Boethius and Lady Philosophy

First Things First

As founder of the intellectual tradition of the West, Saint Augustine has one peer: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, a Roman of noble antecedents who spent his life in the service first of literature, then of the Gothic kingdom of Theodoric, and always, throughout a life that compassed literary success, high office, and political disgrace, of the Catholic faith and the Lady Philosophy, his figure for the philosophic wisdom of the West.

The political story that shaped Boethius’ life began in 324, when Constantine’s plan to move the capital of the empire from Rome to the city of Byzantium, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmora, matured.  By moving the capitol, Constantine unintentionally left the West defenseless at the moment when barbarian pressure and influence became irresistible.  In 476, the emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by the soldier Odovacar, who governed until 486, when he was defeated by Theodoric, an able Arian Ostrogoth educated in Constantinople.  Theodoric’s capital, Ravenna, became the first city of Italy.

For the senatorial class into which Boethius was born in 480, the move from Rome to Ravenna brought little change.  Theodoric, like Odovacar before him, was an insistent tax collector, but he left in place the senatorial class, with its customary access to office and honors.  Though an Arian, Theodoric tolerated Catholic families, and they, in turn,...

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