Porphy'rius, Publi'lius Optatia'nus
a Roman poet, who lived in the age of Constantine the Great.
From his panegyric on this emperor, we learn that he had been banished for some reason; and Constantine was so pleased with the flattery of the poet, that he not only recalled him from exile, but honoured him with a letter. Hieronymus says that he was restored to his native country in A. D. 328; but the panegyric must have been presented to Constantine in A. D. 326, as in the manuscript it is said to have been composed in the Vicennalia
of the emperor, which were celebrated in this year, and likewise from the fact that the poet praises Crispus, the son of Constantine, who was put to death by order of his the in A. D. 326. We may therefore conclude that the panegyric was written in the previous year. and was intended to celebrate the Vicennalia of the emperor It is probable that Publilius, after his return, was raised to offices of honour and trust, since Tillemont points out (Histoire des Empereurs,
vol. iv. p. 364), from an ancient writer on the praefects of the city, that there was a Publilius Optatianus, praefect of the city in A. D. 329, and again in 333, and it is likely enough that he was the same person as the poet.
This is all that we know for certain respecting his life. From the way in which he speaks of Africa, it has been conjectured that he was a native of that province ; and this is not unlikely, as the name of Optatus and Optatianus was a common one in Africa.
The poems of Porphyrius are some of the worst specimens of a dying literature.
The author has purposely made them exceedingly difficult to be understood; and their merit in his eyes, and in those of his contemporaries, seems to have consisted in the artificial manner in which he was able to represent, by lines of various lengths, different objects, such as an altar, an organ, &c.
The poems which have come down to us are:--
The Panegyric on Constantine
This work, already mentioned, consists properly of a series of short poems, all of them celebrating the praises of the emperor.
There is prefixed a letter of Porphyrius to Constantine, and also a letter from the latter to the poet.
This poem has been printed by Pithoeus, Poemat. Vet. Paris, 1590, 12mo. and Genev. 1596, 8vo.
, and by Velserus, Augustae Vindel. 1595, fol.
Of this we have three, namely,
1. Ara Pythia 2. Syrinx 3. Organon
with the lines so arranged as to represent the form of these objects.
These three poems are printed in Wernsdorf's Poetae Latini Minores (vol. ii. pp. 365-413)
, who also discusses at length everything relating to the life and works of Porphyrius.
Of these five are printed in the Latin Anthology (Nos. 236-240, ed. Meyer.).