“Those lofty kings you see seated high on thrones, Bright in their glowing purple, hedged in with bristling arms, Threatening with visage stern, and gasping in the frenzy of their hearts– If a man strip from those proud kings the cloak of their empty splendour, At once he will see these lords within bear close-bound chains; For there, lust stirs their hearts with poisonous greed, There anger whips the mind as a whirlwind whips up waves, And either close-confined sorrow plagues, or slippery hope torments. Therefore since as you see one head so many tyrants bears, He does not do what he himself would do, by these harsh masters pressed.”
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy IV. ii. Loeb Classical Library No. 74, trans. S.J. Tester. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1918), 328-31. [Latin Text with English translation.]
Boethius wrote this work around 524 as he languished in prison accused of treason to King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths in northern Italy. Every section contains a poem after a dialogue between Lady Philosophy and Boethius. Here Boethius identified the futility of power and its deadly effects on those who yield it. Tyrants, driven by lust (libido), have poisoned souls. A political tyrant is ruled internally by wicked vices. These harsh masters rule the one who seek to be lords over others.