Apollonius Moment

Apollonius Tyanus has not fared well in history.  Once a rival to Jesus Christ he is now rarely encountered even along the most obscure paths of learning, except among the Baha’i.  Many scholars opine that Apollonius of Tyana was more a fictional character than a real person, a consciously constructed pagan rival to Jesus.

I first encountered Apollonius in the library of my teacher.  One of my self elected chores was checking every shelf in his large and public collection for rare items that could easily be stolen.  I found first editions of Thomas Taylor translations of the Neoplatonists, an exquisitely bound 19th century collection of Pythagorean aphorisms, and hand painted notebooks by alchemists.  A.E. Waite first editions of the Hermetic Museum and Paracelsus turned out to be duplicates.  They were sold to me so cheaply they were really gifts.  I donated them back several years later to be auctioned to raise funds for the library, but that is a story about a different teacher.

G.R.S. Mead was the best scholar among the theosophists of the golden age of Theosophy.  A first edition of his work on Apollonius of Tyana was one of a small pile of ever changing titles the librarians allowed me to bring home for close study.  I found Apollonius very admirable, a Pythagorean bodhisattva.  But some of the stories about him seemed far fetched, for example, that he had quieted an entire riot by simply standing serenely by.

My teacher had a particular restaurant he liked even after it changed names and owners. They knew him there not just from decades of history with them, but also because his library was just down the street and his well attended sunday morning lectures brought them customers.

About once a week my teacher and his wife, another teacher, invited my girlfriend and me to join them for supper at the restaurant.  On this day there was a line to get in.  My teacher was a very old man, a very tall, very large old man, who moved slowly and used a cane. But he didn’t mind standing in line.

I wanted to ask him about Apollonius.  But he didn’t like to discuss work over meals.  He never asked which books I was borrowing, but the ones I had questions or comments about I’d bring to his desk before returning them to the library.  I planned to do that with the G.R.S. Mead book.

A woman trying to be polite held up the line waiting to see which direction my teacher would move.  Her husband erupted into an irate tirade.  Face contorted with anger , flushed red, he grabbed her hard by the arm.  None of us in line were willing to face down his rage.  I watched my teacher carefully maneuver himself between the irate husband and the frightened wife.  Whenever the husband adjusted, so did my teacher.  The battered woman soon got the rhythm.  She broke free of her husband and managed to avoid his grasp.

My teacher never looked at him, or her, or anyone.  His dignified face was composed and serene as he seemed to stare off at an invisible horizon.

At last the abuser realized what was happening.  Red faced and spitting obscenities he turned on my teacher, leaning up and close to deliver his insults and threats.  But he only managed a few words before something he saw in my teacher’s eyes stopped him in his tracks.  I saw shame overcome him as alll his anger melted away.  He glanced around at all of us with a pitiful expression.  He gently took his wife’s hand, apologized to her and to us, and they walked away.

My teacher did nothing to acknowledge what he had done.  But others were glancing at him with expressions of respect.

As she drove us home my girlfriend and I talked about how person by person a riot could possibly be quieted by the presence of a great soul.  I never talked to him about Apollonius.

You can read The Life of Apollonius of Tyana by Philostratus online here.