In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Boethius

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Studies
  • Historical Studies
  • Boethius in the Middle Ages
  • Reference Articles
  • Manuscript Catalogues
  • Collected Works
  • Vernacular Translations of the Consolatio
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals

Medieval Studies Boethius
Philip Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0222


Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born in Rome c. 475–480 CE. Alaric had sacked Rome in 410, sending shockwaves throughout the Mediterranian world, and the period that followed was one of decline and transition in the West. Odoacer’s deposition in 476 of Romulus Augustulus, the last emperor, marked the official end of the Western Roman Empire. Nevertheless, many Roman institutions persisted under Gothic rule, including the Senate and the Roman civil service. Boethius’s father, Narius Manlius Boethius, served as consul in Rome in 487. In 489, the Eastern emperor Zeno sent Theodoric the Ostrogoth to capture Italy. Boethius’s father died c. 490, and Boethius was adopted by his father’s learned colleague and former consul (485), Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus, a descendant of the distinguished Q. Aurelius Symmachus (consul 391). When Anastatius became Eastern emperor in 491, Theodoric was proclaimed king of Italy, and, two years later, he defeated Odoacer. Symmachus provided Boethius with an education that included Greek, and prepared him to become a senator. In addition, Boethius married Symmachus’s daughter, Rusticiana, in 495. Following Plato, Boethius dedicated himself to translating works essential to the liberal arts, beginning with the De arithmetica, produced c. 500. Logical works followed, including In Porphyrii Isagogen, editio prima (c. 504–505), De syllogismis categoricis (c. 505–506), and In Porphyrii Isagogen, editio secunda (c. 507–509). Boethius received the title of patrician c. 507 and was appointed consul in Rome in 510. He also produced In Aristotelis Categorias (c. 509–511), De musica (c. 510), In Aristotelis Perihermeneias, editio prima (not before 513), and In Aristotelis Perihermeneias, editio secunda (c. 515–516). He completed De syllogismis hypotheticis (c. 516–522), the Opuscula sacra (c. 520), In Ciceronis Topica (before 522), and De topicis differentiis (before 523), around the time of the accession of Justin I as emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in c. 520. Boethius was at the height of his scholarly and political career in 522 when his two sons were made joint consuls in Rome, the same year that Boethius became Master of Offices under Theodoric at Ravenna. Pope Hormisdas died in 523 and was replaced by pro-Byzantine Pope John I, probably Boethius’s friend, Deacon John. Boethius’s fortunes soon fell: he was arrested, accused of conspiracy against Theodoric, and exiled to Pavia. Imprisoned there in c. 524–525, Boethius wrote De consolatione philosophiae, a work that would exert enormous influence throughout the European Middle Ages. It likely survived because of Rusticiana’s efforts to preserve the manuscript and Cassiodorus’s Vivarium, which disseminated the Latin text. Boethius, however, was tortured and executed in c. 525; Symmachus was arrested and executed c. 525–526; and John I, having returned from an embassy to Constantinople, was arrested and died in prison in Ravenna under Theodoric, who was suspicious of those sympathetic to the East and to the idea of Roman liberty. What otherwise would have been an admirable reign, in which Romans and Goths lived side by side, ended ignominiously for Theodoric, who died that year without a male heir. His Ostrogothic kingdom fell within a generation that witnessed the accession of Justinian I in the East (527). The devastation wrought by the Gothic Wars under his general, Belisarius, who reconquered much of the former Western Empire (535–540), left Italy, and Rome, in ruins. Boethius’s lifelong desire to translate the works of Aristotle and Plato, and reconcile their philosophies on essential points, was never fully realized because of Boethius’s untimely death. His Consolatio, however, was translated into numerous vernacular languages and would become recognized as a literary masterpiece.

General Overviews

The proliferation of scholarship over the past thirty years on the life, thought, and influence of Boethius traces its origin to Gibson 1981 and Obertello 1981, whose volumes, published to commemorate the fifteen-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Boethius, should be among the first stops in any study of the author. Obertello 1974 takes a biographical approach to Boethius. Other essential studies and essay collections that provide overviews of Boethius’s life and major works, including the reception and influence of the Consolatio in the Middle Ages, include Reiss 1982, Galonnier 2003, and Kaylor and Phillips 2012. Chadwick 1981 is the first major study in English that considers Boethius’s life and works within their historical and theological context. Marenbon 2003 focuses on Boethius as a philosopher. Marenbon 2009 includes essays on Boethius’s life and corpus, with an emphasis on his philosophical works.

  • Chadwick, Henry. Boethius: The Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology, and Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981.

    An important study of Boethius’s life and corpus, including the mathematical, musical, logical, and theological works, in addition to the Consolatio; also considers Boethius’s Christianity, his use of scriptural allusions, and the roles of revelation and reason as ways of understanding reality; an essential book for the study of Boethius.

  • Galonnier, Alain, ed. Boèce ou la chaîne des savoirs: Actes du colloque internationale de la Fondation Singer-Polignac Paris, 8–12 juin 1999. Philosophes Médiéveaux 44. Paris: Éditions Peeters, 2003.

    Essays in French, English, Italian, and German from a major international colloquium covering the full range of Boethius’s influence, including his trivial and quadrivial works and his status as the “last of the Romans,” the “first of the Scholastics,” and the “founder of the Middle Ages.”

  • Gibson, Margaret, ed. Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981.

    Gibson’s collection of essays by leading scholars provides diverse viewpoints on the medieval scholar, Boethius; Gibson conveys the enthusiasm that drew major scholars to consider the scope and value of Boethius’s work during the celebration of the fifteenth centenary of Boethius’s birth; this essential volume commemorates many aspects of Boethius’s mind and goes beyond the Consolatio to examine his entire corpus.

  • Kaylor, Noel Harold, Jr., and Philip Edward Phillips, eds. A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages. Brill Companions to the Christian Tradition 30. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2012.

    A comprehensive volume with essays on all aspects of Boethius’s reception and influence in the Middle Ages; includes work by Boethian scholars on all aspects of the Boethian corpus, including the trivial and quadrivial works, the logical works, the theological works, the Consolatio and its translation traditions, the rich Latin commentary tradition, and Boethius’s afterlife (see especially Troncarelli, “Afterword: Boethius in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages,” pp. 519–549); see Marenbon 2003 and Marenbon 2009 for more treatment of the logical works.

  • Marenbon, John. Boethius. Great Medieval Thinkers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1093/0195134079.001.0001

    A re-examination of most of Boethius’s major writings, including the logical commentaries, the theological tractates, and the Consolatio; considers Boethius not simply as a transmitter of classical knowledge but more especially as a philosopher; an essential study of Boethius’s logical works.

  • Marenbon, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Boethius. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    Features essays on the logical, theological, and literary works of Boethius; argues for “reading Boethius whole”; see Morehead’s excellent essay “Boethius’ Life and the World of Late Antique Philosophy” (pp. 13–33) for historical context and Magee and Marenbon’s authoritative “Appendix: “Boethius’s Works” (pp. 303–310) for an accurate list and chronology of Boethius’s corpus; includes essays on Boethius’s Aristotelian works (Ebbesen, pp. 34–55) and logical textbooks (Martin, pp. 56–84); see Kaylor and Phillips 2012 on the quadrivial works, which are not included in this study.

  • Obertello, Luca. Severino Boezio. 2 vols. Collana di monographie 1. Genoa, Italy: Academia ligure di scienze e lettere, 1974.

    Seminal study (in Italian) of Boethius that analyzes Boethius’s life, works, and thought (in Volume 1) and provides an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary sources through 1970 (in Volume 2).

  • Obertello, Luca A. M., ed. Atti del Congresso Internazionale di Studi Boeziani, Pavia, 5–8 ottobre 1980. Rome: Editrice Herder, 1981.

    Collection of twenty-seven essays in Italian, English, and French—including a preface (in Italian) by Luca Obertello and Giovanni Scanavino—by scholars on Boethius and theology, Boethius in Pavia, Boethius and history, Boethius and philosophy, Boethius and the classical tradition, Boethius and the Middle Ages, and other topics.

  • Reiss, Edmund. Boethius. Twayne’s World Authors 672. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

    An introductory study of Boethius, largely outdated, for undergraduates and general readers of Boethius.

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