(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Poprhyry (PAWR-feh-ree) was reared in Tyre, and studied at Caesarea in Palestine, and in Athens under Longinus. In 263 c.e., he became a disciple of Plotinus in Rome. By 270 c.e., he had moved to Sicily, where he heard of his master’s death the same year. He then returned to Rome to assume leadership of the Neoplatonic school founded by Plotinus. He died circa 305 c.e. after editing the lectures of Plotinus, the Enneads (third century c.e.; English translation, 1916)

Sometime before the Diocletianic persecution (303-305 c.e.), he published two anti-Christian works, the Kata Christanōn (c. 270 c.e.; Against the Christians, 1830), in fifteen books, and On the Philosophy of Oracles (third century c.e.; English translation, 1959), in three books, which attacked the doctrines and practices of Christianity. Diocletian’s new imperial theology attempted to inspire a renewed interest in a declining paganism in the Roman Empire, and the dissemination of Porphyry’s polemical works may have been supported by the emperor himself. The argument that the greatest expression of piety was to honor the gods according to ancestral customs was the centerpiece of his (and Diocletian’s) anti-Christian program. Arnobius, the first Christian author to write in response to Porphyry, provides evidence that his works against Christianity were circulating in the Western Roman Empire by the late third century c.e.

Porphyry was a polymath who wrote on many subjects, including literature, philosophy, and religion. He was the...

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