Preface to A Consolation of Philosophy

"A golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully." "To acquire a taste for it is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages." Such was the praise for The Consolation of Philosophy granted by Edward Gibbon and C.S. Lewis; they were not the first to succumb. From the Carolingian epoch to the end of the Middle Ages and beyond, this was the most widely copied work of secular literature in Europe. It was translated into Old English by King Alfred, into Old French by Jean de Meun, into Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer and into Elizabethan English by Queen Elizabeth herself -- to list only the most celebrated versions.

Yet the work is not mentioned by any of Boethius's contemporaries and it came into wide circulation only long after the author died a traitor's (or a martyr's) death. In the eighteenth century questions arose about the author's allegiances (could he have been something less than the devout Christian the Middle Ages took him for?) when a pietist writer attacked him for the incipient scholasticism of his writings. Since the late nineteenth century, it has been certain that the author of the Consolation also wrote theological pamphlets; but that certainty has done little to end scholarly debate. We have only recently seen the work situated securely in the geography of late antique thought (see the works of Courcelle and Chadwick in the Select Bibliography) and it is still far from clear why and how the work became so vastly popular in the Middle Ages. It is a work of surprising depths and beauties, of lasting fascination.