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Porphyry, Letter to his wife Marcella.  London: Priory Press (1910)

By the Same Author

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MEDITATIONS OF MARCUS AURELIUS in the "Scott Library." Revised edition of Collier's translation. (Walter Scott.) 1/- net.

HOME LIFE OF THE ANCIENT GREEKS, translated from the German of Professor Blümner. (Cassells.) 5/-.




New and Revised Translation


(Girton college, Cambridge)


OXFORD                                                           CAMBRIDGE
B. H. BLACKWELL                                          BOWES AND BOWES



Alexandria, the birthplace of Neo-Platonism, holds a position unique in the history of philosophy and letters. Founded by Alexander the Great to be the centre of a world-empire, it accomplished its destiny in a sense unguessed by its founder. Cosmopolitan through its position at the junction of three continents and the far-sighted toleration of its first rulers, it became a home for the wise and learned from all lands, and a centre of culture for the whole known world. The speedy break-up of the Alexandrian Empire and the transfer of power to Rome put an end to the idea of a world-state, but the abstract conception of a world-religion, to include within itself all other religions, found a congenial home in Alexander's city. For Neo-Platonism was a religious as well as a philosophic system. The first aim of its founders had been the revival of Plato's doctrines. But this was no longer possible. As the State had ceased to be |6 purely Greek, and was a combination of Roman, Greek, and Eastern elements, it was natural that these other influences should leave their mark on thought. The result was an eclectic system, combining in itself the best of all its predecessors. Though Plato's teaching formed the basis, Pythagoreanism, Stoicism, and Judaism contributed their quota. Still the result was no mere patchwork of older doctrines, but a complete metaphysical system, confessedly based on the teachings of Plato, though including much that is foreign to him. Of this scheme we may call Plotinus the architect, though his master, Ammonius Saccas, ranks as the true founder of Neo-Platonism.

Plotinus was born at Lykopolis in Egypt in 204 A.D. So at least we have reason to believe; but the great philosopher himself always refused to tell the date and place of his birth, since he did not wish to dwell on the details of that great misfortune, the descent of soul into body. At the age of twenty-eight he began his philosophic studies, and for eleven years was a pupil of Ammonius Saccas, who was striving to resuscitate Greek philosophy on the double basis of Plato and Aristotle. After visiting the East and studying the wisdom of Persia and India, he settled in Rome, where he founded a school of his own. For the Imperial city had learnt to welcome the great minds of the other nations over whom she |7 held sway. Rome was the intellectual as well as the political centre, and every philosophy and religion but one, the Christian, was held in honour here.

In spite of the abstruse nature of his teaching, crowds flocked round Plotinus. Men of science, physicians, senators and lawyers came to hear him; even Roman ladies enrolled themselves among his disciples. He seems to have combined in some unaccountable fashion the vocation of popular lecturer with that of philosopher and ascetic. He died in 269 A.D., at the age of sixty-five. We are told that he met his end with rejoicing, and begged his friends to celebrate the day as a festival, since it witnessed the escape of his soul from the prison-house of the body.

Of the pupils of Plotinus the greatest was Porphyry. It is indeed to him that we owe our knowledge of the Master's teachings, for he induced him to break the vow which Ammonius had exacted from all his disciples, not to commit his doctrines to writing.

A native of Tyre, born in 233 A.D., he early showed a fondness for travel, which seems to have been common to the philosophers of those days, who ranged from country to country in search of the Master at whose feet it should be most profitable to sit. There is some uncertainty about the list of his teachers and the places he visited. He studied under Origen, perhaps at Caesarea, and |8 he seems at one time to have visited Alexandria. At Athens he heard Apollonius and Longinus. At the age of twenty he went to Rome, attracted by the fame of Plotinus, but found that the great Master had closed his school and returned to the East. He then went back to Longinus, and sat under him for many years, becoming at last the chief ornament of his school. It is to him that Porphyry owes the name by which we know him. His real name was Malchus, in the Syro-Phoenician language a king, and Longinus gave him the nickname Porphyrius (Πορφύρεος) either as symbolic of the royal purple, or because of his Tyrian origin.

At the age of thirty he once more set out for Rome, this time as a confirmed disciple of Longinus, and somewhat uplifted by spiritual pride, if, as his biographer Eunapius states, he travelled to Rome "that he might measure the worth and greatness of the city by the wisdom he found in it." Here he soon came into conflict with Plotinus. Having ventured to attack one of the Master's dogmas in a written treatise, he was assailed in turn by Amelius, one of the disciples of Plotinus. A controversy ensued, from which Porphyry issued converted—a result surely rare in the history of controversy,— and ever afterwards he continued the most faithful and orthodox of Neo-Platonists. So dear did he become to his master that the greater part of |9 Plotinus' books were written in answer to Porphyry's questions, and it was he who persuaded Plotinus to break the vow exacted by Ammonius from all his pupils not to commit the inner doctrines to writing. Plotinus' writings filled fifty-four books, and Porphyry arranged them in six Enneades (groups of nine). It appears that Plotinus never revised a page, and both wrote and spelt badly; hence his disciple's task can have been no sinecure, and he well deserved the epithet conferred on him by Eunapius— "a kind of Mercury's chain let down among men" to communicate to them the learning and wisdom from above.

For six years Porphyry sat under Plotinus and listened to the doctrines of the evil of matter, the baseness of body, and the greatness of the philosopher's task. At last despair at the smallness of his own powers came upon him, and he fled to Sicily, where he seems in a fit of depression to have contemplated suicide. There, according to his biographer, Plotinus sought him out and comforted him, and restored his will to live. But another version of the story is that he went to Sicily by the advice of Plotinus, who thought that rest and change might prove a cure for melancholy. Indeed there is a good deal of obscurity about the events of Porphyry's life, for no faithful disciple seems to have done for him what he did for Plotinus, and |10 given the world an account of the Master. There is a general agreement that he spent some time in Sicily, and Christian writers assert that while there he wrote fifteen books against their doctrines. From Sicily he crossed to Carthage, and returned thence to Rome after the death of Plotinus. Here he taught for some years, and here in 302 A.D. he married Marcella, a Roman lady, about whom unfortunately we only know that she was the widow of a friend. His reasons for this marriage are set forth by Porphyry himself in a letter to Marcella. It was prompted, he says, by no mere commonplace love nor the desire to promote his domestic comfort, or to have children of his own, but because she had a disposition suited to philosophy, and because he desired to give her a home and help to bring up her seven children. Ten months after the marriage the husband was called away on some business which he describes as connected with the "affairs of the Greeks," 1 and the will of the gods. This journey has given rise to many conjectures. A passage of Lactantius deals with the persecutions suffered by the Christians of Bithynia in the year 302. In these, he says, two men took a leading part, one of whom professed to be a high priest of philosophy (antistes philosophiae), but was in reality a man of vicious habits, who hunted after wealth, |11 while preaching the beauty of poverty. It has been suggested that the person here alluded to was Porphyry, and that he had been sent hither by the Emperor Diocletian to persecute the Christians. The slander, for such we may surely consider it, is of old standing,2 but the discovery of the letter to Marcella, in which he hints that his journey was taken for religious reasons, has given some fresh colour to the story.

Perhaps the best refutation may be found in the language used about him by his Christian opponents, who certainly had no reason to deal gently with him, and yet bore full testimony to the nobility of his character. Whoever the unworthy philosopher may have been, we are surely justified in believing the vices and excesses described to be incompatible with the asceticism and simplicity of life which Porphyry is known to have practised, and which he is not likely to have abandoned at the age of sixty-nine. He might have seen no objection to persecuting the Christians, since their religion was the one exception to his rule of universal toleration, but he had other means of attack at his disposal, if it is true that thirty Christians were required to refute his writings against them.

Of the latter part of Porphyry's life little is known to us, but it seems certain that he returned |12 once more to Rome, and died there. We know nothing of the manner of his death. Even the date is uncertain, but it was probably about 305.

Whatever the object of his journey, we are the gainers by it, since it was during this absence that he wrote the letter tohiswife, whichishere reproduced in English. In it he calls her attention to the consolations of philosophy, bidding her not to grieve for "the absence of him who sustains thy soul, and is to thee father, husband, teacher, and kindred," since it is but the "shadow and visible image" which are absent; while if she can learn to enter into herself, collecting and uniting "all the powers which the body has scattered and broken up into a multitude of parts," then soul may meet soul in all purity, and distance be annihilated. Thus his attempt at consolation becomes a text on which to hang a simple version of his philosophy, suited to the feminine understanding; and it supplies something like an easy abstract of Porphyry's ethical teaching, which he who runs may read.

The letter to Marcella might almost be called a religious treatise, and indeed it was the ethical side of Neo-Platonism that attracted Porphyry, for his practical tendency led him to consider the conduct of life, as based on the teachings of his master.

The aim of philosophy is a moral life, the cure of |13 moral evils, the purification of our activity. Knowledge is only a means of purification, not in itself an essential part of the highest life. The philosopher is the physician of the soul. The aim of philosophy is the salvation of the soul.

There is an essential opposition between matter and spirit, yet the world of sense has sprung from the world of spirit. The highest power produced one below it, and so on in a downward course, in which multiplicity and evil increase, the further in the scale beings are removed from the great First Cause, for "everything which generates by its very essence generates that which is inferior to itself."3 At last the soul which hovers between the two worlds inclines downwards, and produces a lower power akin to the body, which combines with it. This descent on the part of the soul is voluntary, just as in Plato it is the souls which are weighted by the corporeal that are dragged down again into the visible world.4 It is the soul which seeks the body. "Nature indeed binds the body to the soul, but the soul binds herself to the body. Nature therefore liberates the body from the soul, but the soul liberates herself from the body." 5 |14 

Before ever the soul entered this earthly life, it dwelt in the heaven of the fixed stars. Thence it descended to earth through the seven planetary spheres, clothing itself from their substance with an aerial body (πνεῦμα). This accompanies it when it leaves the earthly body, and is fashioned according to its preference for some earthly form. The purest souls receive ethereal bodies, the next class solar, the third class lunar bodies. Those lowest in the scale, who have weighted their πνεῦμα by the damp mists of earthly atmosphere, are drawn down below the earth. The pure souls have a merely spiritual existence, free from desire, imagination, and remembrance of earthly things.

It follows that the aim of the philosopher must be to rise to the height of these pure spirits. Since body is opposed to soul, since love of God cannot be combined with love of the body, the aim of life must be the purification of the soul, and its liberation from the bonds of the body. This is not attained by death alone, but by freeing the soul from a longing for the body. Death separates soul and body, but it does not help the soul to rise unless it has freed itself from earthly taint by philosophy. The aim of the philosopher is therefore to separate soul and body by ending the desire of the soul for the body.

"There is," says Porphyry, "a twofold death, |15 the one universally known, in which the body is liberated from the soul; but the other peculiar to philosophers, in which the soul is liberated from the body. Nor does the one entirely follow the other." He refers here to the condition of ecstasy, the mystic union with God, which is the characteristic teaching of Neo-Platonism. Such moments of ecstasy are short and rare; even Plotinus is said only to have attained to it four times, and Porphyry himself but once.

There are four classes of virtues: the political virtues, the purifying virtues, the intellectual virtues, the contemplative virtues. The political virtues tend to moderate passions, the purifying to withdraw the soul from earthly things, the intellectual then enable a man to turn towards the First Cause, but the contemplative lead him straight to God. "The political virtues therefore adorn the mortal man, and are the forerunners of purifications. The virtue of him who proceeds to the contemplative life consists in a departure from terrestrial concerns." 6 "He who energises according to the practical virtues is a worthy man; but he who energises according to the cathartic (purifying) virtues is an angelic man, or is also a good demon. He who energises according to the intellectual virtues alone is a god, but he who energises |16 according to the paradeigmatic 7 virtues is the father of gods." 8

The last contain in themselves all the rest, but it is the purifying to which we must give most heed, for these lead the way to the others. It is these that shall set us on the first rung of the upward ladder, which can lead us back to the glory whence we came. "He who wishes to return to his proper kindred and associates, should not only with alacrity begin the journey, but in order that he may be properly received, should meditate how he may divest himself of everything of a foreign nature which he has assumed, and should recall to his memory such things as he has forgotten, and without which he cannot be admitted to his kindred and friends."9 To attain this it is necessary that "we should divest ourselves of everything of a mortal nature which we have assumed, together with an adhering affection for it, which is the cause of our descent, and that we should excite our recollection of that blessed and eternal essence, and should hasten our return to the nature which is without |17 colour and without quality, earnestly endeavouring to accomplish two things: one that we may cast aside everything material and mortal, but the other that we may properly return and be conversant with our true kindred, ascending to them in a way contrary to that in which we descended hither." 10 We must then "endeavour to the utmost of our power to withdraw ourselves from sense and imagination and the irrationality with which they are attended, and also from the passions which subsist about them, as far as the necessity of our condition in this life will permit. . . . We must therefore divest ourselves of our manifold garments, both of this visible and fleshly vestment, and of those with which we are internally clothed, and which are proximate to our cutaneous habiliments; and we must enter the stadium naked and unclothed, striving for the greatest of all prizes, the Olympia of the soul."

To attain this end we must tread the path of asceticism, not merely abstaining from food, but also checking all desire for it. "For what benefit shall we derive by abstaining from deeds, when at the same time we tenaciously adhere to the causes from which the deeds proceed?" We must subdue our passions by |18 abstinence from those visible perceptions which excite them.

"Among these passions and perturbations those which arise from food are to be enumerated." 11

Thus to avoid excess in food is a help towards the higher life. We should especially avoid flesh food, because it weights and clogs our bodies, and —which is even worse—may introduce malefic demons into them. A vegetarian diet is to be preferred. Among other arguments against animal food, Porphyry introduces one in his treatise on the subject that must have been very unusual in that age—the injustice towards the animals themselves.

Abstinence from animal food is an act of justice, and—which is even more important—it is a help on the upward path, " since for that purpose it is necessary to exchange the life which the multitude leads for another, and to become purified both in words and deeds." 12

The aim being a purer and higher life, every right means to that end should be adopted. It was this need of external aids that turned the later Neo-Platonists towards the help of religion. Porphyry is willing to tolerate the polytheism of the |19 multitude, while himself accepting their gods as symbols, and giving an esoteric interpretation to their mythology. The wise men are the few, and they must not hold the opinions of the multitude concerning God, but they may join in the common worship, provided that their sacrifices are only "the first offerings of fruits that are used by men and cakes made of the fine flour of wheat." 13 Those whose thoughts are not pure should not speak of God, and even the pure-minded will say little, "for the knowledge of God makes discourse short." 14 Sacrifice, though permissible, is of no special value either to giver or receiver. "We are not harmed by reverencing God's altars, or benefited by neglecting them. But whoever honours God under the impression that He is in need of him, ignorantly supposes himself to be greater than God." "God is not in need of any one, and the wise man is in need of God alone." 15 Prayer is allowed with limitations. The highest God must not be invoked by the human voice. We may pray to the gods of the second class, but we must not ask anything unworthy of them. "For to each of the divinities a sacrifice is to be made of the first-fruits of the things which he bestows, and through which he |20 nourishes and preserves us. As therefore the husbandman offers handfuls of the fruits and berries which the season first produces, thus also we should offer to the divinities the first-fruits of our conceptions of their transcendent excellence, giving them thanks for the contemplation which they impart to us and truly nourishing us through the vision of themselves which they afford us, associating with, appearing to, and shining upon us for our salvation." 16

There seems a little inconsistency in Porphyry's tolerance of the popular belief in material deities; and his Christian opponents did not hesitate to accuse him of cowardice in refusing to renounce polytheism entirely. But Porphyry, like many another noble Pagan, shrank from Christianity as a revolutionary and uncompromising doctrine; and, while willing to see good in every national religion, such as the Jewish, Chaldaean, and Egyptian, he remained to the last one of the bitterest foes of Christianity. It may be that the very points of resemblance between the two creeds tended to emphasise the differences, and unquestionably even amid the fiercest disputes they influenced each other strongly. Porphyry was a formidable foe, for his knowledge of the Bible was wideand accurate; indeed, he anticipated the German critics in discovering the |21 late date of the Book of Daniel. It is believed that his books were purposely destroyed by his opponents; at any rate they have not come down to us, but those who are curious as to the controversy will find many references to it in the writings of St Augustine. All that is impure and gross in the religion of the multitude Porphyry lays to the charge of evil demons. It is they who cause the belief that evil comes from the gods, and that they must be appeased by the sacrifice of animals. They do this that they may nourish themselves with the smoke from the altars; moreover, they are the authors of magic and of everything that is base in connection with Paganism. Even for the multitude he desires to purify religion, and for this purpose he expounds the inner meaning of the Platonic and other myths, on which he lays great stress. But the true philosopher will take little heed of outward forms, for they do not concern him. Like the Stoic sage, "he is his own priest; he only is beloved by God, and knows how to pray."

Few of Porphyry's many works are still extant except in fragments. "Rhetoric, grammar, numbers, geometry, music, philosophy, natural and magic operations" are named with magnificent vagueness by Eunapius as the subjects of his books. Those that have come down to us fairly complete |22 are:—A Life of Plotinus; a Life of Pythagoras; a treatise on Abstinence from Animal Food; The Cave of the Nymphs, an allegorical interpretation of a passage in the Odyssey; Auxiliaries to the Perception of Intelligible Natures, a sort of anthology, with comment, from Plotinus; a letter to Marcella, of which the end is missing.

This letter is not an original work, being full of quotations from Homer, Plato, Epicurus, the Pythagoreans, and even the New Testament. But it forms an excellent summary of Porphyry's ethical views; and the purpose for which it was written, to console his wife in his absence, gives it an additional interest.

Although its existence was known to scholars through quotations in other writers, the letter itself was lost for several centuries, and was only rediscovered in 1816 by Cardinal Mai, when searching the Ambrosiana Library at Milan for manuscripts of Dionysius of Halicarnassus. It is preserved in a volume with several other Greek pamphlets, and in the opinion of experts the codex is not anterior to the fifteenth century, and is possibly of an even later date. It has been edited by Mai, Orelli, and more recently by Nauck in the Teubner edition. But there are one or two passages so corrupt that even these learned editors are not quite agreed as to their emendation. Some day the discovery of a |23 second manuscript may help to solve these difficulties. The letter has been translated into French by Bouillet and into Italian by Chinazzi. To the best of my knowledge this is the only translation that has been made into English.

I take this opportunity of once more expressing my thanks to Mr R. D. Hicks of Trinity College, Cambridge, for his valuable assistance with the original translation. To the other friends now departed who first helped and encouraged me in this work, Dr Richard Garnett and Signor E. Torelli-Viollier of Milan, I can only offer the tribute of affectionate remembrance. |24  |25 



1. I chose thee as my wife, Marcella, though thou wert the mother of five daughters and two sons, some of whom were still little children, and the others approaching a marriageable age; nor was I deterred by the multitude of things which would be needful for their maintenance. And it was not for the sake of having children that I wedded thee, deeming that the lovers of true wisdom were my children, and that thy children too would be mine, if ever these should attain to right philosophy, when educated by us. Nor yet was it because a superfluity of riches had fallen either to thy lot or mine. For such necessaries as are ours must suffice us who are poor. Neither did I expect that thou wouldst afford me any ease through thy ministrations as I advanced in years, for thy frame is delicate, and more in need of care from others than fitted to succour or watch over them. Nor yet |28 did I desire other housewifely care from thee, nor sought I after honour and praise from those who would not willingly have undertaken such a burden for the mere sake of doing good. Nay, it was far otherwise, for through the folly of thy fellow-citizens, and their envy towards thee and thine, I encountered much ill-speaking, and contrary to all expectation I fell into danger of death at their hands on your behalf.

2. For none of these causes did I choose another to be partner of my life, but there was a twofold and reasonable cause that determined me. One part was that I deemed I should thus propitiate the gods of generation; just as Sokrates in his prison chose to compose popular music, for the sake of safety in his departure from life, instead of pursuing his customary labours in philosophy, so did I strive to propitiate the divinities who preside over this tragi-comedy of ours, and shrank not from chanting in all willingness the marriage hymn, though I took as my lot thy numerous children, and thy straitened circumstances, and the malice of evil-speakers. Nor were there lacking any of those passions usually connected with a play—jealousy, hatred, laughter, quarrelling and anger; this alone excepted, that it was not with a view to ourselves but for the sake of others that we enacted this spectacle in honour of the gods. |29 

3. Another worthier reason, in nowise resembling that commonplace one, was that I admired thee because thy disposition was suited to true philosophy; and when thou wast bereaved of thy husband, a man dear to me, I deemed it not fitting to leave thee without a helpmeet and wise protector suited to thy character. Wherefore I drove away all who were minded to use insult under false pretence, and I endured foolish contumely, and bore in patience with the plots laid against me, and strove, as far as in my power lay, to deliver thee from all who tried to lord it over thee. I recalled thee also to thy proper mode of life, and gave thee a share in philosophy, pointing out to thee a doctrine that should guide thy life. And who could be a more faithful witness to me than thyself? for I should deem it shame to equivocate to thee, or conceal aught of mine from thee, or to withhold from thee (who honourest truth above all things, and therefore didst deem our marriage a gift from Heaven) a truthful relation from beginning to end of all that I have done with respect to and during our union.

4. Had my business permitted me to remain longer in your country, it would have been possible for thee to still thy thirst with fresh and plentiful draughts from fountains close at hand, so that, not contenting thyself with as much of this gift as |30 would be requisite for ends of utility, thou couldst rejoice in easily supplying thyself at thy leisure with plentiful refreshment. But now the affairs of the Greeks requiring me, and the gods too urging me on, it was impossible for thee, though willing, to answer the summons, with so large a number of daughters attending thee. And I held it to be both foolish and wicked to cast them thus without thee among ill-disposed men. Now that I am compelled to delay here, though I cherish the hope of a speedy return, I would exhort thee to keep firm hold of the gifts thou didst receive in those ten months during which thou didst live with me, and not to cast away that thou already hast from desire and longing for more. As for me, I am making what haste I can to rejoin thee.

5. But, as the future is uncertain for travellers, I must, while sending thee consolation, also lay commands upon thee. And I would send a message more suitable for thee than Odysseus' to Penelope to take care of thyself and thy house,

"And keep all things in safety,"

left behind as thou art, not unlike Philoktetes in the tragedy, suffering from his sore, though his was caused by a baleful serpent, thine by the knowledge how and from what high estate the soul has fallen at birth. Albeit the gods have not forsaken |31 us, as the sons of Atreus forsook him, but they have become our helpers and have been mindful of us. Therefore seeing thou art hard beset in a contest, attended with much wrestling and labour, I earnestly beg thee to keep firm hold upon philosophy, the only sure refuge, and not to yield more than is fitting to the perplexities caused by my absence. Do not from desire for my instruction cast away what thou hast already received, and do not faint before the multitude of other cares that encompass thee, abandoning thyself to the rushing stream of outward things. Rather bear in mind that it is not by ease that men attain the possession of the true good; and practise thyself for the life thou expectest to lead by help of those very troubles which are the only opponents to thy fortitude that are able to disturb and constrain thee. As for plots laid against us, it is easy for those to despise them who are accustomed to disregard all that does not lie in our own power, and who deem that injustice rather recoils upon the doer than injures those who believe that the worst injury inflicted on them can cause them but little loss.

6. Now thou mayest console thyself for the absence of him who sustains thy soul, and is to thee father, husband, teacher, and kindred, yea, if thou wilt, even fatherland, though this seems to offer a reasonable ground for unhappiness, by |32 placing before thee as arbiter not feeling but reason. In the first place consider that, as I have said before, it is impossible that those who desire to be mindful of their return, should accomplish their journey home from this terrestrial exile pleasantly and easily, as through some smooth plain. For no two things can be more entirely opposed to one another than a life of pleasure and ease, and the ascent to the gods. As the summits of mountains cannot be reached without danger and toil, so it is not possible to emerge from the inmost depths of the body through pleasure and ease which drag men down to the body. For 'tis by anxious thought that we reach the road, and by recollection of our fall. Even if we encounter difficulties in our way, hardship is natural to the ascent, for it is given to the gods alone to lead an easy life. But ease is most dangerous for souls which have fallen to this earthly life, making us forgetful in the pursuit of alien things, and bringing on a state of deep slumber, it we fall asleep beguiled by alluring visions.

7. Now there are some chains that are of very heavy gold, but, because of their beauty, they persuaded women who in their folly do not perceive the weight, that they contribute to ornament, and thus got them to bear fetters easily. But other fetters which are of iron compelled them to a knowledge of their sins, and by pain forced |33 them to repent and seek release from the weight; while escape from the golden imprisonment, through the delight felt in it, often causes grievous woe. Whence it has seemed to men of wisdom that labours conduce to virtue more than do pleasures. And to toil is better for man, aye and for woman too, than to let the soul be puffed up and enervated by pleasure. For labour must lead the way to every fair possession, and he must toil who is eager to attain virtue. Thou knowest that Herakles and the Dioskuri, and Asklepios and all other children of the gods, through toil and steadfastness accomplished the blessed journey to heaven. For it is not those who live a life of pleasure that make the ascent to the gods, but rather those who have nobly learnt to endure the greatest misfortunes.

8. I know full well that there could be no greater contest than that which now lies before thee, since thou thinkest that in me thou wilt lose the path of safety and the guide therein. Yet thy circumstances are not altogether unendurable, if thou cast from thee the unreasoning distress of mind which springs from the feelings, and deem it no trivial matter to remember those words by which thou wert with divine rites initiated into true philosophy, approving by thy deeds the fidelity with which they have been apprehended. For it is a man's actions that naturally afford demonstrations |34 of his opinions, and whoever holds a belief must live in accordance with it, in order that he may himself be a faithful witness to his disciples of his words. What was it then that we learned from those men who possess the clearest knowledge to be found among mortals? Was it not this—that I am in reality not this person who can be touched or perceived by any of the senses, but that which is farthest removed from the body, the colourless and formless essence which can by no means be touched by the hands, but is grasped by the mind alone? And it is not from outward things that we receive those principles which are implanted in us. We receive only the keynote as in a chorus, which recalls to our remembrance those commands we received from the god who gave them us ere we set forth on our wanderings.

9. Moreover is not every emotion of the soul most hostile to its safety? And is not want of education the mother of all the passions? Now education does not consist in the absorption of a large amount of knowledge, but in casting off the affections of the soul. The passions are the beginning of diseases. And vice is the disease of the soul; and every vice is disgraceful. And the disgraceful is opposed to the good. Now since the divine nature is good, it is impossible for it to consort with vice, since Plato says it is unlawful |35 for the impure to approach the pure. Wherefore even now we need to purge away all our passions, and the sins that spring therefrom. Was it not this thou didst so much approve, reading as it were divine characters within thee, disclosed by my words? Is it not then absurd, though thou art persuaded that thou hast in thee the saving and the saved, the losing and the lost, wealth and poverty, father and husband and a guide to all true good, to pant after the mere shadow of a leader, as though thou hadst not within thyself a true leader, and all riches in thine own power? And these must thou lose and forfeit, if thou descend to the flesh, instead of turning towards that which saves and is saved.

10. As for my shadow and visible image, as thou wast not profited by their presence, so now their absence is not hurtful, if thou train thyself to escape from the body. And thou wouldst meet with me in all purity, and I should be most truly present and associated with thee, night and day, in purity and with the fairest kind of converse which can never be broken up, if thou wouldst practise entering into thyself, to collect together all the powers which the body has scattered and broken up into a multitude of parts unlike their former unity, to which concentration lent strength. Thou shouldst collect and combine into one the thoughts implanted within thee, endeavouring to isolate those |36 that are confused, and to drag to light those that are enveloped in darkness. The divine Plato too made this his starting-point, summoning us away from the sensible to the intelligible. Also if thou wouldst remember, thou wouldst combine what thou hast heard, and recall it by memory, desiring to turn thy mind to discourses of this kind as to excellent counsellors, and afterwards practising in action what thou hast learnt, guarding it carefully, even amid thy labours.

11. Reason tells us that the Divine is present everywhere and in all men, but that only the mind of the wise man is sanctified as its temple, and God is best honoured by him who knows Him best. And this must naturally be the wise man alone, who in wisdom must honour the Divine, and in wisdom adorn for it a temple in his thought, honouring it with a living statue, the mind moulded in His image.....Now God is not in need of any one, and the wise man is in need of God alone. For no one could become good and noble, unless he knew the goodness and beauty which proceed from the Deity. Nor is any man unhappy, unless he has fitted up his soul as a dwelling-place for evil spirits. To a wise man God gives the authority of a god. And a man is purified by the knowledge of God, and issuing from God, he follows after righteousness. |37

12. Let God be at hand to behold and examine every act and deed and word. And let us consider Him the author of all our good deeds. But of evil we ourselves are the authors, since it is we who made choice of it, but God is without blame. Wherefore we should pray to God for that which is worthy of Him, and we should pray for what we could attain from none other. And we must pray that we may attain after our labours those things that are preceded by toil and virtue; for the prayer of the slothful is but vain speech. Neither ask of God what thou wilt not hold fast when thou hast attained it, since God's gifts cannot be taken from thee, and He will not give what thou wilt not hold fast. What thou wilt not require when thou art rid of the body, that despise, but practise thyself in that thou wilt need when thou art set free, calling on God to be thy helper. Thou wilt need none of those things which chance often gives and again takes away. Do not make any request before the fitting season, but only when God makes plain the right desire implanted by nature within thee.

13. Thus can God best be reflected, who cannot be seen by the body, nor yet by an impure soul darkened with vice. For purity is God's beauty, and His light is the life-giving flame of truth. Every vice is deceived by ignorance, and turned astray by wickedness. Wherefore desire and ask of |38 God what is in accordance with His own will and nature, well assured that, inasmuch as a man longs after the body and the things of the body, in so far does he fail to know God, and is blind to the sight of God, even though all men should hold him as a god. Now the wise man, if known by only few, or, if thou wilt, unknown to all, yet is known by God. Let then thy mind follow after God and by likening itself unto Him reflect His image; let the soul follow the mind, and the body be subservient to the soul as far as may be, the pure body serving the pure soul. For if it be defiled by the emotions of the soul, the defilement reacts upon the soul itself.

14. In a pure body where soul and mind are loved by God, words should conform with deeds; since it is better for thee to cast a stone at random than a word, and to be defeated speaking the truth than to conquer through deceit; for he who conquers by deceit is worsted in his character. And lies are witnesses unto evil deeds. It is impossible for a man who loves God also to love pleasure and the body, for he who loves these must needs be a lover of riches. And he who loves riches must be unrighteous. And the unrighteous man is impious towards God and his fathers, and transgresses against all men. Though he slay whole hecatombs in sacrifice, and adorn the temples with ten thousand gifts, yet is he impious and godless and at heart a |39 plunderer of holy places. Wherefore we should shun all addicted to love of the body as godless and impure.

15. Do not associate with any one whose opinions cannot profit thee, nor join with him in converse about God. For it is not safe to speak of God with those who are corrupted by false opinion. Yea, and in their presence to speak truth or falsehood about God is fraught with equal danger. It is not fitting for a man who is not purified from unholy deeds to speak of God himself, nor must we suppose that he who speaks of Him with such is not guilty of a crime. We should hear and use speech concerning God as though in His presence. Godlike deeds should precede talk of God, and in the presence of the multitude we should keep silence concerning Him, for the knowledge of God is not suitable to the vain conceit of the soul. Esteem it better to keep silence than to let fall random words about God. Thou wilt become worthy of Him if thou deem it wrong either to speak or do or know aught unworthy of Him. Now a man who was worthy of God would be himself a god.

16. Thou wilt best honour God by making thy mind like unto Him, and this thou canst do by virtue alone. For only virtue can draw the soul upward to that which is akin to it. Next to God there is nothing great but virtue, yet God is greater than virtue. And God strengthens the man who |40 does noble deeds. But an evil spirit is the instigator of evil deeds. The wicked soul flies from God, and would fain that His providence did not exist, and it shrinks from the divine law which punishes all the wicked. But the wise man's soul is in harmony with God, and ever beholds Him and dwells with Him. If the ruler takes pleasure in the ruled, then God too cares for the wise man and watches over him. Therefore is the wise man blest, because he is in God's keeping. 'Tis not his speech that is acceptable to God, but his deed; for the wise man honours God even in his silence, while the fool dishonours Him even while praying and offering sacrifice. Thus the wise man only is a priest; he only is beloved by God, and knows how to pray.

17. The man who practises wisdom practises the knowledge of God; and he shows his piety not by continued prayers and sacrifices but by his actions. No one could become well-pleasing to God by the opinions of men or the vain talk of the Sophists. But he makes himself well-pleasing and consecrate to God by assimilating his own disposition to the blessed and incorruptible nature. It is he too who makes himself impious and displeasing to God, for God does not injure him (since the divine nature can only work good), but he injures himself, chiefly through his wrong opinion concerning God. He who disregards the images of the gods is less impious |41 than the man who holds the opinions of the multitude concerning God. But do thou entertain no thought unworthy of Him or of His blessedness and immortality.

18. The chief fruit of piety is to honour God according to the laws of our country, not deeming that God has need of anything, but that He calls us to honour Him by His truly reverend and blessed majesty. We are not harmed by reverencing God's altars, nor benefited by neglecting them. But whoever honours God under the impression that He is in need of him, unconsciously deems himself greater than God. 'Tis not the anger of the gods that injures us, but our own ignorance of their nature. Anger is foreign to the gods, for anger is involuntary, and there is nothing involuntary in God. Do not then dishonour the divine nature by false human opinions, since thou wilt not injure the eternally blessed One, whose immortal nature is incapable of injury, but thou wilt blind thyself to the conception of what is greatest and chiefest.

19. Again thou couldst not suppose that I say this to exhort thee to reverence God, since it would be absurd to command this, as though the matter admitted of question. We do not worship Him only by doing or thinking this or that, neither can tears or supplications turn God from His purpose, nor yet is He honoured by sacrifices nor glorified by plentiful |42 offerings; but it is the godlike mind that remains stably fixed in its place that is united to God. For like must needs approach like. The sacrifices of fools are mere food for fire, and from the offerings they bring temple-robbers get the supplies for their evil life. But do thou, as I bade, let thy temple be the mind that is within thee. This must thou tend and adorn, that it may be a fitting dwelling for God. Let not the adornment and the reception of God be but for a day, to be followed by mockery and folly and the return of the evil spirit.

20. If then thou ever bear in mind that wheresoever thy soul walks and inspires thy body with activity, God is present and overlooks all thy counsels and actions, then wilt thou feel reverence for the unforgotten presence of the spectator, and thou wilt have God to dwell with thee. And even though thy mouth discourse the sound of some other thing, let thy thought and mind be turned towards God. Thus shall even thy speech be inspired, shining through the light of God's truth and flowing the more easily; for the knowledge of God makes discourse short.

21. But wheresoever forgetfulness of God shall enter in, there must the evil spirit dwell. For the soul is a dwelling-place, as thou hast learnt, either of gods or of evil spirits. If the gods are present, it will do what is good both in word and in deed; |43 but if it has welcomed in the evil guest, it does all things in wickedness. Whensoever then thou beholdest a man doing or rejoicing in that which is evil, know that he has denied God in his heart and is the dwelling-place of an evil spirit. They who believe that God exists and governs all things have this reward of their knowledge and firm faith: they have learnt that God has forethought for all things, and that there exist angels, divine and good spirits, who behold all that is done, and from whose notice we cannot escape. Being persuaded that this is so, they are careful not to fall in their life, keeping before their eyes the constant presence of the gods whence they cannot escape. They have attained to a wise mode of life, and know the gods and are known by them.

22. But they who believe that the gods do not exist and that the universe is not governed by God's providence, have this punishment: they neither trust the evidence of their own minds, nor that of others who assert that the gods exist, and that the universe is not directed by whirling motion void of reason. Thus they have cast themselves into unspeakable peril, trusting to an unreasoning and uncertain impulse in the events of life, and they do all that is unlawful in the endeavour to remove the belief in God. Assuredly such men are forsaken by the gods for their ignorance and unbelief. Yet |44 they cannot flee and escape the notice of the gods nor of justice their attendant, but having chosen an evil and erring life, though they know not the gods, yet are they known by them and by justice that dwells with the gods.

23. Even if they think they honour the gods, and are persuaded that they exist, yet neglect virtue and wisdom, they really have denied the divinities and dishonour them. Mere unreasoning faith without right living does not attain to God. Nor is it an act of piety to honour God without having first ascertained in what manner He delights to be honoured. For if He is gratified and won over by libations and sacrifices, it would not be just that, while all men make the same requests, they should not all obtain the same reward. But if He desires none of these things and delights only in the purification of the mind, which every man can attain of his own free choice, what injustice could there be? If however the divine nature delights in both kinds of service, it should receive honour by sacred rites according to each man's power, and by the thoughts of his mind even beyond that power. It is not wrong to pray to God, for ingratitude is a grievous wrong.

24. No god is responsible for a man's evils, for he has chosen his lot himself. The prayer which is accompanied by base actions is impure, and |45 therefore not acceptable to God; but that which is accompanied by noble actions is pure, and at the same time acceptable.

There are four first principles that must be upheld concerning God—faith, truth, love, hope. We must have faith that our only salvation is in turning to God. And having faith, we must strive with all our might to know the truth about God. And when we know this, we must love Him we do know. And when we love Him we must nourish our souls on good hopes for our life, for it is by their good hopes good men are superior to bad ones. Let then these four principles be firmly held.

25. Next let these three laws be distinguished. First, the law of God; second, the law of human nature; third, that which is laid down for nations and states. The law of nature fixes the limits of bodily needs, and shows what is necessary to these, and condemns all striving after what is needless and superfluous. That which is established and laid down for states regulates by fixed agreements the common relations of men, by their mutual observance of the covenants laid down. But the divine law is implanted by the supreme mind, for their salvation, in the thoughts of reasoning souls, and it is found truthfully inscribed therein. The law of nature is transgressed by him who through folly disregards it, owing to his excessive love for the |46 pleasures of the body. And it is broken and despised by those who, even for the body's sake, strive to master the body. The conventional law is subject to expediency, and is differently laid down at different times according to the arbitrary will of the prevailing government. It punishes him who transgresses it, but it cannot reach a man's secret thoughts and intentions.

26. The divine law is unknown to the soul that folly and intemperance have rendered impure, but it shines forth in self-control and wisdom. It is impossible to transgress this, for there is nothing in man that can transcend it. Nor can it be despised, for it cannot shine forth in a man who will despise it. Nor is it moved by chances of fortune, because it is always superior to chance and stronger than any form of violence. Mind alone knows it, and diligently pursues the search thereafter, and finds it imprinted in itself, and supplies from it food to the soul as to its own body. We must regard the rational soul as the body of the mind, which the mind nourishes by bringing into recognition, through the light that is in it, the thoughts within, which mind imprinted and engraved in the soul in accordance with the truth of the divine law. Thus mind is become teacher and saviour, nurse, guardian and leader, speaking the truth in silence, unfolding and giving forth the divine law; and |47 looking on the impressions thereof in itself it beholds them implanted in the soul from all eternity.

27. Thou must therefore first understand the law of nature, and then proceed to the divine law, by which also the natural law hath been prescribed. And if thou make these thy starting-point thou shalt never fear the written law. For written laws are made for the benefit of good men, not that they may do no wrong, but that they may not suffer it. Natural wealth is limited, and it is easy to attain. But the wealth desired of vain opinions has no limits, and is hard to attain. The true philosopher therefore, following nature and not vain opinions, is self-sufficing in all things; for in the light of the requirements of nature every possession is some wealth, but in the light of unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is but poverty. It is no uncommon thing to find a man who is rich if tried by the standard at which nature aims, but poor by the standard of vain opinions. No fool is satisfied with what he possesses; he rather mourns for what he has not. Just as men in a fever are always thirsty through the grievous nature of their malady, and desire things quite opposed to one another, so men whose souls are ill-regulated are ever in want of all things, and experience ever-varying desires through their greed.

28. Wherefore the gods too have commanded us |48 to purify ourselves by abstaining from food and from love, bringing those who follow after piety within the law of that nature which they themselves have formed, since everything which transgresses this law is impure and deadly. The multitude, however, fearing simplicity in their mode of life, because of this fear, turn to the pursuits that can best procure riches. And many have attained wealth, and yet not found release from their troubles, but have exchanged them for greater ones. Wherefore philosophers say that nothing is so necessary as to know thoroughly what is unnecessary, and moreover that to be self-sufficing is the greatest of all wealth, and that it is honourable not to ask anything of any man. Wherefore too they exhort us to strive, not to acquire some necessary thing, but rather to remain of good cheer if we have not acquired it. 

29. Neither let us accuse our flesh as the cause of great evils, nor attribute our troubles to outward things. Rather let us seek the cause of these things in our souls, and casting away every vain striving and hope for fleeting joys, become completely masters of ourselves. For a man is unhappy either through fear or through unlimited and empty desire. Yet if he bridle these, he can attain to a happy mind. In as far as thou art in want, it is through forgetfulness of thy nature that thou feelest the want. For hereby thou causest to thyself vague |49 fears and desires. And it were better for thee to be content and lie on a bed of rushes than to be troubled though thou hadst a golden couch and a luxurious table acquired by labour and sorrow. Whilst the pile of wealth is growing bigger, life is growing wretched.

30. Do not think it unnatural that when the flesh cries out for anything, the soul should cry out too. The cry of the flesh is, "Let me not hunger, or thirst, or shiver," and 'tis hard for the soul to restrain these desires. 'Tis hard, too, by help of its own natural self-sufficing to disregard day by day the exhortations of nature, and to teach her to esteem the concerns of life as of little account. And when we enjoy good fortune, to learn to bear ill fortune, and when we are unfortunate not to place too much value on good fortune. And to receive with a calm mind the good gifts of fortune, and to stand firm against her seeming ills. Yea, all that the many hold good is but a fleeting thing.

31. But wisdom and knowledge have no part in chance. It is not painful to lack the gifts of chance, but rather to endure the unprofitable toil caused by vain opinions. Every disturbance and unprofitable desire is removed by the love of true philosophy. Vain is the word of that philosopher who can ease no mortal trouble. As there is no profit in the physician's art unless it cure the diseases of the body, so there is none in philosophy, unless it expel the |50 troubles of the soul. These and other like commands are laid on us by the law of our nature.

32. The divine law cries aloud in the pure region of the mind: "Unless thou remember that thy body is joined to thee as the outer covering to the child in the womb and the stalk to the sprouting corn, thou canst not know thyself." Nor can any one know himself who does not hold this opinion. As the outer covering grows with the child, and the stalk with the corn, yet, when they come to maturity, these are cast away, thus too the body which is fastened to the soul at birth is not a part of the man. But as the outer covering was formed along with the child that it may come to being in the womb, so likewise the body was yoked to the man that he may come to being on earth. In as far as a man turns to the mortal part of himself, in so far he makes his mind incommensurate with immortality. And in as far as he refrains from sharing the feelings of the body, in such a measure does he approach the divine. The wise man who is beloved of God strives and toils as much for the good of his soul as others do for the good of their body. He does not deem it sufficient merely to remember what he has heard, but strives by practising it to hasten on towards his duty.

33. Naked was he sent into the world, and naked shall he call on Him that sent him. For |51 God listens only to those who are not weighed down by alien things, and guards those who are purified from corruption. Consider it a great help towards the blessed life if the captive in the thraldom of nature takes his captor captive. For we are bound in the chains that nature has cast around us, by the belly, the throat and the other members and parts of the body, and by the use of these and the pleasant sensations that arise therefrom and the fears they occasion. But if we rise superior to their witchcraft, and avoid the snares laid by them, we lead our captor captive. Neither trouble thyself much whether thou be male or female in body, nor look on thyself as a woman, for I did not approach thee as such. Flee all that is womanish in the soul, as though thou hadst a man's body about thee. For what is born from a virgin soul and a pure mind is most blessed, since imperishable springs from imperishable. But what the body produces is held corrupt by all the gods.

34. Much discipline therefore is needful to win the rule over the body. Often men cast off certain parts of the body; be thou ready for the soul's safety to cast away the whole body. Hesitate not to die for that for whose sake thou art willing to live. Let reason then direct all our impulses, and banish from us tyrannous and godless masters. For the rule of the passions is harder than that of |52 tyrants, since it is impossible for a man to be free who is governed by his passions. As many as are the passions of the soul, so many cruel masters have we. 

35. Try not to wrong thy slaves nor to correct them when thou art angry. And before correcting them, prove to them that thou dost this for their good, and give them an opportunity for excuse. When purchasing slaves, avoid the stubborn ones. Practise doing many things thyself, for our own labour is simple and easy. And men should use each limb for the purpose for which nature intended it to be used, for nature needs no more. They who do not use their own bodies, but make excessive use of others, commit a twofold wrong, and are ungrateful to nature that has given them these parts. Never use thy bodily parts merely for the sake of pleasure, for it is far better to die than to obscure thy soul by intemperance . . . . correct the vice of thy nature. . . . If thou give aught to thy slaves, distinguish the better ones by a share of honour . . . . for it is impossible that he who does wrong to man should honour God. But look on the love of mankind as the foundation of thy piety. And . . . .



The "Shilling" Series

THE MYSTICAL IDEA IN WAGNER. From the French of Edouard Schuré. By F. Rothwell, B.A.

THE WAY OF TRUTH. Selections from the Writings of George Tyrrell. Compiled by James A. Walker.

LIKE UNTO HIS BRETHREN. Chapters on the more Hidden Meaning of the Incarnation. By Helen A. Dallas.


PORPHYRY THE PHILOSOPHER TO HIS WIFE MARCELLA. Translated from the Greek by Alice Zimmern.



The "Sixpenny" Series

LONDON'S DIALECT. An Ancient Form of English Speech. With a Note on the Dialects of the North of England, the Midlands, and Scotland. By Mackenzie MacBride.

LONDON. THE STORY OF THE CITY FROM EARLIEST TIMES. Illustrated with old views of the City. By Ernest Rhys.

THE STORY OF THE ISLE OF WIGHT FROM EARLIEST TIMES. Illustrated with old views of the Island. By E. J. Hunt.

MIRACLES AT THE DOOR. By Grace Rhys. The Foot of the WindLarkspursForestersChildren of the Air.



[Footnotes numbered and moved to the end]

1. * Letter to Marcella. 

2. * Vide Holstenius, Vita Porphyrii. 11

3. * Porphyry, Auxiliaries to the Perception of Intelligible Nature, I. Translated by Thomas Taylor. 

4.  + Phaedo.

5. ++ Auxiliaries.

6.  * Auxiliaries, II. 15

7. * The paradeigma (παράδειγμα) is the First Cause—the great model and pattern of the universe. (See Plato, Tim. 28 C, Rep. 500 E). The paradeigmatic virtues are those by which the soul becomes one with God.

8. + Auxiliaries; II.

9. ++ On Abstinence from Animal Food, I. Translated by Thomas Taylor.

10. * On Abstinence from Animal Food, I. Translated by Thomas Taylor.

11. * On Abstinence from Animal Food, I. Translated by Thomas Taylor.

12.  + Ibid.

13. * On Abstinence from Animal Food, IV. Translated by Thomas Taylor. 

14.  + Letter to Marcella.

15. ++ Ibid.

16.  * Abstinence, II. 20

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