Torre de Babel

A BRIEF HISTORY OF GREEK PHILOSOPHY – Porphyry and Other Commentators


§ 30 – Neo-Platonism

Porphyry and Other Commentators

Mention may be made of Porphyry, the pupil and biographer of Plotinus, whose right to a place in the history of philosophy seems to rest chiefly upon his services in diffusing the opinions of Plotinus, and in expounding in an attractive manner writings of Plato and Aristotle, particularly portions of the Organon of the latter. He taught piety and asceticism, and inclined to theurgy.—Three other important commentators on Aristotle are Themistius (fourth century A.D.), Simplicius, and Philoponus (sixth century A.D.).


Jamblichus (fl. 306-337), a pupil of Porphyry, «attempted a speculative justification of superstition. He imitated Pythagoras more than Plato, his philosophy resting rather on mystical speculations with numbers than on Platonic ideas. In his system not only did all the gods of the Greeks and Orientals (excepting the Christian God) and the gods of Plotinus find a place, but he also took a quite peculiar pleasure in adding to the number of superior divinities from the resources of his own fancy» (1). Above even the One of Plotinus, Jamblichus supposes an unknowable essence. Below the One are the intelligible world, the world of thinking beings, including Nous, Power, and Demiurge (Creator). Next in rank is a triplicity of souls, and last the sense-world. Jamblichus blended with theology Neo-Pythagorean number-speculation. He defended image-worship, theurgy, and prophecy. His ethical creed is contained in the idea, held by Plotinus and Porphyry, of purification. He is said to have been the intellectual ideal of Proclus, the last great thinker of the school of the Neo-Platonists and the last great mind in the history of Greek speculation.


(1) Ueberweg.