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Simulacrum, paragon, holy man : fundamentalist perspectives in the writings of Flavius Philostratus.

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Flavius Philostratus was a Greek author working in the early third century CE, attached to a circle of philosophers and thinkers under the patronage of the Roman Empress Julia Domna. It is he who coined the term that we today use to describe this period in literary history-the Second Sophistic. While it was a time of startling literary productivity, it was also a time of increasing moral decline and confusion for the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. The old beliefs and morality of Graeco-Roman polytheism was fast becoming outmoded in the light of new developments coming out of the East and places like Palaestine in particular. Faiths like Christianity that placed the individual believer and his or her desire for salvation at the heart of the system were challenging the older Olympian style of religion, wherein the polis or city-state was all important. Add to this the growing influence of the cult worship of the Roman emperor and upheaval was the only foreseeable outcome, with not even the mas maiorum remaining intact as a moral compass for the average citizen. Flavius Philostratus struck out against this growing tide of moral and religious uncertainty by proposing a solution founded in religious fundamentalist tendencies. He could not do this in an obvious fashion, for fear not only of losing his imperial patroness, but pOSSibly also his life as well for speaking ill of emperor and empire. Instead, Philostratus pretends to submission, while at the very same time suggesting a return to the old ways of Graeco-Roman paganism when the needs of the many outweighed individual desires. He also suggests a way of counteracting the popularity of foreign individualized cults by regenerating the almost forgotten cult of the ancestors, with the hero-cult a particular focus. Indeed, Philostratus' approach addresses every possible concern that may have arisen in his imperial milieu, ranging from philosophy to politics to the rejection of the cult of the emperor. I have posited a theory of ancient religious fundamentalism as gleaned from the writings of Philostratus by envisioning a modified formulation of the twentieth century notion of religious fundamentalism itself. This new form removes fundamentalist dogma from its apparent reliance on a monotheistic faith and reconfigures it into a 'polyvalent' fundamentalism, wherein it is conceivable for an inhabitant of the Graeco-Roman world like Philostratus to have championed a variegated polytheistic belief system in the face of advancing Eastern influences and emperor worship, choosing to see Graeco-.Roman belief as a singular entity under threat. In an effort to conceal his beliefs from those who 111 might take offence at them, Philostratus makes use of a simulacrum for his ideals. This is the first century sage known as A pollonius of Tyana. My own approach to this idea has been twofold, with the first half being devoted to analysing the time and place in which Philostratus was working. I assess the literary tensions of the Second Sophistic itself and investigate how this may have impacted upon Philostratus' presentation of his argument I also look to the figure of Apollonius of Tyana, essential to the whole of the Philostratean fundamentalist 'project', and examine what changes Philostratus may have effected to the existing canon on Apollonius in order to make him useful to his fundamentalist perspective. The second half of my thesis involves the specific analysis of four of the works of Philostratus- the Vita Apollonii, Vitae Sophistarum, Heroikos, and Nero. Each is assessed in detail with respect to its representation of a specific aspect of Philostratus' beliefs. The Vita Apollonii presents Apollonius of Tyana as the paragon and champion of Philostratus' new belief system, teaching a Pythagorean way of life and personally reSisting Roman emperors like Domitian. The Vitae Sophistarum provides a catalogue of past sophists and offers up their behaviour as a guide for all good and wise men to follow, while the Nero presents Musonius Rufus as the archetypal philosopher battling imperial tyranny. Finally the Heroiiws is suggested as Philostratus' attempt at reinvigorating the cult of the ancestors as a means of providing an alternative individualized religious b•adition to ward off the encroaching Eastern mysteries. In all it is my contention that Flavius Philostratus deploys his sophistic talents in a manner reflective of his time, as a means of remedying Of, at the very least, positing a remedy, for the decline of belief and morality in the Roman Empire. He does this through four great literary works and chiefly through the figure of Apollonius of Tyana, his paragon and simulacrum.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, 2011.


Philostratus, the Athenian, 2nd/3rd cent., Religion in literature., Theses--Classics.