A Tangled Transmission – the Letters of Apollonius of Tyana and a Pause in the Project

A.D. Morrison & Antonia Sarri

The transmission of the Letters attributed to the philosopher and sage Apollonius of Tyana form a good example of the complications which the project is unravelling. Apollonius was a Pythagorean philosopher and wandering sage who lived (probably) in the first century AD. It appears that he travelled widely, even reaching as far east as India. Soon after his death, collections of letters attributed to him began to appear: an instructive example being the appearance of some of his letters in the biography of Apollonius written by Philostratus (second century AD), who himself claims to have collected some of his letters (Vita Apollonii 7.35) and quotes several letters and praises their style, mentioning also that a collection of the letters was obtained by the emperor Hadrian (Vita Apollonii 8.20). It may well be that Philostratus is the author of those letters he includes in his biography. Of these, 14 are also transmitted within the collection of letters attributed to Apollonius, which is the collection which concerns us here. It is likely that the entire collection is pseudepigraphic, though Philostratus may not be responsible for it in its entirety.

The collection of Apollonius’ letters contains some 91 letters (in the largest version) in the medieval MSS, which Penella (1979) divides into two main groups. The second group (of younger MSS) has the letters in the order 1-42, 42a-h, 43-77, 77a-f (to use Penella’s numbering): 42a-h and 77a-f are those shared with Philostratus’ biography of Apollonius. Their peculiar numbering originates from their omission in some modern editions, starting with Olearius (1709), on account of their appearance also in the biography. The order of the second group has nonetheless been the basis for the order in modern printed editions since that of Bartholomaeus Justinopolitanus (1498). However, the first group (of older MSS) preserves the letters in a different order, with some variation in the order in the MSS of that family, and fewer in total than the second group. Parisinus Gr. 1428, for instance, has the order: 14, 15, 5, 16, 17, 6, 52, 60, 18, 9, 10, 19-22, 61, 23, 63, 64, 24, 25, 26, 27, 30, 54, 31, 65, 66, 32, 33, 34, 70-72, excerpt from 55, 35, 36, 37, 74, 75a, 75, 38, 76, 56, 39, 41, 42, 77, 57, 46, 1, 50, 51, 2, 3, 47, 49, 77a-c, 42a, 42c, 42f, 42d, 42g, 42h, 77d, 77e. But the oldest MS of the letters, Ambrosianus Gr. 81 (10th century AD), has an order much closer to that of the second group, though it is grouped with the first by Penella. It is ordered 14-42, 42a and 42 c-h. Untangling the precise relationship of these different orders and their relationship is a key aspect of the project.

Ambrosianus Gr. 81 is also important in its own right because it is one of the oldest surviving codices of Greek epistolography. It contains the epistolary treatises of Proclus and Demetrius of Phalerum and then letters of Greek epistolographers in the following order: Phalaris, Isidore of Pelusium; Firmus of Caesarea; Theophylact Simocatta; Julian; Basil; Libanius; Aelian; Aeneas of Gaza; Heraclitus; Darius; Brutus; Procopius of Gaza; Dionysius of Antioch; Apollonius of Tyana; Philostratus; Diogenes’ epp. 19–29; Crates’ epp. 11–14; Phalaris; Photius. That such collections of letters were transmitted together in ‘super-collections’ is in turn important we shall try to untangle the relationships of these larger collections also.

The material above reflects the work carried out on the project in May, because we have one final announcement this month: because Antonia Sarri, the project’s Research Associate, is expecting her first child (congratulations Antonia!), she has been on maternity leave since 15 June 2017. The project will accordingly be paused until the 15 June 2018, when it will restart. More news then!



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