The Consolation of Philosophy

Text with CommentaryText with Commentary Item: Incunabula Book
Title: Boetii Viri Celebrrimi De Consolatione Philosophie Liber Cum Optimo Comento Beati Thome. (The Consolation of Philosophy).
Author: Boethius. (Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius)

Printer: J. Pruss
Place of Printing: Strassbourg
Date of Printing: 1491
Format: Quarto
Language: Latin
Incipit: Incipit Tabula Super Libros De Cosolatione Phie fm Ordine Alphabeti
Reference: Hain 3382, GKW 4451, BMC I 128, Stillwell B 710

Biography of Boethius

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524) was born into a patrician Roman family. His father, a consul, died when Boethius was only a boy so Boethius was brought up by Aurelius Symmachus, another consul. Boethius became a scholar of Greek philosophy, making translations of certain Greek writers and philosophers, including Plato and Aristotle. Boethius married Symmachus’ daughter, entered politics and became consul in his own right in 510. Approximately ten years later he became Magister Officiorum (Master of Offices) under Theodoric the Great, the ruler of Italy.

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At that time, Theodoric was nominally a vassal of the Byzantine Emperor, Justin I, but basically ruled Italy on his own. However, Justin was an Orthodox Christian while Theodoric was an Arian Christian, a heresy to the Justin’s beliefs. This led to conflict between the two rulers. When Boethius defended ex-consul Albinus against charges of treason for dealing with the Byzantine emperor, Boethius himself was also thrown into prison for treason. While awaiting the outcome, he wrote his most famous work, De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). At the end of his imprisonment, Boethius was executed. The Anonymous Valesii claimed that Boethius was tortured by a cord twisted tightly around his forehead until his eyes bulged out and then he was beaten with a club until dead. His father-in-law, Symmachus, who defended Boethius, was also executed. Boethius was treated as a martyr by the Roman Catholic Church, which made him a saint. This was confirmed by Pope Leo XIII in 1883. His feast day is October 23.

Consolation of Philosophy

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The Consolatio Philosophiae (Consolation of Philosophy) was written by Boethius while was held in prison for treason. The book was a dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy concerning the fleeting manner of fame and fortune. It advanced the idea that happiness was not based on position or possession but rather on virtue. The wheel of life (Boethian wheel) reflected the changing nature of fortune – rich may become poor, the powerful may lose their position and become powerless. This was a major work of the medieval period and widely studied by students and scholars.

Our Copy

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The cover is a limp binding made of vellum. It is undecorated except for a round mark on the cover. There are approximately 186 leaves, which are made of paper and each page contains 46 lines of commentary in Gothic type. The book contains a half title. There are quire signatures. There are red initials illuminated throughout the volume where space was left for their handwritten placement. A running title and red paragraph marks throughout the volume. The commentary, attributed to Thomas Aquinas, is written in smaller Gothic type than regular text. Some of the words are highlighted by underlining by the owner. Fragments of a Fifteenth Century manuscript are used in the binding. There are contemporary annotations on the inside cover and flyleaf of the book. There is a sixteenth century signature of ownership in the book – M. Johannis Carnady Shendal.

Johann Pruss

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J. Pruss, also known as Johann Pruss and Pryss (1447- ca1510) was a German printer born near Wurttemberg. He worked in Strassbourg from 1480-1510. The printing business he ran in Strassbourg was first started by Johannes Mentelin, then taken over by his son-in-law Adolf Rusch, before being acquired by Johann Pruss. Pruss was also a publisher and book dealer. He is credited with printing the first Bible with a title page in 1486.


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