Alfredian Boethius Project, 2002-07


Boethius in Early Medieval Europe

Commentary on The Consolation of Philosophy from the 9th to the 11th centuries

Funded by The Leverhulme Trust, 2007-12, and based at the Faculty of English, University of Oxford

About the Project Advisory Group Related Projects
Project Workshops Bibliography Contacts

Project Team

Prof. Malcolm Godden, Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon,
Faculty of English, University of Oxford
Dr Rohini Jayatilaka, Faculty of English, University of Oxford
Dr Rosalind Love, University Lecturer, Department of ASNC, Faculty of English,
University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Robinson College, Cambridge


About the Project

Boethius was one of the key figures in the survival of classical learning and its transmission to later times. Living at the end of the classical period, and playing an important role in the last stages of Roman imperial civilisation in the west, he used his knowledge of Greek and Latin and his familiarity with philosophy and poetry to write a series of important works which were designed to make ancient learning accessible for his own contemporaries. These became crucial texts, on philosophy, music, arithmetic and logic, for later centuries, down to the end of the Middle Ages and beyond. The Consolation of Philosophy, written in exile around 525, possibly in prison and under sentence of death at the end of his life after a rupture with the Gothic king of Italy, is the most famous and influential of these texts. Written in dialogue form and interweaving prose and poetry, it was translated into English in Anglo-Saxon times, reputedly by King Alfred, and later by Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I among others, and into Old High German, French and other languages; it was a key source for literary authors in many medieval languages; and it became an important educational text, used to instruct successive generations of students and scholars in the art of poetry and rhetoric, and in astronomy, natural history, classical legend and history, and the Latin language.

The key period for this explosion of interest and influence is the three centuries from the discovery of the work in 790 by Alcuin, an Anglo-Saxon scholar belonging to the circle of Charlemagne, to the end of the eleventh century. Though the outlines of this explosion are known the main evidence is still buried in thousands of annotations and glosses written in the margins and between the lines of scores of manuscripts of the Consolation. These convey contemporary explanations (and misunderstandings) of a vast range of allusions in the text, from Sirens to Socrates and actresses to astronomy.

Scholars have known of the existence of these glosses or scholia for over a century, and several have at various times set out to collect the material and make it available to others in accessible form, but all have failed or abandoned the task on discovering the scale of the challenge and the difficulty of organising the masses of material. As a result, many people refer to this material in general terms, and some cite comments from individual manuscripts, but no-one knows what is really there. The long-established notion that what the manuscripts contain are essentially lots of different copies of just two commentaries, one by Remigius of Auxerre and another by someone known only as 'The Anonymous of St Gall', is clearly wrong. We are probably looking at the contributions of many unknown commentators working in France, Germany, England, Wales and Ireland, over the ninth to eleventh centuries. What we aim to do is build a picture of this range of knowledge and understanding and interests at a time of rapid cultural change.

Malcolm Godden and Rohini Jayatilaka have been working on this material since 2002, as part of their Alfredian Boethius project. For the present project, they and Rosalind Love aim to develop this work and make the material fully accessible to everyone interested in it. Our aim is to decipher and transcribe all those annotations and glosses, to edit and translate them, and then to analyse what they tell us about the understanding of classical culture, natural history, astronomy etc. in the period, and to trace the ways in which this kind of material, and Boethius's own ideas, percolated into other kinds of literature and into the general understanding of the past and of the physical world in the period.

Our primary target is a full edited compilation of the whole corpus, recording or collating all distinct glosses and variations amongst them, apart from mere differences of spelling and word-order. This will run to about 2,000 pages, and will, we hope, be eventually available in both print and fully-searchable electronic form. To make the material more accessible, we aim also to produce a select edition based on English MSS of the tenth and eleventh century, which will give a good representative picture of the glosses that were current in both England and the Continent in the period. This will be published in book form.

In support of this material we will provide descriptions of the MSS, an analysis of the history of the commentary material and a detailed commentary examining the sources of the glosses and assessing the information that they provide.


Back to the top


Advisory Group

We have assembled a group of advisers expert in the relevant fields of medieval texts, history, science, language and glossing. Each year we will hold a workshop with them and others to discuss work in progress, the work of parallel projects and issues related to the commentary.

The advisory group are:

Dr Mary Garrison, Dept of History, University of York
Prof. Susan Irvine, Dept of English, University College London
Prof. Stephen McCluskey, Dept. of History, University of West Virginia
Prof. Rosamond McKitterick, History Faculty, Cambridge University
Prof. Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe, Dept of English, University of California, Berkeley
Dr Sinead O'Sullivan, Dept of History, Queen's University Belfast
Prof. Marina Passalacqua, Dipartimento di Filologia Greca e Latina, Università Roma 'La Sapienza'
Prof. Paul E. Szarmach, Director, Medieval Academy of America
Dr Mariken Teeuwen of the Martianus Capella project at the Huygens Institute, The Hague
Dr Paolo Vaciago, Istituzioni di Filologia Germanica, Università Roma Tre
Prof. Joseph Wittig, English Department, University of North Carolina
Prof. Roger Wright, Hispanic Studies, Liverpool University


Back to the top


Related Projects

The Martianus Capella Project


Project Workshops

For details of Workshop I click here.



The Boethius Commentary Project, English Faculty, University of Oxford, St Cross Building, Manor Road, Oxford OX1 3UQ

Professor Malcolm R. Godden:
Dr Rohini Jayatilaka:
Dr Rosalind Love:


Back to the top

Page created 1 November 2007
Page updated 23 February 2010