Boethius And His Influence On Art


Miguel de Cervantes
Oscar Wilde
Martin Luther King Jr.
Henry David Thoreau
e.e. cummings
Nelson Mandela

What do these men have in common? All wrote some of their most monumental works while behind bars. Prison is not an oasis for the written word, but some of the greatest writings of human history of come from those held by the state for wrongdoings. Well, and perhaps wrongdoings should be placed in quotation marks.

Certainly, “wrongdoings” would be appropriate in the case of Boethius. The Roman statesman and philosopher was born in Rome in 480 and though an orphan at a young age, was able to rise through the ranks of the Roman empire, becoming an entrusted ally and advisor to King Theodoric.

In AD 523, rumors circulated that certain members of the government were hoping to overthrow King Theodoric, and Boethius found himself caught in the mix of accusations. Branded as a disloyal subject who was practicing astrology and conspiring to commit treason, Boethius was sent to prison and was executed within a year by the king.

But prior to his execution, Boethius took pen to paper and wrote one of the most important and vital works in the West on Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity and what is considered the last great Western work of the Classical Period. Consolation of Phillosophy focuses on the struggle of understanding how evil can exist in a world governed by God and how happiness can still be achieved despite horrible circumstances. Throughout the book, Boethius constructs a conversation between himself and Lady Philosophy regarding God being the source of all Good and understanding how man fits within God’s purpose. Though the work never references Christ or Christianity, the book does discuss religious questions through natural philosophy and Classical Greek tradition.

Boethius had a profound influence on later essential texts like Dante’s The Divine Comedy, poetry by Geoffrey Chaucer, and even J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Some of the text of his seminal work can be found in Kile Smith’s composition The Consolation of Apollo which weds the text of Boethius with the transcripts of the Apollo 8 space mission.

This post is part of our Choral Astronaut series, written by Jonathan Greer. The Verdigris Ensemble will be performing the Consolation of Apollo by Kile Smith on March 2, 4, and April 27. Kile Smith takes the direct transcripts of the Apollo 8 mission and sets it to choral music. For more information, please visit

Sam Brukhman