This book is about one of the most influential works of our history, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius was a 5th-6th century philosopher-poet-politician-scientist who became both highly learned and very powerful, but was accused (falsely) of treason, imprisoned, and brutally executed. Before his death, from his prison cell, he wrote a little book that would, unbeknownst to him (of course — seeing as he was about to die and couldn’t have known the future), become one of the most important, widely read, and greatly loved books for the next thousand years.
In it, a woman named Philosophy comes to comfort a prisoner, unjustly accused. With music, poetry, and philosophy, she brings him back to himself, recollecting him from the hands of fortune, restoring his freedom and self-possession, even amidst injustice, suffering, and, ultimately, death. It’s a work of both bracing truth and breathtaking beauty. I recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who are in hardship, suffering from loss, instability, sickness, or anxiety. There are many fine translations; my favorite edition is this one.
I’ve spent a good part of the past twenty years thinking about this book. The truly great works are like that: they reward the patient, sustained work of close, repeated, meditative reading, and their depths are such that they are never fully explored.
My book explores the nature of the human person, or personality — what philosophers call ‘subjectivity’ — and especially the role of memory; how psychological healing takes place; and the relation of embodied experience with transcendent stability. It explores these questions through both the argument and the rhythmic-poetic patterns of Boethius’s wonderful book.
You can read reviews of the book at the links below. Here are a few excerpts:
"This is a book about how poetry can save you." — First Things
"One of the cornerstones of European culture, the Consolation of Boethius is a passionate apology for his innocence, a search for true happiness, a call for a life led under the sight of God, and an amazing hymn to the imposing temple of metaphysics leading to the natural knowledge of God's omniscience. These principles are exposed also in an extraordinary flourishing of Latin metres, analyzed by the Author in depth and in detail with regard both to their form and substance. A superb achievement of scholarly research, this book will remain an inspiring starting point in the future, in view of the vital task of reconnecting our ailing world to the ever-gushing springs of our living tradition." — Luca Obertello
"A revolutionary handbook of philosophical pedagogy . . . Blackwood's critique offers important corrections for anybody concerned with the contemporary liberal arts" — Dionysius
"A formidable and inspiring achievement. The book will be a valuable scholarly contribution to many current debates, not least on the role of time and embodied experience in the apprehension of spiritual truth. But more than this, it will do what it also describes and, through its exquisite rhythms and repetitions, will heal and transform the perceptions of the reader to allow them to participate in its guiding wisdom. This is no ordinary book!" — Carol Harrison, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford
"With his exquisite musical ear, Stephen Blackwood enables us to hear the metrical virtuosity of Boethius' poems and songs; and in doing so, makes audible the astonishing spiritual power and beauty of the Consolation. Boethius, in his book, tried to give us the gift of friendship; Blackwood, in his book, gives the gift of friendship back." — Elaine Scarry, Cabot Professor of Aesthetics, Harvard University
"Boethius, the prosimetrum, and the variety of classical metres are all distanced from us in different ways, and this demanding, careful, sometimes difficult, but always stimulating work is a bold and original attempt to bring closer to us (or bring us closer to) a work that the Middle Ages revered, and to show that the metres play a major part in the process of consolation." — Literature and Theology
"Dr. Blackwood's book draws on, connects, and extends, often in surprising ways, the best and most imaginative multilingual and multidisciplinary scholarship. He then completes it through his own unprecedentedly full and precisely detailed analysis of the metres and how they function to draw the embodied soul step by step to its Consolation. The interconnection of form and content in the work and the mode of their operation has never before been so fully described. This book will be indispensable to all future scholarship...Properly explaining how the Consolation must be read, and showing us the way to do it, Blackwood has produced the most reader-friendly and full-of-fun book of major scholarship known to me. The aim of poetic liturgy is salvation and Blackwood is zealously determined to open that to as many as possible. Students of philosophy, theology, spirituality, performance, and literature will all profit from it." — Wayne J. Hankey, Dalhousie University, Editor of Dionysius
"Valuable not only to the student of Boethius himself, but also to historians of music, those interested in aurality, orality, developments of literacy, the senses and memory, Neoplatonism, epistemology, and the intersection of philosophy and literature, to name only a few areas...Blackwood stands alone in his ability to draw upon and integrate references to the entire body of Boethius' writing...One will find a thoughtful, embodied reading of theConsolatio that takes seriously not only the text's materiality, but that of the author and audience as well. In doing so, The Consolation of Boethius as Poetic Liturgy illuminates the perennial popularity of the Consolatio as a text that physically acts upon its readers and has the power to transform ear, mind and soul together." — Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"This monograph will be a major milestone of reference for scholars of Boethius, the development of Latin poetry, and historians of philosophy. The greatest impact is in the field of Boethius studies. In Blackwood’s Poetic Liturgy, we have a substantial step towards a systematic demonstration that the Consolation contains an internally constructed logic, down to the rhythm of individual lines. In addition to the content, the persistent and almost urgent scholarly care of this monograph will be indispensable for future scholars." — Biblical and Early Christian Studies
"The prose in which this book is written is both precise and poetic, as befits a subject matter both technical and personal, that in turn takes us more deeply into the meters of classical poetry than most of us have ever ventured and draws on memories of family holidays when discussing the nature of recollection. It leaves us in no doubt that Boethius' message is wrapped up in his medium, and its implicit message is that the therapy Philosophy offers is available to anyone who reads or listens to the text. I suspect that many will wish to avail themselves of it." — Cambridge Review
Full reviews may be found at:
Literature and Theology 30, no. 4 (2016):495-97.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review (blog). January 20, 2016.
The Classical Review 66, no. 02 (2016): 458-59.
Reviews in Religion & Theology 24 (2017): 437-440.
The Journal of Religion 98, no. 1 (2018): 124-126.
The Mediaeval Journal 6, no. 2 (2016): 137-40.
Journal of Early Christian Studies 26, no. 1 (2018): 143-145.
Religious Studies Review 42, no. 4 (2016): 296.
Dionysius 33 (2015): 214-22.
Reviews of Biblical and Early Christian Studies (blog). June 16, 2016.
The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition 10, no. 1 (2016): 147-50.
Readers who are looking for the color-version of Appendix B may download that here.