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Porphyry

PORPHYRY

(b. Tyre, 232–234 CE; d. 304), ancient philosophy, musical theory.

A Greek philosopher, Porphyry was pupil of the Neo-platonist Plotinus in Rome and popularizer of his master’s doctrines. In the last part of his life he edited and published Plotinian writings. He was author of a massive quantity of philosophical, religious, historical, rhetorical, and philological books, most of which are lost. In his philosophical writings are found a synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian elements, on which (despite his lack of originality) medieval thought drew mainly. Within the scope of his scientific activity, his main attention was directed to Ptolemy, on whose Harmonic he wrote a commentary.

Born in Tyre between 232 and 234 CE, his real name was Malchus, which in Semitic language means “king,” but he became famous as “Porphyry” (an allusion to his place of origin, the city of purple), a nickname attributed to him by his teacher in Athens, the rhetorician and philosopher Cassius Longinus. In 263 he went to Rome and began to attend Plotinus’s lectures, gradually becoming one of his closest assistants and helping the master in revising and correcting his writings. Overloaded with this work, he fell into depression, which culminated in an attempted suicide. After this, on Plotinus’s advice, in 268 he left Rome for Sicily, where he stayed for some time even after his master’s death in 270. On his return he took the direction of the Neoplatonic school and worked on the edition of Plotinus’s writings, dividing them into six books of nine treatises each (hence the name Enneads) on the basis of a mystical numerology according to which “six” was the perfect number, prefacing them with a biography of the master. Scholars are not very well informed on the last part of his life: it is known that he married the widow of a friend, Marcella, to whom he dedicated one of his extant writings, the Letter to Marcella, in which his ethical conception, concerning the relations between the human and the divine world according to the Neoplatonic view, is displayed.

Notwithstanding the numerous works on which there is information, few of them survived (and not all complete): the Introduction to Aristotelian Categories, a commentary that combines the Aristotelian logic with Platonic theories; the Starting-Points Leading to the Intelligibles, a synthesis of Neoplatonic ideas; a Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides, handed down as anonymous, but by Pierre Hadot (1968) attributed (even if not unanimously) to the Tyrian philosopher; the Life of Plotinus, where Porphyry depicts his master as a charismatic character, dwelling upon the story of his mystical union with the One, or the first cause of everything (by Plotinus experienced four times and by Porphyry himself once). The treatise On Abstinence from Eating Food from Animals observes in animals the presence of a soul similar to ours (although less rational). The work To Gaurus is erroneously attributed to Galen, once again on the conception of the soul. Against the Christians, perhaps one of his best-known titles, is a treatise in fifteen books in which he refuses the Christian idea of creation (despite the assertion of Socrates, the ecclesiastical historian, and Augustine, that Porphyry was once a Christian). A Life of Pythagoras(probably part of the first book of a history of philosophy) has affinities with the work by Iamblichus, affinities that can be explained by their dependence on the same source. Finally there is the previously mentioned Letter to Marcella and the allegoric interpretation of Homer displayed by the treatise On the Cave of the Nymphs, where he considers the Homeric texts to have a hidden and philosophical meaning behind the literal one are also included.

The cosmological vision according to which the universe was regulated by exact laws and correspondences led Porphyry to take a scientific interest in astronomy, mathematics, and music. As a consequence, he wrote commentaries on the Euclidean Elements and on some of Ptolemy’s works, such as the astrological treatise known as Tetrabiblos and the Harmonics. The Commentary on the Harmonics, addressed to a certain Eudoxius, is particularly interesting not especially for the originality of its critical analysis (it is mainly a paraphrase of Ptolemy’s first two books, which breaks off at the beginning of book two), but for the inclusion of quotations drawn from earlier literature, in many cases otherwise unknown. The primary intent of Porphyry really seems to have been the identification of Ptolemy’s sources or opponents, whom the great scientist had avoided mentioning, and their excerpts are given in order to provide a basis for further digressions, which, however, do not lead to any substantial remarks.

He mainly discusses the basic conceptions of the harmonics, the science that grasps the distinctions related to high and low pitch in sounds, and its criteria, hearing and reason; but he does not investigate thoroughly the complex technical analysis of Ptolemy’s himself, skimming over the surface of the topic. Furthermore, as it stands, the commentary does not represent a finished or complete work, because it is much more detailed on the first four chapters of Harmonics, book one, than on the part that goes from chapter five of book one to chapter seven of book two, where it suddenly stops.

The most important quotations preserved in Porphyry’s work are the Peripatetic De audibilibus, which includes many pieces of information on the nature of sounds and the causes of their qualities’ modifications; a fragment of a treatise On music by Theophrastus, whose bulk seems to be the polemic against the quantitative interpretation of sounds; extended fragments of works by Ptolemais of Cyrene (Pythagorean Elements of Music), Didymus (On the Difference between the Aristoxenians and the Pythagoreans), Aelian (Commentary of the Timaeus), and Panaetius (Concerning the Ratios and Intervals in Geometry and Music)—perhaps the philosopher of Rhodes—all of which are otherwise unknown.

Also the other commentary work on Ptolemy, the Eisagoge Eis Ten Apotelesmatiken Tou Ptolemaiou (where is found a succinct explanation of elementary concepts of Greek astrology), gets its importance especially for its valuable references to some astrological texts otherwise lost. Porphyry’s interest in this science led him to write also an Introduction to Astronomy, where he supports the thesis according to which each soul receives particular features from different planets (such as the imagination from the Sun or the impulsiveness from Mars).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The original Greek text of Porphyry’s works and fragments, based on the best available editions, can now be found in an electronic version in the Thesaurus Linguae Graece collection. For the text of The Commentary on the Harmonics see, in particular, Düring, Ingemar: Porphyrios Kommentar zur Harmonielehre des Ptolemaios ; Göteborg, Sweden: Elanders, 1932. Reprint, New York: Garland, 1980. For the Tetrabiblos commentary see Boer, Aemilia, and Stephanus Weinstock, Introductio in Tetrabiblum Ptolemaei, in Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum 5, 4. Brussels: Academia, 1940, pp. 190–228. Below is a list of some translations of Porphyry’s work into English.

WORKS BY PORPHYRY

The Cave of the Nymphs in the Odyssey. A revised text with translation by Seminar Classics 609. State University of New York at Buffalo, Arethusa Monograph 1. Buffalo: Dept. of Classics, State University of New York at Buffalo, 1969.

To Marcella. Text and translation with introduction and notes by Kathleen O’Brien Wicker. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.

Greek Musical Writings. Vol. 2, Harmonic and Acoustic Theory. Edited by Andrew Barker. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Translation of some excerpts of Porphyry’s Commentary on the Harmonics.

Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains. Edited and translated with an introduction and epilogue by R. Joseph Hoffmann. Amherst, MA: Prometheus, 1994.

Neoplatonic Saints: The Lives of Plotinus and Proclus. Translated Texts for Historians 35. Liverpool, U.K.: Liverpool University Press, 2000.

On Abstinence from Killing Animals. Translated by Gillian Clark. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Porphyry’s Introduction. Translated with a commentary by J. Barnes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006.

OTHER SOURCES

Barker, Andrew. “Porphyry. Porphyry’s Music Theory.” In The Oxford Classical Dictionary, edited by Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Bidez, Joseph. Vie de Porphyre: Le philosophe neo-platonicien, avec les fragments des traites Peri Agalmaton et De regressu animae. Leipzig, Germany: Teubner, 1913. Reprint, Hildesheim, Germany: Olm, 1964.

Deuse, Werner. Untersuchungen zur mittelplatonischen und neuplatonischen Seelenlehre. Wiesbaden, Germany: Steiner, 1983.

Düring, Ingemar. Ptolemaios uns Porphyrios über die Musik.Göteborg, Sweden: Elanders, 1934. Reprint, New York: Garland, 1980.

Edwards, Mark J. “Porphyry and the Intelligible Triad.” Journal of Hellenic Studies 110 (1990): 14–24.

Evangeliou, Christos. Aristotle’s Categories and Porphyry. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1988.

Girgenti, Giuseppe. Porfirio negli ultimi cinquant’anni: bibliografia sistematica e ragionata della letteratura primaria e secondaria. Milan, Italy: Vita e Pensiero, 1994.

Hadot, Pierre. Porphyre et Victorinus. Paris: Études augustiniennes, 1968.

———. Plotin, Porphyre—études néoplatoniciennes. Paris: Les belles lettres, 1999.

Smith, Andrew. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: A Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1974.

———. “Porphyrian Studies since 1913.” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 36, 2 (1987): 717–773.

Strange, Steven K. “Plotinus, Porphyry and the Neoplatonic Interpretation of the ‘Categories.’” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 2, 36, 2 (1987): 955–974.

Eleonora Rocconi

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porphyry

porphyry.
1. Beautiful and very hard rock quarried in Egypt in Antiquity, deep purplish-red in colour, capable of taking a high polish.

2. Black or green stones of porphyritic structure quarried in Sardinia, Greece, etc.

3. Any unstratified or igneous rock having a homogeneous base containing crystals of one or more minerals, e.g. felspar porphyry, claystone porphyry, porphyritic granite, and porphyritic greenstone. The best-known are porfido rosso (deep red with whitish spots), porfido nero (black with white spots), serpentino nero antico (black with lighter oblong spots), porfido verde (very dark, almost black, with fine green shades), porfido di Vitelli (pea-green with small lighter green spots), and a blue porphyry found by the Romans at Fréjus. The so-called rosso antico was not a porphyry, but was in fact a marble found in Greece or Italy, and was both cheaper and easier to work. The finest rosso antico occurred at Brescia, was deep blood-red or liver in colour, with a fine grain, and could take a high polish.

Bibliography

Butters (1996);
Delbrück (1932);
J. Papworth (1832)

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Porphyry (Greek scholar)

Porphyry (pôr´fĬrē), c.232–c.304, Greek scholar and Neoplatonic philosopher. He studied rhetoric under Cassius Longinus and philosophy under Plotinus. He later lectured in Rome on the philosophy of Plotinus and was the teacher of the Neoplatonist Iamblichus. He wrote lives of Pythagoras and of Plotinus and edited the Enneads of Plotinus. He wrote extensively against Christianity and on rhetorical and literary themes. His most influential work is the Isagoge, an introduction to the logic of Aristotle, which became a standard medieval text.

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porphyry (igneous rock)

porphyry (pôr´fərē), igneous rock composed of large, conspicuous crystals (phenocrysts) and a groundmass in which the phenocrysts are embedded. Some authorities consider the expression "porphyritic rock" better usage than porphyry, since the term refers only to the texture of the rock—not its chemical, physical, or mineralogical composition or color. The texture is important in the determination of the circumstances under which the rock formed. The phenocrysts vary in size; the groundmass may be either glassy or made up of coarse or fine granules or crystals. The varieties of porphyry are many, the specimens being named by the character of the phenocrysts in the groundmass. They are found in main classes of igneous rocks, e.g., in granite, syenite, diorite, gabbro, and peridotite. Porphyritic felsites and porphyritic basalts are widely distributed. The porphyritic texture indicates two separate stages of solidification. In the first phase the phenocrysts form in the molten mass; in the second, the molten mass itself crystallizes into a solid. Porphyritic texture is especially common in extrusions, e.g., in lava.

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Porphyry

Porphyry (c.232–c.303). Neoplatonist philosopher and anti-Christian writer. His philosophical works include an Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle which became a standard medieval textbook; he wrote a Life of his teacher Plotinus, and the treatise Against the Christians. This was condemned to be burnt in 448 and survives only in quotations in works of refutation.

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porphyry

porphyry a hard igneous rock containing crystals of feldspar in a fine-grained, typically reddish groundmass, used in ancient Egypt as a building stone. The word comes (in late Middle English) via medieval Latin from Greek porphuritēs, from porphura ‘purple’.

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porphyry

porphyry A medium- to coarse-grained, intrusive, felsic, igneous rock which is conspicuously porphyritic, containing more than 25% phenocrysts by volume. The phenocryst mineral is usually alkali feldspar. The term can be used as a suffix to a specific name, e.g. quartz porphyry.

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porphyry

porphyry XIV. Three types are found:
i. porfurie, -firie,

ii. purfire, porphire,

iii. porphyry; all ult. — medL. porphyreum, for L. porphyrītēs — Gr. porphurī́tes, f. pórphuros PURPLE.

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porphyry

por·phy·ry / ˈpôrfərē/ • n. (pl. -ries) a hard igneous rock containing crystals, usually of feldspar, in a fine-grained, typically reddish groundmass.

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porphyry

porphyry •hara-kiri • ribaldry • chivalry • Tishri •figtree • wintry • poetry • casuistry •Babbittry • banditry • pedigree •punditry • verdigris • sophistry •porphyry • gadgetry • registry •Valkyrie •marquetry, parquetry •basketry • trinketry • daiquiri •coquetry, rocketry •circuitry • varletry • filigree •palmistry •biochemistry, chemistry, photochemistry •gimmickry, mimicry •asymmetry, symmetry •craniometry, geometry, micrometry, optometry, psychometry, pyrometry, sociometry, trigonometry •tenebrae • ministry • cabinetry •tapestry • carpentry • papistry •piripiri • puppetry •agroforestry, floristry, forestry •ancestry • corsetry • artistry •dentistry • Nyree • rivalry • pinetree

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