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How Philosophy Matters

Death, Sex, Clothes, and Boethius
  • Andrea Denny-Brown
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

The meaning of Boethius’s highly influential allegorical figure of Philosophy in his Consolation of Philosophy has been much discussed. The central linguistic fact is that she represents some form of wisdom or learning: philosophia, from philein, to love; and sophia, wisdom, means ‘the love of wisdom.’ That this wisdom is recorded in her garment also remains unchallenged: Following a distinction made by Boethius himself, the Greek letters Π and Θ on Philosophy’s famous robe are generally understood as symbols of practical and speculative philosophy, the letters for which begin with pi and theta, respectively.1 Yet the greater connotations of Philosophy’s garment as a material marker have been neglected, in part due to the historical discourse of philosophical purity and perfection that has constructed our understanding of her figure. Such a discourse reflects a general assumption that as an allegorical abstraction Philosophy is somehow ‘above’ her material appearance, and thus that specific aspects of her garment have meaning primarily or exclusively in their relation to the mind of the poet-philosopher Boethius. I would suggest, rather, that her sartorial symbolism manifests her profound and wrenching loss: not only loss of philosophical wisdom and reputation, but also loss of the very purity for which she is so famous. This rereading of Philosophy tailors itself toward an understanding of her influence on representations of the feminine and the feminine subject of later medieval literature.

Keywords

Female Body Mnemonic Device Philosophy Matter Speculative Philosophy Medieval Literature 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

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    Pierre Courcelle, La Consolation de philosophie dans la tradition littéraire: Antécédents et postérité de Boèce (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1967), p. 22.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© E. Jane Burns 2004

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  • Andrea Denny-Brown

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