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!