The Consolation of Philosophy by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, the sixth-century Roman philosopher, poet, and statesman who reconciled himself with the seeming unfairness of life while awaiting execution on false charges of treason, was a powerful text throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was especially respected in England, where it was repeatedly translated and otherwise transformed into English, starting with none other than Alfred the Great in the ninth century, and including (among others) Geoffrey Chaucer in the fourteenth century, and even Queen Elizabeth in the sixteenth. It is not an exaggeration to claim, as many scholars have done, that one cannot understand much of the literature of the Middle Ages without a knowledge of the Consolation.
Alfred the Great, who ruled Anglo-Saxon England from 871-899, chose the Consolation as one of the cornerstones of his educational reform, which entailed the translation of important Latin texts into the native language of his realm. His translation is not word for word, and often not even sense for sense, because his motivation was not an academic exercise. For Alfred the Consolation was a way to help his secular and spiritual leaders contemplate the most enduring intellectual issues - the problem of evil in a world made and governed by God, the apparent contradictions of mans free will and Gods foreknowledge, the role of Fortune in the fall of good and the rise of wicked men.
The primary source is the tenth-century British Library MS, Cotton Otho A. vi, the only surviving copy of the prose and verse translation, a manuscript severely damaged in the same disastrous fire in 1731 that burned nearly 2000 letters from the edges of the Beowulf manuscript. Two other manuscripts are indispensable for restoring sections of Cotton Otho A. vi that were damaged or destroyed in the fire. A twelfth-century version all in prose is preserved in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 180, and is the source for restoring any lost or damaged prose sections. A seventeenth-century copy of it in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Junius 12, by Francis Junius, is even more valuable, because Junius fortunately collated it with Otho A. vi before the fire and fully transcribed all of the poetic sections, many of which were severely damaged or totally destroyed in 1731. Thanks to Malcolm Godden, who is directing a complementary print-based project, The Alfredian Boethius Project: Anglo-Saxon adaptations of the De Consolatione Philosophiae, digital images of both Oxford Bodleian manuscripts will be included in the image-based electronic edition.
An image-based electronic edition of these manuscript resources and the modern editions that evolved from them will provide students of cultural studies a compelling view of how the Anglo-Saxons represented their most important philosophical and theological texts, and of how nineteenth- and twentieth-century editorial tradition has sometimes misrepresented them. Image-based electronic editions have the effect of visually reversing editorial tradition, by forcing readers to see what modern editors have put into and taken away from these cultural documents. It is this stunning recognition that drives the current interest in manuscript studies, and electronic editions make it possible to disseminate far and wide these revealing insights that once were the exclusive province of solitary scholars.
Nineteenth-century efforts at restoration of Cotton Otho A. vi have compounded the fire damage by cutting up, covering up, or actually washing away parts of the text that managed to escape the fire. Technological advances, in particular ultraviolet fluorescence, fiber optic backlighting, electronic photography, and digital image processing, make it possible to recover a great deal of these losses. But editorial practice from the seventeenth century to the present has conspired with the fire damage and extreme conservation methods in the nineteenth century to render the pages of this manuscript all but invisible in the editions we now use. The two standard editions, both considered monuments of modern Anglo-Saxon textual scholarship, are based on this manuscript, and yet one edition (Sedgefields 1899 edition of King Alfreds Anglo-Saxon Version of Boethius, de Consolatione Philosophiae) is entirely in prose, while the other (Krapps 1932 edition of the Meters of Boethius) is entirely in verse. Thus, these editions radically misrepresent the prosimetrical manuscript that preserved the text.
This image-based edition of Cotton Otho A. vi will thus provide unprecedented access to the text within its manuscript context as well as the first modern edition of Alfreds prosimetrical translation. An electronic edition of Alfreds Boethius providing access to all the surviving manuscripts will furnish a treasure-trove for new research. The high-resolution images will enable scholars without ready access to manuscripts to study paleography in the tenth- and eleventh-century handwriting of the scribes and to study codicology in the reconstructed gatherings of the destroyed binding of Cotton Otho A. vi and the well-preserved one of MS Bodley 180. Students of lexicography will contribute to Torontos monumental Dictionary of Old English project in the discovery of spelling variants and the ability to easily compare poetic usage with prose usage by the same translator in the same text. Students of history and literature will be able to study a new text in Old English with facing translations or in the original language with the aid of an exhaustive glossary of Old English to both manuscript and edition. Historians of the language will have quick, comprehensive reference to Old English word choices to compare with Middle English and Early Modern equivalents. Textual editors and literary critics will have easy access to all surviving textual evidence. Editors of other manuscripts in other languages will be able, without new programming support, to adapt the tools we are developing to produce other image-based editions in the humanities.
The research and development of this electronic edition is necessarily collaborative, with one area of expertise addressing the editorial issues surrounding the representation of a major yet still inaccessible Old English text of value to scholars and students of early English language, literature, history, philosophy and theology, historical linguistics, and cultural studies; the complementary area of expertise will develop and apply computer technology to the creation and dissemination of image-based electronic editions for use by students, scholars, and textual editors and literary critics in the humanities.Back to the top
This project builds on our previous collaboration on the Electronic Beowulf, an image-based electronic edition of the Beowulf manuscript, BL Cotton Vitellius A. vi, published as 2 CD-ROMs by British Library Publications and the University of Michigan Press in 1999. Captured with a Kontron digital camera using bright light, ultraviolet fluorescence, and fiber-optic backlighting, the digital image archive of Electronic Beowulf provides not only high-resolution color facsimiles of what is visible in the manuscript, but also of hundreds of letters and parts of letters hidden by paper frames applied as part of a nineteenth-century restoration effort. Also included are images of the complete eighteenth-century Thorkelin transcripts of Beowulf in the Danish Royal Library and two early nineteenth-century collations (one by John Conybeare in 1817, the other by Sir Frederic Madden in 1824) of the 1815 first edition by Thorkelin with the manuscript, before it was rebound in the paper frames. Supporting the digital images are an SGML-encoded transcript and edition, both displayed in HTML for viewing with a network browser. Search facilities for both the transcript and the new edition facilitate extensive and varied investigations of the manuscript as well as of the edited version. Our previous experience should expedite the creation of the edition and tools we envision.
The proposed project also builds on an NSF-DLI2 project, The Digital Atheneum: New techniques for restoring, searching, and editing humanities collections (March 1999-February 2003). The Digital Atheneum, a collaboration between Kiernan and two computer scientists at the University of Kentucky, focuses on applying 2D/3D image processing algorithms to digitally enhance, recover, and restore damaged manuscripts; on developing a tool that supports semi-automatic document analysis and linking of regions of interest in images to corresponding text in a transcription; and on designing a platform independent, extensible, and network-ready framework for distributed access to enable programmers to build and deliver edition-production tools tailored to the requirements of scholars in the humanities. We will incorporate these computer science contributions as they are ready. Also as part of this project, the applicant, using another damaged Cotton Library manuscript, Cotton Otho B. x, as the prototype, is directing the development of the Edition Production Toolkit (EPT) that will be used to build Alfred the Greats Boethius.
Images of the tenth-century BL MS Cotton Otho A. vi were captured between 1993-2000, the bulk done as a natural offshoot of the Electronic Beowulf project and the remaining full-page images acquired in the summer of 2000 as part of the Digital Atheneum Project. Preliminary research for the proposed project was conducted in conjunction with Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts in Microfiche Facsimile (ASMMF), an international project to produce high-quality microfiche facsimiles of all manuscripts containing Anglo-Saxon for the use of researchers and scholars (1994- ). As one of the editors of this project, Kiernan has been scanning microfilm of severely damaged Cotton Library manuscripts, enhancing the scanned images to improve legibility, and documenting the contrasts between the microfilmed facsimiles, scanned microfilm facsimiles, and digital images of the manuscripts. An early version of the EPT was developed as part of the Digital Atheneum Project.
We have already acquired digital images of the entire prosimetrical manuscript, Cotton Otho A. vi, in both normal bright lighting and ultraviolet. This rich image archive will enable us to reconstruct the destroyed gatherings of the manuscript and show how the book was originally constructed, and to show the paleographical details that characterize the handwriting of the single scribe. The editorial encoding of the electronic edition for folio, folio-lines and verse-lines, for restorations by special lighting or by related manuscripts or collations, for emendations and conjectural restorations, with access to everything through a database, will enable users to display the text, if desired, without the brackets, italics, notes, the apparatus of traditional print editions, while providing the ability to display them all, if desired, or to isolate and examine the parts through structured searches.Back to the top
Electronic Boethius: Alfred the Greats Old English Consolation of Philosophy is funded by a Collaborative Research Award from the Division of Research Programs of the National Endowment for the Humanities and by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The British Library and the Bodleian Library, Oxford, have given privileged access to their collections, manuscript and curatorial expertise, and digitization facilities. The University of Kentucky provided space and network communications support in the W.T. Young Library for the Collaboratory for Research in Computing for Humanities. The Center for Computational Sciences contributed system administration, research assistance, and participation in a lecture series. We would like to thank John Connolly, Director of the Center for Computational Sciences, and Vikram Gazula for continuing to provide system administration of the project servers.
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