Philostratus, Flavius

Philostratus, Flavius a famous Greek Sophist, was a native of the island of Lemnos, and was born in the second half of the 2d century of our sera. He taught rhetoric first at Athens, and Eusebius therefore calls him an Athenian, but Eunapius and Suidas always speak of him as a Lemnian, and he himself hints in his Life of Apollonius that he used to be at Lemnos when he was young. He frequented the schools of the Sophists, and mentions having heard Damianus of Ephesus, Proclus Naucratitas, and Hippodromus of Larissa. This shows that he lived in the reign of the emperor Severus (193-212). He also taught at Rome, where he became known and was patronized by the empress Julia, the wife of Septimius Severus, who was partial to the learned, and was surnamed "the philosophic," because she gathered about herself such a brilliant circle of scholars. She commissioned him to compile the biography of Apollonius of Tyana from some memoirs written by a certain Damis of Nineveh, who had accompanied Philostratus in his peregrinations, and which had come into her possession. Philostratus professes also to have used in his compilation a collection of letters of Apollonius, which were at one time in the possession of Hadrian, and were placed by that emperor in his palace at Antium, together with certain responses of the Oracle of Trophonius, which Apollonius had also collected. The biographer availed himself also, according to his own statement, of the narrative of a certain Maximus who had known Apollonius. The book of Philostratus displays great credulity in the compiler, and a great want of critical discrimination; it also contains many anachronisms and geographical errors. Huet and others have imagined that the object of Philostratus was to write a parody of the life of Christ, but this seems doubtful: the parody, if intended as such, is too gross; besides which, it appears from the testimony of Lampridius (Life of Alex. Severus), that Christ was really worshipped by some of the later heathen emperors, together with Abraham, Orpheus, and Apollonius, these being all looked upon as holy men and tutelary genii. That Apollonius of Tyana was a real character, a philosopher, and a traveller appears from various passages of ancient authors; but it is remarkable that no one mentions him until nearly a century after the time assigned for his death. The empress Julia, a Syrian by birth, was probably fond of the marvellous; and Philostratus, intending to entertain her, inserted in his book all the wonderful stories he could collect relative to his hero. It seems, however, that in the time of the great struggle between the heathen and Christian religions under Diocletian and his immediate successors, some of the heathen writers thought of availing themselves of the Life of Apollonius as a kind of counterpoise to the Gospel narrative. Hierocles, prefect of Alexandria, and an enemy of the Christians, wrote a book with that object, in the shape of a comparison between the life of Apollonius by Philostratus and that of Christ, of which book Eusebius wrote a refutation: Eusebii Pamphili Animadversiones in Philostrati de Apollonio Tyanensi Commentarios ob institutam cum illo ab Hierocle Christi comparationem, adornatce. Lactantius (Divin. Instit. 5:3) also combats the same notion as absurd. Augustine (Epist. 4) refers to Apollonius as a magician whom the heathens compared with Christ. (See Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs Roemains, volume 2, and Bayle's article Apollonius de Tyane.) The other works of Philostratus are, The Lives of the Sophists, in two books (ed. by Kayser, Heidelberg, 1838): — Heroica, or comments on the lives of some of the heroes of Homer, in the shape of a dialogue (ed. by Boissonade, Paris, 1806, 8vo): — Icones, or descriptions of sixty-four paintings which were in a portico near Neapolis by the seashore (these descriptions contain valuable information concerning the state of ancient art) (ed. by F. Jacobs and F.G. Welcker, Leips. 1825, 8vo): — Epistles, mostly erotic, excepting a few on matters of literature; one, which is inscribed to Julia Augusta, is an apology for the Sophists. Philostratus wrote also many other works, such as a Lexicon Rhetoricum, orations, etc.. but they are lost. Different editions of all the existing works of Philostratus have been published. Those by Morellius (Paris; 1608) and Olearius (Leips. 1709, fol.) are good, but a better one, far more critical and correct, is that by Kayser (Zurich, 1844, 4to), with a valuable body of notes on each work. There are separate editions of the lives of the Sophists. See Neander, Christian Dogmas, 1:192 sq.; Baur, Apollonius v. Tyana u. Christus (Tub. 1832); Alzog, Kirchengesch. 1:149; Ritter, Hist. of Philos.; Smith, Dict. of Gr. and Rom. Biog. s.v.; Butler, Hist. of Ancient Philosophy, volume 2; Lardner, Works (see Index).

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