Antonius Diogenes

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Antonius Diogenes (Greek: Ἀντώνιος Διογένης) was the author of a Greek romance, whom scholars have placed in the 2nd century CE. His age was unknown even to Photius, who has preserved an outline of his romance.[1] It consisted of twenty-four books, was written in the form of a dialogue about travels, and bore the title of The Incredible Wonders Beyond Thule (Τὰ ὑπὲρ Θoύλην ἄπιστα).[2] It is highly praised by Photius for its vivid narration, its clearness and the gracefulness of its descriptions.

It is usually regarded as a given, that Lucian of Samosata had Diogenes' work principally in mind when he wrote his celebrated parody, the Verae Historiae, though J.R. Morgan has more recently questioned this accepted notion on extensive comparative study of the two works.[3]

Summary of Apista at Photios[edit]

What is known of the content of the novel today, we owe it to Photius, who left a brief summary in his lengthy volume of what-is-worth-to-read, Myriobiblos,[4] which he made for his idle brother, Tarasios, to choose from which books to read. Two sections at Porphyry also survive partially, where the Apista are used as a historical source for his Life of Pythagoras, but neither are all that helpful about the plot. Yet the few surviving papyrus fragments do extend our knowledge of the structure and content of the novel significantly.

Even though Photios initially praises the work in high notes, for its style clarity and its plot credibility, the summary of the content that he presents, creates a confusing impression, mainly because of the many nested levels of narration.

The novel begins in an outermost layer where the author writes about a certain Roman fellow, Faustinus, reporting on his travels in search of books. He's even off to Tyros, looking for marvels for his sister Isidora, who basically loves reading books. A corresponding letter of the author follows a dedication to his own sister, also Isidora.

However, the novel's first frame actually is a letter, obviously discovered by Faustinus. It was written by a Greek, Balagros, who had been a member of the Somatophylax Guard, historically attested in the service of Alexander the Great. Balagros sends the letter to his wife -also historic- Phila, the eldest daughter of Antipater. Balagros reports that after the conquest of Tyros, a soldier approached Alexander, and notified the king, of a rather strange discovery. Indeed, escorted by his generals Hephaistion and Parmenion, Alexander steps into a hypogeium, which contains several stone sarcophagi, adorned with peculiar inscriptions:

"Lysilla lived 35 years"
"Mnason, son of Mantinias lived 66 years, then 71 years"
"Aristion, son of Philocles lived 47 years, then 52 years"
"Mantinias, son of Mnason lived, 42 years, then 706 nights"
"Derkyllis, daughter of Mnason lived, 39 years, then 760 nights"
"Deinias the Arcas, lived 125 years"

Thus, the readers are introduced to the novel's significant characters. Then a box of cypress wood is found among the relics, bearing the inscription: "Oh, stranger, who open this, learn from the miracles". Alexander and his companions naturally open it up, finding in it the report of Deinias and Derkyllis, which forms the main narrative of the novel.

Greek natives of Arcadia, Deinias and his son, Demochares, are off on a journey to the outermost edges of the Oikoumene. Beyond the Pontos, they reach the springs of the river Tanais and the Rhipaean Mountains. Then they continue to travel up to the outer sea. After a long journey across the Oceanus, in the course of which three traveling companions called Karmanes, Meniskos and Azulis join them, at last they reach the legendary island of Thule (Iceland or Norway).

There they find a certain Phoenician noble-woman, named Derkyllis, a native of Tyros. Derkyllis and Deinias fall in love. So, she reveals to him of her -and her brother's, Mantinias- adventurous, but sad and rather convoluted fate. Years later, an elderly Deinias confides the stories of Derkyllis and Mantinias, as well as his own experiences, to Kymbas an envoy of the Arcadian League, send to Tyros in order to summon Deinias back home.

Thus, the readers are informed of what Mnasion's children -Derkyllis and Mantinias- went through, after their parents fled the schemes of the novel's villain, an Egyptian priest named Paapis, who slyly takes over the wealthy house of Mnasion. Initially, the evil priest exhibits gratitude towards his benefactors, but soon he wreaks havoc with the noble house, and brings misery, especially to the two siblings. The good parents drop into a deathlike sleep, after their children give them a supposedly benevolent magic formula, handed out to them by Paapis. As the siblings now think that they have murdered their parents, they choose to flee in grief, first arriving to Rhodes and Crete, then continuing on to the lands of the Tyrrhenians, and the Cimmerians. There, deep in the land of barbarians and at the edge of the known World, Derkyllis finds the entrance of Hades, where she meets a deceased servant named Myrto, from whom she is taught secrets of the Underworld.

Returning from Hades, Derkyllis and her companions, Keryllos and Astraios, come by the "grave of the Siren". The story gets a bit more entangled, as it even includes portions of the life of Pythagoras, the ones quoted by Porphyry in his biography of Pythagoras. Astraios explains how in a journey Mnesarchus, a stepfather of Pythagoras, noticed the exceptional abilities of the child that became Pythagoras, as he watched him lying under a white poplar, looking at the sun without blinking, as the poplar was dripping, nourishing dew from a small tube. Mnesarchus called out and endeared with this prodigy child. He took him with him, and on the isle of Samos, he entrusted the child to the care of a native citizen named Androcles. Finally, Androcles adopted the boy, whom he named Astraios, and raised him along with his biological sons Eunostos, Tyrrhenos and Pythagoras. Astraios now reports how Androcles had taken up the education of Pythagoras, training him in the lyre, in wrestling, and in painting. Then, the philosopher Anaximander of Miletus taught the boy of the deepest wisdom of the Egyptians, the Arabs, the Chaldeans and the Hebrews. He himself, Astraios, had been handed over to Pythagoras, who after a physiognomic test accepted him as a student. Thus ends the report of Astraios -that is the citation of Antonius Diogenes by Porphyry- about the life of Pythagoras, in which is also reflected what Astraios had heard by a woman named Philotis, regarding Pythagoras and his teachings.

Then the existing members of the Derkyllis, Keryllos and Astraios group arrive in Iberia, first into a city whose inhabitants are blind during daytime, although they can see at night. With the help of a flute, Astraios harms their enemies, the bloodthirsty and stupid Celts, from whom the team flees by changing their horses' colour, escaping to Akytania. Astraios is particularly appreciated, as the waning and waxing of his eyes, is thought to correspond to the waning and waxing of the moon. The changes of the moon regulate the change of rule between the local kings. Derkyllis is impressed by the people of Artabrians, whose women go to war, while the men stay home and looking after the household chores. Somehow, the Asturians overtake Keryllos, and condemn him to death as a punishment for an old debt, and so he dies.

The Derkyllis team then returns to Italy and Sicily. However it gets captured at Mount Eryx, and is driven before Ainesidemos, the tyrant of Leontinoi. To their dismay, in the court of the tyrant they are confronted by Paapis, the Egyptian villain. But, to her delight, Derkyllis also meets her lost brother, Mantinias, who has experienced an even more peculiar journey, travelling to the edge of the world, and beyond. Now he tells his sister of the journey up, into the realms of the Sun and Moon. This is the very report that seems to have been parodied by Lucian, in his "True History".

The reunited siblings flee Paapis, carrying off and some of his magic books, as well as a box with magical plants. They flee over to Rhegion, and then to Metapontum, a centre of Pythagorean studies, where they meet with Astraios once more. So, they continue with him, travelling all the way to the lands of the Getae and the Thracians, where they come across the Thracian -and probably also Pythagorean- sage Zalmoxis. [9] Zalmoxis predicts that the siblings will finally get to Thule, where the unintentionally committed crime against their parents will atone as a sin, as they will suffer themselves a similar fate. So, the siblings are off to Thule, always hunted down by evil Paapis, who confronts them again. Engaging some magical spell, he spits at their faces, thus submitting them into a deathlike sleep, from which they can only arise, after every sunset. Thruscanes, a resident of Thule, and witness to the alleged murder of Derkyllis and her brother, kills himself as well as Paapis. Yet, as the siblings are believed to be dead, they get a memorial, and are buried. At night they awake, and so it turns out that the spell of Paapis only lasts during daytime, with the siblings alive and well during the night.

Subsequently, the siblings' companion, Azulis, and the Arcadian travellers, Deinias and Demochares, begin to study Paapis' books of magic, searching for the means, not only to redeem Derkyllis and Mantinias from the vampire-like curse that haunts them, but also the parents of the two, who -after all- also suffer from a similar state of apparent death, back in Tyros. Then it seems that the entire team -including the living dead siblings- returns towards Tyre. However, Deinias travelling with Karmanes and Meniskos again find himself straying from their destination, ending up further north. So, these fellows enter the territory of eternal night, and finally reach to the Moon, where the three travellers meet with the Sibyl. She grants them the fulfillment of one request, each. Deinias simply wishes to return to his beloved Derkyllis, in Tyre, which is granted to him. Falling asleep -like Ulysses does in Skheria- Deinias wakes up in Tyros, where eventually all are happily united.


It is a 24-book comprehensive volume, only synoptically reproduced by Photius. So, it only seems probable that the contents of the Photiοs summary, do not conform to the novel's actual extent. It has been assumed that a substantial part of the summary contents are meant from starters to be read as paradox material. The assumption is also supported by Photiοs himself explicitly admitting to noticing digressions and bays.

As far as interpretation and classification of the work, the research is primarily concerned with two interrelated questions. Firstly, concerning the nature of the novel. That the teachings of the Pythagoreans play a certain role in the novel, it is only obvious. But how was the novel supposed to be read, in the first place? Is it lightly read, as a mystery novel, as a love story, or even as a trivial travel biography?

Apista being read as a mystery novel was early represented by Karl Bürger, and lately by Reinhold Merkelbach. Rohde points out several references to the Pythagorean religion, choosing not to interpret the novel exclusively as a mystery book. In this respective, arises yet another question: The relationship between the True Story of Lucian and the Apista is undisputed. But what is the nature of the True Story parody? Is the ridicule directed against the dizzy genre of travel-pseudohistorical narration- or is it against the novel's particular religious overtone? And if so, is Lucian criticizing the wider asterism of Pythagorean ideas, or is he in opposition to a particular sect?

Klaus Reyhl came to extremes in his dissertation examining the dependency of the Apista, to the True Story, claiming that it is possible to reconstruct Apista, at least in parts. This view was not widely accepted. Especially Morgan rejected Reyhl's thesis flatly, in his own study of a True Story and Apista comparison.

Of course, basically the problem lies on the lack of any original text. Surviving traditional texts (e.g. the Aethiopica of Heliodorus of Emesa), as compared to their corresponding summaries of Photios in Myriobiblos, add a word of caution. To base far-reaching deductions on the scope of the existing plot-summary is rather risky. No solid conclusions are possible, out of the quite scarce, and sometimes difficult to grasp -and at times even confused- summary given by Photius, originally only meant just as an incentive for his idle brother, Tarasios, to read the novel.


  1. ^ Photius, The Bibliotheca, cod. 166.
  2. ^ Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, 10-13
  3. ^ J.R. Morgan. Lucian's True Histories and the Wonders Beyond Thule of Antonius Diogenes. The Classical Quarterly (New Series), 35, pp 475-490 doi:10.1017/S0009838800040313
  4. ^ ecumenical patriarch's Photios. Myriobiblos