BMCR 2001.05.20

Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, Opuscula theologica

, , De consolatione philosophiae ; Opuscula theologica. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Munich/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2000. xxi, 262 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 3598711190 DM 128.00.

Boethius wrote the Philosophiae consolatio in, it seems, 523-24 and his theological tractates probably during the decade or so before that. The nine and a half centuries after his death gave rise to an enormous number of manuscripts of the Consolatio and to a much smaller but nevertheless significant number of manuscripts of the tractates. The textual traditions of the Consolatio and tractates appear to be interrelated, both having a common ancestor possibly dating back to the sixth century (Cassiodorus, Vivarium). Although there is as yet no complete census of Boethian manuscripts (one is underway, begun by M.T. Gibson and now under the supervision of L. Smith), significant progress has been made during the last century owing to the work of P. Courcelle, L. Minio-Paluello, F. Troncarelli, and others. Boethius came into print in 1491-92, but it was not until 1871, with the first Teubner edition (R. Peiper), that the Consolatio and Opuscula Sacra were critically edited from manuscripts.

After 1871 the Consolatio benefitted above all from the good offices of three textual critics (Wm. Weinberger [Vienna, 1934, CSEL 67], K. Büchner [Heidelberg, 1947, 1960, 1977], L. Bieler [Turnhout, 1957, 1984, CCSL 94.1]) and from a number of scholars who gave consideration to particular problems in the transmitted text (e.g. G. Schepss, E. Klussmann, Th. Stangl, A. Engelbrecht, K. Prinz, H. Tränkle, K. Smolak-D. Weber-C. Ratkowitsch). Stemmata, to my knowledge, have so far been a rarity (cf. F. Klingner, Gnomon 16 [1940], 27f., in agreement with Moreschini apparently only on the position of P). The Opuscula, on the other hand, fared less well. E.K. Rand, whose Loeb edition was until now the only serious competitor to Peiper’s Teubner, had gone part of the way towards sorting out the affiliations of the early manuscripts but never completed the critical edition which he had planned to publish. Things may be coming into balance, however, since at least two editions of the Opuscula, for CCSL and CSEL, would appear to be on the horizon, and Moreschini’s new Teubner is already to hand.

In the comments which follow I shall restrict attention to the Consolatio, primarily because I happen to have access to microfilm of one of its main manuscripts, but also because of the extraordinary demands which it places upon editors owing to the large number of manuscripts and to complexities stemming from the mixed literary genre and from the intermingling of literary and philosophical traditions. The Consolatio is also Boethius’ best known work and will probably be of most general interest to readers.

Moreschini’s edition is, to put it plainly, a breakthrough, for one reason in particular: whereas Bieler, whose edition has been considered the standard for nearly half a century now, was convinced that future editions of the Consolatio were unlikely, owing to the contaminated state of the tradition, to benefit significantly from further collation of manuscripts, Moreschini not only has given sustained attention to manuscripts which were previously used but has collated ones which were hitherto neglected either wholly (Va R B Mn) or in part (H F G W). What can be said about the resultant differences between their respective editions?

I note forty-one points at which Moreschini parts ways with Bieler, and more often than not his editorial judgement is reasoned and has strong support from the manuscript tradition. Here are some examples: “praesens nec” (II 1,13), “merebantur” (II 5,10), “leuare” (II m7,8), “tortorem” (III 7,5), “rebus” omitted (IV 6,8), “agitat” (IV 6,40, after Büchner), no change of speaker at V 4,16. In connection with one of the most significant points of disturbance in the tradition, one which stems from the archetype (for all manuscripts evidently carry the same version of the passage), Moreschini has moved away from an earlier position and taken sides with Bieler, who was in turn following Langen. More precisely, at IV 4,18-21 Boethius’ argument, a paradoxical one (cf. “mirum,” IV 4,12) after the manner of the Platonic dialogues, is formally unsound if with the manuscripts the conclusion (that the unpunished are more wretched than the punished) is made to anticipate the points (a) that it is just for the wicked to be punished and (b) that what is just is good. In his earlier edition (Torino: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1994) Moreschini had with Weinberger taken the more conservative approach of following the manuscripts (archetype), but in the new Teubner he appears to have accepted that the editorial criterion must arise from consideration of the integrity of Boethius’ argument rather than just its chiarezza (for in this case if the argument is wrongly stated it is inevitably obscured). It would be interesting to know Moreschini’s thoughts on this and other passages, and one hopes that his forthcoming monograph ( Studi sulla tradizione manoscritta della Consolatio Philosophiae e degli Opuscula Theologica di Boezio [Naples: M. D’Auria]), promised at p. v, n. 2, will soon be available.

Wherever Bieler and Moreschini differ in reporting evidence from the manuscripts the reader is left to wonder which of them, if either, is correct. I note three passages for which discrepancies between their editions cannot be clarified by referring to either critical apparatus. Consultation of manuscript V (Vat. lat. 3363, s. ix, which Moreschini dubs the “optimus” of the β 2 family) in each case suggests an inadvertent omission on Moreschini’s part (“residens” [I 4,3], “mortales” [III 2,4], “acerbitate” [IV 4,23]). (“Adtitisse,” I 1,1, would appear to be a typographical error.) Manuscript V supports, on the other hand, Moreschini’s notices concerning omissions in Bieler’s edition (“summa” [I 5,4], “omne” [IV 4,19], “humana” [V 3,26]). A sampling of about fifty passages in V suggests that for accuracy Moreschini has the advantage over Bieler. Here are some examples: “desierit” (I 5,5): Both Bieler and Moreschini note (rightly, I think) that “destiterit” is the reading in V before correction. Moreschini provides, however, more complete information than Bieler does. “uestrae” (II 5,3): Moreschini is unable, as am I, to discern the primary reading, but Bieler for some reason thought it may indeed have been “uestrae.” “ac uis congesta pecuniae” (II 5,4). It will be best to consider each word separately: “ac”: V has “an” written over an erasure, and microfilm does not reveal what was there originally. Moreschini indicates that it was “ac” (“an” after correction); Bieler, on the other hand, fails to note that “an” is in fact a correction. “uis”: Another correction in V (over erasure, original reading obscure), as noted by Moreschini but not by Bieler. “congesta”: Corrected to “congestae” in V, as noted by both Moreschini and Bieler. “pecuniae”: Corrected from “pecunia” in V, as noted by Bieler; Moreschini makes “pecunia” out to be the correction.

Bieler’s critical apparatus, as I have suggested elsewhere, is probably not very reliable ( Hermes 125 [1997], 256f.); Moreschini’s appears to strike much closer to the mark. Quite apart from the accuracy in reporting diplomatic evidence there is the general analysis of the manuscript tradition to set Moreschini’s edition apart from Bieler’s, and indeed from all others. Moreschini gives a breakdown of manuscripts according to two main families, one French (α, P O M K), the other German (β, divided between [1] L T F N R E Mn W C, and [2] V Va H G A B). With Bieler, Moreschini maintains that there was considerable contamination already by the tenth century, and it is clear from a glance at almost any page of either one’s edition that the claim is true. Consider, for example, II m1,2, where each of the transmitted readings (“exaestuantis,” “et aestuantis”) receives mixed support from α, β 1, and β 2 witnesses (as also from various modern editors); similarly, IV 3,13 (“affecit,” “infecit”). Evidence for the coherence of the families is indeed much harder to find than is evidence for their contamination and intermingling. For α the situation is somewhat clearer than it is for β (e.g. “neque,” “eo praeter,” IV 4,12/17, each with some β manuscripts as well). And, although β is indeed in evidence, where that is the case it is almost always so despite some degree of contamination (e.g. “tua tibi,” II 2,2, where L, N, R, W, C, H, and G side with α). The same can be said of both of its sub-families, β 1 (e.g. “destiterit,” I 5,5, minus E Mn C, plus V from β 2) and β 2 (e.g. “cerui,” IV 3,19, minus [H] G A, plus E from β 1). As far as I can tell, strict recension back to the errors of the archetype is indeed out of the question for the Consolatio. An editor must instead watch for “good” readings, asking then how the decisions taken line up with what the manuscripts suggest by way of affiliation. In principle, it would seem that the most serious consideration ought to be given to readings which receive broad support from α and at least one β sub-family. To repeat, it is to be hoped that Moreschini’s forthcoming monograph on the manuscript tradition will give clarity to what can only be inferred on the basis of his critical text and apparatus.

Scholars will, then, welcome Moreschini’s critical apparatus in particular, both for its information about the newly collated witnesses and for the light it sheds on the main lines of transmission. In one respect, however, Bieler has not been rendered obsolete, and that is his apparatus fontium. Here Moreschini was undoubtedly working under the normal constraints of the Teubner series, and there are at least two books which scholars regularly consult for information on Boethius’ “sources” anyway (J. Gruber, Kommentar zu Boethius De Consolatione Philosophiae [Berlin and New York: W. de Gruyter, 1978], H. Scheible, Die Gedichte in der Consolatio Philosophiae des Boethius [Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1972]). Nevertheless, Bieler’s apparatus fontium, one of his most significant contributions, is a convenience which will be missed by readers of Moreschini’s edition.

As a final observation it may be noted that neither Bieler nor Moreschini can claim to have had the final word on the prosody of the Consolatio, which in certain passages puts the transmitted text under suspicion (e.g. “egit…exagitantis…saeuos,” I m4,2/6/11, for which “trahit” [L. Bernays], “excitantis,” and “feros” [cf. Peiper ad loc.] have been suggested). But the first need is probably for a systematic investigation of the technicalities of Boethius’ handling of the metres used in the Consolatio, a project which has not yet, to my knowledge, been undertaken.