Neoplatonism Through the Renaissance


What was Plotinus’ association with demonology?

In his biography of Plotinus (205–270), Porphyry (233–309) wrote the following:

An Egyptian priest came to Rome once and made acquaintance with Plotinus through a friend; the priest wanted to test his powers and suggested Plotinus to make the daimon that was born with him visible by conjuring. Plotinus gave a ready assent and conjuration took place in the Temple of Isis, because it was, as it is told, the only “pure” place the Egyptian could find in Rome. When the daimon was conjured to reveal itself, a god appeared who was not one of the daimons. And the Egyptian is said to have called out: “Blessed are you, because a god is by you as your daimon and not some low class daimon!” But there was no opportunity to ask anything from the apparition or look at it longer; because a friend who was watching and holding birds in his hands to keep the purity of the place, squeezed them to death, be it out of envy or vague fear.

Scholars have found this passage interesting because it introduces two new elements to ideas about demons in the ancient world: first, that demons could change into benevolent gods or angels; and second, that birds could be used to protect the purity of the soul. Socrates had a “daimon” who would counsel him in times of stress or alert him to what was important. However, Plotinus’ interactions with demons more resembles later ideas of magic and sorcery than simply listening to a voice, as Socrates did.


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