Dr. Kenneth Hawley, English professor at Lubbock Christian University, was asked to present his paper on Boethius at Harvard University’s “Revisiting the Legacy of Boethius in the Middle Ages” conference on March 13.
The conference was hosted by Harvard’s English Department and sponsored in part by the International Boethius Society, a scholarly group for which Dr. Hawley edits an online newsletter. Dr. Hawley’s paper, “With help of god be sentence schal I saue: Redeeming the Meaning in Walton’s Boethius,” focuses on the religious, philosophical, and literary dimensions of John Walton’s 1410 Middle English all-verse translation of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy.
Boethius was a philosopher, politician, theologian, mathematician, and musician in the early 6th century. Although he was unable to reach his goal of translating all of the works of Plato and Aristotle from Greek to Latin, his work helped bring Greek philosophy into the middle ages. After being accused of treason and stripped of all he once had, Boethius wrote what would become his most widely read text, The Consolation of Philosophy. This prose and verse meditation on fate, free will, foreknowledge, providence, and eternity was translated by such notable figures as Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth I, and its ideas can be found in authors like Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton—to name a few.
“Boethius’s influence can be seen throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,” says Dr. Hawley. “This conference allowed scholars from a wide variety of fields, disciplines, and backgrounds to reflect upon the deep and lasting legacy that Boethius has left.”
Before the conference at Harvard, Dr. Hawley made a visit to Yale’s special collections library to study a very rare translation of Boethius’s Consolation. This 1664 all-verse translation from the Latin original to English was written by Sir Harry Coningsby as a tribute to his departed father. Only three copies of this translation remain—having already transcribed the British Library copy via digitized microfilm, Dr. Hawley’s work with the Yale version in person gave him the chance to verify difficult readings and establish the physical details of its printing. He says that the experience of handling and reading the fragile artifact was invaluable to his research—and all the more fun in a secure room, with a guard posted at the door.
With the text for a scholarly edition of this 350 year-old work now complete, Dr. Hawley is looking forward to further research on the life and circumstances of Coningsby (and of his father). He hopes to write a thorough introduction to the translation and publish the edition later this next year.