The Boethian Testament of Love

The Boethian Testament of Love by HOuGHthereissubstantialscholarlydisagreementontheliterarymeritsofThomasusk'sTestament of Loveandonthemotives andcharacterofitsauthor,allacknowledgethattheTestamentis, oraspirestobe,"Boethian."ThisadjectiveappearsfrequentlyinsummariesoftheTestamentasshorthandtocharacterizethetreatise'sform or ideas. It is clear that usk intended to draw a parallel between his situationandthatofBoethiusandthathesawtheConsolation of Philosophyasinsomesenseauthorizinghisownliteraryefforts("Yetalsohave IleveofthenoblehusbandeBoece...tocomeafterhisdoctryne").His lexicaldebtstotheConsolation,especiallytoChaucer'stranslationofit, havenowbeenfullydocumented.Buttheword"Boethian"remainsextremelyimprecise,referring,asitdoes,mainlytotheConsolationtothe exclusionofBoethius'sotherworks.Itcanalludetoform,asindialogue, ormoreparticularlyadialoguebetweenawise"physician"andsufferingyeteducable"patient";ortoallegory;ortospecificfeaturesofNeoplatonicphilosophy;ortoageneralizedconceptofuniversallove;orto Boethius'sdescriptionofFortune,acommonplacebyusk'stime;orto aparticularsystemofepistemology;or,mostcommonlyforscholarsof latermedievalEngland,tothegeneralsensethatBoethiusencourages aprincipledwithdrawalfromtheconcernsofearthlylife,whetherthat withdrawalisphysicalorintellectual.Onepartofmyargumentinthis articleisthatthislatterreadingoftheConsolationdistortsthearguments Boethiusactuallyputsforward,andthatatleastonemedievalreader-- Thomasusk--interpretedBoethius'sreasoningquitedifferently. ItmayseemthatIamomittingreferencetothemoreimportantreader ofBoethiusinthelatermedievalperiod:Chaucer.uskincorporatedvocabularyfromtheBoeceandfromTroilusintheTestament,andhisinterThomasusk,Testament of Love,ed.GaryW.Shawver,basedontheeditionofjohnF. Leyerle(Toronto:universityofTorontoPress,2002),1.Prol.93­95.Allquotationsfromthe Testamentarefromthiseditionandwillbecitedparentheticallyinthetext. 448 ©2008TheuniversityofNorthCarolinaPress estinBoethiusmayhavecomefromadesiretoimitateChaucer'sliteraryworks,ashesupposedlydesiredtoimitateChaucerprofessionally. But,asIhopetoshow,uskhadhisownreadingoftheConsolation,one thatmovesbeyondmereborrowingsandtranslationsintoattemptsto absorbandretransmitBoethius'sideasasfullyashecan.Similarclaims havebeenmadeforChaucer.ButthenatureofChaucer'susesofthe Consolationaresoverydifferent,andtheevidencethatheatanypoint actively promoted Boethian philosophy, so ambiguous, that it cannot beclaimedthatuskwaspromotinganidentifiablyChaucerianviewof theConsolation.usk'sTestament,infact,offersauniqueopportunityto examineamedievalreader'sinterpretationofanancienttextand,more specifically, to judge whether our use of the word "Boethian" would matchhis. InwhatfollowsIidentifyfourareas--processofeducation,politics, heroism,andlifeanddeath--inwhichItakeusktobe"reading"the Consolation of Philosophyandincorporatingitintohisownworldview. Insomeoftheseareasitcouldbeshown,Ibelieve,thatChaucerinterpreted Boethius quite differently than usk did, though I do not deal withChaucer'sBoethianismhere.Iargue,rather,thatusk'sTestament presentsareadingoftheConsolationsomewhatdifferentfromthatoften consideredtobethelate-medievalviewofthattext.usk'sinterpretationscouldmatchthoseofothercontemporaryreadersorcouldbehis Forthisview,seeMarionTurner,"`CertaynlyHisNobleSayengesCanINotAmende': ThomasuskandTroilus and Criseyde,"Chaucer Review37(2002):26­39;joannaSummers, Late-Medieval Prison Writing and the Politics of Autobiography(Oxford:Oxforduniversity Press,2004),ch.1;andPaulStrohm,"PoliticsandPoetics:uskandChaucerinthe1380s," in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380­1530, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: universityofCaliforniaPress,1990),83­112. Though much criticism over the past century has either assumed or attempted to prove Chaucer's wholesale acceptance of Boethian philosophy (including Philosophy's conclusions in book 5 of the Consolation), the judgment of Bernard L. jefferson in 1917 remainsthemostfairassessmentofwhatcanbeconcludedfromtheevidence:"Wemay say(1)thatChaucerneverexpressesacompleteacceptanceoftheBoethiandoctrineof thereasonsfortheexistenceofevilorofhisdoctrineforfreewill,althoughhefrequently discussestheproblemsthroughhischaracters,(2)thatheinvariablyleaves,sometimes humorously,thesequestionstotheclerks,and(3)thathealwaysbasesthesediscussions ontheConsolation of Philosophy,althoughhedoesnotacceptitsconclusions.ThatChaucer shouldhavehischaracterspersistentlyassumethisattitudeperhapsbespeakshisown pointofview"(Chaucer and the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius[Princeton,Nj:PrincetonuniversityPress,1917],79­80).ForacautionagainstreadingChaucerthroughusk, see Thomas A. Prendergast, "Chaucer's Doppelgänger: Thomas usk and the ReformationofChaucer,"inRewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400­1602,ed.PrendergastandBarbaraKline(Columbus:OhioStateuniversityPress, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Studies in Philology University of North Carolina Press

The Boethian Testament of Love

Studies in Philology, Volume 105 (4) – Oct 2, 2008

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Abstract

by HOuGHthereissubstantialscholarlydisagreementontheliterarymeritsofThomasusk'sTestament of Loveandonthemotives andcharacterofitsauthor,allacknowledgethattheTestamentis, oraspirestobe,"Boethian."ThisadjectiveappearsfrequentlyinsummariesoftheTestamentasshorthandtocharacterizethetreatise'sform or ideas. It is clear that usk intended to draw a parallel between his situationandthatofBoethiusandthathesawtheConsolation of Philosophyasinsomesenseauthorizinghisownliteraryefforts("Yetalsohave IleveofthenoblehusbandeBoece...tocomeafterhisdoctryne").His lexicaldebtstotheConsolation,especiallytoChaucer'stranslationofit, havenowbeenfullydocumented.Buttheword"Boethian"remainsextremelyimprecise,referring,asitdoes,mainlytotheConsolationtothe exclusionofBoethius'sotherworks.Itcanalludetoform,asindialogue, ormoreparticularlyadialoguebetweenawise"physician"andsufferingyeteducable"patient";ortoallegory;ortospecificfeaturesofNeoplatonicphilosophy;ortoageneralizedconceptofuniversallove;orto Boethius'sdescriptionofFortune,acommonplacebyusk'stime;orto aparticularsystemofepistemology;or,mostcommonlyforscholarsof latermedievalEngland,tothegeneralsensethatBoethiusencourages aprincipledwithdrawalfromtheconcernsofearthlylife,whetherthat withdrawalisphysicalorintellectual.Onepartofmyargumentinthis articleisthatthislatterreadingoftheConsolationdistortsthearguments Boethiusactuallyputsforward,andthatatleastonemedievalreader-- Thomasusk--interpretedBoethius'sreasoningquitedifferently. ItmayseemthatIamomittingreferencetothemoreimportantreader ofBoethiusinthelatermedievalperiod:Chaucer.uskincorporatedvocabularyfromtheBoeceandfromTroilusintheTestament,andhisinterThomasusk,Testament of Love,ed.GaryW.Shawver,basedontheeditionofjohnF. Leyerle(Toronto:universityofTorontoPress,2002),1.Prol.93­95.Allquotationsfromthe Testamentarefromthiseditionandwillbecitedparentheticallyinthetext. 448 ©2008TheuniversityofNorthCarolinaPress estinBoethiusmayhavecomefromadesiretoimitateChaucer'sliteraryworks,ashesupposedlydesiredtoimitateChaucerprofessionally. But,asIhopetoshow,uskhadhisownreadingoftheConsolation,one thatmovesbeyondmereborrowingsandtranslationsintoattemptsto absorbandretransmitBoethius'sideasasfullyashecan.Similarclaims havebeenmadeforChaucer.ButthenatureofChaucer'susesofthe Consolationaresoverydifferent,andtheevidencethatheatanypoint actively promoted Boethian philosophy, so ambiguous, that it cannot beclaimedthatuskwaspromotinganidentifiablyChaucerianviewof theConsolation.usk'sTestament,infact,offersauniqueopportunityto examineamedievalreader'sinterpretationofanancienttextand,more specifically, to judge whether our use of the word "Boethian" would matchhis. InwhatfollowsIidentifyfourareas--processofeducation,politics, heroism,andlifeanddeath--inwhichItakeusktobe"reading"the Consolation of Philosophyandincorporatingitintohisownworldview. Insomeoftheseareasitcouldbeshown,Ibelieve,thatChaucerinterpreted Boethius quite differently than usk did, though I do not deal withChaucer'sBoethianismhere.Iargue,rather,thatusk'sTestament presentsareadingoftheConsolationsomewhatdifferentfromthatoften consideredtobethelate-medievalviewofthattext.usk'sinterpretationscouldmatchthoseofothercontemporaryreadersorcouldbehis Forthisview,seeMarionTurner,"`CertaynlyHisNobleSayengesCanINotAmende': ThomasuskandTroilus and Criseyde,"Chaucer Review37(2002):26­39;joannaSummers, Late-Medieval Prison Writing and the Politics of Autobiography(Oxford:Oxforduniversity Press,2004),ch.1;andPaulStrohm,"PoliticsandPoetics:uskandChaucerinthe1380s," in Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380­1530, ed. Lee Patterson (Berkeley: universityofCaliforniaPress,1990),83­112. Though much criticism over the past century has either assumed or attempted to prove Chaucer's wholesale acceptance of Boethian philosophy (including Philosophy's conclusions in book 5 of the Consolation), the judgment of Bernard L. jefferson in 1917 remainsthemostfairassessmentofwhatcanbeconcludedfromtheevidence:"Wemay say(1)thatChaucerneverexpressesacompleteacceptanceoftheBoethiandoctrineof thereasonsfortheexistenceofevilorofhisdoctrineforfreewill,althoughhefrequently discussestheproblemsthroughhischaracters,(2)thatheinvariablyleaves,sometimes humorously,thesequestionstotheclerks,and(3)thathealwaysbasesthesediscussions ontheConsolation of Philosophy,althoughhedoesnotacceptitsconclusions.ThatChaucer shouldhavehischaracterspersistentlyassumethisattitudeperhapsbespeakshisown pointofview"(Chaucer and the Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius[Princeton,Nj:PrincetonuniversityPress,1917],79­80).ForacautionagainstreadingChaucerthroughusk, see Thomas A. Prendergast, "Chaucer's Doppelgänger: Thomas usk and the ReformationofChaucer,"inRewriting Chaucer: Culture, Authority, and the Idea of the Authentic Text, 1400­1602,ed.PrendergastandBarbaraKline(Columbus:OhioStateuniversityPress,

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Studies in PhilologyUniversity of North Carolina Press

Published: Oct 2, 2008

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