Anicius Boethius

Anicius Boethius books and biography


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius


Boethius teaching his students (initial from a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation of Philosophy)
Boethius teaching his students (initial from a 1385 Italian manuscript of the Consolation of Philosophy)

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius[1] (480–524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century. He was born in Rome to an ancient and important family which included the emperor Olybrius and many consuls. His father Fl. Manlius Boethius was consul in 487 after Odoacer deposed the last Western Roman Emperor. Boethius himself was consul in 510 in the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he saw his two sons become consuls. Boethius was executed by King Theodoric the Great, who suspected him of conspiring with the Byzantine Empire.


Early life

Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of the Consolation)
Boethius imprisoned (from 1385 manuscript of the Consolation)

The exact birthdate of Boethius is unknown. However, it is generally placed at around AD 480, 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.

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 Historical documents are ambiguous on the subject, but Boethius may have studied in Athens, and perhaps Alexandria. Since 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. In any case, his accomplishment in Greek, though traditional for his class, was remarkable given the reduced knowledge which accompanied the end of the empire.

As a result of his increasingly rare education and experience, Boethius entered the service of Theodoric the Great, who commissioned the young Boethius to perform many roles.

Late life

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

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. Afterwards, his two sons were both appointed consuls, reflecting their father's prestige.

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. Boethius himself attributes his arrest to the slander of his rivals. Whatever the cause, Boethius found himself stripped of his title and wealth and imprisoned in Pavia, awaiting an execution that took place in 524 or the following year.


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

Boethius's most popular work is the Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote in prison while awaiting his execution, but his lifelong project was a deliberate attempt to preserve ancient classical knowledge, particularly philosophy. He intended to translate all the works of Aristotle and Plato from the original Greek into Latin. 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 [2]

Boethius has been called the last of the Romans and the first of the scholastic philosophers. 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. It was translated into Old English by King Alfred, and into later English by Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth; many manuscripts survive and it was extensively edited, translated and printed throughout Europe from the late 15th century onwards. 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.


  1. ^ "Boethius" has four syllables, the o and e are pronounced separately. It is hence traditionally written with a diæresis, viz. "Boëthius", which has been disappearing due to the limitations of typewriters and word processors.
  2. ^ James Shiel, Encyclopedia Britannica (2005), CD-ROM edition, Boethius

See also

  • Sesquitertium
  • A Confederacy of Dunces


  • Marenbon, John (2003). Boethius. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-513407-9
  • Colish, Marcia L. (1997). Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07852-8

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Consolation Of Philosophy

By Anicius Boethius
Letters , Correspondence

Consolation Of Philosophy
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The Consolation Of Philosophy

The Theological Tractates, The Consolation

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