On the Consolation of Medieval Manuscripts

Boethius On the Consolation of Philosophy (with commentary by Nicholas Trivet)
Italy: 1385
MS Hunter 374 (V.1.11)

The Consolation of Philosophy was the most important and influential philosophical treatise of the Middle Ages. A great scholar, Boethius (c.480-524) was an important government official for the Ostrogoth king Theodoric in Rome. He was accused of treason in 522 for defending the rights of the Senate too strenuously, imprisoned, and executed in 524. He wrote the De Consolatione Philosophiae while in custody. In it, the allegorical figure Philosophia converses with Boethius, leading him from self pity to an enlightened, rational view of the human condition. Chaucer translated the work in his Boece, and it also pervades both The Knight’s Tale and Troilus and Criseyde, enriching them with a philosophical gravity.

In this manuscript, each of the five books of the Consolation is introduced by a beautifully floreated and gilt initial. The initial ‘C’ of Book I, shown to the left, incorporates a scene of Boethius instructing his students; below is a depiction of the author in his prison at Pavia. The volume was written for one Gregorius of Genoa. The scribe, Brother Amadeus, signs the work in two places; while modestly claiming to be the least of all scribes (‘ego enim sum minimus omnium scriptorum frater Amadeus’), he has produced a book of surpassing beauty.

Chaucer’s influences

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