Porphyry was born in Tyre. His parents named him Malchus ("king" in the Semitic languages)[d] but his teacher in Athens, Cassius Longinus, gave him the name Porphyrius ("clad in purple"), possibly a reference to his Phoenician heritage, or a punning allusion to his name and the color of royal robes. Under Longinus he studied grammar and rhetoric.
In 262 he went to Rome, attracted by the reputation of Plotinus, and for six years devoted himself to the practice of Neoplatonism, during which time he severely modified his diet. At one point he became suicidal. On the advice of Plotinus he went to live in Sicily for five years to recover his mental health. On returning to Rome, he lectured on philosophy and completed an edition of the writings of Plotinus (who had died in the meantime) together with a biography of his teacher. Iamblichus is mentioned in ancient Neoplatonic writings as his pupil, but this most likely means only that he was the dominant figure in the next generation of philosophers. The two men differed publicly on the issue of theurgy.
In his later years, he married Marcella, a widow with seven children and an enthusiastic student of philosophy. Little more is known of his life, and the date of his death is uncertain.