Boethiusglassgold1As the full title suggests, Boethius: The Poems from On the Consolation of Philosophy, Translated out of the original Latin into diverse historical Englishings diligently collaged, Peter Glassgold has translated a work out of one antique language into another—or more accurately, many “Englishes,” revealing in his wake the various derivations, twistings, and turnings of language through time.

Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born in Rome, about 480 C.E., into an aristocratic, well-connected family that produced two emperors and would produce one pope. In 510, Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king of Italy, appointed him consul; in 522, he was made master of offices, which controlled the civil service. But his outspoken character made him a pawn in rival political and religious court intrigues, and in 524, he was accused of treason, tried in absentia, and condemned to death. Exiled to Pavia in the north, imprisoned and in chains, he wrote his On the Consolation of Philosophy. Ever since his death, he has been regarded as a consummate martyr of conscience who, fallen from political grace, rose above his personal agony to an impersonal magnanimity that shamed his murderers by its example.

Boethius’ De Consolatione Philosophiae is that rarity, a classical text that has been translated into every level of our English tongue, from Old to Middle to Modern, a distinction that Glassgold’s collaged renderings seek to reflect. Chief among the Consolation’s many translators are King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Elizabeth I. Edward Gibbon noted that Boethius’ work gained in honor by Alfred’s attention to it—and one might add, by extension, Chaucer’s and Elizabeth Tudor’s as well. Gibbon’s aside anticipates the modern view of translation, expressed by Walter Benjamin, that sees it as part of the “afterlife of a literary work, in which the original attains an ever-renewed and most abundant flowering.” Or as Glassgold puts it in the present case, he likes to think of his translations “as if the Latin words are being viewed through a deep pool, and down at the bottom, distorted by layers of verbal currents and aural foreshortenings, lies the Latin.” His startlingly original Boethius includes his translations along with the original Latin, an informative Preface, a Note on Texts, Method, and Pronunciation, as well as a thorough Glossary of Early English words. Long out of print, it is now available as a digital book from Green Integer.

Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1994; Green Integer, 2013

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