Persians: Apion of Alexandria on Pases the Magian (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Persians: Apion of Alexandria on Pases the Magian (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 20, 2024,

Ancient authors: Apion of Alexandria (early first century CE), On the Magian, or On Homer the Magian, as cited by the author of the Suda lexicon, pi 752 (link).

Comments: While many Greek authors wrote about Persian customs, including the Magians, we know of only three (now lost or largely lost) works that were titled to indicate a primary focus on Magians: there is Xanthos of Lydia’s fifth century work on Magian Matters (Magikalink), there is the work attributed to Aristotle on Magian Matters mentioned by Diogenes (link), and there is this mysterious work by Apion of Alexandria On the Magian, or (if a typo) On the Magians, or (as in another manuscript of the Suda lexicon) On Homer the Magian. In this entry in the Suda lexicon, the author of the lexicon refers to a specific story in Apion’s work about one Pases known for his Magian skill, including a supposed ability to make things materialize and dematerialize by means of chants.

This is the only known reference to this work by Apion. And it seems that this is the same Apion engaged by Josephos (link), the grammarian known for his speeches and works on Homer. Apion was also an ambassador for Alexandria during the tensions with Judeans.

Works consulted: K. Jones, “The Figure of Apion in Josephus’ Contra Apionem,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 36 (2005): 278–315 (link); J. Rives, “Apion Περὶ Μάγου and the Meaning of the Word Μάγος,” MHNH: Revista Internacional de Investigación Sobre Magia y Astrología Antiguas 9 (2009): 119–32.


Pases. This is a proper name. And there is a proverb: “Pases’ half-obol.” This Pases was a weak character, but he so excelled all men in Magian skill (mageia) that as a result of his chants (epaoidioi) they saw lavish banquets and some people acting as waiters. And then everything vanished again. He also possessed a half-obol [i.e. a small coin] made for him out of a single [missing words] . . . , which was handed over by him to the sellers from whom he was seeking to buy. Then, if he wanted, it was discovered again in his possession. Apion the grammarian mentions him in On the Magian [or in another manuscript, On the Magian Homer].

Πάσης: ὄνομα κύριον. καὶ παροιμία: Τὸ Πάσητος ἡμιωβέλιον. ὁ δὲ Πάσης οὗτος μαλακὸς ἦν τὴν φύσιν, πάντων δὲ ἀνθρώπων ἐν μαγείᾳ διενήνοχεν, ὥστε ἐκ τω̂ν ἐπαοιδίων αὐτουῦ καὶ δειῖπνα πολυτελῆ ὁρᾶσθαι καὶ διακονουμένους τινάς, καὶ πάλιν ἀφανηῆ πάντα γίνεσθαι. εἶχε δὲ καὶ ἡμιωβέλιον ἐκ μιαᾶς αὐτῷ πεποιημένον, ὁ διαδιδόμενον ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ τοῖς πιπράσκουσι, παρ’ ὧν ἤθελεν ὠνειῖσθαι, εἰ ἠβούλετο, πάλιν παρ’ αὐτῷ ηὑρίσκετο. καὶ ̓Απίων δὲ ὁ γραμματικὸς μνημονεύει αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Περὶ μάγου.


Source of translation:  David Whitehead at Suda Online (link), adapted by Harland.

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