Ancient book burning

Excerpts from Roger Pearse’s review of Joseph Hoffmann’s Porphyry’s Against the Christians: The Literary Remains:

The sixteen-book work by the Neoplatonist Porphyry Against the Christians is lost. Constantine ordered that all copies should be destroyed; a century later Theodosius tacitly acknowledged that this had not occurred by issuing a similar edict.

Constantine burning Arian books

Porphyry adopted an “idiot-boy” literalism as his tool to debunk. Anything that could be made to sound discreditable, anything that did not fit with the tenor of contemporary prejudice, any statement that could be made to sound contradictory, could be presented as a reason to deride the Christians. However, such a approach is unimpressive to anyone except a believer. Such people could have their faith in anti-Christianism bolstered, and be encouraged to sneer and have gibes ready to throw. But the unconvinced reader would see easily that such statements can be made about anything, however worthy.

Instead, the essential argument is an appeal to the irrational herd-instinct of mankind and its need to conform. Many of Porphyry’s arguments consist simply of assertion that something is shameful or embarrassing, rather than rational discussion. This can only work if the flavour of the times is such that the subject is unfashionable. To look for a modern analogy, modern readers will be aware that “anti-racism” has not acquired the power it has in our society by rational argument. Instead it relies on repeated assertion and intimidation, to create a climate in which only certain ideas can be said. In the ancient world, likewise, certain ideas went without saying. The Christian ethos was not part of this; and indeed, as a novelty, was embarrassing. The idea that the poor might be important was disgusting. Porphyry simply harps on the subconscious need to the reader to conform to what he knows society expects, rather than reasoning objectively what is right.

But once the times changed, the approach worked in reverse. It was Porphyry’s ideas that went against the tenor of the times.


  1. Merry Christmas, Chechar.

    • Merry Christmas Stubbs.

      Though I’d like people start calling me by my real name (only a nephew used to call me Chechar when he was younger), I guess that once I used it for five years I’ll always be “Chechar” in the minds of others…

      It’s like if Brad Griffin wants to be called for his real name after using “Hunter Wallace” for so long. ☺

      • Why are Chechar and Stubbs wishing one another “Merry Christmas”? Both detest Christianity, esp. Catholicism, yet they wish one another “Merry Christmas” which means “Christ’s Mass”, “Mass” as in Catholic Mass.

        I don’t like Islam. Considering that, I do NOT go around wishing people “Happy Ramadan” during Mohammedan Ramadan season.

        I know a lot of people who detest Christianity, yet when Christian Christmas rolls around, they got their hands out expecting a Christmas gift. I’m not a Jew, and I don’t care for Judaism, just like Chechar and Stubbs don’t care for Christianity, ipso-facto I don’t expect — nor want — to receive jew hannakuh gifts.

        I bet when Chechar and Stubbs get Christmas gifts from relatives and friends they do NOT turn down the gifts. I bet they don’t go on and on lecturing the gift givers how much they detest Christianity and everything about it, as they do every other day of the year.

      • Why? Because my most happy memories come from my childhood and early teens, when we celebrated Christmas in our house of Palenque Street. There’s nothing wrong in celebrating Christmas even if you “hate Christianity” as you said. But no: I din’t get any presents these days, nor had dinner with my family yesterday. Nowadays I don’t get along with them and live in uttermost solitude (like Nosferatu in his castle).

      • Err, you give gifts in late December because they did during Saturnalia, and the early Christians didn’t feel like changing it. I worship neither Christ nor Saturn, though I wouldn’t say I detest either. I usually keep to our traditions when they’re workable.

  2. Merry Yule, César!

    • Happy Yule, Snake.

      Incidentally, only a couple of days ago I realized that your pen name was taken from a character of Escape from New York… ☺

      • Yes I’ve been trying to escape from New York for years and finally did it over the summer. Moving to a majority White area does wonders for the spirit!

  3. modern readers will be aware that “anti-racism” has not acquired the power it has in our society by rational argument. Instead it relies on repeated assertion and intimidation, to create a climate in which only certain ideas can be said.

    There is also the entrainment, or conditioning, that occurs when a concept is presented repeatedly while accompanied by an emotional tone. So, “racism” is presented over and over in a tone of disgust, outrage, contempt, disdain, or violent anger, by good-looking actors in movies or authoritative commentators in newspapers, produces the eventual result that “racism” will trigger those emotional responses in the audience without them knowing why.

    The only remedy I know is to turn the tables when one can, and also to remain calm and matter of fact when responding to such a conditioned response in others.

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