Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2014.05.48 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2014.05.48

Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr., Philip Edward Phillips (ed.), A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages. Brill's companions to the Christian tradition, 30.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2012.  Pp. xxii, 661.  ISBN 9789004183544.  $274.00.  

Reviewed by Melinda Nielsen, Baylor University (


This collection of essays is indispensable for both the new student and veteran scholar of Boethius—the magister who, in himself, turns all readers into eager pupils. The volume comprises fourteen essays, and a meticulously selected annotated bibliography, escorting the reader through the major aspect of Boethius’ corpus and reception. The collection may serve as a worthy companion piece of update to Margaret Gibson’s collection of essays commemorating the 1,500 year anniversary of the Boethius’s death.1 In keeping with its placement as Volume 30 of Brill’s “Companion to the Christian Tradition: 500-1800,” the collection approaches Boethius primarily through his reception history, rather than theoretical construals of the texts themselves, or his relationship to his classical roots. Consequently the volume emphasizes the living reinterpretation of Boethius and the extent to which his writings—and life—served not simply as a ‘source’ but as a spring which fed practically every region, language, and genre in medieval Europe.

A casual glance through the table of contents may create a misleading impression that the essays are merely reprints of some of the ‘classic’ articles of Boethian scholarship, collected conveniently into one volume by the editors of Carmina Philosophia, the journal of the international Boethius Society. If that were all the volume was, editors Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr. and Philip Edward Phillips would yet merit thanks for assembling the single most helpful compendium on Boethius in over thirty years. Yet, far from reprints, every essay is a new formulation representing the mature reflection of some of the best Boethian scholars’ careers, nuanced in light of recent discoveries, and with grey areas delineated for future scholarship.

Classical readers will particularly wish to note Kaylor’s own “Introduction: The Times, Life, and Work of Boethius” and Fabio Troncarelli’s interpretative “Afterward: Boethius in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.” The latter makes widely accessible for the first time in English Troncarelli’s on-going research into late-antique “editions” of Boethius, although his interpretations of Boethius’s Christianity touch the centuries-old third-rail of Boethian scholarship. In between these two bookend-studies the essays are organized chronologically, broadly speaking. Thus Stephen C. McCluskey treats of the neo-Platonic context in “Boethius’s Astronomy and Cosmology,” while Rosalind C. Love deals with the earliest reader responses in “The Latin Commentaries on Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae from the 9th to the 11th Centuries.” Love’s essay embodies the strengths of the volume as a whole, and the way in which the volume operates on multiple levels. Her essay begins by clarifying medieval reading and commenting practices, while yet giving a clear history of the vexed manuscript tradition, and also valuable light on the new findings of the “Boethius in Early Medieval Europe Project” commenced in 2007 with Malcolm Godden and Rohini Jayatilaka.

Next the essays shift to focus on Boethius in the schools and universities, featuring Jean-Yves Guillaumin’s “Boethius’s De institutione arithemetica and its Influence on Posterity”, Siobhan Nash-Marshall’s “Boethius’s Influence on Theology and Metaphysics to c. 1500,” and John Patrick Casey’s “Boethius’s Logical Works in the Middle Ages.” The latter’s treatment of Aristotle and Porphyry would be particularly of interest to readers with one foot in the classics.

The next five essays form the heart of the volume, exploring the complex relationship between the Latin and the primary vernacular traditions: Paul E. Smarmach writes on “Boethius’s Influence in Anglo-Saxon England”; Christine Hehle on “Boethius’s Influence on German Literature to c. 1500”; Glynnis M. Cropp on “Boethius in Medieval France: Translations of the De consolatione philosophiae and Literary Influence”; Dario Brancato on “Readers and Interpreters of the Consolatio in Italy, 1300-1550”; and Ian Johnson explores “Making the Consolatio in Middle English”. It is refreshing to have Boethius’ vernacular grandchildren recognized alongside the Latin traditions as authentic interpretations of his vision. Furthermore, such prominence illustrates a shift in the Boethian studies: for comparison, only two of the fourteen essays in Margaret Gibson’s collection treat of vernaculars.

Moving past the medieval reception, Mark T. Rimple’s, “The Enduring Legacy of Boethian Harmony” and Ann E. Moyer’s, “The Quadrivium and the Decline of Boethian Influence” take us into somewhat novel territory of Boethius’ renaissance and modern afterlives. Philip Edward Phillips’ “Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius: A Chronology and Selected Annotated Bibliography” renders navigable the jungle of modern Boethian scholarship, offering as well helpful guides to editions for both research and teaching.

A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages excels in three primary respects: first, as a description of scholarly consensus and competing strands in Boethian scholarship; second, as a handbook of the most valuable bibliography in each chapter’s copious but discriminating footnotes in addition to Phillips’ formal bibliography; third, as a collection of field-changing research pointing toward shifts in Boethian studies, including the mainstreaming of vernaculars alongside Latin, and the growing reliance upon manuscript studies, both physical and digital. The volume, devoted to perhaps the greatest author of the Middle Ages, may serve as then as an introduction not only to Boethius himself, but to medieval culture as well, including reading practices, education, translation, and cosmology.


1.   Boethius: His Life, Thought, and Influence (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981).

Read comments on this review or add a comment on the BMCR blog

Read Latest
About BMCR
Review for BMCR
Support BMCR

BMCR, Bryn Mawr College, 101 N. Merion Ave., Bryn Mawr, PA 19010