Изображения страниц

were still made to retain an aftershine of that splendour of polytheistic fable and mythology which had so long charmed the world. Ghosts of dead philosophies were called up to inhabit the empty, swept and garnished mansions of Olympus. The old, it was fondly hoped, would not be thrown off, as the husk from the expanding leaf, as the blossom from the growing fruit, to be blown away by tho vind or trodden under foot (which appears to be nature's inexorable method); but would be transfigured by the new light, animated by the new spirit, and thus dowered with immortality. To moralise and spiritualise Paganism was the grand intellectual effort of the time; an effort not confined to philosophical schools, but participated in by all cultivated circles; an effort partly religious, partly mystical, partly philosophical, and not unconnected with impulses of national and patriotic feeling; an effort, therefore, which had peculiar interest for the female mind, and showed itself as well in the evening parties of bluestocking empresses as in the lecture-hall of Hypatia. Dr. Roville errs in supposing that, in the cessation (which was gradual) and the failure (whicu it took several centuries to make plain) of this effort of the human mind, there was anything sudden, surprising, or miraculous. Three or four centuries constituted neither an unnaturally long nor a surprisingly short period in which to effect the change from Paganism to Christianity and enable man to recognise, to enter, to habituate himself to, his new spiritual domicile.

Dr. Reville believes that the Apollonius of Philostratus originated in a desire to eclipse the Jesus of the Christians by a Pagan Christ. The biography of the rhetonician of Lemnos had, he conceives, an express controversial aim. This is doubtful. The age, except in so far as it was already Christian, was eclectic, not polemical. Had Philostratus wished to disparage the Christian Messiah, it is scarcely credible that he would have omitted to mention the name of Jesus. It was as another, not a rival Christ, that Apollonius was set up; and one of the organic ideas of the work of Philostratus, that virtue is of the essence of deity, and that therefore all good men are gods, would consist far more nobly with a recognition of the Divine excellence of the character of Christ than with its disparagement in favour of Apollonius. The peculiarity of the religious and philosophical position of the Empress by whose command Philostratus wrote, and of the society by which she surrounded herself, was ambiguity or nniversalism of religious opinion. That use was made of the evangelical memoirs in filling in the details of the history of Apollonius, I have no doubt; that the outline of the narrative was to some extent modelled upon that of the history of Jesus, I admit. Apollonius was mysteriously born, after annunciation by Proteus.

A chorus of swans, sent by Apollo, celebrated his birth. He displayed in youth a miraculous precocity of religious development. He engaged for a time in enterprises of a public and beneficent character. He worked miracles. He delivered discourses. Dr. Reville thinks that there followed “a passion, a kind of resurrection, and an ascension.” These are more shadowy, and less recognisable. On the whole, however, no reasonable doubt can be entertained that the apostolic accounts of Christ were deliberately imitated by Philostratus. But they were imitated with the purpose and in the spirit rather of a rhetorical artist than of a controversialist.

More credit, perhaps, is due to Dr. Reville for signalising, as one of the important agencies in this time of transition, the influence of “ a priestly family cornposed entirely of women,” which predominated in the imperial palace under the dynasty of Septimius Severus. In the year of our era 193, Septimius Severus,



grasping the sceptre which had fallen from the nerveless hands of Didius Julianus, Pescennius Niger, and Albinus, commenced a vigorous reign of eighteen years, He had married Julia Domna, the daughter of a priest who ministered in the temple of the Sun, at Emesa, in Cælesyria. By her beauty and talent she gained a strong influence over her husband, and her literary, philosophical, and religious enthusiasm, attracting as it did to the court a number of men eminent in intellectual pursuits, threw a mild lustre over the society of the military emperor not unlike that which Queen Sophie Charlotte threw over the Court of the Hohenzollerns in Brandenburg. Dion Cassius, the historian, Paulus, Papinian, and Ulpian, lawyers, and Philostratus, the fanciful sophist and rhetorician, were among the celebrities patronised by Julia Domna, and to the request or suggestion of the imperial lady the world is indebted for the remarkable biography on which rests the claim of Apollonius to our veneration. Julia Domna continued, after the death of Septimius Severus, to influence Caracalla, his son and successor, who reared a temple to Apollonius. She died a few days after Caracalla. Julia Maesa, her sister, whose character resembled her own, perpetuated the influence of the family. Bringing Elagabalus from the temple of the Sun in Syria, she declared him the son of Caracalla by her daughter Soemis, and presented him to the troops as their emperor. The soldiers, devoted to the house of Septimius Severus, proclaimed him, and, as he proved a foolish, sensual boy, Julia Maesa and Soemis reigned for him. Elagabalus and Soemis were soon assassinated by the troops, but Julia Maesa had induced the emperor to adopt Alexander Severus, son of her daughter Julia Mamæa, and he was proclaimed emperor. His mother held him in absolute control, and the influence of the eastern priestesses was thus perpetuated until A.D. 235. For nearly forty years the imperial court had been what it was made by these women. They seem to have been of speculative, theosophistic turn, with an hereditary fondness for sun-worship, a desire to elevate and refine the old Paganism, and a leaning towards Christianity. Alexander Severus had the statue of Christ, along with those of Abraham, Orpheus, and Apollonius, ainong his household gods. The imperial court, however, while acting upon its age, was itself the creation of the time, affording but one illustration of that vast, all-embracing tendency which sought to inaugurate a deeper and more spiritual civilisation upon the cherished ruins of a civilisation which was felt to be passing irrevocably away.

It is now agreed on all hands that the work of Philostratus is a philosophicoreligious romance, and the difficulty is to separate the small modicum of historical truth which the book contains from the huge pile of embellishment under which it lies buried. Apollonius, it is probable, was born at Tyana, a city of Cappadocia, in Asia Minor, about the time when Jesus was born in Palestine. He was a philosophical enthusiast, a practiser of the discipline of Pythagoras, a peripatetic teacher and lecturer. His sanctity, or his skill in artmagic, impressed his contemporaries, and his name was sufficiently known in the time of Philostratus to make it possible for the latter to weave round it the romance of hero-worship which he gave to the world as the story of his life. Philostratus is at no pains to impart historical verisimilitude to his narrative. He writes in a genial, flowing, free-and-easy style, with none of the gravity of the theologian, none of the fierceness of the polemic, none of the earnestness of the prophet. Large sections of the book are connected inseparably with a scheme of geography as imaginary as that of Jean Paul's novels, and we have


[ocr errors]

minute details of conversations which purport to have taken place on the ridges of an impossible Caucasus, or in the palaces of a Babylon of the brain.

There are traces, I think, in Philostratus, of a high-stalking, pedantic, but not unenjoyable humour, and one can sometimes see him smile at the expense of his hero, with that complacent, ceremonious, rather priggish smile which would befit a rhetorical ornament and luminary of the Empress's blue-stocking and long-robe parties. At all events the travels of Apollonius the sage are as entertaining as those of Sindbad the sailor. You are constantly coming on passages like this (I use Berwick's translation): “It is now time to notice the Hyphasis. . . . This river is as large as the Danube, allowed to be one of the most considerable streams of Europe. The same species of trees grow on the banks of each, from which distils a liquor used by the Indians in making a nuptial oil, with which, if a new married couple are not anointed all over by the persons appointed for the purpose, the union is thought incomplete, and made invita venere. There is a grove near the Hyphasis dedicated to Venus, and a fish called the peacock only to be found in it. This fish has the same name as the bird, from its fins being blue, its scales spotted, and its tail of a yellow colour like gold, which it can raise and spread at pleasure. Besides, there is an insect belonging to the same river which looks like a white worm, and when melted produces an oil, from whence issues a flame of such a nature as only to be contained in a glass vial. This insect is the king's sole property, and is used by him in destroying the walls of besieged towns, for the moment it touches the battlements it is said to kindle such a fame as cannot be put out by any of the common means for extinguishing fire.” We hear of a woman “ of diminutive stature black from her head to her bosom, and white to her feet;" of pepper-bearing trees “ under the husbandry of the ape;" of a species of lion which “when sick lies in ambush for the ape, whose flesh he finds a restorative in illness;” of the Empusa, a devil-possessed spectre, seen in the pale moonlight, with but one leg, the parent, as is supposed by certain etymologists, of all ghosts which hop,-hence hop, or hob-goblins. Mr. Punch, I observe, prefers to connect hob-goblins more directly with the hob, tracing them to pictures in the fire. There is a deal of pretty nursery reading in Philostratus about dragons. “All India is girt in with dragons of a prodigious bulk, as it were with zones.” The dragons of the plains are " fiery red, with backs like a saw, and beards, which raise their necks, and have scales shining like silver. The pupils of their eyes are like stones of fire, and possess a virtue which is all-powerful in the discovery of secrets." The mountain dragons are, if possible, still more eminent.

They have scales of a golden colour, and are larger than the dragons of the plain. They have beards yellow and bushy, and eyebrows more elevated than the others, underneath which are eyes of a stern and terrible aspect. In their tortuous windings under the earth they make a noise like that of brass ; their crests are red, from which flashes a flame brighter than that of a torch. These dragons conquer the elephant, and in their turn are conquered by the Indians in the following manner:-they spread a scarlet coat before their holes, embroidered with golden letters, which, being charmed, bring on a sleep that at last sublues those eyes which would be otherwise invincible. Other spells, consisting of many words extracted from their occult philosophy, are used, by which the dragon is so fascinated that he puts his head out of his hole and fails asleep over the letters. Whilst he remains in this situation the Indians rush upon him with poleaxes, and after cutting off his head, strip it of its


precious stones. The stones found in the heads of these mountain dragons are said to have a transparent lustre, which emits a variety of colours, and possesses that kind of virtue attributed to the ring of Gyges.” That fascinating passages, selected from the occult philosophy of the Indian sages, might be powerful spells of a sleep-producing character, is not inconceivable. Of the martichora, with man's head, lion's form and stature, tail armed with bristles which it shot off, Parthian-like, against its foes in retreat,—of griffins and their gold-digging propensities,-of the phonix, which visited Egypt once in 500 years, -of trees which bowed politely when they saw philosophers,--of the mountain of wisdom with its purifying fire, its oracular well, its large stone vases, containing, one wind and the other rain, to be dispensed as the sages determined, it is unnecessary to speak. The reader will probably feel that he is already in a position to judge of the historical pretensions of the work of Philostratus.

Damis is the attendant and disciple of Apollonius, accompanying him in his Indian travels, and following him in his subsequent wanderings in the west, Damis is something between Johnson's Bozzy and Don Quixote's Sancho Panza, with hardly a tincture of the apostle of the evangelical history. There is some felicity in the conjunction and contrast of Damis and Apollonius. The master stalks along in philosophic mantle, conscious to the finger-tips of his own sanctity and superiority, his mouth primmed for some unexceptionable remark, always in attitude, long-winded, wise, wearisome, sententious, a bore of the first magnitude, though with the best intentions, and devoting himself immoderately to the good of the species. Damis is another man altogether. Judicious, canny, wide-awake; cultivating philosophy with fino ardour, but never forgetting the main chance; admiring beyond expression a water-drinking Apollonius, but limiting his own potations exclusively by Cuddy Headrigg's proviso that the drink be “gude,” Damis is in no danger of proving too bright for human nature's daily work. He has a notion, with Gehazi, that miracles and good advice may be gracefully paid for, and would like, upon the whole, to make the most of both worlds. Thus, when Apollonius, in his high-flown, wealth-despising way, is going to decline a present of camels, Damis will out with it that the condition of their camels is so deplorable “that instead of their carrying the philosophers, the philosophers will probably be obliged to carry them, and therefore," he adds, “I just hint the necessity of our getting others.” A man like that is of some use to a sage as he goes about the world commercing with the skies. “I just hint,” quoth Damis ; “I don't commit myself, you will please to observe.” Was this invaluablo person a native of Scotland ?

The sayings and doings of Apollonius are, as was to be expected, sometimes good, sometimes bad, very often indifferent. The main idea of his character is that he is a Pythagorean philosopher, and I should say that the aim of Philostratus in his biography is as much to exalt Pythagoras as to exalt him. In the defence which Philostratus puts into the mouth of Apollonius when brought to the bar of Domitian, he professes himself simply a follower of Pythagoras. That philosopher, he informs the Emperor, left the earth its animals, and lived on its genuine productions, from an idea of their being clean, and sufficient to support soul and body. Garments made from what hath life, and which are worn by the bulk of mankind, he held as impure; and on that account he clothed himself in linen, and wore shoes, in obedience to the same rule of discipline, made out of the bark of trees. From


[ocr errors]


this pure mode of living he derived many advantages, and above all, that of knowing his own soul, for he knew he lived at the time when Troy was besieged on account of the rape of Helen ; that he, who was the most beautiful of the sons of Panthus, wore the finest clothes, was killed in the flower of his age, and was lamented by Homer for his untimely fate. After migrating through various bodies, agreeable to the Adrastian law, which requires the soul's passage through different states, he at length assumed the human form, and was born of Mnesarchus the Samian, being changed from a barbarian into i sage, and from a Trojan into an Ionian, and rendered so immortal in death that he never forgot he was Euphorbus. I have now given the father of my philosophical system, and proved that it is not my invention, but that of another, and is come to me as an inheritance.” Apollonius hardly rises above

tone of mild and watery sermonising. If it were possible, which it is not, and Blount admits as much, to institute anything like a comparison between him and Jesus Christ, the mere fact that Apollonius is constantly insisting upon the importance of linen-garments, water-drinking, abstinence from animal food, and the like, whereas the words of Christ are spirit and life, cutting ever to the central and eternal truth in morals, would place an infinite distance between them. There is no proof that Apollonius had a firm grasp

of any of those truths which, in the progress of religious civilisation, have been gradually developed, and at last recognised and adopted. His mind floats vaguely between pantheism, polytheism, and monotheism, and he has unlimited belief in all kinds of necromancy. His philosophy of life is a quiet stoicism; his prayers to the gods are all to this effect, “grant me few possessions and no wants.” There is an occasional ring of manliness and patriotism in his expressions, as when he says that the men who died for liberty at Thermopylæ made the spot on which they fell the highest ground in Greece, or that “there is nothing in human affairs sufficient to terrify a wise man.” Sometimes a vigorous sentiment is neutralised by the addition of a silly argument in its support. He tells the people of Smyrna that, beautiful as their city is, “it derives greater honour from being adorned with men than with porticoes and pictures, or even with more gold than what it has at present.” This sounds well, but it is not the majesty of man, or the glory of goodness, excelling all material splendour, that Apollonius is thinking of. “Buildings,” he goes on, “are fixed to the spot on which they are erected, and are to be seen in no other part of the earth; but good men are seen everywhere, are celebrated in all parts of the world, and render the city which gave them birth famous on the earth.” Once, at Ephesus, with a view to removing the plague, he has a harmless, half-starved beggar stoned to death. The creature wails piteously for mercy, but Apollonius knows him to be a demon in disguise, and is inexorable. This is, of course, atrocious. The story of his compelling the serpent-demon, which had bewitched Menippus Lucius under the form of a beautiful woman, to break her spell and disappear, has furnished the subject of one of the most delicately fanciful and exquisitely ornato poems in the English language-Keats's “Lamia.” The description of Apollonius,


"With curled gray beard, sharp eyes, and smooth bald crown,

Slow-stepped, and robed in philosophic gown," is a

a capital portrait of the complacent, self-conscious pedant of Philostratus. The poet takes the part of Lamia and hor lover against the philosopher :

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »