The Consolation of Philosophy, written early in the sixth century by the Roman philosopher and statesman Boethius, was among the most influential works of literature in medieval Europe. From the time of its rediscovery in the Carolingian period, the Consolation was valued as an authoritative synthesis of ancient philosophy, a compendium of poetry and mythological lore, a first-person narrative of embattled virtue, and a model of dialectical method applied to intractable problems in ethics, metaphysics, and theology.
In this seminar, we examine the Consolation and its medieval and early modern reception, with a focus on the problems—and opportunities—that this text presented to successive generations of readers. What did readers seek from the Consolation, and what gave them trouble in it? How did this text enable new ways of thinking and writing, and how did these innovations change the meaning of the Consolation itself? As a mixed-genre work read widely over a long period, the Consolation and its tradition provide unique insight into the dynamic literary cultures of premodern Europe.
We begin with Boethius’s text, which we read alongside programmatic theoretical essays on the nature of textual meaning and the roles that literary technique may play in moral philosophy. In subsequent weeks we examine the medieval commentaries that grew up around the Consolation, then read major translations and adaptations of it. These may include the Old English Boethius (traditionally ascribed to King Alfred), Alan of Lille’s Complaint of Nature, Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun’s Romance of the Rose, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Boethian compositions, Christine de Pizan’s Path of Long Study, Thomas More’s Dialogue of Comfort, and Justus Lipsius’s On Constancy. Our studies will be supported by the Newberry Library’s collections, which include significant holdings in our area.
Prerequisites: Students should write on texts that they can read in the original language.
Learn more about the instructor: Ian Cornelius, Loyola University Chicago
Students may take this seminar on a not-for-credit basis or arrange to earn credit at their home campuses. When space permits, consortium faculty members are encouraged to audit Newberry seminars, and graduate students from non-consortium schools may also enroll.
Graduate students of Center for Renaissance Studies consortium institutions may be eligible to apply for travel funds to attend CRS programs or to do research at the Newberry. Each member university sets its own policies and deadlines; contact your Representative Council member in advance for details.