The appearance of the first edition of Joachim Gruber’s commentary on Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy in 1978 was a landmark in the critical study of this literary and philosophical masterpiece of Roman late antiquity (written shortly before Boethius’ execution in 524). For the first time, Boethius’ readers had a comprehensive, detailed exegesis that encompassed the style and diction of its alternating prose and poetic sections, the metres of its poems, its ideas and arguments, and that brought to the task an impressive familiarity with the full range of scholarly literature on the Consolation. Now, almost thirty years later, Gruber (hereafter G.) provides a thoroughly revised and expanded second edition, ensuring that his commentary will continue to inform and support current and future readers of Boethius’ opus.
The pattern of this edition follows that of its predecessor. There is a general introduction (pp. 1-51) on Boethius’s life and writings, on the literary traditions that inform the Consolation, on the philosophical background, possible sources, language and style, and reception. Then follows the detailed lemmatized commentary book by book, with short introductory discussions of each book and each section. No Latin text is provided, but this would have made a big book uncomfortably bigger, and G. follows (but not uncritically) a standard critical edition (see below). Finally, there is a wide-ranging bibliography, and several indexes. The principal material changes in this new edition are: a short but helpful section in the introduction on the medieval and early modern reception of the Consolation (pp. 46-9; see also the bibliography, pp. 437-8); the welcome addition of an index locorum (pp. 458-520), a glance at which indicates the range and richness of G.’s references; a rearrangement of the other index material (pp. 445-57) that makes for greater clarity and ease of use; a bibliography, now, like the indexes, well-structured in several sections; and last but not least, the use of Claudio Moreschini’s new Teubner edition as the textual basis of the commentary (thus, among many other things, the commentary reviews the textual choices of Moreschini’s edition).1
Otherwise, the main lines of G.’s interpretation in the 1978 edition are maintained, sometimes reinforced by recent scholarship. Given the influence that this commentary has, or should have, on informed Boethian scholarship (an important part of which is the scholarship of the medieval and later reception of the Consolation), it is appropriate to reflect here on G.’s method and findings. As to method, G. is the most discreet of scholars. His understanding of Boethius’ work emerges only from close perusal of the detail of his commentary and presupposes a reader working line by line through the Latin text.2 Annotation is succinct, and, in addition to the copious references to other ancient texts, whether antecedents or parallels (G. is no avid searcher after specific “sources”, preferring instead to see many linguistic and thematic similarities as evidence for a tradition), and the numerous cross-references, the reader is constantly directed to modern scholarship, with this new edition including assessments of the important newer literature. When one gets used to G.’s method, it becomes easier to decide which interpretations he approves of, but he also sees it as his task merely to report interesting or plausible interpretations.
To summarize the findings of the commentary is thus no easy task, though the introduction (pp. 1-51) helps. Nevertheless, if one is patient, a clear understanding of the place of the Consolation in Latin literature and in the philosophical tradition of late antiquity does emerge. G. demonstrates that it is, in its style, a work of synthesis. The language of the poems is predominantly classical (though there are traces of readings of Claudian and Prudentius), but the prose sequences reveal the increased intrusion of poetic language and vocabulary range typical of late Latin, as well as characteristic post-classical syntax, the influence of biblical language, and (less surprisingly) of the new terminology of Neoplatonism, along with other neologisms (some idea of Boethius’ innovatory vocabulary is given by the Latin word index on pp. 451-6; see also pp. 42-4). Prose and verse sequences form one artistic and thematic whole: revealing this is one of the merits of G.’s commentary, as are his insistence on the aesthetic importance of the work’s ambitious and calculated appropriation of several traditional literary genres and his demonstration of the metrical patterning and correspondences (see the table inserted between pp. 20 and 21) across the five books of the Consolation.
On the traditional topoi of scholarship on the Consolation G.’s position is clear and considered. Both in its style (here the metrical patterning referred to in the preceding paragraph is crucial to his argument) and philosophical argument (see pp. 396-7) the work is complete as it stands. There are no unequivocal Christian themes in the work, even though Boethius’ environment and culture are Christian. It is above all a work of philosophical exhortation and explication (especially of the themes of philosophy as therapy and the control of the passions, the structure of the universe, the nature of evil, divine providence and human freedom). But its use of the Platonic and especially Neoplatonic traditions has parallels in avowedly Christian authors like Augustine, and these elements are, for the most part, compatible with Christian beliefs (see the welcome clarifying statement in the new foreword, p. xi, and pp. 39-40). As for the influence of that other extended Latin prosimetric work of late antiquity, Martianus Capella’s De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, G. has re-examined the possible linguistic and thematic links between the two works in the light of Sabine Grebe’s late dating of Martianus to between 496 and 523 and has come to the sensible conclusion that we can no longer with any confidence consider Martianus to be a source of, or influence upon, Boethius (p. 17).3
The first edition of this book immediately established itself as a standard work. Now, with great patience and industry but also a remarkably fresh re-engagement with the Consolation, G. has brought his commentary completely up to date. Boethians everywhere will salute him. And the publisher has produced a book of the highest technical quality.
1. C. Moreschini (ed.), Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, Opuscula theologica. Bibliotheca Teubneriana. Second edition, Munich/Leipzig 2005. This edition is omitted from the list of editions in the bibliography, pp. 410-11, but see pp. 49-51. For some notable discussions of textual details in G.’s commentary see his notes on 1 m. 5.41 (p.145), 2 m. 1.2 (pp. 175-6), 2 m. 1.8 (p. 176), 3.10.9 (p. 291), and 4.4.37 (p. 340).
2. Readers without Latin will none the less benefit from the general introduction, and the introductions to the individual books and sections. There is an excellent annotated English translation of the Consolation, which makes good use of the first edition of G.’s commentary, by P. G. Walsh, Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy, Oxford 1999.
3. S. Grebe, ‘Gedanken zur Datierung von De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii des Martianus Capella’, Hermes 128 (2000), 353-68.