The “Apotelesmata” of Apollonius of Tyana – now online in English

Anthony Alcock has sent in a translation of a curious anonymous Greek text in 8 chapters, concerning the Apotelemata (Talismans) of Apollonius of Tyana.  The content is astrological, concerned with names and words.

The work appears in medieval Greek astrological manuscripts, but also in a Syriac version as an appendix to the gnostic apocryphal Testament of Adam, itself perhaps dating from the 2-5th centuries AD.  There are also Armenian versions of part of it, themselves clearly translated from an unknown Arabic text.[1]

A Greek text was printed with Latin translation by Francois Nau in the Patrologia Syriaca 1, pp. 1362-1425, back in 1907, and another by Franz Boll in Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum 7: Codices Germanici, p.174-181, in 1908.

The translation is here:

I was able to find some discussion of this work in an article by Christopher P. Jones, “Apollonius of Tyana in Late Antiquity”, in: S.F. Johnson, Greek Literature in Late Antiquity: Dynamism, Didacticism, Classicism, 2016, p.57 f. The article is online here.

Jones writes (paragraphing mine):

“… Boll thought the work an ‘impudent fiction’ composed shortly before Eusebius’ Reply to Hierocles, while Nau was inclined to defend it as genuine; the obviously later ingredients, such as the reference to a church built by Apollonius in Tyana, he explained as later interpolations. The work cannot be by Apollonius and, as Speyer has noted, must be much later than Boll supposed, though it is still an interesting document deserving of consideration here. …

The writer reveals his Christianity at every point, both in his subject-matter and in his choice of words. He thinks that Apollonius was born early enough to predict the birth of Christ, and even (if the obvious interpretation is correct) that he founded a church in Tyana.

As for language, ναός denoting a Christian church is first apparently found in Eusebius, and προσκυνητός seems almost entirely a Christian usage. For στοιχειόω in the sense of ‘enchant’, ‘perform talismanic operations upon’, Sophocles’ Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods cites no example before Theophanes Continuatus (not earlier than the ninth century).

A span of 800–1200 is presumably about right for the composition of the work. It may be relevant that Tyana was an episcopal see as early as 325, and after being lost to the Arabs was recovered for the Byzantine empire in the tenth century; the site has also produced remains of a church datable to that same century. 

Though irrelevant to Apollonius’ fortunes in late antiquity, therefore, the treatise shows the same acceptance of him into Byzantine Christianity that is implied inter alia by his appearance in art as a prophet of Christ.

Thank you, Dr Alcock, for making this interesting text more widely accessible.

  1. [1]M. E. Stone, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Armenian Studies, 2006, p.473 f.

4 thoughts on “The “Apotelesmata” of Apollonius of Tyana – now online in English

  1. I read the documents you referenced here. I am a little puzzled about Apotelemata (Talismans) of Apollonius of Tyana. Is this considered Christian apocrypha? It looks like a pagan magical text.

    What did I miss while reading this?

    You have always been a great source for English translations of obscure early Christian writings.


  2. You’re not wrong. Apparently it must be medieval because of Christian references. But yes it derives from astrology, which is pagan. But it gets attached to an obscure apocryphal text somewhere along the line. All sorts of rubbish gets into the vague class of “apocrypha”.

  3. Many thanks! I’d never heard of this, or of such traditions regarding Apollonius of Tyana (whom I have encountered one way and another in anti-Christian polemic, I think Late Antique as well as modern).

    I’ve run into one thing and another about ‘international magic’ (e.g., in some works of Gershom Scholem), but don’t have a sufficiently deep or rounded sense of it…

    I also ran into this astonishing-looking book second-hand, once (but not inexpensive):

    I have never caught up with it again yet and am in no position to have an informed opinion about it… but one gets an impression of self-described Christians being interested in practical magic long before the Renaissance.

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