Calcidius (4th century CE) was a Christian philosopher who was noted during the Middle Ages for his annotated translation of Plato's Timaeus into Latin, a translation that he dedicated to Osius, Bishop of Córdoba, Spain.
For European western intellectuals during the Medieval Age and part of the Modern Age, this translation became an important tool for understanding the doctrines of Plato. Calcidius's work seems not to have been much recognized in his own day, but it came to be more widely admired and studied as knowledge of Greek declined.
Debates about his origin
There have been many conjectures about who Calcidius was and where he came from, but there are few known facts. Tradition has it that Calcidius served as archideacon under Osius (also known as Hosius; supposedly the same Bishop of Cordova that along with the Roman priests Vito and Vicente represented the Pope in the first famous "ecumenical council" at Nicaea). There have been suggestions that he was of Jewish origin, or served as a deacon in the church of Carthage, but no firm evidence on these points has surfaced. The only documents about his personality and private life are a few private letters dubiously attributed to him.
There is, however, in his annotated translation of the first part of Plato's Timaeus, his personal dedication to Osius. This introductory letter is thus one of the most important elements used to identify the time and location of Calcidius' life. The letter suggests that Osius gave Calcidius the task of not only translating the Timaeus from Ancient Greek to Latin, but also of annotating the text, and, according to Calcidius, this was something that had never been tried before (operis intemptati ad hoc tempus). In some manuscripts, there are inscriptions which shed light on this: "Osius episcopo Calcidius archidiaconus". This suggests that Osius is a Bishop, and Calcidius his archideacon. In this epoch there was indeed an Osius, Bishop of Cordova (approximately 257-357 CE) who was an important figure in western Christianity. Osius played an important role in the defense of the orthodoxy in the Councils of Nicea (325 CE) and Sardica (344 CE), and was dedicated to fighting Arianism. If it is this Osius whom Calcidius addresses in his dedication, then Calcidius wrote his annotated translation in around 325-350 CE.
However, Waszink, the most recent editor of Calcidius, disagrees , believing that Calcidius must have lived at the end of the 4th century or even at the beginning of the 5th. According to Waszink, the intellectual attitude reflected in Calcidius' work (the mix of neoplatonic and Christian thought) would be that of Milan of the end of the 4th century, an epoch in which the Italian city was a center of neoplatonism both pagan and Christian, and where Osius might have been an active imperial official around 395 CE. There is, though, no evidence of this supposed Osius of Milan. Also, Raymond Klibansky observed that Isidore of Seville, who usually highlighted the Hispanic origin of writers of the past, does not mention Calcidius. This argument, that Calcidius is related to Milan around 395 CE, has been refuted by Dillon, who returns to the ancient, traditional hypothesis sustained in the inscription, and points out:
- that Isidore did not mention all the Hispanic authors who existed before his epoch.
- that the work of Calcidius scarcely had any influence in late antiquity, and was only consulted again after the 12th century; i.e., many centuries after Isidore's time.
- and that the Platonic character of Calcidius' work would be a more than sufficient reason for Isidore (a fervent and devout Christian) not to include it among the famous authors of the early centuries of Hispanic Christianity.
According to Dillon, at around 350 CE it would have been impossible for "a real Christian" to have written a commentary to "a pagan text" like the Timaeus, especially in a manner that is clearly more partisan of the Platonic ideas that of the proper Christian faith.
Moreschini disagreees with both the traditional and the Waszink hypotheses. For Moreschini, the inscription might be an invention of someone who lived in the epoch in which Calcidius was re-discovered, namely, the 12th century.
References and notes
- Waszink JH (1964) Studien zum Timaioskommentar des Calcidius, I. Die erste Hälfte des Kommentars (mit Ausnahme der Kapitel über die Weltseele), Leiden, Brill.
- ????Continuity of the Platonic Tradition During the Middle Ages by Raymond Klibansky Kraus Intl Pubns (September 1982) ISBN 0527501301
- Commentario al Timeo di Platone, Milano, 2003 ISBN 88-452-9232-0
- BOEFT, J. DEN, Calcidius on fate. His doctrine and sources, Leiden, 1970.
- Boeft, J. De, Calcidius on demons (Commentarius ch. 127-136), Leiden, 1977.
- Calcidio, Commentario al «Timeo» di Platone (testo latino a fronte), a cura di Claudio Moreschini, con la collaborazione di Marco Bertolini, Lara Nicolini, Ilaria Ramelli, Bompiani, Il Pensiero Occidentale, Milán, 2003.
- Easterling PE., Knox BMW (eds.)(1990).Historia de la literatura clásica (Cambridge University). I. Literatura griega, vers. esp. Federico Zaragoza Alberich, Madrid,
- Gersh S (1986) Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism: The Latin Tradition, Publications in Medieval Studies, vol. 23. University of Notre Dame Press.
- Platon, Oeuvres Complètes. Tomo X. Timée, Critias, texte établi et traduit par Albert Rivaud, Les Belles Lettres, París, 1970 (5ª reimpr.).
- Winden, Van JMC (1959) Calcidius on matter. His doctrine and sources. A chapter in the history of platonism, Leiden, Brill, 1959.
- Plato's Timaeus by Calcidius, in a Manuscript of the 12th century found in Osney Abbey. Bodleian Library Collection.
- Was Calcidius Spanish? The Timaeus and Atlantis in Gibraltar. Georgeos Díaz-Montexano. Madrid, February, 2007 (original article in Spanish).