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Bill Thayer

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Book IV
Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a note in
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IV
Chapter 13

Book 4 (continued)

Vol. III
Note H

Seventeenth-Century Literature about Boethius

In Nicholas Caussin's 'Holy Court' (Eng. tr., Lond. 1678) there is a long life of Boethius under the title of 'The Statesman';a the object of the book being to show that even the most conspicuous and brilliant positions in a Court may be held and adorned by Christians.1

There is not wanting a certain French elegance and charm of style in the book, but the writer, whose information is probably in the main derived from Baronius,​b draws extravagantly on his imagination. He represents Boethius as chief counsellor of the state of Theodoric, and ventures to set forth in detail the ten great maxims of state which he supplied to his master. He says that Boethius was made Master of Offices and afterwards 'Superintendent of Offices and Dignities.'

The few hints given in the Philosophiae Consolatio as to the enemies and accusers of Boethius are expanded into a circumstantial history in which 'Trigilla, Congiastus, and Cyprianus, the principal of the faction of the Goths,' of course play the chief part. In another place we are told that 'that goodly letter addressed to the Emperor of the East was wholly counterfeited by the damnable imposture of one named Cyprian.'

A long speech is put into the mouth of Boethius, who is supposed to have uttered it to Theodoric 'in full Senate.' We have also Theodoric's imaginary reply, which is not quite as lengthy. Both speeches have some cleverness, but an unmistakable flavour of the seventeenth century, not of the sixth, pervades them. Afterwards we have a speech in which Rusticiana, having implored the mediation of Amalasuntha, makes her petition to the King for her husband's life.

 p517  The author does not believe in the story of the cord twisted round the forehead of Boethius till his eyes started out of his head. The chief reason for his disbelief is that 'Martianus, who most eloquently wrote his life, addeth that by miracle he some space of time held up his head in his own hands, like another S. Denis, until he gave up the ghost before the altar of a chapel very near to the place of his execution.'

The whole performance is only the romance of a rather clever Jesuit, who had the necessary volume of Baronius at hand. It seems, however, to have produced some impression on the minds of contemporaries.

There was published (in 1681) 'A Voice from the Dead, or the Speech of an Old Noble Peer, being the excellent oration of the learned and famous Boetius of that Emperour Theodoricus,' which is simply an extract from the 'Holy Court'; also, 'The Life of Boetius recommended to the Author of the Life of Julian' (London, 1683), in which, though the 'Holy Court' is (I think) not mentioned, the facts are evidently all drawn from that book, and applied, controversially, to the defence of the Roman Catholics from their accusers at the time to the Popish Plot. (This is no doubt also the unavowed object of the other pamphlet with its republication of the speech.) The author calls attention to the names of the chief accusers, Opilio and Basilius, and says that 'the learned Cabalists of our age, prying into the Arcana of the Alphabet, often discover strange misteries, even out of the first Letters of an Appellation,' — an evident allusion to Oates and Bedloe. In this singular fashion of twisting history into a party pamphlet, Theodoric the Arian becomes a Protestant, and Odovacar's followers 'the pardoned and lately indemnified Heruli,' are the remains of the Roundhead party, the 'Inveterate Whigs of that Age, who forsooth in outward profession were of the Gothic religion, and could not but dote on the royal person of Theodoric with a moderate true Protestant zeal and passion.' Cyprian, the clever Referendarius, the learned and trusted Master of the Offices, becomes 'a fellow as villainous in his Pen as Tongue, but whether of the clergy or laity History is silent'; evidently a thrust at the clerical character of the pamphleteer's antagonist, Samuel Johnson, the author of 'Julian the Apostate.'2

 p518  From the 'Holy Court' (p823 of the English edition) I gather the curious fact that Queen Elizabeth 'gave herself to such a vanity of study, that oftentimes she committed some extravagances, as when she undertook to translate the five books of the Consolation of Boetius, to comfort herself on the conversion of Henry the Fourth.'

The Author's Notes:

1 Nicholas Caussin was a Jesuit, and for a short time confessor to Louis XIII, till dismissed by Richelieu.

2 See Macaulay's 'History of England,' I.602 (ed. 1866).

Thayer's Notes:

a The original work by Fr. Caussin, La cour sainte, is online at Gallica:

Volume 1 Volume 2.

In the section titled "Les hommes d'estat", ("The Statesmen") Boethius appears in the company of Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Daniel, and Cardinal Pole, each of them getting his own section. Boethius's section runs pp469‑501.

b Fr. Caussin's table of contents gives the section on Boethius as taken "de Cassiodore, des oeuvres de Boëce, & d'un manuscrit de sa vie."

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