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DOI 10.

1515/rhiz-2014-0004   RHIZ 2014; 2(1):80–110

Christina Hoenig
Timaeus Latinus:
Calcidius and the Creation of the Universe*
Abstract: This paper examines Calcidius’ position in the notorious interpretative
controversy over Plato’s dialogue Timaeus. Despite Calcidius’ far-reaching influ-
ence on the later philosophical and theological tradition, his contribution to the
history of this debate has received surprisingly little attention. Against previous
studies that have concluded unfavourably with regard to Calcidius’ merits as a
commentator, this inquiry shows that his Platonic exegesis, far from being prob-
lematic and contradictory, is original in its approach and method. During the
course of this paper, moreover, Calcidius’ affiliation with the Christian faith is re-
evaluated and found to be less extensive than has sometimes been assumed.

Keywords: Plato and Middle Platonism – cosmology – creation – Calcidius and

Christianity – Latin philosophical tradition – ancient commentary tradition

Christina Hoenig: Department of Classics, University of Pittsburgh, 1518 Cathedral of Learning,

4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA. E-Mail:

Calcidius’ fourth-century Platonic exegesis is the most comprehensive treatment

of Plato’s Timaeus that has reached us in the Latin language, comprising a trans-
lation of, and a commentary on, roughly half the dialogue.¹ It was notably the
Calcidian interpretation of the Timaeus that advanced the dialogue’s transmis-
sion to Western medieval thought and presented to many Latin scholars the main
channel through which they could access Platonic philosophy.² Yet, despite Calci-

* Abridged versions of this paper were presented at the 144th Meeting of the American Philologi-
cal Association in January 2013 and to the Departments of Philosophy and Classics at the Uni-
versity of Pittsburgh in March 2013. I thank both audiences for their constructive feedback. I am,
moreover, grateful to David Sedley, Malcolm Schofield, James Warren and Gretchen Reydams-
Schils for their helpful criticisms and comments.
1 Calcidius’ translation covers Tim. 17a–53c; his commentary runs from Tim. 31c to 53c.
2 The significance of Calcidius’ contribution can be measured by the sheer number of manu-
scripts available to us and by the frequent exegetical echoes and direct references to Calcidius’
name or work in medieval sources. Waszink (1962), pp. cvi – clxvii, lists around 130 codices. On
the influence and reception of Calcidius’ work, see Klibansky (1982), p. 28 and Mensching (1965),
pp. 42–56; further, Dutton (2003), pp. 183–205, and Somfai (2002), pp. 1–21.

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Timaeus Latinus   81

dius’ influential role in the later philosophical and theological tradition, there
has been curiously little interest in his position on what remains, to this date, one
of the most notorious controversies to emerge in Plato’s Timaeus: Are we to take
at face value the creation account at the centre of the dialogue?³ To phrase the
matter more precisely: Did Plato intend his readers to take literally the chrono-
logical succession of events unfolding in Timaeus’ narrative, which culminates in
the creation of our cosmos? If so, should the dialogue be read, accordingly, as an
attempt at a scientific, rational explanation of our world’s existence? Perhaps we
should approach it rather as a mythological account of our human origins – or,
alternatively, a metaphorical depiction of an altogether different level of reality?⁴
We remain uncertain. The chronological order of events in Timaeus’ narrative is
confusing and his language ambivalent; overall, the dialogue invites diverse inter-
pretations. The few studies that have focused specifically on Calcidius’ stance on
this contentious interpretative issue conclude aporetically,⁵ even unfavourably.⁶
The present study will reopen the examination of the Calcidian interpretation.
It is hoped that it will remove several misconceptions about Calcidius’ intellec-
tual background and his methods and merits as an exegete, which have resulted,

3 The classic study of this topic remains Baltes (1976–1979).

4 I shall not at present deal with the much-discussed description by Timaeus of his own crea-
tion account as an εἰκὼς λόγος, or εἰκὼς μῦθος, usually rendered a ‘probable’ or ‘likely account’
or ‘tale’. For the various interpretations of this description and their inherent exegetical conse-
quences, see Baltes (1976); Burnyeat (2009), pp. 167–86; Howald (1922), pp. 63–79; Donini (1988),
pp. 5–52 and Meyer-Abich (1973), pp. 22–44. For Calcidius’ interpretation of the εἰκὼς λόγος, see
Hoenig (2013), where I conclude that Calcidius associates the εἰκὼς λόγος with a disputatio natu-
ralis, a discussion dealing specifically with the subject of natural philosophy.
5 Bakhouche (2003), p. 17 suggests that Calcidius’ vocabulary ‘n’aide pas à dégager avec fermeté
la formulation de la pensée’ and considers the coherence of his argumentation unclear. Avoid-
ing, nevertheless, an altogether negative verdict, Bakhouche concludes tentatively that his ap-
parent failure to commit to a coherent exegetical policy may hint at ‘une pensée personelle’ and
– somewhat surprisingly – at an affiliation with Christianity. While Bakhouche acknowledges
the originality of the Calcidian interpretation in the form of a translation-cum-commentary, her
analysis as a whole, it would appear, does not warrant sufficient reason for such a positive con-
6 Galonnier (2009) correctly observes that Calcidius’ translation resembles an exegetical work
but considers this a negative quality, thus at times charging the translator with over-interpreta-
tion (pp. 198  f.). Contrary to Galonnier, who perceives the relation between translation and com-
mentary to be contradictory and problematic, I shall argue that it is precisely this relationship
between the Latin version and the commentary that is the key to Calcidius’ interpretation of Pla-
to’s philosophy. As regards the internal coherence of the commentary only, Galonnier perceives
between Calcidius’ individual exegetical steps ‘une rupture de contenu’ (p. 201), thus passing a
verdict that fails to appreciate Calcidius’ overall methodology as a commentator.

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82   Christina Hoenig

it would appear, from insufficient attention to his lexical choices, from the failure
to detect the exegetical interplay between his translation and his commentary
and, consequently, from the failure to appreciate his exegesis as an internally
coherent whole. By revisiting these aspects, I shall demonstrate that Calcidius’
interpretation presents an original contribution not only to the dialogue’s
history of transmission, but to the Latin Platonic tradition of Late Antiquity in its
The first part of this paper serves an introductory purpose in outlining the
relevant problematic items in Plato’s Timaeus: attention is drawn to a number
of passages that are crucial for the analysis of Calcidius’ Latin text. Moreover,
the reactions associated with several of Plato’s critics and interpreters that have
a bearing on the Calcidian work are briefly highlighted. In the second section
of this paper, I shall initially revisit one of the most debated questions in recent
Calcidian scholarship: the extent of Calcidius’ affiliation with the Christian
faith. By adducing evidence from his commentary that has thus far gone unno-
ticed, I shall argue for a rather looser attachment of the author to Christian doc-
trine than has sometimes been assumed. Against this background, I offer an
analysis of Calcidius’ translation and commentary that will elucidate his posi-
tion in the notorious Timaean controversy and highlight the originality of his

I The Timaean Creation Account

I.1 The Greek Text

At the centre of Plato’s dialogue, the astronomer and physicist Timaeus depicts
a divine craftsman who reshapes chaotic physical materials and creates our cos-
mos. At face value, the Timaean narrative describes a chronological sequence of
creative acts that result in the formation of the physical universe. As such, the
narrative may be seen as a rational, quasi-scientific attempt to explain the exist-
ence of our universe. At closer reading, however, the chronological framework
that Timaeus erects contains incongruities that challenge a literal reading of the
At Tim. 27d6, Timaeus initially draws up a dual metaphysical frame of reality,
thus preparing the listeners for the ontological dichotomy that is central to his
account. The intelligible sphere of being (τὸ ὄν) entirely removed from any
process of change, is distinguished from a physical realm (τὸ γιγνόμενον) whose
material objects are subjected to the continuous process of change, coming-to-

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Timaeus Latinus   83

be and perishing, without ever attaining true and immutable being.⁷ Crucially,
Timaeus applies this ontological classification to our universe, placing the latter
into the physical realm of coming-to-be:

σκεπτέον δ' οὖν περὶ [τοῦ κόσμου] πρῶτον […] πότερον ἦν ἀεί, γενέσεως ἀρχὴν ἔχων
οὐδεμίαν, ἢ γέγονεν, ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς τινος ἀρξάμενος. γέγονεν.
Concerning [the universe] we must inquire first […] whether it has always been, having no
origin of coming-to-be, or whether it has come-to-be, having begun from some beginning.
It has come-to-be.⁸
(Tim. 28b4–7)

Timaeus reaffirms his assignment of the universe to the material realm: the uni-
verse is subjected to sense perception, and all things perceptible ‘come-to-be and
have been generated’, γιγνόμενα καὶ γεννητά (Tim. 28c1–2). At a further crucial
passage we learn that the coming-to-be of the material universe coincided with
the coming-to-be of time:

χρόνος δ’ οὖν μετ’ οὐρανοῦ γέγονεν …

Time came-to-be along with the heavens …
(Tim. 38b6–c3)

More precisely, time is created ‘in accordance with the eternal nature’ (κατὰ τὸ
παράδειγμα τῆς διαιωνίας φύσεως). In his wish to replicate, as far as possible,
the attribute of eternal being attached to the intelligible model (παράδειγμα) that
served as a blueprint for the material cosmos, the demiurge creates the sun, the
moon and the other planets as instruments whose periodical movements deter-
mine the extension of time. Constructed in this manner, time comes-to-be as a
perpetually moving image of immutable, eternal being. Having previously estab-
lished that our universe is material in nature, Timaeus now, crucially, attaches to
it the attribute of temporality (Tim. 38c4–6). Our physical realm, exposed to the

7 Cf. Tim. 27d6: τί τὸ ὂν ἀεί, γένεσιν δὲ οὐκ ἔχον, καὶ τί τὸ γιγνόμενον μὲν ἀεί, ὂν δὲ οὐδέποτε;
(What is that which always is, having no coming-to-be, and what is that which always comes-to-
be but never is?). Timaeus draws attention to the matter of creation already at Tim. 27c4–5 where
he describes his appointed task as τοὺς περὶ τοῦ παντὸς λόγους ποιεῖσθαί, ᾗ γέγονεν ἢ καὶ ἀγενές
ἐστιν, ‘to give an account about the All, in what manner/in so far as it has come-to-be or is, in
turn, uncreated’. The first part of the correlative pair ᾗ … ἢ is disputed − unsurprisingly so, given
its potential exegetical significance. Alongside ᾗ γέγονεν ἢ καὶ ἀγενές ἐστιν (Burnet’s A) and
ἢ … ἢ (Burnet’s F Y), Philoponus reads εἰ … ἢ, Alcinous ᾗ … ἢ or ᾗ … εἰ, Porphyry, Iamblichus
and Proclus ἢ … ἢ. On the whole, it appears that ᾗ … ἢ is the preferred reading. Dillon (1989),
pp. 57–60, discusses this passage and its variant readings in greater detail.
8 All translations are my own unless indicated otherwise.

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84   Christina Hoenig

effects of temporal decay, is thus set apart from the unchanging eternity of intel-
ligible reality.
This portrayal of events − the simultaneous coming-to-be of the universe and
of time − stands in apparent contradiction, however, to further items in Timaeus’
narrative. Having identified χώρα (‘space’), the ‘nurse of coming-to-be’ (γενέσεως
τιθήνην) as a third cosmological principle alongside being (ὄν) and coming-to-be
(γένεσιν), Timaeus describes how there occurred a reciprocal motion caused by
the interactions between this receptacle and the physical elements – those that
eventually were to make up the body of our material universe − acquiring varying
shapes within it (Tim. 52d2–53b5). According to Timaeus, these chaotic motions
preceded the orderly arrangement by the demiurge of the physical materials at
his hand:

οὗτος μὲν οὖν δὴ […] δεδόσθω λόγος, ὄν τε καὶ χώραν καὶ γένεσιν εἶναι, τρία τριχῇ, καὶ
πρὶν οὐρανὸν γενέσθαι […] [τὴν δὲ δὴ γενέσεως τιθήνην] ἀνωμάλως πάντῃ ταλαντουμένην
σείεσθαι μὲν ὑπ' ἐκείνων αὐτήν, κινουμένην δ' αὖ πάλιν ἐκεῖνα σείειν […] διὸ δὴ καὶ χώραν
ταῦτα ἄλλα ἄλλην ἴσχειν, πρὶν καὶ τὸ πᾶν ἐξ αὐτῶν διακοσμηθὲν γενέσθαι.
May this account be stated then […] that there were being, space and coming-to-be, three
distinct things, and that they were before the universe came-to-be […] and that [this nurse
of coming-to-be] sways altogether unevenly, herself being shaken by these [four elements]
and that, in turn, she herself shakes them as she is moving […] for this reason, [the four
elements] were occupying different space, even before the All had been put in order and
come-to-be from them.
(Tim. 52d2–53a7)

Taking this sequence of events at face value, however, the reader must accept
that the elements’ erratic movement in the receptacle also preceded the first
instance of measured time, that is, the original movement of the celestial bodies
shaped and arranged by the divinity to make up our cosmos. We thus arrive at an
incongruous scenario in which the disorderly motions in the receptacle occurred
during a period prior to the creation of time, that is in a ‘time before time’, an
assumption that results in the absurd consequence of time itself as having come-
to-be at some ‘moment in time’.⁹ Timaeus’ narrative, at face value, fails to provide
a chronological frame in which the events portrayed can be coherently located.
A further element in his creation account not only reinforces its problem-
atic chronological structure, but also affects our understanding of other works

9 Cf. Gloy (1986), pp. 52  f. Sorabji (1983), pp. 272  f. analyses the temporal vocabulary in Timaeus’
narrative. He points, inter alia, at Plato’s use of τότε, πρίν, πρὸ τούτου, ὅτε and of frequent past
tenses in the passages Tim. 28b2–c2, 53a2–b5 and 69b2–c2, all of which underline the notion of
a pre-cosmic time.

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Timaeus Latinus   85

of Plato. Before the demiurge set about creating the universe, Timaeus informs
us, he created the world soul that was to be its ‘mistress and ruler’ (δεσπότιν καὶ
ἄρξουσαν): in minute mathematical detail, the narrator reconstructs the crea-
tion process of this soul, which, upon the creation of the world’s physical body
(Tim. 36d8–e1), was to permeate the latter in perpetual self-rotating motion, thus
serving as the ruling principle of cosmic organisation. Seemingly reinforcing the
problematic chronology in the narrative, Timaeus emphasises the world soul’s
priority over the cosmic body in terms of age and excellence …

ὁ δὲ καὶ γενέσει καὶ ἀρετῇ προτέραν καὶ πρεσβυτέραν ψυχὴν σώματος […] συνεστή-
He constructed the [world soul to be] older than the world body and prior to the latter in
coming-to-be and excellence.
(Tim. 34c4–35a1)

… and on its having-been-created:

τῶν νοητῶν ἀεί τε ὄντων ὑπὸ τοῦ ἀρίστου [ψυχὴ] ἀρίστη γενομένη τῶν γεννηθέντων.
[soul] has come-to-be as the best of things that have come-to-be through the agency of
the best of things intelligible and everlasting.¹⁰
(Tim. 37a1–2)

Like the pre-cosmic motion in the receptacle, the construction of soul appar-
ently occurred prior to the simultaneous coming-to-be of cosmos and time, which
renders necessary yet again the assumption of a ‘time before time’ in which this
event might have taken place. Finally, the idea of a created soul clashes with
Plato’s description of the soul in the Phaedrus and Laws. No elaborate descrip-
tive account of its construction appears in these dialogues. Instead, Socrates con-
vinces Phaedrus that the soul’s origin is ἀγένητον (Phaedr. 245d1) and, further,
that self-moving soul is …

… τοῖς ἄλλοις ὅσα κινεῖται […] πηγὴ καὶ ἀρχὴ κινήσεως …

… the source and origin of motion for all things that have motion …
(Phaedr. 245c9)

10 That is, by the demiurge. The Timaean world soul and world body came-to-be through
the same agent and share the common property of createdness but their attributes differ:
while soul is the ἀρίστη of all things created, the cosmos is the κάλλιστος τῶν γεγονότων, cf.
Tim. 29a5.

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86   Christina Hoenig

… a claim that is incompatible with the erratic movements of the four elements
Timaeus describes as occurring in the receptacle prior to the construction of the
world soul. Similarly, the Athenian of Plato’s Laws describes the soul as ‘identi-
cal with the first principle and motion of what is’, and ‘the cause of all change
and of all motion in all things’ (Leg. 896a6–b1;¹¹ cf. 892a2–c7), a view once again
incompatible with the assumption of chaotic pre-cosmic motion as described by
Timaeus, whose account at no point identifies soul as a further principle along-
side ὄν, γένεσις and χώρα.
Like the reader in antiquity, we are faced with a dilemma: if we take Timaeus’
narrative literally and understand the γένεσις or coming-to-be it describes as a
‘coming-into-existence’ of the universe within a particular timeframe, we must
account for the chronological incongruities of the creation process. Alternatively,
we must accept that Plato’s Timaeus is not to be taken literally, that it does not
present a step-by-step chronological account of the creation of our cosmos.
Instead, we must look to an alternative interpretation of the γένεσις described in
the dialogue. The following section outlines a number of responses to these dif-
ficulties that will turn out to be of relevance to the Calcidian exegesis.

I.2. Temporal vs Non-Temporal γένεσις

In Aristotle’s De caelo I.10 280a28–32,¹² Plato is listed, along with a number of

unknown philosophers, as supporting the belief in a created yet indestructible

εἰσὶ γάρ τινες οἷς ἐνδέχεσθαι δοκεῖ [γενόμενον τι ὂν] ἄφθαρτον διατελεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐν τῷ
Τιμαίῳ. ἐκεῖ γάρ φησι τὸν οὐρανὸν γενέσθαι μέν, οὐ μὴν ἀλλ' ἔσεσθαί γε τὸν λοιπὸν ἀεὶ
There are some who believe it possible that what is ungenerated can be destroyed and
what is generated can endure undestroyed, as it is [described] in the Timaeus. There [Plato]
says that the heavens, despite having been generated, will endure eternally through time

11 ἆρα ἔτι ποθοῦμεν μὴ ἱκανῶς δεδεῖχθαι ψυχὴν ταὐτὸν ὂν καὶ τὴν πρώτην γένεσιν καὶ κίνη-
σιν τῶν τε ὄντων καὶ γεγονότων καὶ ἐσομένων καὶ πάντων αὖ τῶν ἐναντίων τούτοις, ἐπειδή γε
ἀνεφάνη μεταβολῆς τε καὶ κινήσεως ἁπάσης αἰτία ἅπασιν;
12 Cf. Aristotle, Cael. III.2 300b16–8; cf. Met. Λ.6 1071b37–1072a3.
13 Cf. Plato, Tim. 28b7; 38b7–c6.

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Timaeus Latinus   87

Aristotle’s argument evidently relies on a literal, that is, temporal reading of the
Timaeus, and he attacks the dialogue’s contents at Cael. I.10 279b17–280a10 where
he postulates that the universe be uncreated¹⁴ and indestructible.¹⁵ In line with
his literal interpretation of Plato’s dialogue, Aristotle takes issue with the sce-
nario of a ‘time before time’ at Metaphysics 6¹⁶ where he also mentions the dif-
ficulties inherent in the assumption of a created world soul. Given the fact that
soul, if created, must be posterior to (pre-cosmic) motion – a reference to Tim.
30–34 – it must be disqualified as a principle of movement (1072a1–3).¹⁷
It was, perhaps, in view of these and other difficulties¹⁸ in the Timaean nar-
rative that the non-temporal reading found favour with the majority of Platonists.
Such an interpretation is also associated with Plato’s successor Xenocrates and
his Academy,¹⁹ and it is again through Aristotle that we learn further details about
their position. At Cael. I.10 279b32–280a2 he mocks their claim that Plato had com-
posed his creation account διδασκαλίας χάριν, for the sake of ‘instruction’, in the
same manner as geometers would draw up and construct geometrical figures in
order to facilitate the students’ understanding of their completed structures.²⁰ In

14 As to the question of whether Aristotle’s criticism concerned a creation in an exclusively tem-
poral sense, see Pépin (1964).
15 Aristotle argues for the destructibility of all things generated (perhaps an allusion to Tim.
41a7–b6), a property established and confirmed by experience as their common attribute (ὅσα
ἐπὶ πολλῶν ἢ πάντων ὁρῶμεν ὑπάρχοντα, Cael. I.10 279b19). Destructibility, moreover, requires
mutability which, in turn, depends upon some cause (τι αἴτιον, Cael. I.10 279b19–23) that is able
to bring about change within any given object at any given time; cf. Sorabji (1983), pp. 240–3;
281  f. These properties cannot be reconciled with eternal objects incapable of undergoing change
(Cael. I.10 279b22–33). Even if there had existed a causative agent responsible for bringing about
the change that must have effected the coming-to-be of the universe, no reason is sufficient to
explain why this change had not taken place at an earlier point, Cael. I.10 279b23  f.; see also Phys.
VIII.1 251a17–20.
16 Aristotle, Met. Λ.6 1071b6  ff., cf. Phys. VIII 251b10–27. See also Sorabji (1983), pp. 279  f.
17 Aristotle incorrectly reports Plato to have maintained that soul, rather than time, came-to-be
ἅμα τῷ οὐρανῷ (Met. 1072a3). See Baltes (1976) vol. I, pp. 8–18, for a more detailed synopsis of
Aristotle’s arguments against a created universe; further Cherniss (1946), pp. 414–78 and Sorabji
(1983), pp. 276–283.
18 The specific problems of a literal or temporal reading of the creation account have been set
out in greater detail by Baltes (1996), pp. 77–85; see also Sorabji (1983), pp. 268–75.
19 Plutarch, Procr. an. 1013a. It is thought by some that this was also the position of Speusippus,
cf. fr. F76 in Isnardi-Parente (2012). See, however, Baltes (1976), p. 19; Baltes (1996), p. 81, and
Sorabji (1983), p. 271. Vlastos, (1965), p. 383, n. 2, contests the ascription of this position also to
Speusippus and Theophrastus.
20 Aristotle derides their argument, suggesting they had advanced it to vindicate their mas-
ter’s testimony, thereby coming to their own, namely, the Academy’s help: ἥν δέ τινες βοήθειαν

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88   Christina Hoenig

a similar manner, the step-by-step account that makes up Timaeus’ account might
have been aimed at improving a student’s understanding of the physical make-up
of our cosmos, not at claiming that an actual process of construction, or creation,
had taken place.²¹
A more complex strategy of atoning for the chronological difficulties in
Timaeus’ narrative was to deny that his language necessarily entailed the notion
of temporality, but rather to claim that it described a type of coming-to-be none-
theless. This strategy relied to a great extent on a non-temporal interpretation of
the terms ἀρχή and γέγονεν that we encounter at 28b6–7: ἀρχή denotes ‘origin’ or
‘principle’ without necessarily asserting a temporal any more than an epistemo-
logical or a metaphysical point of reference. Likewise, γέγονεν does not compel
us to assume a temporal dimension for the γένεσις described by Timaeus. The
efforts undertaken to bolster a non-temporal reading of this term are famously
summarised by the second-century Middle Platonist Calvenus Taurus, who dis-
tinguishes no less than four²² senses in which the cosmos may be characterised
as γενητός.²³ Let us just pick out two of the possible interpretations identified by
him: γενητός may describe an object that is subjected to the process of change.
In the context of our creation account, γέγονεν would thus describe a cosmos
that − without ever having come-to-be in the sense of having come-into-existence
− is subjected to the ongoing process of change and ‘becoming’: the acquisi-
tion and subsequent loss of varying qualities that are experienced by its physi-

ἐπιχειροῦσι φέρειν ἑαυτοῖς τῶν λεγόντων ἄφθαρτον μὲν εἶναι γενόμενον δέ, οὐκ ἔστιν ἀληθής
(Cael. I.10 279b32–3).
21 Alongside this appeal to didactic method, reiterated recently by Baltes (1996), pp. 80–2, the
Timaean narrative was considered to be a hypothetical account used, likewise, as an instructive
medium. Baltes (1976), p. 82, credits, among others, Philo, Aetios, Taurus, Plotinus and Proclus
with the belief in a creation account that had been set out ἐπινοίᾳ or ὑποθέσει.
22 Sedley (2013), p.  11, n. 25, argues that Taurus distinguished five meanings of γενητός, as
opposed to the four meanings usually identified in this passage. According to the fifth mean-
ing, γενητός refers to objects that possess ‘a bodily nature whose being consists in constant
becoming’, as explained at Philoponus, Aet. mund. 147,21–5. Apuleius offers a different inter-
pretation of γενητός: he endorses a created but eternal world by alluding to the originally
Aristotelian (cf. Effe, 1970, pp. 53  ff.) and Stoic notion which infers from the perishability of a
thing’s individual parts the perishability also of the object itself: nullum autem eius exordium
atque initium esse ideo quod semper fuerit; nativum vero videri quod ex his rebus substantia eius
et natura constet quae nascendi sortitae sunt qualitatem (Dogm. Plat. I.8). Apuleius modifies the
argument by concluding that the perishability of the universe’s parts does not result in the per-
ishability of the universe itself, but in its allocation to the sphere of change. Cf. Baltes (1976),
pp. 101  f.
23 Philoponus, Aet. mund. 145,7–147,13. Cf. Baltes (1976), pp. 106–8; Dillon (1977), pp. 242  ff.

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Timaeus Latinus   89

cal components. Alternatively, γενητός may describe an object whose existence

is ontologically dependent upon an external impulse. Again, in the case of our
creation account, such a meaning may serve to describe the ontological depend-
ency between demiurge and universe, the former being identified as the causative
agent responsible for the γένεσις of our universe without, however, a necessarily
‘hands-on’ act of creation having occurred.
For a non-temporal reading of the terms γέγονεν and ἀρχή, supporting evi-
dence from Plato’s dialogue itself was at hand. At Tim. 28b6, we recall, Timaeus
asks whether the cosmos has existed always, having no origin of coming-to-be
(γενέσεως ἀρχὴν ἔχων οὐδεμίαν), or whether it has come-to-be (γέγονεν), having
begun from some sort of origin: (ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς τινος ἀρξάμενος), with the addition
of τινος, ‘some sort of’, thought to sideline a temporal origin of the cosmos.²⁴
Whatever the preferred interpretation, such a non-temporal reading would rein-
state the dialogue as a rational account of natural philosophy aimed at explain-
ing the existence of the physical universe, as opposed to a mere study aid.²⁵
The doctrinal significance of the central Timaean theme, the creation of the
universe, motivated a rich flow of exegetical discourse²⁶ that eventually reached
the fourth-century melting pot of Platonist, Christian²⁷ and Jewish intellectual

24 With τινος understood as an alienans qualification, denoting ‘a beginning of some sort’,

that is, a beginning that cannot be identified as such in its common meaning which usually
assumes a temporal aspect. Burnyeat (2002) identifies similar cases in Aristotle’s De anima at
pp. 36  f.
25 Against the majority of Platonists, Plutarch and Atticus are believed to have been propo-
nents of a literal reading, cf. Proclus, In Plat. Tim. II.276.31–277.7; further, Philoponus, Aet. mund.
211.11ff; 519.22–5. See also Baltes (1976), pp. 38–63 and Sorabji (1983), p. 270. Sedley (2007), p. 107
n. 30 (with reference to Proclus, In Plat. Tim. I.276.30–277.1) suggests that other proponents of a
literal interpretation existed, and names Polemo and Cicero’s tutor, Antiochus, as likely candi-
dates. A literal interpretation is still defended by modern scholars. In Vlastos (1965), pp. 409–14,
we find the distinction between a pre-cosmic and disorderly, and a post-creation, ‘measured’
concept of time. Vlastos’ view that no ancient writer appreciated this distinction has been shown
to be erroneous by Sorabji (1983) and Sedley (2007), who point towards the Epicurean Velleius’
remarks in Cicero’s De natura deorum I.21 and to the testimonies of Plutarch and Atticus. Vlastos’
literal interpretation of the Timaeus have subsequently been rejected, at least in some regards,
by Baltes (1996), pp. 83–5 and Sorabji (1983), p. 274. Most recently, Sarah Broadie (2012) has sup-
ported a literal reading of the dialogue.
26 According to Proclus, In Plat. Tim. I.76.2–9, the exegesis of the dialogue began with Cran-
tor. Middle Platonists and Neoplatonists such as Alcinous, Taurus (ap. Philoponus, Aet. mund.
520.4  ff.) and Porphyry followed suit.
27 Calcidius provides a number of references to Christian and Jewish doctrines, for example
concerning the human soul in Chapter 126, p. 169, l. 11  f. (ed. Waszink, 1962), the role of angels
at 132,173,22 and the star of Bethlehem at 219,232,8  f. It should be remembered that ‘creation’ in

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90   Christina Hoenig

thought to which Calcidius’ work bears witness. Among the Neoplatonists, the
belief in a non-literal interpretation of Plato’s dialogue had continued to gain
support. We find a representative stance in Macrobius’ fifth-century work De
Somnio Scipionis, according to which the creator-god is the ‘maker’ (conditor) of a
world that has always existed. Macrobius explicitly rejects a temporal creation:²⁸

sed mundum quidem fuisse semper philosophia auctor est, conditore quidem deo, sed non ex
Philosophy instructs us that the world has always been, having been established by the
god, but not in time.

To get but a taste of the mutual polemic between Neoplatonists and non-Platon-
ists that was provoked by the topic of a created universe, consider the follow-
ing example from an approximate contemporary of Calcidius. Famously taking
a stance against the pagan philosophers in his De Civitate Dei, Augustine associ-
ates with Plato the belief that the physical universe had been created and begun
to exist at a specific moment in time. ‘Concerning the question of the world’s
origin’ (cum de mundi origine quaestio verteretur), he reports that had previously
engaged with those Neoplatonists …

… qui nolunt credere non [mundum] semper fuisse, sed esse coepisse, sicut etiam Plato aper-
tissime confitetur.

the Judaeo-Christian tradition involved the idea of a creator-god who created also the matter
from which he formed the All, in other words, a creatio ex nihilo (see, however, Sorabji, 1983,
pp. 194  f.) – a tenet to which there is no parallel in Calcidius’ exegesis. Rather, Calcidius consid-
ers matter to be one of the three metaphysical principles (initia) alongside god and form, and
thus to be entirely independent from any external factor. The most extensive study of Calcidius’
views on matter is van Winden (1959).
28 Augustine, Civ. dei XII.13.
29 Macrobius, In Somn. Scip. II.10.9. For parallels between Macrobius and Calcidius, cf. Waszink
(1962), p. xxxvii; cf. further Galonnier (2009), p. 197. A further Neoplatonist who defended a non-
temporal creation is Plotinus, who considers the matter of a temporal creation at Enn. III.2.1,
20–6. It is, however, a now lost commentary on the Timaeus by Porphyry that is assumed to
have influenced Macrobius’ position, cf. Regali (1990), p. 176. In his Sententia XIV, Porphyry is
concerned to render compatible the ideas of createdness and imperishability, thus distinguish-
ing two different meanings of γενέσθαι: 1) ‘to be dependent on a cause’ and 2) ‘to be composed
from various parts’: τὰ μὲν οὖν σώματα διχῶς γενητὰ καὶ ὡς ἀπ' αἰτίας ἠρτημένα τῆς παραγούσης
καὶ ὡς σύνθετα, ψυχὴ δὲ καὶ νοῦς γενητὰ ὡς ἀπ' αἰτίας ἠρτημένα μόνον, οὐ μὴν καὶ ὡς σύνθετα·
τὰ μὲν ἄρα {σώματα} γενητὰ καὶ λυτὰ καὶ φθαρτά, τὰ δὲ ἀγένητα μὲν ὡς ἀσύνθετα καὶ ταύτῃ καὶ
ἄλυτα καὶ ἄφθαρτα, γενητὰ δὲ ὡς <ἀπ'> αἰτίου ἠρτημένα. See Galonnier (2009), pp. 194  f., and
also Brisson (2005), vol. II, pp. 422–26 (cf. I.312–15).

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Timaeus Latinus   91

… who refused to believe not that [the world] had always existed, but to believe that it began
to exist, as even Plato acknowledges openly.³⁰

In Book XI.4 of the same work Augustine specifically targets the Neoplatonic³¹
denial of a temporal coming-into-existence of the universe. He initially notes their
contention that an act of creation would have necessitated an impulse that had
caused the creator to change his will. In other words: a temporal beginning of the
world would have necessitated the motivation to change from ‘not-creating’ to
‘creating’, on the part of the supposedly unchanging creative principle. In order
to weaken this argument, Augustine adduces the Neoplatonic tenets concerning
the uncreatedness of soul: the Neoplatonists contradict themselves, he argues, in
assuming that soul could have been coeternal with God and thus uncreated, all
the while it is clearly able to experience change in the form of ever-new joys and
miseries. Even if they were to concede that soul was indeed created in time, given
its change[ability],³² Augustine points out that this assumption would also affect
their views on the world’s createdness. To maintain a coherent line, they would
have to concede that the physical world, like soul, had been generated ‘in time’,
although no change had occurred on the creator’s part:

porro si ex tempore creatam [animam] […] fatentur, sed nullo ulterius tempore perituram […]
non utique dubitabunt hoc fieri manente incommutabilitate consilii dei. sic ergo credant et
mundum ex tempore fieri potuisse, nec tamen ideo deum in eo faciendo aeternum consilium
voluntatemque mutasse.³³
If they concede in turn that [soul] was created in time but will not perish in any time to
come […] they will certainly not doubt that this occurred with the unchangeability of God’s
will remaining intact. May they believe likewise, then, that it was possible for the universe
to come into existence in time, but that [in creating the universe] God still did not, for this
reason, change his eternal will and purpose.

In his De Genesi ad litteram Augustine sets out his own theory of creation. He
assumes a ‘twofold’ creation, distinguishing between a causal, non-temporal crea-
tion of formless matter and the simultaneous ordering thereof into a physical
cosmos, both at the hand of the creator god:

30 Augustine, Civ. dei XII.13. Ex tempore is to be understood not in its adverbial function, ‘instan-
taneously’ or ‘in the spur of the moment’, but as ‘going out from/ with time’.
31 Augustine’s Neoplatonism is essentially Porphyrian, cf. Baltes/Dörrie (1996), pp. 454–73.
32 Note that such an assumption on the part of the Neoplatonists is purely ex hypothesi, based
on the fact that Augustine is confident to have rendered invalid their beliefs concerning a soul
that was not created in time.
33 Augustine, Civ. dei XI.4.

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92   Christina Hoenig

non […] temporali sed causali ordine prius facta est informis formabilisque materies, et spiri-
talis et corporalis, de qua fieret, quod faciendum esset, cum et ipsa, priusquam instituta est,
non fuisset; nec instituta est nisi ab illo utique summo deo et vero, ex quo sunt omnia.³⁴
Matter both spirited and corporeal, still formless yet awaiting form: that from which all that
was to be created was made, was not created according to a temporal order, but earlier, and
according to a causal order, since it did not exist before it was itself created. It would not
exist had it not been created by him, most certainly the highest and true god from whom
everything takes its origin.

Thus far we have found some of the most important arguments and counter-argu-
ments, taken from across the philosophical and theological spectrum, to the his-
tory of this notorious interpretative issue at the centre of Plato’s natural philoso-
phy. Against the backdrop of these contributions, let us turn to Calcidius.

II. Calcidius’ Intepretation of the Timaeus

II.1. Calcidius and Christianity

Calcidius’ translation was commissioned by his dedicatee Osius. The identities

of both men are difficult to determine.³⁵ Manuscripts of the eleventh to thir-
teenth centuries identify Osius as a bishop of Cordoba, an affiliate of the court of
Constantine known to have been present at the Christian Councils of Nicaea (325
AD) and Sardica (343 AD). With Osius and Calcidius assumed to have carried the
titles of bishop and (arch)deacon respectively, the latter’s work has been dated
in the first half of the fourth century.³⁶ There are, however, several factors that
challenge this dating:³⁷ throughout his writing Calcidius fails to address his supe-

34 Aug. De Genesi ad litteram V.5.13. Augustine’s point in this context is to explain that there was
a (non-temporal) period he associates with the six days of creation. He is adamant that we are not
to assume a temporal framework for the individual creative acts, wherefore we are not to conceive
of any of these acts as taking place before or after one another ‘in time’ – rather we should assume
a causal order inherent in the god’s creative acts. The point is also discussed by Sorabji (1983),
p. 31, with n. 53. Cf. further Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram I.15.29 and Augustine, Conf. XII.9.
35 On the difficulties of determining Calcidius’ identity and date of composition, cf. Waszink
(1962), pp. ix–xvii. Further, Bakhouche (2011), pp. 7–13.
36 To name but a few supporters of this theory: Wrobel (1876), Switalski (1902), van Winden
(1959) and Dillon (1977).
37 For the arguments against a Spanish identity for Calcidius I am indebted to Bakhouche (2011),
pp. 8–13, who offers a lucid discussion of the matter.

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Timaeus Latinus   93

rior with his supposed religious title. What is more, we do not possess a single
Spanish Calcidian manuscript to support an affiliation of the author with Osius
of Cordoba. More crucially still, while the commentary presents a mixture pre-
dominantly of Middle Platonic and Neoplatonic thought, Calcidius’ lexicon and
literary style resemble that of writers in the late fourth and early fifth centuries.³⁸
An alternative dating has been advanced by Bakhouche (2011), who suggests that
Calcidius’ identity should be linked to a different Osius. This Osius was, likewise,
a high-ranking official of Christian conviction, but associated with the court at
Milan in the late fourth century where he is recorded as having held senior fiscal
offices. The affiliation with Osius of Milan would date Calcidius’ work several
decades later than previously assumed.³⁹ Having taken into account Calcidius’
Platonic exegesis as a coherent whole, I consider the evidence adduced by the
lexical and literary aspects of commentary and translation to be decisive in the
dating of his writing. It is thus a late fourth-century background that is assumed
for the Calcidian oeuvre in the present study.⁴⁰
Not least due to Osius’ affiliation with the Christian faith, much has been
made also of Calcidius’ relationship with Christianity.⁴¹ His adherence to the
doctrine was presumed by the vast majority within the manuscript tradition,

38 Bakhouche (2011), pp. 30–34; see also Waszink (1962), pp. xiv f.

39 A later dating is supported by Courcelle (1973), Runia (1993) and most recently Bakhouche
(2011). Cf. Bakhouche’s further suggestions at pp. 10  f. where the roles of Osius at the Court of
Milan are identified as those of the comes rerum privatarum and comes sacrarum largitionum.
40 A number of exegetical strands in his commentary have been considered Porphyrian, with
works of Numenius, Alcinous, and Adrastus likely to have been additional sources, cf. Waszink
(1972), pp. 240–42. Waszink (1962), pp. xcv, cv believes that a running commentary by Porphyry
on the Timaeus, as well as Numenius’ De Bono, were Calcidius’ main sources. Plutarch is identi-
fied as a further Middle Platonic source but Calcidius betrays no awareness of Apuleius’ De Dog-
mate Platonis. Gersh (1986), vol. II, pp. 431  f. and 44–51, supports a predominantly Porphyrian
outlook in Calcidius. More recently, Calcidius’ strong dependence Porphyry has been disputed
by some who place greater emphasis on the Middle Platonic elements in his fourth-century ex-
egesis. Dillon (1977), pp. 407  f., almost entirely removes him from a Porphyrian framework while
Den Boeft (1970) and (1977) concludes that Calcidius’ discussions on fate and demons in the
Timaean cosmos contain no Porphyrian elements. Reydams-Schils (2007), pp. 311–314, points to
Origen as a key influence and attributes to Calcidius an exegetical strategy that marks his inde-
pendence from Porphyrian thought, aligning him, to some extent, with Numenius. Bakhouche
(2011), pp. 38  f., supports a predominantly Middle Platonic outlook. She provides a more detailed
survey of Calcidius’ sources at pp. 34–41.
41 Switalski (1902) and Steinheimer (1912) were confirmed in their pro-Christian stance by
Waszink (1962), pp. xi–xii. Before Switalski, Calcidius had been considered a Christian by Wrobel
(1876) and Blatt (1938). Baltes (1976), pp. 172–84 accepts the portrayal of Calcidius as a Christian
but does not account for his stance in greater detail.

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94   Christina Hoenig

as indicated by the ascription of the title diaconus or archidiaconus.⁴² While the

exact extent of Calcidius’ affiliation with the faith remains a matter of dispute,
the fact that a number of Christian elements appear in the commentary indicates
that Calcidius was happy to accommodate certain echoes of Christian literature
in his exegesis. A thorough consideration of the matter is beyond the scope of
the present study; nonetheless, I shall revisit some of the evidence assumed to
support a strong Christian background for Calcidius and consider, by way of a
brief but significant example, the extent of his familiarity with one of the most
consequential Christological developments in his immediate intellectual envi-
In Chapter  219 of his commentary, Calcidius discusses the nature of the
human soul. Underlining his argument with quotations from Gen. 2,7 and 4,10, he
argues that the Hebrews, when admitting that the human soul must be rational,
should also – for a coherent position to be maintained – accept that god breathed
divine spirit into humans that enabled them to think rationally: divine spirit …

… quo [est] nobis cum divinitate cognatio ‘diique’ esse dicimur et ‘filii summi dei’.
… through which we claim kinship with the divine, and through which we are said to be
‘gods and children of the supreme god.’⁴³

Waszink believes that Calcidius’ choice of the first person plural, dicimur, instead
of, for instance, dicuntur, indicates that the author identified himself as belong-
ing to the group who claims kinship with the Christian god in this reference to
biblical literature. However, as pointed out by Reydams-Schils (2011), p.  206,
dicimur need not necessarily point to an affiliation with Christianity, as opposed
to Platonism, but could equally describe a shared Platonic and Christian outlook
over the Hebrew doctrine. We find more cogent evidence in the commentary to
suggest that Calcidius’ superior and addressee, Osius, was affiliated with the
Christian faith. At  126,169,11  f. Calcidius alludes to the star seen by Chaldeans
(in what he terms a ‘more sacred and venerable story’, compared to a story line
taken from the Iliad alluded to previously in the same chapter), whose apparition
in the sky indicated the arrival of god upon the earth. Calcidius closes with the

quae tibi multo melius sunt comperta quam ceteris.

With these things you are much better acquainted than others.

42 Waszink (1962), p. x.
43 Cal. Comm. in Tim. 219,232,8  f.

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Timaeus Latinus   95

Turning to the subject of demons, Calcidius identifies ‘good angels’ with demons,
drawing a parallel with the teachings of the Hebrews:

… [daemones] quos Hebraei vocant sanctos angelos.⁴⁴

… [daemones] whom the Hebrews call the holy angels.

He next pushes the view that the term ‘daemones’ must not be understood to sig-
nify an evil character, as was sometimes held by Christian writers, and encour-
ages his dedicatee not to interpret it in a purely negative manner. Instead he
points to the parallel term ‘angeli’: just as there are good and bad angeli, there are
also two sorts of daemones (133,174,14–7):

… nec nos terreat nomen promisce bonis et improbis positum, quoniam nec angelorum quidem
terret, cum angeli partim dei sint ministri − qui ita sunt, sancti vocantur − partim adversae
potestatis satellites, ut optime nosti.
… nor should we be alarmed by this term [‘daemones’], which is given indiscriminately to
good and to evil demons, just as the name ‘angels’ does not alarm us, even though some
angels are servants of god (and these are called ‘saints’) and others are attendants of that
force which is hostile to us,⁴⁵ as you are well aware.

We can infer from these examples that Osius was versed in Christian dogma to
some degree, as acknowledged by Calcidius’ more or less subtle gestures to his
dedicatee’s expertise. As for Calcidius’ own position, the evidence certainly sug-
gests a familiarity with biblical literature, a tone of deference towards it when
held up against pagan literature, and a willingness to accommodate certain ele-
ments of Christian beliefs in his reasoning. I would, however, reject the view that
these passages warrant the assumption of more than what could be described as
a basic familiarity with the Christian literature, which, it should be remembered,
was pervasive in Calcidius’ late-fourth century intellectual environment.
As a final thought on Calcidius’ Christian affiliations, let me draw attention to
some lexical choices in his commentary that may be indicative of his awareness of
contemporary Christological developments. It has been conjectured by Christine
Ratkowitsch (1996)⁴⁶ that Calcidius, of Christian conviction, incorporated into his

44 Cal. Comm. in Tim. 132,173,22.

45 That is, the devil. Cf. Gen. VI.1  f.; Matth. 25,41.
46 Ratkowitsch believes that Calcidius was using Cicero’s translation and deliberately re-
phrased some of the passages in order to render them more compatible with his overall motive of
appropriating Plato for a Christian agenda (see, in particular, 142 n.11). The parallels between the
two texts that Ratkowitsch identifies appear unconvincing to me.

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96   Christina Hoenig

writing subtle references to the Christian lexicon, and occasionally adapted, or

glossed over, passages in the Timaeus that contained a glaring doctrinal disagree-
ment between Christians and Platonists, eventually arriving at a text that bridged
the gap between both systems of belief. An example is his translation of Tim.
41b2–3, a passage in which the demiurge explains to the subordinate divinities
at work in the Timaean cosmos that, on account of their having been generated
by him (γεγένησθε), they are neither immortal nor entirely indestructible. For the
term γεγένησθε, Calcidius supplies the paraphrastic doublet facti generatique.⁴⁷
This rendering, Ratkowitsch suggests, is more than simply an example of Calcidius’
tendency to produce doublets in his Latin version: in fact, it is an allusion to the
Nicaean decree of 381 AD which settled on the attribute of Christ as genitus, non
factus, thereby expressing the consubstantiality of the Christian god and his son:⁴⁸
genitus signifies ‘begotten’, whereas factus was chosen to define god’s creation,
the world, as subordinate to him. Calcidius, upon this view, felt obliged to opt for
generatus instead of genitus in order to indicate the difference in rank between
Christ and the Timaean subordinate divinities, who – according to a ‘Christian-
Platonist compatibilist’ view – would correspond in rank to god’s creation.
It appears, however, that such a translation strategy is rendered invalid
by Calcidius’ use of genitus to describe the created universe, genito mundo at
119,164,11.⁴⁹ The use of this attribute to describe the divinity’s material creation,
in my opinion, indicates that Calcidius showed no awareness of this highly sig-
nificant contemporary Christological issue. It would appear that this small but
consequential detail deals a blow to the portrayal of Calcidius as an up-to-date
and savvy proponent of Christian doctrine. Taking into account all of the above
considerations, I suggest that the extent of Calcidius’ affiliation with Christianity
goes no further than a familiarity with contemporary Christian literature that
expresses itself in the occasional allusion to biblical passages, very likely
intended as flattering gestures towards the Christian addressee⁵⁰ who had com-
missioned the project.

47 The Latin text of Calcidius’ translation and commentary is cited according to Waszink (1962).
48 Ratkowitsch (1996), pp. 151  f.
49 More precisely, Calcidius explains that the heavenly bodies were created in order that ‘the All
be complete and perfect, and that the living creature that is our sensible world obtain the closest
resemblance to that world which is perfect and intelligible and which is the pattern after which
our world was created’, quo sit plena perfectaque universa res animalque sensilis mundi proximam
similitudinem nanciscatur perfecto intellegibilique et exemplari ex se genito mundo.
50 Ratkowitsch suggests that Calcidius’ intended target audience, most notably his superior
Osius, may have been Neoplatonists, whom Calcidius, a Christian committed to his cause, wished
to convince of the essential compatibility of Platonic with Christian faith. Reydams-Schils (2002)

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Timaeus Latinus   97

II.2. The Creation of the Universe: Evidence from Calcidius’


Calcidius addresses the createdness of the cosmos in Chapter 23 of his commen-

tary. Initially, he explains Plato’s programmatic design of the Timaeus. In order
to confirm against the common consensus⁵¹ that the cosmos, despite having been
created (factum)⁵² and thus liable to destruction, cannot be undone (indissolu-
bilem), Plato offers an array of arguments to support this position:

dicit a quo factus sit [mundus], ex quibus constet, ad quod exemplum institutus, qua de causa,
quatenus aeternitati propagatus.
[Plato] explains by whom the universe was created, from which ingredients it is made up,
according to which model it was set up, for what reason [it was created] and in what manner
it persists through eternity.

Focusing on the inquiry after the world’s creative principle − a quo factus sit −
Calcidius explains that a thing’s origin determines its ontological status: in other
words, whether it is of a material and perishable nature, or possesses eternal and
intelligible existence. Three possible origins are named: things are created by god,
by nature, or by humans imitating nature. Those created by nature are subject

concludes from her analysis of Calcidius’ views on matter that his position is neither distinctively
Christian nor Platonic. Whilst criticising some of Ratkowitsch’s arguments (see pp. 204–9), she
cautiously agrees that Calcidius may have intended to introduce Christian elements to a Platon-
ist audience. Against the assumption of a (Neo)platonic background for Osius, I would point out
the following: in a passage we have already encountered, Calcidius at 126,169,11  f. refers to the
‘star whose apparition indicated the arrival of god upon the earth’, a subject matter he describes
as multo melius comperta by Osius than by others. It appears that Osius is credited by Calcidius
with the knowledge of specific elements of Christian doctrine that appear to have no counterpart
in Platonic thought. As a general point, I would add that the tendency of adapting intellectual
discourse to a Christian outlook is an often-encountered feature of the third and fourth centuries
AD. This phenomenon is discussed in a number of interesting studies in Mitchell and van Nuffe-
len, eds. (2010a), in particular by Sandwell (2010), pp. 101–26. Her focus is on the fourth-century
pagan Themistius, who resorted to an elastic concept of theological language that enabled him
to adapt his orations, addressed to several Christian emperors, to a Christian monotheistic out-
look. Admittedly, Osius was no emperor, nor was Calcidius a polished rhetorician. Nevertheless,
the balance of powers between Calcidius and his dedicatee may not have been so very different
from those existing between Themistius and the Christian emperors.
51 ut huic quod est praeter opinionem hominum medeatur, 23,73,8  f. − a reference to Aristotle’s
criticism? Cf. supra, pp. 88  ff.
52 Note that factum, just as its Greek equivalent γέγονεν, does not necessarily indicate the belief
in a temporal creation.

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98   Christina Hoenig

to a temporal and perishable existence (as are, by inference, those created by

humans, an option that Calcidius drops in the remainder of his discussion), since
the coming-to-be of nature and time occurred simultaneously. Those created by
the god are allotted a different fate:

dei operum origo et initium incomprehensibile; nulla est enim certa nota, nullum indicium
temporis ex quo esse coeperunt … deus autem ante institutionem temporis et per aevum −
simulacrum est enim tempus aevi − causae igitur operum omnium dei tempore antiquiores, et
sicut deus per aevum, sic etiam causae per aevum. Quod sequitur, ut quicquid a deo fit, tem-
porarium non sit, quod temporarium non sit, nulla temporis lege teneatur. Et tempus immu-
tationem aetatis morbos senectutem occasum invehit; his ergo omnibus quod a deo instituitur
immune est origoque eius causativa est, non temporaria. Et mundus sensilis opus dei; origo
igitur eius causativa, non temporaria. Sic mundus sensilis, licet et corporeus, a deo tamen
factus atque institutus, aeternus est.
The origin and beginning of god’s works cannot be grasped: there is no certain indication,
no temporal reference from which his works may have originated.⁵³ God is before the con-
struction of time and throughout eternity − time being an image of eternity – and the causes
of all his works, accordingly, are prior to time and, as god is throughout eternity, so are
the causes of his works. As a consequence, whatever comes-to-be through god is non-
temporal,⁵⁴ and what is non-temporal is not subject to the laws of time. Time introduces
changes due to the ageing process: illness, old age and death. Immune to all these affec-
tions is that which has been constructed by god. The origin [of his creation] is causative,
not temporal. Our physical universe is a work of god, therefore its origin is causative,
not temporal. Thus, our physical universe, despite its corporeal nature, due to its having
been created and constructed by god, is everlasting.

With regard to the specific aspect of temporality, Calcidius, in the present

chapter, establishes that the relationship between creator and creation must be
understood in terms of causal dependence. The universe does not appertain to a
temporal framework; the terms factus est (γέγονεν) and origo (ἀρχή) are clearly
interpreted in a non-temporal manner.⁵⁵ I shall return to this important passage
in due course. Before I do so, let us look ahead in the commentary.
In Chapter 25⁵⁶ Calcidius − still concerned to justify the universe’s combined
characteristics of createdness and everlastingness – moves on to identify the

53 Cf. also Augustine, Conf. XI.30.

54 Cf. Galonnier (2009), p. 203.
55 Cal., Comm. in Tim., 23,74,12–20. Confusing in this context is Calcidius’ previous statement in
the commentary where he asserts that nothing is known regarding the specific moment in time
of the god’s creation, nullum indicium temporis ex quo esse coeperunt, immediately before he
explains that the origo of god’s creation is causativa, non temporaria.
56 The chapter is closely modeled after Tim. 37, a passage of the dialogue to which I shall turn
in due course. I omit Calcidius’ discussion of ex quibus constet, a further explanation Plato of-

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Timaeus Latinus   99

model according to which the cosmos has been created (ad quod exemplum insti-
tutus), and how, despite its createdness, the world persists through everlasting-
ness (quatenus⁵⁷ aeternitati propagatus). Identifying as a crucial characteristic of
the intelligible model its unchanging eternity, immutabilis perennita[s], Calcidius
explains further:

Illud nemo dubitat quae ad similitudinem instituuntur exempli sempiterni habere simili-
tudinem perpetuitatis. Et perpetuitas in aevo; quare exemplum, id est intellegibilis mundus,
per aevum, id vero quod ad exemplum institutum est, sensilis scilicet mundus, per tempora.
Nobody doubts that an object constructed in the likeness of an eternal⁵⁸ model possesses
a likeness of eternity. And eternal endurance⁵⁹ is attached to eternal [intelligible] being,
which is why the model, the intelligible cosmos, exists throughout eternity. The sensible
cosmos, in turn, persists throughout time.

Calcidius’ explicit association in Chapter 25 of the created universe with a tem-

poral framework − sensilis mundus […] per tempora − sits oddly with Chapter 23.
The latter, we recall, concludes that the sensible cosmos, being a work of god,
is not temporal: quicquid a deo fit temporarium non sit (23,74,15). How may we
account for this apparent contradiction in Calcidius’ exegesis?⁶⁰ For a solution

fers − according to Calcidius − in support of the universe’s ‘everlastingness’. In Chapter 24 of the

commentary, Calcidius explains how the various cold and hot elements that make up the world’s
body are contained within it in their entirety, thereby leaving no traces outside the cosmos that
could potentially harm it (quae quia omnia corpora partim frigida partim calida sunt, nulla im-
portuna frigoris calorisve extrinsecus accessione moveant aegritudinem mundo; igitur extra neces-
sitatem incommodi positus aeternus est; 24,75,4–7). Cf. Baltes (1976), p. 174.
57 Calcidius uses quatenus in his translation as an equivalent for either πῶς (Tim. 21d7) or ᾗ
(Tim. 27d2); in the commentary, the predominant sense is ‘how’ or ‘to what extent’ (e.g. 28,78,15:
quatenus ergo bimembris est natura; 59,106,24: quatenus igitur est mundi forma teres et globosa).
The term never appears in Calcidius in the temporal sense ‘how long’.
58 My choice to render perennitas, sempiternus and perpetuitas as ‘eternity’ is based on my ensu-
ing analysis of Calcidius’ temporal lexicon, infra, pp. 100  f.
59 My rendering ‘eternal endurance’ for perpetuitas, which differs from my rendering ‘eternity’
in the immediately preceding sentence, serves to highlight the subtle variation of emphasis in
the present statement perpetuitas in aevo, where the difference between perpetuitas and aevum is
presumably that of eternal endurance (perpetuitas = everlastingness) and eternal being, the latter
defining an object’s intelligible ontological status.
60 This matter has been discussed by Galonnier (2009), pp. 189–207, who concludes that the
commentator’s argumentative strategy appears to be missing a connective step between Chap-
ters XXIII and XXV. He suggests that an interpretation such as that given by Augustine, who, we
recall, assumed a ‘double creation’, an atemporal creation of intelligible matter and simulta-
neous temporal creation of the physical universe, would make sense of Calcidius’ statements.
While Galonnier offers a number of illuminating insights into Calcidius’ exegesis, it seems to me

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100   Christina Hoenig

to the exegetical puzzle in Calcidius’ commentary, let us begin by examining his

lexicon of temporality.
In Chapter 25  Calcidius associates with the intelligible model − intellegibi-
lis mundus − of the universe the terms sempiternus, perennitas⁶¹ and perpetui-
tas; with the created universe, in turn, aeternitas. Overall in his commentary,
however, Calcidius is inconsistent in his application of these terms to things
uncreated and imperishable, namely, the creator god and the intelligible para-
digm, and objects he classifies as created yet imperishable because created by the
demiurge, i.e. the universe, the lesser divinities and soul. Sempiternus is applied
to the intelligible model (339,332,10) and to human souls (201,221,10); perennitas
at 201,221,14  ff. appears to be associated – in contrast with its application to the
intelligible model in Chapter 25 − with things subjected to temporality; moreover,
it is set against the attribute of immortal existence:

[providentia dei] divinis quidem et aeternis [rebus] immortalitatem propagans, tempo-

rariis vero perennitatem.
God’s providence attached immortal being to divine and eternal things, perpetual duration
to temporal things.

Perpetuitas and its cognates are associated with human souls (187,212,15;
225,240,11) and with aevum, ‘eternity’ (101,152,10  f.). As noted supra, p. 99, n. 59,
aevum at 25,74,16 is likely to describe the ontological condition of eternal intel-
ligible being rather than ‘eternity’ in the sense of eternal endurance, which is
here expressed by perpetuitas: perpetuitas in aevo, ‘eternal endurance is attached
to eternal [intelligible] being’. Elsewhere aevum generally denotes eternity as the
‘model’ according to which time has been created (e.g. 25,74,12: simulacrum est
enim tempus aevi). Aeternitas and its cognates, on the other hand, also describe
the created universe at 150,186,13, as well as the human soul’s movement
(225,240,12). Aeternus is, however, applied to the divine intellect at 176,205,7⁶² and
at 330,324,24  f., where it is identified with the Platonic ἰδέα. The conclusion we
may draw from all this is that, with the exceptions of 1) aevum, which is associ-

unnecessary to trouble Augustine in order to reconstruct a possible solution for our commen-
tator’s train of thought. Calcidius’ problematic exegesis is also addressed in passing by Pépin
(1964), p. 93, who appears to be under the impression that Calcidius’ emphasis on temporality in
his translation is a means of reinforcing a causal relation between creator and creation. See also
Gersh (1986) vol. II, p. 472, who emphasises the causative dependence of the creation upon its
creator but does not discuss further the apparent contradiction in Calcidius’ exegesis.
61 See also Apuleius, Dogm. Plat. I.10: perennitatis fixa et immota natura est.
62 Est mens dei aeterna: est igitur mens dei intellegendi aeternus actus …

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Timaeus Latinus   101

ated throughout with the intelligible realm, either in the sense of ‘eternal being’
or simply ‘eternity’ as the model used for the creation of time, and 2) perennitas
at 201,221,14  ff., where it is connected specifically with things that are temporaria
and thus perishable, all the above terms serve to evoke an object’s everlasting-
ness and imperishability regardless of its ontological status, that is, regardless of
whether it is located in the intelligible sphere (uncreated and imperishable) or in
the physical sphere (created yet imperishable because created by the demiurge).
How does this conclusion help absolve Calcidius from the charge of present-
ing contradictory exegetical contents in Chapters  23 and 25? I believe that the
solution lies in Calcidius’ very own words. We recall his statement in Chapter 23:

quicquid a deo fit temporarium non sit, quod temporarium non sit, nulla tempora lege tenea-
Whatever comes-to-be through the making of god is non-temporal, and that which is non-
temporal is not bound by any law of time.

I suggest that the meaning of temporarium in Chapter  23 expresses an object’s

susceptibility to the specific conditions of a temporal existence that arise in a
physical body: deterioration and destruction. These, on Calcidius’ interpretation,
do not apply to objects created by the demiurge. His works endure throughout
time, that is, in the temporal realm: per tempora. Nonetheless, their ontological
status is not ‘temporary’ (temporarium): they do not share the attributes of those
objects existing per tempora that, crucially, have been created by nature or art
rather than a divine creator and that, due to this ontological condition, are sus-
ceptible to the effects of temporal decay. Instead, as shown by our lexical analy-
sis, the god’s creations are aeternum, sempiternum, and perpetuum, all of which
are expressions employed by Calcidius to denote ‘everlasting’ without a neces-
sary attachment to the intelligible sphere.
Admittedly, to refer to the deity’s creation as aeternum and non temporaria
while, at the same time, describing it as enduring per tempora may do little to
further Calcidius’ aim of elucidating the obscuritas of Platonic doctrine.⁶³ Never-

63 Calcidius explains in the letter of dedication to Osius that precedes his translation: ‘Having
approached the first parts of Plato’s Timaeus […] I have not only translated [the text] but have,
moreover, composed a commentary on the same parts, in the belief that a copy (simulacrum)
of an obscure subject matter (reconditae rei) without the unfolding of an interpretation (sine
interpretationis explanatione) would be rather more obscure than the model (exemplo) itself.’
(Ep. ad Os. 6, 6–9). This sentiment is repeated in the preface to the commentary (4,58, 19–22),
where Calcidius explains in similar terms: sola translatione contentus non fui ratus obscuri min-
imeque illustris exempli simulacrum sine interpretatione translatum in eiusdem aut etiam maioris

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102   Christina Hoenig

theless, the ontological classification of the cosmos that eventually emerges

from Calcidius’ exegesis − the cosmos as an object that is factum and endures per
tempora, but that, at the same time, is aeternum (in the basic sense of ‘everlasting’
without being associated with the intelligible realm) − captures the familiar inter-
pretation of the Timaean universe as generated, yet eternal and incorruptible,
γενόμενον yet ἀίδιον and ἄφθαρτον.⁶⁴ While undoubtedly challenged in terms of
lucidity, Calcidius’ exegetical strategy is neither nonsensical nor contradictory.
With this in mind, let us turn to his translation.

II.3. The Creation of the Universe: Evidence from Calcidius’


Let us return to the Greek in the quest for greater detail. At 37d3, Timaeus explains
that the god’s intentions of likening his product to its intelligible paradigm were
curtailed by the fact that the property of eternal being⁶⁵ could not be fully attached
to the generated [copy]:

ἡ μὲν οὖν τοῦ ζῴου φύσις ἐτύγχανεν οὖσα αἰώνιος καὶ τοῦτο μὲν δὴ τῷ γεννητῷ παντελῶς
προσάπτειν οὐκ ἦν δυνατόν. εἰκὼ δ' ἐπενόει κινητόν τινα αἰῶνος ποιῆσαι καὶ διακοσμῶν
ἅμα οὐρανὸν ποιεῖ μένοντος αἰῶνος ἐν ἑνὶ κατ' ἀριθμὸν ἰοῦσαν αἰώνιον εἰκόνα. τοῦτον ὃν
δὴ χρόνον ὠνομάκαμεν.
The [intelligible] living creature possessed eternal being, and it was impossible to attach
this property entirely to [the copy that] had been generated. [The demiurge] contrived to
produce some moving image of eternity, and when setting up the ordered heavens, he pro-
duced an everlasting image of unchanging, selfsame eternity, an image that progressed
according to number. This image, we call by the name of ‘time’.
(Tim. 37d3–7)

Calcidius paraphrases:

obscuritatis vitio futurum … In identifying his translation as a simulacrum and Plato’s original as
the exemplum, Calcidius creates an important connection between the subject matter of his trea-
tise and his own exegesis in the commentary. Cf. Dutton (2003), p. 189; further, Reydams-Schils
(2007), p. 313.
64 Cf. Aristotle, Cael. I.10 279b12–3; 280a28–30; cf. supra, pp. 88  ff. with notes 13–15.
65 ἡ […] φύσις ἐτύγχανεν οὖσα αἰώνιος. Note Plato’s use of both ἀίδιον and αἰώνιος to describe
the intelligible model. αἰώνιος is associated, however, also with time at Tim. 37d7. Cf. Cornford
(1937), p. 98 n.1.

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Timaeus Latinus   103

sed animal quidem, id quod est generale⁶⁶ animal, natura aevo exaequatur. unde facto nati-
voque operi cum aevo societas congruere minime videbatur. quapropter imaginem eius
mobilem numeroque serpentem factae a se machinae deus sociabat eam quae tempus dicitur.⁶⁷
The animal, however – the one that contained all other animals [i.e. the intelligible para-
digm] − is on a par, in its nature, with eternal being. For this reason [i.e. given its attachment
to the paradigm] the association of eternal being, in turn, also with the product that has
been created and has come-to-be, is unsuitable. For this reason, the god attached to the
construction built by him a moving image that proceeds according to number and is called

αἰώνιον, this time attached by Timaeus to the εἰκών rather than the model,⁶⁸
is omitted by Calcidius, perhaps for the purpose of minimising the impression
that both animals partake in the same type of everlastingness, that is, they share
the same ontological status which is indeed the impression given by the Greek.
Timaeus continues:

χρόνος δ' οὖν μετ' οὐρανοῦ γέγονεν, ἵνα ἅμα γεννηθέντες ἅμα καὶ λυθῶσιν, ἄν ποτε λύσις τις
αὐτῶν γίγνηται, καὶ κατὰ τὸ παράδειγμα⁶⁹ τῆς διαιωνίας φύσεως, ἵν' ὡς ὁμοιότατος αὐτῷ

66 Bakhouche (2003), p. 11 with n. 7, points to TLL col. 1776 for generale as denoting ad nativi-
tatem pertinens. This solution, however, runs into difficulties in the very next sentence − unde
facto nativoque operi cum aevo societas congruere minime videbatur − where no sense can be
made of unde, as Bakhouche readily admits (n. 8). I suggest that generale refers to the ‘generic’
model that contains in itself all other animals, with generale signifying the antonym of speciale
(cf. Tim. 30c4–8, where μέρος is described as something that is speciale). The same viewpoint
is expressed clearly, for instance, in William of Conches’ commentary on Calcidius’ work: ‘id
animal quod est generale’, id est archetipus mundus, quia omnia ex eo generantur (Glos. sup. Plat.
I.94.39). According to this interpretation, the ensuing statement − ‘for this reason (unde), the
association with eternity of the product that has been created and has come-to-be appeared un-
suitable’ − expresses the consequence resulting from (unde) the association of aevum with the
paradigm: the fact that this type of everlastingness cannot likewise be attached to the simu-
67 Taking ‘machina’ as corresponding to οὐρανὸν. We note that Calcidius reads μένοντος αἰῶνος
ἐν ἑνί, which I have rendered as the genitive object of εἰκόνα, ‘a picture of immutable and self-
same eternity’, as a genitive absolute: ‘[an image that proceeds according to number and is called
time], with eternity remaining unharmed and persevering in unity’, [… eam quae tempus dicitur],
aevo intacto et in singularitate perseverante. Cf. Brague (1995) for an alternative interpretation
that understands αἰώνιος to describe the model’s ‘contenu noético-numérique’, namely its onto-
logical condition as opposed to the attribute of eternity; cf. supra, p. 99, n. 59. Brague’s interpreta-
tion is discussed by Bakhouche (2003), pp. 10–12.
68 Cf. supra, n. 65.
69 As in the Greek, exemplum here does not refer to the intelligible model – distinguished by
Calcidius with the help of an alternative term, archetypus − but signifies the ‘pattern’ or ‘model’
of the respective types of everlasting existence.

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104   Christina Hoenig

κατὰ δύναμιν ᾖ· τὸ μὲν γὰρ δὴ παράδειγμα πάντα αἰῶνά ἐστιν ὄν, ὁ δ' αὖ διὰ τέλους τὸν
ἅπαντα χρόνον γεγονώς τε καὶ ὢν καὶ ἐσόμενος.
Time has come-to-be with heaven in order that, having come to be simultaneously, they
would also dissolve simultaneously. Moreover, time has come-to-be according to the pattern
of eternal nature in order that it be as similar to it as possible. While the model exists
throughout all eternity, [its image] exists throughout all time, having come-to-be, being in
the present and set to be in the future.

Calcidius interprets:

tempus vero caelo aequaevum est, ut una orta una dissolvantur … simul ut aevitatis exemplo
similis esset uterque mundus, archetypus quippe omni aevo semper existens est, hic sensibilis
imagoque eius est qui per omne tempus fuerit, quippe et futurus sit.⁷⁰
Time is coeval with heaven, in order that, having come to be simultaneously they would be
dissolved simultaneously. Likewise, [time is coeval with heaven] in order that both worlds
[i.e. intelligible and sensible] correspond to the pattern of everlasting existence [i.e. to the
specific type of everlasting existence that is suitable for them]: the model, indeed, is always
existent in all eternity, and our world, its sensible image, of such a kind as to have been and
to be in the future, throughout all time’.

[γέγονεν χρόνος] κατὰ τὸ παράδειγμα τῆς διαιωνίας φύσεως ἵν' ὡς ὁμοιότατος

αὐτῷ κατὰ δύναμιν ᾖ, ‘[time came-to-be] according to the pattern of eternal nature
in order that it be as similar to it as possible’, is captured by ut aevitatis exemplo
similis esset uterque mundus, ‘in order that both worlds [i.e., intelligible and sen-
sible] correspond to the pattern of everlasting existence’. Here, aevitas,⁷¹ a thing’s
‘everlasting existence’, may refer to both types of everlastingness: the eternity of
the intelligible cosmos and the sempiternity of the sensible cosmos. Rather than
emphasising, like the Greek, the correlation between the intelligible model and its
sensible copy, Calcidius’ text correlates both model and copy (uterque mundus) to
their respective kinds of everlastingness, one existing through all eternity, omni
aevo, and the other through all time, per omne tempus.

70 Note that Calcidius omits ὤν at Tim. 38c3, likely with a view to Tim. 37e5–38a2: λέγομεν γὰρ
δὴ ὡς ἦν ἔστιν τε καὶ ἔσται, τῇ δὲ τὸ ἔστιν μόνον κατὰ τὸν ἀληθῆ λόγον προσήκει, τὸ δὲ ἦν τό τ'
ἔσται περὶ τὴν ἐν χρόνῳ γένεσιν ἰοῦσαν πρέπει λέγεσθαι, which he renders more or less faithfully.
This has also been suggested by Galonnier (2009), p. 200. See, however, Calcidius’ statement in
Chapter 25, where he declares that the intelligible cosmos always is, its image always has been,
is and will be: semper fuit est erit.
71 The term also appears in Apuleius’ Dogm. Plat. I.12: sed natura etiam mortales eos, qui prae-
starent sapientia ceteris terrenis animantibus, ad aevitatem temporis edidit … ‘for endless ages’

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Timaeus Latinus   105

Regardless of this modification, we are able to conclude, with regard to the

temporal aspect of the world’s creation, that Calcidius follows the Greek in depict-
ing it as coinciding with the creation of time. Such a conclusion, however, throws
up yet another apparent contradiction in Calcidius’ Platonic oeuvre: his transla-
tion, in accentuating a temporal origin of the universe, contradicts his commen-
tary which explains the origin (ἀρχή) of the god’s work in terms of an ontological,
not temporal, relation, as we have seen in the preceding section. Let us turn to
his translation of the all-important passage Tim. 28b to see whether our apparent
misgivings can be confirmed. Timaeus, we recall, inquires …

… πότερον ἦν ἀεί [ὁ κόσμος], γενέσεως ἀρχὴν ἔχων οὐδεμίαν, ἢ γέγονεν, ἀπ' ἀρχῆς τινος
… whether [the universe] always was, having no starting-point of generation, or whether it
has come-to-be, having begun from some starting-point.
(Tim. 28b6–7)

We recall, further, his immediate reply: γέγονεν, ‘it has come-to-be.’ As we turn
to the Latin translation, we notice that Calcidius specifically incorporates into his
text the aspect of temporality: his protagonist inquires not whether the world ‘has
existed always, having no starting-point of generation, or whether it has come-to-
be, having begun from some starting-point’. Instead, he asks …

… mundus fueritne semper citra exordium temporis an sit originem sortitus ex tempore⁷² …
… whether the world has existed always, without [citra2 OLD 5: ‘without something coming
about’⁷³ or OLD 7: ‘without reference to’⁷⁴] the beginning of time, or whether it has been
allotted an origin starting out with time.

This repeated emphasis on temporality (citra exordium temporis, origo ex tempore)

is perplexing in view of Calcidius’ statements in the commentary, where, we
recall, he attaches a causative meaning to ἀρχή (origo causativa, non temporaria),
thus defining the world’s creation in non-temporal terms. It is true that, while
Calcidius explicitly frames the question concerning the creation of the world at

72 Cf. supra, pp. 91  f., with n. 30, for Macrobius’ and Augustine’s use of the expression ex tempore.
73 This is presumably the sense in which Calcidius uses the term citra in his translation of Tim.
33a, where he describes how the demiurge composed the physical universe as unum perfectum ex
perfectis omnibus citra senium dissolutionemque, with citra denoting ‘without old age or weaken-
ing/disintegration (of its parts) coming about’ (translating the Greek ἀγήρων καὶ ἄνοσον).
74 Presumably the sense in which Calcidius uses the term in his commentary at 158,192,15:
‘chance comes about without reference to human intentions’ (casus vero citra propositum homi-
nis fit).

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106   Christina Hoenig

Tim. 28b under the aspect of temporality, the immediate answer he provides is
somewhat ambiguous − the universe ‘has come-to-be: factus est. This render-
ing does not pick up the emphasis on temporality that is so clearly noticeable in
the preceding question, but specifically addresses the ontological status of the
cosmos. Nonetheless, given the overall accentuation of temporal language that
results from Calcidius’ interpretation of the Greek and, moreover, the fact that he
follows the Greek in describing the creation of the world at Tim. 37–38 as coincid-
ing with that of time, we may assume that he considered factus est to convey the
meaning of a creation ex tempore, while considering the alternative of a world
that fuerit semper to exclude the possibility that a creation had taken place. Such
a conclusion, however, confirms our previous apprehensions by threatening the
internal consistency of Calcidius’ Platonic exegesis. Why did Calcidius incorpo-
rate into his translation an explicit emphasis on temporality if such an interpreta-
tion fails to harmonise with his subsequent portrayal of a non-temporal creation
in the commentary?
Once again I suggest that paying close attention to Calcidius’ very own expla-
nations in the commentary will provide the solution to this apparent exegeti-
cal discrepancy. In Chapter 26, in the context of a discussion of the world soul,
Calcidius explains that:

quod in hoc solo libro facere animadvertitur, aeternarum rerum genituras comminisci,
credo propterea ne, si audiant homines esse quaedam quae fuerint ex origine nata numquam,
principatui summi dei derogari putent … nescientes longe aliter dici originem rerum aeter-
narum et item caducarum − siquidem mortalium auctoritas et origo illa est quae praecedit
ortum ceterorum … at vero divinorum generum aeternarumque gentium origo et arx non in
anticipatione temporis sed dignitatis eminentia consideratur.
The following can be observed in [the Timaeus] only: the feigning of the generation of
things eternal. Plato does this, I believe, in order to prevent readers from thinking, upon
hearing of the existence of things that partake of no temporal⁷⁵ origin, that the pre-emi-
nence of the highest god might [for this reason] be diminished⁷⁶ … while they are unaware
of the great difference between speaking of the origin of eternal things and, on the other
hand, of the origin of things that are perishable. The creative cause and origin of mortal
objects precedes the coming-to-be of what succeeds them … the origin and principle of
things divine and eternal, on the other hand, must be understood not as temporal priority
but as the pre-eminence of dignity.

75 That is, the universe and the cosmic soul. I am basing my rendering ‘temporal’ on the subse-
quent use by Calcidius of numquam which implies a temporal dimension.
76 We find the same argument in Chapter VI of Philoponus’ Aet. mund. 187.1–15, who ascribes
this view to Taurus.

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Timaeus Latinus   107

Calcidius emphasises Plato’s purpose of guiding his audience with didactic

concern as he sets out his doctrine:

difficile persuadeatur [animis] mundi esse auctorem deum, nisi eum tamquam opifex aliquis
manibus ceterorumque artuum molitione construxerit.
It would be difficult to convince [their minds] that god is the auctor of this world unless he
has, just like a builder, constructed it with hands and the exertion of his body.⁷⁷

Calcidius thus accounts for Plato’s portrayal of the creation of everlasting objects
in temporal terms by crediting him with an essentially pedagogical agenda: It
is out of consideration for his audience’s belief in the god’s pre-eminence and
dignity that Plato resorts to a temporal framework, all the more since the intel-
lectual capacity of his readers might be stretched, at least at an initial encoun-
ter with the narrative, when imagining anything other than an actual and literal
‘construction’ of the cosmos.⁷⁸ Nevertheless, in order to ensure that the student
of the dialogue does not fail to recognise in due course the true dogma hidden
behind Plato’s words, Calcidius makes clear by way of his commentary that the
temporal dimension of Timaeus’ language merely serves as an initial point of
entry into the narrative and as a preparatory backdrop for the subsequent revela-
tion of an ontological dependence between cosmos and creator.
It therefore appears that we find in Calcidius’ twofold exegesis, in his trans-
lation and in his commentary, an original twist on the interpretation of Plato’s
Timaeus διδασκαλίας χάριν: for the student of the dialogue, the causal relations at
work between the demiurge and his creations must be expressed initially in terms
that are more readily accessible to him − in the language of temporality. Calcidius
underlines this type of language in his Latin text, thus already lending an exegeti-
cal dimension to his translation. The combined exegetical tools of translation and

77 Cal., Comm. in Tim., 26,76,12–77,13. We discover here echoes of Epicurean polemic, appearing
in Cicero’s De natura deorum, against the Platonic and Stoic creative principles thought to be
actively involved in the coming-to-be of the cosmos. At I.18–23 the Epicurean Velleius presents
a polemical survey of the Timaean creation account, which he transforms, by picking up and
sharpening Timaeus’ metaphors of construction, into a manufacturing scheme on a universal
scale: quibus enim oculis animi intueri potuit vester Plato fabricam illam tanti operis […]? quae mo-
litio, quae ferramenta […] qui ministri tanti muneris fuerunt?’. The picture of a divine craftsman ‘at
work’, used by Velleius for a mock description of rival cosmological theories, is put by Calcidius
to an astonishing use: the likening of the creation process to a monumental building-site appears
to be exactly what Calcidius assumes Plato’s readers to be requiring.
78 A similar viewpoint is held, I believe, by Reydams-Schils (2007) and Reydams-Schils (1999),
p. 223 n. 43, where Calcidius’ temporal language in Chapter 23 is understood as a metaphorical
expression for the causality of the creation process. Cf. also Baltes (1976), p. 179.

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108   Christina Hoenig

commentary allow him to credit Plato with a didactically motivated use of tempo-
ral language and, at the same time, to draw out this didactic agenda by decoding
Plato’s language once the student has gained a sufficient understanding of the
text. Translation and commentary form two intrinsically linked components of
an exegetical method that is intended to guide the student to the knowledge of
the truth.⁷⁹
It is hoped that this study has been successful in removing some of the
negative assumptions made about Calcidius’ merit and originality as a Platonic
exegete, by emphasising the internal coherence of content and method in his
contribution to the Latin philosophical tradition upon which it came to have such
a considerable impact.

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et Survivance de la Latinité. Brussels: Latomus, pp. 10–19.
Bakhouche, Béatrice (2011): Calcidius. Commentaire au Timée de Platon. Texte établi, traduit
et annoté. Paris: Vrin.
Baltes, Matthias (1996): “Gegonen (Platon, Tim. 28b7): Ist die Welt real entstanden oder nicht?”.
In: Keimpe A. Algra, Pieter W. van der Horst, and David T. Runia, (eds.): Polyhistor: Studies
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Baltes, Matthias (1976): Die Weltentstehung des platonischen Timaios nach den Antiken
Interpreten, I. Leiden: Brill.
Baltes, Matthias (1979): Die Weltentstehung des platonischen Timaios nach den Antiken
Interpreten, II: Proklos. Leiden: Brill.

79 We encounter what is perhaps a similar agenda in Chapter 12 of the Didaskalikos. In clear
terms the author describes the Timaean demiurge as having constructed and generated the cos-
mos at Didask. XII.1.8–10: ἀναγκαῖον καὶ τὸ κάλλιστον κατασκεύασμα τὸν κόσμον ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ
δεδημιουργῆσθαι; XII.2.1: ἐκ τῆς πάσης οὖν ὕλης αὐτὸν ἐδημιούργει; XII.2.8  f.: ἐξ ἑκάστου γὰρ
ὅλου τῶν τεττάρων αὐτὸν στοιχείων ἐγέννησε. At  XIV.3, however, Alcinous clarifies: ‘When
[Plato] says that the world is generated (γενητόν), one must not understand him to assert that
there ever was a time when the world did not exist (ἐν ᾧ οὐκ ἦν κόσμος); but rather that the world
is perpetually in a state of becoming (ἀεὶ ἐν γενέσει ἐστί), and reveals a more primordial cause of
its own existence, ἐμφαίνει τῆς αὑτοῦ ὑποστάσεως ἀρχικώτερόν τι αἴτιον. (Transl. Dillon, 1993).
Alcinous thus reports Timaeus’ creation account in literal terms before inviting the reader to
decode it on a non-temporal level. His interpretation of γενητόν can be aligned with the two pos-
sible meanings of the term γενητός mentioned supra, pp. 88  f.: γενητός may describe (1) what
is eternally subjected to the process of coming-to-be and change and (2) what is existentially
dependent on an external impulse.

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Timaeus Latinus   109

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