, a celebrated Platonic philosopher, was born at Lycopolis, in Egypt, in the year 205, but concerning his family or education, nothing is known. About the age of twenty, he first studied philosophy at the different schools of Alexandria, but attached himself particularly to Ammonius, in whom he found a disposition to superstition and fanaticism like his own. On the death of this preceptor, haying in his school frequently heard the Oriental philosophy commended, and expecting to find in it that kind of doctrine concerning divine natures which he was most desirous of studying, he determined to travel into Persia and India, to learn wisdom of the Magi and Gymnosophists and as the emperor Gordian was at this time undertaking an expedition against the Parthians, Plotinus seized the occasion, and in the year 243 joined the emperor’s army; but the emperor being killed, Plotinus fled to Antioch, and thence came to Rome, where Philip was now emperor.

For some time Plotinus remained silent, in consequence of the oath of secrecy which he had taken in the school of Ammonius; but after his fellow disciples, Herennius and Origines, had disclosed the mysteries of their master, he thought himself no longer bound by his promise 3 and became a public preceptor in philosophy, upon eclectic principles. During a period of ten years, he delivered all in | the way of conversation, but at last he found it necessary to commit the substance of his lectures to writing and this being suffered to pass into the hands of his pupils without being transcribed, we cannot be surprized at the great obscurity and confusion which are still found in his writings, after all the pains that Porphyry took to correct them.His works are distributed under six classes, called Enneads. Proclus wrote commentaries upon them, and Dexippus defended them against the Peripatetics.

Although Plotinus’s plan was new, it was obscure, and he had but few disciples. He was not the less assiduous, however, in teaching, and studied very hard, preparing himself by watching and fasting. He was so respected for wisdom and integrity, that many private quarrels were referred to his arbitration, and parents on their death-beds were very desirous of consigning their children to his care. During his residence of twenty-six years at Rome, he became a favourite with Galienus, and would have persuaded that emperor to re-build a city in Campania, and people it with philosophers, to be governed by the laws of Plato but this was not effected. Although skilled in the medical art, he had such a contempt for the body, that he would never take any medicines when indisposed; nor for the same reason would he suffer his birth-day to be celebrated, or any portrait to be taken of his person. His pupil Amelius, however, procured one by stealth, painted while he was lecturing. Such abstinence, and neglect of health, brought him into a state of disease and infirmity, which rendered the latter part of his life exceedingly painful. When he found his end approaching, he said to Eustochius, “The divine principle within me is now hastening to unite itself with that divine being which animates the universe” herein expressing a leading principle of his philosophy, that the human soul is an emanation from the divine nature, and will return to the source whence it proceeded. Plotinus died in the year 270, aged sixty-six years. Porphyry represents him as having been possessed of miraculous powers, but there is more reason to conclude from his life and writings, that he belonged to the class of fanatics. His natural temper, his education, his system, all inclined him to fanaticism. Suffering himself to be led astray by a volatile imagination, from the plain path of good sense, he poured forth crude and confused conceptions, in obscure and incoherent language. Sometimes | he soared in extatic flights into the regions of mysticism. Porphyry relates, that he ascended through all the Platonic steps of divine contemplation, to the actual vision of the deity himself, and was admitted to such intercourse with him, as no other philosopher ever enjoyed. They who are well acquainted with human nature, will easily perceive in these flights, unequivocal proofs of a feeble or disordered mind, and will not wonder that the system of Plotinus was mystical, and his writings obscure. It is much to be regretted that such a man should have become, in a great degree, the preceptor of the world, and should, by means of his disciples, have every where disseminated a species of false philosophy, which was compounded of superstition, enthusiasm, and imposture. The muddy waters sent forth from this polluted spring, were spread through the most celebrated seats of learning, and were even permitted to mingle with the pure stream of Christian doctrine. 1


Gen. Dict. Brucker. Life by Porphyry, —Saxii Onomast.