Consolation of Philosophy
The circumstances under which Boethius wrote his Consolation
of Philosophy
remind us of the setting of Plato's Crito.  In both
instances, a prison cell and a death sentence inspired some of
the most serene and inspired ruminations in the Western
tradition.  Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was born of a
patrician family around the year 480, and served in many
capacities under Theodoric the Great.  But he fell into disfavor,
and Theodoric ordered his execution on charges of treason in
the year 525.   Boethius had been a student of the Greek
philosophers, had translated Aristotle into Latin, and further
attempted to reconcile Aristotelian and Platonic worldviews.  
But now in prison, he composed his final work, a dialogue
between himself and the spirit of Lady Philosophy which, in its
profound reflections on the vanity of human wishes, it stands
comparison with the legacy of his celebrated Greek
predecessors.   This work deserves to be better known, and is
unfortunately often left off syllabuses in favor of Marcus
Aurelius or Lucretius.  But the influence of Boethius's
should not be under-estimated -- some four
hundred copies survive in manuscript form, making it one of
the most widely disseminated pieces of writing during the
Middle Ages and Renaissance.  Even today, this would serve
as a good starting point for someone unfamiliar with the
history of philosophy, and wanted to take a first plunge in the
company of a great mind from the past.  


The text of Boethius's work can be found here in both Latin

Check out the Boethius timeline

1500 years before the birth of Vanna White, Boethius
assessed the first
Wheel of Fortune

Both Chaucer and Queen
Elizabeth rank among
those who have tried their
hand at translating this
work into English.  Indeed,
as far back as the ninth
century, Alfred the Great
translated Boethius into
Old English.  Like many of
my generation, I first
approached this work in
Richard Green's elegant
translation, which remains
in print and still comes
highly recommended.  


Ignatius J. Reilly, the
oddball protagonist of
John Kennedy Toole's
comic masterpiece
Confederacy of Dunces is
obsessed with Boethius --
as apparently was author
Toole, who adopted a
structure for his novel that
seems borrowed from the
sixth century philosopher.  
This linkage has chilling
overtones, when one
considers that Boethius's
work is built around the
reflections of a man about
to die -- and Toole
committed suicide after
failing to find a publisher
for his book.  Like
Consolation, A
Confederacy of Dunces
published posthumously
to great acclaim.