Boethius: Wikis


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Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius

Boethius teaching his students (initial in a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation of Philosophy.)
Full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius
Born ~480 AD
Died 524/5 AD
Era Medieval philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Main interests problem of universals, religion, music
Notable ideas The Wheel of Fortune

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius,[1][2][3] commonly called Boethius (ca. 480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls.[3] His father, Flavius Manlius Boethius, was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Boethius, of the noble Anicius lineage, entered public life at a young age and was already a senator by the age of 25.[4] Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he saw his two sons become consuls.[5] Boethius was executed by King Theodoric the Great,[6] who suspected him of conspiring with the Byzantine Empire. It may be possible to link his work to the game of Rithmomachia.


Early life

Boethius' exact birth date is unknown.[3] It is generally established at around AD 481, the same year of birth as St. Benedict. Boethius was born to a patrician family which had been Christian for about a century. His father's line included two popes, and both parents counted Roman emperors among their ancestors.

Although Boethius is believed to have been born into a Christian family, some scholars have conjectured that, Boethius abandoned Christianity for paganism, perhaps on his deathbed.[7] Momigliano argues "many people have turned to Christianity for consolation. Boethius turned to paganism. His Christianity collapsed — it collapsed so thoroughly that perhaps he did not even notice its disappearance." [8] It is unknown where Boethius received his formidable education in Greek. Historical documents are ambiguous on the subject, but Boethius may have studied in Athens, and perhaps Alexandria.[9] Since the elder Boethius is recorded as proctor of a school in Alexandria circa AD 470, the younger Boethius may have received some grounding in the classics from his father or a close relative.

As a result of his education and experience, Boethius entered the service of Theodoric the Great, who in 506 had written him a graceful and complimentary letter about his studies. Theodoric subsequently commissioned the young Boethius to perform many roles.

Late life

Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of the Consolation)

By 520, at the age of about forty, Boethius had risen to the position of magister officiorum, the head of all the government and court services.[9] Afterwards, his two sons were both appointed consuls, reflecting their father's prestige. Also in 520, Boethius was working to revitalize the relationship between the Church in Rome and the Church in Constantinople. This may have led to loss of favour.[9]

In 523, however, Theodoric ordered Boethius arrested on charges of treason, possibly for a suspected plot with the Byzantine Emperor Justin I, whose religious orthodoxy (in contrast to Theodoric's Arian opinions) increased their political rivalry.[9] Boethius himself attributes his arrest to the slander of his rivals. Theodoric was feeling threatened by events, however, and several other leading members of the landed elite were arrested and executed at about the same time. Also, because of his previous ties to Theodahad, Boethius apparently found himself on the wrong side in the succession dispute following the untimely death of Eutharic, Theodoric's announced heir. Whatever the cause, Boethius found himself stripped of his title and wealth and imprisoned at Pavia, where he was executed the following year.[5] Boethius was executed at the young age of 44 years on October 23, 524.[4] The method of his execution varies in the sources; he was perhaps killed with an axe or a sword, or was clubbed to death. His remains were entombed in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia. In Dante's Paradise of The Divine Comedy, the spirit of Boethius is pointed out by St. Thomas Aquinas:

Now if thy mental eye conducted be
From light to light as I resound their frame,
The eighth well worth attention thou wilt see.
The soul who pointed out the world's dark ways,
To all who listen, its deceits unfolding.
Beneath in Cieldauro lies the frame
Whence it was driven; from woe and exile to
This fair abode of peace and bliss it came.[10]


Lady Philosophy and Boethius from the Consolation, (Ghent, 1485)

Boethius's best known work is the Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote most likely while in exile under house arrest or in prison while awaiting his execution, but his lifelong project was a deliberate attempt to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy.[11] This work represented an imaginary dialogue between himself and philosophy,with philosophy being personified by a woman.[11] Boethius' De consolation philosophiae argues that despite the apparent inequality of the world, there is, in Platonic fashion, a higher power and everything else is secondary to that divine Providence.[6] There are several manuscripts that have survived and been expansively edited, translated and printed throughout the late 15th century and forward in Europe.[11] He intended to translate all the works of Aristotle and Plato from the original Greek into Latin.[12] His completed translations of Aristotle's works on logic were the only significant portions of Aristotle available in Europe until the 12th century. However, some of his translations (such as his treatment of the topoi in The Topics) were mixed with his own commentary, which reflected both Aristotelian and Platonic concepts.[11] Boethius planned to completely translate Plato's Dialogues, but there is no known surviving translation, if it was actually ever begun.[13] A contemporary of Boethius, Marcus Aurelius Cassiodorus, was a Calabrian born in Scyllacium.[4]

Boethius intended to pass on the great Greco-Roman culture to future generations by writing manuals on music and astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic.[4]

Several of Boethius' writings, which were largely influential during the Middle Ages, drew from the thinking of Porphyry and Iamblichus.[14] Boethius wrote a commentary on the Isagoge by Porphyry,[15] which highlighted the existence of the problem of universals: whether these concepts are subsistent entities which would exist whether anyone thought of them, or whether they only exist as ideas. This topic concerning the ontological nature of universal ideas was one of the most vocal controversies in medieval philosophy.

Besides these advanced philosophical works, Boethius is also reported to have translated important Greek texts for the topics of the quadrivium [13] His loose translation of Nicomachus's treatise on arithmetic (De institutione arithmetica libri duo) and his textbook on music (De institutione musica libri quinque, unfinished) contributed to medieval education.[15] De arithmetica, begins with modular arithmetic, such as even and odd, evenly-even, evenly-odd, and oddly-even. He then turns to unpredicted complexity by categorizing numbers and parts of numbers.[16] His translations of Euclid on geometry and Ptolemy on astronomy,[17] if they were completed, no longer survive. Boethius made Latin translations of Aristotle's De interpretation and Categories with commentaries. These were widely used during the Middle Ages.[9]

Boethius' De institutione musica, was one of the first musical works to be printed in Venice between the years of 1491 and 1492. It was written toward the beginning of the sixth century and helped medieval authors during the ninth century understand Greek music.[18]

In his "De Musica", Boethius introduced the fourfold classification of music:

  1. Musica mundana — music of the spheres/world
  2. Musica humana — harmony of human body and spiritual harmony
  3. Musica instrumentalis — instrumental music (incl. human voice)
  4. Musica divina — music of the gods

During the Middle Ages, Boethius was connected to several texts that were used to teach liberal arts. Although he did not address the subject of trivium, he did write many treatises explaining the principles of rhetoric, grammar, and logic. During the Middle Ages, his works of these disciplines were commonly used when studying the three elementary arts.[17]

Cassiodorus' biography of Boethius authorized that Boethius wrote about theology, composed a pastoral poem, and was most famous for his ability to translate works of Greek mathematics and logic.[19] Boethius also wrote Christian theological treatises, which generally supported the orthodox position against Arianism other dissident forms of Christianity.[20] These included On the Trinity, One the Catholic Faith, and a Book against Eutychius and Nestorius. ,[14]

Lorenzo Valla described Boethius as the last of the Romans and the first of the scholastic philosophers.[5] Despite the use of his mathematical texts in the early universities, it is his final work, the Consolation of Philosophy, that assured his legacy in the Middle Ages and beyond. This work is cast as a dialogue between Boethius himself, at first bitter and despairing over his imprisonment, and the spirit of philosophy, depicted as a woman of wisdom and compassion. "Alternately composed in prose and verse,[14] the Consolation teaches acceptance of hardship in a spirit of philosophical detachment from misfortune." [21] Parts of the work are reminiscent of the Socratic method of Plato's dialogues, as the spirit of philosophy questions Boethius and challenges his emotional reactions to adversity. The work was translated into Old English by King Alfred, and into later English by Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth;[20] many manuscripts survive and it was extensively edited, translated and printed throughout Europe from the 14th century onwards.[22] Many commentaries on it were compiled and it has been one of the most influential books in European culture. No complete bibliography has ever been assembled but it would run into thousands of items..[21] "The Boethian Wheel" is a model for Boethius' belief that history is a wheel,[23] that Boethius uses frequently in the Consolation; it remained very popular throughout the Middle Ages, and is still often seen today. As the wheel turns those that have power and wealth will turn to dust; men may rise from poverty and hunger to greatness, while those who are great may fall with the turn of the wheel. It was represented in the Middle Ages in many relics of art depicting the rise and fall of man. Descriptions of "The Boethian Wheel" can be found in the literature of the Middle Ages from the Romance of the Rose to Chaucer.[24]


Tomb of Boethius in San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro, Pavia.

Boethius is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in Pavia, possibly because a legend arose in the early Middle Ages that he had died a martyr for his maintenance of Catholicism against the Arian Theodoric.[15] His feast day is October 23. Pope Benedict XVI explains the relevance of Boethius to modern day Christians by linking his teachings to an understanding of Providence.[25]

Cultural references

Boethius figures prominently in the worldview and philosophical musings of fictional character Ignatius J. Reilly in the novel, A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Christopher Eccleston quotes a passage from Consolation of Philosophy during a brief cameo as a homeless man in the movie 24 Hour Party People.


  1. ^ ""Boethius" has four syllables, the o and e are pronounced separately. It is hence traditionally written with a diæresis, viz. "Boëthius", a spelling which has been disappearing due to the limitations of typewriters and word processors." Encyclopedia BETA, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius ; accessed November 5, 2009.
  2. ^ The name Anicius demonstrated his connection with a noble family of the Lower Empire, while Manlius claims lineage from the Manlii Torquati of the Republic. The name Severinus was given to him in honour of Severinus of Noricum.
  3. ^ a b c Hodgkin, Thomas. Italy and Her Invaders. London: Adamant Media Corporation, 2001.
  4. ^ a b c d General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, Boethius and Cassiodorus. Internet. Available from; accessed November 4, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. The Theological Tractates and The Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by H.F. Steward and E.K. Rand. Cambridge: The Project Gutenberg, 2004.
  6. ^ a b The Online Library of Liberty, Boethius. Internet. Available from; accessed November 3, 2009.
  7. ^ Georgetown University, Boethius. Internet. Available from; accessed November 6, 2009.
  8. ^ Momigliano A., ed. The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century.Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1963.
  9. ^ a b c d e MacTutor History of Mathematicas archive, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. Internet. Available from; accessed November 4, 2009.
  10. ^ Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy. Translation
  11. ^ a b c d Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by Joel Relihan. Norton: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001.
  12. ^ The Catholic Primer, The Trinity Is One God Not Three Gods. Internet. Available from; accessed November 2, 2009.
  13. ^ a b Barnish, S.J.B. Variae, I.45.4. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
  14. ^ a b c Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Anicius Manlius SeverinusBoethius. Internet. Availablefrom; accessed November 7, 2009.
  15. ^ a b c Wikisource-logo.svg "Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.  
  16. ^ Schrader, Dorothy V. “De Arithmetica, Book I, of Boethius.” Mathematics Teacher 61 (1968):615-28.
  17. ^ a b Masi, Michael. “The Liberal Arts and Gerardus Ruffus’ Commentary on the Boethian De Arithmetica.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 10 (Summer 1979): 24.
  18. ^ Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. Fundamentals of Music. Translated, with Introduction and Notes by Calvin M. Bower. Edited by Claude V. Palisca. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  19. ^ James Shiel, Encyclopedia Britannica (2005), CD-ROM edition, Boethius
  20. ^ a b Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by W.V. Cooper.London: J.M. Dent and Company, 1902.
  21. ^ a b Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus. Consolation of Philosophy. Translated by H.R. James. Adelaide: The University of Adelaide, 2007.
  22. ^ Richard A. Dwyer, Boethian Fictions, Narratives in the Medieval French Versions of the Consolatio Philosophiae, Medieval Academy of America, 1976.
  23. ^ Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Victor Watts (rev. ed.), Penguin, 1999, p.24 n.1.
  24. ^ The Middle Ages, The Wheel of Fortunes. Internet. Available from; accessed November 4, 2009.
  25. ^ General Audience of Pope Benedict XVI, 12 March 2008



External links



On Boethius

Preceded by
Flavius Inportunus
Consul of the Roman Empire
Succeeded by
Flavius Arcadius Placidus Magnus Felix,
Flavius Secundinus

This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius article)

From Wikiquote

Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480 – 525) was a Roman Christian philosopher, poet, and politician.



De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy)

  • Nec speres aliquid nec extimescas,
    exarmaueris impotentis iram;
    at quisquis trepidus pauet uel optat,
    quod non sit stabilis suique iuris,
    abiecit clipeum locoque motus
    nectit qua ualeat trahi catenam.
    • Translation: If first you rid yourself of hope and fear
      You have dismayed the tyrant's wrath:
      But whosoever quakes in fear or hope,
      Drifting and losing his mastery,
      Has cast away his shield, has left his place,
      And binds the chain with which he will be bound.
      • Book I, section 4
  • In every adversity of fortune, to have been happy is the most unhappy kind of misfortune.
    • Book II, section 4, line 4
  • Who hath so entire happiness that he is not in some part offended with the condition of his estate?
    • Book II, section 4, line 41
  • Nothing is miserable but what is thought so, and contrariwise, every estate is happy if he that bears it be content.
    • Book II, section 4, line 64
  • From thee, great God, we spring, to thee we tend —
    Path, motive, guide, original and end.
    • Book III, section 9, line 27
  • Quis legem det amantibus?
    maior lex amor est sibi.
    • Who can give law to lovers? Love is a greater law to itself.
      • Book III, section 12, line 47
  • Good men seek it by the natural means of the virtues; evil men, however, try to achieve the same goal by a variety of concupiscences, and that is surely an unnatural way of seeking the good. Don't you agree?
    • Book 4, Prose 2, 524. Translated from Latin by Richard Green.
  • Sic quae permissis fluitare uidetur habenis
    fors patitur frenos ipsaque lege meat.
    • Thus, where'er the drift of hazard
      Seems most unrestrained to flow,
      Chance herself is reined and bitted,
      And the curb of law doth know.
      • Book V, section 2, lines 21-4


  • "It's my belief that history is a wheel. 'Inconstancy is my very essence,' says the wheel. Rise up on my spokes if you like but don't complain when you're cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it's also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away."

External links


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