Severin Boethius, "Consolation of Philosophy": summary, quotes, history of writing

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Severin Boethius, "Consolation of Philosophy": summary, quotes, history of writing
Severin Boethius, "Consolation of Philosophy": summary, quotes, history of writing

Severinus Boethius - this is the short name for this famous Roman public figure, philosopher, musician and Christian theologian. In fact, the documents that have come down to us contain a slightly different name. This is Annicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus. But the whole world knows this man as Boethius. "Consolation by Philosophy" - his most significant work - will be the topic of our article today. We will talk about how it appeared, briefly describe the content and try to reveal the meanings. We will also talk about the significance of this amazing book for our day.

Boethius Consolation of Philosophy

An early biography of a philosopher

Severinus Boethius was born around 480 AD. His mother was an aristocrat and came from the patrician family of Anitsiev. The father of the future philosopher, as most historians believe, occupied importantgovernment positions. He was a Roman consul, prefect and praetor. Perhaps the father's family was Greek. The fact is that it was he who bore and gave his son the nickname Boethius. And this word in Greek means "intercessor." But the boy became an orphan very early. When his father died, he was seven years old. Boethius was raised in his own family by one of the most learned and influential Romans, the consul and senator Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus. In the same house, the boy received an excellent primary education. By the way, about where he studied further, historians are still arguing. Some say that he went to hear famous Neoplatonist philosophers in Athens or Alexandria. Others argue that he could have been educated without leaving Rome. One way or another, at the age of 30, Boethius was a married man (his wife was Rusticiana, the daughter of his benefactor Symmachus), had two children and was known as one of the most erudite people of his time.

Severin boethius

Rise and fall

The philosopher lived in difficult times. He saw the collapse of the Roman Empire, which was a blow to many people - both the elite and the people. The state in which he lived fell apart. Rome was captured by the Ostrogothic king Theodoric. However, he did not change the system of government in Italy. Therefore, at first, the educated Romans continued to occupy high positions. Boethius became consul, and after 510 he became the first minister of the kingdom. But, as often happened in the so-called barbarian states, it was not law and order that ruled, but intrigues and personal scores. Like any intelligent person, Boethius had many enemies. ATIn 523 or 523 the philosopher was accused of treason. He was imprisoned, where he stayed for a year or two. It was there that Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy. A trial in absentia took place, at which he was found guilty of conspiracy against the king, an attempt to overthrow the government, sacrilege, magic and other mortal sins, and then executed. Neither the place nor the exact date of the philosopher's death is known. His symbolic gravestone is located in the city of Pavia (Italy), in one of the local churches.

Translation from Latin


Author of The Consolation of Philosophy and other treatises Boethius was the author of real textbooks on all subjects that were subsequently studied in medieval schools. He wrote treatises on mathematics and music, summarizing the teachings of Pythagoras and his followers. From early youth, the philosopher worked to popularize the works of famous Greek thinkers among the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. He translated into Latin the works of Aristotle in the field of logic, as well as the books of the Neoplatonist Porphyry. Moreover, the scientist did not just verbatim expound the texts, but simplified and shortened them, providing his own comments. As a result, it was his books that were used in higher schools and monasteries of the early Middle Ages as teaching aids. And he himself wrote several works on logic. In addition, Boethius is also known as a Christian theologian. First of all, his works devoted to the problem of the interpretation of the Trinity and its Persons, as well as a review of the catechism of the Catholic faith are known. Polemical works have also been preserved, in particular, directed against Eutyches and Nestorius.

boethius consolation philosophy writing history

"Consolation of philosophy" Boethius: the history of writing

The Thinker has often spoken out against abuses of power. It didn't end well for him. Thus, he condemned the activities of Faustus Nigra, whose unsuccessful economic policy led to famine in the province of Campania. One of the enemies of Boethius was the private secretary of Theodoric the Great, who had great influence on the king - Cyprian. He showed the ruler the philosopher's letters sent to the emperor of Byzantium. In addition, religious conflicts between the two countries began at this time. The Byzantine emperor Justin began to crack down on the Arians. Namely, the Ostrogoths belonged to this branch of Christianity. They began to feel threatened by Byzantium. In addition, for unknown reasons, the closest relatives of the king began to die. The frightened ruler ordered that everyone be arrested on the slightest suspicion. And while the thinker, imprisoned on false charges, was awaiting trial and a predetermined execution, he created a work that became one of the most popular works of the Middle Ages.

Content and form

Analysis of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy first of all leads us to the idea that the author is trying to solve one of the most pressing problems of Christian theology of his time. Is it possible to combine the providence of God with free will, and how exactly? The philosopher confronts two seemingly contradictory concepts. If God knows everything that will happen and foresees our every action, how can we then talk about free will? But this is one side of the problem. If weIf we adhere to the postulate that a person himself chooses between good and evil and determines his future, then how can we talk about God's omniscience, especially in terms of the future? Boethius resolves this problem in such a way that it is only a visible contradiction. Even knowing about our future actions, God is not their immediate cause. Therefore, a person must do good himself, be virtuous, not commit evil deeds, but strive with his mind for the truth. The philosopher wrote this work not only in prose, but interspersed reflections with good poetry. The form of his work was easily accessible not only to scientists, but to any literate person.

Boethius consolation philosophy analysis

Philosophical dialogues

“The consolation of philosophy” Boethius wrote in the form of a conversation. The interlocutors are himself and personified thinking, that is, Philosophy itself. It is interesting that the author, despite the fact that theological reflections are the main theme of his work, does not lay out a set of Christian clichés for the reader at all. No, he is talking about how the love of wisdom can console a person in such a terrible situation, and even recalls with bitter irony that bigots reproached him for studying philosophy despite his prayers. The point is not that Boethius is an anti-clerical, but that he was, above all, an educated Roman. Therefore, in his reasoning, he devotes a lot of space to the fact that the true greatness of the spirit is revealed in misfortune. And as an example, the philosopher cites the biographies of great Roman citizens. He looks up to them in his grief.

Direction of thought

It's time for a summary of the chapters of Boethius' Consolations of Philosophy. At the beginning, the author sets out the sorrows that have befallen him, thus relieving the soul. He speaks very simply and truthfully about what befell him personally. Thus, the first two chapters are written in the form of a confession. But at the same time, the philosopher characterizes the Ostrogothic rule in Italy, lamenting that there is no more empire, and it was replaced by “half-hearted” dominion - either barbarians, or Romans. Then he moves on to understanding the nature of man and what can bring peace to his soul in the most unpleasant circumstances. The philosopher comes to the conclusion that everything earthly is transient, and goods and values ​​have different meanings. When everything is bad, you involuntarily begin to understand that the most important thing is those jewels that cannot be taken away even in prison. This is love for the wife, nobility and honor of the family and name. The thinker sets out all this so simply and frankly, without any pathos and artificiality, that it immediately inspires confidence.

Consolation in Philosophy summary

Being and goodness

Further on, the style of writing changes, and further chapters are presented in the style of Platonic dialogues. The philosopher proceeds to reasoning about what is the purpose of human life. He wonders what is the highest, true good for people, and how to distinguish it from shadows and fakes. And Plato and his followers come to the aid of the thinker. External goods and the sensible world are only phantoms. They run like sand through your fingers. Here comes the truth and the unseenthe realm of the spirit is the real homeland of man. But it is inaccessible to tyrants and evil people. And, therefore, a real person can be happy in prison. The cruel one is always offended by fate, even if he is the ruler. Thus, the reward for virtue is in itself, and the punishment for evil is also in itself. So, in fact, the Providence of God operates.

Last chapters

At the end of his work, Boethius pays much attention to philosophy and poetry, as well as to the main issue of the book - the ratio of free will and divine predestination. The author reproaches the Muses for groaning and suffering with him, only undermining his courage. Therefore, he does not find consolation in poetry. But the goddess of Philosophy is another matter. Talking with her, you can escape from your own suffering and talk about the fate of the world and fortune. The goddess helps Boethius to know God's providence and understand the mind that controls the universe. This gives him the strength to meet the execution courageously and even with joy. The story itself goes as if in two planes - philosophical and theoretical and psychological, when the suffering prisoner, gradually renouncing earthly passions and preparing for a different existence, rises above the problems and sorrows of our world, opening up to fate.

Boethius consolation philosophy quotes

Posthumous glory

After the execution of Boethius, Theodoric was frightened. He ordered the body of the philosopher and his father-in-law Symmachus, who was executed on the same charges, to be hidden so that he would not be accused of tyranny. After the death of the king, his daughter Amalasuntha, who ruled on behalf of herminor son, admitted that Theodoric was wrong. She returned to the widow of Boethius and his children all the privileges and confiscated property. Although the widow never forgave the Ostrogothic dynasty for the death of her husband. The popularity of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, a work written shortly before his execution, was simply amazing in the Middle Ages. After all, tyrants have appeared at all times, ready to betray a person to execution on libel. And always at the service of such unfortunates were his Christian ideas full of hopes for open heaven. The thinker is not forgotten even in our time. Two craters were named after the philosopher - one on Mercury and the other on the Moon.

Catch phrases

Quotes from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy were so widespread that during the Renaissance the author became a favorite of Petrarch and Boccaccio. Especially loved were the arguments of the "last Roman" about Fortune, as well as why mortals seek external signs of happiness when all this is inside them. After all, if a person knows himself, he will find great value. And no Fortune can take her with her. Boethius also made popular the psychological characteristics of a person in misfortune. Indeed, in his opinion, the expectation of death, for example, is more cruel than death itself, since it oppresses the soul more, being a real torture.

Meaning in culture

It can be said that the translations, the way of presenting and quoting, as well as the scientific apparatus used by Boethius, made him the real father of scholasticism. And the "Consolation of Philosophy", a summary of which we outlined above, greatly influencedlater literature of Western Europe. Poems from this work began to be transcribed and sung to music as early as the 9th-11th centuries. And the Anglo-Saxon king Alfred the Great, who fell into almost the same life circumstances as Boethius, wrote his own revision of his work in the tenth century, which popularized it even more. After that, the book became almost popular and had a lot of readers in the philosopher's native Italy, as well as in Germany.

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Latin translations and editions

The works of Boethius, from which students of probably all Western European universities studied, were included in the "program" of the seven liberal arts - trivium and quadrivium. The first edition of all the works of the scientist in Latin appeared in Venice in 1492. And the unheard of glory of the most famous work of Boethius led to the fact that it began to be printed in other languages. The first translation from Latin into English of The Consolations of Philosophy was made by the famous poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the sixteenth century. This work was repeatedly published in Russia. The first such translation appeared in the 18th century. In 1970, it was partially published in the publication "Monuments of Medieval Latin Literature". And in 1990, a complete scientific translation of Boethius appeared in Russian (“Consolation by Philosophy”, as well as other works).

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