In This Article Boethius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biography
  • Bibliography and Manuscript Catalogues
  • The Chronology and Canon of Boethius’s Work
  • Collections of Essays
  • Arithmetic and Music
  • Boethius and the Ancient Logical Tradition
  • Syllogistic and Topical Reasoning
  • Language, Thought, and the World
  • Universals
  • Metaphysics
  • Divine Prescience, Contingency, and Free-Will
  • The Good and Moral Theory
  • Boethius as a Theologian
  • The Poetry and Literary Form of the Consolatio
  • Interpretative and General Studies of the Consolatio
  • Influence in the Middle Ages
  • Influence of the Consolatio, from c. 800 to c. 1700

Classics Boethius
John Marenbon
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0219


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 476–c. 525) was a Roman nobleman, living under Ostrogothic rule, with a fine education in Greek and Greek philosophy. He spent much of his life translating works on arithmetic, music, and especially Aristotelian logic into Latin, and writing commentaries on Aristotle’s logical works and his own logical textbooks. Like almost all the Romans of his time, Boethius was a Christian, and he seems to have been engaged by some of the current theological controversies––an activity which led to his five Opuscula sacra, short theological treatises. In 522, Boethius accepted an invitation to become the prime minister for Theoderic, the Ostrogothic ruler. He soon fell victim to court intrigue, his own political idealism and, perhaps, the suspicions which he, a Catholic, aroused among Theoderic’s Gothic followers, who were Arian Christians. He was accused of treason and imprisoned, awaiting execution. It was there that he wrote his most famous work, the De Consolatione Philosophiae (The Consolation of Philosophy). In this prosimetrum, in which a personification of Philosophy is his partner in dialogue, Boethius presents himself as having forgotten, as a result of his catastrophe, the doctrine he had learned in his philosophical studies. Philosophy has the task of helping him to relearn it, so that he realizes that, despite appearances, the good are not oppressed, the wicked do not prosper, and divine providence rules human affairs as it does the rest of the universe. While the elaborate literary structure and refined language of the Consolatio has been appreciated by literary scholars, specialists in ancient philosophy have tended to pay little attention to Boethius as a philosopher in his own right, and have busied themselves rather with finding his Greek sources. But Boethius has attracted the attention of medievalists, because his influence on medieval arithmetic, music, logic, theology, philosophy, and literature was vast, and the Consolatio was one of the most widely read of all texts in the Middle Ages, with translations made of it into almost every vernacular. Some scholars now would argue that Boethius is altogether a more original thinker than has usually been held, and that he is far more than a conduit for transmitting Greek ideas to the medieval Latin world.

General Overviews

Chadwick 1981 provides a very full account of Boethius’s role in the religious controversies of the time and goes through all his oeuvre, including the works on the liberal arts, in detail, providing a learned account of ancient sources and parallels. An important development in the years since 1981 is the increasing understanding of medieval logic and Boethius’s role in it, and more generally of the philosophical arguments he made in the Opuscula sacra, Consolatio, and elsewhere. Marenbon 2003 gives a concise presentation of Boethius as a philosopher in his monograph, concentrating on logic, philosophical theology, and the Consolatio. Marenbon claims that Boethius is a more original an Severino Boezio d philosophically interesting thinker than has usually been held. Marenbon 2009 achieves more depth, through essays by individual specialists, though there is less consistent coverage of the texts. Neither Marenbon 2003 nor Marenbon 2009 discusses Boethius’s work on arithmetic and music. Gruber 2011 offers a quick, learned but unphilosophical introduction. There is also a wide-ranging, scholarly account of Boethius’s works and life in Obertello 1974, which is now outdated. Magee 2010 gives a brief but authoritative introduction to all aspects of Boethius, while Troncarelli 2012 surveys Boethius’s life, works, and influence rapidly but in a way that reflects a lifetime’s study of the field.

  • Chadwick, Henry. 1981. Boethius. The consolations of music, logic, theology, and philosophy. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Especially thorough on the biography and the treatises on arithmetic and music. The account of the logic is hard to follow, and the philosophical arguments of the Consolatio are treated unanalytically.

  • Gruber, Joachim. 2011. Boethius: eine Einführung. Standorte in Antike und Christentum 2. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann.

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    An encyclopedic type of treatment, not philosophically sophisticated but usefully comprehensive.

  • Magee, John. 2010. Boethius. In The Cambridge history of philosophy in antiquity. Vol. 2. Edited by Lloyd P. Gerson, 788–812. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

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    A short but detailed survey of Boethius’s life, works, and doctrine, informed by deep scholarship and sober judgment.

  • Marenbon, John. 2003. Boethius. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195134079.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Takes Boethius seriously as a philosopher, giving detailed analysis of his logical monographs, his position on universals, the theological stance in his opuscula sacra, and the argument of the Consolatio. No discussion of the treatises on the liberal arts.

  • Marenbon, John, ed. 2009. The Cambridge companion to Boethius. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521872669E-mail Citation »

    Attempts to balance philosophical and (for the Consolatio) literary approaches. About a third of the book is devoted to Boethius’s influence. No discussion of the treatises on the liberal arts.

  • Obertello, Luca. 1974. Severino Boezio I. Accademia Ligure di scienze e lettere, Collana di monografie 1. Genoa, Italy: Accademia Ligure di scienze e lettere.

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    Still the most thorough collection of biographical material, followed by detailed but unanalytical presentations of each of Boethius’s works.

  • Troncarelli, Fabio. 2012. Umanesimo tardoantico. L’ultimo dei Romani e la consolazione della saggezza. Rome: Vecchiarelli.

    E-mail Citation »

    A selective and scholarly guide to Boethius and his influence, written by a great expert in the primary material.

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