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Porphyry's Letter to His Wife Marcella: Concerning the Life of Philosophy and the Ascent to the Gods Paperback – February, 1986

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 59 pages
  • Publisher: Phanes Pr (February 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0933999275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0933999275
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 5.2 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,931,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Porphyry, a scholar and philosopher of Semitic descent, lived during the second half of the third century C.E. Migrating first to Athens to study under the rhetorician Longinus, then to Rome to study with Plotinus, he became, after the latter's death, the leader of the school of Neoplatonism. His eclecticism and mysticism fashioned that philosophy into a weapon for the defense of Hellenistic culture against the onslaught of Christianity. Of his more than seventy-five works, this letter is one of a handful that survive. David Fideler, whose credentials are not mentioned, has ably set forth its place in Porphyry's ethics in an introduction that takes up more than half of this slight volume. He exaggerates, however, when he says "an unsuspecting reader ... might easily take the work to be an exposition of the highest Christian moral philosophy," and other commentators are not so certain that Porphyry did not intend his intellectual counterattack of the Christians as a justification for their persecution. The letter itself begins promisingly with a touching and witty attempt to console Marcella for his absence by likening it to the soul's need to absent itself from the body. As he elaborates on the purification of the soul, however, we lose the sense of a man corresponding with his wife, but he resumes this tone near the end of the manuscript. Not renowned for original thought, he nevertheless can offer something to chew on when he employs his usual epigrammatic style, e.g., "it is by their good hopes good men are superior to bad ones." When he is more discursive, the stiffness of this ninety-year-old translation becomes more evident than the need for this reprint ever does. -- From Independent Publisher

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Greek

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Johannes Platonicus on December 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
Porphyry was a man of colossal genius and learning; and his wisdom and piety transcended that of the common lot of philosophers who thrived during his time, excepting, of course, the sublime Plotinus and the august theologian, Origen. And presented here in this fine piece of Platonic moral philosophy is an enduring testament to Porphyry's genuineness and gravity as a man and an author. As will be experienced when reading this letter, Porphyry's care for his wife and step-children is so utterly noble and pious that one will be warmly moved by his sincere compassion for them. Now, at the opening of the epistle, Porphyry expresses his hope to educate his wife Marcella's children so that they may "embrace right philosophy." Although Porphyry, while away from home, obviously cannot execute his educational program, so he instructs Marcella in the way of the Platonic sage with the purpose that she will in turn exemplify those virtues and instill them in their children until his return. In essence, then, Porphyry admonishes Marcella to detach herself from the excesses of the world and the body so that her true, soulful inner-self may rise above the specious superficiality of the created realm to be translated to the pure realm of the Intellect, where she may be united with the One blessed and supernal Deity. The overall effect of this epistle is didactic, consolatory and therapeutic; and the profound wisdom found in this concise letter will be an inspiration to Platonic-minded philosophers and will encourage general readers to consider the value and magnitude of the often criticized and underestimated philosophy of the Neo-Platonists.
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By Thomas W. Blakey on January 27, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
to Porphyry. This work is brief and relevant. I am not a Platonist, but can read Plato and his followers and be assured of learning something and being forced to think and re-examine my beliefs.
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By Simon on September 5, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Written in Porphyry's elderly years this letter to his wife is charming and affectionate mixing exhortation and praise to and for his wife throughout, this is not the entire letter, I suppose it is not all extant. A good half or so of this is introduction to the translation.

Without having some familiarity with Neoplatonism one will miss out on a more rounded understanding of the text (just like if one reads Augustine without any acquaintance with Neoplatonism) you can still understand the text, but less the reasoning of it and behind it.
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