Interest in “alterity” is ubiquitous in medieval studies. It undergirds Paul Binski’s and Mary Carruthers’ important research into medieval varietas; it has stimulated an interest in the “grotesque” and the “monstrous”; and it has even invited re-readings of iconic authors, such as Thomas Aquinas. In a way, it has also given rise to the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which, in addition to containing the Vulgate and Beowulf, includes school texts (The Well-Laden Ship), Byzantine texts, Medieval Latin Lives of Muhammed, the poetry of Bernard Silvestris and Alan of Lille, and, now, Calcidius’s commentary on Plato’s Timaeus.
The particular value of works like these is that, as they were never incorporated into an enduring canon, they remain foreign to us and resist attempts at modernization; that is, unlike some artifacts from the medival world—like Dante’s Comedy, Aquinas’s Summa, or Notre-Dame de Paris—they ostensibly retain their alterity. For this reason, the DOML‘s new edition of Calcidius is welcome. The translation is wonderfully readable, although it does not obliterate the sense for Calcidius’s complicated lexicon and hypotactic syntax. The text includes Calcidius’s bizarre diagrams and illustrations, and most importantly, it does not excerpt just the bits that modern readers would have a proclivity to find relevant, thereby obscuring the difference. The volume itself, typical of the DOML series, is beautifully made and inexpensive. It would make a great addition to texts selected for a medieval survey course, because, in the light of Calcidius, the alterity of better-known texts could be put in relief.
Journal of Medieval Latin