A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Ἀλέξανδρος), the PAPHLAGONIAN, a celebrated impostor, who flourished about the beginning of the second century (Lucian. Alex. 6), a native of Abonoteichos on the Euxine, and the pupil of a friend of Apollonius Tyanaeus. His history, which is told by Lucian with great naiveté, is chiefly an account of the various contrivances by which he established and maintained the credit of an oracle. Being, according to Lucian's account, at his wit's end for the means of life, with many natural advantages of manner and person, he determined on the following imposture. After raising the expectations of the Paphlagonians with a reported visit of the god Aesculapius, and giving himself out, under the sanction of an oracle, as a descendant of Perseus, he gratified the expectation which he had himself raised, by finding a serpent, which he juggled out of an egg, in the foundations of the new temple of Aesculapius. A larger serpent, which he brought with him from Pella, was disguised with a human head, until the dull Paphlagonians really believed that a new god Glycon had appeared among them, and gave oracles in the likeness of a serpent. Dark and crowded rooms, juggling tricks, and the other arts of more vulgar magicians, were the chief means used to impose on a credulous populace, which Lucian detects with as much zest as any modern sceptic in the marvels of animal magnetism. Every one who attempted to expose the impostor, was accused of being a Christian or Epicurean; and even Lucian, who amused himself with his contradictory oracles, hardly escaped the effects of his malignity. He had his spies at Rome, and busied himself with the affairs of the whole world : at the time when a pestilence was raging, many were executed at his instigation, as the authors of this calamity. He said, that the soul of Pythagoras had migrated into his body, and prophesied that he should live a hundred and fifty years, and then die from the fall of a thunderbolt : unfortunately, an ulcer in the leg put an end to his imposture in the seventieth year of his age, just as he was in the height of his glory, and had requested the emperor to have a medal struck in honour of himself and the new god. The influence he attained over the populace seems incredible; indeed, the narrative of Lucian would appear to be a mere romance, were it not confirmed by some medals of Antoninus and M. Aurelius.