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Heodoric's Tomb
Italy Under Odovacar
Roman Officials--cassiodorus
Rome And Ravenna
Storm And Stress
The Arian League
The Conquest Of Italy
The Might Of Attila
The Southward Migration
The Theodoric Of Saga
Theodoric's Ancestors
Theodoric's Boyhood


Clouds in the horizon--Anxiety as to the succession--Death of Eutharic,
son-in-law of Theodoric--His son Athalaric proclaimed as Theodoric's
heir--Pope and Emperor reconciled--Anti-Jewish riot at Ravenna--Strained
relations of Theodoric and his Catholic subjects--Leaders of the Roman
party--Boethius and Symmachus--Break-down of the Arian leagues--Cyprian
accuses Albinus of treason--Boethius, interposing, is included in the
charge--His trial, condemnation, and death--The Consolation of

Hithero the career of Theodoric has been one of almost unbroken
prosperity, and the reader who has followed his history has perhaps
grown somewhat weary of the monotonous repetition of the praises of his
mildness and his equity. Unfortunately he will be thus wearied no
longer. The sun of the great Ostrogoth set in sorrow, and what was worse
than in sorrow, in deeds of hasty wrath and cruel injustice, which lost
him the hearts of the majority of his subjects and which have dimmed his
fair fame with posterity.

Many causes combined to sadden and depress the king's heart, as he felt
old age creeping upon him. Providence had not blessed him with a son;
and while his younger rival, Clovis, left four martial sons to defend
(and also to partition) his newly formed kingdom, Theodoric's daughter
Amalasuentha was the only child born of his marriage with Clovis'

In order to provide himself with a male heir (for the customs of the
Goths did not favour, if they did not actually exclude, female
sovereignty), Theodoric summoned to his court a distant relative, a
young man named Eutharic, descended from the mighty Hermanric, who was
at the time living in Spain. Eutharic, who was well reported of for
bodily vigour and for statesmanlike ability, came to the Ostrogothic
court, married Amalasuentha (515), four years afterwards received the
honour of a consulship, which he held along with the Emperor Justin, and
exhibited games and combats of wild beasts to the populace of Rome and
Ravenna on a scale of unsurpassed magnificence. But he died, probably
soon after his consulship, leaving two children--a boy and a girl,--and
thus Theodoric's hope of bequeathing his crown to a mature and masculine
heir was disappointed. Still, however, he would not propose a female
ruler to his old Gothic comrades; and the little grandson, Athalaric,
though under ten years of age, was solemnly presented by him to an
assembly of Gothic counts and the nobles of the nation as their king.

The proclamation of Athalaric was made when the king felt that he should
shortly depart this life, probably in the summer of 526. I have
mentioned it here in order to complete my statement as to the succession
to the throne, but we will now return to an earlier period-to the events
which immediately followed Eutharic's consulship. Coming as he did from
Spain, the Visigothic lords of which were still an aristocracy of bitter
Arians in the midst of a cowed but Catholic Roman population, Eutharic,
who, as we are expressly told, was too harsh and hostile to the
Catholic faith, may have to some extent swayed the mind of his
father-in-law away from its calm balance of even-handed justice between
the rival Churches. But the state of affairs at Constantinople exercised
a yet more powerful influence. Anastasius, who, though no Arian, had
during his long reign been always in an attitude of hostility towards
the Papal See, was now dead, and had been succeeded by Justin. This man,
a soldier of fortune, who had as a lad tramped down from the Macedonian
highlands into the capital, with a wallet of biscuit over his shoulder
for his only property, had risen, by his soldierly qualities, to the
position of Count of the Guardsmen, and by a judicious distribution of
gold among the soldiers--gold which was not his own, but had been
entrusted to him for safe-keeping,--he won for himself the diadem, and
for his nephew,[126] as it turned out, the opportunity of making his
name forever memorable in history. Justin was absolutely
illiterate--the story about the stencilled signature is told of him as
well as of Theodoric,--but he was strictly orthodox, and his heart was
set on a reconciliation with the Roman See. This measure was also viewed
with favour by the majority of the populace of Constantinople, with whom
the heterodoxy of Anastasius had become decidedly unpopular. Thus the
negotiations for a settlement of the dispute went prosperously forward.
The anathemas which were insisted upon by the Roman pontiff were soon
conceded, the names of Zeno, of Anastasius, and of five Patriarchs of
Constantinople who had dared to dissent from the Roman See were struck
out of the Diptychs (or lists of those men, living or dead, whom the
Church regarded as belonging to her communion); and thus the first great
schism between the Eastern and Western Churches--a schism which had
lasted for thirty-five years--was ended.

It was probably foreseen by the statesmen of Ravenna that this
reconciliation between Pope and Emperor, a reconciliation which had been
celebrated by the enthusiastic shout of the multitude in the great
church of the Divine Wisdom at Constantinople, would sooner or later
bring trouble to Theodoric's Arian fellow-worshippers. In point of fact,
however, an interval of nearly six years elapsed before any actual
persecution of the Arians of the Empire was attempted. The first cause
of alienation between the Ostrogothic king and his Catholic subjects
seems to have arisen in connection with the Jews. Theodoric, on account
of some fear of invasion by the barbarians beyond the Alps, was
dwelling at Verona. That city, the scene of his most desperate battle
with Odovacar, commanding as it does the valley of the Adige and the
road by the Brenner Pass into the Tyrol, was probably looked upon by
Theodoric as the key of north-eastern Italy, and when there was any
danger of invasion he preferred to hold his court there rather than in
the safer but less convenient Ravenna. There too he may probably have
often received the ambassadors of the Northern nations, who went back to
their homes with those stories of the might and majesty of the
Ostrogothic king which made Dietrich of Bern (Theodoric of Verona) a
name of wonder and a theme of romance to many generations of German
minstrels. While Theodoric was dwelling in the city of the Adige,
tidings came to him, apparently from his son-in-law Eutharic, whom he
had left in charge at Ravenna, that the whole city was in an uproar. The
Jews, of whom there was evidently a considerable number, were accused of
having made sport of the Christian rite of baptism by throwing one
another into one of the two muddy rivers of Ravenna, and also, in some
way not described to us, to have mocked at the supper of the Lord.[127]
The Christian populace of the city were excited to such madness by these
rumours that they broke out into rioting, which neither the Gothic
vicegerent, Eutharic, nor their own bishop, Peter III., was able to
quell, and which did not cease till all the Jewish synagogues of the
city were laid in ashes.

When tidings of these events were brought to Verona by the Grand
Chamberlain Triwan (or Trigguilla) who, as an Arian, was suspected of
favouring the Jews, and when the Hebrews came themselves to invoke the
justice of the King, Theodoric's righteous indignation was kindled
against these flagrant violations of civilitas. It was not, indeed,
the first time that his intervention had been claimed on behalf of the
persecuted children of Israel. At Milan and at Genoa they had already
appealed to him against the vexations of their neighbours, and at Rome
the mob, excited by some idle story of harsh punishments inflicted by
the Jews on their Christian servants, had burned their synagogue in the
Trastevere to the ground. The protection claimed had always been freely
conceded. Theodoric, while expressing or permitting Cassiodorus to
express his pious wonder that a race which wilfully shut itself out from
the eternal rest of Heaven should care for quietness on earth, was
strong in declaring that for the sake of civilitas justice was to be
secured even for the wanderers from the right religious path, and that
no one should be forced to believe in Christianity against his will. Nor
was this willingness to protect the Jews from popular fanaticism
peculiar to Theodoric. Always, so long as the Goths, either the Western
or Eastern branch, remained Arian, the Jews found favour in their eyes,
and Jacob had rest under the shadow of the sons of Odin. Now, therefore,
the king sent an edict addressed to Eutharic and Bishop Peter, ordaining
that a pecuniary contribution should be levied on all the Christian
citizens of Ravenna, out of which the synagogues should be rebuilt, and
that those who were not able to pay their share of this contribution
should be flogged through the streets, the crier going behind them and
in a loud voice proclaiming their offence. The order was doubtless
obeyed, but from that day there was a secret spirit of rebellion in the
hearts of the Roman citizens of Ravenna.

From this time onward occasions of difference between Theodoric and his
Roman subjects were frequently arising. For some reason which is not
explained to us, he ordered the Catholic church of St. Stephen in the
suburbs of Verona to be destroyed. Then came suspicion, the child of
rancour. An order was put forth forbidding the inhabitants of Roman
origin to wear any arms, and this prohibition extended even to
pocket-knives. In the excited state of men's minds earth and heaven
seemed to them to be full of portents..There were earthquakes; there was
a comet with a fiery tail which blazed for fifteen days; a poor Gothic
woman lay down under a portico near Theodoric's palace at Ravenna and
gave birth (so we are assured) to four dragons, two of which, having one
head between them, were captured, while the other two, sailing away
eastward through the clouds, were seen to fall headlong into the sea.

More important than these old wives' fables was the changed attitude and
the wavering loyalty of the Roman Senate. From the remarks made in an
earlier chapter,[128] it will be clear that a conscientious Roman
citizen might truly feel that he owed a divided allegiance to the
Ostrogoth, his ruler de facto, and to the Augustus at Constantinople,
his sovereign de jure. Through the years of religious schism this
conflict of duties had slumbered, but now, with the enthusiastic
reconciliation between the see of Rome and the throne of Constantinople,
it awoke; and in that age when, as has been already said, religion was
nationality, an orthodox Eastern emperor seemed a much more fitting
object of homage than an Arian Italian king.

There were two men, united by the ties of kindred, who seemed marked out
by character and position as the leaders of a patriotic party in the
Senate, if such a party could be formed. These men were Boethius and his
father-in-law Symmachus, both Roman nobles of the great and ancient
Anician gens. Boethius, whose name we have already met with as the
skilful mechanic who was requested to construct a water-clock and a
sun-dial for the king of the Burgundians, was a man of great and varied
accomplishments--philosopher, theologian, musician, and mathematician.
He had translated thirty books of Aristotle into Latin for the benefit
of his countrymen; his treatise on Music was for many centuries the
authoritative exposition of the science of harmony. He had held the high
honour of the consulship in 510; twelve years later he had the yet
higher honour of seeing his two sons, Symmachus and Boethius, though
mere lads, arrayed in the trabea of the consul.

Symmachus the other leader of the patriotic party in the Roman Senate
had memories of illustrious ancestors behind him. A century before,
another Symmachus had been the standard-bearer of the old Pagan party,
and had delivered two great orations in order to prevent the Christian
Emperors from removing the venerable Altar of Victory from the
Senate-house. Now, his descendant and namesake was an equally firm
adherent of Christianity, a friend and counsellor of Popes, a man who
was willing to encounter obloquy and even death in behalf of Nicene
orthodoxy. He had been consul so long ago as in the reign of Odovacar,
he had been an Illustrious Prefect of the City under Theodoric; he was
now Patrician and Chief of the Senate (Caput Senatus). The last two
titles conferred honour rather than power; the headship of the Senate
especially being generally held by the oldest, and if not by the oldest,
by the most esteemed and venerated member of that body. Such was
Symmachus, a man full of years and honours, a historian, an orator, and
a generous contributor of some portion of his vast wealth for the
adornment of his native city.

Boethius, left an orphan in childhood, had enjoyed the wise training of
his guardian Symmachus. When he came to man's estate he married that
guardian's daughter Rusticiana. Though there was the difference of a
generation between them, a close friendship united the old and the
middle-aged senators, and the young consuls sprung from this alliance,
who were the hope of their blended lines, bore, as we have seen, the
names of both father and grandfather.

Up to the year 523, Boethius appears to have enjoyed to the full the
favour of Theodoric. From a chapter of his autobiography[129] we learn
that he had already often opposed the ministers of the crown when he
found them to be unjust and rapacious men. How often says he, have I
met the rush of Cunigast, when coming open-mouthed to devour the
substance of the poor! How often have I baffled the all but completed
schemes of injustice prepared by the chamberlain Trigguilla! How often
have I interposed my influence to protect the unhappy men whom the
unpunished avarice of the barbarians was worrying with infinite
calumnies! Paulinus, a man of consular rank, whose wealth the hungry
dogs of the palace had already devoured in fancy, I dragged as it were
out of their very jaws. But all these acts of righteous remonstrance
against official tyranny, though from the names given they seem to have
been chiefly directed against Gothic ministers, had not forfeited for
Boethius the favour of his sovereign. The proof of this is furnished by
the almost unexampled honour conferred upon him--certainly with
Theodoric's consent--by the elevation of his two sons to the consulship.
The exultant father, from his place in the Senate, expressed his thanks
to Theodoric in an oration of panegyric, which is now no longer extant,
but was considered by contemporaries a masterpiece of brilliant

So far all had gone well with the fortunes of Boethius; but now, perhaps
about the middle of 523, there came a great and calamitous change. We
must revert for a few minutes to the family circumstances of Theodoric,
in order to understand the influences which were embittering his spirit
against his Catholic--that is to say, his Roman--subjects. The year
before, his grandson Segeric, the Burgundian, had been treacherously
assassinated by order of his father, King Sigismund, who had become a
convert to the orthodox creed, and after the death of Theodoric's
daughter had married a Catholic woman of low origin. In the year 523
itself, Thrasamund, king of the Vandals, died and was succeeded by his
cousin Hilderic, son of one of the most ferocious persecutors of the
Catholic Church, but himself a convert to her creed. Notwithstanding an
oath which Hilderic had sworn to his predecessor on his death-bed, never
to use his royal power for the restoration of the churches to the
Catholics, Hilderic had recalled the Bishops of the orthodox party and
was in all things reversing the bitter persecuting policy of his
ancestors, amalafrida, the sister of Theodoric and widow of Thrasamund,
who had been for nearly twenty years queen of the Vandals, passionately
resented this undoing of her dead husband's work and put herself at the
head of a party of insurgents, who called in the aid of the Moorish
barbarians, but who were, notwithstanding that aid, defeated by the
soldiers of Hilderic at Capsa. Amalafrida herself was taken captive and
shut up in prison, probably about the middle of 523.

Thus everywhere the Arian League, of which Theodoric had been the head,
and which had practically given him the hegemony of Teutonic Europe, was
breaking down; and in its collapse disaster and violent death were
coming upon the members of Theodoric's own family. If Eutharic himself,
as seems probable, had died before this time, and was no longer at the
King's side to whisper distrust of the Catholics at every step, and to
put the worst construction on the actions of every patriotic Roman, yet
even Eutharic's death increased the difficulties of Theodoric's
position, and his doubts as to the future fortunes of a dynasty which
would be represented at his death only by a woman and a child. And these
difficulties and doubts bred in him not depression, but an irascible and
suspicious temper, which had hitherto been altogether foreign to his
calm and noble nature.

Such was the state of things at the court of Ravenna when, in the summer
or early autumn of 523, Cyprian, Reporter in the King's Court, accused
the Patrician Albinus of sending letters to the Emperor Justin hostile
to the royal rule of Theodoric. Of the character and history of Albinus,
notwithstanding his eminent station, we know but little. He was not only
Patrician, but Illustris--that is, in modern phraseology, he had held an
office of cabinet-rank. On the occasion of some quarrel between the
factions of the Circus, Theodoric had graciously ordered him to assume
the patronage of the Green Faction, and to conduct the election of a
pantomimic performer for that party. He had also received permission to
erect workshops overlooking the Forum on its northern side, on condition
that his buildings did not in any way interfere with public convenience
or the beauty of the city. Evidently he was a man of wealth and high
position, one of the great nobles of Rome, but perhaps one who, up to
this time, had not taken any very prominent part in public affairs. His
accuser, Cyprian, still apparently a young man, was also a Roman
nobleman. His father had been consul, and he himself held at this time
the post of Referendarius (or, as I have translated it, Reporter) in the
King's Court of Appeal. His ordinary duty was to ascertain from the
suitor what was the nature of his plea, to state it to the king, and
then to draw up the document, which contained the king's judgment. It
was an arduous office to ascertain from the flurried and often trembling
suitor, in the midst of the hubbub of the court, the precise nature of
his complaint, and a responsible one to express the king's judgment,
neither less nor more, in the written decree. There was evidently great
scope for corrupt conduct in both capacities, if the Referendarius was
open to bribes; and in the Formula, by which these officers were
appointed, some stress is laid on the necessity of their keeping a pure
conscience in the exercise of their functions. Cyprian seems to have
been a man of nimble and subtle intellect, who excelled in his statement
of a case. So well was this done by him, from the two opposite points of
view, that plaintiff and defendant in turn were charmed to hear each his
own version of the case so admirably presented to the king. Of later
years, Theodoric, weary of sitting in state in the crowded hall of
justice, had often tried his cases on horseback. Riding forth into the
forest he had ordered Cyprian to accompany him, and to state in his own
lively and pleasing style the for and against of the various causes
that came before him on appeal. Even, we are told, when Theodoric was
roused to anger by the manifest injustice of the plea that was thus
presented, he could not help being charmed by the graceful manner in
which the young Referendarius, the temporary asserter of the claim,
brought it under his notice. Thus trained to subtle eloquence, Cyprian
had been recently sent on an embassy to Constantinople, and had there
shown himself in the word-fence a match for the keenest of the Greeks.
Lately returned, as it should seem, from this embassy, he came forward
in the Roman Senate and accused the Patrician Albinus of outstepping the
bounds of loyalty to the Ostrogothic King in the letters which he had
addressed to the Byzantine Emperor.

In this accusation was Cyprian acting the part of an honest man or of a
base informer? The times were difficult: the relations of a Roman
Senator to Emperor and King were, as I have striven to show, intricate
and ill-defined; it was hard for even good men to know on which side
preponderated the obligations of loyalty, of honour, and of patriotism.
On the one hand Cyprian may have been a true and faithful servant of
Theodoric, who had in his embassy at Constantinople discovered the
threads of a treasonable intrigue, and who would not see his master
betrayed even by Romans without denouncing their treason. As a real
patriot he may have seen that the days of purely Roman rule in Italy
were over, that there must be some sort of amalgamation with these new
Teutonic conquerors, who evidently had the empire of the world before
them, that it would be better and happier, and in a certain sense more
truly Roman, for Italy to be ruled by a heroic King of the Goths and
Romans than for her to sink into a mere province ruled by exarchs and
logothetes from corrupt and distant Constantinople. This is one possible
view of Cyprian's character and purposes. On the other hand, he may have
been a slippery adventurer, intent on carving out his own fortune by
whatever means, and willing to make the dead bodies of the noblest of
his countrymen stepping-stones of his own ambition. In his secret heart
he may have cared nothing for the noble old Goth, his master, with whom
he had so often ridden in the pine-wood; nothing, too, for the great
name of Rome, the city in which his father had once sat as consul. Long
accustomed to state both sides of a case with equal dexterity, and
without any belief in either, this nimble-tongued advocate, who had
already found that Greece had nothing to teach him that was new, may
have had in his inmost soul no belief in God, in country, or in duty,
but in Cyprian alone. Both views are possible; we have before us only
the passionate invectives of his foes and the stereotyped commendations
of his virtues penned by his official superiors, and I will not attempt
to decide between them.

When Cyprian brought his charge of disloyalty against Albinus, the
accused Patrician, who was called into the presence of the King, at once
denied the accusation. An angry debate probably followed, in the course
of which Boethius claimed to speak The attention of all men was
naturally fixed upon him, for by the King's favour, the same favour
which in the preceding year had raised his two sons to the consulship,
he was now filling the great place of Master of the Offices.[130]
False, said Boethius in loud, impassioned tones, is the accusation of
Cyprian; but whatever Albinus did, I and the whole Senate of Rome, with
one purpose, did the same. The charge is false, O King Theodoric.The
inter-position of Boethius was due to a noble and generous impulse, but
it was not perhaps wise, in view of all that had passed, and without in
any way helping Albinus, it involved Boethius in his ruin. Cyprian, thus
challenged, included the Master of the Offices in his accusation, and
certain persons, not Goths, but Romans and men of senatorial rank,
Opilio (the brother of Cyprian), Basilius, and Gaudentius, came forward
and laid information against Boethius.

Here the reader will naturally ask, Of what did these informers accuse
him? but to that question it is not possible to give a satisfactory
answer. He himself in his meditations on his trial says: Of what crime
is it that I am accused? I am said to have desired the safety of the
Senate. 'In what way?' you may ask. I am accused of having prevented an
informer from producing certain documents in order to prove the Senate
guilty of high treason. Shall I deny the charge? But I did wish for the
safety of the Senate and shall never cease to wish for it, nor, though
they have abandoned me, can I consider it a crime to have desired the
safety of that venerable order. That posterity may know the truth and
the real sequence of events, I have drawn up a written memorandum
concerning the whole affair. For, as for these forged letters upon which
is founded the accusation against me of having hoped for Roman freedom,
why should I say anything about them? Their falsehood would have been
made manifest, if I could have used the confession of the informers
themselves, which in all such affairs is admitted to have the greatest
weight. As for Roman freedom, what hope is left to us of attaining that?
Would that there were any such hope. Had the King questioned me, I would
have answered in the words Canius, when he was questioned by the Emperor
Caligula as to his complicity in a a conspiracy formed against him. If
I, said he, had known, thou shouldest never have known.

These words, coupled with some bitter statements as to the tainted
character of the informers against him, men oppressed by debt and
accused of peculation, constitute the only statement of his case by
Boethius which is now available. The memorandum so carefully prepared in
the long hours of his imprisonment has not reached posterity. Would that
it might even yet be found in the library of some monastery, or lurking
as a palimpsest under the dull commentary of some mediaeval divine! It
could hardly fail to throw a brilliant, if not uncoloured light on the
politics of Italy in the sixth century. But, trying as we best may to
spell out the truth of the affair from the passionate complaints of the
prisoner, I think we may discern that there had been some
correspondence on political affairs between the Senate and the Emperor
Justin, correspondence which was perfectly regular and proper if the
Emperor was still to them Dominus Noster (our Lord and Master), but
which was kept from the knowledge of the King of the Goths and Romans,
and which, when he heard of it, he was sure to resent as an act of
treachery to himself. That Boethius, the Master of the Offices under
Theodoric, should have connived at this correspondence, naturally
exasperated the master who had so lately heaped favours on this disloyal
servant. But in addition to this he used the power which he wielded as
Master of the Offices, that is, head of the whole Civil Service of
Italy, to prevent some documents which would have compromised the safety
of the Senate from coming to the knowledge of Theodoric. All this was
dangerous and doubtful work, and though we may find it hard to condemn
Boethius, drawn as he was in opposite directions by the claims of
historic patriotism and by those of official duty, we can hardly wonder
that Theodoric, who felt his throne and his dynasty menaced, should have
judged with some severity the minister who had thus betrayed his

The political charge against Boethius was blended with one of another
kind, to us almost unintelligible, a charge of sacrilege and necromancy.
At least this seems to be the only possible explanation of the following
words written by him: My accusers saw that the charge 'of desiring the
safety of the Senate' was no crime but rather a merit; and therefore, in
order to darken it by the mixture of some kind of wickedness, they
falsely declared that ambition for office had led me to pollute my
conscience with sacrilege. But Philosophy had chased from my breast all
desire of worldly greatness, and under the eyes of her who had daily
instilled into my mind the Pythagorean maxim 'Follow God,' there was no
place for sacrilege. Nor was it likely that I should seek the
guardianship of the meanest of spirits when Divine Philosophy had formed
and moulded me into the likeness of God. The friendship of my
father-in-law, the venerable Symmachus, ought alone to have shielded me
from the suspicion of such a crime. But alas! it was my very love for
Philosophy that exposed me to this accusation, and they thought that I
was of kin to sorcerers because I was steeped in philosophic teachings.

The only reasonable explanation that we can offer of these words is that
mediaeval superstition was already beginning to cast her shadow over
Europe, that already great mechanical skill, such as Boethius was
reputed to possess when his king asked him to manufacture the
water-clock and the sun-dial, caused its possessor to be suspected of
unholy familiarity with the Evil One; perhaps also that astronomy, which
was evidently the favourite study of Boethius, was perilously near to
astrology, and that his zeal in its pursuit may have exposed him to some
of the penalties which the Theodosian code itself, the law-book of
Imperial Rome, denounced against the mathematicians.

This seems to be all that can now be done towards re-writing the lost
indictment under which Boethius was accused. The trial was conducted
with an outrageous disregard of the forms of justice. It took place in
the Senate-house at Rome; Boethius was apparently languishing in prison
at Pavia, where he had been arrested along with Albinus.[131] Thus at a
distance of more than four hundred miles from his accusers and his
judges was the life of this noble Roman, unheard and undefended, sworn
away on obscure and preposterous charges by a process which was the mere
mockery of a trial. He was sentenced to death and the confiscation of
his property; and the judges whose trembling lips pronounced the
monstrous sentence were the very senators whose cause he had tried to
serve. This thought, the remembrance of this base ingratitude, planted
the sharpest sting of all in the breast of the condemned patriot. It is
evident that the Senate themselves were in desperate fear of the newly
awakened wrath of Theodoric, and the fact that they found Boethius
guilty cannot be considered as in any degree increasing the probability
of the truth of the charges made against him. But it does perhaps
somewhat lessen his reputation for far-seeing statesmanship, since it
shows how thoroughly base and worthless was the body for whose sake he
sacrificed his loyalty to the new dynasty, how utterly unfit the Senate
would have been to take its old place as ruler of Italy, if Byzantine
Emperor and Ostrogothic King could have been blotted out of the
political firmament.

[Footnote 131: Boethius complains thus: Now, at a distance of nearly
five hundred miles, unheard and undefended, I have been condemned to
death and proscription for my too enthusiastic love to the Senate.
Pavia, where he seems to have been first confined, was, according to the
Antonine Itinerary, 455 Roman miles from the capital.]

Boethius seems to have spent some months in prison after his trial, and
was perhaps transferred from Pavia to the ager Calventianus, a few
miles from Milan. There at any rate he was confined when the messenger
of death sent by Theodoric found him. There is some doubt as to the mode
of execution adopted. One pretty good contemporary authority says that
he was beheaded, but the writer whom I have chiefly followed, who was
almost a contemporary, but a credulous one, says that torture was
applied, that a cord was twisted round his forehead till his eyes
started from their sockets, and that finally in the midst of his
torments he received the coup de grace from a club.

In the interval which elapsed between the condemnation and the death of
this noble man, who died verily as a martyr for the great memories of
Rome, he had time to compose a book which exercised a powerful influence
on many of the most heroic spirits of the Middle Ages. This book, the
well-known, if not now often read, Consolation of Philosophy, was
translated into English by King Alfred and by Geoffrey Chaucer, was
imitated by Sir Thomas More (whose history in some respects resembles
that of Boethius), and was translated into every tongue and found in
every convent library of mediaeval Europe. There is a great charm, the
charm of sadness, about many of its pages, and it may be considered from
one point of view as the swan's song of the dying Roman world and the
dying Greek philosophy, or from another, as the Book of Job of the new
mediaeval world which was to be born from the death of Rome. For like the
Book of Job, the Consolation is chiefly occupied with a discussion of
the eternal mystery why a Righteous and Almighty Ruler of the world
permits bad men to flourish and increase, while the righteous are
crushed beneath their feet: and, as in the Book of Job, so here, the
question is not, probably because it cannot be, fully answered.

It is the consolation of philosophy, not of religion, or at any rate not
of revealed religion, which is here administered. So marked is the
silence of Boethius on all those arguments, which a discussion of this
kind inevitably suggests to the mind of a believer in the Crucified One,
that scholars long supposed that he was not even by profession a
Christian. A manuscript which has been lately discovered[132] seems to
prove beyond a doubt that Boethius was a Christian, and wrote orthodox
treatises on disputed points of theology; but for some reason or other
he fell back on his early philosophical studies, rather than on his
formal and conventional Christianity, when he found himself in the deep
waters of adversity and imminent death. He represents himself in the
Consolation as lying on his dungeon-couch, sick in body and sad at
heart, and courting the Muses as companions of his solitude. They come
at his call, but are soon unceremoniously dismissed by one nobler than
themselves, who asserts an older and higher right to cheer her votary
in the day of his calamity. This is Philosophy, a woman of majestic
stature, whose head seems to touch the skies, and who has undying youth
and venerable age mysteriously blended in her countenance. Having
dismissed the Muses, she sits by the bedside of Boethius and looks with
sad and earnest eyes into his face. She invites him to pour out his
complaints; she sings to him songs first of pity and reproof, then of
fortitude and hope; she reasons with him as to the instability of the
gifts of Fortune, and strives to lead him to the contemplation of the
Summum Bonum, which is God Himself, the knowledge of whom is the
highest happiness. Then, in order a little to lighten his difficulties
as to the permission of evil by the All-wise and Almighty One, she
enters into a discussion of the relation between Divine Foreknowledge
and Human Free-will, but this discussion, a thorny and difficult one, is
not ended when the book comes to an abrupt conclusion, being probably
interrupted by the arrival of the messengers of Theodoric, who brought
the warrant for the writer's execution.

The Consolation of Philosophy is partly in prose, partly in verse. The
prose is generally strong, clear, and comparatively pure in style,
wonderfully superior to the vapid diffusiveness of Cassiodorus and most
writers of the age. The interspersed poems are sometimes in hexameters,
but more often in the shorter lines and more varied metres of Horace,
and are to some extent founded upon the tragic choruses of Seneca. It is
of course impossible in this place to give any adequate account of so
important a work and one of such far-reaching influence as the
Consolation but the following translation of one of the poems in which
the prisoner makes his moan to the Almighty may give the reader some
little idea of the style and matter of the treatise.


Oh Thou who hast made this starry Whole,
Who hast fixed on high Thy throne;
Who biddest the Blue above us roll,
And whose sway the planets own!

At Thy bidding she turns, the changing Moon
To her Brother her full-fed fire,
Dimming the Stars with her light, which soon
Wanes, as she draws to him nigher.

Thou givest the word, and the westering Star,
The Hesper who watched o'er Night's upspringing,
Changing his course, shines eastward far,
Phosphor now, for the Sun's inbringing.

When the leaves fall fast, 'neath Autumn's blast,
Thou shortenest the reign of light.
In radiant June Thou scatterest soon
The fast-flown hours of night.

The leaves which fled from the cruel North
Are with Zephyr's breath returning,
And from seeds which the Bear saw dropped in earth
Springs the corn for the Dog-star's burning.

Thus all stands fast by Thine old decree,
Nothing wavers in Nature's plan:
In all her changes she bows to Thee:
Yea, all stands fast but Man.

Oh! why is the wheel of Fortune rolled,
While guilt Thy vengeance shuns?
Why sit the bad on their thrones of gold,
And trample Thine holy ones?

Why doth Virtue skulk where none may see
In the great world's corners dim?
And the just man mark the knave go free,
While the penalty falls on him?

No storm the perjurer's soul o'erwhelms,
Serene the false one stands:
He flatters, and Kings of mighty realms
Are as clay in his moulding hands.

Oh Ruler! look on these lives of ours,
Thus dashed on Fortune's sea.
Thou rulest the calm eternal Powers,
But thine handiwork, too, are we.

Ah! quell these waves with their tossings high;
Let them own Thy bound and ban:
And as Thou rulest the starry sky
Rule also the world of Man!

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