Ominous Swans in Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius (1.5)

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Abstract

The opening chapters of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana present readers with a series of signs foreshadowing the future character of the text’s protagonist. This article addresses a little discussed omen at Apollonius’ birth: the appearance of swans who set up a chorus around the future philosopher’s mother, startling her and bringing on his birth, before departing, apparently on their annual migration. This curious avian episode is, on closer inspection, laden with evocations, which have so far been only partially explored: of the god Apollo, and of the philosophers Pythagoras, Plato and Socrates, specifically as Apollonian philosophers.

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