Calcidius ( the name commonly used form Chalcidius is not authentic ) was a late ancient scholar and philosopher ( Platonist ). Apparently he lived in the late 4th and early 5th century. He seems to have been a Christian, but there is no certainty about it. His partial translation of Plato's Timaeus into Latin with a detailed commentary achieved an exceptionally strong aftereffect in the Middle Ages.


Over the life of the Calcidius almost nothing is known. Earlier it was believed that he lived in the first half of the 4th century. A clue offered the dedicatory letter of his work. Calcidius dedicated it to his close friend Osius, on whose behalf he had written it. His remarks can be seen that Osius was a scholar, who was regarded as authority. In one part of the manuscript tradition Osius is called bishop of Córdoba and Calcidius as archdeacon. In fact, it was in late antiquity a bishop of Cordoba called Ossius ( Hosius ), who died in 357 or 358. According to the current state of research, however, is the equation of Calcidius ' friend with this bishop is not credible; the information was of some manuscripts do not earn trust. There is no convincing evidence that Calcidius lived on the Iberian Peninsula. More plausible is the assumption of the publisher Jan Hendrik Waszink that he exercised his literary activity in northern Italy. Waszink assumes mainly from linguistic reasons that Calcidius has the Timaeus around the turn of the 4th translated and commented to the 5th century.

That Calcidius Christ was, is inferred from a number of places where he refers to biblical passages and the exegesis of the " Hebrews ". However, a compelling testament to his affiliation to Christianity is not that, but it just shows that he turns to Christian readers. In research, there are still doubts that he was a Christian.

Translation and commentary on the Timaeus

The Timaeus translation with commentary is, as far as known, the only work of Calcidius and the only Latin Plato comment antiquity. Stock is only a part of the dialog ( 17a to 53c ), which accounts for less than the first half. The comment refers only to the text of 31c to 53c, as Calcidius not considered in need of explanation to start with.

The commentator explains the substance is not systematic but selective. He listed 27 topics, the discussion of which he announces; but receive only his comments on the topics 1-13. Whether this is due to incompleteness of the traditional text, or that the work remained unfinished, is unknown. Among the topics discussed in detail include the question of the createdness or eternity of the world, the providence and fate and the nature of matter.

Calcidius writes that a doctrine can appear dark and thus in need of explanation for three reasons. It 'll provide that the author himself present them in such a way that it is aware of ( what Calcidius cites as examples Heraclitus and Aristotle ) or disability. The other two reasons are inadequate grasp of the audience and the difficulty of the topic. In the Timaeus the challenging issue is the cause of the difficulties in understanding; Plato presupposes considerable knowledge in arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music ( the ancient terminology by " mathematical " subjects) in his readers. As a result, the requirement for Calcidius commenting.

In the Timaeus commentary to Calcidius based on Greek sources. In the works of Plato, he was knowledgable. With him were apparently the treatise of Mittelplatonikers Numenios "On the Good " and the Timaeus commentary of the Peripatetic Adrastus of Aphrodisias available that are now lost except for fragments. However, it is also possible that he had no direct access to these works, but they knew only from quotations. Numenius, Philo of Alexandria and Origen he calls by name. With the exception of Origen, he shows no knowledge of the writings of the Church Fathers. Whether he used the now preserved only in fragments of Porphyry comment to Timaeus, is controversial. He also refers to statements of Aristotle reference, but it is unclear whether he had direct access to his works. The view expressed in older literature suggest that Calcidius 've used the comment of Macrobius on Cicero's Somnium Scipionis is not true, since the work of Macrobius is created according to the current state of research until much later.

In the astronomical part Calcidius tries to show that Plato's cosmology is compatible with the widely used in the late Hellenistic astronomical teachings. He identified the Star of Bethlehem with the Sirius ( " Dog Star "); apparently this is the only ancient attempt to equate with a known star.

In discussing the mathematical subjects he used 25 charts, it takes from some older literature, partly himself has devised. The geometric and arithmetic diagrams have the shape of geometrical figures. In music theory serve to illustrate the harmonic numbers diagrams in the form of the letter lambda ( Λ ), the same time illustrate the harmony of the world soul. This style appeared here for the first time on in Latin literature.


Although Calcidius lived in a time in which the Mittelplatonismus had been replaced by the Neo-Platonism, the opinion is held that he could be seen more as Mittelplatoniker in research. This is justified by the fact that his views seem hardly departing from the scope of the spread in Mittelplatonismus thought. However, many historians of philosophy consider him a Neo-Platonists; they point out that some of his positions are not attested before Porphyry. He shares the usual non-Christian Middle and Neoplatonists extraordinary respect for Plato's authority. The different positions of previous Platonist commentators, and he mentions rare, as he thinks that they have the doctrine only partially understood and judged on the basis of inadequate understanding. It assigns are not in the Platonic tradition, but instead emphasizes its independence in the immediate recourse to the text of Plato. Yet little originality to him is credited in modern research; the attention of historians of philosophy is primarily directed to the question of his sources.

In the doctrine of angels and demons Calcidius based both on medium platonic as well as on biblical ideas; he sees in benign and malignant spirits - both he calls both "Angel " and " demons " - Tools of Divine Providence. As a mediator between the heavenly and the earthly realm they are necessary for him parts of the world order, which he conceives both physically and metaphysically as a continuum.

In cosmology Calcidius has the principle of analogy to a central role. He starts from the mathematical analogy ( similarity ratio ) and then applies the analogy concept also outside mathematics, for example, in his theory of the elements and in demonology. To illustrate, he uses diagrams. The Greek term analogy he gives back with latin ratio. He emphasizes the analogy between the world soul and the human soul, between the human body and the " world body " ( corpus mundanum ) and between the cosmos and the human being as microcosm ( mundus brevis ). In the structure of the human body, he finds an analogy to the tripartite ideal state of Plato: the main corresponds to Plato's philosopher ruling stand, the chest of the guard booth as executive body and the lower body of artisans and peasants. He intensively concerned with the nature of matter, the one used to call since Aristotle Hyle. Since the basic meaning of the Greek word "forest" is used Calcidius - as far as known as the first Latin author - the Latin word for "forest", silva, to denote the unformed, featureless primordial matter.

Calcidius treated teachings of the Stoics, which he rejects as a Platonist. He emphasizes the contrast between Stoic and Platonic philosophy, which he found in the diversity of views on the freedom of the will, the fate and the role of matter in the world order, among other things. About the teaching traditions of the various schools of philosophy he knows well informed.


A Calcidius reception in late ancient authors has been variously suggested, but evidence so far succeeded in any case.

In the Middle Ages the Timaeus of the Latin -speaking scholarly world of the West was known primarily through the translation and commentary of the Calcidius, but also the older part translation of Cicero was in some places available. Often no distinction was made between the content of Plato's dialogue and the comments, so that views of the Calcidius were regarded as Plato's view. Copies of the translation and the commentary were in Gaul in the 6th century, present in Hispania later than the 7th century. The oldest preserved Calcidius manuscripts date from the 9th century. Even then, the comment has been glossed. Later, the Glossary has been expanded. In the course of time, a standard glosses that accompanied the text in the transcripts and even in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance was supplemented established. Some glossators added a diagrams; they replaced the diagrams in the text of Calcidius modified by the marginal notes or sided with their own diagrams.

In the second half of the 10th century studied two of the most famous scholars, Abbo of Fleury and Gerbert of Aurillac, the work of Calcidius and participated in their writings refer to it. At the time of these scholars and may in connection with its activities, the "Brussels glosses " a mathematical Glossary arisen for comment, with Diagrams in the Glos Sators in a manuscript, which is now in Brussels.

In the 11th century the interest in the comment surged and reached a climax; 18 then prepared comment manuscripts are preserved. Two entries ( accessus ), added to a Plato and a too Calcidius, some copies were. The accessus to Calcidius contained the legend of its connection with the Bishop of Córdoba Ossius. From the 12th century wrote to the Timaeus translation usually without comment, which was supplanted by the emerging medieval commentary.

Bernard of Chartres and William of Conches, two prominent representatives of the " School of Chartres ," which commented on the Timaeus, grappled with the work of her predecessor Calcidius. It Bernhard showed a strikingly critical attitude, while Wilhelm came to a more positive assessment of the performance of the late antique scholars. The cosmology and anthropology of Bernard Silvestris can the influence of Calcidius ' analogy thinking recognize, and also in the famous work De planctu Naturae of Alanus from Insulis you will find ideas from late antiquity Timaeus comment.

In the context of the unfolding Italian Renaissance humanism in the late 14th and in the 15th century, interest in Calcidius took too strong, as evidenced by the number of received or attested manuscripts. Most major public and princely libraries in Italy and numerous humanists possessed copies of the Timaeus translation and / or the comment. Marsilio Ficino made ​​in 1454 by hand a copy of the comment, in which he entered notes. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola also knew his copy with notes.

1520 Timaeus translation and commentary were first printed; The publisher was the humanist Agostino Giustiniani, Bishop of Nebbio. 1718, John Albert Fabricius in Hamburg a new edition out.

In the 18th century turned to Johann Lorenz von Mosheim opposite direction to Ralph Cudworth and Johann Albert Fabricius believes that Calcidius was a Christian, and justified in detail his view that he was neither a Christian nor a pure Platonist, but eclectic.

The reputation which had enjoyed Calcidius in the early modern period, disappeared in modernity; In the 19th century it was judged as a mere compiler contemptuously.

Text editions and translations

  • Jan Hendrik Waszink (ed.): Timaeus a Calcidio Translatus commentarioque instructus. The Warburg Institute, London, 1962 ( Plato Latinus. Volume 4 )
  • Claudio Moreschini (ed.): Calcidio: Commentario al " Timeo " di Platone. Bompiani, Milano 2003, ISBN 88-452-9232-0 ( non-critical edition of the Latin Timaeus translation and commentary with Italian Translation )