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Boethius Anicius Manlius Severinus

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly called Boethius ( also Boetius ; c. 477–524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, magister officiorum, and philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born about a year after Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself King of Italy. Boethius entered public service under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great, who later imprisoned and executed him in 524 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow him. While jailed, Boethius composed his Consolation of Philosophy, a philosophical treatise on fortune, death, and other issues, which became one of the most popular and influential works of the Middle Ages. As the author of numerous handbooks and translator of Aristotle, he became the main intermediary between Classical antiquity and following centuries.

Boethius was born in Rome to a patrician family around 477 or 480 AD, but his exact birth date is unknown. His family, the Anicii, included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. His father, Manlius Boethius, who was appointed consul in 487, died while Boethius was young. Another patrician, Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus, adopted and raised Boethius, instilling in him a love for literature and philosophy.

Both Memmius Symmachus and Boethius were fluent in Greek, an increasingly rare skill at the time in the Western Empire; for this reason, some scholars believe that Boethius was educated in the East. According to John Moorhead, the traditional view is that Boethius studied in Athens, based on Cassiodorus' rhetoric describing Boethius' learning in one of his letters, though this does appear to be a misreading of the text for Boethius' simple facility with the works of Greek philosophers.

Pierre Courcelle has argued that Boethius studied at Alexandria with the Neo-Platonist philosopher Ammonius Hermiae. However, Moorhead observes that the evidence supporting Boethius having studied in Alexandria "is not as strong as it may appear", and adds that Boethius may have been able to acquire his formidable learning without travelling.

On account of his erudition, Boethius entered the service of Theodoric the Great at a young age and was already a senator by the age of 25. His earliest documented acts on behalf of the Ostrogothic ruler were to investigate allegations that the paymaster of Theodoric's bodyguards had debased the coins of their pay; to produce a waterclock for Theodoric to give to king Gundobad of the Burgunds; and to recruit a lyre-player to perform for Clovis, king of the Franks.

Boethius married his foster-father's daughter, Rusticiana; their children included two boys, Symmachus and Boethius.

During Theodoric's reign, Boethius held many important offices, including the consulship in the year 510, but Boethius confesses in his De consolatione philosophiae that his greatest achievement was to have both his sons made co-consuls for the same year (522), one representing the east and the other the west, and finding himself sitting "between the two consuls and as if it were a military triumph [letting his] largesse fulfill the wildest expectations of the people packed in their seats around [him]".

In 522, the same year his two sons were appointed joint consuls, Boethius accepted the appointment to the position of magister officiorum, the head of all the government and court services.

 


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