Porphy'rius（*Porfu/rios), the celebrated antagonist of Christianity, was a Greek philosopher of the Neo-Platonic school. Eunapius and Suidas (following no doubt, Porphyrius himself, Vit. Plot. 8, p. 107), in their biographies call him a Tyrian ; but both St. Jerome (Praef. Epist. ad Gal.) and St. Chrysostom (Homil. VI. in I. ad Corinth. p. 58) term him Βατανεώτης, a word on the fancied correction of which a good deal of ingenuity has been unnecessarily expended; some imagining that it is a corruption of some term of reproach (such as βοτανιώτης, herb-eater, βιοθάνατος, or βαλανεώτης). The more reasonable view is that the word is correct enough, and describes more accurately the birth-place of Porphyrius,--Batanea, the Bashan of Scripture. To account for his being called a Tyrian some have supposed that he was originally of Jewish origin, and having first embraced, and afterwards renounced Christianity, called himself a Tyrian to conceal his real origin. Heumann, making a slight alteration in the text of Chrysostom, supposed that Porphyrius falsely assumed the epithet Βατανεώτης, to induce the belief that he was of Jewish origin, that his statements with regard to the Jewish Scriptures might have the more weight. None of these conjectures seems in any degree probable. The least improbable view is that of Jonsius, who is followed by Fabricius, Brucker, and others, that there was a Tyrian settlement in the district of Batanea, and that Porphyrius was born there, but, from the neighbourhood of the more important place, called himself, and was called by others, a Tyrian. (Brucker, Hist. Crit. Phil. vol. ii. p. 240; Harles, ad Fabr. Bibl. Gr. vol. v. p. 725.) The original name of Porphyrius was Malchus (Μάλχος, the Greek form of the Syrophoenician Melech), a word, as he himself tells us, which signified king. His father bore the same name, and was a man of distinguished family (Porph. Vit. Plot. 100.16). Aurelius, in dedicating a work to him, styled him Βασιλεύς. The more euphonious name Πορφύριος (in allusion to the usual colour of royal robes), was subsequently devised for him by his preceptor Longinus (Eunap. Porph. p. 13 ; Suid. s. v.). Suidas states that he lived in the reign of Aurelian, and died in that of Diocletian. Eunapius says, more explicitly, that he lived in the reigns of Gallienus, Claudius, Tacitus, Aurelian, and Probus. Porphyrius himself tells us that he was thirty years of age when he first became the pupil of Plotinus, which was in the tenth year of the reign of Gallienus (Vit. Plot. 100.4. p. 99); the date of his birth was, therefore, A. D. 233. From Porphyrius himself, as quoted by Eusebius (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. 3.19; comp. Proclus, in Tim. i. p. 20), it appears that when very young he was placed under the instruction of Origen. This could not have been, as some have imagined, at Alexandria, for about the time of the birth of Porphyrius Origen quitted Alexandria, and did not return to it. It was most likely at Caesareia that Porphyrius attended on the instructions of Origen. Eunapius has been charged with a gross blunder in making Origen the fellow-student of Porphyrius; but it does not seem necessary to suppose that he meant the celebrated Christian writer of that name. Porphyrius next removed to Athens, where he studied under Apollonius (Porph. Quaest. Hom. 25) and the celebrated Longinus, by whose extensive learning, and rhetorical and grammatical skill, he profited so much as to attract the commendation of Longinus (Vit. Plot. 100.21, p. 133). At the age of twenty he went to Rome for the first time, to hear Plotinus; but as the latter had at that time intermitted his instructions, Porphyrius returned to the East, whether to the school of Longinus or not we do not know. Of the events of the next ten years we know nothing. At the age of thirty he came to Rome with Antonius of Rhodes, and applied himself to learn the philosophy of Plotinus, from Plotinus himself, and from his older disciple, Amelius, to whom Plotinus assigned the task of elucidating the difficulties in the doctrine of their common master which might be felt by the younger disciple (Vit. Plot. 100.4). Porphyrius, having some doubts respecting a dogma of Plotinus, wrote a treatise, endeavouring to establish, in opposition to his master, ὅτι ἔξω τοῦ νοῦ ὑφέστηκε τὰ νοητά, hoping to induce Plotinus to reply. Plotinus, having read the treatise, handed it over to Amelius to answer, which he did, in a tolerably large book. To this Porphyrius replied in his turn, and was answered by Amelius in a rejoinder which satisfied him, upon which he wrote a recantation, and read it publicly in the school. He employed all his influence, however, to induce Plotinus to develope his doctrines in a more extended and articulate form. He also inspired Amelius with a greater zeal for writing. Porphyrius gained so thoroughly the approbation and confidence of Plotinus, that he was regarded by the latter as the ornament of his school, and was admitted by him to terms of close intimacy. He frequently had assigned to him the task of refuting opponents, and was entrusted with the still more difficult and delicate duty of correcting and arranging the writings of Plotinus (Vit. Plot. 100.13, p. 115; 100.15. p. 117; 100.7. p. 107; 100.24. p. 139). Though he had abandoned Longinus for Plotinus, he still kept up a friendly intercourse with the former (Vit. Plot. 100.20, comp. the letter which he received from Longinus while in Sicily, ib. 100.18). His connection with Plotinus continued for about six years, at the end of which period he went to Sicily; for a naturally hypochondriacal disposition, stimulated perhaps by his enthusiastic attachment to the doctrines of Plotinus, had induced in him a desire to get free from the shackles of the flesh, and he had in consequence begun to entertain the idea of suicide. But Plotinus, perceiving his state of mind, advised him to leave Rome and go to Sicily. Porphyrius took his advice, and went to visit a man of the name of Probus, who lived in the neighbourhood of Lilybaeum (Vit. Plot. 100.11, comp. Eunap. l.c. p. 14, whose account of the matter differs, and of course errs, in some particulars). Plotinus shortly after died in Campania. It was while in Sicily, according to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 6.19) and Jerome (Catal. Script. illust.), that he wrote his treatise against the Christian religion, in 15 books, on which account Augustine (Retract. 2.31) styles him Siculum illum cujus celeberri fama est. The notion that this work was written in Bithynia is quite without foundation, being merely derived from a passage of Lactantius (5.2), referring to somebody whose name is not mentioned, and who wrote against the Christians, and which was supposed by Baronius to refer to Porphyrius. But the account does not suit him in any respect. It was very likely about this period that Porphyrius took occasion to visit Carthage. That he also went to Athens after the death of Plotinus, has been inferred (by Holstenius) from a passage quoted by Eusebius, where, as the text stands, Porphyrius is made to speak of celebrating the birth-day of Plotinus at Athens with Longinus. There can be little doubt, however, that the reading should be, as Brucker (l.c. p. 248) suggests, Πλατώνεια, and that the incident refers to the earlier part of the life of Porphyrius, otherwise the allusion will not accord with the history of either Porphyrius or Longinus. Of the remainder of the life of Porphyrius we know very little. According to Eunapius he returned to Rome, where he taught, and gave frequent public exhibitions of his acquirements and talents as a speaker, and was held in high honour by the senate and people till he died. A curious illustration of his excitable and enthusiastic temperament is afforded by what he says of himself (Vit. Plot. 100.23), that in the 68th year of his age he himself, like Plotinus, was favoured with an ecstatic vision of the Deity. When probably at a somewhat advanced period of life he married Marcella, the widow of one of his friends, and the mother of seven children (ad Msrc. 1), with the view, as he avowed, of superintending their education. About ten months after his marriage he had occasion to leave her and go on a journey; and to console her during his absence he wrote to her an epistle, which is still extant. The date of his death cannot be fixed with any exactness; it was probably about A. D. 305 or 306. It appears from the testimony even of antagonists, and from what we have left of his writings. that Porphyrius was a man of great abilities and very extensive learning. Eusebius speaks of him as one τῶν μάλιστα διαφανῶν καὶ πᾶσι γνωρίμων, κλέος τε οὐ μικρὸν φιλοσοφίας παρ᾽ Ἕλλησιν ἀπενηνεγμένον (Praep. Ev. 3.9); and Augustine styles him hominem non mediocri ingenio praeditum (de Civ. Dei, x. 32, comp. 19.22). The philosophical doctrines of Porphyrius were in all essential respects the same as those of his master Plotinus. To that system he was ardently attached, and showed himself one of its most energetic defenders. His writings were all designed directly or indirectly to illustrate, commend, or establish it. His rhetorical training, extensive learning, and comparative clearness of style, no doubt did good service in the cause of his school. Nevertheless, he is charged with inconsistencies and contradictions; his later views being frequently at variance with his earlier ones. (Eunap. Vit. Porph. fin.; Euseb. Prep. Ev. 4.10; Iambl. ap. Stobaeum, Ecl. i. p. 866). The reason of this may probably be found in the vacillation of his views with respect to theurgy and philosophy, a vacillation which would doubtless attract the greater attention, as it was in opposition to the general tendencies of his age and school that he ranked philosophy higher than the theurgic superstitions which were connected with the popular polytheism. With the latter, some features of his doctrines had considerable affinity. He insisted strongly on the contrast between the corporeal and the incorporeal, and the power of the latter over the former. The influence of the incorporeal was, in his view, unrestricted by the limits of space, and independent of the accident of contiguity. When free from intermixture with matter, it is omnipresent, and its power unlimited. His doctrine with regard to daemons pointed in the same direction. Over both them and the souls of the dead power could be obtained by enchantments (de Abst. 2.38, 39, 41, 43, 47). Yet these notions seem to have been taken up by him rather in deference to the prevalent opinion of his times, than as forming an essential part of his philosophy. Though at first somewhat disposed to favour theurgy, he still ranked philosophy above it, considering, with Plotinus, that the true method of safety consisted in the purgation of the soul, and the contemplation of the eternal deity. The increasing value set upon theurgy, and the endeavours to raise it above philosophy itself, probably produced something like a reaction in his mind, and strengthened the doubts which he entertained with regard to the popular superstition. These doubts he set forth in a letter to the Egyptian prophet Anebos, in a series of questions. The distrust there expressed respecting the popular notions of the gods, divinations, incantations, and other theurgic arts, may have been, as Ritter believes (Gesch. der Phil. vol. iv. p. 678), the modified opinion of his later years, provoked, perhaps, by the progress of that superstition to which at an earlier period he had been less opposed. The observation of Augustine is, doubtless, in the main correct : -- "Ut videas eum inter vitium sacrilegae curiositatis et philosophiae professionem fluctuasse, et nunc hanc artem tamquam fallacem, et in ipsa actione periculosam, et legibus prohibitanm, cavendam monere, nunc autem velut ejus laudatoribus cedentem, utilem dicere esse mundanae parti animae, non quidem intellectuali qua rerum intelligibilium percipiatur veritas, nullas habentium similitudines corporum, sed spirituali, qua rerum corporalium capiantur imagines." The letter to Anebos called forth a reply, which is still extant, and known under the title Περὶ Μυστηρίων, and is the production probably of Iamblichus. The worship of the national gods sees to have been upheld by Porphyrius only on the consideration that respect should be shown to the ancient religious usages of the nation. He, however, set but small store by it. (Βωμοὶ δὲ θεοῦ ἱερουργούμενοι μὲν οὐδὲν βλάπτουσιν, ἀμελούμενοι δὲ οὐ δὲν ὠφελοῦσιν, ad Marc.) He ackowledged one absolute, supreme deity, who is to be worshipped with pure words and thoughts (ad Marc. 18). He also, however, distinguished two classes of visible and invisible gods, the former being composed of body and soul, and consequently neither eternal nor immutable (de Abst. 2.34, 36, 37-39). He also distinguished between good and evil daemons, and held that the latter ought to be appeased, but that it should be the object of the philosopher to free himself as much as possible front everything placed under the power of evil daemons. For that reason, among others, he rejected all animal sacrifices (de Abst. 2.38, 39, 43). The ascetic tendency of his philosophy, as connected with his exalted ideas of the power of reason, which is superior to nature and the influence of daemons, conduced to raise him above the superstitious tendencies of his age; the spirit of the philosopher being, in his view, superior to all impressions from without. The object of the philosopher should be to free himself as much as possible from all desires of, or dependence on, that which is external,such appetites being the most hateful tyrants, from which we should be glad to be set free, even with the loss of the whole body (aa Marc. 34). We should, therefore, restrain our sensual desires as much as possible. It was mainly in this point of view that he rejected all enjoyment of animal food. Though bad genii have some power over us, yet through abstinence and the steady resistance of all disturbing influences, we can pursue the good in spite of them. If we could abstain from vegetable as well as animal food, he thought we should become still more like the gods. (De Abst. 3.27.) It is by means of reason only that we are exalted to the supreme God, to whom nothing material should be offered, for every thing material is unclean (de Abst. 1.39, 57, 2.34, ad Marc. 15). He distinguishes four degrees of virtues, the lowest being political virtue, the virtue of a good man who moderates his passions. Superior to this is purifying virtue, which completely sets the soul free from affections. Its object is to make us resemble God, and by it we become daemonical men, or good daemons. In the higher grade, when entirely given up to knowledge and the soul, man becomes a god, till at last he lives only to reason, and so becomes the father of gods, one with the one supreme being. (Sent. 34.) A great deal of discussion has taken place respecting the assertion of Socrates (H. E. 3.23), that in his earlier years Porphyrius was a Christian, and that, having been treated with indignity by the Christians, he apostatized, and revenged himself by writing against them. The authority is so small, and the improbability of the story so great (for it does not appear that any of his antagonists charged him with apostacy, unless it was Eusebius), while it may so easily have arisen from the fact that in his early youth Porphyrius was instructed by Origen, that it may confidently be rejected. An able summary of the arguments on both sides is given by Brucker (ii. p. 251, &c.) Of the nature and merits of the work of Porphyrius against the Christians we are not able to judge, as it has not come down to us. It was publicly destroyed by order of the emperor Theodosius. The attack was, however, sufficiently vigorous to call down upon him the fiercest maledictions and most virulent abuse. His name was employed as synonymous with everything silly, blasphemous, impudent and calumnious. Socrates (1.9. p. 32) even adduces an edict of Constantine the Great, ordaining that the Arians should be termed Porphyriani. A doubt has been raised as to the identity of the assailant of Christianity with the Neo-platonic philosopher ; but it is totally without foundation. The attack upon Christianity is said to have called forth replies front above thirty different antagonists, the most distinguished of whom were Methodius, Apollinaris, and Eusebius.
WorksAs a writer Porphyrius deserves considerable praise. His style is tolerably clear, and not unfrequently exhibits both imagination and vigour. His learning was most extensive. Fabricius (Bibl. Graec. vol. v. p. 748, &c), has compiled a list of about 250 authors quoted by him in those portions of his writings which we still possess. A great degree of critical and philosophical acumen was not to be expected in one so ardently attached to the enthusiastic and somewhat fanatical system of Plotinus. His attempt to prove the identity of the Platonic and Aristotelic systems would alone be sufficient to show this. Nevertheless, his acquaintance with the authors whom he quotes was manifestly far from superficial; but his judgment in using the stores of learning which he possessed was but small. Cyril (Adv. Jul. vi. init.) quotes a passage from his history of philosophers, from which it appears that his account of Socrates was a mere farrago of the most absurd and calumnious stories respecting that philosopher. Indeed, his object would seem to have been to magnify Pythagoras at the expense of every other philosopher. Though far less confused and unintelligible than Plotinus, his statements of his own metaphysical views are often far from comprehensible. (See especially his Πρὸς τὰ νοητὰ ἀφορμαί.） Of the very numerous writings of Porphyrius the following are extant: --
Πυθαγόρου βίος ; supposed by many to be a fragment of his larger history of philosophers.
Περὶ Πλωτίνου βίου καὶ τῆς τάξεως τῶν βιβλίων αὐτοῦ. [PLOTINUS].
Περὶ ἀποχῆς τῶν ἐμψύχων, in four books, dedicated to his friend and fellow-disciple Firmus Castricius.
Πρὸς τὰ νοητὰ ἀφορμαι.
Ὁμηρικὰ ζητήματα, addressed to Anatolius.
Περὶ τοῦ ἐν Ὀδυσσείᾳ τῶν Νυμφῶν ἄντρου, a fanciful allegorical interpretation of the description of the cave of the nymphs in the Odyssey, showing both the ingenuity and the recklessness with which Porphyrius and other writers of his stamp pressed writers and authorities of all kinds into their service, as holders of the doctrines of their school. 8. A fragment from a treatise Περὶ Στυγός, preserved by Stobaeus.
9. ΕἰσαγωγὴΕἰσαγωγὴ, or Περὶ τῶν πέντε φωνῶν, addressed to Chrysaorius, and written by Porphyrius while in Sicily. It is commonly prefixed to the Organon of Aristotle.
10. A Commentary on the Categories of AristotleIn questions and answers.
Περὶ φυσικῆς ἀκροάσεως.
12. A Commentary on the Harmonica of PtolemaeusLeaving off at the seventh chapter of the second book.
Περὶ προσφδίας (see Villoison, Anecd. Graeca, vol. ii. p. 103-118).
14. Scholia on the Iliad
preserved at Leyden, among the books and papers of Is. Vossius.
A portion of them was published by Valckenaer, in an appendix to Ursinus's Virgil, with a copious account of the scholia generally. Other scholia on the Iliad, preserved in the Vatican library, were published by Villoison (Anecd. Gr. ii. p. 266, &c.), and in his edition of the Iliad.
15. Portions of a Commentary on Aristotleapparently on the Ethics of Aristotle, and of one on the Organon.
16. Two books on the philosophy of PlatoThese were affirmed to be extant by Gesner.
17. An epistle to his wife Marcella.This piece was discovered by Angelo Mai, in the Ambrosian library, and published at Milan, in 1816. The letter is not quite complete, as the end of the MS. is mutilated. The contents of it are of a general philosophical character, designed to incite to the practice of virtue and self-restraint, and the study of philosophy. The sentiments are a little obscure here and there, but many of the maxims and remarks exhibit great wisdom, and a considerable depth of very pure religious feeling. He considers sorrow to be a more wholesome discipline for the mind than pleasures (100.7). With great energy and some eloquence he urges the cultivation of the soul and the practice of virtue, in preference to attention to the body. His views of the Deity, of his operations, and the right mode of contemplating and worshipping him, are of a very exalted kind, some reminding the reader strongly of passages in the Scriptures. The laws under which man is placed he distinguishes into natural, civil, and divine, and marks out their respective provinces with considerable beauty and clearness.
18. A poetical fragmentFrom the tenth book of a work entitled Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας, is published at the end of the preceding work.
19. An introduction to the Tetrabiblos of PtolemaeusAn introduction to the Tetrabiblos of Ptolemaeus is also attributed by some to Porphyrius, by others to Antiochus. The ἐπίτομος διήγησις εἰς τὰς καθ᾽ Ὁμήρου πλάνας τοῦ Ὀδυσσέως, the production of Nicephorus Gregoras, has also been attributed by some to Porphyrius. Besides these we have mention of the following lost works of Porphyrius:-
Περὶ ἀγαλμάτων (Euseb. Praep Ev. 3.7; Stob. Ecl. Phys. 1.25).
Περὶ ἀνόδου ψυχῆς (August. de Civ. Dei, 10.910, &c.).
Περὶ τοῦ μίαν εἶναι τὴν Πλάτωνος και Ἀριστοτέλους αἵρεσιν. (Suid. s.v. Πορφ.).
24. Πρὸς Ἀριστοτέλην, περὶ τοῦ εἶναι τὴν ψυχην ἐντελέχειανΠρὸς Ἀριστοτέλην, περὶ τοῦ εἶναι τὴν ψυχην ἐντελέχειαν (Suid.).
25. Ἐξήγησις τῶν κατηγοριῶνἘξήγησις τῶν κατηγοριῶν, dedicated to Gedalius. (Eustath. ad Il. iii. p. 293.)
Περὶ ἀρχῶν. (Suid.)
Περὶ ἀσωμάτων. (Suid.)
Περὶ τοῦ γνῶθι σεαυτόν. (Suid.)
29. Γραμματικαὶ ἀπορίαι.Γραμματικαὶ ἀπορίαι. (Suid.)
30. A reply to the Apology for Alcibiades in the Symposium of Platoby Diophanes (Porph. Vit. Plot. 15).
31. ἘπιγράμματαἘπιγράμματα. (Eustath.)
33. A treatise against a spurious work attributed to Zoroaster(Porph. Vit. Plot. 16).
Περὶ θείων ὀνομάτων. (Suid.)
35. Εἰς τὸ Θεοφράστὸυ περὶ καταφάσεως καὶ ἀποφάσεως.Εἰς τὸ Θεοφράστὸυ περὶ καταφάσεως καὶ ἀποφάσεως. (Boethius in Arist. de Interpr.）
36. Εἰς τὸ Θουκυδίδου προοίμιον, πρὸς Ἀριστείδην.Εἰς τὸ Θουκυδίδου προοίμιον, πρὸς Ἀριστείδην. (Suid.)
Περὶ ἰδεῶν, πρὸς Λογγῖνον. (Porph. Vit. Plot. 20.)
Ὁ ἱερὸς γάμος, a poem composed for the birth-day of Plato. (Ibid. 15.)
Εἰς τὴν τοῦ Ἰουλιανοῦ Χαλδαίου φιλοσόφου ἱστορίαν. (Suid.)
40. εἰς τὴν Μινουκιανοῦ τέχνην.εἰς τὴν Μινουκιανοῦ τέχνην. (Suid.)
Ὁ πρὸς Νημέρτιον λόγος. (Cyrill. c. Julian. iii. p. 79, &c.) It appears to have been a treatise on the providence of God.
Ὅτι ἔξω τοῦ νοῦ ὑφέστηκε τὸ νόημα. (Porph. Vit. Plot. 18.)
43. Περὶ τῆς Ὁμήρου φιλοσοφίας.Περὶ τῆς Ὁμήρου φιλοσοφίας. (Suid.)
Περὶ τῆς ἐξ Ὁμήρου ὠφελείας τῶν βασιλέων, in ten books. (Suid.)
45. Περὶ παραλελειμμένων τῷ πολητῇ ὀνομάτων.Περὶ παραλελειμμένων τῷ πολητῇ ὀνομάτων. This and the two preceding were, probably, only parts of a larger work.
Περὶ τῶν κατὰ Πίνδαρον τοῦ Νείλου πηγῶν. (Suid.)
47. Commentaries on several of the works of Plotinus.(Eunap. Vit. Porph.）
εἰς τὸν Σοφίστην τοῦ Πλάτωνος (Boethius, de Divis. Praef.)
Σύμμικτα ζητήματα, in seven books. (Suid.)
50. τὰ εἰς τὸν Τίμαιον ὑπομνήματατὰ εἰς τὸν Τίμαιον ὑπομνήματα, a commentary on the Timaeus of Plato. (Macrob. in Somn. Scin ii 3. Proclus, in Timaeum.) 51 Περὶ ὕλης, in 6 books. (Suid.)
Φιλόλογος ἱστορία, in 5 books. (Suid. ; Euseb. Praep. Ev. 10.3, who quotes a passage of some length from the first book.)
Φιλόσοφος ἱστορία, in 4 books, a work on the lives and doctrines of philosophers. (Socrates, H.E. 3.23; Eunap. Pr. p. 10.)
Περὶ ψυχῆς, in five books (Suid. ; Euseb. Praep. Ev. 14.10.)
Περὶ τῶν ψυχῆς δυνάμεων. (Stob. Eclog.)