From my diary

So much literature remains inaccessible.

Last night I was thinking about the works of Porphyry.  He is a well-known figure, the arch-enemy of the Christian writers of the early 4th century, and the hero of those moderns who share his animosities.  Most of his output is undoubtedly lost. 

Yet more survives than we might suppose.  One reason we tend to think only of a handful of texts — the Letter to Marcella, the 4 books On Abstinence, the fragments of Against the Christians, the Life of Plotinus, the Life of Pythagoras, the Isagoge — is that these are what exists in English.

The other night I became aware that his Introduction to Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos existed, and had even been printed, in the Catalogus Codicum Astrologorum Graecorum V.4.  I quickly found that no English translation existed.  Last night I set out to explore what existed in other modern languages.

A German text and translation of his commentary on Ptolemy’s Harmonics does exist.  How interesting a work on ancient musical theory might be I do not know — although we might guess!  But in the process I came across a page on my own site, which I had long forgotten — Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie’s list of Porphyry’s works.

The list is not  much good — no bibliography — except that it does give a good idea of what did exist and what does.  The extant works are marked with an asterisk.  But what about all these extant works? —

  • Question and Answer to the Aristotelian Categories.
  • To Gauros Concerning the Way in which foetuses are Animated.
  • Concerning Prosody (modulation in pitch).
  • On the Harmonics of Ptolemy.
  • An Introduction to The Astronomy of Ptolemy — the CCAG text

The list gives no indication as to where the texts might be found, nor whether any translations existed.  Two of the works are plainly about music, and so probably of limited interest.

I wondered whether there was anything online at Remacle.org, that marvellous collection of French translations.  They did indeed have quite a few French translations of “Porphyre“.  But it seemed to be much the same selection as I have.

Even the fragments of the books Against the Christians are not really online.  My own attempt at this was never completed.

Porphyry is very popular with the sort of writer who doesn’t like Christianity.  But I could wish that these writers praised him less, and translated him more.  It is rather absurd, after all, that the best collection of his works is held on a site dedicated to patristics!   I’m sure Eusebius and the others who wrote Contra Porphyrium would be amused, and gratified to see their enemy embalmed amongst the footnotes of the church.  Porphyry himself, I suspect, might utter a phoenician curse!

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