THEOSOPHY, Vol. 24, No. 9, July, 1936
(Pages 385-395; Size: 30K)
(Number 4 of a 29-part series)

GREAT THEOSOPHISTS

APOLLONIUS OF TYANA

THE great Theosophist of the first century B.C. was Jesus the Christ. The great Theosophist of the first century A.D. was Apollonius of Tyana. The lives of these two men are marked by striking similarities and by equally striking differences. The similarities are found in their aim, purpose and teaching, and are explained by the fact that both were members of that great Fraternity of Perfected Men who stand behind the Theosophical Movement. The differences are found in their personal lives and in the way they presented their philosophy.

Jesus is not an historical character. The great historians of the first two centuries do not mention him. As Moncure D. Conway says in Modern Thought:

"The world has been for a long time engaged in writing lives of Jesus. In the fourth gospel it is said: 'There are also many other things that Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.' The library of such books has grown since then. But when we come to examine them, one startling fact confronts us: all of these books relate to a personage concerning whom there does not exist a single scrap of contemporary information -- not one! By accepted tradition he was born in the reign of Augustus, the great literary age of the nation of which he was a subject. In the Augustan age historians flourished; poets, orators, critics and travelers abounded. Yet not one mentions the name of Jesus Christ, much less any incident in his life."
Apollonius of Tyana was, on the contrary, a well-known historical figure. The parents of Jesus -- whoever they were -- were obscure and humble people. Apollonius belonged to a prominent and well-known family, whose ancestors had founded the city of Tyana where he was born.

The friends and disciples of Jesus were drawn from the poorer classes. Apollonius was the friend of Kings and Emperors. He was at one time the personal adviser of the Emperor Vespasian, and the great Emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius admitted that he owed his philosophy to Apollonius.

"From Apollonius I have learned freedom of will and understanding, steadiness of purpose, and to look to nothing else, not even for a moment, except to reason." (Marcus Aurelius).
Jesus was not one of the travelling Adepts. There is no record of his having been in any country save his own native Judea and Egypt. Apollonius was the most famous traveller of his day. He visited every country in the then known world with the exception of Britain, Germany and China. He travelled extensively through Italy, Greece, Spain, Africa, Asia Minor, Persia and India, teaching wherever he went.

In Athens, Apollonius taught from the same porch which had once echoed to the wisdom of Socrates. He lectured on the island of Samos, where Pythagoras had conducted his school. He spoke in the grounds where Plato's Academy had stood. He taught in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, above the entrance of which were engraved those immortal words: Man, know thyself! He was teaching in Crete on the day of the great eruption of Vesuvius, when the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were destroyed. He taught in Italy, Spain and northern Africa, which was then called Mauretania. He lived for a long time in the city of Alexandria, holding his classes in the Temple of Serapis. He went up the Nile as far as Thebes and Karnak. He celebrated the festival of Neith in the ancient city of Saïs, where stands the ever-veiled statue of this goddess with its inscription: I am all that has been, and is, and shall be, and my veil no mortal has withdrawn. And all of these travels were carefully recorded and preserved.

Jesus left nothing in writing. Apollonius was the author of a voluminous philosophical literature. All of his works were collected by the Emperor Hadrian, and preserved in his palace at Antium. The records of Apollonius' life in Greece are so important that, were it not for the works of Apollonius and the books of Pausanius, we would have had no history of Greece between the year 52 B.C. and the fifth century A.D.

There is, unfortunately, no accurate record of Jesus' life. The one most commonly accepted is found in the four Gospels. But this record was not written by Jesus himself, nor by any of his immediate disciples. As Fauste, the great Manichean of the third century writes:

"Every one knows that the Evangeliums were written neither by Jesus nor his apostles, but long after their time by some unknown persons, who, judging well that they would hardly be believed when telling of things they had not seen themselves, headed their narratives with the names of the apostles or of disciples contemporaneous with the latter."
The record of Apollonius' life is, on the contrary, quite complete. It was written by a personal friend and devoted disciple of Apollonius who was his constant companion for more than fifty years, and who made a daily report of all that Apollonius did or said during that time. This record was transcribed and put into book form by one of the most famous historians of the day, and was published in the year 210 A.D. -- over a hundred years before the Gospels appeared.

The compiler of this book was Philostratus, who is called the Talleyrand of the second century. He was a famous scholar, the author of a large number of philosophical and historical books, and the close friend of the Emperor Severus and his wife, Julia Domna. Severus was a Neo-Platonist and Julia Domna was one of the most famous women in history. She was a philosopher of note, and surrounded herself with the greatest intellects of the day. She also founded one of the great libraries of that age, which was subsequently "cleared of its philosophical chaff" by the Christian Emperor Justinian, and completely destroyed in the sixth century by Pope Gregory.

The Emperor Severus and his wife were great admirers of Apollonius, and it was at the Empress' request that Philostratus compiled his Life of Apollonius from the manuscripts which had been entrusted to her care. A copy of this work, written in Greek, may be found in the Library of Congress. No English translation appeared until the year 1809. In that year the Reverend Edward Berwick, Vicar of Leixlip, Ireland, published his own translation with profuse apologies to the Christian world for the similarities (which all would notice) between the life of Jesus and that of Apollonius.

The world today may be unaware of those similarities. The world of the second and third centuries was only too well aware of them. The Church of that day was basing its claim of Jesus' divinity upon the miracles that he is said to have performed. But Apollonius was performing the same miracles before their very eyes, and at the same time refusing to call them miracles, claiming them to be but expressions of natural law. One day Apollonius met a funeral procession, bearing the body of a young girl who had just died. He stopped the procession with these words: "Set down the bier, and I will dry the tears being shed for this maid." In a few moments the maid arose and joined her friends. Apollonius was asked how such "miracles" were possible, and answered:

"There is no death of anything save in appearance. That which passes over from essence to nature seems to be birth, and what passes over from nature to essence seems to be death. Nothing really is originated, and nothing ever perishes; but only now comes into sight and now vanishes. It appears by reason of the density of matter, and disappears by reason of the tenuity of essence. But it is always the same, differing only in motion and condition."
The "miracles" performed by Apollonius caused great consternation in the young Christian Church. Justin Martyr, the great Church Father of the second century, pertinently asked:
"How is it that the talismans of Apollonius have power over certain members of creation, for they prevent, as we see, the fury of the waves, the violence of the winds, and the attacks of wild beasts. And whilst Our Lord's miracles are preserved by tradition alone, those of Apollonius are most numerous, and actually manifested in present facts, so as to lead astray all beholders?"
Ralston Skinner, author of the Source of Measures, believes that this similarity "serves to explain why the Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus has been so carefully kept back from translation and popular reading." He says that those who have studied this work in the original are forced to the conclusion that either the Life of Apollonius has been taken from the New Testament, or the New Testament from Philostratus' work. As the New Testament did not appear until a hundred years after the publication of Philostratus' book, the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.

Philostratus probably knew the commotion his book would cause in the Christian world. Possibly he wrote it for that very reason. For he was a devoted admirer of Pythagoras, and as such must have taken pleasure in bringing into public notice the noble character of one who was a strict and zealous follower of the Pythagorean School. In defending the position of Apollonius, Philostratus says:

"Some consider him as one of the Magi(1), because he conversed with the Magi of Babylon and the Brahmans of India and the Gymnosophists of Egypt. But even his wisdom is reviled as being acquired by the magic art, so erroneous are the opinions formed of him. Whereas Empedocles and Pythagoras and Democritus, though they conversed with the same Magi, and advanced many paradoxical sentiments, have not fallen under the like imputation. Even Plato, who travelled in Egypt, and blended with his doctrines many opinions collected there from the priests and prophets, incurred not such a suspicion, though envied above all men on account of his superior wisdom."
Philostratus, then, must be admired as one of those who called for a restitution of borrowed robes, and the vindication of calumniated, but glorious reputations. And in bringing certain parts of this old book, (now long out of print) to the notice of Theosophical students, the same object is kept in view.

This book, like all others of a similar character, has both a literal and a symbolic meaning. If it is studied symbolically, it will be found to contain the whole of the Hermetic philosophy. Apollonius' journey to India represents the trials of a neophyte, and his conversations with the Sages of Kashmir would, if properly interpreted, give the esoteric catechism. Many of the secret dogmas of Hermes are explained in symbolical language by the great Adept Iarchas, and his words would disclose, if understood, some of the most important secrets of nature.

Apollonius was born in the year 1 A.D. in the Greek town of Tyana in Cappadocia. He came of an ancient and aristocratic line, and was brought up in wealth and luxury. His birth, like that of most great Teachers, was out of the ordinary.

"Whilst his mother was of child with him, Proteus the Egyptian God appeared to her. The woman asked him what she should bring forth. To which he replied: 'Thou shalt bring forth me!' This you may suppose excited her curiosity to ask again who he was, and he said he was the Egyptian God Proteus."
When his mother neared the time of her delivery, she was told to go to a certain meadow and gather flowers. When she approached the meadow, a flock of swans formed a circle around her, singing and clapping their wings. At the moment of Apollonius' birth, a thunderbolt came out of the sky, arose to heaven and disappeared in the blue.

The child Apollonius possessed great intelligence. At the age of fourteen he was sent to the city of Tarsus, then a place of great learning and culture. But Apollonius would not rest until he had gained his father's permission to leave Tarsus and go to Aegea, where he hoped to find a more congenial atmosphere and a greater opportunity for philosophical study. In Aegea he soon contacted disciples of the Pythagorean School, and at the age of sixteen he adopted the Pythagorean discipline. From that time on he ate no meat, drank no wine, wore clothes made entirely of plant fibres, and allowed his hair to grow long. There he entered the Temple of Aesculapius, was initiated by the priests, and learned the art of healing as Jesus had learned it with the Therapeutae in Egypt. Later he turned the Temple of Aesculapius into a Lyceum similar in character to the Lyceums founded by Pericles, Cicero and Aristotle. Finally he took a vow of silence which lasted for five years, during which period he never uttered a word.

At the end of his stay in Aegea he went to Antioch, where he taught for many years. The platform of his work is described by one of his biographers, Daniel M. Tredwell.

"He maintained that the only good was moral excellence, the only true satisfaction, independence of external circumstances, and consequently held that wealth was an obstacle to the development of virtue. The whole of his life was spent, the whole of his teachings are founded, on the idea that all men are called to receive and practice truth. He speaks and acts as a reformer everywhere. He had no narrow notions of nationality, no local clique to serve. He came to no chosen people, but to all mankind."
All during those years his thoughts had been fixed on far-off India where he had been told that those Mahatmas lived who stood nearest to the source of wisdom. During his stay in Antioch he had acquired seven disciples. But when he spoke of a journey to India, their enthusiasm waned. And so he finally set off on his journey accompanied only by two scribes, one of whom could write rapidly, the other beautifully. When he reached the city of Ninus, a young man by the name of Damis attached himself to Apollonius and accompanied him throughout all his subsequent wanderings. It was Damis who wrote the account of Apollonius' travels which Philostratus compiled at the request of the Empress Julia Domna.

After all their arrangements had been completed, the wanderers set out upon their long journey, which would carry them into new and strange places and finally lead them into the presence of the Masters. Their first resting place was the city of Babylon, where Apollonius met the Magi and was initiated by them into the Chaldean Mysteries. The King of Babylon became his friend and furnished him with camels and a guide for his trip.

It was early spring when Apollonius and Damis began their long journey. We can see them, mounted upon their camels, crossing the desert wastes of Arabia, finally reaching the rose-scented land of Persia where Omar, a thousand years later, begged that he might be buried "so that roses might blow over his tomb." They were received everywhere with enthusiasm, for their caravan was headed by a camel wearing an ornament of gold, proclaiming to the world that friends of the King of Babylon were upon the road.

And all through the sultry days, lulled by the sleepy tinkle of the camel bells, Apollonius talked with his friend Damis. Sometimes they laughed and spoke of trivial things. But Apollonius always tried to bring the mind of his friend to the consideration of spiritual matters, using the commonplace to illustrate the divine. One day, shortly after they had begun their ascent of the Hindu Kush, Apollonius said to Damis:

"Pray tell me, Damis, where were we yesterday?"

"On the plain," answered Damis.

"And where are we today?"

"On the Caucusus, if I am not mistaken."

"Then," said Apollonius, "yesterday we were below; today we are above. In what respect do these conditions differ?"

"In this," said Damis, "that yesterday's journey has been made by many travellers; but this day's journey has been made by the few."

And so, in this simple manner, Apollonius was able to call the attention of his friend to the Path and the Few that find it.

On another day they were watching the great white eagles that soared majestically above their heads. And Apollonius used this occasion to tell his friend the story of Prometheus and how it symbolized the Egos who incarnated in men long, long ago. Then he explained the Indian origin of the Greek myths, and told Damis that

"The Greeks and Indians have different opinions about Bacchus. The Indians affirm that Bacchus was the son of the River Indus, and that the Theban Bacchus was his disciple."
At last they reached the city of Taxila, which lies near the modern city of Rawalpindi, close to the border of Kashmir. In front of the city walls stood a large Temple made of porphyry and enriched with ornaments of gold. There they rested until the King was ready to receive them, and there Apollonius, speaking of the art of painting, told Damis how the mind itself paints indelible pictures on the astral light(2).

Apollonius found the King of Taxila a philosopher and a disciple of the very Mahatmas he was seeking. The King gave him the necessary requirements for one who wished to study with the Masters. He said:

"A young man must go beyond the Hyphasis and see the men to whom you are going. When he comes into their presence, he must make a public declaration of studying philosophy; and they have it in their power, if they think proper, to refuse admitting him to their society if he does not come pure. And when no stigma is discovered, the youth's character is then examined. Such information as relates to the candidates individually, is acquired by a minute investigation of their looks. Wise men, and such as are deep read in nature, see the tempers and dispositions of men just as they see objects in a mirror. In this country philosophy is deemed of such high price, and so honored by the Indians, that it is very necessary to have all examined who approach her."
When Apollonius and Damis took their departure, they carried with them a letter from the King of Taxila to the Sages of Kashmir:
"King Phroates to Iarchas, his Master; and to the Wise Men with him -- health.

Apollonius, a man famed for wisdom, thinks you have more knowledge than himself, and goes to be instructed in it. Send him away learned in all you know, and believe that nothing you teach him will be lost."

According to the description given by Philostratus, the travellers must have taken the same route across the mountains that goes from Rawalpindi at the present day. They must have followed the gorge of the Hyphasis (now the Jhelum river) and watched it foaming and swirling between its ochre banks. They travelled through the great deodar forests, and may have stopped for a moment at the spot where Vishnu is said to have rested after the Great Flood. They caught their first glimpse of the Valley of Kashmir in the late summer, when the roses and lotus are in full bloom. What they thought of this "emerald valley set in a rim of pearls," Damis does not say. His mind was occupied with the tales that Apollonius told him of the Dragons who lived in the hills. But the Theosophist knows that the Dragons that Apollonius was seeking were the Nagas, or Sages of Kashmir.

At last they reached the hill where the Wise Men lived. It rose majestically from the plain, defended on all sides by an immense pile of rocks. There was a Castle on the top of the hill. Apollonius could see the entrance to the Castle, but Damis could see only the cloud that enveloped it.

As soon as they had dismounted from their camels, a messenger from the Masters appeared, wearing a caduceus on his brow. He brought Apollonius a letter of welcome from the Wise Men on the Hill. When Apollonius was conducted into their presence, their Chief -- Iarchas -- addressed him in Greek, minutely describing the journey which had brought him to Kashmir. Apollonius, following the instructions given to him by the King of Taxila, asked Iarchas if he would instruct him in philosophy. Iarchas replied:

"I will, with all my heart, for the communication of knowledge is much more becoming the character of philosophy than the concealment of what ought to be known."
Then Iarchas begged Apollonius to propose whatever questions he pleased, "for you know you speak with men who know all things." Remembering the inscription carved over the entrance of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, Apollonius asked: "Do you know yourselves?" Iarchas answered:
"We know all things because we know ourselves. For there is not one among us who would have been admitted to the study of philosophy had he not had that previous knowledge."
Apollonius then asked: "As what, then, do you consider yourselves?"
"As Gods," Iarchas replied.

"And why Gods?" said Apollonius.

"Because we are good men," was the answer.

This conversation led naturally to a discussion of the Soul, and Apollonius inquired what their teaching was in regard to the Soul.
"The same," said Iarchas, "as was delivered to you by Pythagoras, and by us to the Egyptians."
This statement, so strange to modern ears, could not have been a surprise to Apollonius. For both Homer and Herodotus had spoken of that colony of dark-skinned Aryans, known as the Eastern Ethiopians, who had taken their civilization and their arts from India to Egypt in pre-Vedic days. Iarchas spoke at great length about these Eastern Ethiopians, saying:
"There was a time when this country was inhabited by the Ethiopians, an Indian nation. Ethiopia did not then exist. Whilst the Ethiopians lived in this country now possessed by us, and were obedient to a sovereign named Ganges, they had all the productions of the earth in plenty."
Apollonius must have had many opportunities, during his stay in Kashmir, to observe the relics of this ancient connection between Kashmir, Ceylon and Egypt. For even today there is a little island in the very center of the Valley called Lanka, which is the ancient name of Ceylon. And the grand old mountain that stands like a sentinel overlooking the Valley is called Hari-mouk, the name under which the Egyptians once worshipped the Sphinx.

Iarchas told Apollonius many things about the state of the country when it was inhabited by the Eastern Ethiopians, and informed him that he was speaking from personal knowledge, as he himself had been this same King Ganges in a former incarnation. He then

"...asked Apollonius if he could tell the last body in which he appeared, and in what condition of life he was before the one he was in at present. To this Apollonius replied: 'As it was ignoble, I remember little of it.'

'What?' said Iarchas, 'do you consider the being pilot of an Egyptian vessel as ignoble? For I know you were one!'

'You are right,' said Apollonius, 'I was.'"

Apollonius spent thirteen years with the Sages of Kashmir, and at the end of his visit Iarchas gave him seven rings, which he was told to wear alternately during the seven days of the week, according to the particular planet that gave its name to the day. When he was ready to depart, Iarchas furnished him with camels, and at the end of ten days he had reached the sea. From there he sent back a letter to Iarches which read:
"Apollonius to Iarchas and other sages -- health. I came to you by land; you have given me the sea. In communicating to me your wisdom, you have opened the road to heaven. I will remember this among the Greeks; I will continue to enjoy your conversation as if still with you, if I have not drunk of the cup of Tantalus in vain.

Farewell, excellent philosophers."

That Apollonius did not "drink of the cup of Tantalus in vain" is witnessed by his later work. He brought the Wisdom-Religion back to Europe and laid down lines of force which were continued by his successor, Ammonius Saccas. He established an esoteric school in Ephesus, and is said by some of his biographers to have died at the age of a hundred years. By others it is claimed that he lived to the age of a hundred and thirty, and by still others that he did not "die" at all, but "disappeared from view."

In the very heart of the Valley of Kashmir there stands the little town of Srinagar, the home of Sri-Naga, the "Serpent-King". The present town was founded 300 B.C. by the great Buddhist King Asoka, and was therefore in existence when Apollonius was in Kashmir. There is a tradition among the inhabitants of this town that a great Adept came there from Europe in the first century, and that he died there.

A few miles beyond the outskirts of Srinagar are found the magnificent ruins of an ancient Temple of the Sun. It stands upon a high plateau facing the East, its trefoil arches forming graceful frames for the mighty panorama of the Himalayas beyond. So old is this Temple that the five Pandu brothers of Mahabharata fame are said to have worshipped there. Everywhere appears the figure of the triangle super-imposed upon the square -- the ancient symbol of septenary man. Philostratus' description of the Temple of the Sun where Apollonius worshipped closely resembles this ancient Kashmiri Temple of Martand.

A two-week's journey on mule-back will take the traveller up the mountains into the little city of Lhadak, in Western Thibet. There he may have the good fortune to discover an ancient Buddhist monastery perched like an eagle's nest on the overhanging crags. There the monks may tell him (as they have told other travellers) of certain manuscripts in their possession which were left to them by the great European Adept of the first century when he passed through Lhadak. And on the other side of the Himalayas, in the sacred city of Lhassa, there are said to be other men who possess records of the Adept who taught in Europe during the first century, and came back "home" when his work was done.

Perhaps, after all, Apollonius did not die in Europe, but started out on a second journey to India, passing through all these places on his way "Home."


Next article:
Great Theosophists
First Century Christianity


TWO (2) FOOTNOTES LISTED BELOW:

COMPILER'S NOTE: I added these footnotes; they were not in the article. If any of them don't paint an accurate enough picture, or are incorrect, I hope the Editors of THEOSOPHY magazine will spot them and point the inaccuracies out to me, so that I can make the necessary corrections.

(1) "Magi" are great Adepts, Sages, Wise Men, Masters of Wisdom, etc.
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(2) "Astral" means the Electro-Magnetic spectrum at every level. The "Astral Body" is the electromagnetic design body that the physical molecules adhere to in the building up of every form, in every kingdom, on the physical plane. The theosophical "Astral Light" is the "Ether" of modern science. It is the source of the idea known as the "Recording Angel" -- because every thought, word, and deed is recorded, stored, and magnetically reflected back to its source at a dynamically proper time: in other words, when conditions naturally warrant or permit it. We call this Karma, or Lawful action and reaction. All of us are also magnets for imprints in the "Astral Light" which were put there by others and which are similar to us in character. So we constantly affect and infect each other in this way -- for good or for bad.
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