Boetius de philosophico consolatu, siue, De consolatio[n]e philosophi[a]e
Edward Gibbon in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire stated that A consolation of Philosophy is “A golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully.” And C. S. Lewis, in “The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, 1964, rightly tells us “To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages.”. The Consolation of Philosophy was the most copied and circulated secular text in the European middle ages, the influence of Boethius’s Consolatio Philosophiae should not be under-estimated — some four hundred copies survive in manuscript form, making it one of the most widely disseminated pieces of writing during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Even today, this would serve as a good starting point for someone unfamiliar with the history of philosophy, and wanted to take a first plunge in the
company of a great mind from the past. The Copy I currently have Was Printed in Straßburg Per Iohannem Grüninger, 1501
This Wonderful copy is bound in its original full calf covered wooden boards, it was blind stamped and had clasps to hold it safely closed, these are now long gone but their presence can be traced by the indentations carved in the boards and the remaining brass brads.
This Edition is illustrated with woodcuts,many of which were colored at the time of printing, making this a visual treat on every page. The type faces and the layout of the pages themselves are exotic to the modern eye and transport us back to a tradition of textual exegesis whix=ch is all but forgotten.
667G Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius a.d.480-525
Boetius de Philosophico consolatu siue de consolatio[n]e philosophi[a]e: cu[m] figur ornatissimis nouit expoli
Straßbourg: J. Gruninger, 8 September 1501. $Sold
Small folio 11 ¼ x 7 inches. [ ]6, A4, B-X6,Y8. First illustrated edition. In this copy many of the seventy eight woodcuts have very nice original color, it is bound in full blind stamped calf over wooden boards. It is also rubicated throughout. There are two library stamps and a release Endorsement ‘Dupl. ” Wiener K.K. Theres. It is a large and lovely copy of an important and beautiful book.
“Boethius is known as author of the Consolation of Philosophy and of several theological treatises. From them no theory of knowledge emerges clearly, for the concern is not primarily there with knowing, although distinctions and differentiations relevant to it are frequent. The Consolation of Philosophy is committed (by way of Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus, it has been suggested) to a platonic doctrine of ideas and of reminiscence: the soul is of divine elements on which its knowledge depends; it is in need only of the quickening power of sense perception to arouse it to a knowledge of ideas at rest within it. The developments of that notion bring echoes, one after the other, of pythagoreanism, neoplatonism, stoicism, and augustinism. Yet, as if these came too near to a dereliction from aristotelian principles, Boethius expounds the Trinity, in the work which shows most clearly the augustinian influence, by applying the ten categories to the persons and their relations. At the bottom of these diversified philosophic affiliations is the conviction, often explicit, that there was a single philosophy of the Greeks, to be grasped best in the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle. That, however, was a lesson Boethius had learned from pagan roman philosophers; even before the coming of Christianity a change in the attitude toward philosophy had instituted a metaphysical conservatism. The distinctions by which the greeks thought to have divided themselves into opposed schools are needless subtleties when abstract thought is to be invoked (as it is in the very title of four works of Seneca and one work of Boethius) for refuge, or salvation, or relief, or consolation” (quoted from Selections from Medieval Philosophers I, by Richard McKeon, page 68-69).
The”Consolation of Philosophie” was written while Boethius was in prison and deprived of the use of his library, on false charges of treason against Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, then ruler of Rome. “Within a year he was a solitary prisoner at Pavia, stripped of honours, wealth, and friends, with death hanging over him, and a terror worse than death, in the fear lest those dearest to him should be involved in the worst results of his downfall. It is in this situation that the opening of the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ brings Boethius before us. He represents himself as seated in his prison distraught with grief, indignant at the injustice of his misfortunes, and seeking relief for his melancholy in writing verses descriptive of his condition. Suddenly there appears to him the Divine figure of Philosophy, in the guise of a woman of superhuman dignity and beauty, who by a succession of discourses convinces him of the vanity of regret for the lost gifts of fortune, raises his mind once more to the contemplation of the true good, and makes clear to him the mystery of the world’s moral government.”(H.R. JAMES, M.A.,
- CH. OXFORD 1897.)
In this prosimetrical apocalyptic dialogue, Boethius our narrator encounters Lady-Philosophy , who appears in his time of need, the muse of poetry has in short failed him. Philosophy dresses among great protest Boethius’ bad interpretations and misunderstandings of fate and free will…. One thousand five hundred years later It is still fair to ask, the same questions which Boethius asks..
And Philosophy answers:“The judgment of most people is based not on the merits of a case but on the fortune of its outcome; they think that only things which turn out happily are good.”
“You have merely discovered the two-faced nature of this blind goddess [Fortune] … For now she has deserted you, and no man can ever be secure until he has been deserted by Fortune.”
“I [Fortune] spin my wheel and find pleasure in raising the low to a high place and lowering those who were on top. Go up, if you like, but only on condition that you will not feel abused when my sport requires your fall.”
Proctor 9886; Schmidt vol. I, 57; Chrisman C1.1.4,2; Adams B-2283; VD16 B6404; Hind, History of the Woodcut II,339-340; Redgrave Bibliographica II, 53; Not in OCLC. See also Chadwick: ‘Boethius’ 1981 Oxford, and Pelikan, The Reformation of the Bible 1996, p 88, I.8.
How Blest Is He
How blest is he who could discern
The bright source of the good,
How blest, for he could slip the chains
Of earth, which weigh men down!
— Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (3:12)
It is not that often that a book of medieval philosophy has so much direct connection to contemporary situations, yet remains so strange, alas there is a golden chain of being (scala naturae) to be found in this most satisfying book.