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Restoring Lost Songs: Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy


In this section you will find links to online versions of the surviving manuscripts that contain notations for Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiae.  These are listed firstly by individual song and then by manuscript.  An online version of the Latin text and a freely available English translation, together with a list of recommended editions, can be found in the Resources section of the website.

It has been known since the inception of modern musicology in the mid-nineteenth century that some of the poetic passages from the Consolation of Philosophy were notated in the Middle Ages.  Several years spent exploring major library and microfilm archives revealed a more extensive melodic tradition than previously realized.  In sum, to date it has proved possible to identify 33 manuscripts containing 125 separate notations spanning all but 4 of the 39 poems.

In almost all cases, neumatic notation was added between the lines or in the margins of sources not originally prepared with music notation in mind.  The sources are of several types, encompassing single copies of the De consolatione philosophiae, collections of works by Christian poets (e.g. Sedulius, Prudentius, and Venantius Fortunatus),  collections of works by Boethius (chiefly his theological, logical and arithmetical texts), and poetic extracts in lyric collections or devotional manuals.  These notated manuscripts were nearly all copied and owned either at large abbeys famed for their learning  or at cathedral monasteries.  Owners of the manuscripts include kings, a bishop, an abbess and a notary.  Users that can be identified extend from pupils and Masters, to ecclesiastics of all ranks.

The pattern of notated sources indicates that the De consolatione philosophiae attracted considerable interest within a continuous clerical culture that extended from oblates through to magnates during a period when it was studied among a canon of authorities in schools. The precise use of these sources remains unclear, but their range indicates a tradition that while associated with education of the young, extended to song traditions that circulated among the highest ranks of literate society.