Porphyry (philosopher): Wikis


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Porphire Sophiste, in a French 16th-c. engraving

Porphyry of Tyre (Ancient GreekΠορφύριος, A.D. 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre.[1] He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics.[2] His Isagoge, or Introduction, is an introduction to logic and philosophy,[3] and in Latin translation it was the standard textbook on logic throughout the Middle Ages.[4] In addition, through several of his works, most notably Philosophy from Oracles and Against the Christians, he was involved in a controversy with a number of early Christians,[5] and his commentary on Euclid's Elements was used as a source by Pappus of Alexandria.[6]


Biographical information

Porphyry's parents were Phoenician, and he was born Malchus ("king")[7] in Tyre. His teacher in Athens, Cassius Longinus, gave him the name Porphyrius ("clad in purple"), a punning allusion to the color of the imperial robes. Under Longinus he studied grammar and rhetoric. In 262 he went to Rome, attracted by the reputation of Plotinus, and for six years devoted himself to the study of Neoplatonism. Because of this he became suicidal.[8] On the advice of Plotinus he went to live in Sicily for five years to recover his health. On returning to Rome, he lectured on philosophy and completed an edition of the writings of Plotinus (who had died in the meantime) together with a biography of his teacher. Iamblichus is mentioned in ancient Neoplatonic writings as his pupil, but this most likely means only that he was the dominant figure in the next generation of philosophers. The two men differed publicly on the issue of theurgy. In his later years, he married Marcella, a widow with seven children and an enthusiastic student of philosophy. Little more is known of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain.

Introduction (Isagoge)

Imaginary debate between Averroes and Porphyry. Monfredo de Monte Imperiali Liber de herbis, 14th century.[9]

Porphyry is best known for his contributions to philosophy. Apart from writing the Aids to the Study of the Intelligibles (Sententiae Ad Intelligibilia Ducentes), a basic summary of Neoplatonism, he is especially appreciated for his Introduction to Categories (Introductio in Praedicamenta), a very short work often considered to be a commentary on Aristotle's Categories, hence the title.[10] According to Barnes (2003), however, the correct title is simply Introduction (εἰσαγωγή,)(Isagoge), and the book is an introduction not to the Categories in particular, but to logic in general, comprising as it does the theories of predication, definition, and proof. The Introduction describes how qualities attributed to things may be classified, famously breaking down the philosophical concept of substance into the five components genus, species, difference, property, accident.

As Porphyry's most influential contribution to philosophy, the Introduction to Categories incorporated Aristotle's logic into Neoplatonism, in particular the doctrine of the categories of being interpreted in terms of entities (in later philosophy, "universal"). Boethius' Isagoge, a Latin translation of Porphyry's "Introduction", became a standard medieval textbook in European schools and universities, which set the stage for medieval philosophical-theological developments of logic and the problem of universals. In medieval textbooks, the all-important Arbor porphyriana ("Porphyrian Tree") illustrates his logical classification of substance. To this day, taxonomy benefits from concepts in Porphyry's Tree, in classifying living organisms: see cladistics.

The Introduction was translated into Arabic by Abd-Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ from a Syriac version. With the Arabicized name Isāghūjī it long remained the standard introductory logic text in the Muslim world and influenced the study of theology, philosophy, grammar, and jurisprudence. Besides the adaptations and epitomes of this work, many independent works on logic by Muslim philosophers have been entitled Isāghūjī. Porphyry's discussion of accident sparked a long-running debate on the application of accident and essence.[11]

Philosophy from Oracles (De Philosophia ex Oraculis Haurienda)

Porphyry is also known as an opponent of Christianity and defender of Paganism; his defense of traditional religion, Philosophy from Oracles, written before the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian and Galerius, set out the basis for them:

"How can these people be thought worthy of forbearance? They have not only turned away from those who from earliest time have been thought of as divine among all Greeks and barbarians... but by emperors, law-givers and philosophers— all of a given mind. But also, in choosing impieties and atheism, they have preferred their fellow creatures.[12] And to what sort of penalties might they not be subjected who... are fugitives from the things of their Fathers?"[13]

Whether or not Porphyry was the pagan philosopher opponent in Lactantius' Divine Institutes, written at the time of the persecutions, has long been discussed. A Christian version of Philosophy from Oracles has been attributed to Porphyry. The attribution was accepted by Eusebius and appealed to by apologists like Theodoret. St. Augustine was one of the first to reject it.[citation needed] Dr Nathaniel Lardner rejected the attribution in the 18th century.

Against the Christians (Adversus Christianos)

Of his Adversus Christianos (Against the Christians) in fifteen books, only fragments remain, as quotations adduced in order to be refuted.[14][15] In it, he famously is quoted as having said, "The Gods have proclaimed Christ to have been most pious, but the Christians are a confused and vicious sect." Counter-treatises were written by Eusebius of Caesarea, Apollinaris of Laodicea, Methodius of Olympus, and Macarius of Magnesia, but all these are lost.

Porphyry's identification of the Book of Daniel as the work of a writer in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes (2nd century BC), is given by Jerome. Augustine and the 5th-century ecclesiastical historian Socrates of Constantinople, assert that Porphyry was once a Christian.[citation needed]

Other subjects

Porphyry was also opposed to the theurgy of his disciple Iamblichus. Much of Iamblichus' mysteries is dedicated to the defense of mystic theurgic divine possession against the critiques of Porphyry.

Porphyry was, like Pythagoras, an advocate of vegetarianism on spiritual and ethical grounds. These two philosophers are perhaps the most famous vegetarians of classical antiquity. He wrote the De Abstinentia (On Abstinence) and De Non Necandis ad Epulandum Animantibus (roughly On the Impropriety of Killing Living Beings for Food), advocating against the consumption of animals, and he is cited with approval in vegetarian literature up to the present day.

Porphyry also wrote widely on astrology, religion, philosophy, and musical theory. He produced a Philosophos istoria with vitae of philosophers that included a life of his teacher, Plotinus. His life of Plato from book iv exists only in quotes by Cyril of Alexandria.[16] His book Vita Pythagorae on the life of Pythagoras is not to be confused with the book of the same name by Iamblichus.

Works by Porphyry

  • Ad Gaurum ed. K. Kalbfleisch. Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akadamie der Wissenschaft. phil.-hist. kl. (1895): 33-62.
  • Contra Christianos, ed., Adolf von Harnack, Porphyrius, "Gegen die Christen,"15 Bücher: Zeugnisse, Fragmente und Referate. Abhandlungen der königlich prüssischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Jahrgang 1916: philosoph.-hist. Klasse: Nr. 1 (Berlin: 1916).
  • Contra los Cristianos: Recopilación de Fragmentos, Traducción, Introducción y Notas E. A. Ramos Jurado, J. Ritoré Ponce, A. Carmona Vázquez, I. Rodríguez Moreno, J. Ortolá Salas, J. M. Zamora Calvo (Cádiz: Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Cádiz 2006).
  • Corpus dei Papiri Filosofici Greci e Latini III: Commentarii (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1995). <# 6 and #9 may or may not be by Porphyry>
  • De abstinentia ab esu animalium Jean Bouffartigue, M. Patillon, and Alain-Philippe Segonds, edd., 3 vols., Budé (Paris, 1979-1995).
  • De Philosophia ex oraculis haurienda G. Wolf, ed. (Berlin: 1956).
  • Epistula ad Anebonem, A. R. Sodano ed. (Naples: L'arte Tipografia, 1958).
  • Fragmenta Andrew Smith, ed. (Stvtgardiae et Lipsiae: B. G. Tevbneri, 1993).
  • The Homeric Questions: a Bilingual Edition Lang Classical Studies 2, R. R. Schlunk, trans. (Frankfurt-am-Main: Lang, 1993).
  • Isagoge, Stefan Weinstock, ed. in Catalogus Codicum astrologorum Graecorum, Franz Cumon, ed. (Brussels, 1940): V.4, 187-228.
  • Kommentar zur Harmonielehre des Ptolemaios Ingemar Duuring. ed. (Göteborg: Elanders, 1932).
  • Opuscula selecta Augusts Nauck, ed. (Lipsiae: B. G. Tevbneri, 1886).
  • Porphyrii in Platonis Timaeum commentarium fragmenta A. R. Sodano, ed. (Napoli: 1964).
  • Porphyry, the Philosopher, to Marcella: Text and Translation with Introduction and Notes Kathleen O’bBien Wicker, trans., Text and Translations 28; Graeco-Roman Religion Series 10 (Atlanata: Schoalrs Press, 1987).
  • Pros Markevllan Griechiser Text, herausgegeben, übersetzt, eingeleitet und erklärt von W. Pötscher (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969).
  • Sententiae Ad Intelligibilia Ducentes E. Lamberz, ed. (Leipzig: Teubner, 1975).
  • Vie de Pythagore, Lettre à Marcella E. des Places, ed. and trans. (Paris: Les Belles Lettre, 1982).
  • La Vie de Plotin Luc Brisson, ed. Historie de l'antiquité classique 6 & 16 (Paris: Libraire Philosophique J. Vrin: 1986-1992) 2 vols.
  • Vita Plotini in Plotinus, Armstrong, ed. LCL (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), 2-84.
  • To Marcella text and translation with Introduction and Notes by Kathleen O'Biren Wicker (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987).


  • The Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey A revised text with translation by Seminar Classics 609, State University of New York at Buffalo, Arethusa Monograph 1 (Buffalo: Dept. of Classics, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1969).
  • Isagoge Mediaeval Sources in Translation 16, E. Warren, trans. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1975).
  • Isagoge, Introduction, J. Barnes, trans. (Oxford, New York : Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Isagoge, J. Tricot, trans. (Paris: J. Vrin, 1947).
  • Neoplatonic Saints: The Lives of Plotinus and Proclus Translated Texts for Historians 35 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000).
  • On Abstinence from Killing Animals Gilliam Clark, trans. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2000).
  • On Aristotle's Categories Steven K. Strange, trans. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992).
  • On the Cave of the Nymphs Robert Lamberton, trans. (Barrytown, N. Y.: Station Hill Press, 1983).
  • The Organon or Logical Treatises of Aristotle with the Introduction of Porphyry Bohn's Classical Library 11-12, Octavius Freire Owen, trans. (London: G. Bell, 1908-1910), 2 vols.
  • Porphyry Against the Christians, R. M. Berchman, trans., Ancient Mediterranean and Medieval Texts and Contexts 1 (Leiden: Brill, 2005).
  • Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains R. Joseph Hoffmann, trans. (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1994).
  • Five Texts on the Mediaeval Problem of Universals: Porphyry, Boethius, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Ockham Paul Vincent Spade, trans. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994)


  1. ^ For Porphyry's dates, place of birth and philosophical school, see Barker 2003. Sarton 1936, pp. 429-430, identifies Transjordania as Porphyry's place of birth.
  2. ^ Topics range from music to Homer to vegetarianism. For a comprehensive list see Beutler (1894-1980).
  3. ^ Barnes 2003, p. xv clarifies that the Isagoge "[was] not an Introduction to the Categories, rather "[since it was] an introduction to the study of logic, [it] was... an introduction to philosophy--and hence accidentally an introduction to the Categories."
  4. ^ See Barnes 2003, p. ix.
  5. ^ See Digeser 1998.
  6. ^ See O'Connor and Robertson, "Porphyry Malchus".
  7. ^ For connotations of West Semitic MLK, see Moloch; compare theophoric names like Abimelech.
  8. ^ Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers
  9. ^ "Inventions et decouvertes au Moyen-Age", Samuel Sadaune, p.112
  10. ^ Barnes 2003, p. xiv outlines the history of the opinion that Porphyry meant for his Isagoge to be an introductory work to the Categories.
  11. ^ Encyclopedia Iranica, "Araz" (accident)
  12. ^ That is, refusing to sacrifice to the gods and emperors ("atheism"), Christians have preferred the Christ, one of "their fellow creatures."
  13. ^ The fragment, once thought part of Against the Christians, but reassigned by Wilken 1979 to Philosophy from Oracles, is quoted in Digeser 1998, p. 129.
  14. ^ "Constantine and other emperors banned and burned Porphyry's work" (Digeser 1998:130).
  15. ^ Letter of Constantine proscribing the works of Porphyry and Arius, To the Bishops and People, in Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica, i.9.30-31; Gelasius, Historia Ecclesiastica, II.36; translated in Stevenson, J., (Editor; Revised with additional documents by W. H. C. Frend), A New Eusebius, Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337 (SPCK, 1987).
  16. ^ James A. Notopoulos, "Porphyry's Life of Plato" Classical Philology 35.3 (July 1940), pp. 284-293, attempted a reconstruction from Apuleius' use of it.


  • Iamblichus: De mysteriis. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell (Society of Biblical Literature; 2003) ISBN 1-58983-058-X.
  • Zuiddam, B. A. "Old Critics and Modern Theology," Dutch Reformed Theological Journal (South Africa), xxxvi, 1995, № 2.
  • Barnes, J. (2003). Introduction to Introduction, by Porphyry. Clarendon Press.
  • Sarton, G. (1936). "The Unity and Diversity of the Mediterranean World," Osiris 2, pp. 406-463. (In JSTOR.)
  • Barker, A. (2003). "Porphyry," in S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, eds., Oxford Classical Dictionary, revised 3rd edition, pp. 1226-1227.
  • Wilken, R. (1979). "Pagan Criticism of Christianity: Greek Religion and Christian Faith," in W. Schoedel and R. Wilken, eds., Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition, pp. 117-134.
  • Digeser. E. D. (1998). "Lactantius, Porphyry, and the Debate over Religious Toleration," The Journal of Roman Studies 88, pp. 129-146.
  • O'Connor, J. and E. Robertson, "Porphyry Malchus". Retrieved April 14, 2009.
  • Beutler, R. (1894-1980). "Porphyrios (21)" in A. Pauly, G. Wissowa, W. Kroll, K. Witte, K. Mittelhaus and K. Ziegler, eds., Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, vol. 22.1.
  • Bidez, J. (1913). Vie de Porphyre. Ghent.
  • Emilsson, E., "Porphyry". Retrieved April 19, 2009.

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