« ForrigeFortsett »
stooped, or, to speak more truly, he rose to the social duties of public and private life; the indigent were relieved by his liberality; and his eloquence, which flattery might compare to the voice of Demosthenes or Cicero, was uniformly exerted in the cause of innocence and humanity. Such conspicuous merit was felt and rewarded by a discerning prince; the dignity of Boethius was adorned with the titles of consul and patrician, and his talents were usefully employed in the important station of master of the offices. Notwithstanding the equal claims of the East and West, his two sons were created, in their tender youth, the consuls of the same year.* On the memorable day of their inauguration, they proceeded in solemn pomp from their palace to the Forum, amidst the applause of the senate and people; and their joyful father, the true consul of Rome, after pronouncing an oration in the praise of his royal benefactor, distributed a triumphal largess in the games of the circus. Prosperous in his fame and fortunes, in his public honours and private alliances, in the cultivation of science and the consciousness of virtue, Boethius might have been styled happy, if that precarious epithet could be safely applied before the last term of the life of man.
A philosopher, liberal of his wealth and parsimonious of his time, might be insensible to the common allurements of ambition—the thirst of gold and employment. And some credit may be due to the asseveration of Boethius, that he had reluctantly obeyed the divine Plato, who enjoins every virtuous citizen to rescue the state from the usurpation of vice and ignorance. For the integrity of his public conduct he appeals to the memory of his country. His authority had restrained the pride and oppression of the royal officers, and his eloquence had delivered Paulianus from the dogs of the palace. He had always pitied, and
* Pagi, Muratori, &c . are agreed that Boethius himself was consul in the year 510, his two sons in 522, and in 487, perhaps his father. A desire of ascribing the last of these consulships to the philosopher, had perplexed the chronology of his life. In his honours, alliances, children, he celebrates his own felicity—his past felicity (p. 109, 110). [How could Boethius, if born in 470, have been "a wealthy orphan," if his father was consul in 487? Gibbon overlooked this when he hazarded his perhaps. According to the Paschal Chronicle and other authorities cited by Clinton (F. R. i. 740, and ii. 205), the consuls of 522 were Symmachus and Boethius.—Ed.]
BOETHIUS ACCUSED [CH. XXXIX.
often relieved, the distress of the provincials, whose fortunes "were exhausted by public and private rapine; and Boethius alone had courage to oppose the tyranny of the barbarians, elated by conquest, excited by avarice, and, as he complains, encouraged by impunity. In these honourable contests, his spirit soared above the consideration of danger, and perhaps of prudence; and we may learn, from the example of Cato, that a character of pure and inflexible virtue is the most apt to be misled by prejudice, to be heated by enthusiasm, and to confound private enmities with public justice. The disciple of Plato might exaggerate the infirmities of nature, and the imperfections of society; and the mildest form of a Gothic kingdom, even the weight of allegiance and gratitude, must be insupportable to the free spirit of a Roman patriot. But the favour and fidelity of Boethius declined in just proportion with the public happiness; and an unworthy colleague was imposed, to divide and control the power of the master of the offices. In the last gloomy season of Theodoric, he indignantly felt that he was a slave; but as his master had only power over his life, he stood without arms and without fear against the face of an angry barbarian, who had been provoked to believe that the safety of the senate was incompatible with his own. The senator Albinus was accused, and already convicted, on the presumption of hoping, as it was said, the liberty of Kome. "If Albinus be criminal," exclaimed the orator, "the senate and myself are all guilty of the same crime. If we are innocent, Albinus is equally entitled to the protection of the laws." These laws might not have punished the simple and barren wish of an unattainable blessing; but they would have shown less indulgence to the rash confession of Boethius, that, had he known of a conspiracy, the tyrant never should.* The advocate of Albinus was soon involved in the danger, and perhaps the guilt of his client; their signature (which they denied as a forgery) was affixed to the original address, inviting the emperor to deliver Italy from the Goths; and three witnesses of honourable rank, perhaps of infamous reputation, attested the
* Si ego scissem tu nesoisses. Boethius adopts this answer (lib. 1, pros. 4, p. 53) of Julius Canus, whose philosophic death is described by Seneca. (De TranquiUitate Animi, c. 14.)
treasonable designs of the Roman patrician.* Yet his
innocence must be presumed, since he was deprived by Theodoric of the means of justification, and rigorously confined in the tower of Pavia, while the senate, at the distance of five hundred miles, pronounced a sentence of confiscation and death against the most illustrious of its members. At the command of the barbarians, the occult science of a philosopher was stigmatized with the names of sacrilege and magic.f A devout and dutiful attachment to the senate was condemned as criminal by the trembling voices of the senators themselves; and their ingratitude deserved the wish or prediction of Boethius, that after him none should be found guilty of the same offence. J
While Boethius, oppressed with fetters, expected each moment the sentence or the stroke of death, he composed in the tower of Pavia the Consolation of Philosophy; a golden volume, not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully, but which claims incomparable merit from the barbarism of the times, and the situation of the author. The celestial guide, whom he had so long invoked at Rome and Athens, now condescended to illumine his dungeon, to revive his courage, and to pour into his wounds her salutary balm. She taught him to compare his long prosperity and his recent distress, and to conceive new hopes from the inconstancy of fortune. Reason had informed him of the precarious condition of her gifts; experience had satisfied him of their real value; he had enjoyed them without guilt; he might resign them without a sigh, and calmly disdain the impotent malice of his enemies, who had left him happiness, since they had left him virtue. From the earth, Boethius ascended to
* The characters ofhis two delators, Basiliua (Var. ii. 10. 11. iv. 22) and Opillio (v. 41. viii. 16), are illustrated, not much to their honour, in the Epistles of Cassiodorus, which likewise mention Decoratus (v. 31), the worthless colleague of Boethius (lib. 3, pros. 4, p. 193).
1■ A severe inquiry was instituted into the crime of magic (Var. iv. 22. 23. ix. 18) ; and it was believed that many necromancers had escaped by making their jailors mad; for mad, I should resd drwnh.
X Boethius had composed his own Apology (p. 53), perhaps more interesting than his Consolation. We must be content with the general view of his honours, principles, persecution, &c. (lib. 1, pros. 4, p. 42— 62), which may be compared with the short and weighty words ot the Valesian Fragment (p. 723). An anonymous writer (Sinner, Catalog. MSS. Bibliot. Bern. tom, i, p. 287) charges him home with honourable 282
DEATH OF BOETHIUS. [CII. XXXIX
heaven in search of the Supreme Good; explored the metaphysical labyrinth of chance and destiny, of prescience and free-will, of time and eternity; and generously attempted to reconcile the perfect attributes of the Deity, with the apparent disorders of his moral and physical government. Such topics of consolation, so obvious, so vague, or so abstruse, are ineffectual to subdue the feelings of human nature. Yet the sense of misfortune may be diverted by the labour of thought; and the eage who could artfully combine, in the same work, the various riches of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, must already have possessed the intrepid calmness which he affected to seek. Suspense, the worst of evils, was at length determined by the ministers of death, who executed, and perhaps exceeded, the inhuman mandate of Theodoric. A strong cord was fastened round the head of Boethius, and forcibly tightened, till his eyes almost started from their sockets; and some mercy may be discovered in the milder torture of beating him with clubs till he expired.* But his genius survived to diffuse a ray of knowledge over the darkest ages of the Latin world; the writings of the philosopher were translated by the most glorious of English kings,t and the third emperor of the name of Otho removed to a more honourable tomb the bones of a Catholic saint, who, from his Arian persecutors, had acquired the honours of martyrdom, and the fame of miracles.J In the last hours of Boethius he derived some
and patriotic treason. * He was executed in Agro
Calventiano (Calvenzano, between Marignano and Pavia), Anonym. Vales. p. 723, by order of Kusebius, count of Ticinum or Pavia. The place of his confinement is styled the baptistery, an edifice and name peculiar to cathedrals. It is claimed by the perpetual tradition of the church of Pavia. The tower of Boethius subsisted till the year 1584, and the draught is yet preserved. (Tirsboschi, tom, iii, p. 47, 48.)
+ See the Biographica Britannica, Alfred, tom. i, p. 80, second edition. The work is still more honourable, if performed under the learned eye of Alfred by his foreign and domestic doctors. For the reputation of Boethius in the middle ages, consult Brucker (Hist. Crit. Philosoph. tom, iii, p. 565, 566.)
X The inscription on his new tomb was composed by the preceptor of Otho the third, the learned Pope Silvester II., who, like Boethius himself, was styled a magician by the ignorance of the times. The Catholic martyr had carried his head in his hands a considerable way (Baronius, A.d. 526, No. 17, 18); yet, on a similar tale, a lady of my acquaintance once observed, " La distance n'y fait rien; U n'y a que le
comfort from the safety of his two sons, of his wife, and of his father-in-law, the venerable Symmachus. But the grief of Symmachus was indiscreet, and perhaps disrespectful: he had presumed to lament, he might dare to revenge, the death of an injured friend. He was dragged in chains from Rome to the palace of Eavenna; and the suspicions of Theodoric could only be appeased by the blood of an innocent and aged senator.*
Humanity will be disposed to encourage any report which testifies the jurisdiction of conscience and the remorse of kings; and philosophy is not ignorant that the most horrid spectres are sometimes created by the powers of a disordered fancy, and the weakness of a distempered body. After a life of virtue and glory, Theodoric was now descending with shame and guilt into the grave: his mind was humbled by the contrast of the past, and justly alarmed by the invisible terrors of futurity. One evening, as it is related, when tho head of a large fish was served on the royal table,t he suddenly exclaimed, that he beheld the angry countenance of Symmachus, his eyes glaring fury and revenge, and his mouth armed with long sharp teeth, which threatened to devour him. The monarch instantly retired to his chamber, and as he lay trembling with aguish cold under a weight of bed-clothes, he expressed in broken murmurs to his physician Elpidius, his deep repentance for the murders of Boethius and Symmachus.J His malady increased, and
premier pas qui coute." [This lady was Madame du Deffand, and the subject of conversation was the miracle of St. Denis.—Guizot.] [Philippus Burgensis, Suppl. Chron. IX, p. 85, imputed the violent death of Boethius to the Arians, and by proposing to canonize him as St. Severinus Secundus, almost casts ridicule on the lamentable event.—Ed.]
* Boethius applauds the virtues of his father-in-law (lib. 1, pros. 4, p. 59; lib. 2, pros. 4, p. 118): Procopius (Goth. lib. 1,0. 1), the Valesian Fragment (p. 724), and the Historia Miscella (1ib. 15, p. 105), agree in praising the superior innocence or sanctity of Symmachus; and in the estimation of the legend, the guilt of his murder is equal to the imprisonment of a pope. [Gibbon has omitted the testimony of Cassiodorus to the estimation in which Symmachus was held. See Var. ii. 14. iv. 6 and 61.—Ed.] + In the fanciful eloquence of Cassio
dorus the variety of sea and river fish are an evidence of extensive dominion; and those of the Rhine, of Sicily, and of the Danube, were served on the table of Theodoric. (Var. xii. 14.) The monstrous turbot of Domitian (Juvenal, Satir. 3, 39) had been caught on the shores of the Adriatic. J Procopius, Goth. lib. 1, c. 1.
But he might have informed us whether he had received this curious