Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius

Roman senator and philosopher of the early 6th century
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Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480524 CE) was a Roman Christian philosopher, poet, and politician.

In every adversity of fortune, to have been happy is the most unhappy kind of misfortune.



The Consolation of Philosophy · De Consolatione Philosophiae


Book I

  • Qui cecidit, stabili non erat ille gradu.
    • For he that is fallen low did never firmly stand.
      • Poem I, line 22; translation by W.V. Cooper
  • Quae ubi poeticas Musas uidit nostro assistentes toro fletibusque meis uerba dictantes, commota paulisper ac toruis inflammata luminibus: Quis, inquit, has scenicas meretriculas ad hunc aegrum permisit accedere, quae dolores eius non modo nullis remediis fouerent, uerum dulcibus insuper alerent uenenis? Hae sunt enim quae infructuosis affectuum spinis uberem fructibus rationis segetem necant hominumque mentes assuefaciunt morbo, non liberant.
    • When she [Philosophy] saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, "Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accustom them thereto."
      • Prose I, lines 7-9; translation by W.V. Cooper
  • Si operam medicantis exspectas, oportet vulnus detegas.
    • If you expect a physician to help you, you must lay bare your wound.
      • Prose IV, line 1; translation by W.V. Cooper
  • Unde haud iniuria tuorum quidam familiarium quaesiuit: `si quidem deus', inquit, `est, unde mala? Bona uero unde, si non est?
    • Wherefore not without cause has one of your own followers asked, "If God is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good?"
      • Prose IV, line 30; translation by W.V. Cooper
  • Nec speres aliquid nec extimescas,
    exarmaueris impotentis iram;
    at quisquis trepidus pauet uel optat,
    quod non sit stabilis suique iuris,
    abiecit clipeum locoque motus
    nectit qua ualeat trahi catenam.
    • If first you rid yourself of hope and fear
      You have dismayed the tyrant's wrath:
      But whosoever quakes in fear or hope,
      Drifting and losing his mastery,
      Has cast away his shield, has left his place,
      And binds the chain with which he will be bound.
      • Poem IV, lines 13-18

Book II

  • Nam in omni adversitate fortunae infelicissimum est genus infortunii fuisse felicem.
    • In every adversity of fortune, to have been happy is the most unhappy kind of misfortune.
      • Prose IV, line 2
  • Quis est enim tam compositae felicitatis ut non aliqua ex parte cum status sui qualitate rixetur?
    • Who hath so entire happiness that he is not in some part offended with the condition of his estate?
      • Prose IV, line 12
  • Adeo nihil est miserum nisi cum putes, contraque beata sors omnis est aequanimitate tolerantis.
    • Nothing is miserable but what is thought so, and contrariwise, every estate is happy if he that bears it be content.
      • Prose IV, line 18
  • Quodsi putatis longius vitam trahi
    mortalis aura nominis,
    cum sera vobis rapiet hoc etiam dies
    iam vos secunda mors manet.
    • But if you think that life can be prolonged by the breath of mortal fame, yet when the slow time robs you of this too, then there awaits you but a second death.
      • Poem VII, lines 23-26; translation by W. V. Cooper
  • O felix hominum genus,
    si uestros animos amor
    quo caelum regitur regat!
    • O happy race of mortals,
      if your hearts are ruled
      as is the universe, by Love!
      • Poem VIII, lines 28-30; translation by W. V. Cooper
      • Alternate translation:
        How happy is mankind
        if the love that orders the stars above
        rules, too, in your hearts.

Book III

  • Qui serere ingenuum uolet agrum
    liberat arua prius fruticibus,
    falce rubos filicemque resecat,
    ut noua fruge grauis Ceres eat.
    • Who fain would sow the fallow field,
      And see the growing corn,
      Must first remove the useless weeds,
      The bramble and the thorn.
      • Poem I, lines 1-4; translation by H. R. James
  • Tu quoque falsa tuens bona prius
    incipe colla iugo retrahere:
    Vera dehinc animum subierint.
    • By first recognizing false goods, you begin to escape the burden of their influence; then afterwards true goods may gain possession of your spirit.
      • Poem I, lines 11-13; translation by Richard H. Green
  • Quis legem det amantibus?
    Maior lex amor est sibi.
    • Who can give law to lovers? Love is a greater law to itself.
      • Poem XII, lines 47-48

Book IV

  • Videsne igitur quanto in caeno probra volvantur, qua probitas luce resplendeat? In quo perspicuum est numquam bonis praemia, numquam sua sceleribus deesse supplicia.
    • Thou seest, then, in what foulness unrighteous deeds are sunk, with what splendour righteousness shines. Whereby it is manifest that goodness never lacks its reward, nor crime its punishment.
      • Prose III, line 1; translation by H. R. James
  • Nam si uti corporum languor ita vitiositas quidam est quasi morbus animorum, cum aegros corpore minime dignos odio sed potius miseratione iudicemus, multo magis non insequendi sed miserandi sunt quorum mentes omni languore atrocior urguet improbitas.
    • For if vicious propensity is, as it were, a disease of the soul like bodily sickness, even as we account the sick in body by no means deserving of hate, but rather of pity, so, and much more, should they be pitied whose minds are assailed by wickedness, which is more frightful than any sickness.
      • Prose IV; line 42; translation by H. R. James
        • Alternate translation:
          For as faintness is a disease of the body, so is vice a sickness of the mind. Wherefore, since we judge those that have corporal infirmities to be rather worthy of compassion than of hatred, much more are they to be pitied, and not abhorred, whose minds are oppressed with wickedness, the greatest malady that may be.
  • Vis aptam meritis uicem referre:
    Dilige iure bonos et miseresce malis.
    • If you would give every man as he deserves, then love the good and pity those who are evil.
      • Poem IV, lines 11-12; translation by Richard H. Green
  • Video, inquam, quae sit vel felicitas vel miseria in ipsis proborum atque improborum meritis constituta.
    • I see how happiness and misery lie inseparably in the deserts of good and bad men.
      • Prose V, line 1; translation by W.V. Cooper

Book V

  • Quis enim cohercente in ordinem cuncta deo locus esse ullus temeritati reliquus potest?
    • What place can be left for random action, when God constraineth all things to order?
      • Prose I; translation by H. R. James
  • Sic quae permissis fluitare videtur habenis
    Fors patitur frenos ipsaque lege meat.
    • Thus, where'er the drift of hazard
      Seems most unrestrained to flow,
      Chance herself is reined and bitted,
      And the curb of law doth know.
      • Poem I, lines 11-12; translation by H. R. James
  • For when every judgement is the act of hym that judgeth, it behoveth that every man performe hys worke and purpose, not by any forayne or straunge power or facultie, but by his owne proper power, and strength.
    • Tr. George Colville (1556); source

De Institutione Musica


Quotes about Boethius

  • While Boethius, oppressed with fetters, expected each moment the sentence or the stroke of death, he composed, in the tower of Pavia, the Consolation Of Philosophy; a golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully, but which claims incomparable merit from the barbarism of the times and the situation of the author.
    • Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Ed. H.H. Milman. Vol. III. Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1845. p. 405.
  • Throughout his life Boethius had written on a wide range of subjects: his interests included mathematics, music, philosophy and theology. But he composed his most famous work in jail while awaiting execution for his crimes. The Consolation of Philosophy attempted to place earthly troubles in a divine context. Written in the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Lady Philosophy, it asked its readers to accept that there were higher powers at work behind the vicissitudes of man’s fleeting life. In the course of his musings, he turned to the notion of fortune’s wheel. ‘So now you have committed yourself to the rule of Fortune, you must acquiesce in her ways,’ he wrote. ‘If you are trying to stop her wheel form turning, you are of all men the most obtuse.’
    • Dan Jones, Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages (2021), p. 81
  • Boethius is a singular figure. Throughout the Middle Ages he was read and admired, regarded always as a devout Christian and treated almost as if he had been one of the Fathers. Yet his Consolations of Philosophy, written in 524 while he was awaiting execution, is purely Platonic; it does not prove that he was not a Christian, but it does show that pagan philosophy had a much stronger hold on him than Christian theology. Some theological works, especially one on the Trinity, which are attributed to him, are by many authorities considered to be spurious; but it was probably owing to them that the Middle Ages were able to regard him as orthodox, and to imbibe from him much Platonism which would otherwise have been viewed with suspicion. . . . The tone of the book is more like that of Plato than that of Plotinus. There is no trace of the superstition or morbidness of the age, no obsession with sin, no excessive straining after the unattainable. There is perfect philosophic calm—so much that, if the book had been written in prosperity, it might almost have been called smug. Written when it was, in prison under sentence of death, it is as admirable as the last moments of the Platonic Socrates. One does not find a similar outlook until after Newton. . . . [Boethius’s] combination with great learning and zeal for the public good was unique in that age. During the two centuries before his time and the ten centuries after it, I cannot think of any European man of learning so free from superstition and fanaticism. Nor are his merits merely negative; his survey is lofty, disinterested, and sublime. He would have been remarkable in any age; in the age in which he lived, he is utterly amazing.
    • Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, London: Routledge, 1996. p. 344-345, 347.
  • Ancient belief in a cosmos composed of spheres, producing music as angels guided them through the heavens, was still flourishing in Elizabethan times. …There is a good deal more to Pythagorean musical theory than celestial harmony. Besides the music of the celestial spheres (musica mundana), two other varieties of music were distinguished: the sound of instruments...(musica instrumentalis), and the continuous unheard music that emanated from the human body (musica humana), which arises from a resonance between the body and the soul. ...In the medieval world, the status of music is revealed by its position within the Quadrivium—the fourfold curriculum—alongside arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. Medieval students... believed all forms of harmony to derive from a common source. Before Boethius' studies in the ninth century, the idea of musical harmony was not considered independently of wider matters of celestial or ethical harmony.