De Consolatione Philosophiae

Reference: Peniarth MS 393D

Here is a copy from c. 1380, of a translation by the notable poet Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) of  De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy) by Boethius. This manuscript is of great interest, as the manuscript’s text or decoration is believed to be in the hand of Adam Pinkhurst, or ‘Adam the scrivener’ as he was known.

 

It was only in 2004, after a period of 600 years, that it was discovered that Pinkhurst was the scribe. He was the son of a landowner who owned a farm named Pinkhurst in Surrey. This was the result of research by Professor Linne Mooney, and today it is believed that the two most authoritative texts of The Canterbury Tales, The ‘Hengwrt Chaucer’ (Peniarth MS 392D), which is here in the Library, and also the Ellesmere manuscript, which is held in the Huntington Library, San Marino, California are also in Pinkhurst’s hand.

Pinkhurst was one of Chaucer’s scribes, and he refers to him in his poem, ‘Chaucer’s Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne'. In the poem Chaucer criticises Pinkhurst for all the mistakes he made whilst copying different works, including De Consolatione Philosophiae:

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall
Boece or Troilus for to write new,
Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall,
But after my makinge thou write mor trew,
So oft a day I mot thy werke renewe
It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,
And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape.

The manuscript

The manuscript is incomplete, with only 27 folios remaining out of a possible 64, that might have been in the original manuscript. Although the parchment shows signs of foxing, the text is in very good condition. A few visual techniques are used in the manuscript including the use of decorative capital letters, and the colours red, blue and gold are used to decorate the folios. The manuscript was re-bound at the National Library in 1940.

The manuscript’s history

It is unclear how the manuscript came to be in Wales. It is noted on the last folio that the manuscript was given to the antiquarian and botanist William Morris of Holyhead (1705-1763), by Edward Jones, Caernarfon in 1737. After this it is believed that it might have been in the possession of John Lloyd of Hafodunos (1749-1815). Before the manuscript came to the National Library in 1909, it was part of the library at Peniarth, Merioneth.

Who was Boethius and what is De Consolatione Philosophiae?

De Consolatione Philosophiae was originally written by the author, poet and scholar Anicius Manlius Boethius (c. 480-524) in 524. He was a consul and a very powerful man in the Court of the King of Italy, Theodoric the Great (454-526). In 523 Boethius was wrongly accused of treason, and of planning and practising black magic against the King. He was imprisoned for a year in Ticinum (Pavia today), northern Italy where he was tortured until he died.

Whilst he was imprisoned it is believed that Boethius wrote a series of contemplations called De Consolatione Philosophiae, in the form of a conversation between himself and Lady Philosophy. In his work he reflected upon the false accusation and on the meaning of life. It became a very influential work in European culture, and across the centuries it has been translated by many notable authors such as Chaucer. The work had a great influence on many of Chaucer’s works, including The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde. V.E. Watts stated ‘almost all the passages of philosophical reflection of any length in the works of Chaucer can be traced to Boethius’.

Further reading

  • Alan J. Fletcher, ‘The Criteria for Scribal Attribution: Dublin, Trinity College, MS 244, Some Early Copies of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Canon of Adam Pynkhurst Manuscripts’, in The Review of English Studies, New Series, 58 (November, 2007), pp. 597-632
  • Alexandra Gillespie, ‘Reading Chaucer’s Words to Adam’, in Chaucer Review, 42.3 (2008), pp. 269-83
  • Estelle Stubbs, ‘A new manuscript by the Hengwrt / Ellesmere Scribe? Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS. Peniarth 393 D’, in Journal of the Early Book Society, 5 (2002), pp. 161-8
  • Linne Mooney, ‘Chaucer’s Scribe’, in  Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 81 (2006), pp. 97-138
  • P.G. Walsh (ed.), Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy (Oxford: University Press, 1999)
  • Richard West, Chaucer 1340-1400, The life and times of the first English poet (London: Robinson, 2002)
  • V.E. Watts (ed.), Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy (Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd., 1969)

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