The Old English Boethius boldly refashions in Anglo-Saxon guise a great literary monument of the late-antique world, The Consolation of Philosophy. Condemned to death for treason around 525 ce, the Roman scholar Boethius turned to philosophy to transform his personal distress into a powerful meditation on fate, free will, and the human capacity for virtue in a flawed, fallen world. Boethius's Latin dialogues found a receptive audience in Anglo-Saxon England, where they were translated into Old English some time around 900. The translator (traditionally identified with King Alfred) freely adapts the Latin for a new audience: the Roman Fabricius, for example, becomes the Germanic weapon-smith Weland. The translation replicates Boethius's alternation of prose and verse--only in this case Old English prose alternates with alliterative verse. In later centuries Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth each turned The Consolation of Philosophy into English, but the Old English translation was the first to bring it to a wider vernacular audience.
Verse prologues and epilogues for works traditionally associated with King Alfred fill out the volume, offering readers a fascinating glimpse of the moment when English confidently claimed its birthright as a literature capable of anything, from sublime ideas to subtle poetry.