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Woodcut image of a teacher giving a lecture to a group of students who sit below his lectern. His cap is painted red. Everything else is black-and-white.
Pseudo-Boethius. De disciplina scholarium with commentary by Pseudo-Aquinas. Cologne, May 5, 1498. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. https://lccn.loc.gov/2002585710

Career Advice from a Concerned Forger

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Imagine you had something important to write but thought no one would read it. What would you do? The author of Pseudo-Boethius’ De Disciplina Scholarium might suggest that you borrow the name of a famous academic, who died seven hundred years prior, and pass-off the book as his. More than 130 manuscript versions of this spurious handbook on the training of scholars survive, and the text retained its popularity into the age of print. The Rare Book and Special Collections Division has no less than eleven copies, each a different imprint.

In the thirteenth century when this text was written, attributing a handbook on the training of scholars to Boethius (c.475-526?) would have been akin to attributing a computing how-to manual to a founding tech giant today. Boethius was a central authority for matters pertaining to the liberal arts curriculum, and the enduring influence of his writings cannot be overstated. Our forger may not have been famous, but he was clever.

From left to right, an inscription and an attribute identify each of the liberal arts: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Music, Geometry, Arithmetic, and Astronomy. Grammar, for example, holds an open book; Music holds a sheet of music. All seven are represented as young women dressed at the height of fashion, headed by Philosophy who herself wears an elaborate headdress known as an hennin.
Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?), illuminator. Philosophy Presenting the Seven Liberal Arts to Boethius, about 1460–1470. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and gold paint Leaf: 6 × 17 cm (2 3/8 × 6 11/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 42, leaf 2v, 91.MS.11.2.verso. Public Domain.

Most likely, the author was also a teacher himself. More of a teacher’s handbook than a proper textbook, De Disciplina Scholarium, which translates to “On the Care and Training of Scholars,” provides insightful concerns about the qualitative environments in which students best thrive. According to the author, not everyone is suited for a life of academic pursuit, and even students with high intellectual aptitudes must consider their own temperaments and work to balance their humoral tendencies in order to be happy and successful. Drawing on popular humoral theories of the time, the author offers the reader (who is, presumably, also a teacher) some pragmatic advice for assisting students with the four different humoral profiles: melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric.

Woodcut image of a teacher giving a lecture to a group of students who sit below his lectern. His cap is painted red. Everything else is black-and-white.
Pseudo-Boethius. De disciplina scholarium with commentary by Pseudo-Aquinas. Cologne, May 5, 1498. Rare Book and Special Collections Division. https://lccn.loc.gov/2002585710

The author advises that melancholic students require quiet study spaces and are prone to anxiety and laziness. Phlegmatic students, by contrast, are able to work in noisier environments, and they can play a little harder than the melancholic without becoming ill. The temperament of sanguine students is the most favorable to studying, but, these students can become discouraged and therefore require cheering-up and light meals. The choleric students, however, should study in solitude in order to reach their potential. They must be very careful of drinking excessively, as they behave badly when they imbibe and get themselves into trouble.

Finally, if students are likely to become depressed by the pecuniary irregularity that is part-and-parcel with being a teacher, the author encourages a different choice of profession.

 

SOURCES

De disciplina scholarium (cum commento). Louvain, Johann de Paderborn (Westphalia), 1485. Lessing J. Rosenwald collection, 536. https://www.loc.gov/item/65058840/ 

De disciplina scholarium. Edited with introduction and notes by Olga Weijers. Leiden : E.J. Brill, 1976. https://lccn.loc.gov/77459117

Hunter, Brooke. Forging Boethius in Medieval Intellectual Fantasies. Abingdon, Oxon : Routledge, 2019. https://lccn.loc.gov/2018034861

Hunter, Brooke. “Boethian Humor and the Pseudo-Boethian De disciplina scolarium.” Viator 46 (2015): 161-179.

Hunter, Brooke. “Imagining the University: Boethian Translatio Studii in De Disciplina Scolarium.” Carmina Philosophiae 25 (2016): 25–46.

Sanford, Eva Matthews. “De Disciplina Scholarium: A Mediaeval Handbook on the Care and Training of Scholars.” The Classical Journal 28, no. 2 (1932): 82–95.

 

FUTHER READING

Lyon, Karen. “The Four Humors and Eating in the Renaissance.” Shakespeare & Beyond. December 4, 2015. https://www.folger.edu/blogs/shakespeare-and-beyond/the-four-humors-eating-in-the-renaissance/

National Library of Medicine. “And there’s the humor of it!” Shakespeare and the Four Humors. January 30, 2012–August 17, 2012. Interactive digital exhibit: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/exhibition/shakespeare-and-the-four-humors/index.html

Noga, Arikha. Passions and Tempers : a History of the Humours. New York, NY : Ecco, c2007. https://lccn.loc.gov/2007281323

Nutton, Vivian. Ancient Medicine. London ; New York : Routledge, 2004. https://lccn.loc.gov/2003020012

Nutton, Vivian. Renaissance Medicine : A Short History of European Medicine in the Sixteenth Century. London; New York : Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2022. https://lccn.loc.gov/2021048119

 

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