1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Porphyry (historian)

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PORPHYRY (Πορφύριος) (A.D. 233-c. 304), Greek scholar, historian, and Neoplatonist, was born at Tyre, or Batanaea in Syria. He studied grammar and rhetoric under Cassius Longinus (q.v.). His original name was Malchus (king), which was changed by his tutor into Porphyrius (clad in purple), a jesting allusion to the colour of the imperial robes (cf. porphyrogenitus, born in the purple). In 262 he went to Rome, attracted by the reputation of Plotinus, and for six years devoted himself to the study of Neoplatonism. Having injured his health by overwork, he went to live in Sicily for five years. On his return to Rome, he lectured on philosophy and endeavoured to render the obscure doctrines of Plotinus (who had died in the meantime) intelligible to the ordinary understanding. His most distinguished pupil was Iamblichus. When advanced in years he married Marcella, a widow with seven children and an enthusiastic student of philosophy. Nothing more is known of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain.

Of his numerous works on a great variety of subjects the following are extant: Life of Plotinus and an exposition of his teaching in the Ἀφορμαὶ πρὸς τὰ νοητά (Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes, Aids to the study of the Intelligibles). The Life of Pythagoras, which is incomplete, probably formed part of a larger history of philosophy (φιλόσοφος ἱστορία, in four books) down to Plato. His work on Aristotle is represented by the Introduction (εἰσαγωγή) to and Commentary (ἐξήγησις, in the form of questions and answers) on the Categories. The first, translated into Latin by Boëtius, was extensively used in the middle ages as a compendium of Aristotelian logic; of the second only fragments have been preserved. His Χρονικά, a chronological work, extended from the taking of Troy down to A.D. 270; to it Eusebius is indebted for his list of the Macedonian kings. The treatise φιλόλογος ἱστορία is called an ἀκρόασις (lecture) by Eusebius, who in his Praeparatio evangelica (x. 3) has preserved a considerable extract from it, treating of plagiarism amongst the ancients. Other grammatical and literary works are Ὁμηρικὰ ζητήματα (Quaestiones homericae); and De antro nympharum, in which the description in the Odyssey (xiii. 102-112) is explained as an allegory of the universe. The Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων (De abstinentia), on abstinence from animal food, is especially valuable as having preserved numerous original statements of the old philosophers and the substance of Theophrastus's Περὶ εὐσεβείας (On Piety). It also contains a long fragment from the Cretans of Euripides. The Πρὸς Μαρκέλλαν is an exhortation to his wife Marcella to practise virtue and self-restraint and to study philosophy. The letter to the Egyptian priest Anebo, dealing with religious questions, was answered by a member of the school of Iamblichus, who called himself Abammon, in the De mysteriis. It is frequently referred to by Eusebius, Cyril and Augustine. Eusebius preserved fragments of the Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας (De philosophia ex oraculis haurienda), in which he expressed his belief in the responses of the oracles of various gods as confirming his theosophical views. Porphyry is well known as a violent opponent of Christianity and defender of Paganism; of his Κατὰ Χριστιανῶν (Adversus Christianos) in 15 books, perhaps the most important of all his works, only fragments remain. Counter-treatises were written by Eusebius of Caesarea, Apollinarius (or Apollinaris) of Laodicea, Methodius of Olympus, and Macarius of Magnesia, but all these are lost. Porphyry's view of the book of Daniel, that it was the work of a writer in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, is given by Jerome. There is no proof of the assertion of Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, and Augustine, that Porphyry was once a Christian.

There is no complete edition of the works of Porphyry. Separate editions: Vita Plotini in R. Volkmann's edition of the Enneades of Plotinus (1883); Sententiae, by B. Mommert (1907); Vita Pythagorae, De antro nympharum, De abstinentia, Ad Marcellam, by A. Nauck (1885); “Isagoge et in Aristotelis categorias commentarium,” by A. Busse in Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca (1887), iv. 1, with the translation of Boëtius (ed. with introd., S. Brandt, 1906); fragments of the Chronica in C. W. Müller, Frag. hist. graec. (1849), iii. 688; Quaestiones homericae, by H. Schrader (1880, 1890); Letter to Anebo in W. Pharthey's edition of Iamblichus De mysteriis (1857); De philosophia ex oraculis haurienda, by G. Wolff (1856); fragments of the Adversus Christianos by A. Georgiades (Leipzig, 1891); English trans. of the De abstinentia, De antro nympharum and Sententiae, by Thomas Taylor (1823); of the Sententiae by T. Davidson in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, iii. (1869); of the De abstinentia by S. Hibberd (1857), and of the Ad Marcellam by A. Zimmern 1896 .

On Porphyry and his works generally see Fabricius, Bibliotheca graeca (ed. Harles), v. 725; Eunapius, Vita philosophorum; article in Suïdas; Lucas Holstenius, De vita et scriptis Porphyrii (Cambridge, 1655); J. E. Sandys, Hist. of Classical Scholarship (1906), i. 343; W. Christ, Gesch. der griechischen Litteratur (1898), § 621; M. N. Bouillet, Porphyre, son rôle dans l'école néoplatonicienne (1864); A. I. Kleffner, Porphyrius der Neuplatoniker und Christenfeind (Paderborn, 1896); on his philosophy, T. Whittaker, The Neo-Platonists (Cambridge, 1901), and Neoplatonism.