Winthrop Wetherbee

title.none: Kaylor and Phillips, eds. New Directions (Winthrop Wetherbee)

identifier.other: baj9928.0803.007 08.03.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Winthrop Wetherbee, Cornell University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2008

identifier.citation: Kaylor, Noel Harold and Philip Edward Phillips. New Directions in Boethian Studies. Studies in Medieval Cultures, vol. 45. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2007. Pp. xvii, 293. 978-1-58044-100-1. ISBN: 978-1-58044-100-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 08.03.07

Kaylor, Noel Harold and Philip Edward Phillips. New Directions in Boethian Studies. Studies in Medieval Cultures, vol. 45. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2007. Pp. xvii, 293. 978-1-58044-100-1. ISBN: 978-1-58044-100-1.

Reviewed by:

Winthrop Wetherbee
Cornell University

These essays, all of which first appeared in Carmina Philosophiae, the journal of the International Boethius Society, and all but one of which center on the Consolation, give a good indication of the progress of Boethius studies in recent years, and the role played by the IBS in promoting this work.

After an introduction by Kaylor and Phillips which includes a brief biography and a review of recent scholarship, William Asbell traces the use of the term sufficientia in Book 3 of the Consolation. Arguing plausibly that it is best understood as an equivalent to the Greek autarkeia, he notes that it is used both of that sufficiency which comes from "the gathering of all goods" and of the self-sufficiency that is the reward of true goodness. In discussing its use in Plato, Aristotle and Hellentistic thought he discovers "contradictions" which are perhaps a matter of his not distinguishing clearly enough between these two forms of sufficientia, or tracing clearly the dialectic through which Boethius moves from the one to the other.

Two critical essays on the Consolation proper reveal an awareness of that "darker" side which earlier readings had almost invariably ignored, the dialectical subtleties which make Boethius' dialogue something more challenging than a straightforward exposition of neo-Platonic doctrine. Christine Herold explores the interplay of poetry and philosophy in the Consolation, emphasizing Boethius handling of the concept and themes of tragedy. As she notes, the many reminders of tragic experience, beginning with Fortune's capsule assertion of the view of tragedy condemned in the Republic and continued by many pointed echoings of the plays of Seneca, punctuate an attempt to discover a rational universe which yields only "unanswered questions and contradictory answers," and which gives way in the end to "the certainties of Christian faith," "Platonic towers" which, Herold rather disconcertingly adds, are "built upon the foundation of Roman inquiry, uncertainty, and defiance."

For Krista Sue-Lo Twu it is not the substance of Philosophy's teaching but the process, "the use of the dialectic as a directional method," that provides consolation. Mere doctrine cannot be possessed experientially, and it is only through the give and take of dialogue, resistance as well as acquiescence to Philosophy's teaching, that the Prisoner is brought to recognize the futility of anger and despair and aspire actively toward surety. It is thus that his exchanges with Philosophy lead finally to a dialogue with Truth.

In the first of a series of studies of vernacular adaptations of the Consolation, J. Keith Atkinson examines a late-fourteenth-century poem of some 4600 verses, probably by a Victorine author, based almost entirely on the Roman de Fortune et de Felicité (1337) by the Dominican Renaut de Louhans. Despite this debt the poem is original in its rigorous trimming of Renaut's poem. The whole of Book V is eliminated, along with nearly all mythological references, poetic imagery, and biographical information about Boethius, as well as a good deal of the philosophical argument. The result is a work of "narrow-minded and dogmatic piety," morbid and glum, which Atkinson calls a Dit moral contre Fortune.

Glynnis M. Cropp describes an early fifteenth-century Genoese adaptation, De le questioim de Boecio based, as she shows, on an unglossed version of the Livre de Boece de Consolacion, the most widely known of the several French versions. An original prologue identifies Boethius as a Christian martyr, sam [St.] Seuerim, and the translator inserts exempla from the Old and New Testaments. Latin rubrics mark the divisions of verse and prose, and Book V, which ends with prose 4, and omits several earlier sections, departs from the Livre de Boece, and seems instead to be based on a Latin text with commentary.

Francesca Ziino explores the little-studied Spanish versions of the Consolation, which reflect the development of a lay readership, and perhaps also a need for consolación in the face of the plagues and famine of the fourteenth century. She focuses on two late-fourteenth or fifteenth-century Catalan versions, both based on an earlier, now lost Catalan translation, and a Castilian rendering that is evidently a translation of one of these. All of these draw on the commentary tradition, in particular the commentary of William of Aragon, to the point at which, Ziino suggests, they amount to renderings of William rather than the Consolation itself.

Three essays address the legacy of the Consolation in medieval literature and art. Ann Astell sees the elaborate and largely parodic use of the Consolation by Jean de Meun, Chaucer, and other poets as defining a genre, "Boethian romance," in which worldly "consolation" is given to a lovesick hero. A key to this puzzling development, she suggests, is in the rich suggestiveness of the vivid opening scene of the Consolation, commonly represented in miniature as a frontispiece to the work; Philosophy's ministrations to the Prisoner (often shown lying in bed) could be reimagined as the remedia amoris.

Christoph Houswitschka surveys the treatment of Fortune in late-medieval literature, not simply as a Boethian puzzle, but as an index to the socio-economic status of the writer, in particular his relation to patronage. Advice to the prince, whether conveyed fatalistically through de casibus stories centered on bad governance, or as reminders that the prince who resists Fortune by ensuring the common good is the agent of providence, acknowledges princely power in order to make a claim upon it. Only the relatively independent writer (Alain Chartier is the example offered) can criticize the abuse of power in detachment, and assert the stabilizing power of virtue as a necessity common to all men.

My late and dear friend Michael Masi examines the Prologue and Tale of Chaucer's Wife of Bath in terms of a "dialectic of paradox" which he sees as a clever inversion of the argumentative technique of Boethius' Philosophy. While Philosophy reveals the insubstantiality of a range of earthly goods, the Wife demonstrates the contingency of virgin purity on sexual indulgence, the necessary primacy of female whim over male reason, and, at the climax of her tale, the preferability of an old, ugly wife to a young and beautiful one. The final paradox is that having renounced an all-too-human desire for a young, beautiful and noble wife, the knight is rewarded with sovereignty over a wife with precisely these qualities.

In the one essay not concerned primarily with the Consolation or its tradition, Romanus Cessario takes on the view of Friedrich Heer, Emile Bréhier and others that Boethius was committed to an essentially secular canon of higher studies, and may have been only an indifferent Christian. Not only was Boethius the descendant of several generations of Christians, and a member of a Senate concerned to preserve Nicene orfthodoxy in the face of an encroaching Arianism, but his theological tractates are clearly the work of one thoroughly versed in Christian theology and concerned to define and affirm "what I believe should be believed" (Contra Eutychen, ad fin.), and their subjects are those of the crucial religious debates of his time.

In a long and copious survey, Graham H. Drake reviews the readings put forward by commentators from the mid-twelfth to the fifteenth century in regard to Boethius' Muses, the lacerae Camenae, the scenicae meretriculae whom he addresses in the opening lines of the Consolation. The interplay of readings in bono and in malo is fascinating, ranging from elaborations on Philosophy's own pejorative comments to the readings of Tolomeo Asinari (1307), who discovers in the nine learned sisters nine gradus ad perfectionem in the acquisition of knowledge, and the nine properties that distinguish humankind from mere beasts.

The volume ends with a new transcription by Kaylor and Phillips of the Boke of Comfourt of Bois, a late-fourteenth- or fifteenth-century Middle English rendering of the Consolation. This work had earlier been edited and introduced by Kaylor and others in Carmina Philosophiae, and is here presented with only a brief account of the manuscript and notes confined for the most part to glosses on individual words.