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Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy in context. Philosophy and Literature in Late Antiquity


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both (1) the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements, and (2) MA programs in Philosophy.

Admission requirements for other students:

  • A BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

  • A BA degree in Philosophy obtained from a university in the Netherlands or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands.

  • If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please contact the instructor.


In 525, the influential Roman politican and philosopher Boethius was sentenced to death on charges of high treason. While awaiting his execution in Pavia, he wrote his masterpiece The Consolation of Philosophy. During his life, Boethius had been a dedicated student of Plato and Aristotle and their Neoplatonic exegetes. In fact, he had even planned to translate all of them into Latin, a project cut short by his execution. In the Consolation, Boethius imagines how Lady Philosophy now comes to visit him, her devoted student, in his cell in order to console Boethius with his sudden fall from power and imminent death. This results in a discussion between her and Boethius about such philosophical topics as the role of fortune in human life, the nature of the good, divine providence and prescience, contingency, and eternity. The reader is left wondering how successful lady Philosophy ultimately is in her attempts to console Boethius. Are her arguments valid? And, if not, did Boethius perhaps intend them to be invalid, in order to demonstrate the limitations of philosophical thought? Moreover, what are we to make of the poems that Boethius has inserted in his philosophical prose? Are these just meant to enliven the at times rather abstract philosophical argumentation, or do they make a more substantial contribution to the Consolation as a whole? And, finally, why does Boethius, who had authored several treatises on Christian theology, keep silent about his Christian faith as the ultimate source of consolation? In this seminar we will read the Consolation witin its historical and intellectual context and reflect on these and other relevant issues.

For a first impression of Boethius’ philosophy, you may listen to the relevant episode from The History of Philosophy.

Course objectives

  • The student acquires an in-depth understanding of Boethius’ Neoplatonic philosophy.

  • The student is trained to analyse a complex ancient philosophical text and the pertaining modern scholarly literature.

  • The student is trained to present a complex ancient philosophical text orally in English in a clear manner.

  • The student is trained in writing an argumentive paper for which he/she him/herself develops the research question, finds relevant and more advanced philosophical literature intended for researchers in the field, and provide a critical analysis of the material.
    The requirements for MA and ResMA Classics students are differentiated. The paper of an MA student will present text, translation and commentary of an assigned passage. The paper of a ResMA student will take the form of a scholarly article that presents the innovative and well-argued interpretation of a relevant aspect of Boethius’ philosophy.

Philosophy students may study the assigned texts in translation. They will, after consultation with the instructor, write a paper on a relevant (philosophical) topic of their own choice.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Presentation (25%)

  • Final paper (75%)
    Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average.


The resit covers the following exam components: revised version of the final paper (75%). The grade for the other exam component (presentation) remains in place.

Class participation, attendance, and the oral presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Presentation: directly after presentation
Paper: written feedback/and or by appointment

Reading list

  • H.F Stewart, E.K. Rand, and S.J. Tester, Boethius: The Theological Tractates; the Consolation of Philosophy, Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press 1973 (= Loeb Classical Library)

  • J. Marenbon, Boethius, Oxford: Oxford University Press 2003.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Arsenaal


Not applicable.