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Posidonius of Apamea (1)

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12 Assyrian Identity

05 Scientific knowledge and scholarly lore

01 Religious and ideological doctrines and imagery

Greek Orientals
Posidonius of Apamea
2nd century BCE
No channel specified

Posidonius of Apamea was born about 135 BCE, and after long travels in pursuit of his studies which took him as far as Gades (Cadiz), he settled in the island of Rhodes, where his teaching attracted large numbers of Greeks and Romans, among whom were Pompey and Cicero who attended to his lectures. He died at the age of 84 after an active career. We do not know whether he was a pure Syrian, or what was his mother tongue, Greek or Aramaic. We do not know much of his education, except that he was the pupil of the Stoic Panaetius. But it is clear that Posidonius, as a native of the very heart of Syria, but naturalised as a Rhodian, represented in all its fulness the alliance of Semitic tradition with Greek thought. He was the great intermediary and mediator not only between Romans and Hellenes, but between East and West. Brought up on Plato and Aristotle, he was equally versed in Asiatic astrology and demonology. If he is Greek in the constructive power of his speculative genius, in the harmonious flow of his copious and highly-coloured style, his genius remained Oriental in the singular combination of the most exact science with a fervent mysticism. More of a theologian than a philosopher, in mind more learned than critical, he made all human knowledge conspire to the building up of a great system, the coping of which was enthusiastic adoration of the God who permeates the universal organism. In this vast syncretism all superstitions, popular or sacerdotal, soothsaying, divination, magic, find their place and their justification; but above all it was due to him that astrology entered into a coherent explanation of the world, acceptable to the most enlightened intellects, and that it was solidly based on a general theory of nature, from which it was to remain henceforth inseparable.

The works of Posidonius are known only in fragments. The echo of his words resounded far through the Roman dominion, where his authority balanced that of Epicurus. His pupil Cicero has frequent reminiscences of his teaching and translates his ideas into Latin. The symbolism of Philo the Jew is ofter inspired by his picturesque eloquence. Still later his ideas passed into and spread throughout the Stoic school, for instance in the works of Seneca, and they are echoed in the treatises of the astrologers of the imperial age, for example in Manilius and his Astronomics.


Cumont 1912, 83-85Cumont, Franz. Astrology and Religion among the Greeks and Romans. American Lectures on the History of Religions 8. New York, London: G. P. Putnam's Sons 1912.

Amar Annus

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