Porphyry of Tyre
Porphire Sophiste, in a French 16th-century engraving
Bornc. AD 234
Died305 (aged 70–71)
Notable work
  • Introduction to Categories (Εἰσαγωγή; Introductio in Praedicamenta or Isagoge et in Aristotelis Categorias commentarium), The Life of Pythagoras (Πυθαγόρου βίος; Vita Pythagorae), On Abstinence from Animal Food (Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων; De Abstinentia ab Esu Animalium), On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey (Περὶ τοῦ ἐν Ὀδυσσείᾳ τῶν Νυμφῶν Ἄντρου; De Antro Nympharum), Introduction to Ptolemy's Tetrabiblos (Εἰσαγωγὴ εἰς τὴν Ἀποτελεσματικὴν τοῦ Πτολεμαίου), Commentary on Ptolemy's Harmonics (Εἰς τὰ ἁρμονικὰ Πτολεμαίου ὑπόμνημα), On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of his Work (Περὶ τοῦ Πλωτίνου βίου καὶ τῆς τάξεως τῶν βιβλίων αὐτοῦ; Vita Plotini), Starting-points leading to the intelligibles (Ἀφορμαὶ πρὸς τὰ νοητά; Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes), Philosophy from Oracles (Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας; De Philosophia ex Oraculis Haurienda), Against the Christians (Κατὰ Χριστιανῶν; Adversus Christianos)
EraAncient philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics, astrology
Notable ideas
Porphyrian tree, criticism of Christianity, vegetarianism

Porphyry of Tyre (ˈpɔːrfɪri; Greek: Πορφύριος, Porphýrios; c. 234c. AD 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher born in Tyre, Roman Phoenicia[1] during Roman rule.[a][1][2] He edited and published The Enneads, the only collection of the work of Plotinus, his teacher.

He wrote original works in the Greek language on a wide variety of topics, ranging from music theory to Homer to vegetarianism.[b] His Isagoge or Introduction, an introduction to logic and philosophy,[c] was the standard textbook on logic throughout the Middle Ages in its Latin and Arabic translations.[3] Porphyry was, and still is, also well-known for his anti-Christian polemics.[4] Through works such as Philosophy from Oracles and Against the Christians (which was banned by Constantine the Great),[5] he was involved in a controversy with early Christians.[6]


The Suda (a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia based on many sources now lost) reports that Porphyry was born in Tyre.[7] His parents named him Malkos or Malchus (cf. Old Aramaic malkā 'king'), though he changed it into the name "Basileus" (cf. Ancient Greek βασιλεύς basileús 'king'), and into his nickname "Porphyrius" (cf. Ancient Greek πορφύριος porphýrios 'clad in purple') later in his life.[4] In his work The Life of Plotinus, he refers to Aramaic as his "native tongue."[8] Under Cassius Longinus, in Athens, he studied grammar and rhetoric, and became acquainted with Middle Platonism.[4]

In 262 he went to Rome, attracted by the reputation of Plotinus, and for six years devoted himself to the practice of Neoplatonism, during which time he severely modified his diet, at one point becoming suicidal.[9] On the advice of Plotinus he went to live in Sicily for five years to recover his mental health. On returning to Rome, he lectured on philosophy and completed an edition of the writings of Plotinus (who had died in the meantime) together with a biography of his teacher. Iamblichus is mentioned in ancient Neoplatonic writings as his disciple, but this is most likely only meant to indicate that he was the dominant figure in the next generation of philosophers succeeding him.[10] The two men differed publicly on the issue of theurgy.

In his later years, he married Marcella, a widow with seven children and a student of philosophy.[11] There are around sixty works connected to Porphyry's name, some in fragments or lost. Some pieces of his work are still being reconstructed today.[12] Little more is known of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain.


Introduction (Isagoge)

Imaginary debate between Averroes (1126–1198 AD) and Porphyry (234–c. 305 AD). Monfredo de Monte Imperiali Liber de herbis, 14th century.[13]

Porphyry is best known for his contributions to philosophy. Apart from writing the Aids to the Study of the Intelligibles (Ἀφορμαὶ πρὸς τὰ νοητά; Sententiae ad Intelligibilia Ducentes), a basic summary of Neoplatonism, he is especially appreciated for his Introduction to Categories (Introductio in Praedicamenta or Isagoge et in Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium), a very short work often considered to be a commentary on Aristotle's Categories, hence the title.[d] According to Barnes 2003, however, the correct title is simply Introduction (Εἰσαγωγή Isagoge), and the book is an introduction not to the Categories in particular, but to logic in general, comprising as it does the theories of predication, definition, and proof. The Introduction describes how qualities attributed to things may be classified, famously breaking down the philosophical concept of substance into the five components genus, species, difference, property, and accident. Porphyry's discussion of accident sparked a long-running debate on the application of accident and essence.[14]

As Porphyry's most influential contribution to philosophy, the Introduction to Categories incorporated Aristotle's logic into Neoplatonism, in particular the doctrine of the categories of being interpreted in terms of entities (in later philosophy, "universal"). Boethius' Isagoge, a Latin translation of Porphyry's Introduction, became a standard medieval textbook in European schools and universities, which set the stage for medieval philosophical-theological developments of logic and the problem of universals. In medieval textbooks, the all-important Arbor porphyriana ("Porphyrian Tree") illustrates his logical classification of substance. To this day, taxonomy benefits from concepts in Porphyry's Tree, in classifying living organisms (see cladistics). Porphyry's invention of the "Porphyrian Tree" is noted as the first proper commentary made on Aristotle's work.

A replica of the Arbor porphyriana (Porphyrian tree) used to comment on Aristotle's work by Purchotius (1730), Boethius (6th century), and Ramon Llull (ca. 1305).

The Introduction was translated into Arabic by Abd-Allāh ibn al-Muqaffaʿ from a Syriac version. With the Arabicized name Isāghūjī (إيساغوجي) it long remained the standard introductory logic text in the Muslim world and influenced the study of theology, philosophy, grammar, and jurisprudence. Besides the adaptations and epitomes of this work, many independent works on logic by Muslim philosophers have been entitled Isāghūjī.

Philosophy from Oracles (De Philosophia ex Oraculis Haurienda)

Porphyry is also known as an opponent of Christianity and defender of Paganism; his precise contribution to the philosophical approach to traditional religion may be discovered in the fragments of Philosophy from Oracles (Περὶ τῆς ἐκ λογίων φιλοσοφίας; De Philosophia ex Oraculis Haurienda), which was originally three books in length. There is debate as to whether it was written in his youth (as Eunapius reports[9]) or closer in time to the persecutions of Christians under Diocletian and Galerius.[e]

Whether or not Porphyry was the pagan philosopher's opponent in Lactantius' Divine Institutes, written at the time of the persecutions, has long been discussed. The fragments of the Philosophy from Oracles are only quoted by Christians, especially Eusebius, Theodoret, Augustine, and John Philoponus. The fragments contain oracles identifying proper sacrificial procedure, the nature of astrological fate, and other topics relevant to Greek and Roman religion in the third century. Whether this work contradicts his treatise defending vegetarianism, which also warned the philosopher to avoid animal sacrifice, is disputed among scholars.[16] Due to Porphyry’s work being incomplete or lost, the understanding of the piece could be misconstrued.[12]

Against the Christians (Adversus Christianos)

Main article: Against the Christians

Porphyry, a detail of the Tree of Jesse, 1535, Sucevița Monastery.

During his retirement in Sicily, Porphyry wrote Against the Christians (Κατὰ Χριστιανῶν; Adversus Christianos) which consisted of fifteen books. Some thirty Christian apologists, such as Methodius, Eusebius, Apollinaris, Augustine, Jerome, etc., responded to his challenge. In fact, everything known about Porphyry's arguments is found in these refutations, largely because Theodosius II ordered every copy burned in AD 435 and again in 448.[17][18][19]

Augustine and the 5th-century ecclesiastical historian Socrates of Constantinople assert that Porphyry was once a Christian.[20] It is said, however, that while Porphyry did engage with Christianity, he did not believe it. Augustine made comments to Porphyry as he said he was the "most learned of the philosophers, as the most bitter enemy of the Christians".[21]

Other works

Porphyry was opposed to the theurgy of his disciple Iamblichus. Much of Iamblichus' mysteries is dedicated to the defense of mystic theurgic divine possession against the critiques of Porphyry. French philosopher Pierre Hadot maintains that for Porphyry, spiritual exercises are an essential part of spiritual development.[22]

Porphyry was, like Pythagoras, an advocate of vegetarianism on spiritual and ethical grounds. These two philosophers are perhaps the most famous vegetarians of classical antiquity. He wrote the On Abstinence from Animal Food (Περὶ ἀποχῆς ἐμψύχων; De Abstinentia ab Esu Animalium), advocating against the consumption of animals, and he is cited with approval in vegetarian literature up to the present day. He believed that everything was created for mutual advantage, and vegetarianism was a way to preserve universal harmony of nature.[23]

Porphyry also wrote widely on music theory,[24] astrology, religion, and philosophy. He produced a History of Philosophy (Philosophos Historia) with vitae of philosophers that included a life of his teacher, Plotinus. His life of Plato from book iv exists only in quotes by Cyril of Alexandria.[f] His book Vita Pythagorae on the life of Pythagoras is not to be confused with the book of the same name by Iamblichus. His commentary on Ptolemy's Harmonics[25] (Eis ta Harmonika Ptolemaiou hypomnēma) is an important source for the history of ancient harmonic theory.

Porphyry also wrote about Homer. Apart from several lost texts known only from quotations by other authors, two texts survive at least in large parts: the Homeric Questions (Homēriká zētḗmata, largely a philological comment on the Iliad and Odyssey) and On the Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey (Peri tou en Odysseia tōn nymphōn antrou).

Porphyry's commentary on Euclid's Elements was used as a source by Pappus of Alexandria.[26]

List of works



Uncertain attribution

See also



  1. ^ For Porphyry's dates, place of birth and philosophical school, see Barker 2003, pp. 1226–1227. Sarton 1936, pp. 429–430 identifies Transjordania as Porphyry's place of birth.
  2. ^ For a comprehensive list see Beutler (1894–1980); Guthrie 1988, p. 91 provides another list
  3. ^ Barnes 2003, p. xv clarifies that the Isagoge "[was] not an Introduction to the Categories, rather "[since it was] an introduction to the study of logic, [it] was... an introduction to philosophy—and hence accidentally an introduction to the Categories."
  4. ^ Barnes 2003, p. xiv outlines the history of the opinion that Porphyry meant for his Isagoge to be an introductory work to the Categories.
  5. ^ The Christian apologist Eusebius states that "some Greek" might say "How can these people be thought worthy of forbearance? They have not only turned away from those who from earliest time have been thought of as divine among all Greeks and barbarians... but by emperors, law-givers and philosophers— all of a given mind... And to what sort of penalties might they not be subjected who... are fugitives from the things of their Fathers?" This material, once thought to be part of Against the Christians, but reassigned by Wilken 1979 to Philosophy from Oracles, is quoted in Digeser 1998, p. 129. However, it may not have been by Porphyry at all.[15]
  6. ^ Notopoulos 1940, pp. 284–293 attempted a reconstruction from Apuleius' use of it.


  1. ^ a b Schott, Jeremy M. (2013-04-23). Christianity, Empire, and the Making of Religion in Late Antiquity. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-0346-2.
  2. ^ Johnson 2013, p. 8.
  3. ^ Barnes 2003, p. ix.
  4. ^ a b c Macris, Constantinos (2015), Porphyry. Athens: Plato's Encyclopedia
  5. ^ Clark 1989, p. 9.
  6. ^ Digeser 1998.
  7. ^ Suda, Porphyry
  8. ^ "The Enneads of Plotinus: Porphyry: On the Life of Plotinus and the Arrangement of his Work". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2022-10-30.
  9. ^ a b Eunapius (1921). "Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists". tertullian.org. pp. 343–565. Retrieved 6 September 2019.
  10. ^ Chiaradonna, Riccardo; Lecerf, Adrien (2019). Iamblichus. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. ^ Porphyry (1896). Porphyry, the philosopher, to his wife, Marcella;. Translated by Zimmern, Alice. London : G. Redway. LCCN 04006426. Archived from the original on 2009-11-03.
  12. ^ a b Emilsson, Eyjólfur (2022). Porphyry. The Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy.
  13. ^ Sadaune 2014, p. 112.
  14. ^ Rahman 1986, pp. 271–273.
  15. ^ Johnson 2010, p. 53-58.
  16. ^ Johnson 2013, p. 135.
  17. ^ Digeser 1998, p. 130: "Constantine and other emperors banned and burned Porphyry's work".
  18. ^ Socrates Scholasticus 1885, pp. Book I, Ch 9, pp. 30–31, Letter of Constantine proscribing the works of Porphyry and Arius.
  19. ^ Stevenson 1987: Gelasius, Historia Ecclesiastica, II.36
  20. ^ Socrates Scholasticus 1885b, pp. Book III, Ch 23.
  21. ^ Clark, Gillian (2007). Augustine's Porphyry and the Universal Way of Salvation. Oxford University Press.
  22. ^ Hadot 1995, p. 100.
  23. ^ Williams, Howard (April 25, 2023). "The Ethics of Diet". International Vegetarian Union.
  24. ^ Richter, Lukas (2001). "Porphyry". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.22125. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved 25 September 2021. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
  25. ^ "Τοξόλυρος – Εἰς τὰ ἁρμονικὰ Πτολεμαίου ὑπόμνημα – φιλοσοφικό Ακαδημίας" [In Ptolemy's Harmonized Memoirs – Philosophical Academy] (in Greek). Archived from the original on 2011-07-21.
  26. ^ O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Porphyry Malchus", MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive, University of St Andrews
  27. ^ Simplicius, In Aristotelis Categorias commentarium, 2.5-9v
  28. ^ Toland, John (1720). "Clidophorus, or of the Exoteric and Esoteric Philosophy, that is of the External and Internal Doctrine of the Ancients: the one open and public, accommodating to the popular prejudices and established Religions, the other private and secret, wherein, to the few capable and discrete, was taught the real truth stript of all disguises," in Tetradamus. Brotherton and Meadows (London). pp. v.
  29. ^ Freudenthal & Johnson 2020.
  30. ^ Barnes 2011, p. 109, n. 22.



Further reading

  • Bidez, J. (1913). Vie de Porphyre. Ghent.
  • Clark, Gillian, "Porphyry of Tyre on the New Barbarians," in R. Miles (ed), Constructing Identities in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1999), 112–132; = in Eadem, Body and Gender, Soul and Reason in Late Antiquity (Farnham; Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2011) (Variorum collected studies series, CS978), art. XIV.
  • Clark, Gillian, "Philosophic Lives and the philosophic life: Porphyry and Iamblichus," in T. Hägg and P. Rousseau (eds), Greek Biography and Panegyric in Late Antiquity (Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2000), 29–51; = in Eadem, Body and Gender, Soul and Reason in Late Antiquity (Farnham; Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2011) (Variorum collected studies series, CS978), art. XV.
  • Clark, Gillian, "Fattening the soul: Christian asceticism and Porphyry On Abstinence," Studia Patristica, 35, 2001, 41–51; = in Eadem, Body and Gender, Soul and Reason in Late Antiquity (Farnham; Burlington, VT, Ashgate, 2011) (Variorum collected studies series, CS978), art. XVI.
  • Emilsson, E., "Porphyry". Retrieved April 19, 2009.
  • Girgenti, G. (1987) Porfirio negli ultimi cinquant'anni: bibliografia sistematica e ragionata della letteratura primaria e secondaria riguardante il pensiero porfiriano e i suoi influssi storici Milan.
  • Hartmann, Udo (2018). Der spätantike Philosoph. Die Lebenswelten der paganen Gelehrten und ihre hagiographische Ausgestaltung in den Philosophenviten von Porphyrios bis Damaskios (in German). Bonn: Habelt, ISBN 978-3-7749-4172-4, especially pp. 50–117 und 433–459.
  • Iamblichus: De mysteriis. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell (Society of Biblical Literature; 2003) ISBN 1-58983-058-X.
  • Smith, Andrew (1987) Porphyrian Studies since 1913, in W. Haase, ed., Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.36.2, pp. 717–773.
  • Smith, Andrew (1974) Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition. A Study in post-Plotinian Neoplatonism, The Hague, Nijhoff.
  • Zuiddam, B. A. "Old Critics and Modern Theology," Dutch Reformed Theological Journal (South Africa), xxxvi, 1995, No. 2.