Apollonius of Tyana in Bahá’u’lláh’s ‘Tablet of Wisdom’

Illustration depicting Alexander the Great and the seven philosophers (Aristotle, Apollonius of Tyana, Socrates, Plato, Thales, Porphyry, and Hermes). From p.729 of MS Browne 1434, the Khamsa of Nizami (Persian, 1540). This scene comes from the fifth part of the Khamsa, ‘The Book of Alexander’.

I am intrigued by Bahá’u’lláh’s appreciation of the life and works of Bálinus in the Lawh-i-Hikmat (Tablet of Wisdom). Bálinus (or Apollonius of Tyana) was a first century A.D. Neopythagorean philosopher and familiar figure in classical Islamic thought.

I will also mention for thee the invocation voiced by Bálinus who was familiar with the theories put forward by the Father of Philosophy regarding the mysteries of creation as given in his chrysolite tablets, that everyone may be fully assured of the things We have elucidated for thee in this manifest Tablet, which, if pressed with the hand of fairness and knowledge, will yield the spirit of life for the quickening of all created things. Great is the blessedness of him who swimmeth in this ocean and celebrateth the praise of his Lord, the Gracious, the Best-Beloved. Indeed the breezes of divine revelation are diffused from the verses of thy Lord in such wise that no one can dispute its truth, except those who are bereft of hearing, of vision, of understanding and of every human faculty. Verily thy Lord beareth witness unto this, yet the people understand not.

This man hath said: ‘I am Bálinus, the wise one, the performer of wonders, the producer of talismans.’ He surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication. Give ear unto that which he hath said, entreating the All-Possessing, the Most Exalted: ‘I stand in the presence of my Lord, extolling His gifts and bounties and praising Him with that wherewith He praiseth His Own Self, that I may become a source of blessing and guidance unto such men as acknowledge my words.’ And further he saith: ‘O Lord! Thou art God and no God is there but Thee. Thou art the Creator and no creator is there except Thee. Assist me by Thy grace and strengthen me. My heart is seized with alarm, my limbs tremble, I have lost my reason and my mind hath failed me. Bestow upon me strength and enable my tongue to speak forth with wisdom.’ And still further he saith: ‘Thou art in truth the Knowing, the Wise, the Powerful, the Compassionate.’ It was this man of wisdom who became informed of the mysteries of creation and discerned the subtleties which lie enshrined in the Hermetic writings.

LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom)

(According to the footnotes of the  U.S.  Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988 edition when referring to the Greek philosophers Bahá’u’lláh quotes verbatim from the works of historians as Abu’l-Fatḥ-i-Sháhristání (1076–1153 A.D.) and Imádu’d-Dín Abu’l-Fidá (1273–1331 A.D.)

The ‘Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’ describes the historical Apollonius of Tyana in the following terms-

Our most detailed account of a Neopythagorean living a life inspired by Pythagoras is Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana. Apollonius was active in the second half of the first century CE and died in 97; Philostratus’ life, which was written over a century later at the request of the empress Julia Domna and completed after her death in 217 CE, is more novel than sober biography. Some have even wondered if Apollonius’ Pythagoreanism is largely the creation of Philostratus, but there is evidence that Apollonius wrote a life of Pythagoras used by Iamblichus (VP 254) and Porphyry (Burkert 1972, 100), and the fragment of his treatise On Sacrifices has clear connections to Neopythagorean philosophy (Kahn 2001, 143–145). According to Philostratus, Apollonius identified his wisdom as that of Pythagoras, who taught him the proper way to worship the gods, to wear linen rather than wool, to wear his hair long, and to eat no animal food (I 32).

Like Pythagoras, Apollonius journeys to consult the wise men of the east and learns from the Brahmins in India that the doctrine of transmigration, which Apollonius inherited from Pythagoras, originated in India and was handed on to the Egyptians from whom Pythagoras derived it (III 19). Philostratus (I 2) emphasizes that Apollonius was not a magician, thus trying to free him from the more disreputable connotations of Pythagorean practices associated with figures such as Anaxilaus and Vatinius (see above). Nonetheless, Philostratus’ life does recount a number of Apollonius’ miracles, such as the raising of a girl from the dead (IV 45).

These miracles made Apollonius into a pagan counterpart to Christ. The emperor Alexander Severus (222–235 CE) worshipped Apollonius alongside Christ, Abraham and Orpheus (Hist. Aug., Vita Alex. Sev. 29.2)’.

Huffman, Carl, “Pythagoreanism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2010/entries/pythagoreanism/>.

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