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Porphyry, On abstinence from animal food (1823) Preface to the online edition.

The longest work by Porphyry to survive more or less intact is this curious tract advocating that animals should not be killed, not even for food.  The end of the work seems to be lost, but otherwise it is complete and preserves a mass of detail on pagan religious customs and beliefs.  Interestingly it also mentioned the Jewish Essenes.

The Greek title is Περὶ αποχης εμψγχων.  The work is often referred to as the De Abstinentia or DA.

The date of composition is as uncertain as for most of Porphyry's works.  It was plainly written after Porphyry's arrival in Rome in 263 AD, and before the Life of Plotinus in 301 AD.  The favoured date is 268-70, while Porphyry was living in Sicily recovering from his breakdown during which he had become suicidal.  Suicide is often mentioned in the work.  The mention of a partridge that Porphyry himself reared at Carthage (3.4.7) fits this locale also, since Carthage is only a short hop from Sicily.  The work is addressed to Castricius, who is known to us only from what Porphyry says about him in this work and in the Life of Plotinus.  He was one of the circle around Plotinus, and had estates at Minturnae, from which he supplied Plotinus with money.

Thomas Taylor, the English Platonist, wrote a very long time ago, and his terminology is somewhat strange but otherwise his English has not dated.  I have ventured to make two global changes to the text as printed in the interest of people using Google:  Essaeans becomes Essenes, and Amilcar becomes Hamilcar.  The lack of accents and breathings on the Greek is a feature of Taylor's text, and he seems to have endured mockery for it.  His introductory matter does not bear much on the text.  

An excellent modern translation was published by Gillian Clark a few years ago, with a useful and thorough introduction, which I have used for various points here.  The standard edition of the Greek text today is the Budé edition in three volumes, with critical text, apparatus, sources, and a French translation.


In the 1886 edition, August Nauck declared that all the manuscripts derive from an exemplar which was uniquely and gravely corrupt.  The Budé editors add, "Nothing inclines us today to modify this judgement."  The text is preserved by a "tradition très médiocre".  While the manuscripts fall into two families, plus another consisting of hand-written copies of the editio princeps, they share a huge number of evident errors.  Wherever we can compare the text with portions quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in the Praeparatio Evangelica, it is evident that Eusebius' text is much superior.  The text of the direction tradition has been much altered, although the editors consider that this is not so much as regards its content but in the expression of it.

One family is descended from V, the other from a lost manuscript referred to as Ψ.



Shelfmark & Notes

Date /


Rome, Vatican Library Codex Vaticanus Graecus 325 (once 195).  Paper. 307x201 mm.  Folios II, 325, arranged as I, 1-164; II, 165-325.  Four copyists.  The writing is careful and clear.  Copied by four different copyists.  Two copied ff.1-115, a third 116-281, and a fourth the DA.  The codex appears to have been assembled from three independently written manuscripts in the 14th century.


  • ff. 1-108.  Arrian's lecture-notes on the Discourses of Epictetus (Dissertationes ab Arriano digestae).  Copied from Codex Bodleianus Auct. T. 413, s.XI-XII (the end of this ms. is lost).  It has been copied remarkably accurately.  
  • ff. 109-115.  The Life of Pythagoras by Porphyry, excerpted from the lost Philosophic History
  • ff. 116-281.  Arrian's Anabasis
  • ff. 282-325.  Porphyry On Abstinence (De abstinentia).

The common archetype of all the manuscripts of one family.  Described by Ioannes Mercati &c. in the catalogue Codices Vaticani Graeci, v. 1, Rome (1923).


M Venice, Marcianus Marcianus graecus 392.  Fol. 237v-289.  Perhaps a copy of V.  Other contents are by Philostratus; the Lives of the Sophists, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Heroica, and Imagines.   15
L Leipzig Lipsiensis graecus 25.  A copy of M. 16
K Leiden university Leidensis B. P. G., codex 33 D.  Once the Meermannianus.  f.1-40v contain the DA.  Numerous copyist faults, but some interesting readings.  Also contains Porphyry, Life of Pythagoras, and Arrian's Anabasis, book 1.  Derived from V. ca. 1540
Pa Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Français. Parisinus Graecus 2083 16
Gd Munich Monacensis graecus 91.  DA on ff. 237-300.  Contains the sententiae of Porphyry, but the text of the DA is descended from V.  The two are in different hands.  Also contains the Life of Pythagoras in the same hand as the DA, and while the order of the codex is disarranged, there are old folio numbers still visible on the pages which make it clear that the DA and Life of Pythagoras once formed part of a manuscript with continous pagination 1-146. 16
Ea Madrid, Escorial Library Scorialensis R-I-5.  Ff. 6-64v.  Many faults and omissions.  Also contains Plutarch, Bruta rat.; De Esu; Non posse suav.; Anim. an corp.  Descended from V. 16
Ga Munich Monacensis graecus 461.  Ff. 117-185.  Descended from Ψ, and the oldest member of that family of manuscripts.  Also contains works of Themistus, Julian, Priscianus, Synesiu and Nicephorus Gregoras. 14-15
Gb Munich Monacensis graecus 39.  Ff. 137-194.  A copy of Ga, it seems.  Also contains works by Meletius, Galen, Dionysius the Periegete. 16
F Florence, Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana Laurentianus 80, 15.  f. 1-84.  Also descended from Ψ.  Also contains the Sententiae.  Copied by John Scutariotes, according to E. Lamberz. 15
Ge Munich Monacensis graecus 171.  ff.1-109r.  Apart from some folios added in 1729, the manuscript contains three works (DA, Sententiae, Eunapius Life of Porphyry) which were all edited and published together by Victorius in 1548.  The first two are written in Victorius' own hand, and copied directly from F.  In the margin are corrections by Victorius against a manuscript of the family of V.  The manuscript was acquired with all the other manuscripts owned by Victorius by the prince-elector of Bavaria, Charles-Theodore, and transferred at his death from Mannheim to the Royal Library at Munich. 16
Ba Oxford, Bodleian Bodleianus Auct. F.4, 6.  Ff.1-94.  Begins at book 1, 3:1.  The bottom of the first four folios is missing, cut off.  Some 20 chapters are missing (I.14:4-I.35:5).  The codex is made up of two parts.  The first, containing the DA and Sententiae, was copied by John Scutariotes in the middle of the 15th century.  The rest, in a different hand, contains DA III and IV (fol. 102-141) and then an anonymous De physiognomia and four works by Gregory Nazianzen.  Descended from Ψ. 15
Pb Paris, BNF. Parisinus Graecus 2084.  Descended from Ψ. 16
T Turin Taurinensis B-I-12.  ff.1-67.  Also contains Eustathius, Comm. in Dion. Perieg.  Descended from Ψ. 16
Vb Rome, Vatican. Vaticanus Barberinianus Graecus 252. Ff.45-112v.  Ff.41-112v (Sententiae and DA) were copied by Valeriano Albini.  ff.1-38v contain Eunapius, Lives of the sophists, in another hand.  Descended from Ψ. 1539
Eb Madrid, Escorial Library Scorialensis y-I-10.  fol. 78-161.  Fol. 73-161 were copied by Andronikos Noukios between 1541-3, according to E. Lamberz.  This manuscript has a number of particular faults which suggest that it is not directly descended from Ψ.  Also contains in a different hand Porphyry Comm. Categ. Aristotl. on fol. 1-69v. 1541-3
B Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodleianus Auct. F.3.17.  ff. 1-55.  Also contains the Sententiae.  A copy of the editio princeps. 16 (2nd half)
H Paris, BNF (?) Harleianus 6296.  The title says that the manuscript contains the Latin translation of Felicianus, but this is lacking the end of book 4.  Bears some notes by Meursius, possibly in his own hand.   17
A Brussels, Royal Library Bruxellensis 2937 (once 4146).  It once belonged to the Jesuits of Anvers, and bears some notes by A. Schott, including one on p.1 stating that it is a copy of the Florence edition and doesn't deviate from it. 17
(Lost) Madrid, Escorial Library Two manuscripts existed at one time at the Escorial, which were destroyed in the fire of 1671.  They have been described by G. Andrés, following the old pre-fire catalogues, in Catalogo de los codices griegos desparecidos de la Real Biblioteca de El Escorial, El Escorial (1968), p. 110 and 129.  They are described there as recent and containing the Sententiae, so must have been members of the family derived from Ψ. "Recent"

Books 2 and 4 of the DA are very rich in details about pagan religion, and so are quoted extensively by Eusebius in the Praeparatio Evangelica, Cyril of Alexandria in Contra Julianum, and Theodoret in his Therapeutica.  These lengthy quotations in Eusebius are almost always more faithful to Porphyry than the direct tradition.  Cyril's text is as useful as that of Eusebius, and agrees with it closely when they quote the same passages.  For passages only quoted by Cyril, again the text is generally better than the direct tradition.  The quotations by Theodoret are less interesting, being generally short and all of them dependent on Eusebius and taken from it.

Editio princeps: The text was first published by Petrus Victorius at Florence in 1548.  This was a folio of 127 leaves, containing the DA, the Sententiae, Michael of Ephesus Scholia on Aristotle's Part. Anim., Eunapius Life of Porphyry, and a critical apparatus.

Editors generally seem to have had difficulties finding manuscripts, and several remark on this.  The chapter divisions were created by J. Valentinus for his 1655 Cambridge edition, which also had a Latin translation by Lucas Holsten (Holstenius).  Taylor refers to the edition of J. de Rhoer (Utrecht, 1767), which includes conjectures by J. Reiske and F.L.Abresch, with a reprint of the translation of Felicianus.  Clark says that Taylor probably used de Rhoer's edition as the basis.  J.B.Felicianus (=Giovanni Feliciano) published a Latin translation of the work in 1547 in Venice.  August Nauck published a Teubner edition in 1860 with a revised version in 1886, and much of the literature refers to the page numbers and lines in this.


Thomas Taylor, Select works of Porphyry: Containing his four books On abstinence from animal food; his treatise On the Homeric cave of the nymphs; and his Auxiliaries to the perception of intelligible natures. (1823).  Several reprints.  Currently available from the Prometheus Trust (1994), and this is the version from which I took these.  The page numbers may not be the same as the original, however.  Also available in a Kessinger reprint.

Gillian Clark, Porphyry: On Abstinence from Killing Animals.  London: Duckworth (2000).  ISBN 0-7156-2901-8.

Porphyre, De l'abstinence.  Paris: Les Belles Lettres (Budé series).  Book 1; books 2-3; book 4.

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2007. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.

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