The Guilt of Boethius

In the nineteenth century, Benjamin Jowett spent over thirty years translating Plato’s Republic. That is an extreme example of perfectionism, but it helps us appreciate the magnitude (and the hubris) of the goal Boethius set for himself in the Introduction to his translation of Aristotle’s De Interpretatione: translating, analyzing, and reconciling the complete opera of Plato and Aristotle.1 As “incomparably the greatest scholar and intellect of his day,”2 Boethius may have had the ability and the energy his ambition required. But we will never know how much Boethius would have achieved as a philosopher if he had not suffered a premature death. In 523, less than a year after being named Magister Officiorum3 by King Theodoric, Boethius was charged with treason, hastily and possibly illegally tried, and executed in 526.4 Since the contemporary sources of information about the affair are vague and fragmented, the passage of nearly 1500 years has brought no consensus in explaining Boethius’ tragic fall from a brilliant intellectual and political career.
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