I. Plotinus, like Porphyry, Despised His Physical Nature, but a Picture of Him was Secured.

Plotinus the philosopher, who lived recently, seemed ashamed of having a body. Consequently he never spoke of his family or home (Lycopolis, now Syout, in the Thebaid, in Egypt). He never would permit anybody to perpetuate him in a portrait or statue. One day that Amelius begged him to allow a painting to be made of him, he said, “Is it not enough for me to have to carry around this image, in which nature has enclosed us? Must I besides transmit to posterity the image of this image as worthy of attention?” As Amelius never succeeded in getting Plotinus to reconsider his refusal, and to consent to give a sitting, Amelius begged his friend Carterius, the most famous painter of those times, to attend Plotinus’s lectures, which were free to all. By dint of gazing at Plotinus, Carterius so filled his own imagination with Plotinus’s features that he succeeded in painting them from memory. By his advice, Amelius directed Carterius in these labors, so that this portrait was a very good likeness. All this occurred without the knowledge of Plotinus.

II. Sickness and Death of Plotinus; His Birthday Unknown.

Plotinus was subject to chronic digestive disorders; nevertheless, he never was willing to take any remedies, on the plea that it was unworthy of a man of his age to relieve himself by such means. Neither did he ever take any of the then popular “wild animal remedy,” because, said he, he did not even eat the flesh of domestic animals, let alone that of savage ones. He never bathed, contenting himself, with daily massage at home. But when at the period of the plague, which was most virulent, the man who rubbed him died of it, he gave up the massage. This interruption in his habits brought on him a chronic quinsy, which never became very noticeable, so long as I remained with him; but after I left him, it became aggravated to the point that his voice, formerly sonorous and powerful, became permanently hoarse; besides, his vision became disturbed, and ulcers appeared on his hands and feet. All this I learned on my return, from my friend Eustochius, who remained with him until his end. These inconveniences hindered his friends from seeing him as often as they used to do, though he persisted in his former custom of speaking to each one individually. The only solution of this difficulty was for him to leave Rome. He retired into Campania, on an estate that had belonged to Zethus, one of his friends who had died earlier. All he needed was furnished by the estate itself, or was brought to him from the estate at Minturnæ, owned by Castricius (author of a Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides, to whom Porphyry dedicated his treatise on Vegetarianism). Eustochius himself told me that he happened to be at Puzzoli at the time of Plotinus’s death, and that he was slow in reaching the bedside of Plotinus. The latter then said to him, “I have been waiting for you; I am trying to unite what is divine in us to that which is divine in the universe.” Then a serpent, who happened to be under Plotinus’s death-bed slipped into a hole in the wall (as happened at the death of Scipio Africanus, Pliny, Hist. Nat. xv. 44), and Plotinus breathed his last. At that time Plotinus was 66 years old (in 270, born in 205), according to the account of Eustochius. The emperor Claudius II was then finishing the second year of his reign. I was at Lilybæum; Amelius was at Apamæa in Syria, Castricius in Rome, and Eustochius alone was with Plotinus. If we start from the second year of Claudius II and go back 66 years, we will find that Plotinus’s birth falls in the 18th year of Septimus Severus (205). He never would tell the month or day of his birth, because he did not approve of celebrating his birth-day either by sacrifices, or banquets. Still he himself performed a sacrifice, and entertained his friends on the birth-days of Plato and Socrates; and on those days those who could do it had to write essays and read them to the assembled company.

III. Plotinus’s Early Education.

This is as much as we learned about him during various interviews with him. At eight years of age he was already under instruction by a grammarian, though the habit of uncovering his nurse’s breast to suck her milk, with avidity, still clung to him. One day, however, she so complained of his importunity that he became ashamed of himself, and ceased doing so. At 28 years of age he devoted himself entirely to philosophy. He was introduced to the teachers who at that time were the most famous in Alexandria. He would return from their lectures sad and discouraged.8 He communicated the cause of this grief to one of his friends, who led him to Ammonius, with whom Plotinus was not acquainted. As soon as he heard this philosopher, he said to his friend, “This is the man I was looking for!” From that day forwards he remained close to Ammonius. So great a taste for philosophy did he develop, that he made up his mind to study that which was being taught among the Persians, and among the Hindus. When emperor Gordian prepared himself for his expedition against the Persians, Plotinus, then 39 years old, followed in the wake of the army. He had spent between 10 to 11 years near Ammonius. After Gordian was killed in Mesopotamia, Plotinus had considerable trouble saving himself at Antioch. He reached Rome while Philip was emperor, and when he himself was 50 years of age.

The School of Ammonius.

Herennius, (the pagan) Origen, and Plotinus had agreed to keep secret the teachings they had received from Ammonius. Plotinus carried out his agreement. Herennius was the first one to break it, and Origen followed his example. The latter limited himself to writing a book entitled, “Of Dæmons;” and, under the reign of Gallienus, he wrote another one to prove that “The Emperor alone is the Only Poet” (if the book was a flattery; which is not likely. Therefore it probably meant: “The King (of the universe, that is, the divine Intelligence), is the only ‘demiurgic’ Creator.”)

Plotinus an Unsystematic Teacher.

For a long period Plotinus did not write anything. He contented himself with teaching orally what he had learned from Ammonius. He thus passed ten whole years teaching a few pupils, without committing anything to writing. However, as he allowed his pupils to question him, it often happened that his school was disorderly, and that there were useless discussions, as I later heard from Amelius.

Amelius, Plotinus’s First Secretary.

Amelius enrolled himself among the pupils of Plotinus during the third year of Plotinus’s stay in Rome, which also was the third year of the reign of Claudius II, that is, 24 years. Amelius originally had been a disciple of the Stoic philosopher Lysimachus. Amelius surpassed all his fellow-pupils by his systematic methods of study. He had copied, gathered, and almost knew by heart all the works of Numenius. He composed a hundred copy-books of notes taken at the courses of Plotinus, and he gave them as a present to his adopted son, Hostilianus Hesychius, of Apamea. (Fragments of Amelius’s writings are found scattered in those of Proclus, Stobæus, Olympiodorus, Damascius, and many of the Church Fathers.)

IV. How Porphyry Came to Plotinus for the First Time, in 253.

In the tenth year of the reign of Gallienus, I (then being twenty years of age), left Greece and went to Rome with Antonius of Rhodes. I found there Amelius, who had been following the courses of Plotinus for eighteen years. He had not yet dared to write anything, except a few books of notes, of which there were not yet as many as a hundred. In this tenth year of the reign of Gallienus, Plotinus was fifty-nine years old. When I (for the second, and more important time) joined him, I was thirty years of age. During the first year of Gallienus, Plotinus began to write upon some topics of passing interest, and in the tenth year of Gallienus, when I visited him for the first time, he had written twenty-one books, which had been circulated only among a very small number of friends. They were not given out freely, and it was not easy to go through them. They were communicated to students only under precautionary measures, and after the judgment of those who received them had been carefully tested.

Plotinus’s Books of the First Period (The Amelian Period).

I shall mention the books that Plotinus had already written at that time. As he had prefixed no titles to them, several persons gave them different ones. Here are those that have asserted themselves:

1.

Of the Beautiful.

i. 6.

2.

Of the Immortality of the Soul.

iv. 7.

3.

Of Fate.

iii. 1.

4.

Of the Nature of the Soul.

iv. 1.

5.

Of Intelligence, of Ideas, and of Existence.

v. 9.

6.

Of the Descent of the Soul into the Body.

iv. 8.

7.

How does that which is Posterior to the First Proceed from Him? Of the One.

v. 4.

8.

Do all the Souls form but a Single Soul?

iv. 9.

9.

Of the Good, or of the One.

vi. 9.

10.

Of the Three Principal Hypostatic Forms of Existence,

v. 1.

11.

Of Generation, and of the Order of Things after the First,

v. 2.

12.

(Of the Two) Matters, (the Sensible and Intelligible).

ii. 4.

13.

Various Considerations,

iii. 9.

14.

Of the (Circular) Motion of the Heavens.

ii. 2.

15.

Of the Dæmon Allotted to Us,

iii. 4.

16.

Of (Reasonable) Suicide,

i. 9.

17.

Of Quality,

ii. 6.

18.

Are there Ideas of Individuals?

v. 7.

19.

Of Virtues.

i. 2.

20.

Of Dialectics.

i. 3.

21.

(How does the Soul keep the Mean between Indivisible Nature and Divisible Nature?)

iv. 2.

These twenty-one books were already written when I visited Plotinus; he was then in the fifty-ninth year of his age.

V. How Porphyry Came io Plotinus for the Second Time (A.D. 263–269).

I remained with him this year, and the five following ones. I had already visited Rome ten years previously; but at that time Plotinus spent his summers in vacation, and contented himself with instructing his visitors orally.

During the above-mentioned six years, as several questions had been cleared up in the lectures of Plotinus, and at the urgent request of Amelius and myself that he write them down, he wrote two books to prove that

Plotinus’s Books of the Second Period (The Porphyrian Period).

22.

The One and Identical Existence is Everywhere Entire, I,

vi. 4.

23.

Second Part Thereof.

vi. 5.

Then he wrote the book entitled:

24.

The Superessential Transcendent Principle Does Not Think. Which is the First Thinking Principle? And Which is the Second?

v. 6.

He also wrote the following books:

25.

Of Potentiality and Actualization.

ii. 5.

26.

Of the Impassibility of Incorporeal Entities.

iii. 6.

27.

Of the Soul, First Part.

iv. 3.

28.

Of the Soul, Second Part.

iv. 4.

29.

(Of the Soul, Third; or, How do We See?)

iv. 5.

30.

Of Contemplation.

iii. 8.

31.

Of Intelligible Beauty.

v. 8.

32.

The Intelligible Entities are not Outside of Intelligence. Of Intelligence and of Soul.

v. 5.

33

Against the Gnostics.

ii. 9.

34.

Of Numbers.

vi. 6.

35.

Why do Distant Objects Seem Small?

ii. 8.

36.

Does Happiness (Consist in Duration?)

i. 5.

37.

Of the Mixture with Total Penetration.

ii. 7.

38.

Of the Multitude of Ideas; Of the Good.

vi. 7.

39.

Of the Will.

vi. 8.

40.

(Of the World).

ii. 1.

41.

Of Sensation, and of Memory.

iv. 6.

42.

Of the Kinds of Existence, First.

vi. 1.

43.

Of the Kinds of Existence, Second.

vi. 2.

44.

Of the Kinds of Existence, Third.

vi. 3.

45.

Of Eternity and Time.

iii. 7.

Plotinus wrote these twenty-four books during the six years I spent with him; as subjects he would take the problems that happened to come up, and which we have indicated by the titles of these books. These twenty-four books, joined to the twenty-one Plotinus had written before I came to him, make forty-five.

VI. Plotinus’s Books of the Third Period (The Eustochian Period).

While I was in Sicily, where I went in the fifteenth year of the reign of Gallienus, he wrote five new books that he sent me:

46.

Of Happiness.

i. 4.

47.

Of Providence, First.

iii. 2.

48.

Of Providence, Second.

iii. 3.

49.

Of the Hypostases that Act as Means of Knowledge, and of the Transcendent.

v. 3.

50.

Of Love.

iii. 5.

These books he sent me in the last year of the reign of Claudius II, and at the beginning of the second.

Shortly before dying, he sent me the following four books:

51.

Of the Nature of Evils.

i. 8.

52.

Of the Influence of the Stars.

ii. 3.

53.

What is the Animal? What is Man?

i. 1.

54.

Of the First Good (or, of Happiness).

i. 7.

These nine books, with the forty-five previously written, make in all fifty-four.

Some were composed during the youth of the author, others when in his bloom, and finally the last, when his body was already seriously weakened; and they betray his condition while writing them. The twenty-one first books seem to indicate a spirit which does not yet possess all its vigor and firmness. Those that he wrote during the middle of his life, show that his genius was then in its full form. These twenty-four books may be considered to be perfect, with the exception of a few passages. The last nine are less powerful than the others; and of these nine, the last four are the weakest.

VII. Various Disciples of Plotinus.

Plotinus had a great number of auditors and disciples, who were attracted to his courses by love of philosophy.

Among this number was Amelius of Etruria, whose true name was Gentilianus. He did indeed insist that in his name the letter “l” should be replaced by “r,” so that his name should read “Amerius,” from “ameria” (meaning indivisibility, though Suidas states that it was derived from the town of Ameria, in the province of Umbria), and not Amelius, from “amellia” (negligence).

A very zealous disciple of Plotinus was a physician from Scythopolis (or, Bethshean, in Palestine), named Paulinus, whose mind was full of ill-digested information and whom Amelius used to call Mikkalos (the tiny).

Eustochius of Alexandria, also a physician, knew Plotinus at the end of his life, and remained with him until his death, to care for him. Exclusively occupied with the teachings of Plotinus, he himself became a genuine philosopher.

Zoticus, also, attached himself to Plotinus. He was both critic and poet; he corrected the works of Antimachus, and beautifully versified the fable of the Atlantidæ. His sight gave out, however, and he died shortly before Plotinus. Paulinus also, died before Plotinus.

Zethus was one of the disciples of Plotinus. He was a native of Arabia, and had married the daughter of Theodosius, friend of Ammonius. He was a physician, and much beloved by Plotinus, who sought to lead him to withdraw from public affairs, for which he had considerable aptitude; and with which he occupied himself with zeal. Plotinus lived in very close relations with him; he even retired to the country estate of Zethus, distant six miles from Minturnæ.

Castricius, surnamed Firmus, had once owned this estate. Nobody, in our times, loved virtue more than Firmus. He held Plotinus in the deepest veneration. He rendered Amelius the same services that might have been rendered by a good servant, he displayed for me the attentions natural towards a brother. Nevertheless this man, who was so attached to Plotinus, remained engaged in public affairs.

Several senators, also, came to listen to Plotinus. Marcellus, Orontius, Sabinillus and Rogatianus applied themselves, under Plotinus, to the study of philosophy.

The latter, who also was a member of the senate, had so detached himself from the affairs of life, that he had abandoned all his possessions, dismissed all his attendants, and renounced all his dignities. On being appointed prætor, at the moment of being inaugurated, while the lictors were already waiting for him, he refused to sally forth, and carry out any of the functions of this dignity. He even failed to dwell in his own house (to avoid needless pomp); he visited his friends, boarding and sleeping there; he took food only every other day; and by this dieting, after having been afflicted with gout to the point of having to be carried around in a litter, he recovered his strength, and stretched out his hands as easily as any artisan, though formerly his hands had been incapacitated. Plotinus was very partial to him; he used to praise him publicly, and pointed him out as a model to all who desired to become philosophers.

Another disciple of Plotinus was Serapion of Alexandria. At first he had been a rhetorician, and only later applied himself to philosophy. Nevertheless he never was able to cure himself of fondness for riches, or usury.

Me also, Porphyry, a native of Tyre, Plotinus admitted to the circle of his intimate friends, and he charged me to give the final revision to his works.

VIII. Personal Characteristics of Plotinus.

Once Plotinus had written something, he could neither retouch, nor even re-read what he had done, because his weak eyesight made any reading very painful. His penmanship was poor. He did not separate words, and his spelling was defective; he was chiefly occupied with ideas. Until his death he continuously persisted in this habit, which was for us all a subject of surprise. When he had finished composing something in his head, and when he then wrote what he had meditated on, it seemed as if he copied a book. Neither in conversation nor in discussion did he allow himself to be distracted from the purpose of his thoughts, so that he was able at the same time to attend to the needs of conversation, while pursuing the meditation of the subject which busied him. When the person who had been talking with him went away, he did not re-read what he had written before the interruption, which, as has been mentioned above, was to save his eyesight; he could, later on, take up the thread of his composition as if the conversation had been no obstacle to his attention. He therefore was able simultaneously to live with others and with himself. He never seemed to need recuperation from this interior attention, which hardly ceased during his slumbers, which, however, were troubled both by the insufficiency of food, for sometimes he did not even eat bread, and by this continuous concentration of his mind.

IX. Plotinus as Guardian and Arbitrator.

There were women who were very much attached to him. There was his boarding house keeper Gemina, and her daughter, also called Gemina; there was also Amphiclea, wife of Aristo, son of Iamblichus, all three of whom were very fond of philosophy. Several men and women of substance, being on the point of death, entrusted him with their boys and girls, and all their possessions, as being an irreproachable trustee; and the result was that his house was filled with young boys and girls. Among these was Polemo, whom Plotinus educated carefully; and Plotinus enjoyed hearing Polemo recite original verses (?). He used to go through the accounts of the managers with care, and saw to their economy; he used to say that until these young people devoted themselves entirely to philosophy, their possessions should be preserved intact, and see that they enjoyed their full incomes. The obligation of attending to the needs of so many wards did not, however, hinder him from devoting to intellectual concerns a continuous attention during the nights. His disposition was gentle, and he was very approachable by all who dwelt with him. Consequently, although he dwelt full twenty-six years in Rome, and though he was often chosen as arbitrator in disputes, never did he offend any public personage.

X. How Plotinus Treated His Adversary, Olympius.

Among those who pretended to be philosophers, there was a certain man named Olympius. He lived in Alexandria, and for some time had been a disciple of Ammonius. As he desired to succeed better than Plotinus, he treated Plotinus with scorn, and developed sufficient personal animosity against Plotinus to try to bewitch him by magical operations. However, Olympius noticed that this enterprise was really turning against himself, and he acknowledged to his friends that the soul of Plotinus must be very powerful, since it was able to throw back upon his enemies the evil practices directed against him. The first time that Olympius attempted to harm him, Plotinus having noticed it, said, “At this very moment the body of Olympius is undergoing convulsions, and is contracting like a purse.” As Olympius several times felt himself undergoing the very ills he was trying to get Plotinus to undergo, he finally ceased his practices.

Homage to Plotinus from a Visiting Egyptian Priest.

Plotinus showed a natural superiority to other men. An Egyptian priest, visiting Rome, was introduced to him by a mutual friend. Having decided to show some samples of his mystic attainments, he begged Plotinus to come and witness the apparition of a familiar spirit who obeyed him on being evoked. The evocation was to occur in a chapel of Isis, as the Egyptian claimed that he had not been able to discover any other place pure enough in Rome. He therefore evoked Plotinus’s guardian spirit. But instead of the spirit appeared a divinity of an order superior to that of guardians, which event led the Egyptian to say to Plotinus, “You are indeed fortunate, O Plotinus, that your guardian spirit is a divinity, instead of a being of a lower order.” The divinity that appeared could not be questioned or seen for as long a period as they would have liked, as a friend who was watching over the sacrificed birds choked them, either out of jealousy, or fear.

Plotinus’s Attitude Towards the Public Mysteries.

As Plotinus’s guardian spirit was a divinity, Plotinus kept the eyes of his own spirit directed on that divine guardian. That was the motive of his writing his book that bears the title “Of the Guardian Allotted to Us.” In it he tries to explain the differences between the various spirits that watch over mankind. Aurelius, who was very scrupulous in his sacrifices, and who carefully celebrated the Festivals of the New Moon (as Numenius used to do?) (on the Calends of each month), one day besought Plotinus to come and take part in a function of that kind. Plotinus, however, answered him, “It is the business of those divinities to come and visit me, and not mine to attend on them.” We could not understand why he should make an utterance that revealed so much pride, but we dared not question the matter.

XI. Plotinus as Detective and as Prophet; Porphyry Saved from Suicide.

So perfectly did he understand the character of men, and their methods of thought, that he could discover stolen objects, and foresaw what those who resided with him should some day become. A magnificent necklace had been stolen from Chione, an estimable widow, who resided with him and the children (as matron?). All the slaves were summoned, and Plotinus examined them all. Then, pointing out one of them, he said, “This is the culprit.” He was put to the torture. For a long while, he denied the deed; but later acknowledged it, and returned the necklace. Plotinus used to predict what each of the young people who were in touch with him was to become. He insisted that Polemo would be disposed to amorous relations, and would not live long; which also occurred. As to me, he noticed that I was meditating suicide. He came and sought me, in his house, where I was staying. He told me that this project indicated an unsound mind, and that it was the result of a melancholy disposition. He advised me to travel. I obeyed him. I went to Sicily, to study under Probus, a celebrated philosopher, who dwelt in Lilybæum. I was thus cured of the desire to die; but I was deprived of the happiness of residing with Plotinus until his death.

XII. The Project of a Platonopolis Comes to Naught.

The emperor Gallienus and the empress Salonina, his wife, held Plotinus in high regard. Counting on their good will, he besought them to have a ruined town in Campania rebuilt, to give it with all its territory to him, that its inhabitants might be ruled by the laws of Plato. Plotinus intended to have it named Platonopolis, and to go and reside there with his disciples. This request would easily have been granted but that some of the emperor’s courtiers opposed this project, either from spite, jealousy, or other unworthy motive.

XIII. Personal Characteristics of Plotinus’s Delivery.

In his lectures his delivery was very good; he knew how to make immediate apposite replies. Nevertheless, his language was not correct. For instance, he used to say “anamnemisketai” for “anamimnesketai”; and he made similar blunders in writing. But when he would speak, his intelligence seemed to shine in his face, and to illuminate it with its rays. He grew especially handsome in discussions; a light dew of perspiration appeared on his forehead, gentleness radiated in his countenance, he answered kindly, but satisfactorily. For three days I had to question him, to learn from him his opinions about the union of the body with the soul; he spent all that time in explaining to me what I wanted to know. A certain Thaumasius, who had entered into the school, said that he wanted to take down the arguments of the discussion in writing, and hear Plotinus himself speak; but that he would not stand Porphyry’s answering and questioning. “Nevertheless,” answered Plotinus, “if Porphyry does not, by his questions, bring up the difficulties that we should solve (notice, in the course of the Enneads, the continual objections), we would have nothing to write.”

XIV. Philosophical Relations of Plotinus.

The style of Plotinus is vigorous and substantial, containing more thoughts than words, and is often full of enthusiasm and emotion. He follows his own inspirations rather than ideas transmitted by tradition. The teachings of the Stoics and Peripatetics are secretly mingled among his works; the whole of Aristotle’s Metaphysics is therein condensed. Plotinus was fully up to the times in geometry, arithmetic, mechanics, optics and music, although he did not take an over-weening interest in these sciences. At his lectures were read the Commentaries of Severus, of Cronius; of Numenius, of Gaius and Atticus (Platonic Philosophers, the latter, setting forth the differences between Plato and Aristotle); there were also readings of the works of the Peripatetics, of Aspasius, of Alexander (of Aphrodisia, whose theory of Mixture in the Universe Plotinus studies several times), of Adrastus, and other philosophers of the day. None of them, however, was exclusively admired by Plotinus. In his speculations he revealed an original and independent disposition. In all his researches he displayed the spirit of Ammonius. He could readily assimilate (what he read); then, in a few words, he summarized the ideas aroused in him by profound meditation thereon. One day Longinus’s book “On the Principles,” and his “On Antiquarians” were read. Plotinus said, “Longinus is a literary man, but not a philosopher.” Origen (the Pagan) once came among his audience; Plotinus blushed, and started to rise. Origen, however, besought him to continue. Plotinus, however, answered that it was only natural for lecturers to cease talking when they were aware of the presence, in the audience, of people who already knew what was to be said. Then, after having spoken a little longer, he rose.

XV. Porphyry Earned Recognition at the School of Plotinus.

At a celebration of Plato’s birthday I was reading a poem about the “Mystic Marriage” (of the Soul) when somebody doubted my sanity, because it contained both enthusiasm and mysticism. Plotinus spoke up, and said to me, loud enough to be heard by everybody, “You have just proved to us that you are at the same time poet, philosopher, and hierophant.” On this occasion the rhetorician Diophanes read an apology on the utterances of Alcibiades in Plato’s “Banquet,” and he sought to prove that a disciple who seeks to exercise himself in virtue should show unlimited “complaisance” for his teacher, even in case the latter were in love with him. Plotinus rose several times, as if he wanted to leave the assembly; nevertheless, he restrained himself, and after the audience had dispersed, he asked me to refute the paper. As Diophanes would not communicate it to me, I recalled his arguments, and refuted them; and then I read my paper before the same auditors as those who had heard what had been said by Diophanes. I pleased Plotinus so much, that several times he interrupted me by the words, “Strike that way, and you will become the light of men!” When Eubulus, who was teaching Platonism at Athens, sent to Plotinus some papers on Platonic subjects, Plotinus had them given to me to examine them and report to him about them. He also studied the laws of astronomy, but not as a mathematician would have done; he carefully studied astrology; but realizing that no confidence could be placed in its predictions, he took the trouble to refute them several times, in his work.

XVI. Plotinus’s Polemic Against the Gnostics.

At that time there were many Christians, among whom were prominent sectarians who had given up the ancient philosophy (of Plato and Pythagoras), such as Adelphius and Aquilinus. They esteemed and possessed the greater part of the works of Alexander of Lybia, of Philocomus, of Demostrates and of Lydus. They advertised the Revelations of Zoroaster, of Zostrian, of Nicotheus, of Allogenes, of Mesus, and of several others. These sectarians deceived a great number of people, and even deceived themselves, insisting that Plato had not exhausted the depths of intelligible “being,” or essence. That is why Plotinus refuted them at length in his lectures, and wrote the book that we have named “Against the Gnostics.” The rest (of their books) he left me to investigate. Amelius wrote as much as forty books to refute the work of Zostrian; and as to me, I demonstrated by numerous proofs that this alleged Zoroastrian book was apocryphal, and had only recently been written by those of that ilk who wished to make people believe that their doctrines had been taught by Zoroaster.

XVII. Start of the Amelio-Porphyrian Controversy, over Numenius.

The Greeks insisted that Plotinus had appropriated the teachings of Numenius. Trypho, who was both a Stoic and a Platonist, insisted on this to Amelius, who wrote a book that we have entitled, “On the Difference Between the Teachings of Plotinus and Numenius.” He dedicated it to me under the title, “To Basil” (the King, recently used as a name, “Royal”). That was my name before I was called “Porphyry,” the “Purple One.” In my own home language (Phoenician) I used to be called “Malchus”; that was my father’s name, and in Greek “Malchus” is translated by “Basileus” (Basil, or King). Indeed, Longinus, who dedicated his book “On Instinct” to Cleodamus, and me jointly, there calls me “Malchus”; and Amelius has translated this name in Greek, just as Numenius translated “Maximus” (from Latin into Greek by) “Megaos” (the great one). (I will quote the letter in full).

“Greetings from Amelius to Basil (Royal, or Purple One):

“You may be sure that I did not have the least inclination even to mention some otherwise respectable people who, to the point of deafening you, insist that the doctrines of our friend (Plotinus) are none other than those of Numenius of Apamea. It is evident enough that these reproaches are entirely due to their desire to advertise their oratorical abilities. Possessed with the desire to rend Plotinus to pieces, they dare to go as far as to assert that he is no more than a babbler, a forger, and that his opinions are impossible. But since you think that it would be well for us to seize the occasion to recall to the public the teachings of which we approve (in Plotinus’s system of philosophy), and in order to honor so great a man as our friend Plotinus by spreading his teachings—although this really is needless, inasmuch as they have long since become celebrated—I comply with your request, and, in accordance with my promise, I am hereby inscribing to you this work which, as you well know, I threw together in three days. You will not find in it that system and judiciousness natural to a book composed with care; they are only reflections suggested by the lectures (received from Plotinus), and arranged as they happened to come to mind. I, therefore, throw myself on your indulgence, especially as the thought of (Plotinus, that) philosopher whom some people are slandering to us, is not easy to grasp, because he expresses the same ideas in different manners in accordance with the exigencies of the occasion. I am sure you will have the goodness to correct me, if I happen to stray from the opinions of Plotinus. As the tragic poet says somewhere, being overwhelmed with the pressure of duties, I find myself compelled to submit to criticism and correction if I am discovered in altering the doctrines of our leader. You see how anxious I am to please you. Farewell!”

XVIII. Polemic Between Amelius and Porphyry; Amelius Teaches Porphyry.

I have quoted this letter in full to show that, even in the times of Plotinus himself, it was claimed that Plotinus had borrowed and advertised as his own teachings of Numenius; also that he was called a trifler, and in short that he was scorned—which happened chiefly because he was not understood. Plotinus was far from the display and vanity of the Sophists. When lecturing, he seemed to be holding a conversation with his pupils. He did not try to convince you by a formal argument. This I realized from the first, when attending his courses. I wished to make him explain himself more clearly by writing against him a work to prove that the intelligible entities subsist outside of intelligence. Plotinus had Amelius read it to him; and after the reading he laughingly said to him, “It would be well for you to solve these difficulties that Porphyry has advanced against me, because he does not clearly understand my teachings.” Amelius indeed wrote a rather voluminous work to answer my objections. In turn, I responded. Amelius wrote again. This third work at last made me understand, but not without difficulty, the thought of Plotinus; and I changed my views, reading my retraction at a meeting. Since that time, I have had complete confidence in the teachings of Plotinus. I begged him to polish his writings, and to explain his system to me more at length. I also prevailed upon Amelius to write some works.

XIX. How the Works of Plotinus were Put into Shape.

You may judge of the high opinion of Plotinus held by Longinus, from a part of a letter he addressed to me. I was in Sicily; he wished me to visit him in Phoenicia, and desired me to bring him a copy of the works of that philosopher. This is what he wrote to me about the matter:

“Please send me the works; or rather, bring them with you; for I shall never cease begging you to travel in this one of all other countries, were it only because of our ancient friendship, and of the sweetness of the air, which would so well suit your ruined health; for you must not expect to find any new knowledge here when you visit us. Whatever your expectations may be, do not expect to find anything new here, nor even the ancient works (of myself, Longinus?) that you say are lost. There is such a scarcity of copyists here, that since I have been here I have hardly been able to get what I lacked of Plotinus here, by inducing my copyist to abandon his usual occupations to devote himself exclusively to this work. Now that I have those works of Plotinus you sent me, I think I have them all; but these that I have are imperfect, being full of errors. I had supposed that our friend Amelius had corrected the errors of the copyist; but his occupations have been too pressing to allow of his attending to this. However passionately I desire to examine what Plotinus has written about the soul, and about existence, I do not know what use to make of his writings; these are precisely those of his works that have been most mis-written by the copyists. That is why I wish you would send them to me transcribed exactly; I would compare the copies and return them promptly. I repeat that I beg you not to send them, but to bring them yourself with the other works of Plotinus, which might have escaped Amelius. All those he brought here I have had transcribed exactly; for why should I not most zealously seek works so precious? I have often told you, both when we were together, and apart, and when you were at Tyre, that Plotinus’s works contained reasonings of which I did not approve, but that I liked and admired his method of writing; his concise and forceful style, and the genuinely philosophical arrangement of his discussions. I am persuaded that those who seek the truth must place the works of Plotinus among the most learned.”

XX. Opinion of Longinus, the Great Critic, about Plotinus.

I have made this rather long quotation only to show what was thought of Plotinus by the greatest critic of our days, the man who had examined all the works of his time. At first Longinus had scorned Plotinus, because he had relied on the reports of people ignorant (of philosophy). Moreover, Longinus supposed that the copy of the works of Plotinus he had received from Amelius was defective, because he was not yet accustomed to the style of Plotinus. Nevertheless, if any one had the works of Plotinus in their purity, it was certainly Amelius, who possessed a copy made upon the originals themselves. I will further add what was written by Longinus about Plotinus, Amelius, and the other philosophers of his time, so that the reader may better appreciate this great critic’s high opinion of them. This book, directed against Plotinus and Gentilianus Amelius, is entitled “Of the Limit (of Good and Evil?)” and begins as follows:

“There were, O Marcellus Orontius many philosophers in our time, and especially in the first years of our childhood—for it is useless to complain of their rarity at the present; but when I was still a youth, there were still a rather goodly number of men celebrated as philosophers. I was fortunate enough to get acquainted with all of them, because I traveled early with our parents in many countries. Visiting many nations and towns, I entered into personal relations with such of these men as were still alive. Among these philosophers, some committed their teachings to writings, with the purpose of being useful to posterity, while others thought that it was sufficient for them to explain their opinions to their disciples. Among the former are the Platonists Euclides, Democritus (who wrote Commentaries on the Alcibiades, on the Phædo, and on the Metaphysics of Aristotle), Proclinus, who dwelt in the Troad, Plotinus and his disciple Gentilianus Amelius, who are at present teaching at Rome; the Stoics Themistocles, Phebion, and both Annius and Medius, who were much talked of only recently, and the Peripatetician Heliodorus of Alexandria. Among those who did not write their teachings are the Platonists Ammonius (Saccas) and (the pagan) Origen, who lived with him for a long while, and who excelled among the philosophers of that period; also Theodotus and Eubulus, who taught at Athens. Of course, they did write a little; Origen, for instance, wrote about “The Guardian Spirits”; and Eubulus wrote Commentaries on the Philebus, and on the Gorgias, and “Observations on Aristotle’s Objections against Plato’s Republic.” However, these works are not considerable enough to rank their authors among those who have seriously treated of philosophy; for these little works were by them written only incidentally, and they did not make writing their principal occupation. The Stoics Herminus, Lysimachus, Athenaeus and Musonius (author of “Memorable Events,” translated in Greek by Claudius Pollio), who lived at Athens. The Peripateticians Ammonius and Ptolemy, who were the most learned of their contemporaries, especially Ammonius, whose erudition was unequalled, none of these philosophers wrote any important work; they limited themselves to writing poems, or festal orations, which have been preserved in spite of them. I doubt very much that they wished to be known by posterity merely by books so small (and unrepresentative), since they had neglected to acquaint us with their teachings in more significant works. Among those who have left written works, some have done no more than gather or transcribe what has been left to us from the ancient (philosophers); among these are Euclides, Democritus and Proclinus. Others limited themselves to recalling some details extracted from ancient histories, and they tried to compose books with the same materials as their predecessors, as did Annius, Medius, and Phebio; the latter one trying to make himself famous by style, rather than by thought. To these we might add Heliodorus, who has put in his writings nothing that had not been said by the ancients, without adding any philosophical explanation. But Plotinus and Gentilianus Amelius, have shown that they really made a profession of being writers, both by the great number of questions they treated, and by the originality of their doctrines. Plotinus explained the principles of Pythagoras and Plato more clearly than his predecessors; for neither Numenius, nor Cronius, nor Moderatus, nor Thrasyllus, come anywhere near the precision of Plotinus when they touch on the same topics. Amelius tried to follow in his footsteps, and adopted the greater part of his ideas; but differs from him in the verbosity of his demonstrations, and the diffusion of his style. The writings of these two men alone deserve special consideration; for what is the use of criticizing the works of imitators; had we not better study the authors whose works they copied, without any additions, either in essential points, or in argumentation, doing no more than choosing out the best? This has been our method of procedure in our controversy with Gentilianus Amelius’s strictures on justice, in Plato’s works; and in my examination of Plotinus’s books on the Ideas. So when our mutual friends Basil of Tyre, (Porphyry), who has written much on the lines of Plotinus, having even preferred the teachings of Plotinus to my own (as he had been my pupil), undertook to demonstrate that Plotinus’s views about the Ideas were better than my own, I have fully refuted his contentions, proving that he was wrong in changing his views on the subject. Besides, I have criticized several opinions of Gentilianus Amelius and Plotinus, as for instance in the “Letter to Amelius” which is long enough to form a whole book. I wrote it to answer a letter sent me from Rome by Amelius, which was entitled “The Characteristics of the Philosophy of Plotinus.” I, however, limited myself to entitling my little work, “A Letter to Amelius.”

XXI. Results of Longinus’s Criticism and Vindication of Plotinus’s Originality.

From the above it will be seen that Plotinus and Amelius are superior to all their contemporaries by the great number of questions they consider, and by the originality of their system; that Plotinus had not appropriated the opinions of Numenius, and that he did not even follow them; that he had really profited by the opinions of the Pythagoreans (and of Plato); further, that he was more precise than Numenius, Cronius, and Thrasyllus. After having said that Amelius followed in the footsteps of Plotinus, but that he was prolix and diffuse in his expositions, which characteristic forms the difference between their styles, he speaks of me, who at that time had known Plotinus for only a short time, and says, “Our mutual friends, Basil (King) of Tyre (Porphyry), who has written much, taking Plotinus as his model.” By that he means that I have avoided the rather unphilosophical diffuseness of Amelius, and have imitated the (concise) style of Plotinus. The quotation of the judgment of this famous man, the first critic of his day, should decide of the reverence due to our philosopher, Plotinus. If I had been able to visit Longinus when he begged me to do so, he would not have undertaken the refutation he wrote, before having clearly understood Plotinus’s system.

XXII. The Apollonian Oracle about Plotinus.

(But when I have a long oracle of Apollo to quote, why should I delay over a letter of Longinus’s, or, in the words of the proverb, quoted in Iliad xxii. 126 and Hesiod Theogony 35), “Why should I dally near the oak-trees, or the rock?” If the testimony of the wise is to be adduced, who is wiser than Apollo, a deity who said of himself, “I know the number of the grains of sand, and the extent of the ocean; I understand the dust, and I hear him who does not speak!” This was the divinity who had said that Socrates was the wisest of men; and on being consulted by Amelius to discover what had become of the soul of Plotinus, said:

“Let me sing an immortal hymn to my dear friend!
Drawing my golden bow, I will elicit melodious sounds from my lyre.
I also invoke the symphonic voice of the choir of Muses,
Whose harmonious power raises exultant pæans,
As they once sang in chorus in praise of Achilles,
A Homeric song in divine inspiration.
Sacred choir of Muses, let us together celebrate this man,
For long-haired Apollo is among you!
“O Deity, who formerly wert a man, but now approachest
The divine host of guardian spirits, delivered from the narrowing bonds of necessity
That enchains man (while in the body), and from the tumult caused by the
Confusing whirlwind of the passions of the body,
Sustained by the vigor of thy mind, thou hastenest to swim
(And like the sage Ulysses in Phæacia), to land on a shore not submerged by the waves,
With vigorous stroke, far from the impious crowds.
Persistently following the straightening path of the purified soul,
Where the splendor of the divinity surrounds you, the home of justice,
Far from contamination, in the holy sanctuary of initiation,
When in the past you struggled to escape the bitter waves,
When blood-stained life eddied around you with repulsive currents,
In the midst of the waters dazed by frightening tumult,
Even then the divinities often showed you your end;
And often, when your spirit was about to stray from the right path,
The immortals beckoned you back to the real end; the eternal path,
Enlightening your eyes with radiant beams in the midst of gloomy darkness.
No deep slumber closed your eyelids, and when shaken by the eddies (of matter),
You sought to withdraw your eyes from the night that pressed down upon them;
You beheld beauties hidden from any who devote themselves to the study of wisdom.
“Now that you have discarded your cloak of mortality, and ascended
Climbing out from the tombs of your angelic soul,
You have entered the choir of divinities, where breathes a gentle zephyr.
There dwell friendship, and delightful desire, ever accompanied by pure joy;
There may one quench one’s thirst with divine ambrosia;
There bound by the ties of love, one breathes a gentle air, under a tranquil sky.
There dwell the sons of Jupiter, who lived in the golden age;
The brothers Minos and Rhadamanthus, the just Aeacus,
The divine Plato, the virtuous Pythagoras,
And all those who formed the band of immortal love,
And who by birth belong to the most blessed of divinities.
Their soul tastes continual joy amidst perpetual feasts!
And you, blessed man, after having fought many a valiant fight,
In the midst of chaste angels, you have achieved eternal Felicity.
“Here, O Muses, let us close this hymn in honor of Plotinus;
Cease the mazes of the dancing of the graceful choir;
This is what my golden lyre had to say of this eternally blessed man!”

XXIII. Personal Characteristics of Plotinus; the Ecstatic Trances.

This oracle (pieced out of numerous quotations) says (in some now lost lines, perhaps) that Plotinus was kindly, affable, indulgent, gentle, such as, indeed we knew him in personal intercourse. It also mentions that this philosopher slept little, that his soul was pure, ever aspiring to the divinity that he loved whole-heartedly, and that he did his utmost to liberate himself (from terrestrial domination) “to escape the bitter waves of this cruel life.”

That is how this divine man, who by his thoughts often aspired to the first (principle), to the divinity superior (to intelligence), climbing the degrees indicated by Plato (in his Banquet), beheld the vision of the formless divinity, which is not merely an idea, being founded on intelligence and the whole intelligible world. I, myself, had the blessed privilege of approaching this divinity, uniting myself to him, when I was about sixty-eight years of age.

That is how “the goal (that Plotinus sought to achieve) seemed to him located near him.” Indeed, his goal, his purpose, his end was to approach the supreme divinity, and to unite himself with the divinity. While I dwelt with him, he had four times the bliss of reaching that goal, not merely potentially, but by a real and unspeakable experience. The oracle adds that the divinities frequently restored Plotinus to the right path when he strayed from it, “enlightening his eyes by radiant splendor.” That is why it may truthfully be said that Plotinus composed his works while in contemplation of the divinities, and enjoying that vision. “Thanks to this sight that your ‘vigilant’ eyes had of both interior and exterior things, you have,” in the words of the oracle, “gazed at many beauties that would hardly be granted to many of those who study philosophy.” Indeed, the contemplation of men may be superior to human contemplation; but, compared to divine knowledge, if it be of any value whatever, it, nevertheless, could not penetrate the depths reached by the glances of the divinities.

Till here the oracle had limited itself to indicating what Plotinus had accomplished while enclosed in the vesture of the body. It then proceeds to say that he arrived at the assembly of the divinities where dwell friendship, delightful desire, joy, and love communing with the divinity, where the sons of God, Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus are established as the judges of souls. Plotinus joined them, not to be judged, but to enjoy their intimacy, as did the higher divinities. There indeed dwell Plato, Pythagoras, and the other sages who formed the choir of immortal love. Reunited with their families, the blessed angels spend their life “in continued festivals and joys,” enjoying the perpetual beatitude granted them by divine goodness.

XXIV. Contents of the Various Enneads.

This is what I have to relate of the life of Plotinus. He had, however, asked me to arrange and revise his works. I promised both him and his friends to work on them. I did not judge it wise to arrange them in confusion chronologically. So I imitated Apollodorus of Athens, and Andronicus the Peripatetician, the former collecting in ten volumes the comedies of Epicharmus, and the latter dividing into treatises the works of Aristotle and Theophrastus, gathering together the writings that referred to the same subject. Likewise, I grouped the fifty-four books of Plotinus into six groups of nine (Enneads), in honor of the perfect numbers six and nine. Into each Ennead I have gathered the books that treat of the same matter, in each case prefixing the most important ones.

The First Ennead contains the writings that treat of Morals. They are:

1.

What is an Animal? What is a Man?

53

2.

Of the Virtues,

19.

3.

Of Dialectics,

20.

4.

Of Happiness,

46.

5.

Does Happiness (consist in Duration)?

36.

6.

Of Beauty,

1.

7.

Of the First Good, and of the Other Goods,

54.

8.

Of the Origin of Evils,

51.

9.

Of (Reasonable) Suicide,

16

Such are the topics considered in the First Ennead; which thus contains what relates to morals.

In the Second Ennead are grouped the writings that treat of Physics, of the World, and of all that it contains. They are:

1.

(Of the World),

40

2.

Of the (Circular) Motion (of the Heavens),

14.

3.

Of the Influence of the Stars,

52

4.

(Of both Matters) (Sensible and Intelligible),

12.

5.

Of Potentiality and Actuality,

25.

6.

Of Quality (and of Form),

17.

7.

Of Mixture, Where there is Total Penetratration,

37.

8.

Of Vision. Why do Distant Objects Seem Smaller?

35.

9.

(Against Those Who say that the Demiurgic Creator is Evil, as well as The World Itself), Against the Gnostics,

33.

The Third Ennead, which also relates to the world, contains the different speculations referring thereto. Here are its component writings:

1.

Of Destiny,

3.

2.

Of Providence, the First,

47

3.

Of Providence, the Second,

48.

4.

Of the Guardian Spirit who was Allotted to Us,

15.

5.

Of Love,

50.

6.

Of the Impassibility of Incorporeal Things,

26.

7.

Of Eternity of Time,

45.

8.

Of Nature, of Contemplation, and of the One,

30.

9.

Different Speculations,

13.

We have gathered these three Enneads into one single body. We have assigned the book on the Guardian Spirit Who has been Allotted to Us, in the Third Ennead, because this is treated in a general manner, and because it refers to the examination of conditions characteristic of the production of man. For the same reason the book on Love was assigned to the First Ennead. The same place has been assigned to the book on Eternity and Time, because of the observations which, in this Ennead, refer to their nature. Because of its title, we have put in the same group the book on Nature, Contemplation, and the One.

After the books that treat of the world, the Fourth Ennead contains those that refer to the soul. They are:

1.

Of the Nature of the Soul, the First,

4.

2.

Of the Nature of the Soul, the Second,

21

3.

Problems about the Soul, the First,

27.

4.

Problems about the Soul, the Second,

28.

5.

(Problems about the Soul, the Third, or) Of Vision,

29.

6.

Of Sensation, of Memory,

41.

7.

Of the Immortality of the Soul,

2.

8.

Of the Descent of the Soul into the Body,

6.

9.

Do not all Souls form a Single Soul?

8.

The Fourth Ennead, therefore, contains all that relates to Psychology.

The Fifth Ennead treats of Intelligence. Each book in it also contains something about the principle superior to intelligence, and also about the intelligence characteristic of the soul, and about Ideas.

1.

About the three Principal Hypostatic Forms of Existence,

10

2.

Of Generation, and of the Order of Things Posterior to the First,

11.

3.

Of the Hypostatic Forms of Existence that Transmit Knowledge, and of the Superior Principle,

49.

4.

How that which is Posterior to the First Proceeds from it? Of the One,

7.

5.

The Intelligibles are not Outside of Intelligence. Of the Good,

32.

6.

The Super-essential Principle Does Not Think. Which is the First Thinking Principle? Which is the Second?

24.

7.

Are there Ideas of Individuals?

18.

8.

Of Intelligible Beauty,

31.

9.

Of Intelligence, of Ideas, and of Existence,

5.

We have gathered the Fourth and Fifth Ennead into a single volume. Of the Sixth Ennead, we have formed a separate volume, so that all the writings of Plotinus might be divided into three parts, of which the first contains three Enneads, the second two; and the third, a single Ennead.

Here are the books that belong to the Sixth Ennead, and to the Third Volume.

1.

Of the Kinds of Existence, the First,

42

2.

Of the Kinds of Existence, the Second,

43.

3.

Of the Kinds of Existence, the Third,

44.

4.

The One Single Existence is everywhere Present in its Entirety, First,

22.

5.

The One Single Existence is everywhere Present in its Entirety, Second,

23.

6.

Of Numbers,

34.

7.

Of the Multitude of Ideas. Of the Good,

38.

8.

Of the Will, and of the Liberty of the One,

39.

9.

Of the Good, or of the One,

9.

This is how we have distributed into six Enneads the fifty-four books of Plotinus. We have added to several of them, Commentaries, without following any regular order, to satisfy our friends who desired to have explanations of several points. We have also made headings of each book, following the chronological order, with the exception of the book on The Beautiful, whose date of composition we do not know. Besides, we have not only written up separate summaries for each book, but also Arguments, which are contained among the summaries.

Now we shall try to punctuate each book, and to correct the mistakes. Whatever else we may have to do besides, will easily be recognized by a reading of these books.


Appendix (included by Guthrie)

Life of Plotinus, by Eunapius.

The philosopher Plotinus came from Egypt; to be accurate, I will add that his home was Lycopolis. This fact was not set down by the divine Porphyry, though he himself, as he reports, was a student of Plotinus, and had spent a great part of his life near him.

The altars dedicated to Plotinus are not yet cold; and not only are his books read by the learned more than are even those of Plato, but even the multitude, though incapable of clearly understanding his doctrine, nevertheless conforms its conduct of life to his suggestions.

Porphyry has set down all the details of the life of this philosopher, so that little can be added thereto; besides Porphyry seems to have clearly expounded many of Plotinus’s writings.

Life of Plotinus, by Suidas.

Plotinus of Lycopolis, philosopher, disciple of that Ammonius who had once been a porter, was the teacher of Amelius, who himself had Porphyry as pupil; the latter formed Iamblichus, and Iamblichus Sopater. Plotinus prolonged his life till the seventh year of the reign of Gallienus. He composed fifty-four books, which are grouped in six enneads. His constitution was weakened by the effects of the sacred disease (epilepsy). He wrote besides other works.