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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Where have I heard this before?

Asclepius. Believed by the Greeks to have once lived as a man and raised to a god after death. He was fathered by a god – Apollo – but with a human mother (Coronis, a beautiful maiden of Thessaly). He was raised by the centaur Chiron in a cave and from him learned the art of healing. But Asclepius committed the unpardonable sin of raising a man from the dead, enraging Hades for cheating him of dead souls. Zeus, afraid that Asclepius might render all men immortal, slew him with a thunderbolt. Apollo interceded on behalf of his son and persuaded Zeus to make Asclepius the god of medicine. As an immortal, Asclepius was able to cure the sick from the realm of the gods.

Certainly, for centuries, sick people went to the temples dedicated to Asclepius hoping for a cure. It was said that those who came to Asclepius on crutches went away dancing happily. Famous temples of the god were at Pergamum, Epidaurus, Cos and Rome. Full participation in the healing program involved sleeping inside the temple compound – in effect, the first hospitals – where 'holistic' treatment involved massage, baths and dream interpretation. Fortunate individuals did indeed experience a "healing miracle" and gave testimony to the cure effected by this Greek god.

The early Christians attacked the cult of Asclepius with great venom, indicating a close rivalry between the two cults and a certain embarrassment among Christians repeatedly being told that Asclepius had already done all of Jesus' tricks – and had done them better.

Apollonius of Tyana.

Apollonius was born during the reign of Augustus Caesar in the year 3 BC at Tyana, in Asia Minor. His parents were wealthy and Apollonius was educated first at Tarsus, and then at the Temple of Asclepius at Aegae. At sixteen he became an adherent of Pythagoras and a wandering ascetic. In his desire for knowledge he travelled to most of the known world. According to legend he performed miracles wherever he went and was listened to by adoring crowds.

Apollonius claimed to receive revelations from the gods. In truth, he probably learnt techniques of mystical deception from the Brahmins of India and the Magi of Babylon. In Ephesus he correctly warned of a plague and also claimed to have had a vision of the assassination of the Emperor Domitian. In Rome he supposedly brought the daughter of a consul back to life. Nero apparently expelled him from the city but Vespasian, Titus and Nerva all sought his advice. Hadrian collected his letters and writings. The great Emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius admitted that he owed his philosophy to Apollonius:

"From Apollonius I have learned freedom of will and understanding, steadiness of purpose, and to look to nothing else, not even for a moment, except to reason."

Apollonius’s neo-Pythagorean philosophy embraced the sharing of goods, a condemnation of cruelty, and compassion for his fellowman. He taught in many of the centres of learning of the Greco-Roman world. Stories about him abounded, such as when in his mother’s womb, his mother was forewarned by an Egyptian god of her portentous off-spring. He reputed lived to be one hundred years. His followers claimed he was taken up into heaven. In Tyana a temple was built and dedicated to him, and statues of him resided in other temples.

Julia Domna, the wife of Emperor Septimius Severus, commissioned the philosopher Philostratus to write the biography of Apollonius, using the notebooks kept by Damis, a lifelong companion of the great sage. This book appeared in 210 AD.

But by the 4th century an established Christianity began attacking Apollonius as a charlatan, a black magician, and the anti-Christ. The Church was, after all, basing its claims of Jesus' divinity upon the miracles that he is said to have performed – but Apollonius performed the same miracles earlier and called them not miracles but expressions of natural law!

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