Boethius – Who’s That?!


Who is Boethius (and am I even pronouncing his name correctly)?  The book I am reading, The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Arthur Miller, has a good section about him that has really piqued my curiosity.  Well, here is a brief Wikipedia summary just to get you up to speed:

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius,[a] commonly called Boethius[b] (English: /bˈθiəs/; also Boetius /-ʃəs/c. 480–524 AD), was a Roman senatorconsulmagister officiorum, and philosopher of the early 6th century. He was born four years after Odoacer deposed the last Roman Emperor and declared himself King of Italy, and entered public service under Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great, who later imprisoned and executed him in 524 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow him.[3] 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.

First of all, I must confess that I am embarrased to admit that I have never read his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy (but I promise to add it to my reading list now!).  The book is about his imaginary death row conversation with a woman who appeared to him in prison before his death: Lady Philosophy.  Their conversation is an extended allegory about the ultimate meaning of life and death.

After growing up in the shadow of the Dark Ages, Boethius realized that Christian society by itself was not going to survive.  He was the first Christian thinker to realize that Plato and Aristotle were still indispensable to Western civilization.  They still provided an essential and rational framework for dealing with the real world.  He treated Plato and Aristotle as the essential anchors of a civilized education.  Boethius is linked indirectly to every college and university today that still teaches what his world, and ours, called the liberal arts.  Boethius believed that if we are going to deal with a complex and dangerous world, we had better be prepared.

It was only the relentless reproduction of Boethius’s works, by generations of forgotten monks and scribes, that allowed some fragments of Greek legacy to enter the Western consciousness.  His translations of Aristotle’s logic were especially important.  Boethius revealed that logic is not a remote ivory tower discipline but it thrusts us into the real world, by focusing on what we can say with certainty about the world around us the necessary relationship between language and truth.

Hat’s off to Boethius!

Hats offBoethius #2

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