Person: Malchus, Porphyry
Porphyry Malchus wrote a commentary on Euclid's Elements and a Life of Pythagoras.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- Both Porphyry's parents were Syrian and he would only get the nickname Porphyry later in his life as we shall explain below.
- As a young man Porphyry tried to gain as broad a knowledge as he possibly could by studying many languages and religions.
- At that time Athens was the main centre for learning, so it was natural that someone with a thirst for knowledge as Porphyry had should travel there to continue his studies.
- It was Longinus who gave Porphyry that nickname.
- In about 263 Porphyry left Athens and went to Rome where he worked with Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism.
- Porphyry had mixed feelings when he heard the teachings of Plotinus.
- However Porphyry was very disappointed in the way that Plotinus expressed himself and he found Plotinus's lectures poorly structured and his arguments rather woolly.
- It is not entirely clear why Porphyry left Rome but there does seem to have been disputes over doctrine between the philosophers who formed Plotinus's circle.
- Porphyry went to Sicily where he wrote a text bringing the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato together.
- Porphyry had a strong respect for the views of Aristotle and further work by Porphyry at this time led to a revival in studies of the works of Aristotle.
- It would appear that Porphyry's views on Aristotle had something to do with the disputes in Plotinus's school which had led to the break-up.
- Also while Porphyry was in Sicily, he wrote a work on vegetarianism and a critical work against Christian doctrines.
- Porphyry did not break his links with Plotinus, however, and he continued to correspond with him on presenting his views in the most coherent fashion.
- Despite the fact that Porphyry's views were not completely at one with those of Plotinus, this description by Heath is a fair one.
- Porphyry certainly did go on to edit the works of Plotinus, for he returned to Rome in about 282 (which was about 12 years after Plotinus died).
- Also while in Rome Porphyry taught Iamblichus who was another important developer of Neoplatonism.
- However, Iamblichus developed his views away from those of Plotinus and soon found himself disagreeing with Porphyry.
- We should make some comments as to the importance of Porphyry in the history of mathematics.
- Proclus appears to have Porphyry's original comments to hand when he wrote his own commentary.
- This is a point on which it is impossible to be certain for there is a slight possibility that all Proclus knew about Porphyry's commentary was what Pappus had written.
- Another important contribution made by Porphyry was in writing his Life of Pythagoras.
- Certain important fragments of other mathematician's writings have also been preserved in the works of Porphyry including Nicomachus and Eudemus.
Born 233, Tyre (now Sur, Lebanon). Died 309, Rome.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Ancient Greek, Origin Lebanon
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive