Philostratus, the cup of Tantalus and the bowl of Buddha


  • Attilio Mastrocinque



The episode of Apollonius among the Indian ascetics, described by Philostratus, testifies to a good knowledge of Buddhist beliefs and customs. The magical bowl producing food and drink automatically is the pivotal element of different well-known accounts concerning Buddha. A Buddhist text, the Vimalakīrti Sūtra, provides us with a series of details also recurring in Philostratus. The magical bowl not only issues liquids as from a spring, but also does not let the liquid overflow and reach the rim. Tantalus should have been interpreted as a Buddhist philanthropic hero in the cultural milieu of the Indo-Greeks. A cup including a little statue of Tantalus who cannot touch the liquid surrounding him has been found in Vinkovci (Croatia). The wondrous cup of Tantalus explains a miracle performed by Septimius Severus in a desert and the mechanics of some spells and amulets for either stopping or producing hemorrhages.

Author Biography

Attilio Mastrocinque

A. Mastrocinque is full professor of Roman history and coordinator of a doctorate in Archaeology, History and Art History in the University of Verona, he also carried out archaeological research in Lucania and Tarquinia.


2021-06-30 — Updated on 2022-05-13