Flavius Philostratus Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Flavius Philostratus (FLAY-vee-uhs fuh-LAH-streht-uhs) was born into a wealthy family of Sophist philosophers. He studied philosophy and rhetoric, later becoming a teacher at the famous Academy in Athens. Philostratus traveled to Rome and was welcomed by Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 c.e.). Philostratus wrote numerous works of philosophy and biography, including Bio sophiston (n.d.; The Lives of the Sophists, 1921), a collection of biographies of leading Pythagorean (pagan) philosophers, and the Historia tou Apolloniou (208-210 c.e.; Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 1912), the biography of a first century Pythagorean philosopher. This work dates from the period 208-210 c.e.

Although Philostratus does not specifically mention Christianity in his writings, he wrote against a backdrop of rising tensions between a pagan cultic sacrificial system that was badly in need of reform and Christianity, which considered itself morally and ethically superior to the idolatrous aspects of third century c.e. paganism. Philostratus recounted the healing and miracle stories of the reformist philosopher Apollonius of Tyana (first century-104? c.e.), who denounced animal sacrifices, promoted a disciplined and ascetic lifestyle, and insisted that religious and/or cultic observances must be linked to ethical and moral behavior.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Philostratus’s Life of Apollonius of Tyana presented Apollonius as a moral figure worthy of emulation. Anti-Christian writers of the third and fourth centuries used Philostratus’s writings to counter the growing influence of the figure of Jesus as religious reformer and healer.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Bunson, Matthew. A Dictionary of the Roman Empire. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984.

Philostratus. The Life of Apollonious of Tyana. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1912.