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Peregrinus Proteus (c. 95-165 AD) was a Cynic philosopher, from Parium in Mysia. Leaving home at a young age, he first lived with the Christians in Palestine, before eventually being expelled from that community and adopting the life of a Cynic philosopher and eventually settling in Greece. He is most remembered for committing suicide by cremating himself on a funeral pyre at the Olympic Games in 165. Most of the details of his life come from the satire written by Lucian of Samosata called The Death of Peregrinus.

Life

The only detailed account of the life of Peregrinus was recorded by Lucian in his satire, The Death of Peregrinus (Latin: De Morte Peregrini). Although this account is hostile to Peregrinus, the bare facts of his life can be extracted.

Peregrinus was born in Parium, c. 95 AD. At a young age he was suspected of parricide, and was obliged to leave his native home.[1] During his wanderings he reached Palestine, he came into close contact with the Christian community, and quickly rose to a position of authority.[2] He suffered a term of imprisonment at the hands of the Roman authorities, during which the Christians gave him much aid.[3] He may have expected to be martyred, but the Governor of Syria released him.[4] He seems to have become a Cynic at this point, because he returned home and renounced his inheritance, giving away all his money to the people of his home city.[5] He resumed his wandering life, maintaining close relations with the Christians at first, but eventually he offended them in some way, and was expelled from the Christian community.[6] He went to Egypt to study with the famous Cynic Agathobulus, where he learned the harsh asceticism of the sect.[7] He made his way to Rome, where he began a campaign of abuse against the Roman authorities, and especially the emperor Antoninus Pius.[8 ] He gained a following among the masses, and it may be at this point that Theagenes became his chief disciple. Although tolerated at first, he was eventually expelled by the City Prefect.[8 ] He next went to Elis in Greece, where he continued his anti-Roman preaching.[9] At the Olympic games (either 153 or 157), Peregrinus abused the wealthy philanthropist Herodes Atticus, whereby the infuriated crowd attacked Peregrinus, and he was forced to take refuge at the altar of Zeus.[10] In Athens, Peregrinus devoted himself to the study and teaching of philosophy, and obtained a considerable number of pupils, amongst them Aulus Gellius.[11] At the Olympic Games of 161, he announced that he would publicly burn himself to death at the following Olympics:[12]

He said that he wanted to put a tip of gold on a golden life; for one who had lived as Heracles should die like Heracles and be commingled with the aether. And I wish, said he, to benefit mankind by showing them the way in which one should disregard death; wherefore all men ought to play Philoctetes to my Heracles.[13]

He carried out his promise: on the final night of the Olympic games in 165, he immolated himself on a funeral pyre located 20 stadia (3.7 km) east of Olympia.[14] Lucian, who was present, witnessed the event, having heard Theagenes, Peregrinus' most ardent disciple, praise his master's intentions.

It is hard to reconstruct Peregrinus' own motivations for the events of his life, because Lucian, for general and personal reasons, presents a hostile view of Peregrinus. According to Lucian, Peregrinus strangled his father to death; became a Christian so that he could gain wealth; was imprisoned so that he could gain notoriety; gave his inheritance away so that he might gain favour among the people of his home town; studied under Agathobulus so that he could become more obscene; attacked the Romans to become famous; and killed himself to become infamous.

Aulus Gellius provides a brief, but different, view of Peregrinus. He describes Peregrinus as "a man of dignity and fortitude," and Aulus would regularly visit him in his hut outside Athens where he would listen to things which were "helpful and noble":

He used to say that a wise man would not commit a sin, even if he knew that neither gods nor men would know it; for he thought that one ought to refrain from sin, not through fear of punishment or disgrace, but from love of justice and honesty and from a sense of duty.[11]

Some time before 180, a statue of Peregrinus was erected in his home city of Parium, which was reputed to have oracular powers.[15]

Notes

  1. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 10.
  2. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 11.
  3. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 12, 13.
  4. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 14.
  5. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 15.
  6. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 16.
  7. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 17.
  8. ^ a b Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 18.
  9. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 19.
  10. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 19, 20.
  11. ^ a b Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, xii. 11.
  12. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 20.
  13. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 33.
  14. ^ Lucian, De Morte Peregrini, 35-36.
  15. ^ Athenagoras, Presbeia peri Christianon, 26.

References

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

PEREGRINUS PROTEUS (2nd cent. A.D.), Cynic philosopher, of Parium in Mysia. At an early age he was suspected of parricide, and was obliged to leave his native place. During his wanderings he reached Palestine, where he ingratiated himself with the Christian community, and became its virtual head. His fanatical zeal and craving for notoriety led to his imprisonment, but the governor of Syria let him go free, to prevent his posing as a martyr. He then returned to Parium to claim his paternal inheritance, but finding that the circumstances of his father's death were not yet forgotten, he publicly surrendered all claims to the property in favour of the municipality. He resumed his wandering life, at first assisted by the Christians, but having been detected profaning the rites of the Church, he was excommunicated. During a visit to Egypt he made the acquaintance of the famous Cynic Agathobulus and joined the sect. Meeting with little encouragement, he made his way to Rome, whence he was expelled for insulting the emperor Antoninus Pius. Crossing to Greece, he finally took up his abode at Athens. Here he devoted himself to the study and teaching of philosophy, and obtained a considerable number of pupils, amongst them Aulus Gellius, who speaks of him in very favourable terms. But, having given offence by his attacks on Herodes Atticus and finding his popularity diminishing, he determined to create a sensation. He announced his intention of immolating himself on a funeral pyre at the celebration of the Olympian games in 165, and actually carried it out. Lucian, who was present, has given a full description of the event.

C. M. Wieland's Geheime Geschichte des Philosophen Peregrinus Proteus (Eng. trans., 1796) is an attempt to rehabilitate his character. See also Lucian, De morte Peregrini; Aulus Gellius xii. 11; Ammianus Marcellinus xxix.; Philostratus, Vit. Soph. ii. I, 33; J. Bernays, Lucian and die Kyniker (1875); E. Zeller, "Alexander and Peregrinus," in his Vortrage and Abhandlungen, ii. (1877).


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