Saturday, October 22, 2005

Ante Diem X Kalendas November

Modern Date : October 23rd Market Day

Ante Diem X Kalendas November
Tenth Day to the Kalends of November

This is one of the dies comitiales when committees of citizens could vote on political or criminal matters.

On this day in 42 BCE, Brutus committed suicide, after losing the battle with Octavian and Mark Antony. Brutus had betrayed and murdered Julius Caesar, and plunged the Roman world into civil war that lasted years and took countless lives. Cassius too died this day, stabbing himself with the very dagger he used to murder Caesar.

October was the eighth month of the old Roman calendar and was sacred to the goddess Astraea, daughter of Zeus and Themis. The name October comes from Octo, meaning eight (March used to be the first month).

St. Anicius
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (AD 480 - 524 or 525) was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century. He was born in Rome to an important family — many of his ancestors had been consuls, including his father Flavius Manlius Boethius in 487 — but he served as an official for the kingdom of the Ostrogoths. In 522 he also saw his two sons become consuls, but he was later executed by King Theodoric the Great on suspicion of having conspired with the Byzantine Empire.

The exact birthdate of Boethius is unknown. However, it is generally placed at around AD 480, the same year of birth as St. Benedict. Boethius was born to a patrician family, with his father's line including two popes and several Roman emperors, and his mother's line also including emperors.

It is unknown where Boethius received his formidable education in Greek, as during his formative years, Theodoric the Great the Ostrogoth ruled Rome, and the cultural heritage of the West was waning. Historical documents are ambiguous on the subject, but Boethius may have studied in Athens, and perhaps Alexandria. Since a Boethius is recorded as proctor of the school in Alexandria circa AD 470, perhaps the younger Boethius received some grounding in the classics from his father or a close relative. In any case, his accomplishment in Greek was remarkable given the cultural climate of Rome at the time.

In addition to the difficulty associated with receiving a classical education at the time, the available education tended to focus on the literary, rather than the mathematical and scientific accomplishments of the West.

Nevertheless, around his twentieth birthday, Boethius was quite educated, and he caught the eye of Theodoric the Great, who commissioned the young Boethius to perform many roles.

By 520, at the age of about thirty-five, Boethius had already been appointed by Theodoric the Great as magister officiorum, the head of all the government and court services, and therefore held a position of honor and distinction unavailable to many men even twice his age. Two of his sons were honored by Theodoric the Great, reflecting their father's prestige.

In 523, however, Theodoric ordered Boethius arrested on charges of treason for reasons that remain unclear. Some scholars have suggested that Boethius intended to open negotiations with Theodoric's rival Byzantine Empire; Boethius himself attributes his arrest to the slander of his rivals. Whatever the cause, Boethius found himself stripped of his title and wealth and imprisoned in Pavia, awaiting an execution that took place in 524 or 525.

Boethius's most recognized work is the Consolation of Philosophy, which he wrote in prison in Pavia while awaiting his execution. Boëthius also translated some of Aristotle's works on logic from Greek into Latin, and until the 12th century they were the only significant portions of Aristotle available in that language.

Boethius also wrote a commentary on the Isagoge by Porphyry, in which he discusses the nature of the species: whether they are subsistent entities which would exist whether anyone thought of them, or whether they exist as ideas alone. This work started one of the most vocal controversies in medieval philosophy. Taken more generally the question of the ontological nature of universal ideas became known as the problem of universals.

Boethius was indeed a polymath, composing treatises on mathematics and music as well as the works named above. He is also credited with some theological treatises, although the true extent of his Christian belief is in doubt. He has been called the last of the Romans and the first of the scholastic philosophers. Despite the use of his mathematical texts in the Universities, it is his final work, the Consolation of Philosophy, that assured his posterity to the Middle Ages and beyond. It was translated into Anglo-Saxon by King Alfred, and into later English by Chaucer and Queen Elizabeth; many manuscripts survive and it was extensively edited, translated and printed throughout Europe from the late 15th century onwards. Many commentaries on it were compiled and it has been one of the most influential books in European culture. No complete bibliography has ever been assembled but it would run into thousands of items.