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Boetii viri celeberrimi de consolatione phylosophie liber cum optimo commento beati Thome Colonia

Gallery of 220 pages.

Boetii viri celeberrimi de consolatione phylosophie liber cum optimo commento beati Thome Colonia (a.k.a. De Consolatione Philosophiae)

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The full title reads as follows:

"Boetii virii celeberrimi de [con]solation[n]e phylosophie liber cu[m] optimo [com]me[n]to beati Thome / Colonia."

The colophon reads as follows:

"Libri quinque philosophie Boetii Rhomam consulis ac oratoris splendidissimi. una cum commentaria edition. per. Henricum Quentell in Colonia diligenter elaborate expliciunt. Anno gratie Millesimo.cccc xc vii [1497] pridie kalendas Januarii."

Issue Points

The title page shows the first version of the famous 'Accipies' woodcut.

Text Notes

‘De Consolatione Philosophiae’ (‘Of the Consolation of Philosophy’) was written during a one-year imprisonment Boethius served while awaiting trial and, eventually, execution for treason under the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great. There is little question that Boethius was the victim of treachery – certainly he thought so. His awareness of the nature of his fate, coupled with his fall from such a height, produced one of the most remarkable works of wisdom in Western literature. Fundamentally, the ‘Consolatione’ reflects upon how evil can exist in a world created and ordered by a God of justice and goodness, and how happiness can be attainable amidst the fickleness of fortune.

Expand Text Notes…

The ‘Consolatione’ is written as a conversation between Boethius and Lady Philosophy. She consoles Boethius by discussing the transitory nature of fame and wealth ("no man can ever truly be secure until he has been forsaken by Fortune"), and the ultimate superiority of things of the mind, which she calls the "one true good". She contends that happiness comes from within, and that one has only one's virtue, because only personal virtue is not imperilled by the vicissitudes of fortune.

Boethius engages questions such as the nature of predestination and free will, why evil men often prosper and good men fall into ruin, human nature, virtue, and justice. He speaks about the nature of free will versus determinism when he asks if God knows and sees all, or does man have free will. To quote V.E. Watts on Boethius, God is like a spectator at a chariot race; He watches the action the charioteers perform, but this does not cause them. On human nature, Boethius says that humans are essentially good and only when they give in to “wickedness” do they “sink to the level of being an animal.” On justice, he says criminals are not to be abused, rather treated with sympathy and respect, using the analogy of doctor and patient to illustrate the ideal relationship between prosecutor and criminal. In a fundamentally neoplatonist vein, Boethius found the truths of philosophy to be fundamentally indissociable from the truths of Christianity; he idealized the unity of faith and reason.

No work of late antiquity was so influential upon the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with the possible exception of the ‘Parallel Lives’ and the ‘Moralia’ of Plutarch. As C.S. Lewis has said: ‘To acquire a taste for [the ‘Consolatione’] is almost to become naturalised in the Middle Ages.’ Sanderson Beck’s wonderful comment also illustrates the importance of Boethius’ great work: “Who can say that this inward period of humanity did not prepare the way for the productiveness of the Renaissance like a person quiets one's consciousness in contemplation and prayer before creating a great work of art or literature or science? The Middle Ages were difficult times politically and economically, but who can estimate how much happiness they inwardly received from the Consolation of Philosophy?”

Historical Importance

The Christian philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, (c. 480–524/5) was born at Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Severinus Boethius himself entered public life at a young age and was already a senator by the age of 25. Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. Infamously, Boethius was imprisoned and eventually executed by the Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great, who suspected him of conspiring with the Eastern Empire. While imprisoned, Boethius composed his Of the Consolation of Philosophy, concerning the use of philosophy in coming to terms with the vicissitudes of fortune, life and death. The ‘Consolation’ was perhaps the greatest and most influential single work of late antiquity.


  • Petrus Gladbach
    c. 1497 – his signature twice on the title page and his copious, neat, and obviously learned manuscript annotations in the margins throughout, and upon the original flyleaves; occasionally Gladbach provides alternate readings between the lines of Boethius’ text). If Gladbach was not the original owner of this volume, then he was certainly one of the earliest. It is unusual for the identity of an early owner of an incunabulum to be known.
  • Atwell Bayley
    Atwell Bayley of Trinity College, Cambridge, (his signature laid-down upon a front endpaper, and his ownership inscription, dated 1865, at the head of the verso of the title page.
  • Bernard Henry Newdigate
    1869-1944 – his bookplate on the front endpaper. Newdigate was printer and publisher of the Arden Press and Shakespeare Head Press, as well as author of ‘Michael Drayton and His Circle’ and other works.
  • Bernard Quaritch
    Bernard Quaritch, sold 20 May 1966 (receipt enclosed) to.
  • Ken Tomkinson
    Ken Tomkinson, High Habberley House, Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England (his bookplate laid in between front endpapers; his name upon the aforementioned receipt)

RenaissanceIncunabulaIncunabulumPhilosophyAncient PhilosophyRoman EmpireVisigothsAccipiesLate MedievalMedievalPetrus Gladbach

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