Boethius and the Consolation of Philosophy
December 28, 2004 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Boethius is one of history's most overlooked philosophers. While imprisoned and awaiting execution at the hands of Theodoric, Boethius illustrated the medieval Christian worldview through his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Though he also wrote essays on music, science, and logic, engaging with Porphyry [pdf] Plato and Aristotle, the Consolation reached widest. In style and content, Boethius' work had a profound influence on Geoffrey Chaucer (as the Chaucer Review makes very clear). Dante, reading Boethius for solace after Beatrice's death, called Boethius "[t]he blessed soul who exposes the deceptive world to anyone who gives ear to him." [MI]
posted by jeffmshaw (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
From this link, especially check out the large image files from the scribe Brother Amadeus' beautiful Consolation manuscript: Boethius teaching students and Boethius in prison, some ornamental pages, and the preface.
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:30 AM on December 28, 2004

Not a lot of people read Boethius. At SJC the only context we read his work within was music, though relatively extensively. From that, I was aware that he was influential and multitalented, but it wasn't until I read a pretty trashy and sensationalistic historical novel (can't remember the title or author) that featured him that I learned more about him. I agree, though, he definitely deserves more attention.

This brings to mind, although I should mention this in the tsunami (where the Krakatau eruption has great relevance) thread, that yesterday I read Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, where there is an extended discussion of Alfred Russel Wallace, a similarly overlooked but very important hitorical figure who might deserve a mefi post of some kind.

Great post!
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:38 AM on December 28, 2004

ditto. I've never had the pleasure, but look forward to indulging now.
posted by garfield at 10:57 AM on December 28, 2004

Let's not forget his influence on the greatest philosopher of the latter half of the 20th century...

Ignatius J. Reilly.
posted by shmegegge at 11:23 AM on December 28, 2004

. To quote V.E. Watts on Boethius, 'God is like a spectator at a chariot race; He watches the action the charioteers perform, but this does not cause them.' God, to Boethius, is like a grand spectator of everything simultaneously, past and future in an eternal, present outside of temporal limits. Thus as a Christian, he manages to resolve the relationship between God's infallibility and man's freewill and moral responsibility...."

god as peeker? Does this mean he does nothing but watch, like I do with tv all day long? and all this time I thought he was on the side of America against Evil elsewhere.

Had read and did enjoy Consolation, but now find Coors also helps.
posted by Postroad at 11:25 AM on December 28, 2004

They read Boethius in the FYP (great books program) at King's College in Halifax, or at least they used to. A friend of mine went there and started talking about Boethius all the time. The Consolation of Philosophy has been on my to-read list for a long time, but there's a lot else that's been ahead of it so far.
posted by ramakrishna at 11:26 AM on December 28, 2004

Not read? Hardly.

Perhaps some of you recognize his influence on the Canadian group Frog Eyes ? (read the bio)
posted by DrKatz at 11:32 AM on December 28, 2004

Yeah, as far as I can recall, The Consolation of Philosphy is not read at St. John's (at least when I was there). I imagine it's in Adler's list, but there's a lot of stuff you can't get to even in four years of intensive work. Also, some of the more minor works get moved on and off the Program over the years as moods and fashion change. Maimonides wasn't on the Program when I was there, since then he has been included (deservedly, in my opinion). But at least one of Boethius's music theoretical writings were included in the music tutorial, I vividly recall.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:47 AM on December 28, 2004

Yeah, but what has he done for me lately?
posted by Sharktattoo at 11:50 AM on December 28, 2004

I like posts like this. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 11:52 AM on December 28, 2004

Wow. I read "Consolation of Philosophy" about 15 years ago as a part of a personal philosophical journey and was quite moved. I wrote up my impressions then in my journal.

I haven't mentioned Boethius or his work, verbally or in writing, to anyone until just this week, when I wrote about it on my blog, recalling the experience as it related to other things I'd been considering this holiday season.

How strange to see this FPP now. Surely a coincidence, but still, it's much appreciated. Thank you for this post!
posted by darkstar at 12:17 PM on December 28, 2004

a confederacy of dunces:

one of THE funniest and most PATHETIC (i suppose ignatius would insist on "bathetic") protagonists in the history of literature. (and folks seem to love the book or hate it.)

suddenly brings "midnight in the garden of good and evil" to mind, as well.

oops. sorry, thread derail.

saw the boethius at the getty. beautiful and profound . thanks for the links; i'll check em out. and im esp curious about "frog eyes."
posted by oigocosas at 12:20 PM on December 28, 2004

Thanks. I have loved Boethius since college and had the wonderful pleasure of having a bunch of friends in grad school who dug him too (mostly the folks from the Beowulf reading group). Great post.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:55 PM on December 28, 2004

"This brings to mind, although I should mention this in the tsunami (where the Krakatau eruption has great relevance) thread, that yesterday I read Simon Winchester's Krakatoa..."

I just caught an interview with Simon Winchester on CNN this afternoon. He spoke about the immense tsunami that followed the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 ... and reflected on the current devastation in Southeast Asia.
posted by ericb at 1:05 PM on December 28, 2004

I loved the Winchester book about Krakatoa with a mad, unholy passion. I highly recommend it (although good luck getting your hands on a copy right now).
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:14 PM on December 28, 2004

Odd timing. My toddling daughter just pulled The Consolation of Philosophy off the bookshelf this morning (along with Francis Bacon). I hadn't read either since school. Perhaps time to visit Boethius again. But I'll skip Bacon.
posted by jalexei at 1:47 PM on December 28, 2004

I love Boethius, we sort of reverse engineered Chaucer's work by reading him. After that I couldn't get enough of his work. The God's eye view outside time is one of the best concepts I've ever read....although people seem to keep getting killed and 'forgotten' over introducing phsyical concepts to theology.
(Giordano Bruno comes to mind)
posted by Smedleyman at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2004

Boethius is great. The Consolation should be read by all-- Christianity is more diverse and interesting than people generally realize in these latter days, and that book is worthily demonstrates it.

Also, Ethereal Bligh: You were at SJC? I was too-- SF '04. I wonder how many of us there are here...
posted by koeselitz at 4:36 PM on December 28, 2004

erg, "...that book is worthily demonstrates..."
posted by koeselitz at 4:38 PM on December 28, 2004

Koeslitz, yeah, I've talked about it a lot (probably annoying others). But, like with many of us, it's a crucial part of my identity, how could I not? :) I was SF'95 and a classmate and FOAF is a long-time mefite, but he rarely posts. He lives in Austin, where I lived until recently, and I had intermittent contact with him. That's of interest because, if you read his FPPs and the related threads, you'll see that he mentioned in one that he and his wife's (also a johnnie) baby was due in a couple of weeks. My best friend (very recently a mefite but with no posting or commenting history) mentioned to me one night that the baby was due on such-and-such a date and I replied, yeah, I know, because I read it on the Internet. Heh. One of my favorite stories.

There's a relatively prominent mofite that's a johnnie who may well have recently joined mefi, and I believe there's at least one more visible older mefite that's a johnnie but who is now a long dormant poster (and I can't recall who it is and don't have access to my archived email). There's bound to be some more of us. Can't be many, though, as there are only, um, less than 200 graduated every year? Anyway, great to see another johnnie here! Welcome!

Also, if you graduated last year from the SF campus, you know or know of my ex-SO and still good friend, "E.M.", whom I've mentioned here and you, no doubt, are well aware that her brother died in the WTC on 9/11. She's not a member, though she occasionally lurks.

So, was Boethius read other than in the music tutorial when you were there? Particularly Consolations? I'm pretty sure it wasn't in SF when was there, but I could be mistaken. I am familiar with it, though, it is pretty famous and widely read, as this thread demonstrates. (Um, but I haven't read it.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:23 PM on December 28, 2004

Ahh...the 'The Consolation of Philosophy'. I read it in seminary. This book gave me the clearest understanding of 'evil, sin and reprobation' from a Christian perspective.

It is also an interesting read when you consider he was locked up in the prison at Pavia awaiting his death. In some sense he was coming to terms with his impending doom and trying to sort out how people he knew and respected could betray him and have him killed. It was a remarkable work, and one done entirely without use of his library.
posted by UseyurBrain at 8:33 PM on December 28, 2004

Dude, that's the kind of message you send via email.

Nice thread, otherwise.
posted by beth at 9:15 PM on December 28, 2004

My comment was directed at EBlight. Just to clarify.
posted by beth at 9:25 PM on December 28, 2004

EBligh, briefly: Wow! I know of E.M., though I don't know her. It's certainly a small world. Also, I didn't read the Consolation in class there; we, like you, just did Boethius' musical writings. In fact, my sophomore year, I was in a punk band called, obscurely enough, "Boethius Bound." Ah, ridiculous youth.

Sorry beth. Done.

posted by koeselitz at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2004

Ah - Simon Winchester has an Op-Ed piece in today's New York Times - The Year the Earth Fought Back on the calamity in South Asia.
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2004

This is an excellent paper on Consolation. I also wrote up this Wikipedia entry. Perhaps the most important thing about it is its influence on the medieval mind. As CS Lewis says "To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages."
posted by stbalbach at 6:17 AM on December 30, 2004

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