Classics Porphyry
Anne Sheppard
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0175


Porphyry (b. 234–d. 305 CE) came from Tyre in Phoenicia, studied under the rhetorician Cassius Longinus in Athens, and was a pupil of Plotinus in Rome from 263 to 268 CE. After Plotinus’s death in 270 CE, Porphyry edited his teacher’s works and taught a form of Platonism very close to that of Plotinus. Porphyry’s own writings cover an enormous range: philosophical works, commentaries on Plato and Aristotle, works on Homer and Greek culture, and works on religion. His output has accordingly attracted attention not only from philosophers but also from literary scholars and from historians of Late Antiquity interested in the conflict between paganism and Christianity and in questions of cultural identity. Porphyry’s influence has been extensive even though much of his voluminous body of work survives only in fragmentary form. His edition of Plotinus’s Enneads, preceded by his Life of Plotinus, is the basis for our understanding of Plotinus’s philosophy. The Isagoge, an introduction to Aristotle’s logic, was a key textbook in the Middle Ages, both in the Byzantine and Arabic worlds and in western Europe. His allegorical interpretation of Homer has been studied as a prime example of Neoplatonic allegorizing. His interaction with Christian thought has been much discussed, both his influence on Augustine and the date, contents, and significance of his work Against the Christians.

General Overviews

The classic account of Porphyry’s life and work remains Bidez 1964 although subsequent work has modified many of its conclusions. Lloyd 1967 is an important survey which discusses the relationship of Porphyry’s thought both to that of his teacher Plotinus and to that of the slightly later Neoplatonist Iamblichus. Smith 1987 offers a full survey of work on Porphyry from 1913—the original date of publication of Bidez’s volume—down to the mid-1980s. The most recent full overviews are Smith 2010 and Chiaradonna, et al. 2012, while Emilsson 2011 offers a shorter, more introductory account which is readily accessible online. Smith 1974 and Zambon 2002 approach Porphyry’s work from particular angles: Smith is mainly concerned with Porphyry’s psychology and his attitude to theurgy, while Zambon deals with Porphyry’s relationship to Middle Platonism. (See also Johnson 2013, cited under Porphyry in His Cultural Context.)

  • Bidez, Joseph. 1964. Vie de Porphyre: Le philosophe néo-platonicien, avec les fragments des traités Peri agalmatòn et De regressu animae. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms.

    NNNThe first modern account of Porphyry’s life and work, originally published in 1913, and the starting point for all subsequent discussion.

  • Chiaradonna, Riccardo, Richard Goulet, Marco Zambon, et al. 2012. Porphyre de Tyr. In Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Vol. 5.ii. Edited by Richard Goulet, 1289–1468. Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    NNNThe most comprehensive recent survey of Porphyry’s thought. The article is divided into sections by a number of different authors dealing with Porphyry’s life and thought, his principal works, and the survival of his work in Arabic, Armenian, and Georgian.

  • Emilsson, Eyjólfur. 2011. Porphyry. In The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

    NNNA brief overview first published online in 2005 but substantively revised in 2011. Includes limited bibliography, mainly in English.

  • Lloyd, A. C. 1967. Porphyry and Iamblichus. In The Cambridge history of later Greek and early medieval philosophy. Edited by A. H. Armstrong, 288–295. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521040549

    NNNA clear account of the main features of Porphyry’s thought, placing him in relation to Plotinus on the one hand and Iamblichus on the other. Still well worth consulting despite subsequent advances in scholarship.

  • Smith, Andrew. 1974. Porphyry’s place in the Neoplatonic tradition. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

    NNNPart 1 of this study deals with Porphyry’s view of the soul, its relationship to the body, and its fate after death. Part 2 discusses theurgy in later Neoplatonism, placing Porphyry’s view of theurgy in relation to the rather different view taken by Iamblichus and his successors.

  • Smith, Andrew. 1987. Porphyrian studies since 1913. In Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Vol. II.36.2. Edited by Wolfgang Haase, 717–773. Berlin and New York: de Gruyter.

    NNNA full survey with bibliographical references in the footnotes.

  • Smith, Andrew. 2010. Porphyry and his school. In The Cambridge history of philosophy in Late Antiquity. Vol. 1. Edited by Lloyd P. Gerson, 325–357. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    NNNA concise, comprehensive survey of Porphyry’s life, works, and thought. Mainly about Porphyry himself, but includes discussion of whether there was a “school of Porphyry” and suggests that the Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides might be the product of such a school (see also Commentaries on Plato).

  • Zambon, Marco. 2002. Porphyre et le moyen-platonisme. Paris: Vrin.

    NNNConcentrates on the relationship between Porphyry and some middle Platonist texts (Plutarch of Chaeronea, Atticus, Numenius, Alcinous, and the Chaldaean Oracles), arguing that Porphyry was trying to reconcile Plotinian Platonism with other, earlier forms of Platonism.

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