Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Boethius (ca 480-525)

Anicius Manlius Severinus  Boëthius, commonly called Boethius, was born around AD 480 in Rome to one of its leading families. His ancestors included two emperors and several other leading politicians.

His father, however, died when Boethius was perhaps 10 years old. Another leading family adopted him. It was his foster father who inspired his love of philosophy and encouraged his study of Greek. This was unusual: by the end of the 400s knowledge of Greek was dying out it the Latin West.

By 505 Boethius was already a senator. In 510, Theodoric, the Germanian ruler of Latinia, appointed him to the prestigious but largely ceremonial role of consul. In 522, at the age of 42, Boethius immensely enjoyed seeing his two sons appointed co-consuls. That same year Theodoric appointed him his chief of staff.

In 523, however, false charges of treason were brought against Boethius. This may have been because, as chief of staff, he was attacking corruption. At first Theodoric had him exiled and placed under house arrest, then stripped him and his family of their property in Rome, and finally (in 525) had him imprisoned.

While exiled and imprisoned, Boethius wrote in Latin his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. In it he sought to preserve and express the classical Hellenian knowledge quickly disappearing from his world. Philosophy, represented by a woman, and Boethius speak about how a good and powerful God can allow such unjust suffering and how one might still live—and die—meaningfully in such an absurd world.

Tradition regards Boethius’ Consolation as the last important book of the classical Hellenian period of history. It remained impressively influential. From the death of Boethius until the Renaissance it was, aside from the Bible itself, the best-selling book in Latin Christendom. The Britannian ruler Alfred (849-899), translated it into English as did Elizabeth 1st (1533-1603). Geoffrey Chaucer (ca 1343-1400) loved it, translated it, and alluded to it in many of his writings. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) frequently quoted it in his Summa Theologica. In his Divine Comedy, Dante (ca 1265-1321) placed Boethius in heaven.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.