Studies on Porphyry. Edited by George Karamanolis and Anne Sheppard


Pp. 183 . London , Institute of Classical Studies , 2007 . $60.00/£26.00 .

Designated the first systematic Platonic commentator on Aristotle by G. Karamanolis, Porphyry (234–305 CE) has long been described as more scholarly than Plotinus in dealing with complexities in textual interpretation. His principles, arguments, and conclusions, particularly on metaphysical and semantic matters, were transmitted through Boethius and others to major European medieval thinkers. As well, C. d'Ancona has shown how his efforts to systematise Plotinus's reflections influenced the pseudo-Theology of Aristotle that was utilised by early Arabic speculators seeking to harmonise the doctrines of a First Principle with the notion of Tawhid, and that of the soul's immortality with the Qur'an's eschatological notions of Threat and Reward.

A. Smith begins this excellent collection of scholarly reassessments of Porphyry by acknowledging his application of Plutarchian notions and phraseology and how his analyses of myth and religion contrast with those of Plotinus, Proclus, and Iamblichus. He suggests that Porphyry advocated no mere reversion to pre-Plotinian Platonism, since his incorporation of Aristotelian logic into Platonism, as argued by C. Horn, may be viewed as a compromise strategy. Although Porphyry arguably was tending towards positions concerning the transcendent One advocated in the famous anonymous Commentary on Parmenides emphasised by P. Hadot, there is still insufficient evidence to identify its author as Porphyry.

S. Strange offers a detailed examination of Porphyry's originality vis-à-vis Plotinus, the latter he suspects having been influenced by Numenius. Remarking that the former's creativity can not be found in his Sententiae, Strange considers Porphyry's positing of the pre-eternity of (the) One as Father of the First Intelligible Triad and discerns congruences between Porphyry's account of the self-generation of Nous to be compatible with the anonymous Commentary on Parmenides, both being proximate to Plotinus's views. R. Chiaradonna, in contrast, explores slight yet important changes of Plotinus's views in Porphyry's Sentences concerning immanent incorporeals, which would include all key concepts for explanation of the physical world. Since there is no separation for Porphyry of logic and ontology, and since the Stoic theory of incorporeals plays no significant role in his views, he is able to conflate soul and pure intelligibles and yet preserve a distinction of soul and Intellect by developing a two-fold notion of privation. A final study on metaphysics is by J. Dillon, who accepts Hadot's proposal of Porphyry as author of the anonymous Commentary on Parmenides, and examines Porphyry's doctrine of a supra-essential, supra-rational first principle that is able to be considered bivalently: as totally ineffable, simple, and transcendent; and as presiding over the dyad of Limit/Unlimitedness as ‘Father’ of the primal creative triad. Recalling a provocative thesis he has proposed in other contexts, Dillon suggests that Porphyry's formulations offered subsequent Christian theologians philosophical footing to combat Arian subordinationism in elucidating their understanding of the Triune God.

R. Sorabji offers finely textured analyses of Porphyry on self-awareness, not only by revealing texts that likely influenced Augustine's and Avicenna's considerations, but also by exploring implications of his identity of the true self and soul with intellect, which Sorabji acknowledges was innovative. However, he judges Porphyry's presentation of individuals as bundles of qualities, likely inspired by meditations on the Theatetus and Alcinous's writings, to have been a regretful component of his introduction to Aristotle. A. Sheppard presents central texts which indicate how Porphyry occasionally wove Plato's and Aristotle's doctrines seamlessly, such as in his account of doxa. However, Plotinus's doctrine of phantasia, that may be viewed both in terms of a higher reflection of intelligibles and a lower of perceived images, is absent within Porphyry, as is the theory that phantasia is utilised when treating mathematicals. P. Lautner, in turn, details Porphyry's treatment of perception and self-knowledge, his criticisms of Stoic, Epicurean, and Academic theories, and how he applies an empirical account of the primacy of ideas in cognition. Arguing that Porphyry held a radical position among ancient Platonists by espousing that soul is uniform and homogeneous and that world soul is constantly present in humans, Lautner carefully elucidates how Porphyry apparently was able to distinguish the soul's powers while maintaining unity of awareness and consciousness. In contrast, G. Karamanolis's argues that Porphyry's explanations of empsychia as an immanent incorporeal that exists only through transcendent soul from which it emanates and to which it returns, indeed, implied inconsistencies vulnerable to criticisms of Iamblichus, who distinguished sharply between soul and intellect.

Three final essays center on Porphyry's influences on subsequent speculators. M. Edwards argues that by disguising Plotinus's One as providential, coalescing it with Intellect, and introducing the three hypostases, Porphyry removed impediments for a fruitful bond of Christian theism with Plotinian metaphysics, especially since he was such a formidable subject of criticism in differing manners and intensities for Eusebius, Lactantius, and Augustine. G. Clark refines these considerations by exploring how Augustine reworked and presented the Porphyry he wanted, and not Porphyry as he was, a treatment that Clark suggests Augustine extended to Varro as well. Augustine used extensive commentary on a remarkably small number of fragments to conjure the charge that Porphyry advocated a universal way for all to reach God, while in fact he more likely denied any claim that there is a single way of liberating the soul. Rather, he advocated that only a narrow range of persons can attain liberation of the higher soul, even though a wide range of ethnic traditions may provide ways to liberation. Last is P. Adamson's remarkable examination of the Porphyrius Arabicus on nature and art. While indicating that Arabic authors revealed little accurate grasp of exactly who Porphyry was, Adamson inventories works cited by prominent Arabic thinkers and devotes special attention to a reported fragment of Porphyry's commentary on Aristotle's Physics in which he may have suggested that nature is paradeigma for art, implying that products of art relate to natural objects as natural objects relate to the Forms. This would make him the first to integrate Platonic metaphysics with Aristotelian natural science, and such resulted in criticisms from both Baghdad Aristotelians and Avicenna regarding what were, in fact, inaccurate depictions of his positions.

While further details and important implications of the transmission of Porphyrian speculative genotypes will require more investigation, this superbly produced collection is an important contribution to this enterprise.