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CALCIDIUS COMMENTARY ON PLATOS TZMAEUS

AND ITS PLACE IN THE COMMENTARY


TRADITION: THE CONCEPT OF ANALOGZA
IN TEXT AND DIAGRAMS

ANNA SOMFAI

Calcidius wrote his Commentary in the late fourth century AD to elucidate his Latin
translation of Timaeus 17a-53c. It is the earliest extant Latin exposition of Platos
dialogue. Based on Greek sources but aimed at a Latin-speaking audience, the Middle
Platonic text stands at the beginning of the Latin Platonic commentary tradition. It served
as the primary source for studying Plato throughout the Middle Ages and into the
Renaissance? The Commentary secured the Timaeus a place of unparalleled importance in
the history of medieval western philosophy and determined the way in which the dialogue
was read, interpreted, and used in teaching. For about a thousand years Plato meant almost
exclusively the Timaeus and the Timaeus meant primarily Calcidius rendering and
~ommentary.~
Calcidius, in modern scholarship, is generally considered a mere transmitter of Greek
philosophical concepts. His Commentary, therefore, has been approached with an eye for

Edited in Waszink 1962, with a large apparatus criticus, an introduction on Calcidius and his sources, and a
survey of the manuscripts.
* Another, uncommented Latin version of the Timaeus is extant, Ciceros rendering from the first century BC,
covering 27d-47b, with some passages omitted. No attempt was made to translate the entire dialogue until the
fifteenth century, hence the later medieval readers were still limited to the first part of Platos text in Calcidius
interpretation and were guided by his exegesis. No other Platonic dialogue was available in Latin until the
middle of the twelfth century, when Henricus Aristippus translated the Meno and the Phaedo. According to the
manuscript evidence and the medieval references, however, these translations, along with Ciceros version of the
Timaeus, acquired only a very limited circulation. There are about a dozen extant copies of the Meno and
Phaedo, about 16 manuscripts of Ciceros rendering, while of Calcidius translation of the Timaeus 129
manuscripts survived, of these 42 contain the Commentary as well, and a further 11 manuscripts hold the
Commentary alone. During the thirteenth century, William of Moerbeke translated Proclus commentary on the
Parmenides, including the first part of the dialogue (Parmenides 126a-142a). which attained a similarly narrow
circulation (only five 14*- and 15*-century manuscripts are extant).
Starting with the earliest, ninth-century copies, Calcidius translation and commentary both acquired in their
medieval manuscripts ever-growing sets of marginal and interlinear glosses, the successors of the ancient Greek
scholia. By adding these glosses, the anonymous readers created a second layer of commentary that was in
immediate dialogue with the texts. Based largely on these glosses and on Calcidius Commentary, two
substantial works were produced in the first half of the twelfth century by Bernard of Chartres and William of
Conches. For the medieval reception see Dutton 1996, Hankins 1999, Klibansky 1939, Somfai 1998 and Somfai
2002.

GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES


203
204 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

the sources and studied in isolated sections. Consequently no analysis of the Commentary
as such has been put forward so far. I shall argue that on the contrary, the Commentary
has a coherent and original structure and provides an ingenious reading of the dialogue.
I propose that a single idea formed the hermeneutic axis of Calcidius Commentary: he
regarded the concept of analogia as the principle on which Timaeus universe was built.
He considered this universe also as a model through which the working of various
manifestations of the concept was to be studied. He started off from the mathematical use
of analogia then, following Platonic examples, he experimented with it beyond the
primary context of mathematics and expanded it into a many-layered framework that
served as the centre of his Timaeus exegesis. He explored the adaptability of the concept
of analogia by applying it in his reading of various passages of the dialogue. He
developed it into a method that allowed him to comment on and engage with Platos
philosophy beyond the immediate study of the Timaeus.
The questions with which I am here concerned in particular are the following. To what
extent is the use of mathematics present in the structure of the Commentary? How did
Calcidius use the concept of analogia throughout his exegesis? What is the role of the
application of mathematical diagrams in his exposition? And finally, at what conclusions
did Calcidius arrive regarding use of analogia in philosophical and scientific inquiries in
general?

I. The commentator and his commentary

The only evidence concerning the dates and places of Calcidius life comes from the text
itself and is not only meagre but also inconclusive. He addressed his work to a certain
Osius who commissioned him to translate the Timaeus but not, it appears, to produce a
commentary. Two persons can be linked to the name Osius: a bishop of Cordova in the
Hispanic peninsula, active around the middle of the fourth century and an imperial officer
living in Milan, in Italy towards the end of the same century! The medieval readers for
their part took the first option and considered Calcidius the bishops archdeacon, as is
witnessed in a brief accessus copied into some manuscripts from the eleventh century
onward. Hence they identified him as a Christian. The philosophical content and linguistic
characteristics of the text suggest that he was probably not a Christian, though they do not
rule this out. The text does not help to decide the exact date and place of the
Commentarys origin either. More important are the facts that he was well-versed both in
Greek and in Latin, used mostly Greek philosophical texts with occasional references to
Roman literature. He displayed no knowledge of the contemporary Christian fathers,

For mapping out the general content and sources of sections of the Commentary see van Winden 1959, den
Boeft 1970 and den Boeft 1977. For a more general overview see Dillon 1977.
Though in the present article I am concerned with Calcidius Commentary rather than its medieval reception, I
owe the textual and diagrammatic glosses of an early, anonymous medieval commentator for the starting point of
my own reading of the text. Calcidius tenth-century reader not only added brief comments in the margins of his
manuscript (now MS Brussels, Bibliothtque Royal 9625-9626), but he skilfully deconstructed and reconstructed
the mathematical diagrams he had found in his volume. By doing so, he took an approach towards the Timaeus
and its Commentary that has remained uncommon in the commentary tradition: he gave mathematics a
fundamental role in untangling the concepts of both Plato and Calcidius. See Somfai forthcoming.
Calcidius referred in his prefatory letter to his friendship with Osius as an inspiration in carrying out the
difficult task of translating Platos dialogue. The text is too topos-like to serve as a necessary indication of a real-
life friendship. He also implied that Osius himself could have produced a better translation of the Timaeus,but
again the statement can be a mere captatio benevolentiae. See Epistula, 5,l-10. On Calcidius see Dutton 2002
and Somfai 1998, ch. 1.
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 205

Greek or Latin, with the exception of Origen, the source for his single Biblical reference?
He was very familiar with the works of Plato and Aristotle and the concepts of the main
classical and Hellenistic Greek philosophical schools. It is most likely that he himself was
educated in the Greek tradition. He was a skilful compiler of details, but someone with a
keen mind for the possibilities of developing large conceptual frameworks.
The assumptions Calcidius made of his readers' knowledge of elementary mathematics
and philosophical concepts suggests that his primary audience was an educated, Latin-
speaking group of scholars. Through his exegesis of the Timaeus he provided a Latin
summary of some of the fundamental themes of classical and Hellenistic Greek
philosophy. The structure of his Commentary and his use of diagrams are suggestive of
the environment of teaching. His approach to Plato and Greek philosophy in general was
in essence different from that of the near contemporary Latin Christian fathers, Ambrose,
Augustine, and Jerome. Whether he was aware of their trends and his aim was to
challenge their teaching, though without an obvious polemic edge, is unclear, but he
certainly offered an alternative interpretation of Plato that was closely studied by the
medieval readers.

11. The scope and method of the Timaeus according to Calcidius

Calcidius took the Timaeus to be a dialogue about the state and 'causa et ratio' of the
universe.' His choice of the word 'ratio' in one of the opening sentences that set out the
Commentary could not be accidental. The term is a central to the Commentary. While it
can be used in various meanings, including 'state' and 'cause', 'ratio' is the Latin
translation of the Greek analogia or proportion and Calcidius used it in that sense
throughout his text.
Calcidius regarded the interlocutors' mention of the previous day's conversation a
reference to the Republic whose key theme in his view was j u ~ t i c e He . ~ considered
Socrates' investigation in the Republic into the nature of human justice and law to be
analogous with Timaeus' exploration of the laws of nature in the Timaeus." He
strengthened the emphasis on the parallel in the nature and function of laws in these two
contexts by pointing out the intertextual borrowing of imagery. In the course of his search
for human justice, Socrates introduced the image (efigies) of the republic. This image was
re-introduced by Timaeus within his query into the nature of the universe (mundus
sensilis)."
Calcidius used an intertextual comparison in considering Plato's method as well:

'Comment. 276-278,280-283.
Comment. 2; 58,l-2: 'In hoc porro libro cum de statu agatur universae rei omniumque eorum quae mundus
complectitur causa et ratio praestetur ..'.
'Comment. 5 ; 59.3-5: 'Nam cum pridie Socrates decem libris omnibus de re publica disputasset, ad quem
tractatum non ex principali causa sed ex consequenti descenderat - siquidem cum de iustitia quaeri coeptum
fuisset ...'.
'Comment. 6 ; 59,14-20: '... cum in illis libris [Republic] quaesita atque inventa videretur esse iustitia quae
versaretur in rebus humanis, superesse autem ut naturalis aequitatis fieret investigatio pimaeus] ...'.
" Comment. 6; 59,22-60,3:'Socrates, cum de iustitia dissereret qua homines utuntur, induxit effigiem civilis rei
publicae, ita Timaeus Locrensis ex Pythagorae magisterio, ... earn iustitiam qua divinum genus adversum se
utitur in mundi huius sensilis, veluti quadam communi urbe ac re publica voluit inquiri'.
206 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

... haec [Timaeus] quippe naturalis, illa [Parmenides] epoptica disputatio est,
naturalis quidem, ut imago nutans aliquatenus et in veri simili quadam stabilitate
contenta, epoptica vero, quae ex sincerissimae rerum scientiae fonte manat.I2

The Timaeus uses physica, the tool for studying the visible universe, the becoming, while
the Parmenides is based on epoptica, the state in which one is able to contemplate the
eternal being. The terminology recalls Timaeus labelling of his account as a likely story
(29d) and the methods match the subjects of the dialogues: the world of likeness is
explored through a method that is content with likeness, while the truth is approached
through a method of pure contemplation. Calcidius returned to the question of method in
his exposition on the passage Plato devoted to daemons. He found that this particular
question, the nature of the invisible divine daemons, is an exception whereby the superior
method of epoptica should be used.I3 The expression epoptica, which denotes the state of
mind that allows an insight into the higher realm, does not occur in any other Latin text. It
was possibly the Symposium (210a) and the Phaedrus (250c) that gave Calcidius the idea
of using the transliterated form of the Greek e x p r e ~ s i o n . The
~ question then is what
Calcidius meant by these two methods, and how did he use them in his Commentary?

111. The scope, method, and structure of the Commentary

Calcidius translation and Commentary cover the first half of the dialogue and are divided
into two parts, 17a-39e and 39e-53c respectively. He intended to continue translating and
commenting on the rest of the Timaeus if he were to gain the approval of his addressee.
Whether he never obtained the approval and left his work unfinished or the remaining
sections are now lost is unclear, but no record has remained of any consequent translation
or exposition. The extant work stops at a point of natural division and is symmetrical in
structure.
He left both the mythological stories and the discussion of the previous days
conversation on the state uncommented, dismissing the entire introductory frame as
simple narratives and old tales from the past.I6 In the introductory letter that prefaces the
translation and in the first chapters of the Commentary, he briefly outlined his motive for
the translation and the methods he followed in the commentary:

... primas partes Timaei Platonis aggressus non solum transtuli sed etiam partis
eiusdem commentarium feci putans reconditae rei simulacrum sine interpretationis
explanatione aliquanto obscurius ips0 exemplo futurum .17

*Comment. 272; 277,523: . . . this [Timaeus] is a natural scientific discussion, while that [Parmenides] is an
epoptic one; the natural, as some kind of an image, wavers and is content with the stability of a sort of likeness,
the epoptic, however, is that which flows from the fountain of the most true knowledge.
l 3 Comment. 127; 170,6: ... inquisitio istius rei primariae supervectaeque contemplationis sit, quae appellatur
epoptica. altior aliquanto quam physica, proptereaque nobis, qui de rerum natura nunc disputamus, nequaquam
conveniens esse videatur.
l4 For the use of ~ T T ~ T T Tsee
T I Kalso
~ Proclus comment to Tim. 27a. Diels 1903, vol. 1,204.
Epistula, 6,9-12.
i6 Comment. 4; 58,26-59,2: Denique de principio libri, quo simplex narratio continebatur rerum ante gestarum
et historiae veteris recensitio nihil dixi rationem tamen totius operis et scriptoris propositum et ordinationem
libri declaranda esse dux?.
Epistula, 6,6-9: ... having embarked on the first parts of Platos Timueus, I not only prepared a translation but
also provided a commentary to the same part, bearing in mind that the image of something profound would be,
without an explanation of the rendering, more obscure than the model itself. See also Commentary 4; 58,19-22:
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 207

The images of exemplar for Platos text and simulacrum for his own translation
correspond to the two main poles of Timaeus cosmological exposition: the exemplar, the
world of ideas, and its imperfect simulacrum, the visible universe. It is also a parallel to
Timaeus initial warning that the account of the creation is only a likely story in
comparison with creation itself. The play with the various possibilities of the notion of
model and copy points to the central place the concept held in Calcidius thinking. The
analogous thinking pattern present at various levels in Calcidius exposition is resonant
with the large-scale method of unalogiu inherent in the dialogue.
Calcidius proposed that the Timaeus had appeared for the ancients a difficult read due to
their erroneous approach. The proper method of investigation is always to address each
problem that arises through the specific discipline to which it belongs. Studying the
motion of the stars pertains to astronomy, sounds have to be studied through music, and
the nature of wounds can be revealed through medicine.IgThe questions that concern the
study of the sensible world - the subject of the Timaeus - have to be addressed through
arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.20Accordingly, Calcidius devoted the entire
first part, about one third of the Commentary, to an introduction to the concepts of
mathematics relevant to the reading of the Timaeus.
Calcidius source for the mathematical approach was probably a group of Greek texts
produced during the 2dcentury AD Pythagorean revival in the Timaeus commentary
tradition. Theon of Smyrna2 and Nicomachus of Gerasa started from the assumption
that the understanding of the Timaeus requires familiarity with mathematics and that
mathematics in general provides the path for the souls elevation to higher realms of
thinking. They did so on the authority of Platos Republic and the Pseudo-Platonic
Epinomis, which they considered, as did Calcidius, a genuine work of Plato. Their works
contain several diagrams, of which some appear in Calcidius text as well. In three
respects, however, Calcidius differed greatly from his Greek predecessors. Firstly, Theon
of Smyrna and Nicomachus of Gerasa produced very detailed introductions to the various
branches of mathematics with meticulous definitions, as those of the number or the line.
Calcidius never provided any such detail but instead focused exclusively on concepts,
more precisely on the concept of proportion. He thus shifted the approach from the
encyclopaedic textbooks to philosophical discourse. Secondly, he did not discuss
arithmetic and geometry as separate disciplines, but combined the two through his use of
diagrams as visual aids in explaining the working of geometrical proportion. This again
allowed him to focus on concepts rather than on details. The disciplines then ceased to be
disciplines as such and gave way to mathematics in its more abstract form. And thirdly, he
addressed some of the questions of ontology and epistemology interwoven in the body of
the mathematical text.

sola translatione contentus non f u i ratus obscuri minimeque illustris exempli simulacrum sine interpretatione
translatum in eiusdem aut etiam maioris obscuritatis vitio futurum.... Though Calcidius work is essentially a
lemmatic commentary, he pointed out that, in order to avoid to insult the readers intelligence by commenting on
the obvious, he would only comment on those sections that needed explanation, see Comment. 4; 58,22-26.
Comment. 1; 573-6.
Comment. 1; 57,6-13.
O
Comment. 2; 585-7.
21 Ed. Hiller 1878.
Ed. Hoche 1866.
208 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

The first part of the Commentary contains the account of the creation of the universes
body and soul. The second part discusses the nature of the created beings: celestial bodies,
daemons and humans, ending with an exposition on matter. The structure and method of
the two parts differ. In the first part, the text is constructed around twenty-five
mathematical diagrams described in a way consistent with the practice of Greek
mathematical textsz In the second part Calcidius summarised the opinions of various
Greek philosophical schools and individual philosophers on the topics present in the
Timaeus, then in each case he provided his own view.
In what way are these two parts, so different methodologically, connected and how do
they contribute to the reading of the dialogue? I suggest that in the first part of the
Commentary, Calcidius gave an introduction to the four mathematical disciplines to the
extent they are relevant to Platos philosophy in general and to the cosmology of the
Timaeus in particular. In the second part he then built on the quadrivial eisagoge and used
mathematics in the specific way that he attributed to Plato, namely as the path, through
which the soul or intellect ascends, gradually arriving at a state in which the grasping of
the highest philosophical truths becomes possible. The soul, or intellect, understands the
structure of the universe through its mathematical rules. The laws of mathematics were
considered unerring; hence they provide a method that can be used universally for
inquiring into the nature of things. Learning mathematics then provides a pattern of
thought that facilitates the soul with the perception of abstract notions.

IV. The mathematical concept of analogia and Calcidius use of diagrams

The mathematical concept of analogia provided the starting-point for Calcidius in his
reading of the Timaeus. Ignoring the themes raised in Timaeus narrative prior to the
mathematical sections,% he at once turned to mathematics, and more precisely to the
concept of proportion. According to Platos creation narrative the cosmos came into
existence as a result of the demiurges imposing a mathematical order on a substance that
lacked shape and quality but contained the traces of the four elements.25 What comes into
being must be corporeal, visible, and tangible. Nothing can be visible without fire or
tangible without earth. From fire and earth the demiurge began to construct the body of
the cosmos. Two things, however, cannot be linked without a third one. If the universe
were a two-dimensional surface one connecting element, one mean or middle term would
suffice. But since the cosmos is a three-dimensional solid, two means were needed; hence
the insertion of air and water. The best bond for linking the elements is the geometrical
proportion, as it ensures the unbreakable and beautiful unity of the cosmic body. The
elements form a chain, as do numbers in proportion, in both cases allowing movement in
both directions of the chains. As fire is to air, so is air to water, as air is to water so is
water to earth. Or in the language of arithmetic: 16 is to 8 as 8 is to 4,8 is to 4 as 4 is to 2.
Calcidius explained and examined the nature of proportion by introducing diagrams.
These diagrams are the visual centres around which he arranged his textual explanation of
Platonic mathematics and cosmology. There are six arithmetical and geometrical diagrams
that pertain to the edifice of the universes body, three musical diagrams that depict the

For the tradition of Greek lettered diagrams see Netz 1999.


These themes include the metaphysical questions as well: the nature of the being and the becoming; whether
the universe has always existed or it had a beginning; the eternal model; likeness; the goodness of god as the
cause of creation; and whether there is only one universe. These ignored themes surface later, interwoven in
Calcidius mathematical inquiry.
25 Tim. 3 1-32.
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 209

souls harmonious structure and the rest are astronomical diagrams, including one that
visualises the creation of the souls circles.%
All the geometrical, arithmetical and musical diagrams visualise the concept of
proportion. What purpose do diagrams serve? They could be accounted for by situating
the Commentary within the Greek mathematical tradition. Their use could also be a matter
of elucidating the concept of analogia, which appears simple to a modern reader and
indeed was commonplace for a Greek scholar, whose education included such concepts,
but may have presented a puzzle for a late ancient reader of Latin texts. Calcidius
assumed that his audience was not familiar with the concept at the level that the
interpretation of the Timaeus required. Diagrams, however, served beyond their primary
explanatory power another important purpose in Calcidius text. Their textual description,
as I shall discuss below, introduced the terminology of mathematical analogia and the
associated thinking process, which could be transferred to other fields. Above all, for
Calcidius the concept of proportion was the basis of the Platonic universe. Approaching
the notion of analogia from as many angles as possible raised the readers awareness of
the crucial role of the concept in the dialogue and Commentary.
Calcidius diagrams combine geometrical and arithmetical features. The diagrams he
referred to as geometrical proofs are lettered diagrams, and the ones he called
arithmetical proofs are diagrams where he replaced letters with numbers. He used in the
description of the numbered type verbi causa, for example, as if he had intended them
as examples for more general rules, presented in the geometrical diagrams.28Diagrams 1,
2 and 3 describe plane figures where there is one mean or middle term. Diagram 1 (Fig. 1)
is an arithmetical proof the middle term is 12, the area of the rectangle, which is the
visual mean between the two extreme rectangles with the areas of 6 and 24 respectively.
Diagram 2 (Fig. 2) gives the geometrical counterpart of Diagram 1 in the form of a
lettered diagram that visually emphasises the joining of two extremes by a mean. The
description of the diagram introduces the mathematical terminology for proportion: ... ut
enim est BI latus iuxta TZ latus, ita AI latus iuxta T H latus....29Diagram 3 (Fig. 3) is
another geometrical proof, using triangles, again based on the same terminology: ut enim
est AB latus iuxta BE latus, sic IB latus iuxta BA latus?

26The astronomical diagrams are not related to the concept of proportion. Their presence is due to Calcidius
intention to provide a full introduction to all four mathematical disciplines and to emphasise the importance of
vision. They are far too advanced to be mere illustrations of the brief astronomical speculation of Timaeus.
27 The diagrams I include here are not my modem reconstruction, but are based on the medieval manuscripts. In
this way the characteristics of medieval thinking, such as the lack of interest in matching visually the numerical
value attached to a line, could also be preserved.
28 See Diagram 1, Comment. 9; 62, 3-6: ... sit unum latus in momentis verbi causa duobus, aliud latus in
momentis tribus: hoe supputatumfucit aream totius perfecti quudrati momentorum sex, bis enim tria sex sunt.
29 Comment. 1 1 ; 63,9-10: ... as the side BT is to the side rZ, so is the side Ar to the side TH.
30 Comment. 12; 64.6-7. See also Euclid, Elements, book VI. prop. 8 and Eutocius in Thomas 1939, vol. 1, 263-
265: Platos solution.
210 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

I1 VI 1111 XXIIII

XI1

Figure 3 : Calcidius,
qz
A

H O

Commentary, Diagram 3
A r

After presenting proofs for plane figures, Calcidius turned to the narrative to remind his
readers that the purpose of the diagrams is to explain the demiurges act of inserting air
and water between fire and earth. The universes body is solid, hence diagrams depicting
solids follow, first an arithmetical proof in Diagram 4 (Fig. 4). The volume of each
rectangular solid is given on its right-hand side and the four numbers are in geometrical
proportion (24,48,96, 192).

Figure 4:Calcidius, Commentary, Diagram 4

I1
,f$ xxm II
I11 XLVIII

VI VI

XI1 XXIIII

The first four geometrical and arithmetical diagrams visually illustrate the working of the
geometrical proportion. But what kind of geometrical proportion fits best the function that
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 21 1

the mathematical abstraction is designed to fulfil in the construction of the universe? This
question does not concern the various geometrical, arithmetic, or musical options, but
rather the nature of proportion. The choice is between the continuous (eg. 8:4:2) and
discrete (eg. 8:4 as 6:3) proportions. The first produces a chain of numbers while the
second, retaining the same proportion of 2:1, compares discrete pairs of numbers.
Calcidius presented this choice again both visually and te~tually.~ Diagram 5 , whose arch
structure he took from the Greek Platonic scholia visualises this alternative,
leading the eye to the solution (Fig. 5 ) . It emphasises that the continuous proportion
results in a chain while the discrete proportion works in disrupted sections. The diagram
thus functions as a visual aid for understanding why the demiurge used this particular
proportion when creating a chain of elementary bodies to make up the Universes edifice.

Figure 5 1 Calcidius, Commentary, Diagram 5

CONTINUUM COMPETENS IN DISTANS COMPETENS


TRIBUS FINIBUS IN QUATTUOR FINIBUS

In his description of the diagram, Calcidius generalised the structure of a proportion: the
first term to the second as the second to the third. He used the terminology present in the
descriptions of the geometrical and arithmetical diagrams: ut - iuxta, sic - i ~ x t u . 3Having
~
thus established the right kind of proportion, Calcidius could proceed to a summary: the
demiurge used the continuous geometrical proportion in his act of creation.34The choice
between these two kinds of analogia was based on an alternative present in Platos text.
Plato used the discrete analogia in the Timaeus where he used the terminology of
mathematical proportion for comparing levels of ontology and epi~temology.3~

3Comment. 16; 67,19-68,17.Offering a visually illustrated choice between two possible models was a method
Calcidius used elsewhere too in his Commentary. In the astronomical section diagrams 23 and 24 offer two
possibilities for the explanation of an astronomical phenomenon.
32 For the origins of the arch motif see Brumbaugh 1961
33 Comment. 16; 68.6-9: ... continuum quidem competens in tribus, ut parum, finibus invenitur: sicut primus
iuxta secundum, sic secundus iuxta tertium, hoc est ut octo iuxta quattuor, sic quattuor iuxta duo ... and
Comment. 16; 68,ll-14 Distans autem competens in quattuor minimum limitibus reperitur: sicut primus iuxta
secundum sic tertius iuxta quarturn, id est. ut octo iuxta quattuor. ita sex iuxta tria (non enim possumus
repetentes dicere sic quattuor iuxta sex). As Calcidius explained, the sum of the outer numbers would still
equal that of the inner ones; Comment. 16; 68,14-17:in quibus aeque ut in continui competentisfinibus is qui
confit ab extimis aequalis est ei qui nascitur ex supputatione mediorum, ter enim octo viginti quattuor summam
faciunt, aeque sexies quattuor eandem summam creant.
34 Comment. 17; 68.18-22;to Tim. 32a-c: Utiturergo nunc ratione ac remedio continui competentis ... qua deus
mundi sensilis fabricator usus est, cum extimis mundi limitibus, igni atque terrae, aeris et aqua insereret
medietatem,
35 Tim. 29c. See more below.
212 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

Diagram 6 (Fig.6), the geometrical counterpart of Diagram 4, is a Euclidean diagram.36


In this context it gives the visual impression of a three-dimensional model of the four
elements joined in a bodily sequence. The description again contains the distinctive
terminology: ut est EO latus iuxta @A latus, ita in longum erit EZOHparallelogrammum
iuxta OHTAparallelogrammum; . .. ?7

Figure 6 : Calcidius, Commentary,


Diagram 6

The fact that Calcidius used both in the case of planes and of solids first an arithmetical
diagram with numbers, then geometrical diagrams with letters, suggests a thinking process
from the particular to the general.
At this point, Calcidius introduced with someone might say: the objection that the
presented model for joining elements may not work. Though the concept of continuous
geometrical proportion was sufficiently proven, yet the extreme elements, fire and earth,
have very different shapes (pyramid and cube respectively) having nothing in common,
for which reason the two means could not be established. Plato however, argued
Calcidius, had foreseen this objection and answered it: not only shapes, but qualities too
can join two e ~ t r e m e s . 3Based
~ on this statement, Calcidius set out to achieve two
objectives: firstly, to determine how the fact that fire and earth have opposite qualities can
be used in the argument, and secondly, to untangle how qualities, such as mobility or
immobility, can join the elements. His answer in both cases was the use of continuous
geometrical proportion. He proposed that each element has several qualities but one can
work with a selection of the most characteristic ones (fire is acutus, subtilis and mobilis,
earth is obtunsus, corpulens and immobilis).40As similar things are compared to similar
things, dissimilar things are compared to dissimilar things, from which comparison

36Euclid, Elements, book XI. prop. 33. The diagram that was transmitted in the medieval Calcidius manuscripts
and is edited here does not correspond to the text that describes it. From a visual viewpoint, in the correct
version one of the cubes would be hanging in the air which may have been the reason for not correcting it
during the course of transmission.
37Comment. 19; 70,7-8: ... as the side EO is to the side Oh, so is the side of the EZOH parallelogram to the side
of the OHTA parallelogram.
38 Comment. 20; 71,lO.
39Comment. 21; 71.28-72,2: Cum in tribus sive numeris seu molibus seu potentiis perinde erit medietas imo,
quem ad modum summitas in medio, quoting Tim. 3 lc-32a.
Comment. 21; 72,510
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 213

emerges an equivalence, that is, the continuous geometrical proportion:l The two middle
elements (air and water) have natures that have some of the qualities of each of their
neighbouring elements in common (such as fire and air share subtilitas and mobilitas).
Through these shared qualities, a chain of elements is built:
It was not only the body but also the soul of the universe that was structured according
to continuous geometrical proportion, since both the body and the soul were made up of
the same elements. The first of the three musical diagrams (Fig. 7), called lambda
diagrams because of their shape (probably first introduced by Crantor), depicts the souls
harmony.43

Figure 7: Calcidius, Commentary,


Diagram 7

FORMA PERTINENS
AD PSYCHOGONIAN
I

VIIII
VIII XXVII

Each side of the lambda gives a sequence of numbers (1:2:48on the left and 1:3:9:27on
the right), on the left 2, on the right 3 being on the second and third power. The soul thus
grows mathematically into a three-dimensional entity, a necessary process for it to fill the
solid body. The two middle numbers on each side are the two means. The combination of
numbers also produce the musical intervals that create the musical harmony of the world
soul: 1:2 (an octave); 2:3 (a fifth); 3:4 (a fourth); and 8:9 (a tone). The numbers, put in
numerical sequence, create the intervals of the celestial spheres that accommodate the
planets ( 1 , 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 27), which notion leads to the astronomical section of the
quadrivial eisagoge.

V. Applying the concept of analogia: non-mathematical means in the Commentary

With the emphasis given to mathematics both in the methodological preface and in the
first part of the Commentary, the question arises: what use did Calcidius make of the
concept of analogia in the non-mathematical part of his exegesis? I shall argue that he

4Comment. 21; 72.11-17: ex ipsa contrarietate parilitatem - tam enim similia similibus quam dissimilia
dissimilibus comparantur - et haec est analogia, id est ratio continui competentis: quod enim est acumen
adversum obtunsitatem, hoc subtilitas iuxta corpulentiam, et quod subtilitas iuxta corpulentiam, hoc mobilitas
adversus immobilitate; et si verteris, ut id quod medium est extimumfiat. quae vero sunt extima singillatim in
medio locentur, servabitur analogiae norma.
42 Comment. 22; 72,18-73,4.
43 The second and the third musical diagrams further expand the proportion.
214 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

explored the Platonic universe by taking the presence of the continuous geometrical
proportion as a transitive quality of the cosmos and employed the concept in various
contexts, providing what one might call case studies to prove the applicability of the
abstraction within any area.
The central place of the concept of analogia in the Commentary is clear from Calcidius
terminological rigour. He applied both in the mathematical and in the non-mathematical
contexts a formula that mirrors the Greek one used by Plato and Aristotle in similar
contexts. The Latin formula is present in the instructions for constructing diagrams 1, 2, 3,
4, and 6 and in the textual description of Diagram 5. It goes like this: ut (object) iunta
(object), sic (object) iuxta (object).4 This formula is the equivalent of the Greek formula
of 8 TL (object) np6s (object), TOOTO (object) np6s (object), which is often introduced by
using the term drLaXoyia. Plato applied this terminology in the Timaeus in the passage,
central to Calcidius Commentary, that explains how through analogia the universe was
brought into existence from the four primary elements:

O~TU 84 nvp6s T E Kai yiis b6wp dripa TE b 0 ~ b siv k i u ~)CIS, K a i npbs


tiXXqXa K a e iioov 4v GvvaTbv civdr. T ~ Va h b v X6yov dnEpyaucipEvoS, 8 TI n ~ p
nOp npbs dripa, TOOTO hipa npbs GSop, K a i 8 TL drtp mpbs bSwp, bSwp npbs
yqv, [ v v i ~ q uK~a i tvvEuTi)ua-ro ohpavbv bpa-rbv Kai t r n ~ 6 v . ~ ~

Plato extended the use of analogia beyond comparing things that belong to the same class
into describing parallel ontological and epistemological levels. In a passage - part of
Timaeus introductory explanation of his own account being a likely story - he provided
the archetype for the use of analogia outside the context of mathematics: as becoming is
to being, so is belief to truth.& An entire series of this type of anaZogia appears in the
Republic linking levels of ontology and e p i ~ t e m o l o g yAristotle
.~~ also widely used the
concept of proportion outside its original mathematical context.48
Calcidius concept of analogia is the basis for a method whereby the relationship
between terms of any kind can be defined with precision and conclusions about the nature
of the terms can be drawn. In his use, analogia became a methodological pattern as well
as the transitive quality of the universe. It is transitive on the micro level since the joining
elements make up the entire texture of all bodies and souls in the universe and the
macrostructure of the planetary system is arranged proportionately as well. Proportion
being a mathematical concept, mathematics is the tool that serves as the method of
thinking which facilitates the pondering of the universe, and through that the minds effort
to comprehend philosophical truths and more broadly to acquire any kind of knowledge.
The two case-studies that I present below, Calcidius theory of elements and his

is X to Y, so A is to B.
Tim. 32b-c: Therefore god placed water and air between fire and earth, and making them as far as possible
proportionate with each other - so that fire is to air as air is to water and air is to water as water is to earth - he
bound and composed the visible and tangible heavens.
&Timeus 2 9 ~ ... : T O i S 6k TOG TpbS piV t K E i V O dTKLKaU8t!JTOs,6VTOS 6 i EtK6VOS EtK6TaS hVh h6yOV
T E ~ K E L V W V 6vTas. ij ~i m p npbs y i u ~ u t voboia, TOOTO npbs ~ U T L VMf@ta.

4 7 R e p . VII 534a: K a l 6 TL oboia npbs y l u ~ u t v ,v6qutv npbs 66Eav, Kai 6 TL v6quts npbs 66[av,
~ U T ~ ~ npbs
L ~ LT ~JO T L VK a l Gtdvotav npbs ekauiav. For the use of analogia see also Rep. VI 50%. Rep.
VI 509d-e, Rep. IX 576c-d.
See eg. Arist. Nic. Eth. V. iii. 8: EUTLU &pa ~b Gkatov dvhXoy6v TL. ~b yhp dvdXoyov 06 p6vov ~ U T L
povaStKoD dpt0poD ISLOU,dXX 6Xws dpt0poO. 4 yhp dvaXoyia L U ~ T ~ S ~ U T L X6ywv, K a i t u
TiTTaPUlV tklXiUTOLS.
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 215

discussion of the nature of daemons, are not unrelated and they both are conceptually
original and unique to the Commentary.
Calcidius combined three distinct concepts of elements. He presented the first scheme,
described above, in the first part of the Commentary. He offered three ways in which the
elements can join: either through proportion, or because of their shape (which he
rejected), or owing to shared qualities.
At the beginning of the second part of the Commentary, when discussing the nature of
the various created beings, Calcidius used the concept of analogia as a framework whose
function was now familiar to the reader. Platos brief mention of daemons4 in a list of
deities gave Calcidius an opportunity to demonstrate the application of analogia in the
context of cosmological-theological inquiry. He described the place of daemons in the
universe as a mean in a spatial, quality-based hierarchy of created beings.% Following the
pattern provided by Platos exposition on the joining of elements, firstly Calcidius
announced that there is a need for a mean between the two extreme entities: the divine
immortal beings and the earthly, mortal creatures. It follows that this mean, similarly to
the middle elements, has to have a certain nature that combines the characteristics of each
extreme. This goes back to his long explanation about the elements being joined through
their shared qualities. And finally, he named the daemons as the creatures that meet the
requirements.51Calcidius drew a parallel between the function of the middle elements and
that of daemons. He replaced the elemental qualities with those associated with created
beings, such as mortalis - immortalis. Daemons, by participating in the qualities of the
extreme beings, join them together. At one extreme are the immortal and impassible
celestial creatures, at the other extreme are the mortal humans, subject to passion.
Between these two are the daemons. To provide an even finer distinction, Calcidius
proposed that there are three kinds of daemon: one closer to the celestial creatures,
another closer to man, and one between these two. They share in the qualities of The two
extreme creatures in varying degrees, depending on their spatial position. He assigned as
the abodes of the daemons three regions of the cosmos, each corresponding to an element:
aether, aer, and humecta essentia. These three middle regions are two extremes and a

49 Tim. 40d-41a.
5o I have discussed Calcidius concept of daemonic mean in detail in a recent article: see Somfai 2003. For an
English translation of Calcidius section on daemons and discussion of its sources see den Boeft 1977.
This system could in principle work much like Mendeleevs periodical table: we know the element has to be
there, we know its quantitative description, and so we simply have to look in the right place and find it. The
problem, of course, is the same in the case of both the daemons and the elements. It is in fact entirely arbitrary
what we choose to fill the place of mean as long as we can find some quality that obeys the rules.
52There is of course a marked difference. One can think of a way in which something can be more or less humid
but nothing can be more or less mortal.
53Comment. 13 1; 173,7-20; on Tim. 42d: Quare cum sit divinum quidem et immortale genus animlium caeleste
sidereum, temporarium vero et occiduum passionique obnoxium terrenum, necesse est esse inter haec duo
medietatem aliquam conectentem extimos limites, sicut in harmonia videmus et in ips0 mundo. Ut enim sunt in
ipsis materiis medietates, quae interpositae totius mundi corpus continuant iugiter, suntque inter ignem et
terram duae medietates aeris et aquae, quae mediae tangunt conectuntque extimos limites, sic, cum sit
immortale animal et impatibile idemque rationabile, quod caeleste dicitur, existente item alio mortali
passionibusque obnoxio. genere nostro, necesse est aliquod genus medium fore, quod tam caelestis quam
terrenae naturae sit particeps, idque et immortale esse et obnoxium passioni. Talis porro natura daemonum est,
opinor, habens cum divinitate consortium propter immortalitatem, habens etiam cum occiduis cognationem,
quia est patibile nee immune a passionibus, cuius affectus bonis quoque consulit.
216 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

mean, and the three together form the mean between ignis and terra, the dwelling places
of god and man respectively.
Daemons, being means, serve as messengers and interpreters between god and man and
when needed, they are the tools of divine punishment. They maintain gods power and
justice over man, as well as preserve the bond between the different levels of the
hierarchy of created beings and the different regions of the universe. They are the binding
force in the structure of created beings, just as elements form the bond in the construction
of the universe, both edifices being arranged according to a geometrical proportion,
analogia. Calcidius equated demons with angels and used the mathematical terminology
when he described their position as mean, or middle creatures:

... ut enim deus iuxta angelum, sic angelus iuxta hominem ... .54

Through the definition of the nature of daemons, Calcidius demonstrated the applicability
of the concept for exploring the Platonic universe in fields that were originally left
unexplored. By extending the pattern of extremes and means further, applying it inside a
mean, he analysed the universe inwardly through proportion creating a tool for a process
of potentially infinite search.55
Finally, Calcidius outlined his third concept of elements towards the end of the
Commentary in his long discussion of matter, silva.%He reiterated the scheme of four
elements, but in a fundamentally different way. While the concept itself is present in the
Timaeus, Calcidius replaced the Platonic context of creation with the Aristotelian concept
of matter and employed a new terminology. When he gave the list of the four elements for
the first time in this new context, he replaced aer with spiritus.n This shift of terminology
evokes the Genesis narrative and introduces biblical associations. It is analogous with the
terminological shift from daemons to angels in the section on daemons. Yet having
made this theological reference, Calcidius returned to Greek philosophy, both for his
terminology and his concept. In the mathematical discussion in the first part of the
Commentary he had used three pairs of quality to describe each element: acumen -
obtunsitas, subtilitas - corpulentia, mobilitas - immobilitas.58Now he used only two pairs
of quality: siccitas - humor, calor -frigor. While in the first version the two extremes
share none of the same qualities, but rather appear as absolute opposites to be linked
through the means, in the second version siccitas is shared by fire and earth, and humor is
common to air and water. This link undermines the theory that the qualities were intended
to prove in the first case. What need is there for a mean if fire and earth directly share a
qua1i ty ?
To understand this shift in Calcidius treatment of the elements one must look at the
context. In the first part of the Commentary and in his discussion of daemons Calcidius
explained the structure of the existing universe and set out to prove the function of means,
first in a mathematical and then in a theological concept of the Commentary as a whole.
Toward the end of the second part of the Commentary, the elements appear in connection

54 Comment. 132; 174,4;on Tim. 42d: I . . . since as god is to angel, so is angel to man ...I.

55Another example is the second and third musical diagrams. They are derived from the first lambda diagram
but the proportion is extended so the diagrams provide the limmu.
K, Comment. 3 16-318; 3 12.19-3 14,16.
Comment. 316; 312,20.
58 Comment. 21; 72,14-15.
s9Comment.317-318;313,5-314,16.
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 217

with matter in chaos, that is, matter before creation. Matter (silva) at that stage did not
consist of fire, earth, water or air but was instead the first matter (materia principalis et
corporis prima subiectio), in which (in qua) there was no quality, form, quantity or shape;
these were introduced subsequently by the creator (opifex).60The elements, each sharing
one quality with each of its neighbours, can change into one another. While this concept
of flux draws on the Timaeus, Calcidius theory is more detailed and is based on
Aristotles concept and terminology.61 This interpretation is in sharp contrast to the
Platonic-Calcidian model of proportion. Both the two-quality and the three-quality
versions have Greek models, yet the two seldom occur together and never as parts of a
coherent scheme.62Calcidius used Aristotles terminology and concept for the disorderly
motion that preceded the creation and Platos concept for the ordered elements after the
act of creation. By doing so, he drew together the two philosophers concepts into one
coherent image of the cosmos in a vision that accounts for past and present at once, and
accommodated both versions within the same creation narrative.
In the following diagram I summarise the three contexts within which Calcidius
discussed the relation between the elements and the qualities assigned to them, as well as
the place of created beings in relation to their own qualities and those of the elements
(Fig. 8).

c..
Figure 8
Comment. chs 21-22 Comment. ch. 131 Comment. chs 317-318
acutus impatibilis iccitas
ignis stellae** ignis
subtilis (visibiles)
aether \
mobilis aer aer
humor

obtunsus aqua aqua

corpulentus
terra homines terra
immobilis (visibiles) mortalis iccitas

**Inchapter 132 Deus

At the very end of the extant part of the Commentary, Calcidius provided a conceptual
summary, expanding the use of analogia even further, and pointing to the next topic of
discussion. The various constituents of his argument merged in yet another analogy, one
that returned to the starting point of the Timaeus. He likened, through his terminology, the
organisation of the elements to the re-emerging image of society that is born according to

Comment. 316; 312,19-313,4.


See eg. Aristotle, De generatione et corruptione, 330b.
Nemesius, a contemporary of Calcidius writing in Greek, whose work was wrongly attributed to Gregory of
Nyssa, also listed both the three qualities and the two qualities. In his treatise, however, they are simply part of a
survey of Greek and Roman theories concerning the elements. See Nemesius, ed. Morani 1987,4,145-171. The
work was translated into Armenian, Georgian, Syrian, and Arabic, but only during the Renaissance into Latin.
218 GREEK, ARABIC, AND LATIN COMMENTARIES

geometrical proportion. This is the method to be used in the widest context of Platos
inquiry into the nature of society. Calcidius once more highlighted and generalised the
mathematical terminology within this double-context of natural and political science, in
which analogia again appears as the unerring method of investigation:

Demonstraturus ratione substantias quattuor principalium corporum, quae censentur


elementa, ordinationem quidem vocat habitum eorum iuxta se communicationemque et
quasi quandam societatem, quae nascitur iuxta analogiam, quae talis est: ut hoc iuxta
illud, sic illud iuxta aliud; genituram vero appellat ipsam formam et effigiem. De
quibus, secundum geometricam rationem disputaturus, quae ratio minime nutat
semperque certas et inexpugnabiles affert probationes....@

In the few sentences following this summary Calcidius concluded the extant part of his
Commentary on the note that the mind from an early age acquires knowledge through the
four mathematical sciences, through which it ascends to the peak of

VI. Conclusion

The concept of analogia was Calcidius central model in his exegesis of the Timaeus. In
Platos narrative the placement of the continuous geometrical proportion on matter had
the key role in the act of creation itself. The first part of the Commentary is an analysis of
Platos creation narrative through a study of its mathematics. Calcidius produced an
introduction to the concepts and terminology of arithmetic, geometry, music, and
astronomy in so far as they were relevant to the understanding of the Timaeus. In the
second part of the Commentary, building on his quadrivial eisagoge, he used the method,
concepts and terminology of mathematics within the consideration of non-mathematical
questions.
For Calcidius the continuous geometrical proportion assumed a three-fold role. It is,
first, the principle that lies behind the mathematical structure of the created universe.
Second, it is a pattern of thought that is manifest in the phenomena of the universe and as
such can be discovered and understood by men and serve as a general method. Thirdly, it
is the chief pattern of thought he used in his own analysis of the Timaeus. His exegesis
itself is a case-study for the use of the continuous geometrical proportion, as he assumed
Plato had meant it to be used.
The concluding thought of the extant part of the Commentary conjures up the path to
philosophy: the mastering of mathematical thinking. The understanding of the laws of
nature and the structure of the universe enables the clearer understanding of the exemplar
whose working they make visible. Beyond the structural schemes lies, as is clear from the
brief references at the beginning and end of the Commentary, the Platonic search for a
method of founding the ideal human society.

Comment. 355;345,21-27, on Tim. 53b-c: As he is about to demonstrate by reasoning the substances of the
four elementary bodies, which are considered to be the elements, he calls the order their arrangement among
themselves, a connection and association, which is born according to a proportion, which is as follows: as this is
to that, so is that to another; and he calls this creation the shape and image themselves. He is about to discuss
these according to the geometrical proportion, the proportion that wavers the least and is always certain and
offers indisputable proofs .... Compare the terminology with Comment. 272; 2 7 7 5 8 (quoted above in n. 12).
Comment. 355; 346,s-8: a pueris aetas illa veluti principiis altioris doctrinae et tamquam gradibus
inbuebatur geometrica, musica. arithmetica, astronomia. ... si quidem philosophiae causa discantur, ut per eas
tamquam gradibus ad summum culmen philosophiae perveniatur.
SOMFAI: CALCIDIUS 219

The fact that Calcidius Platonic cosmos was built on a structure of extremes bound by
a mean, securing harmony that replaced chaos, may not have been the result only of a
pure scholarly exercise of the mind. Calcidius lived on the crossroads between Antiquity
and the Middle Ages, pagan philosophy and Christian theology, East and West, Greek and
Latin. Finding the mean between the extremes was not only an engaging activity of a
playful mind, but also a human need. Harmony for him meant not the exclusion of
diversity for the sake of uniformity, rather it was what enabled the parts to function within
the whole. It was a welcome framework in which to place the dichotomy imposed on him
by his historical milieu - not unlike that of Plato - and perhaps also by his own
personality.

Warburg Institute, London

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