Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Influence of Boethius on Other Writers.

I was reading an article called 'Notes on Fate and Fortune'* by F.P Pickering for an annotated bibliography assignment. One always gets a sinking of the heart when one has to read literary theory, although there are some gems out there. This, I thought, was one of them. Pickering started off stating that he sorts secular writing into categories: Augustinian or Boetian. Augustinian was reserved for Christian, hagiographic writing, and Christians writing on secular subjects tend to follow Boetian ideas. Boethius, unlike Augustus, was concerned about life on earth as well he should be. He wrote Consolations of Philosophy while imprisoned by Theodoric the Great and waiting to be executed. So it was written by a man who was waiting to die in a nasty manner.
One minute he was a great man, advisor to the king, wealthy, loved, and the next minute he was accused of treason, thrown in jail and executed. Was he guilty? Probably not. He invented the idea of the Wheel of Fortune that was so influential in the Middle Ages. He wrote about Providence and Fate as well as Fortune.
While reading Medieval texts, one comes across references to Boethius. He was loved and read by just about everyone. His book was an essential part of Medieval education; he influenced many writers. Pickering followed with examples of Boetian influence in some Germanic texts that have been called 'problematic' because they were clearly written by a Christian but are not overtly 'Christian' writing. They need to be understood with reference to Boethius. Just as reading Ovid and then rereading Shakespeare changes so much of how you look at a Shakespearean play, I think I need to put Boethius on my summer reading list and then go back and read Beowulf. You should too.

* Taken from Medieval German Studies for F. Norman, 1965


anachronist said...

If I find a good translation maybe.

Tracy said...

Sounds interesting - so Boetius had a more humanist outlook?

I still haven't read Beowulf in any form.

The Red Witch said...

His middle name was Severinus. :-)
I stole this quote from Wiki,
"Author Tom Shippey has noted several Boethian influences in J.R.R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings. It is doceumented fact that Tolkien was very familiar with Alfred the Great's Anglo-Saxon translation of Consolation of Philosophy, known as the Lays of Boethius. Shippey contends that this Christian view of evil is most clearly stated by Boethius: "evil is nothing." He says Tolkien used the corollary that evil cannot create as the basis of Frodo's remark, "the Shadow ... can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own," and related remarks by the Ent Treebeard and the Elvenking Elrond.[29]"

anachronist said...

Nice to know ! It seems that a good writer steals from good sources whereas a bad writer steals from tacky ones...;)

Tracy said...

That is fascinating about Tolkien - he seems to have carefully-blended several different influences.