looking at Boethius

I failed to include any pretty pictures in my last post, so now I give you this:

It’s a page opening from Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae, printed in 1498 in Venice. Actually, that’s a completely inadequate description of what we’re looking at. And that’s one of the reasons I like this image–there is a lot to see when you look at this book. For starters, there is the text in the large font, printed in several blocks over the two pages. That text is Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy, written around AD 524 while Boethius is imprisoned and awaiting trial for treason, for which he was to be executed. It was a highly influential piece in the medieval and early modern worlds, one that was studied and passed on in manuscripts and, eventually, printed texts. (You can find an online edition and an English translation at the University of Virginia Library’s Electronic Text Center.)

Evidence of the traditions of commentary on Boethius’s text can be seen in how it is presented on the page. Surrounding the blocks of text from De consolatione philosophiae is commentary by an early fourteenth-century Welsh priest, Thomas Wallensis. The commentary is in the same style of type, but a smaller size, and not laid out with as much open space. To my eye, when I look at the page, the commentary is clearly commentary, a subsidiary text to the primary Boethius. You don’t even need to know what you’re looking at to get that dynamic.

Surrounding and interlined with the printed text is an extensive manuscript commentary by an early user of the book. There are notes written in the leading between the lines of Boethius’s text, as well as in the inner, outer, top, and bottom margins of the pages. It’s evidence of someone who not only looked at this book, but who read it closely and really used it. There’s commentary on commentary here. Describing this as Boethius’s Consolation does not do justice to what is happening on these pages, even if that is how it is catalogued.

Finally, one last great image. The same reader who provided the manuscript commentary above has left annotations throughout the book, including this wonderful picture of a hand pointing to exactly where we should be looking.

For your further looking pleasure, you can find zoomable images of both Boethius pages here (don’t forget to set your browser to allow pop-ups), and the catalogue entry in Hamnet for the book here.

3 thoughts on “looking at Boethius

  1. >Please tell me this isn’t a sign I’ve jumped the shark!I actually have a few more images of fists (including one with a ruff!) that I’ll put up in my next post. None of them, however, have starred in any sitcoms…

  2. >Don’t worry no jumping of sharks has occurred… it was just something about the angle and relaxedness of the manicule that sparked an association. Here is an example…

Comments are closed.