press) 1943 (reprint Delhi 1989).
  31. Jump up^ Bhattacharya (1943) 1989, pp. LXXII–LXXV.
  32. Jump up^ The Cambridge History of Classical Literature, vol. 1, ed. P.E. Easterling/B.M.W. Knox, Cambridge 1985, p. 657; Dzielska p. 29; Anderson p. 173; Flinterman p. 80 n. 113.
  33. Jump up^ Simon Swain: "Apollonius in Wonderland", in: Ethics and Rhetoric, ed. Doreen Innes, Oxford 1995, pp. 251–54.
  34. Jump up^ Flinterman pp. 76–79; Dzielska pp. 130–134.
  35. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 129–130, 136–141, 145–149.
  36. Jump up^ Flinterman pp. 70-72; Dzielska pp. 38-44, 54, 80-81, 134-135.
  37. Jump up^ Lucian of Samosata: Alexander, or The False Prophet, in: Lucian, vol. 4, ed. A.M. Harmon, Cambridge (Mass.) 1992 (Loeb Classical Library no. 162), pp. 173-253 (Apollonius is mentioned on p. 182).
  38. Jump up^ Flinterman pp. 60-66, 89-106.
  39. Jump up^ Historia AugustaVita Aureliani 24.2-9; 25.1.
  40. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 15, 98-103, 153-157, 162.
  41. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 99-127, 163-165.
  42. Jump up^ Sidonius Apollinaris, Epistolae 8.3; for the interpretation of this passage see André Loyen (ed.), Sidoine Apollinaire, vol. 3: Lettres (Livres VI-IX), Paris 1970, pp. 196-197.
  43. Jump up^ Bahá'u'lláh, Lawh-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom) in: Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas,Wilmette 1988, pp. 135-152, §31.
  44. Jump up^ Brown, Keven (1997). Hermes Trismegistus and Apollonius of Tyana in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, in: Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá’í Theology, ed. Jack McLean, Los Angeles , pp. 153-187.
  45. Jump up^ Smith, Peter (2000). "talismans"A concise encyclopedia of the Bahá'í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld Publications. pp. 333–334. ISBN 1-85168-184-1.
  46. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 193-204.
  47. Jump up^ Dzielska pp. 204-209.
  48. Jump up^
  49. Jump up^ The Gospel of Apollonius of Tyana, Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, M.D., 1900, reprinted 1965 with a new introduction by Professor Hilton Hotema, Health Research, Mokelumne Hill, CA


External links[edit]


Gemistus Pletho

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gemistus Pletho
Benozzo Gozzoli, Pletone, Cappella dei Magi.jpg
Portrait of Gemistus Pletho, detail of a fresco by acquaintance Benozzo GozzoliPalazzo Medici RiccardiFlorence, Italy
Born 1355
Died 1452/1454
Era Renaissance philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Neoplatonism
Main interests
Plato's RepublicAncient Greek religionZoroastrianism
One of Plethon's manuscripts, in Greek, written in the early 15th century

Georgius Gemistus (GreekΓεώργιος Γεμιστόςc. 1355 – 1452/1454), later called Plethon (/ˈplθɒn-θən/) or Pletho (/ˈplθ/Πλήθων), was a Greek scholar of Neoplatonic philosophy. He was one of the chief pioneers of the revival of Greek learning in Western Europe. In the dying years of the Byzantine Empire, he advocated a return to the Olympian gods of the ancient world.[1]

He re-introduced Plato's thoughts to Western Europe during the 1438–1439 Council of Florence, a failed attempt to reconcile the East-West schism. Here Pletho met and influenced Cosimo de' Medici to found a new Platonic Academy, which, under Marsilio Ficino, would proceed to translate into Latin all Plato's works, the Enneads of Plotinus, and various other Neoplatonist works.




Early life and study[edit]

George Gemistos was born some time after 1355, probably in Constantinople.[2] As a young man he went to study at Adrianopolis, by now the Ottoman capital following its capture by the Ottoman Sultan Murad I in 1365. Adrianopolis was now a centre of learning modelled by Murat on the caliphates of Cairo and Baghdad.[2] He admired Plato (Greek: Plátōn) so much that late in life he took the similar-meaning name Plethon.[3] In c1407 Gemistos left Adrianopolis and travelled through CyprusPalestine and other places,[2] finally settling in Mistra,[4] in the Despotate of Morea.

Teacher and magistrate in Mistra[edit]

In Mistra he taught and wrote philosophy, astronomy, history and geography, and compiled digests of many classical writers. His pupils included Basilios Bessarion and George Scholarius (later to become Patriarch of Constantinople and Plethon's enemy). He was made chief magistrate by Theodore II.[2]

Plethon was the author of De Differentiis, a detailed comparison between Plato and Aristotles' conceptions of God. Scholarios later defended Aristotle and convinced the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos that Plethon's support for Plato amounted to heresy. Manuel had Plethon confined in Mistra, though he remained something of a celebrity. In 1415 and 1418[4] he wrote pamphlets to Theodore and Manuel describing how the Empire could be reorganized according to Plato's Republic, with political, legal and economic reforms, and gained even greater reputation as a legal thinker, with rumours that he carried entire legal codes in his memory.[2] He also wrote a Summary of the Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato, which detailed his own eclectic polytheistic beliefs. These works did not help to clear him of the charge of heresy. He also wrote about the condition of the Peloponnesus, compiled several volumes of excerpts from ancient authors, and wrote a number of works on geographymusic, and other subjects.

Lecturing in Florence[edit]

In 1428 Gemistos was consulted by Emperor John VIII on the issue of unifying the Greek and Latin churches, and advised that both delegations should have equal voting power.[2] Byzantine scholars had been in contact with their counterparts in Western Europe since the time of the Latin Empire, and especially since the Byzantine Empire had begun to ask for Western European help against the Ottomans in the 14th century. Western Europe had some access to ancient Greek philosophy through the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslims, but the Byzantines had many documents and interpretations that the Westerners had never seen before. Byzantine scholarship became more fully available to the West after 1438, when Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus attended the Council of Ferrara, later known as the Council of Florence, to discuss a union of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. Despite being a secular philosopher, Plethon was chosen to accompany John VIII on the basis of his renowned wisdom and morality. Other delegates included Plethon's former students Bessarion, Mark Eugenikos and Scholarios.[5]

As a secular scholar, Plethon was often not needed at the council. Instead, at the invitation of some Florentine humanists he set up a temporary school to lecture on the difference between Plato and Aristotle. Few of Plato's writings were studied in the Latin West at that time,[6] and he essentially reintroduced much of Plato to the Western world, shaking the domination which Aristotle had come to exercise over Western European thought in the high and later middle agesCosimo de' Medici attended these lectures and was inspired to found the Accademia Platonica in Florence, where Italian students of Plethon continued to teach after the conclusion of the council.[5] Because of this, Plethon is considered one of the most important influences on the Italian RenaissanceMarsilio Ficino, the Florentine humanist and the first director of the Accademia Platonica, paid Plethon the ultimate honour, calling him 'the second Plato', while Cardinal Bessarion speculated as to whether Plato's soul occupied his body. Plethon may also have been the source for Ficino's Orphic system of natural magic.[2]

While still in Florence, Plethon summarised his lectures in a volume titled On the Differences of Aristotle from Plato, commonly called De DifferentiisGeorge Scholarius responded with a Defence of Aristotle, which elicited Plethon's subsequent Reply. Expatriate Byzantine scholars and later Italian humanists continued the argument.[5]

Mystery school[edit]

On his return to the Peloponnese, Gemistos founded a school. He taught polytheism as opposed to monotheism, and some of his students prayed to statues of the pagan deities.[2]

Pletho died in Mistra in 1452, or in 1454, according to J. Monfasani (the difference between the two dates being significant as to whether or not Pletho still lived to know of the Fall of Constantinople in 1453). In 1466, some of his Italian disciples, headed by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, stole his remains from Mistra and interred them in the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, "so that the great Teacher may be among free men".


Reform of the Peloponnese[edit]

Believing that the Peloponnesians were direct descendants of the ancient Hellenes, Pletho rejected Justinian's idea of a universal Empire in favour of recreating the Hellenistic civilization, the zenith of Greek influence,[7] In his 1415 and 1418 pamphlets urged Manuel II and his son Theodore to turn the peninsula into a cultural island with a new constitution of strongly centralised monarchy advised by a small body of middle-class educated men. The army must be composed only of professional native Greek soldiers, who would be supported by the taxpayers, or "Helots" who would be exempt from military service. Land was to be publicly owned, and a third of all produce given to the state fund; incentives would be given for cultivating virgin land. Trade would be regulated and the use of coinage limited, barter instead being encouraged; locally available products would be supported over imports. Mutilation as a punishment would be abolished, and chain gangs introduced. Homosexuals, as sexual deviants, would be burnt at the stake. In these pamphlets Plethon touched little on religion, although he expressed disdain for monks, who "render no service to the common good". He vaguely prescribed three religious principles: belief in a supreme being; that this being has concern for mankind; and that it is uninfluenced by gifts or flattery. Manuel and Theodore did not act on any of these reforms.[4]

De Differentiis[edit]

In De Differentiis Plethon compares Aristotle's and Plato's conceptions of God, arguing that Plato credits God with more exalted powers as "creator of every kind of intelligible and separate substance, and hence of our entire universe", while Aristotle has Him as only the motive force of the universe; Plato's God is also the end and final cause of existence, while Aristotle's God is only the end of movement and change.[5] Plethon derides Aristotle for discussing unimportant matters such as shellfish and embryos while failing to credit God with creating the universe,[5] for believing the heavens are composed of a fifth element, and for his view that contemplation was the greatest pleasure; the latter aligned him with Epicurus, Plethon argued, and he attributed this same pleasure-seeking to monks, whom he accused of laziness.[2] Later, in response to GennadiusDefence of Aristotle, Plethon argued in his Reply that Plato's God was more consistent with Christian doctrine than Aristotle's, and this, according to Darien DeBolt, was probably in part an attempt to escape suspicion of heterodoxy.[5]


After his death, Pletho's Nómon singrafí (Νόμων συγγραφή) or Nómoi (Νόμοι "Book of Laws") was discovered. He had been compiling it throughout most of his adult life, and it became famous as the most heretical of his works, detailing his esoteric beliefs.[2] It came into the possession of Princess Theodora, wife of Demetriosdespot of Morea. Theodora sent the manuscript to Scholarius, now Gennadius II, Patriarch of Constantinople, asking for his advice on what to do with it; he returned it, advising her to destroy it. Morea was under invasion from Sultan Mehmet II, and Theodora escaped with Demetrios to Constantinople where she gave the manuscript back to Gennadius, reluctant to destroy the only copy of such a distinguished scholar's work herself. Gennadius burnt it in 1460, however in a letter to the Exarch Joseph (which still survives) he details the book, providing chapter headings and brief summaries of the contents.[5] It seemed to represent a merging of Stoic philosophy and Zoroastrian mysticism, and discussed astrologydaemons and the migration of the soul. He recommended religious rites and hymns to petition the classical gods, such as Zeus, whom he saw as universal principles and planetary powers. Man, as relative of the gods, should strive towards good. Plethon believed the universe has no beginning or end in time, and being created perfect, nothing may be added to it. He rejected the concept of a brief reign of evil followed by perpetual happiness, and held that the human soul is reincarnated, directed by the gods into successive bodies to fulfill divine order. This same divine order, he believed, governed the organisation of bees, the foresight of ants and the dexterity of spiders, as well as the growth of plants, magnetic attraction, and the amalgamation of mercury and gold.[2]

Pletho drew up plans in his Nómoi to radically change the structure and philosophy of the Byzantine Empire in line with his interpretation of Platonism. The new state religion was to be founded on a hierarchical pantheon of Pagan Gods, based largely upon the ideas of Humanism prevalent at the time, incorporating themes such as rationalism and logic. As an ad-hoc measure he also supported the reconciliation of the two churches in order to secure Western Europe support against the Ottomans.[8] He also proposed more practical, immediate measures, such as rebuilding the Hexamilion, the ancient defensive wall across the Isthmus of Corinth, which had been breached by the Ottomans in 1423.

The political and social elements of his theories covered the creation of communities, government (he promoted benevolent monarchy as the most stable form), land ownership (land should be shared, rather than individually owned), social organisation, families, and divisions of sex and class. He believed that labourers should keep a third of their produce, and that soldiers should be professional. He held that love should be private not because it is shameful, but because it is sacred.[2]


Plethon's own summary of the Nómoi also survived, amongst manuscripts held by his former student Bessarion. This summary, titled Summary of the Doctrines of Zoroaster and Plato, affirms the existence of a pantheon of gods, with Zeus as supreme sovereign, containing within himself all being in an undivided state; his eldest child, motherless, is Poseidon, who created the heavens and rules all below, ordaining order in the universe. Zeus' other children include an array of "supercelestial" gods, the Olympians and Tartareans, all motherless. Of these Hera is third in command after Poseidon, creatress and ruler of indestructible matter, and the mother by Zeus of the heavenly gods, demi-gods and spirits. The Olympians rule immortal life in the heavens, the Tartareans mortal life below, their leader Kronos ruling over mortality altogether. The eldest of the heavenly gods is Helios, master of the heavens here and source of all mortal life on earth. The gods are responsible for much good and no evil, and guide all life towards divine order. Plethon describes the creation of the universe as being perfect and outside of time, so that the universe remains eternal, without beginning or end. The soul of man, like the gods is immortal and essentially good, and is reincarnated in successive mortal bodies for eternity at the direction of the gods.[5]

Other works[edit]

His tomb on a side of Tempio MalatestianoRimini.

Many of Pletho's other works still exist in manuscript form in various European libraries. Most of Pletho's works can be found in J. P. MignePatrologia Graeca, collection; for a complete list see FabriciusBibliotheca Graeca (ed. Harles), xii.

In modern literature[edit]

Early in his writing career, E. M. Forster attempted a historical novel about Gemistus Pletho and Sigismondo de Malatesta, but was not satisfied with the result and never published it — though he kept the manuscript and later showed it to Naomi Mitchison.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up^ Richard Clogg, Woodhouse, Christopher Montague, fifth Baron Terrington (1917–2001)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2005
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l Merry, Bruce (2002) "George Gemistos Plethon (c. 1355/60–1452)" in Amoia, Alba & Knapp, Bettina L., Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  3. Jump up^ Πλήθων: "the full", pronounced [ˈpliθon]. Plethon is also an archaic translation of the Greek γεμιστός gemistós ("full, stuffed")
  4. Jump up to:a b c Burns, James Henderson (ed.) (1991). The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought C. 350 - C. 1450. Cambridge University Press. pp. 77–8.
  5. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h DeBolt, Darien C. (1998) George Gemistos Plethon on God: Heterodoxy in Defence of Orthodoxy. A paper delivered at the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy, Boston, Mass. Retrieved 2008-11-20.
  6. Jump up^ Timaeus in the partial translation of Calcidius was available; Henricus Aristippus' 12th century translation of the Meno and Phaedo was available, but obscure; Leonardo Bruni's translations of the PhaedoApologyCrito and Phaedrus appeared only shortly before Plethon's visit. (DeBolt)
  7. Jump up^ James Henderson Burns, The Cambridge history of medieval political thought c. 350-c. 1450, Cambridge University Press, 1988
  8. Jump up^ Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 7, p.356
  9. Jump up^ Mentioned in a 1925 letter to Mitchison, quoted in her autobiography You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920–1940Mitchison, Naomi (1986) [1979]. "11: Morgan Comes to Tea". You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920–1940. London: Fontana Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0-00-654193-6.


  • Benakis, A. G. and Baloglou, Ch. P., Proceedings of the International Congress of Plethon and His Time, Mystras, 26–29 June 2002, Athens-Mystras, 2003 ISBN 960-87144-1-9
  • Brown, Alison M., 'Platonism in fifteenth century Florence and its contribution to early modern political thought', Journal of Modern History 58 (1986), 383–413.
  • Harris, Jonathan, 'The influence of Plethon's idea of fate on the historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles', in: Proceedings of the International Congress on Plethon and his Time, Mystras, 26–29 June 2002, ed. L.G. Benakis and Ch.P. Baloglou (Athens: Society for Peloponnesian and Byzantine Studies, 2004), pp. 211–17
  • Vojtech Hladky, The Philosophy of Gemistos Plethon. Platonism in Late Byzantium, between Hellenism and Orthodoxy, Ashgate, Farnham-Burlington, 2014 ISBN 978-1-4094-5294-2
  • Keller, A., 'Two Byzantine scholars and their reception in Italy',in: Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 20 (1957), 363-70
  • Mandilas, Kostas, Georgius Gemistos Plethon (Athens 1997)* ISBN 960-7748-08-5
  • Masai, François, Pléthon et le platonisme de Mistra (Paris, 1956)
  • Monfasani, John, 'Platonic paganism in the fifteenth century', in: John Monfasani, Byzantine Scholars in Renaissance Italy: Cardinal Bessarion and Other Émigrés, (Aldershot, 1995), no. X
  • Runciman, Steven, The Last Byzantine Renaissance (Cambridge, 1970)
  • Setton, Kenneth M. 'The Byzantine background to the Italian Renaissance', in: Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 100 (1956), 1–76.
  • Tambrun, Brigitte. Pléthon. Le retour de Platon, Paris, Vrin, 2006 ISBN 2-7116-1859-5
  • Tambrun-Krasker, Brigitte, Georges Gémiste Pléthon, Traité des vertus. Édition critique avec introduction, traduction et commentaire, Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi, Philosophi Byzantini 3, Athens-The Academy of Athens, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1987.
  • Tambrun-Krasker, Brigitte, Magika logia tôn apo Zoroastrou magôn, Georgiou Gemistou Plêthônos Exêgêsis eis ta auta logia. Oracles chaldaïques. Recension de Georges Gémiste Pléthon. Edition critique avec introduction, traduction et commentaire par Brigitte Tambrun-Krasker. La recension arabe des Magika logia par Michel Tardieu, Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi, Philosophi Byzantini 7, Athens-The Academy of Athens, Paris, Librairie J. Vrin, Bruxelles, éditions Ousia, 1995, LXXX+187 p.
  • Tambrun, Brigitte, "Pletho" (article) in: W.J. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, J.-P. Brach ed., Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 2005, 2006.
  • Vassileiou, Fotis & Saribalidou, Barbara, Short Biographical Lexicon of Byzantine Academics Immigrants in Western Europe, 2007.
  • Viglas, Katelis, 'Alexandre Joseph Hidulphe Vincent on George Gemistos Plethon', Anistoriton Journal, Vol. 13, No 1, 2012–2013, 1–12
  • Woodhouse, Cristopher MontagueGeorge Gemistos Plethon - The Last of the Hellenes (Oxford, 1986)
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Georgius Gemistus Plethon". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]