Porphyry and Iamblichus

Authored by: Mark J. Edwards

Ancient Philosophy of Religion

Print publication date:  July  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844652204
eBook ISBN: 9781315729633
Adobe ISBN: 9781317546511


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Porphyry was born in 232, and commenced his philosophical studies in Athens under the eminent critic Longinus. He spent the years from 263 to 268 with Plotinus in Rome, as we learn from his own report in his Life of Plotinus, a preface to his edition of the Enneads, which became ours (Life of Plotinus 4, 11, 23). On the evidence of an ancient source, Iamblichus is believed to have been his pupil, and on evidence that some might think no evidence at all, his birth has been dated to 245 (Cameron 1968). What is certain is that Iamblichus was the younger, that, like Porphyry, he was a Platonist, and that both men hung a religious superstructure on a scaffolding erected by Plotinus, who in outward show was the least religious thinker of late antiquity. Porphyry was a Greek-speaking Phoenician from the great city of Tyre; the Chalcis that is said to have been the birthplace of Iamblichus is generally supposed to have been the town of that name in Syria. No date for the death of either is recorded, and we know little of their careers save what can be gathered from their writings. Porphyry was perhaps the more conventional, a stenographer to oracles and public cults, where Iamblichus purports to be an expositor of deep mysteries. Yet both, as heirs of Plotinus, were intolerant of irrationality even in the study of things above reason, and both were aware that, in framing a theology for barbarians, they were preserving a Greek tradition of enquiry for the Greeks.

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