This is a course site for “Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its Afterlife”, a 10-week graduate seminar run at the Newberry Library in winter quarter of 2019.


Written early in the sixth century by the Roman philosopher and statesman Boethius, the Consolation of Philosophy was among the most influential works of literature in medieval Europe, 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.

(Scroll down for books and assignments.)

schedule of classes and readings

We meet in the ITW seminar room on the ground floor of the library except as indicated in the schedule below.

I will offer optional supplementary sessions – probably an hour per week, in person or via Skype – for students who have some knowledge of Latin and want to read parts of the Consolation in the original language.

January 11 (wk1)


  • Boethius, Consolation (entire)

We should decide presentation topics this week or next.

January 18 (wk2)

First collection viewing (see the Checklist of Newberry holdings).

January 25 (wk3)

Meet in Basement Classroom B-94. An early medieval vernacular adaptation.
Presentation by Jesse McDowell.


  • The Old English Boethius (entire)

February 1 (wk4)

Medieval commentaries.
Presentation by Josh Parks on Boethius’s treatise De institutione musicae.

  • Lawler, “Medieval Annotation” (1991), posted to zotero
  • Godden and Jayatilaka, “Counting the Heads of the Hydra” (2011), posted to zotero
  • Nauta, “The Latin commentary tradition, 800–1700” (2009), chap. 10 in Marenbon, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Boethius, available online via CambridgeCore and zotero
  • William of Conches on 3m12
  • Nicholas Trevet on 2m8, and 3m9 and 3m11

Febraury 8 (wk5)

Twelfth-century Platonism and Latin personification allegory.
Presentation by Victor Garcia on Isidore of Seville.
Presentation by Reginald Rice on Platonism.


  • Alan of Lille, The Complaint of Nature

February 15 (wk6)

Vernacular personification allegory I.
Presentation by Brittany Rebarchik on John Gower’s Confessio Amantis.


  • Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, The Romance of the Rose, omitting the speeches of the Friend and the Old Woman
  • Christine de Pizan, excerpts from “The debate on The Romance of the Rose” and The Path of Long Study, posted to zotero

February 22 (wk7)

Vernacular personification allegory II.

  • Piers Plowman, Prol.–passus 11

March 1 (wk8)

Meet in room 401. Second collection viewing. Renaissance philosophical dialogue I.
Presentation by Michal Zechariah on Thomas More.

  • Thomas More, A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, book 1.prol–1.11 & 20; book 2.prol–2.2 & 8–16 (to p. 135); book 3.prol–12, 18–20 & 27. A pdf of these selections is posted to zotero.

March 8 (wk 9)

seminar does not meet.

March 15 (wk 10)

Renaissance philosophical dialogue II.
Presentation by Peter Rosa on Justus Lipsius.

  • Justus Lipsius, On Constancy, trans. John Stradling (entire). We read from Justus Lipsius: On Constancy, ed. by John Sellars (Exeter, Devon, 2006). ISBN 978-1-904675-15-0.

March 22 (make-up)

Standard time; meet in B91. End-of-term presentations and early English translations of the Consolation.


The following books are required for this course and available for purchase at the Rosenberg Bookshop in the Newberry Library. Other readings will be supplied in electronic copy.

  • Alan of Lille. Literary Works. Edited and translated by Winthrop Wetherbee. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 22. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0674059962. $35

  • Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Joel C. Relihan. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2001. ISBN-13: 978-0872205833. $17

  • Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. Translated by Frances Horgan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0199540679. $16.95

  • Langland, William. Piers Plowman: The Donaldson Translation, Middle English Text, Sources and Backgrounds. Edited by Elizabeth Ann Robertson and Stephen H. A. Shepherd. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-97559-8. $19

  • The Old English Boethius: With Verse Prologues and Epilogues Associated with King Alfred. Edited and translated by Susan Irvine and Malcolm Godden. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 19. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0674055582. $35

The following book is recommended and likewise available at the Rosenberg Bookshop.

  • O’Donnell, James J. Boethius’ Consolatio Philosophiae. Bryn Mawr Latin Commentaries, Vols. 1–2. Bryn Mawr, PA: Bryn Mawr College, 1990. Distributed by Hackett Publishing Co. ISBN-13: 978-0929524375. $24.95

Finally, you may want to acquire a second-hand copy of the following (selections will be provided in pdf):

  • More, Thomas. A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. Edited by Frank Manley. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. ISBN-13: 978-0-300-02082-3 (hard cover); 978-0-300-02185-1 (soft cover).


  • A presentation, 15–20 minutes, to be written up afterward. Collaborations are welcome; topics and dates should be decided in first or second week.

  • A short presentation, about 5 minutes, on your research in progress, delivered in our last class meeting.

  • A research essay, approximately 6,000 words. Due Friday, 5 April, or by special arrangement later that month.