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Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius* (480-524)

Boethius was a Roman scholar and statesman, author of the neoplatonic work Consolations of Philosophy (De consolatione philosophiae). He is best knows as a translator of and commentator on Greek writings on logic and mathematics (Plato, Aristotle, Nichomachus). He was appointed consul in 510 by King Theodoric, and in 520 head of government and court services. For political views he held, Boethius fell out of favor with the King and was charged with treason for defending a senator accused of treasonous activity. While in prison awaiting execution, he wrote Consolations of Philosophy, in which Book V, Boethius thoroughly investigates the concept of Eternity.

One of the first musical works to be printed (Venice, 1491-92), Boethius's De institutione musica, written in the early sixth century, was for medieval authors from around the ninth century on the authoritative document on Greek music-theoretical thought and systems. The focus on counterpoint and the ecclesiatical modes in treatises after 1400 marginalized Boethius's volume to some extent, but it regained significance with the discovery and translation into Latin of ancient Greek works that Boethius had used as the basis for De institutione musica. Franchino Gaffurio, for example, acknowledged Boethius in Theorica musice (1492) as the authoritative source on music-theoretical matters (though he did come to realize that ancient sources disagreed more than Boethius indicated), and Heinrich Glarean relied on Boethius in establishing a theory of twelve modes in the Dodekachordon (1547). Glarean, however, was the exception rather than the rule, for in the 1500s and beyond Boethius's treatise had only historical significance, as a repository of knowledge about Greek music theory. Readers today study De institutione musica in order to understand the historical evolution medieval music theory and its sources in Greek writings. Further, the concepts pondered and issues raised by Boethius--among others, sound, its propagation, mathematical division of pitch space, consonance, scale forms and systems--remain relevant for music theory today.


Barnes, Jonathan. "Boethius and the Study of Logic," Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, ed. Margaret Gibson (Oxford, 1981), 73-89.

Bernhard, Michael. Wortkonkordanz zu Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, De institutione musica. Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Veröffentlichungen der Musikhistorischen Kommission, vol. 4, 1979.

Bernhard, Michael and Bower, Calvin M. eds. Glossa maior in institutionem musicam Boethii, Editionsband 1. Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Veröffentlichungen der Muskihistorischen Kommission, vol. 9, 1993.

Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus, Fundamentals of Music, trans. Calvin M. Bower, ed. Claude V. Palisca. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Bower, Calvin M. "Boethius and Nichomachus: An Essay Concerning the Sources of De Institutione Musica," Vivarium 16 (1978), 1-45.

Bower, Calvin M. "The Role of Boethius' De institutione musica in the Speculative Tradition of Western Musical Thought," Boethius and the Liberal Arts: A Collection of Essays, ed. Michael Masi, Utah Studies in Literature and Linguistics 18 (Bern, Frankfurt, and Las Vegas, 1981), 157-74.

Chadwick, Henry. Boethius: The Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology, and Philosophy (Oxford, 1981), 1-68.

Kirkby, Helen. "The Scholar and his Public," Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, ed. Margaret Gibson (Oxford, 1981), 44-69.

McKinlay, A.P. "Stylistic Tests and the Chronology of the Works of Boethius," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 18 (1907), 123-56.

Masi, Michael. Boethian Number Theory: A Translation of the De Institutione Arithmetica, Studies in Classical Antiquity, vol. 6 (Amsterdam, 1983).

Masi, Michael. "Manuscripts Containing the De Musica of Beothius," Manuscripta 15 (1971), 89-95.

Matthews, John. "Anisius Manlius Severinus Boethius," Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, ed. Margaret Gibson (Oxford, 1981), 15-43.

Palisca, Claude V. "Boethius in the Renaissance," Music Theory and Its Sources, ed. André Barbera (Notre Dame, 1990), 259-80; reprinted in Claude V. Palisca, Studies in Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford, 1994), 168-88.

White, Alison. "Boethius in the Medieval Quadrivium," Boethius: His Life, Thought and Influence, ed. Margaret Gibson (Oxford, 1981), 162-205.

* The information in this short summary of Boethius's life and work is taken from Claude Palisca's Preface to Calvin M. Bower's translation of De institutione musica, as Fundamentals of Music (Yale University Press, 1989), and from the entry for Boethius in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th edition.