Boethius, Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus

, the most learned and almost the only Latin philosopher of his time, descended from an ancient and noble family, inauy of his ancestors having been senators and consuls, was born at Rome in the year 455. Though deprived of his father the year he was born by the cruelty of Valeutinian III. who caused him to be put to death, his relations took all proper care of his education, and inspired him with an early taste for philosophy and the belles-lettres. They sent him afterwards to Athens, where he remained eighteen years, and made surprising progress in every branch of literature, particularly philosophy and mathematics, in which Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy, were his favourite authors. During this course of education, he was not less distinguished for probity and humanity, than for genius and learning. On his return to Rome, he attracted the public attention, as one born to promote the happiness of society. The most eminent men in the city sought his friendship, foreseeing that his merit would soon advance him to the first employments of the state. His alliance, too, was consequently courted by many, but Elpis, descended from one of the most considerable families of Messina, was the lady on whom Boethius fixed his choice. This lady was learned, highly accomplished, and virtuous. She bore him two sons, Patricius and Hypatius. Boethius, as was expected, obtained the highest honour hiscountry could bestow. He was made consul in the year 487, at the age of thirty-two. Odoacer, king of the Heruli, reigned at that time in Italy, who, after having put to death Orestes, and deposed his son Augustulus, the last emperor of the West, assumed the title of king of that country. | Two years after Boethius’s advancement to the dignity of consul, Theodoric, king of the Goths, invaded Italy and, having conquered Odoacer and put him to death, he in a short time made himself master of that country, and fixed the seat of his government at Ravenna, as Odoacer and several of the later western emperors had done before him. The Romans and the inhabitants of Italy were pleased with the government of Theodoric, because he wisely ruled them by the same laws, the same polity, and the same magistrates they were accustomed to under the emperors. In the eighth year of this prince’s reign, Boethius had the singular felicity of beholding his two sons, Patricius and Hypatius, raised to the consular dignity. During their continuance in office, Theodoric came to Rome, where he had been long expected, and was received by the senate and people with the greatest demonstrations of joy. Boethius made him an eloquent panegyric in the senate; which the king answered in the most obliging terms, declaring that he should ever have the greatest respect for that august assembly, and would never encroach upon any of their privileges.

Boethius was advanced a second time to the dignity of consul, in the eighteenth year of the reign of king Theodoric. Power and honour could not have been conferred upon a person more worthy of them for he was both an excellent magistrate and statesman, as he faithfully and assiduously executed the duties of his office and employed, upon every occasion, the great influence he had at court, in protecting the innocent, relieving the needy, and in procuring the redress of such grievances as gave just cause of complaint. The care of public affairs did not however engross his whole attention. This year, as he informs us himself, he wrote his commentary upon the Predicaments, or the Ten Categories of Aristotle. In imitation of Cato, Cicero, and Brutus, he devoted the whole of his time to the service of the commonwealth, and to the cultivation of the sciences. He published a variety of writings, in which he treated upon almost every branch of literature. Besides the commentary upon Aristotle’s Categories, he wrote an explanation of that philosopher’s Topics, in eight books; another, of his Sophisms, in two books; and commentaries upon many other parts of his writings. He translated the whole of Plato’s works: he wrote a commentary, in six books, upon Cicero’s Topics: | he commented also upon Porphyry’s writings he published a discourse on Rhetoric, in one book a treatise on Arithmetic, in two books and another, in five books, upon Music he wrote three books upon Geometry, the last of which is lost he translated Euclid and wrote a treatise upon the quadrature of the circle neither of which performances are now extant he published also translations of Ptolomy of Alexandria’s works and of the writings of the celebrated Archimedes: and several treatises upon theological and metaphysical subjects, which are still preserved.

The learning displayed in these works procured Boethius such reputation that he was frequently visited by persons of the first rank. Among these Gondebald, king of the Burgundians, who had married a daughter of Theodoric, came to Rome for the purpose of conversing with so eminent a philosopher. Boethius shewed him several curious mechanical works of his own invention, particularly two watches or time-keepers, one of which pointed out the sun’s di’irnal and annual motion in the ecliptic, upon a moveable sphere and the other indicated the hours of the day, by the expedient of water dropping out of one vessel into another: and so fond was Gondebald of these pieces of mechanism, that upon his return to his own country, be dispatched ambassadors to Theodoric, praying that he would procure for him the two wonderful time-keepers he had seen at Rome.

During the course of these transactions, Boethius lost his beloved wife Elpis, but married a second time Rusticiana, the daughter of Symmachus, and was elected consul with his father in law, in the thirtieth year of Theodoric’s reign and it was during this consulship that he fell under the displeasure of king Theodoric. Rich in health, affluence, domestic happiness, and the love of his fellow citizens, and the highest reputation, all these circumstances probably contributed in some degree to accelerate his ruin. King Theodoric, who had long held him in the highest esteem, was an Arian and Boethius, who was a catholic, published about this time a book upon the unity of the Trinity, in opposition to the three famous sects of Arians, Nestorians, and Eutychians. This treatise was universally read, and created our author a great many enemies at court; who insinuated to the prince, that Boethius wanted not only to destroy Arianism, but to | effectuate a change of government, and deliver Italy from the dominion of the Goths and that, from his great credit and influence, he was the most likely person to bring about such a revolution. Whilst his enemies were thus busied at Ravenna, they employed emissaries to sow the seeds of discontent at Rome, and to excite factious people openly to oppose him in the exercise of his office as consul. Boethius, in the mean while, wanting no other reward than a sense of his integrity, laboured both by his eloquence and his authority to defeat their wicked attempts and persisted resolutely in his endeavours to promote the public welfare, by supporting the oppressed, and bringing offenders to justice. But his integrity and steadiness tended only to hasten his fall. King Theodoric, corrupted probably by a long series of good fortune, began now to throw off the mask. Though an Arian, he had hitherto preserved sentiments of moderation and equity with regard to the catholics; but fearing, perhaps, that they had a view of overturning his government, he began now to treat them with seventy, and Boethius was one of the first, that fell a victim to his rigour. He had continued long in favour with his prince, and was more beloved by him than any other person but neither the remembrance of former affection, nor the absolute certainty the king had of his innocence, prevented him from prosecuting our philosopher, upon the evidence of three abandoned profligates, infamous for all manner of crimes. The offences laid to his charge, as we are informed in the first book of the Consolation of Philosophy, were, “That he wished to preserve the senate and its authority that he hindered an informer from producing proofs, which would have convicted that assembly oftreason and that he formed a scheme for the restoration of tha Roman liberty.” In proof of the last article, the above mentioned profligates produced letters forged by themselves, which they falsely averred were written by Boethius. For these supposed crimes, as we learn from the same authority, he was, unheard and undefended, at the distance of five hundred miles, proscribed and condemned to death. Theodoric, conscious that his severity would be universally blamed, did not at this time carry his sentence fully into execution but contented himself with confiscating Boethius’s effects, with banishing him to Pavia, and confining him to prison. | Soon after this, Justin, the catholic emperor of the East, finding himself thoroughly established upon the throne, published an edict against the Arians, depriving them of all their churches. Theodoric was highly offended at this edict. He obliged pope John I. together with four of the principal senators of Rome (one of whom was Symmachus, father-in-law to Boethius), to go on an embassy to Constantinople and commanded them to threaten that he would abolish the catholic religion throughout Italy, if the emperor did not immediately revoke his edict against the Arians. John was received at Constantinople with extraordinary pomp, but being able to produce no effect as to the object of his embassy, on his return, Theodoric threw him and his colleagues into prison at Ravenna, and Boethius was ordered to be more strictly confined at Pavia. It was here that he wrote his five books of the “Consolation of Philosophy,” on which his fame chiefly rests. He had scarcely concluded his work, when pope John being famished to death in prison, and Symmachus and the other senators, put to death, Theodoric ordered Boethius to be beheaded in prison, which was accordingly executed Oct. 23, 526. His body was interred by the inhabitants of Pavia, in the church of St. Augustine, near to the steps of the chancel, where his monument was to be seen until the last century, when that church was destroyed.

His most celebrated production, his ethic composition “De Consolatione Philosophise,” has always been admired both for the style and sentiments. It is an imaginary conference between the author and philosophy personified, who endeavours to console and soothe him in his afflictions. The topics of consolation contained in this work, are deduced from the tenets of Plato, Zeno, and Aristotle, but without any notice of the sources of consolation which are peculiar to the Christian system, which have led many to think him more of a Stoic than a Christian. It is partly in prose, and partly in verse; and was translated into Saxon by king Alfred, and illustrated with a commentary by Asser, bishop of St. David’s and into English, by Chaucer artel queen Elizabeth. It was also translated into English verse by John Walton, in 1410, of which translation there is a correct manuscript on parchment in the British Museum. Few books have been more popular, especially in the middle ages, or have passed through a greater number of editions in almost all languages. It has been observed | by Mr. Harris, in his “Hermes,” that “with Boethius the Latin tongue, and the last remains of Roman dignity, may be said to have sunk in the western world.” To the same purpose, Gibbon says, “that the senator Boethius is the last of the Romans whom Cato or Tully would have acknowledged for their countryman.

The first edition of Boethins “De Consolatione” was printed at Nurenberg, 1176, fol. hut there was an edition in Latin and German, printed at the same place in 1473. The best edition of his whole works is that printed at Basil, 1570, 2 vols. fol. In 1785, his Consolation was translated into English, with notes and illustrations, by the vev. Philip Ridpath, minister of Hutton in Berwickshire, London, 8vo. 1


Gen. Dict.—Cave, vol. I.—Dupin.—Brucker.—Life prefixed to Ridpath’s Translation.—Dibdin’s Clasics.—Freytag Adparat. Lit.—Fabric. Bibl. Lat.— Burney’s Hist. of Music, vol. II.—Saxii Onomasticon.