Divine Man – Apollonius of Tyana

Published on: Author: blibolt@uoregon.edu

The Life of Apollonius of Tyana was written by Philostratus to respond to attacks made against Apollonius. Apollonius was a philosopher who had gained a bad rap from the people around him in the first century. He was accused of using magic malevolently, which was an insult in that time. The writers of the texts accusing him intended to bash his character and reputation. Philostratus tried to refute these attacks by presenting Apollonius as a Theios Aner, or Divine Man. Many parts of The Life of Apollonius of Tyana fall under the list of characteristics of a Divine Man written by Ludwig Beiler, specifically the details about Apollonius’ birth.

When Apollonius’ mother was pregnant, an Egyptian demon in the form of a god came to her. The demon informed the soon to be mother that her son would be an Egyptian god. It is similar to the story of Jesus’ birth, when the angel of the Lord comes to Mary and tells her that her son will be the Son of God. One interesting difference between the stories is in the disposition of the women. In Apollonius’ story it is clearly stated that his mother is not afraid. In Jesus’ story it’s quite the opposite. The angel tells Mary not to be afraid, implying that she was in fact frightened. Philostratus could have written it in this way to make Apollonius look even better through the fearless attitude of his mother.

Another part of Beiler’s Divine Man criteria is the place of the birth. Apollonius was born in the meadow, and it was clearly supernatural. There were singing swans and a thunderbolt that almost struck, but didn’t. Philostratus clearly states that this was “the gods demonstrated and foretold his fame, how he would transcend the terrestrial to approach the gods, and what sort of man he would become.” (White, 59) It is clear that the author is trying to portray Apollonius as having favor or some sort of connection to the gods, making him a Divine Man.

Other than Apollonius’ birth story, there are Divine Man implications in his association with wisdom. Another one of Beiler’s characteristics, wisdom is common among people labeled “Divine Man.” Philostratus compares Apollonius’ wisdom with that of Plato, Socrates and Anaxagoras. Apollonius made many predictions and foretold the future often. This was one of the main reasons he was attacked and ridiculed. Philostratus accredits those predictions and foretellings to Apollonius’ great wisdom, claiming he excelled even above kings. (White, 59)

Apollonius’ story is very similar to those of other divine men. It meets many of the requirements posed by Ludwig Beiler and is used as propaganda and polemic. Just as Philostratus wanted to make Apollonius look better and refute the attacks against his character made by the people around him while he lived, the gospel writes of the New Testament could have done the same thing for Jesus. Jesus is clearly portrayed as a Theios Aner, and his story also falls into the requirements of Beiler.


Brad Libolt