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Philostratros’ Life of Apollonios of Tyana and its Literary Context

Nikoletta Kanavou


To the memory of my grandmother

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  • 1 After the criticism that the work has received from antiquity until recently – on which see the Int (...)

1The purpose of this book is to contribute to the interpretation of Philostratos’ Life of Apollonios of Tyana (VA) by proposing a number of contextual readings structured around selected themes that permeate this work. These themes are: the virtue of sōphrosynē; the power of erōs; travel; and writing and written textuality. Each of these themes has a significant importance for the development of the plot of the VA, as well as for any opinions we form about the work’s intentions, its fictionality and its ‘philosophical message’. Philostratos’ treatment of the selected themes is arguably better understood if we establish comparisons with other literature of the imperial period where, as in the VA, they are given a similarly central place. From the voluminous corpus of imperial prose writing, the present study focuses on what is broadly defined as the tradition of Greek novelistic narrative, which includes biographical texts (mainly philosophical lives), early Christian writings, and the romantic novel. Despite resurgent recent scholarly interest,1 the VA is still a difficult piece of literature to read, and the task at hand aims to consider a versatile and genre-confused literary context, which invites a variety of disciplinary approaches (historical, literary, and philosophical). The breadth of this context imposes necessarily a selective consideration of texts, as well as a selective treatment of the now vast bibliography (concerning not just imperial literature, but also the historical background and contemporary ethical thought). My discussion does not purport to be exhaustive, but, I hope, will lead to a number of new, previously unexplored or underexplored interpretive possibilities and consequently open new lines of research.

2The book is the product of a research period in Heidelberg funded first by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (December 2014-June 2016) and later (from October 2016) by the German Research Foundation (DFG). I wish to express my enormous gratitude to both institutions for their generous support. Thanks go to the Seminar fur klassische Philologie in Heidelberg, especially Prof. Jonas Grethlein, for offering kind hospitality and for providing an exceptionally stimulating atmosphere for the study of imperial narrative. While in Heidelberg, I had the privilege to interact with the ERC project ‘Experience and Teleology in Ancient Narrative’ (led by Jonas Grethlein) and with the Collaborative Research Centre ‘Material Text Cultures’; I am grateful to the latter for a three-month research scholarship that enabled me to continue my research through the summer of 2016. I have been fortunate to use the excellent library facilities of the University of Heidelberg. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Rachel Bird, who shared her unpublished PhD Thesis on sōphrosynē in the Greek novels, and to the following colleagues and friends: Owen Hodkinson, for sharing forthcoming work and for Philostratean exchange; Peter Thonemann, for useful bibliographical suggestions on chapter 5; Chrysanthos Chrysanthou, for our conversations on Plutarch; and Lothar Willms, for his valuable insights in dealing with Stoic ethics. Jonathan Griffiths and Steffen Schmieke offered considerable help with English-language proofreading and with formatting the manuscript for publication respectively. I finally thank the editors at Zetemata for their helpful criticisms of my work and for accepting it for publication. The book is dedicated to the memory of my beloved grandmother, Nikoletta, who passed away during its preparation; having lived into her nineties, she showed everyone around her that ‘even wrinkles have a kind of bloom’ (ἔστι γἀρ τις ὥρα καὶ περὶ ῥυτίσιν, VA 8.29).

  • 2 Reardon does not include a translation of the VA in his collection, although he does comment in his (...)

3Translation of passages from the VA follows that of C. P. Jones (Loeb 2005), and occasionally F. C. Conybeare (Loeb 1912), and from the romantic novels, either the most recent Loeb edition (where applicable) or B. P. Reardon (ed.), Collected Ancient Greek Novels (Berkeley/LA/London 2008),2 with minor alterations. Translations of passages from other Greek works also follow the most recent Loeb editions, unless otherwise stated. Abbreviations of titles of ancient authors and texts mostly adhere to Liddell-Scott-Jones (A Greek-English Lexicon, rev. ed., Oxford 1996) or Lewis and Short (A Latin Dictionary, Oxford 1879) and otherwise follow easily recognisable forms. Transliteration of Greek names generally uses Greek ending forms. All dates are AD unless BC is specified.

Notes de fin

1 After the criticism that the work has received from antiquity until recently – on which see the Introduction of Demoen and Praet (2009) and Dall’Asta (2008, 35) – the last three decades have seen a more positive appreciation of the VA and of Philostratos as an author. Note the bibliography collected most recently in Miles (2017, 200 n. 2) and the relevant section in Oxford Bibliographies Online s.v. Lucius Flavius Philostratus (O. Hodkinson). Meyer’s seminal 50- page article (1917) is now exactly a century old. An analytical commentary on the VA remains a desideratum.

2 Reardon does not include a translation of the VA in his collection, although he does comment in his Introduction (2008, 3) on the work’s closeness to the novelistic genre.

© C.H.Beck, 2018

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