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image from Porphyry Malchus
(MacTutor History of Mathematics archive)

Porphyry (c.232/4-c.305) or Porphyrios was born in Tyre [now Lebanon] or Batanaea [now Syria], and studied in Athens, before joining the Neoplatonic group of Plotinus in Rome.   In 263-268 or thereabouts, Porphyry studied philosophy in Rome under Plotinus, who rescued him from a suicidal depression [2].

In 301 Porphyry completed The Enneads, a systematized and edited collection of the works of Plotinus, including a short but very informative biography. The name Enneads means "Nines", so-called because they were sorted into chapters of nine sections each.  (This arrangement of course was purely Porphyry's idea).  The Enneads became a book of great significance and influence, not only in the Hellenistic-Roman world, but later in the Islamic and Renaissance Christian worlds as well.

Although not an original thinker in the league of his teacher Plotinus, or his student Iamblichus, Porphyry nevertheless was possessed of great learning, an interest in and great talent for historical and philological criticism, and an ernest desire to uproot false teachings in order to ennoble people and turn them to the Good.  He declared the salvation of the soul as the ultimate purpose of philosophy.

Even more than Plotinus, Porphyry emphasised the mystic path of "flight from the body" (although never in teh context of the Gnostics who considered the material world as "evil"). He also played down the emanationist hierarchies of the Middle Platonists and Plotinus, and seemed sometimes to combine One and Intellect, a process of "telescoping the hypostases" taken even further by an anonymous student and commentator on Plato's Parmenides. Yet at the same time he represented the beginnings of the later Neoplatonic tendency of organising reality in both vertical and "horizontal" triads; this became a very important element in later Neoplatonic metaphysics. For Porphyry, Being, Life, and Intellect were phases in the eternal self-determination of the ultimate reality. (compare the Kashmir Shaivite "Pure Tattwas" and Sri Aurobindo's "Upper Hemisphere" or "Supreme Nature" (Paraprakriti), regarding the manifestation of the Absolute)

Among his many philosophical works were

(see also links section, below, for more bibliography)


Web links Porphyry Links Web links

web page Porphyry Malchus - biography

Wikipedia Page Porphyry

web page Porphyry - listing in the Internet Encyclopdia of Philosophy  (scroll down)

web page Porphyrios - short synopsis in HyperHistory on-line

web page Porphyry: Against the Christians - a quotation from Eusebius: Church History - part of the Internet Medieval Sourcebook

on-line essay Porphyry's Letter to Anebo & Iamblichus' On the Mysteries - An analysis - on line text, with commentaries, by Stephen Ronan.  Excellent.

booksThe following books by Porphyry are available from Phanes Press (but not on-line)

also see


[1] Adolph Harnack and John Malcolm Mitchell, "Neoplatonism", in Encyclopaedia Brittanica, vol XIX, p.376, (Eleventh Edition, 1911).

[2] Encyclopędia Britannica, 1994-1998

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content by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 28 May 1998, last modified 22 April 2005