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Porphyry : ‘Sententiae 40’- The Journey Beyond ‘Know Thy Self’

Painting from the early 18th century that Includes a Porphyrian tree. Bad Schussenried, Kloster Schussenried, Neuer Konventsbau, Bibliothekssaal Deckenfresko, Ausschnitt: Baum des Porphyrius. Painting by Franz Georg Hermann (1692–1768).


Today’ sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is an excerpt from Porphyry’s ‘Sententiae ad intelligibilia ducentes’, or ‘Auxiliaries to the Perception of Intelligible Natures’: ‘Sentenciae 40’, or the  journey beyond ‘Know-Thy-Self’, here in the English translation by John Dillon, Porphyry, ‘Sentences’, volume II-Librairie Philosophique Vrin, 2005. From Section III, pages 825 to 829.


Context of the ‘Sententiae’

The books therefore, numbering fifty-four, we arranged in this manner in six Enneads. Without any attempt at arrangement we have written down commentaries to some of them at the request of our friends, who urged us to write on those points in regard to which they wished to attain clearness. Moreover we have also arranged summaries of all the books except the one ‘On the Beautiful’, which went missing, according to the time of the appearance of the books. But in this are contained not only the summaries arranged in the order of the different books, but also essays which are numbered along with the summaries.” Porphyry, from ‘Life of Plotinus’.


‘Sentence 40’, 2005 translation by John Dillon

‘When you fastened an inexhaustible essence, infinite in itself in power, and set out to conceive of a substance which is unwearied, unabating, never exhibiting deficiency, but rather exceeding in the purest sort of life, replete with itself, established in itself, sated with itself, and not even in search of itself, if perchance you are moved to add to this the concept of place or of relation, by the very ‘diminution’ implied in its lack of place or relation, you have not so much in fact diminished it, but rather turned yourself away from it, assuming as a veil for your understanding the insidious impression aroused by these concepts. For there is no way that you will exceed or go beyond such a reality, nor yet will you be able to bring it to a stand, nor to conceive of any dependence in it, nor cause it to fade away at some minimum point, as if it could no longer impart anything by reason of progressive dispartition; for it more uninterrupted than the constant and uninterrupted flow of all springs put together.

Either, then, you will be able to achieve concurrence and likeness to the totality of Being, and will no longer seek out anything further, or, in seeking, you will stray ‘into something alien and fall, not seeing what is present to you’, by looking to something else. But if you do not seek anything more, standing firm in yourself and your own essence, you have then achieved likeliness to the All, and are not ensnared by any of those things which proceed from it. And you did not say, even to you, ‘ I am of such and such stature’, but leave out the ‘of such and such stature’, and you have become all-actually, you were all, even before, but something else also was added to you subsequent to the ‘all’, and you became less by the addition, because the addition was not derived from Being, for you will add nothing to that. So, when one comes to be ‘someone’ in consequence of the addition  of Non-Being, not ‘all’, one comes to dwell with poverty and is in want of everything; when, therefore, one leaves aside Non-Being, then one is ‘all’, oneself constituting one’s own ‘resource’.  So, ‘he no longer looks to other things’, but recovers himself, abandoning those things that have cheapened and demeaned him-which they do most of all, when one comes to the opinion that those things that which are insignificant by nature are oneself, and not who one is oneself in truth.

For, in fact, in distancing oneself from oneself, one distances oneself also from Being; and if one takes one’s stand in oneself, present to a self that is present to itself, then one is present also to Being, which is everywhere; and when in turn, abandoning oneself, ‘one stands apart from oneself’, one stands apart also from it. For such is the importance attaching to being present to what is present to itself, and being absent from what has departed from itself.

And if, ‘when we are present to ourselves’, Being is present to us and Non-Being is absent, while Being is not present to us we are with other things, it did not have to come in order to be present, but rather it is we who have absented ourselves when it is not present. And what is surprising in that? For when you are present to yourself you are not absent from yourself; and you are not present to yourself, despite being present, and despite its being the same entity that is present and absent, when you look to other things, having given up looking to yourself. If, then, in this way, while being present to yourself, you are not present, and for this reason are ignorant of yourself, and find everything to which you are present, even what is far removed from you, rather than yourself, which is what is by nature present to you, why should you be astonished if that which is not present is far from you, when the fact that it is far from you is the result of your being far from yourself?

For the more that you approach yourself (although you are present to yourself, and indeed inseparable from yourself), the more you also approach it, which is essentially just as inseparable from you as you are from yourself. So, it is possible for you in general to comprehend what is present to Being and what is absent from it, Being itself being present everywhere and again being nowhere. In fact, to those who are capable of advancing intellectually towards their own essence and of knowing their own essence, in this very knowledge, and in the consciousness of this knowledge recovering themselves in the unity of knower and known-to these, present as they are to themselves, Being is also present. but as for those who have strayed from being for themselves towards other things, absent as they are from themselves, Being is also absent.

If then, after all, it was our nature to be established in our own essence, and to profit from our own indigenous wealth, and not depart towards what we are not and to impoverish ourselves, and on this account to be once again consorting with ‘Poverty’, when ‘Resource’ is within our grasp, and if in spite of the fact that we are not separated from Being either spatially or in our essence, nor cut off from it in any other way, we then separate ourselves by turning towards Non-Being, we suffer the penalty, by reason of our turning away from Being, of turning away from and becoming ignorant of ourselves, while in turn through love for ourselves we may both recover contact with ourselves and associate ourselves with God.

It is a true saying, indeed, that “We men are here as in a kind of prison”, from which one should not, certainly, abscond like a runaway slave, but rather attempt to free oneself from one’s bonds, on the grounds that one who is turned towards the things of this world and has abandoned the divine aspect of himself is, as the saying goes, “a fugitive from the gods and a vagabond“. So, every evil life is full of slavery and impiety, and for this reason is godless and unjust, and thus, once again, it is rightly said that justice is to be found in the exercise of one’s proper function, while the apportioning of what is due to each member of a community is an image and shadow of true justice.’


Greek Original







‘All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king.” From J.R.R. Tolkien’s poem ‘The Riddle of Strider’. The poem was written in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ lore by Bilbo Baggins, who created it to honor Aragorn – or Strider as he was previously known to the Hobbits – after the ranger revealed his true name. The poem first appears in a letter left for Frodo by Gandalf at Bree, in order to help the Hobbit identify “the real Strider.” Bilbo then later recites his poem at the Council of Elrond, when Boromir doubts Aragorn’s true claim as Isildur’s heir and direct line to the throne of Gondor. (Source Jo Craig at

We propose, as next reading:

A Porphyrian diptych


More about Porphyry: 🌿Source for John Dillon’s English translation: 🌿 About John Dillon:
Porphyry : ‘Sententiae 40’- The Journey Beyond ‘Know Thy Self’

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