Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs in its Intellectual Context


Neoplatonic allegorical interpretation expounds how literary texts present philosophical ideas in an enigmatic and coded form, offering an alternative path to the divine truths. The Neoplatonist Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs is one of the most significant allegorical interpretation handed down to us from Antiquity. This monograph, exclusively dedicated to the analysis of On the Cave of Nymphs, demonstrates that Porphyry interprets Homer’s verse from Odyssey 13.102-112 to convey his philosophical thoughts, particularly on the material world, relationship between soul and body and the salvation of the soul through the doctrines of Plato and Plotinus. The Homeric cave of the nymphs with two gates is a station where the souls descend into genesis and ascend to the intelligible realm. Porphyry associates Odysseus’ long wanderings with the journey of the soul and its salvation from the irrational to rational through escape from all toils of the material world.

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K. Nilüfer Akçay holds a Ph.D. in Classics from Trinity College Dublin. Her publications include articles on Porphyry’s On the Cave of the Nymphs in other book publications.
Akçay's study paves the way for the reevaluation of Porphyry's philosophical work and justifies the significance of Porphyry’s thought not only as an eminent scholar of late antiquity and a charismatic student of Plotinus but as an original thinker who aims to declare the importance of the philosophical way of life and the purification of the soul., Giannis Stamatellos (The American College of Greece), Bryn Mawr Classical Review, 2020.04.05.


1 Allegory as a Way of Thinking in On the Cave of the Nymphs
 1 Preliminary Remarks on Allegorical Interpretation in Later Platonism
 2 Porphyry and On the Cave of Nymphs
  2.1  On the Cave of the Nymphs

2 The Cave as Symbol and Image of the Cosmos
 1 The Materialisation of the Cave
  1.1  The Cave, Cosmos, and Matter
  1.2  The Cosmos: Beautiful and Dark
  1.3  The Mithraic Cave and Mithras as the Maker and Father of All, and Ruler of Genesis
 2 The Cave in Mind

3 Embodiment
 1 The Naiad Nymphs as Symbol of Daimones and Souls
  1.1  Preliminary Remarks on Numenius Fragment 30
  1.2 Daimones and Souls on the Descent into Genesis
 2 Reading Dunamis in De Antro 13.1-5 and the Body-Creation
 3 The Pneumatic Body
 4 Honey as Symbol of Pleasure: a Trap

4 The Path towards the Immortality of the Soul
 1 The Journey of the Soul through the Sensible World
  1.1  The Solstitial Gates: Numenius Fragments 31 and 32
  1.2  The Gates of the Sun and the Moon
 2 Philosophy: the Great Liberator of the Soul
  2.1 The Journey through the Intelligible Realm
  2.2  TheGoddess Athena as Symbol of phronesis


All interested in the Platonic tradition, particularly Neoplatonism, tradition of the ancient allegorical interpretation, ancient literary criticism, Homer and his reception.