Friday, May 9, 2014

Boethius,204,203,200_.jpgAccording to schoolbook historiography, St Boethius was a man of the Dark Ages.  He was born around 480 AD, four years after the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, the event which is most often chosen as the official end of the Western Roman Empire.  Italy, once the capital of the civilized world, was ruled by barbarian kings, first Odoacer and then Theodoric.  The light was extinguished, the fire died, etc.  Such a picture would have been unrecognizable to Boethius himself.  Theodoric may have been a barbarian, and an Arian as well, but he had been educated in Constantinople.  Boethius likely trained in Alexandria, still the most cosmopolitan city in the Mediterranean world.  His father-in-law, Symmachus (himself a worthy descendant of the fourth century statesman of the same name), and his theological mentor, John the Deacon (possibly St John I, Pope from 523-526), were accomplished men of letters.  Boethius' wife, Rusticiana, would live to see Theodoric's successors driven from Rome by the Emperor Justinian's general Belisarius.

The fact that Boethius' writings are themselves situated in a rich context of Neo-Platonic philosophy, and particularly in a philosophical movement that tried to reconcile Aristotle with Plato, presents one of the greatest difficulties a modern reader faces in understanding his works.  Chadwick does a tremendous job in explicating the cultural background from which Boethius drew, dealing with subjects ranging from the Pythagorean theory of music to the influence of Ovid's Letters from Pontus on The Consolation of Philosophy.  This is almost a necessary book for anyone interested in Boethius, his times, and his contribution to Western civilization.

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