Episode 125: ‘Poet, Philosopher, Hierophant’: Introducing Porphyry of Tyre
[Thanks to wikipedia for the above image]
Porphyry of Tyre (c. 232- before 305 CE), one of Plotinus’ principal students, and the editor of his master’s works, was in some ways more influential than his master. In the centuries following his death, Porphyry’s works are read and cited again and again, notably by Christian authors, who seem to have had a serious love-hate relationship with the author of late antiquity’s greatest anti-Christian polemic, the Against the Christians. Perhaps it was simply that Porphyry wrote on everything, and his works caught the Zeitgeist in some way which the less-accessible literary spirallings of the Enneads never did. But whatever the reason, Porphyry put his mark on the millennium following his death and beyond.
We introduce this crucial figure, discuss the basics of his biography, the outlines of his thought on some key matters, and deliver a brief catalogue of the enormous literary output of this great thinker.
Works Cited in this Episode:
The references to Smith below are to Andrew Smith’s edition of Porphyry’s fragments, which you can find under ‘Recommended Reading>Good Editions’ below.
- Eunapius: Porphyry exorcises the daimōn Kausatha: VS 4.1.12. Iamblichus was his student: VS 5.1.2.
- Eustochius: see Porph. VP 7.
- Porphyry: A poet, philosopher, and hierophant: Plot. 15 1-6: Ἐμοῦ δὲ ἐν Πλατωνείοις ποιήμα ἀναγνόντος «Τὸν ἱερὸν γάμον», καὶ τινος διὰ τὸ μυστικῶς πολλὰ μετ’ ἐνθουσιασνμοῦ ἐπικεκρυμμένως εἰρῆσθαι εἰπόντος μαίνεσθαι τὸν Πορφὺριον, ἐκεῖνος εἰς ἐπήκοον ἔφη πάντων ἔδειξας ὁμοῦ καὶ τὸν ποιητὴν καὶ τὸν φιλόσοφον καὶ τὸν ἱεροφάντην. Beat up by Christians in his youth: Socrates HE 3.23.37-39 = Smith 9T. Niceph. Callist. HE 10.36 = Smith 9aT. For his earlier Christian faith, see also Scholia in Luciani Peregrin. II p. 216.8-15 = Smith 11T. Union with the One: Plot. 23 7-18: οὑτῶς δὲ μάλιστα τοῳ τῷ δαιμονίῳ φωτὶ πολλάκις ἐνάδοντι ἑαθτὸν εἰς τὸν πρῶτον καὶ ἐπέκεινα θεὸν ταῖς ἐννοίαις καὶ κατὰ τὰς ἐν τῷ «Συμποσίῳ» ὑφηγημένας ὁδοὺς τῷ Πλάτωνι ἐφάνη ἐκεῖνος ὁ θεὸς ὁ μήτε μορφὴν μήτε τινὰ ἰδέαν ἔχων, ὑπὲρ δὲ νοῦν καὶ πᾶν τὸ νοητὸν ἱδρυμένος. ῷ δὴ καὶ ἐγὼ Πορφύριος ἅπαξ λέγω πλησιάσαι καὶ ἑνωθήναι ἔτος ἄγων ἑξηκοστόν τε καὶ ὄγδοον…. ἔτυχε δὲ τετράκις που, ὅτε αὐτῳ συνήμην, τοῦ σκοποῦ τούτου ἐνεργείᾳ ἀρρήτῳ [καὶ οὐ δυνάμει].
- G. Bechtle. The Anonymous Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides. P. Haupt Verlag, Bern, 1999.
- J. Bidez. Vie de Porphyre. Teubner, 1913.
- Kevin Corrigan. Platonism and Gnosticism: The Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides: Middle- or Neoplatonic? In J.D. Turner and R. Majercik, editors, Gnosticism and Later Platonism, pages 141–177. Society for Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2001.
- Heinrich Dörrie. Porphyrios’ «Symmikta zetemata». Ihre Stellung und Geschichte des Neuplatonismus nebst einem Kommentar zu den Fragmenten. C.H. Beck, Munich, 1959.
- M. Edwards. Porphyry and the Intelligible Triad. Journal of Hellenic Studies, 110: 14–25, 1990.
- Pierre Hadot. Citations de Porphyre chez Augustin. Revue des études augustiniennes, 6:205–44, 1960.
- Idem. Porphyre et Victorinus. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1968. 2 vols.
- J.J. O’Meara. Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles in Augustine. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1959.
- Tuomas Rasimus. Porphyry and the Gnostics: Reassessing Pierre Hadot’s Thesis in Light of the Second- and Third-Century Sethian Treatises. In John D. Turner and Kevin Corrigan, editors, Plato’s ‘Parmenides’ and Its Heritage, Volume 2: Reception in Patristic, Gnostic, and the Christian Neoplatonic Texts, pages 81–110. Brill, Leiden, 2011.
On Porphyry’s life we have mainly circumstantial details from his Life of Plotinus (the best edition of which is P. Henry and H.-R. Schwyzer, editors. Plotini opera. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1964-1983. 3 vols; for an abundance of useful notes, see Brisson et al., in the Recommended Reading below) and Eunapius’ Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, which remains woefully neglected: Wilmer Cave Wright’s Loeb edition is still your best bet, freely available online.
Good editions of Porphyry’s works:
The Teubner series (that’s Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana to you) of editions of Porphyry’s writings remains the only one-stop shop (and even they are no longer one-stop, as new fragments are still being discovered). Andrew Smith’s edition of the fragments in this series is absolutely essential.
- Andrew Smith, editor. Porphyrius: Fragmenta. Teubner, Leipzig, 1993.
The Belles Lettres have put out a number of Porphyry’s surviving works in Greek/French. In English it is a case of catch-as-catch can.
The Stanford online Encyclopædia of Philosophy gives a superb bibliography of useful editions and translations of Porphyry’s principal works. To this must now be added Yuri Arzhanov, editor. Porphyry “On Principles and Matter”: A Syriac Version of a Lost Greek Text with an English Translation, Introduction, and Glossaries. Number 34 in Scientia Graeco-Arabica. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2021.
Useful General Studies:
Andrew Smith’s article in the Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt is a good first place to look for serious bibliography on Porphyry: Andrew Smith. Porphyrian Studies Since 1913. ANRW, II.36.2:717–73, 1987.
- Heinrich Dörrie, Jan-Hendrik Waszink, Willy Theiler, Pierre Hadot, Angelo Raffaele Sodano, Jean Pépin, and Richard Walzer. Porphyre. Number XII in Entretiens sur l’Antiquité classique. Foundation Hardt, Vandœuvres-Genèv, 1966.
- Mark Edwards. Porphyrios. In Christoph Riedweg, Christoph Horn, and Dietmar Wyrwa, editors, Philosophie der Kaiserzeit und der Spätantike, pages 1327–49, 1426– 34. Schwabe, Basel, 2018.
- Richard Goulet et al. Porphyre de Tyr. In Richard Goulet, editor, Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques, pages 1289–1468 (entry 263). CNRS Éditions, Paris, 2012.
- Aaron P. Johnson. Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre: The Limits of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. The University Press, Cambridge, 2013.
- George E. Karamanolis and Anne Sheppard. Studies on Porphyry. Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, London, 2007.
- John J. O’Meara. Porphyry’s Philosophy from Oracles in Eusebius’ Præparatio Evangelica and Augustine’s Dialogues of Cassiciacum. Paris, 1969.
- Andrew Smith. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag, 1974.
- Marco Zambon. Porphyre et le moyen-platonisme. Vrin, Paris, 2002.