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Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Updated on February 26, 2012

480-524 A.D.

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly called Boethius, was a Roman philosopher, statesman, and Christian theologian. His writings express both his classical and his Christian heritage.

The last of the important Roman thinkers, he prepared the way for the great philosophers and theologians of medieval Scholasticism by developing Latin as a philosophical language and preserving much of the classical past and by his own positive doctrines.


Boethius was born in Rome into the distinguished Anician family. Well educated and a capable administrator, he served the Ostrogothic king Theodoric, an Arian Christian, as consul in 510 and later as master of the offices. Despite his public duties, Boethius wrote voluminously to defend Christianity and preserve classical knowledge. In 522 or 523 he was falsely accused of taking part in a plot favoring the Catholic Emperor in the East, Justin I, against Theodoric. Also charged with sacrilege for practicing mathematics and astrology, Boethius was imprisoned at Pavia for nine months. During his imprisonment he wrote the famous De consolatione philosophiae (On the Consolation of Philosophy). He was then executed.

He came to be regarded as a Christian martyr and saint, known as St. Severinus Boethius. "Consolation." In the Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius laments his Cruel fate and is comforted by philosophy in the form of a beautiful woman. She tells him that happiness is not to be found in the transitory possessions, power, or pleasures that fortune provides on earth, but with God in eternity, which is "the simultaneous whole and perfect possession of unending life." She assures him that wickedness is always punished and virtue rewarded and that man's temporal freedom is consistent with God's eternal foreknowledge.

The Consolation reflects the influence of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. It also reflects Christian thought, although it is not formally Christian. In both style and content it is, according to Gibbon, "a golden volume, not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or of Tully."

Other Writings

In his theological works Boethius brought Greek wisdom to the service of Christian faith. The two most important of these works, On the Trinity and Against Eutyches and Nestorius, use Platonic, Aristotelian, and Augustinian philosophy to state the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. In the course of the discussion Boethius gives his famous definition of a person as "an individual substance of a rational nature."

Most of Boethius' other works deal with the seven liberal arts-the trivium and quadrivium. His works on the trivium (dialectic, grammar, and rhetoric) include translations of, and commentaries on, Aristotle's Logic (Organon) and Porphyry's introduction to Aristotle's Categories, as well as Boethius' own treatises on categorical syllogisms and topical differences. Among his works on the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) are Principles of Arithmetic and Principles of Music. Most of Boethius' Geometry, translating and commenting on Euclid, and a study in astronomy have been lost. These works fulfill only a small part of his original plan, which was to reconcile apparent differences between Aristotle and Plato and to translate all their writings from Greek into Latin so that they might be more widely read in the West.

Boethius had great influence during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. King Alfred the Great and Chaucer each translated the Consolation, and Aquinas wrote a commentary for On the Trinity.


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    • chasmac profile image

      chasmac 6 years ago from UK

      Very interesting info. I only knew of Boethius through music studies. His translation into Latin of Greek music theory texts was misinterpreted by medieval monks, and, as a result, all of our modal music scales were misnamed (and still are).