Podcast episode

Episode 126: Porphyry’s Gods: The Metaphysics and Physics of Divinity

We discuss Porphyry’s god-filled universe and some of the many ways in which humans, daimones, powers, and gods interact and occasionally transform into each other. We discuss Porphyry’s higher, metaphysical realms of existence, the true goal of the philosopher. We then move on to the astral gods, with a discursus on the astral afterlife (on which Porphyry gives us a so-far unprecedented amount of specific information), the soul’s descent into the body and acquisition of an astrally-conditioned pneumatic vehicle along the way, and the possibility of escape from the cycle of incarnations for the true philosophic elite. We then look at the kosmos more generally, noting that it is fully imbricated within a web of hierarchical Powers ultimately derived from the One itself. Last but not least, we discuss the myriad different forms of daimones to be found in the mundus porphoricus, which include some nasty characters indeed.

Having done what is hopefully an adequate job of adumbrating the taxonomies and interlocking religious and philosophic registers used in delineating these divine beings, we look at some of the ways in which gods and humans interact, not all of them positive. There is possession by evil daimones. There are oracles of various kinds, But there is also the philosophic ascent to the true, noetic self, and a separation from the body that looks an awful lot like a programmatic trance-state.

Featuring a special cameo appearance by Jesus.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Augustine, De regressu animæ citing Porphyry on the importance of theurgy for one’s postmortem state: 287F, 288F, 288aF Smith.

Eunapius on Porphyry’s earlier works contradicted by his later works: VS 457 (p. 360-361 in Wright’s Loeb).

Plato: for the Timæus see Episode 27 of the podcast; for the Myth of Er see Episode 30. The True Earth in the Phædo is discussed in Episode 34.

Porphyry: most of the works cited below are from Andrew Smith’s Teubner edition of the fragments. For the To Gaurus, see now Porphyry: To Gaurus on how Embryos are Ensouled and On what is in our Power, translated by James Wilberding, London: Bristol Classical Papers, 2011. For the Sententiæ we use Lamberz’ Teubner edition.

  • ‘the first and transcendent god … which has no shape nor any Form, established above nous and all the noetic reality’: Plot. 23.
  • The One/God over All present throughout the universe through his dynameis: De simulac. 353F, 20–7 Smith: εἰ δὲ μὴ τὰ ὁρώμενα σώματα ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης καὶ ἄστρων μηδέ γε τὰ αἰσθητὰ μέρη τοῦ κόσμου φήσουσι θεοποιεῖν, ἀλλὰ τὰς ἐν τούτοις ἀοράτους δυνάμεις αὐτοῦ δὴ τοῦ ἐπὶ πᾶσιν (ἕνα γὰρ ὄντα θεὸν παντοίαις δυνάμεσι τὰ πάντα πληροῦν καὶ διὰ πάντων διήκειν καὶ τοῖς πᾶσιν ἐπιστατεῖν ἀσωμάτως καὶ ἀφανῶς ἐν πᾶσιν ὄντα καὶ διὰ πάντων διήκοντα, καὶ τοῦτον εἰκότως διὰ τῶν δεδηλωμένων σέβειν φασί). κτλ.
  • The noetic gods are good and responsible for salvation: De abst. II.34.5
  • Zeus as the Demiurgic nous: De simulac. 354aF Smith: «Ζευς ουν ὁ πᾶς κόσμος, ζῷον ἐκ ζῷων και θεός ἐκ θεών. Ζεύς δέ και (ὁ θεός), καθὸ νοῦς, ἀφ’ οὑ προφέρει πάντα, ὅτι δημιουργεῖ τοῖς νοήμασιν.»
  • Sacrifices frequented by wicked daimones: De abst. II.42.3, cf. II.39.2.
  • Gods play mortals like a flute: Phil. orac. 349F 2-9 Smith.
  • The danger of private oracular sessions which invite daimones to ‘penetrate’ the participants and deliver oracles: Phil. orac. 326F, 38-40 Smith: άχρι τούτων τολμά φύσις άνθρώπου εύρίσκειν τάς περι αύτης συνεστώσας παγίδας· καὶ γάρ ό θεός ὅταν εἰσκρίθῃ, πολυπλασιάζεται τό πνεῦμα.
  • Ascent as a process of henosis: Sent. 11, p. 5, 1–4 Lamberz: Αἱ ἀσώματοι ὑποστάσεις ὑποβαίνουσαι μὲν μερίζονται καὶ πληθύνονται εἰς τὰ κατὰ ἄτομον ὑφέσει δυνάμεως, ὑπερβαίνουσαι δὲ ἑνίζονται καὶ εἰς τὸ ὁμοῦ ἀντιχωροῦσι δυνάμεως περιουσίᾳ. Sent. 37, p. 45, 5–9 Lamberz: ἐπεὶ δὲ πρὸς μὲν ὕλην ῥεπούσῃ [ψυχῇ] ἀπορίᾳ πάντων καὶ τῆς οἰκείας δυνάμεως κένωσις, εἰς δὲ τὸν νοῦν ἀναγομένη τὸ πλῆρες αὐτῆς κατὰ <τὸ> τὴν δύναμιν ἔχειν τῆς πάσης εὑρίσκετο, τὴν μὲν εἰκότως Πενίαν, τὴν δὲ Πόρον οἱ τοῦτο πρῶτον γνόντες τῆς ψυχῆς τὸ πάθος ᾐνἰξαντο. Cf. Sent. 35, p. 39, 13–17 Lamberz: Τὸ ὄγκῳ μεῖζον δυνάμει ἔλαττον, συγκρινόμενον οὐ πρὸς τὰ ὅμοια γένη, πρὸς δὲ τὰ κατ’ εἶδος ἐξηλλαγμένα δι’ ἑτερότητα οὐσίας· οἷον γὰρ ἔκβασις ἦν ἀφ’ ἑαυτοῦ ὁ ὄγκος καὶ κατακερματισμὸς τῆς δυνάμεως. τὸ ἄρα δυνάμει ὑπερέχον ὄγκου παντὸς ἀλλότριον.
  • As a process of reuniting with the true, noetic self: Epistula ad Marcellam X, p. 16, 14–22 Potscher: […], εἰ μελετῳης εἰς σεαυτὴν ἀναβαίνειν συλλέγουσα ἀπὸ τοῦ σώματος πάντα τὰ διασκεδασθέντα σου μέλη καὶ εἰς πλῆθος κατακερματισθέντα ἀπὸ τῆς τέως ἐν μεγέθει δυνάμεως ἰσχυούσης ἑνώσεως. Συνάγοις δ’ ἂν καὶ ἑνίζοις τὰς ἐμφύτους ἐννοίας καὶ διαρθροῦν συγκεχυμένας καὶ εἰς φῶς ἕλκειν ἐσκοτισμένας πειρωμένη· ἀφ’ ὧν ὁρμώμενος καὶ ὁ θεῖος Πλάτων ἀπὸ τῶν αἰσθητῶν ἐπὶ τὰ νοητὰ τὰς ἀνακλήσεις πεποίηται. Cf. Smith 1974, 107–8.
  • Union with the nous: Sent. 40, pp. 50, 11–51, 2 Lamberz. Cf., on contemplation (θεωρία), De abst. I.29.
  • Leaving the body in a cataleptic state [?]: Nemesius  3, p. 38, 12-40,20 = 259F, lines 129-147 Smith.


  • J. Bidez. Vie de Porphyre. Teubner, 1913.
  • The Exorcist, dir. William Friedkin, 1973.
  • Krulak 2011 (see below), we cite p. 345.
  • M.P. Nilsson. Geschichte der grieschen Religion II. Number V.2 in HAW. Munich, 3rd edition, 1974, pp. 534–43.
  • Smith 1974 (see below), we cite pp. 58-9 on escaping the cycle of reincarnation and 24 on philosophic catalepsy.
  • Viltianoti 2017: see below.

Recommended Reading:

  • John Dillon. Porphyry’s Doctrine of the One. In M-.O. Goulet-Cazé, G. Madec, and D. O’Brien, editors, Chercheurs de sagesse. Hommage a Jean Pépin, pages 356–66. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1992.
  • Aaron P. Johnson. Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre: The Limits of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. The University Press, Cambridge, 2013.
  • Todd C. Krulak. ’Invisible Things on Visible Forms’: Pedagogy and Anagogy in Porphyry’s Peri Agalmatôn. Journal of Late Antiquity, 4:343–64, 2011.
  • Andrew Smith. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag, 1974.
  • Irini-Fotini Viltanioti. Divine Powers and Cult Statues in Porphyry of Tyre. In A. Marmodoro and I-F. Viltanioti, editors, Divine Powers in Late Antiquity, pages 61–74. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017.


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