92 - King of Animals: Porphyry

Posted on 2 September 2012

Porphyry fuses Platonism with Aristotelianism, exploring Aristotle’s logic and Plotinus’ philosophy. He also finds time to argue for vegetarianism.


Further Reading

Primary texts

 • J. Barnes, Porphyry: Introduction (Oxford: 2003).

 • G. Clark, Porphyry: On Abstinence from Killing Animals (London: 2000).

• G.F. Edwards, "Irrational Animals in Porphyry’s Logical Works: A Problem for the Consensus Interpretation of On Abstinence," Phronesis 59 (2014), 22-43.

• S.K. Strange,  Porphyry: On Aristotle’s Categories (London: 1992).

• K. Guthrie, Porphyry: Launching-Points to the Realm of Mind [=Sentences] (Grand Rapids: 1988).


• G. Clark, Body and Gender, Soul and Reason in Late Antiquity (Farnham: 2011). [contains several articles on Porphyry]

• S. Ebbesen, “Porphyry’s legacy to logic”, in R. Sorabji (ed.), Aristotle Transformed (London: 1990), 141–71.

• A.P. Johnson, Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre: the Limits of Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Cambridge: 2013).

• G. Karamanolis, Plato and Aristotle in Agreement? Platonists on Aristotle from Antiochus to Porphyry (Oxford: 2006).

• G. Karamanolis, "Why Did Porphyry Write Aristotelian Commentaries?" in B. Strobel (ed.), Die Kunst der philosophischen Exegese bei den spätantiken Platon- und Aristoteles-Kommentatoren (Berlin: 2018), 9-43.

• G. Karamanolis and A. Sheppard, Studies on Porphyry (London: 2007).

• A. Smith, Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism (The Hague: 1974).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Porphyry


Theodore Janiszewski 10 April 2014

I ran across another late antique philosopher who argued for the rationality of animals: Celsus, who lived about a century before Porphyry, wrote as follows (about ants, of all things):

"And when they meet one another they enter into conversation, for which reason they never mistake their way; consequently they possess a full endowment of reason, and some common ideas on certain general subjects, and a voice by which they express themselves regarding accidental things."

This is from Origen's Contra Celsum 4.84 (online here).

Right, thanks - that's a good reference. I actually mention Celsus in another episode, the one on Origen.

Austin 13 September 2019

Recently I found a translation of Porphyry's "Letter to his Wife Marcella", which I found it to be kind of an odd text. It begins as something resembling a correspondence with someone close, but slowly shifts into almost a philosophical diatribe. I haven't come across many correspondence letters from this era that are preserved and covered in scholarship, are they rare or am I just not aware of them?  

Really love the podcast,


Yes that's an interesting text, I should have done more with it. The philosophical letter is actually a pretty widespread ancient phenomenon, we have a number of them from Iamblichus (these are even translated into English) and off the top of my head one could also think about the letters of Seneca, or Augustine. I think in general most intellectuals in antiquity wrote letters frequently so the real questions are how often they are preserved, and to what extent they were used as opportunities for waxing philosophical.

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