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||Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480 - c.524)|
Roman philosopher, theologian, and statesman, whose
and commentaries on Aristotle deeply influenced the thought in the
medieval Latin West. Boethius' best known work is De consolatione
(Consolation of Philosophy), composed in prison while he was waiting
for execution. It was one of the most widely read books in medieval
times, after the Vulgate Bible. Bertrand Russell wrote in A History of Western Philosophy
(1946): "During the two centuries before his time and the ten centuries
after it, I cannot think of any European man of learning so free from
superstition and fanaticism."
Old age came suddenly by suffering sped,
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born into the
Christian family of the gens Anicia.
A member of it, Olybrius, had been
emperor in 472, four years before the last emperor, Romulus Augustulus,
was deposited. Boethius' father had been a consul under the barbarian
king Odoacer; he died while Boethius was still a boy. Boethius was
raised by the senator and historian Quintus Aurelius
Memmius Symmachus, who introduced him to the world of scholarship.
Later he married Symmachus' daughter, Rusticiana.
Little is known of Boethius' life. The oldest known biography of Boethius was written by Cassiodorus, his senatorial colleague. It is possible that he was born in Rome, completed there his schooling, and continued his education in Alexandria. In 510 Boethius became consul under Theodoric the Great (d. 526), the Ostrogothic king of Italy. In his court in Ravenna Theodoric gathered together competent administrators, Germanic poets, and Latin men of letters. Boethius could read Greek fluently, at the time it was deteriorating skill.
employed Boethius to reform the coinage, to make
sundials, water-clocks, movable spheres and astrological devices. In
addition to his many duties and responsibilities, Boethius set out to
provide textbooks and
translations into Latin for the future use of students. About
520 Boethius rose to the position of magister officiorum,
powerful post which combined both military and civil function.
Effectively he was the prime minister. His two sons were appointed
consuls in 522, which strengthened his political position. When a
fellow senator named Albinus was accused of treason, "for having
the Emperor Justin against the rule of Theodoric," Boethius defended
openly the accused man. Awakening Theodoric's suspicion, he fell out of
favour with the ruler. The Goths had
converted to Arian Christianity, which separated them Catholics.
Theodoric was Arian, whereas the Byzantine emperor was orthodox in
faith and started to persecute Arians. Boethius was stripped of his
title and wealth, exiled from Rome, and imprisoned without trial in
Pavia. He was not only charged of treason, but also of
practicing mathematics and astrology.
imprisonment at Ticinum (Pavia), Boethius wrote his celebrated work, Consolation
a synthesis of Platonism and Christianity. In his utmost need, Boethius
did not stop philosophizing, and as a result, especially his
Christianity was in doubt for a long time. Many of his themes were
drawn from Stoic writers, not from Christian authorities. Moreover, his
logical treatises were difficult to understand.
Boethius was put the death, probably, in 524. The way of his execution varies from source to source – according to the Liber Pontifalis (the papal chronicle) he was killed with a sword, the Anonymous Valesianus tells that a knotted rope was placed around his forehead and tightened it until his eyes popped out, and then he summarily clubbed to death; being beaten to death with a cudgel was by Roman law restricted to individuals of the lower classes. Theodoric issued a damnatio memoriae after Boethius's execution; his name could not be spoken until the fall of the Ostrogothic rule in Italy. However, it is generally assumed that De concolatione circulated among a small group of confidants. In the public memory, Boethius was not a champion of liberty; the poet Maximian treated him satirically in the mid-sixth century. Until approximately the time of Charlemange (c.800), Boethius's work gathered dust in university libraries.
According to tradition, Boethius' remains were placed by Liutprand, king of Lombards, in the church of S. Pietri in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia. "The limbs, whence it was driven, lie / Down in Cieldauro," wrote Dante of Boethius in Paradise, "and from martyrdom / And exile came it here." Posthumously Boethius was revered as a martyr and a saint. St. Severinus Boethius' festival day is the 23rd of October.
Consolation of Philosophy is a meditation on philosophy and the Divine Reason of God, vicissitudes of fortune, the Supreme Good, the problem of evil, and Free Will. Philosophizing becomes means of healing and a source of wisdom. Boethius speaks in prose, Lady Philosophy replies mostly in verse, trying to cheer him up. The book starts with a poem, but the last chapter is in prose, and somewhat abruptly ends the book. It has been speculated that he did not finish his work.
who was tortured in prison, tried to get a better understanding of the
nature of evil:
"When wickedness rules and flourishes, not only does virtue go
unrewarded, it is even trodden underfoot by the wicked and punished in
the place of crime. That this can happen in the realm of an omniscient
and omnipotent God who wills only good, is beyond perplexity and
complaint." (The Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, translated by V.E. Watts) Although Boethius used different kind of arguments than the
German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz over eleven centuries later, their
conclusions have much in common. Leibniz saw that we live in the best
possible world. Lady Philosophy, who appears as a revelation to the
broken Boethius, convinces eventually him of summum bonum
(highest good), that there is order in the universe, and this "order of
Fate is derived from the simplicity of Providence. . . . God in his
Providence constructs a single fixed plan of that is to happen, while
it is by means of Fate that all He has planned is realized in its many
individual details in the course of time." (The Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, translated by V.E. Watts)
Thus Boethius freed not only himself but also Theodoric from the burden
of responsibility of their actions, because they followed the will of
Providence in good times and in bad.
Before writing Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius attempted to elucidate what the good is in the Quomodo Substantiae, or De Hebdomadibus, as the third of his so-called Theological Tractates was known in the Middle Ages. In the thirteenth century Thomas St. Aquinas returned in his commentary to Boethius' question how things can be good just as they are without being substantially good – without being God, the source of all goodness.
The Liber Pontificalis condemned Theoderic as a heretical and tyrannical king for the death of Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy was a great favorite
throughout the Middle Ages. Alfred the Great (c. 848-99) translated the
work into Old English; it was one of the books which was according to
Alfred "the most necessary for all men to know." This translation was
followed by a new version by Chaucer (c.1343/4-1400) and later in the
16th-century by Queen Elizabeth I. A German translation was made around
the turn of the 11th century by Notker Labeo, a monk. Chaucer's
translation in about 1380 was inspired by Jean de Meun's
(c.1250-c.1305) Li Livres de confort, which was dedicated to
Philip IV of France and completed shortly before the poets death in
1305. A Byzantine version was made in the 13th century by Planudes.
In universities Boethius' works were read a part of the curriculum. In Paris Priscian and Donatus were studied for grammar, Porphyry, Boethius, and Aristotle for dialectic. When the printing first began, Consolation of Philosophy was one of the books which was produced for both scholar and layman – before 1500 there was at least 70 reissues. The first book of Anton Koberger of Nürnberg, one of the most powerful publishers of his day, was Boethius' De consolatione philosophiae with Aquinas' commentaries.
Boethius' great plan, never fulfilled, was to translate into Latin and write commentaries upon all the writings of Aristotle and Plato, to be followed a "restoration of their ideas into a single harmony." Plato's works Boethius failed to touch, but otherwise his translations and commentaries, particularly Aristotle's Kategoriai (Categories) and Peri hermeneias (On Interpretation) became cornerstones of medieval Scholasticism. His large output, drawing much on Greek sources, also include works on arithmetic, geometry, logic, philosophy, music, and astronomy. Boethius' theological works, the highly valued Tractates, were close to Greek models. In the course of the discussion on the doctrine of the Trinity he defined a person as "an individual substance of a rational nature." With his writings Boethius served as an intermediary between the culture of Antiquity and the Christian world of the Middle Ages. The academy of Plato was closed by the emperor Justinian in 529. It can be said that it marked the end of the Antiquity.
For further reading: Anecdoton Holderi. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte Roms in ostgotischen Zeit, ed. by H. Usener (1877); The Tradition of Boethius by H.R. Patch (1935); Boethius: Some Aspects of His Times and Work by Helen Marjorie Barrett (1940); The Propositional Logic of Boethius by K. Dürr (1951); Boethius' Commentary on Categories by E.S. Zalewski (1969); Late Latin Writers and Their Greek Sources by Pierre Courcelle (1969); Die Gedichte in der "Consolatio Philosophiae" des Boethius by H. Scheible (1972); Severino Boezio by L. Obertello (1974); Boethius's Conception of Theology and His Method in the Tractates by A. Rand Sutherland (1974); Boethius: The Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology and Philosophy by Henry Chadwich (1981); Boethius and the Liberal Arts: A Collection of Essays by Michael Masi (1981); Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, ed. by Margaret Gibson (1981); The Medieval Boethius: Studies in the Vernacular Translations of De Consolatione Philosophiae, ed. by A.J. Minnis (1987); Elizabeth, Queen of England: Queen Elizabeth's Englishings of Boethius, ed. by C. Pemberton (1989); The Poetry of Boethius by Gerard J. P. O'Daly (1991); Job, Boethius, and Epic Truth by Ann W. Astell (1994); Boethius in the Middle Ages, ed. by Marten J. F. M. Hoenen & Lodi Nauta (1997); 'Introduction,' in The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, translated with an Introduction and Notes by P.G. Walsh (1999); Participation and the Good: A Study in Boethian Metaphysics by Siobhan Nash-Marshall (2000); Emotions and Choice from Boethius to Descartes, ed. by Henrik Lagerlund & Mikko Yrjönsuuri (2002); Boethius by John Marenbon (2003); New Directions in Boethian Studies, edited by Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr. and Philip Edward Phillips (2007); The Cambridge Companion to Boethius, edited by John Marenbon (2009); A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages, edited by Noel Harold Kaylor, Jr., Philip Edward Phillips (2012)