Podcast episode

Episode 138: The Great Theurgy Debate: Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo, Iamblichus’ Response, and the Question(s) of Ritual

We introduce the book known as De mysteriis, Iamblichus’ reply to Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo. But is it by Iamblichus at all? We discuss manuscript traditions, questions of authorship,  the ‘Egyptian fiction’, and other boring but useful fundamentals.

There are, however, many digressions – to eleventh-century Constantinople, fifteenth-century Florence, and beyond – which open up some vistas into the broader history of western esotericism and hopefully makes things a bit less boring. Plus we meet up with Hermes Trismegistus, whom we haven’t seen for a minute.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Augustine on Porphyry on theurgia: Porphyry frr. 284-288 Smith.
Iamblichus, mostly from the De mysteriis:

  • Pythagoras and Plato learned their theology from Hermetic stelæ: I.1 (5).
  • The gods can act throughout the kosmos: I 8 (28).
  • ὄχημα: III 4 (109); III 14 (132); V 12 (215).
  • Saw the irrational soul and the ochēma as immortal: Procl. in Tim. 311 E, 157 D. Cf. 132, 12: ὄχημα; 312, 9-18: on pneuma.
  • The world is full of gods: I 9 (30), recalling Thales as quoted by Aristotle, De anima 411a8 and Plato, Laws 899b9.
  • Symbola: I 2 (37); I 21 (65); II 11 (96); IV 2 (184); VI 6(247); VII 2 (250).
  • Divine possession: III 7(114), citing Pl. Ion 536c.
  • Three types of prayer: V 26 (237-240).

Plotinus: ‘Often, awakening to myself …’: Enn. IV.8[31]1.1-11. Cf. V.3[49]6.13-18.
Porphyry: The longest citation from the Letter to Anebo seems to be Euseb. Præp. Ev. V 10 1-11, p. 242 .15-244.16. Asks about the different bodies of the gods: De myst. I.8 (23), I.20 (61).
Proclus on Iamblichus’ authorship of the De mysteriis: In Tim. 386.9-13.


  • E.C. Clarke, J.M. Dillon, and J.P. Hershbell, editors. Iamblichus on The Mysteries. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2003.
  • Philippe Derchain. Pseudo-Jamblique ou Abammôn? Quelques observations sur l’egyptianisme du De Mysteriis. Chronique d’Égypte, 38(76):220–26, 1963.
  • H.D. Saffrey and A.-P. Segonds, editors. Porphyre: Lettre à Anébon l’Égyptien. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2012.
  • Idem, editors. Jamblique: Réponse à Porphyre (De mysteriis). Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2018.
  • Angelo Raffaele Sodano, 1958 (see below).
  • Jean Trouillard. Théologie negative et autoconstitution psychique chez les néoplatoniciens. In Savoir, faire, espérer: les limites de la raison, volume 1, pages 307–321. Facultés Universitaires St.-Louis, Brussels, 1976, we cite p. 313: ‘Chez les néoplatoniciens, la transcendance n’est pas extériorité ni absence. Immanance et transcendance sont non en raison inverse, mais en raison directe.’

Recommended Reading:

The first modern critical edition is Gustavus Parthey, editor. Iamblichi de mysteriis liber. F. Nicolai, Berlin, 1857. Those interested in the textual history in all its glory will want to consult Martin Sicherl. Die Handschriften, Ausgaben und Übersetzungen von Iamblichos De Mysteriis: Eine kritisch-historische Studie. Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1957.


  • Crystal Addey. Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods. Ashgate, Dorchester, 2014.
  • David Hernandez De la Fuente. Neuplatonische Mystik und Magie als Modernisierung des traditionellen Paganismus im Imperium Romanum. Usuteaduslik Ajakiri, 74(1):2846, 2019.
  • Hans Lewy. Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1978.
  • Joachim Friedrich Quack. (H)abammons Stimme? Zum ägyptischen Hintergrund der Jamblich zugeschreiben Schrift De mysteriis. In Michael Erler and Martin Andreas Stadler, editors, Platonismus und spätägyptische Religion: Plutarch und die ägypten- rezeption in der römischen Kaiserzeit, pages 149–74. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2017.
  • Gregory Shaw. Theurgy: Rituals of Unification in the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Traditio, 41:1–28, 1985.
  • Angelo Raffaele Sodano, editor. Lettera ad Anebo. L’Arte tipographica, Naples, 1958.
  • Idem. Giamblico, I misteri egiziani: Abammone, Lettera a Porfirio. Introduzione, traduzione, apparati, appendici critiche e indici. Milano, 1984.
  • Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler. Theurgy in Late Antiquity: The Invention of a Ritual Tradition. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, Germany, 2013.
  • Carine van Liefferinge. La théurgie: Des “Oracles chaldaïques” à Proclus. Centre International d’Étude de la Religion Grecque Antique, Liège, Belgium, 1999.

On the meaning and history of the terms theurgia/theourgos:

  • Henry J. Blumenthal. From ku-ru-so-wo-ko to Theourgos: Word to Ritual. In H.D. Jocelyn and H. Hurt, editors, Tria Lustra: Essays and Notes Presented to John Pinsent, Founder and Editor of Liverpool Classical Monthly, volume 6 of Liverpool Classical Papers, pages 1–7. Liverpool, 1993.
  • H. Lewy, ‘The Meaning and the History of the terms ‘Theurgist” and “Theurgy”‘, Excursus IV in Oracles, pp. 461-66. Cf. however F. Cremer. Die chaldaikhen Orakel pp. 19-36.


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