This is the last day of the month when Hekate is given her supper and sacrifices are made to the dead. Soon I’ll present the offerings to Achilles, Oedipus, Protesilaos and Aeneas as well as the usual stuff I do for the retinue of Dionysos. But before I do so I’d like to take a moment to honor a man who is dear to my heart for a number of reasons.
Here’s his bio from Wikipedia:
Porphyry’s parents were Phoenician, and he was born in Tyre. His parents named him Malchus (“king”) but his teacher in Athens, Cassius Longinus, gave him the name Porphyrius (“clad in purple”), possibly a reference to his Phoenician heritage, or a punning allusion to his name and the color of royal robes. Under Longinus he studied grammar and rhetoric. In 262 he went to Rome, attracted by the reputation of Plotinus, and for six years devoted himself to the practice of Neoplatonism, during which time he severely modified his diet. At one point he became suicidal. On the advice of Plotinus he went to live in Sicily for five years to recover his mental health. On returning to Rome, he lectured on philosophy and completed an edition of the writings of Plotinus (who had died in the meantime) together with a biography of his teacher. Iamblichus is mentioned in ancient Neoplatonic writings as his pupil, but this most likely means only that he was the dominant figure in the next generation of philosophers. The two men differed publicly on the issue of theurgy. In his later years, he married Marcella, a widow with seven children and an enthusiastic student of philosophy. Little more is known of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain.
Here are a selection of some of my favorite quotes by the Purple King and by the end I’m sure you’ll see why I’m so fond of him:
“But let us make a thorough investigation concerning the single rule of the only god and the manifold rule of those who are worshipped as gods. You Christians do not know how to expound the doctrine even of the single rule. For a monarch is not one who is alone in his existence, but who is alone in his rule. Clearly he rules over those who are his fellow-tribesmen, men like himself, just as the Emperor Hadrian was a monarch, not because he existed alone, nor because he ruled over oxen and sheep (over which herdsmen or shepherds rule), but because he ruled over men who shared his race and possessed the same nature. Likewise god would not properly be called a monarch, unless he ruled over other gods; for this would befit his divine greatness and his heavenly and abundant honour.” – Porphyry, as quoted in Macarius Magnes’ Apocriticus 4.20
“There is a multitude of divinities which some call indiscriminately gods and others more appropriately daimones. People have given some of them names, and they receive from everyone honors equal to the celestial bodies, as well as their own distinct forms of worship. Others have no name at all in most places, but acquire a name and cult inconspicuously from a few people in villages or some cities. There is a widespread conviction about this multitude of daimones, that they can do harm if they are angered by being neglected and fail to receive their accustomed worship, and on the other hand that they can do good to those who make them well-disposed by prayer and supplication and sacrifices and the shedding of blood and all that goes with it.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.37.4-5
“Again, consider in detail that other passage, where he says, ‘Such signs shall follow them that believe: they shall lay hands upon sick folk, and they shall recover, and if they drink any deadly drug, it shall in no wise hurt them.’ So the right thing would be for those selected for the priesthood, and particularly those who lay claim to the episcopate or presidency, to make use of this form of test. The deadly drug should be set before them in order that the man who received no harm from the drinking of it might be given precedence of the rest. And if they are not bold enough to accept this sort of test, they ought to confess that they do not believe in the things Jesus said. For if it is a peculiarity of the faith to overcome the evil of a poison and to remove the pain of a sick man, the believer who does not do these things either has not become a genuine believer, or else, though his belief is genuine, the thing that he believes in is not potent but feeble.” – Porphyry, as quoted in Macarius Magnes’ Apocriticus 3.16
“At any rate, if you say that angels stand before god, who are not subject to feeling and death, and immortal in their nature, whom we ourselves speak of as gods, because they are close to the godhead, why do we dispute about a name? And are we to consider it only a difference of nomenclature? For she who is called by the Greeks Athene is called by the Romans Minerva; and the Egyptians, Syrians, and Thracians address her by some other name. But I suppose nothing in the invocation of the goddess is changed or lost by the difference of the names. The difference therefore is not great, whether a man calls them gods or angels, since their divine nature bears witness to them, as when Matthew writes thus: ‘And Jesus answered and said, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of god; for in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven’ (Matt. xxii. 29-30). Since therefore he confesses that the angels have a share in the divine nature, those who make a suitable object of reverence for the gods, do not think that the god is in the wood or stone or bronze from which the image is manufactured, nor do they consider that, if any part of the statue is cut off, it detracts from the power of the god. For the images of living creatures and the temples were set up by the ancients for the sake of remembrance, in order that those who approach thither might come to the knowledge of the god when they go; or, that, as they observe a special time and purify themselves generally, they may make use of prayers and supplications, asking from them the things of which each has need. For if a man makes an image of a friend, of course he does not think that the friend is in it, or that the limbs of his body are included in the various parts of the representation; but honour is shown towards the friend by means of the image. But in the case of the sacrifices that are brought to the gods, these are not so much a bringing of honour to them as a proof of the inclination of the worshippers, to show that they are not without a sense of gratitude. It is reasonable that the form of the statues should be the fashion of a man, since man is reckoned to be the fairest of living creatures and an image of god. It is possible to get hold of this doctrine from another saying, which asserts positively that god has fingers, with which he writes, saying, ‘And he gave to Moses the two tables which were written by the finger of god’ (Exod. xxxi. 18). Moreover, the Christians also, imitating the erection of the temples, build very large houses, into which they go together and pray, although there is nothing to prevent them from doing this in their own houses, since the lord certainly hears from every place … I could also give proof to you of that insidious name of ‘gods’ from the law, when it cries out and admonishes the hearer with much reverence, ‘Thou, shalt not revile gods, and thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.’ For it does not speak to us of other gods than those already within our reckoning, from what we know in the words, ‘Thou shalt not go after gods’ (Jer. vii. 6); and again, ‘If ye go and worship other gods’ (Deut. xii. 28). The gods we honour are mentioned not only by Moses but by his successor Joshua as well. For he says to the people, ‘And now fear him and serve him alone, and put away the gods whom your fathers served’ (Josh. xxiv. 14). And further Paul says, ‘For though there be that are called gods, whether on earth or in heaven, yet to us there is but one god and father, of whom are all things” (1 Cor. viii. 5). Therefore you make a great mistake in thinking that god is angry if any other is called a god, and obtains the same title as himself. For even rulers do not object to the title from their subjects, nor masters from slaves. And it is not right to think that god is more petty-minded than men. Enough then about the fact that gods exist, and ought to receive honour.” – Porphyry, as quoted in Macarius Magnes’ Apocriticus 4.21; 23
“He thought fit to ask him after what manner he reverenced the gods. Clearchus answered him that he diligently sacrificed to them at proper times in every month at the new moon, crowning and adorning the statues of Hermes and Hekate, and the other sacred images which were left to us by our ancestors, and that he also honored the gods with frankincense, and sacred wafers and cakes. He likewise said, that he performed public sacrifices annually, omitting no festive day; and that in these festivals he worshiped the gods, not by slaying oxen, nor by cutting victims into fragments, but that he sacrificed whatever he might casually meet with, sedulously offering the first-fruits to the gods of all the vegetable productions of the seasons, and of all the fruits with which he was supplied. He added, that some of these he placed before the statues of the gods, but that he burnt others on their altars.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.16
“It was a theology full of great wisdom that enabled men to indicate god and god’s powers through sensible images and sketch invisible things in visible forms. Listen closely and I will teach you how to read from the statues as from books the things written there about the gods. Nor is it any wonder that the utterly unlearned regard the statues as mere wood and stone, just as those who are illiterate look upon the monuments as rock and tablets as bits of wood, and on books as woven papyrus, failing to comprehend what is truly there.” – Porphyry, On Images Frag. 1
“The first and greatest help is that from crops, and from this alone we should make offerings to the gods and to the earth which produces them. The earth is the common hearth of gods and men, and everyone, leaning upon her as a nurse and mother, must hymn her and love her as the one who gave us birth.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.32.1
“That is why even sorcerers have thought such advance protection and purification necessary; but it is not effective in all circumstances, for they stir up wicked daimones to gratify their lusts. So holiness is not for sorcerers, but for godly men who are wise about the gods, and it brings as a guard on all sides, for those who practice it, their attachment to the divine. If only sorcerers would practice it constantly, they would have no enthusiasm for sorcery, because holiness would exclude them from enjoyment of the things for the sake of which they commit impiety. But, being filled with passions, they abstain for a little from impure foods, yet are full of impurity and pay the penalty for their lawlessness towards the universe: some penalties are inflicted by the beings they themselves provoke, some by the justice which watches over all mortal concerns, both actions and thoughts. Holiness, both internal and external, belongs to a godly man, who strives to fast from the passions of the soul just as he fasts from those foods which arouse the passions, who feeds on wisdom about the gods and becomes like them by right thinking about the divine; a man sanctified by intellectual sacrifice, who approaches the god in white clothing, with a truly pure freedom from passion in the soul and with a body which is light and not weighted down with the alien juices of other creatures or with the passions of the soul.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.45
“The best offering to the gods is a pure intellect and a soul unaffected by passion; it is also appropriate to make them moderate offerings of other things, not casually but with full commitment. Honors to the gods must be like the front seats given to good men, and like standing up for them to sit down, not like paying taxes. If a man can say, Íf you remember my good deeds and love me, long since dear one you repaid my favor, it was for this I showed you favor first’ surely a god will be satisfied with this. That is why Plato says (Laws 716d; 717a) ‘it is right for a good man to sacrifice and always to be in conversation with the gods by prayer and dedications and sacrifices and all forms of worship’ but for a bad man ‘great effort about the gods is in vain.’ The good man knows what must be sacrificed, from what one must abstain, what should be eaten and from what offerings should be made; the bad man, bringing to the gods honors suited to his own disposition and what he wants, acts impiously.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.61
“Priests, diviners and all men who are wise in the ways of religion instruct us to stay clear of tombs, of sacrilegious men, menstruating women, sexual intercourse, any shameful or lamentable sight, anything heard which arouses emotion; for often even unseen impurity disturbs those officiating at the rites, and an improperly performed sacrifice brings more harm than good.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.50
And probably the most interesting quote of all:
“Chaeremon the Stoic, therefore, in his narration of the Egyptian priests, who, he says, were considered by the Egyptians as philosophers, informs us, that they chose temples, as the places in which they might philosophize. For to dwell with the statues of the gods is a thing allied to the whole desire, by which the soul tends to the contemplation of their divinities. And from the divine veneration indeed, which was paid to them through dwelling in temples, they obtained security, all men honouring these philosophers, as if they were certain sacred animals. They also led a solitary life, as they only mingled with other men in solemn sacrifices and festivals. But at other times the priests were almost inaccessible to any one who wished to converse with them. For it was requisite that he who approached to them should be first purified, and abstain from many things; and this is as it were a common sacred law respecting the Egyptian priests. But these philosophic priests having relinquished every other employment, and human labours, gave up the whole of their life to the contemplation and worship of divine natures and to divine inspiration; through the latter, indeed, procuring for themselves, honour, security, and piety; but through contemplation, science; and through both, a certain occult exercise of manners, worthy of antiquity. For to be always conversant with divine knowledge and inspiration, removes those who are so from all avarice, suppresses the passions, and excites to an intellectual life. But they were studious of frugality in their diet and apparel, and also of continence and endurance, and in all things were attentive to justice and equity. They likewise were rendered venerable, through rarely mingling with other men. For during the time of what are called purifications, they scarcely mingled with their nearest kindred, and those of their own order, nor were they to be seen by anyone, unless it was requisite for the necessary purposes of purification. For the sanctuary was inaccessible to those who were not purified, and they dwelt in holy places for the purpose of performing divine works; but at all other times they associated more freely with those who lived like themselves. They did not, however, associate with any one who was not a religious character. But they were always seen near to the gods, or the statues of the gods, the latter of which they were beheld either carrying, or preceding in a sacred procession, or disposing in an orderly manner, with modesty and gravity; each of which operations was not the effect of pride, but an indication of some physical reason. Their venerable gravity also was apparent from their manners. For their walking was orderly, and their aspect sedate; and they were so studious of preserving this gravity of countenance, that they did not even wink, when at any time they were unwilling to do so; and they seldom laughed, and when they did, their laughter proceeded no farther than to a smile. But they always kept their hands within their garments. Each likewise bore about him a symbol indicative of the order which he was allotted in sacred concerns; for there were many orders of priests. Their diet also was slender and simple. For, with respect to wine, some of them did not at all drink it, but others drank very little of it, on account of its being injurious to the nerves, oppressive to the head, an impediment to invention, and an incentive to venereal desires. In many other things also they conducted themselves with caution; neither using bread at all in purifications, and at those times in which they were not employed in purifying themselves, they were accustomed to eat bread with hyssop, cut into small pieces. For it is said, that hyssop very much purifies the power of bread. But they, for the most part, abstained from oil, the greater number of them entirely; and if at any time they used it with pot-herbs, they took very little of it, and only as much as was sufficient to mitigate the taste of the herbs.
“It was not lawful for them therefore to meddle with the esculent and potable substances, which were produced out of Egypt, and this contributed much to the exclusion of luxury from these priests. But they abstained from all the fish that was caught in Egypt, and from such quadrupeds as had solid, or many-fissured hoofs, and from such as were not horned; and likewise from all such birds as were carnivorous. Many of them, however, entirely abstained from all animals; and in purifications this abstinence was adopted by all of them, for then they did not even eat an egg. Moreover, they also rejected other things, without being calumniated for so doing. Thus, for instance, of oxen, they rejected the females, and also such of the males as were twins, or were speckled, or of a different colour, or alternately varied in their form, or which were now tamed, as having been already consecrated to labours, and resembled animals that are honoured, or which were the images of any thing that is divine, or those that had but one eye, or those that verged to a similitude of the human form. There are also innumerable other observations pertaining to the art of those who are called mosxofragistai, or who stamp calves with a seal, and of which books have been composed. But these observations are still more curious respecting birds; as, for instance, that a turtle should not be eaten; for it is said that a hawk frequently dismisses this bird after he has seized it, and preserves its life, as a reward for having had connexion with it. The Egyptian priests, therefore, that they might not ignorantly meddle with a turtle of this kind, avoided the whole species of those birds. And these indeed were certain common religious ceremonies; but there were different ceremonies, which varied according to the class of the priests that used them, and were adapted to the several divinities. But chastity and purifications were common to all the priests. When also the time arrived in which they were to perform something pertaining to the sacred rites of religion, they spent some days in preparatory ceremonies, some indeed forty-two, but others a greater, and others a less number of days; yet never less than seven days; and during this time they abstained from all animals, and likewise from all pot-herbs and leguminous substances, and, above all, from a venereal connexion with women; for they never at any time had connexion with males. They likewise washed themselves with cold water thrice every day; viz. when they rose from their bed, before dinner, and when they betook themselves to sleep. But if they happened to be polluted in their sleep by the emission of the seed, they immediately purified their body in a bath. They also used cold bathing at other times, but not so frequently as on the above occasion. Their bed was woven from the branches of the palm tree, which they call bais; and their bolster was a smooth semi-cylindric piece of wood. But they exercised themselves in the endurance of hunger and thirst, and were accustomed to paucity of food through the whole of their life.
“This also is a testimony of their continence, that, though they neither exercised themselves in walking or riding, yet they lived free from disease, and were sufficiently strong for the endurance of modern labours. They bore therefore many burdens in the performance of sacred operations, and accomplished many ministrant works, which required more than common strength. But they divided the night into the observation of the celestial bodies, and sometimes devoted a part of it to offices of purification; and they distributed the day into the worship of the gods, according to which they celebrated them with hymns thrice or four times, viz. in the morning and evening, when the sun is at his meridian altitude, and when he is declining to the west. The rest of their time they devoted to arithmetical and geometrical speculations, always labouring to effect something, and to make some new discovery, and, in short, continually exercising their skill. In winter nights also they were occupied in the same employments, being vigilantly engaged in literary pursuits, as paying no attention to the acquisition of externals, and being liberated from the servitude of that bad master, excessive expense. Hence their unwearied and incessant labour testifies their endurance, but their continence is manifested by their liberation from the desire of external good. To sail from Egypt likewise, was considered by them to be one of the most unholy things, in consequence of their being careful to avoid foreign luxury and pursuits; for this appeared to them to be alone lawful to those who were compelled to do so by regal necessities. Indeed, they were very anxious to continue in the observance of the institutes of their country, and those who were found to have violated them, though but in a small degree were expelled from the college of the priests. The true method of philosophizing, likewise, was preserved by the prophets, by the hierostolistae, and the sacred scribes, and also by the horologi, or calculators of nativities. But the rest of the priests, and of the pastophori, curators of temples, and ministers of the gods, were similarly studious of purity, yet not so accurately, and with such great continence, as the priests of whom we have been speaking. And such are the particulars which are narrated of the Egyptians, by a man who was a lover of truth, and an accurate writer, and who among the Stoics strenuously and solidly philosophized.” – Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Foods 4.6-8
I also love this one, though technically Porphyry is just quoting Theophrastos:
“There are, moreover, three reasons altogether for sacrificing to the gods: to honor them, to give thanks, or from need of some thing. We ought to offer the gods the first-fruits of all we receive, for it is their generosity that makes our living possible. Further we honor the gods because we want evil to be averted from us and those we love or for an increase of good things, or out of gratitude because they have benefited us in the past or simply to honor their condition of goodness.” – Theophrastos, as quoted in Porphyry’s On Abstinence from Animal Foods 2.24
Let us remember this mighty Purple King, stalwart defender of our diverse polytheist ways!