Kindle iBook ePUB. Read this book. Written in the 6th century, The Consolation of Philosophy is the best-known--and most profound--work of the Christian theologian and philosopher St. He composed this great work while he was unjustly imprisoned, directly before his unlawful execution. Consequently, The Consolation --which takes the form of a dialogue between Boethius and 'Lady Philosophy'--discusses a variety of important and weighty issues including ethics, the nature of God, God's relationship to the world, the problem of evil, and the true nature of happiness.
In particular, an often-emphasized and key theme throughout the book is the importance of both loving God and developing virtue. Because it is written in dialogue form, the literary qualities of the book are somewhat 'light,' which contrasts with the occasionally weighty topics it discusses. The Consolation of Philosophy was enormously influential on medieval and renaissance Christianity--statesmen, poets, historians, philosophers, and theologians all read and studied it extensively. Moreover, it remains even today an important and instructive book. Both compelling and illuminating, The Consolation of Philosophy is profitable for all readers and comes highly recommended.
Source: Wikipedia. Related topics: Boethius,--d. He was born in Rome to an ancient and prominent family which included emperors Petronius Maximus and Olybrius and many consuls. Boethius, of the noble Anicia family, entered public life at a young age and was already a senator by the age of Now has the cloud put off its alluring face, wherefore without scruple my life drags out its wearying delays. For he that is fallen low did never firmly stand. While I was pondering thus in silence, and using my pen to set down so tearful a complaint, there appeared sta nding over my head a woman's form, whose countenance was full of majesty, whose eyes shone as with fire and in power of insight surpassed the eyes of men, whose colour was full of life, whose strength was yet intact though she was so full of years th at none would ever think that she was subject to such age as ours.
One could but doubt her varying stature, for at one moment she repressed it to the common measure of a man, at another she seemed to touch with her crown the very heavens: and when s he had raised higher her head, it pierced even the sky and baffled the sight of those who would look upon it. Her clothing was wrought of the finest thread by subtle workmanship brought to an indivisible piece.
This had she woven with her own hands, as I afterwards did learn by her own shewing. Their beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dulness of long neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. On the border below was inwoven the symbol II, on Page 3 that above was to be read a 1 And between the two letters there could be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, ascent might be mad e from the lower principle to the higher.
Yet the hands of rough men had torn this garment and snatched such morsels as they could therefrom. In her right hand she carried books, in her left was a sceptre brandished. When she saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting, she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, ' Who has suffered these seducing mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those i n sorrow by any healing remedies, but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease, but accusto m them thereto.
I would think it less grievous if your allurements drew away from me some uninitiated man, as happens in the vulgar herd. In such an one my labours would be naught harmed, but this man has been nourished in the lore of Eleatics and A cademics; and to him have ye reached? Away with you, Sirens, seductive unto destruction! Their band thus rated cast a saddened glance -- and are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy. Page 4 upon the ground, confessing their shame in blushes, and passed forth dismally over the threshold.
For my part, my eyes were dimmed with tears, and I could not discern who was this woman of such commanding power. I wa s amazed, and turning my eyes to the ground I began in silence to await what she should do. Then she approached nearer and sat down upon the end of my couch: she looked into my face heavy with grief and cast down by sorrow to the ground, and then she raised her complaint over the trouble of my mind in these words.
Its own true light no longer burns within, and it would break forth to outer dark nesses. How often care, when fanned by earthly winds, grows to a larger and unmeasured bane. This man has been free to the open heaven: his habit has it been to wander into the paths of the sky: his to watch the light of the bright sun, his to inqui re into the brightness of the chilly moon; he, like a conqueror, held fast bound in its order every star that makes its wandering circle, turning its peculiar course.
Nay, more, deeply has he searched into the springs of nature, whence came the roari ng blasts that ruffle the ocean's bosom calm: what is the spirit that makes the firmament revolve; wherefore does the evening star sink into the western wave but to rise from the radiant East; what is the Page 5 cause which so tempers the season of Spring that it decks the earth with rose-blossoms; whence comes it to pass that Autumn is prolific in the years of plenty and overflows with teeming vines: deeply to search these causes was his wont, and to bring forth secrets deep in Nature hid.
Surely I had given you such weapons as would keep you safe, and your strength unconquered; if you had not thrown them away. Do you know me? Why do you keep silence? Are you dumb from shame or from dull amazement? I would it were from shame, but I see that amazement has overwhelmed you. When she saw that I was not only silent, but utter]y tongue-tied and dumb, she put her hand gently upon my breast, and said,' There is no danger: he is suffering from drowsiness, that disease which attacks so many minds which have been deceived.
He has forgotten himself for a moment and will quickly remember, as Page 6 soon as he recognises me. That he may do so, l et me brush away from his eyes the darkening cloud of thoughts of matters perishable. Then was dark night dispelled, the shadows fled away, and my ey es received returning power as before. Then I drew breath again and engaged my mind in taking knowledge of my physician's countenance.
So when I turned my eyes towards her and fixed my gaze upon her, I recognised my nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent my life from earliest manhood. And I asked her,' Wherefore have you, mistress of all virtues, come down from heaven above to visit my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, may be harrie d, the victim of false charges? Page 7 Should I not share and bear my part of the burden which has been laid upon you from spite against my name?
Surely Philosophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their journey unbefriended. Think you I would fear calumnies? Think you that this is the first time that wisdom has been harassed by d angers among men of shameless ways? In ancient days before the time of my child, Plato, have we not as well as nowadays fought many a mighty battle against the recklessness of folly?
And though Plato did survive, did not his master, Socrates, win hi s victory of an unjust death, with me present at his side? When after him the followers of Epicurus, and in turn the Stoics, and then others did all try their utmost to seize his legacy, they dragged me, for all my cries and struggles, as though to s hare me as plunder; they tore my robe which I had woven with mine own hands, and snatched away the fragments thereof: and when they thought I had altogether yielded myself to them, they departed.
And since among them were to be seen certain signs of my outward bearing, others ill-advised did think they wore my livery: thus were many of them undone by the errors of the herd of uninitiated. But if you have not heard of the exile of Anaxagoras, 1 -- Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about B.
Page 8 nor the poison drunk by Socrates, 1 nor the torture of Zeno, 2 w hich all were of foreign lands, yet you may know of Canius, 3 Seneca, 4 and Soranus, 5 whose fame is neither small nor passing old. Naught else brough t them to ruin but that, being built up in my ways, they appeared at variance with the desires of unscrupulous men.
So it is no matter for your wonder if, in this sea of life, we are tossed about by storms from all sides; for to oppose evil men is t he chief aim we set before ourselves. Though the band of such men is great in numbers, yet is it to be contemned: for it is guided by no leader, but is hurried along at random only by error running riot everywhere. If this band when warring against u s presses too strongly upon us, our leader, Reason, gathers her forces into her citadel, while the enemy are busied in plundering useless baggage.
As they seize the most worthless things, we laugh at them from above, untroubled by the whole band of m ad marauders, and we are defended by that rampart to which riotous folly may not hope to attain. Page 9 look fortun e in the face, unbending both to good and bad: his countenance unconquered he can shew. The rage and threatenings of the sea will not move him though they stir from its depths the upheaving swell: Vesuvius's furnaces may never so often burst forth, a nd he may send rolling upwards smoke and fire; the lightning, whose wont it is to smite down lofty towers, may flash upon its way, but such men shall they never move.
Why then stand they wretched and aghast when fierce tyrants rage in impotence? Fea r naught, and hope naught: thus shall you have a weak man's rage disarmed. But whoso fears with trembling, or desires aught from them, he stands not firmly rooted, but dependent: thus has he thrown away his shield; he can be rooted up, and he links f or himself the very chain whereby he may be dragged. Why do you weep? Wherefore flow your tears? Does it not stand forth plainly enough of itself? Does not the very aspect of this place strike you? Is this the library which you had chosen Page 10 for yourself as your sure resting-place in my house?
Is this the room in w hich you would so often tarry with me expounding the philosophy of things human and divine? Was my condition like this, or my countenance, when I probed with your aid the secrets of nature, when you marked out with a wand the courses of the stars, w hen you shaped our habits and the rule of all our life by the pattern of the universe?
Nay, you yourself have established this saying by the mouth of Plat o, that commonwealths would be blessed if they were guided by those who made wisdom their study, or if those who guided them would make wisdom their study. You and God Himself, who has grafted you in the minds of philosophers, are my witnesses that never have I applied myself to any office of state except that I might work for the -- Boethius means that his chief ' philosophical ' studies had been physics, astronomy, and ethics.
Page 11 common welfare of all good men. Thence followed bitter quarrels with evil men which co uld not be appeased, and, for the sake of preserving justice, contempt of the enmity of those in power, for this is the result of a free and fearless conscience. How often have I withstood Conigastus 1 to his face, whenever he has attacked a weak man 's fortune! How often have I turned by force Trigulla, 1 the overseer of the Emperor's household, from an unjust act that he had begun or even carried out!
How many times have I put my own authority in danger by pro tecting those wretched people who were harried with unending false charges by the greed of barbarian Goths which ever went unpunished! Never, I say, has any man depraved me from justice to injustice. My heart has ached as bitterly as those of the su fferers when I have seen the fortunes of our subjects ruined both by the rapacity of persons and the taxes of the state.
Again, in a time of severe famine, a grievous, intolerable sale by compulsion was decreed in Campania, and devastation threatened that province. Then I undertook for the sake of the common welfare a struggle against the commander of the Imperial guard; though the king was aware of it, I fought against the enforcement of the sale, and fought successfully. Paulinus was a man who had been consul: the jackals of the court had -- Conigastus and Trigulla were favourite officers of the Emperor, Theodoric, the Goth: they used their influence with him for the oppression of the weak.
Page 12 in their own hopes and desires already swallowed up his possessions, but I snatched him from their very gaping jaws. I exposed myself to the hatred of the treacherous informer Cyprian, that I might prevent Albinus, als o a former consul, being overwhelmed by the penalty of a trumped-up charge. Think you that I have raised up against myself bitter and great quarrels enough?
But I ought to have been safer among those whom I helped; for, from my love of justice, I la id up for myself among the courtiers no resource to which I might turn for safety. Who, further, were the informers upon whose evidence I was banished? One was Basilius: he was formerly expelled from the royal service, and was driven by debt to info rm against me. Again, Opilio and Gaudentius had been condemned to exile by the king for many unjust acts and crimes: this decree they would not obey, and they sought sanctuary in sacred buildings, but when the king was aware of it, he declared that i f they departed not from Ravenna before a certain day, they should be driven forth branded upon their foreheads.
What could be more stringent than this? Yet upon that very day information against me was laid by these same men and accepted. Why so? D id my character deserve this treatment? Or did my prearranged condemnation give credit and justification to my accusers? Did Fortune feel no shame for this? If not for innocence calumniated, at any rate for the baseness of the calumniators?
Page It was said that "I had desired the safety of the Senate. I was charged with "having hindered an informer from p roducing papers by which the Senate could be accused of treason. Shall I deny it lest it shame you? Nay, I did desire the safety of the Senate, nor shall ever cease to desire it. Shall I confess it? Then there would hav e been no need to hinder an informer. Shall I call it a crime to have wished for the safety of that order? By its own decrees concerning myself it has established that this is a crime.
Though want of foresight often deceives itself, it cannot alter t he merits of facts, and, in obedience to the Senate's command, I cannot think it right to hide the truth or to assent to falsehood. I think it unnecessary to speak of the forged letters through which I am accused of " hoping for the freedom of Rome. No liberty is left to hope for. Wou ld there were any! Evil de sires are, it may be, due to our natural failings, but that the conceptions of any wicked mind should prevail against innocence while God watches over us, seems to me unnatural.
Wherefore not without cause has one of your own followers asked, " If Go d is, whence come evil things? If He is not, whence come good? When King Theodoric, desiring the common ruin of the Senate, was for extending to the whole order the charge of treason laid against Albinus, you remember how I laboured to defend the innocence of the order without any care for my own danger? You know that I declare this truthfully and with no boasting praise of self.
Page 15 For the secret value of a conscience, that a pproves its own action, is lessened somewhat each time that it receives the reward of fame by displaying its deeds. But you see what end has fallen upon my innocency. In the place of the rewards of honest virtue, I am suffering the punishments of an ill deed that was not mine.
And did ever any direct confession of a crime find its judges so well agreed upon exercising harshness, that neither the liability of the human heart to err, nor the changeableness of the fortune of all mankind, could yie ld one dissentient voice? If it had been said that I had wished to burn down temples, to murder with sacrilegious sword their priests, that I had planned the massacre of all good citizens, even so I should have been present to plead guilty or to be convicted, before the sentence was executed.
But here am I, nearly five hundred-miles away, without the opportunity of defending myself, condemned to death and the confiscation of my property because of my tao great zeal for the Senate. Even those who laid information have seen the honour of this accusation, for, that they might blacken it with some criminal ingredient, they had need to lie, saying tha t I had violated my conscience by using unholy means to obtain offices corruptly. But you, by being planted within me, dispelled from the chamber of my soul all craving for that which perishes, and Page 16 where your eye s were looking there could be no place for any such sacrilege.
For you instilled into my ears, and thus into my daily thoughts, that saying of Pythagoras, " Follow after God. Yet, further, the innocent life within my home, my gathering of most honourable friends, my father-in-law Symmachus, l a man esteemed no less in his publ ic life than for his private conscientiousness, these all put far from me all suspicion of this crime. But -- O the shame of it! Thus it is not enough that my deep respect for you has profited me nothing, but you yourself have received wanton contumely from the ha tred that had rather fallen on me.
Yet besides this, is another load added to my heap of woes: the judgment of the world looks not to the deserts of the case, but to the evolution of chance, and holds that only this has been intended which good fortu ne may chance to foster: whence it comes that the good opinion of the world is the first to desert the unfortunate. It is wearisome to recall what were the tales by people told, or how little -- Symmachus was execu ted by Theodoric at the same time as Boethius.
Page 17 their many various opinions agreed. This alone I would fain say: it is the last burden laid upon us by unkind fortune, that when any charge is invented to be f astened upon unhappy men, they are believed to have deserved all they have to bear. For kindness I have received persecutions; I have been driven from all my possessions, stripped of my honours, and stained for ever in my reputation. I think I see t he intoxication of joy in the sin-steeped dens of criminals: I see the most abandoned of men intent upon new and evil schemes of spying: I see honest men lying crushed with the fear which smites them after the result of my perilous case: wicked men o ne and all encouraged to dare every crime without fear of punishment, nay, with hope of rewards for the accomplishment thereof: the innocent I see robbed not merely of their peace and safety, but even of all chance of defending themselves.
So then I may cry aloud: Cool rises the evening star at night's first drawing nigh: the same is the morn ing star who casts off the harness that she bore Page 18 before, and paling meets the rising sun. When winter's cold doth strip the trees, Thou settest a shorter span to day. And Thou, when summer comes to warm, dost ch ange the short divisions of the night. Thy power doth order the seasons of the year, so that the western breeze of spring brings back the leaves which winter's north wind tore away; so that the dog-star's heat makes ripe the ears of corn whose seed Arcturus watched.
Naught breaks that ancient law: naught leaves undone the work appointed to its place. Thus all things Thou dost rule with limits fixed: the lives of men alone dost Thou scorn to restrain, as a guardian, within bounds. F or why does Fortune with her fickle hand deal out such changing lots? The hurtful penalty is due to crime, but falls upon the sinless head: depraved men rest at ease on thrones aloft, and by their unjust lot can spurn beneath their hurtful heel the necks of vir tuous men.
Beneath obscuring shadows lies bright virtue hid: the just man bears the unjust's infamy. They suffer not for forsworn oaths, they suffer not for crimes glozed over with their lies. But when their will is to put forth their strength, with triumph they subdue the mightiest kings whom peoples in their thousands fear. O Thou who dost weave the bonds of Nature's self, look down upon this pitiable earth! Mankind is no base part of this great work, and we are tossed on Fortune's wave.
Rest rain, our Guardian, the engulfing surge, and as Thou dost the unbounded Page 19 heaven rule, with a like bond make true and firm these lands. While I grieved thus in long-drawn pratings, Phi losophy looked on with a calm countenance, not one whit moved by my complaints Then said she,' When I saw you in grief and in tears I knew thereby that you were unhappy and in exile, but I knew not how distant was your exile until your speech declare d it. But you have not been driven so far from your home; you have wandered thence yourself: or if you would rather hold that you have been driven, you have been driven by yourself rather than by any other.
No other could have done so to you. For if you recall your true native country, you know that it is not under the rule of the many-headed people, as was Athens of old, but there is one Lord, one King, who rejoices in the greater number of his subjects, not in their banishment. To be guided b y his reins, to bow to his justice, is the highest liberty. Know you not that sacred and ancient law of your own state by which it is enacted that no man, who would establish a dwelling-place for himself therein, may lawfully be put forth?
For there is no fear that any man should merit exile, if he be kept safe therein by its protecting walls. But any man that may no longer wish to dwell there, does equally no longer deserve to be there. Wherefore it is your looks rather than the aspect of this place which disturb me. Prose iv. Page 20 is not the walls of your library, decked with ivory and glass, that I need, but ra ther the resting-place in your heart, wherein I have not stored books, but I have of old put that which gives value to books, a store of thoughts from books of mine.
As to your services to the common weal, you have spoken truly, though but scantily, if you consider your manifold exertions. Of all wherewith you have been charged either truthfully or falsely, you have but recorded what is well known. As for the crimes and wicked lies of the informers, you have rightly thought fit to touch but sho rtly thereon, for they are better and more fruitfully made common in the mouth of the crowd that discusses all matters.
You have loudly and strongly upbraided the unjust ingratitude of the Senate: you have grieved over the charges made against mysel f, and shed tears over the insult to my fair fame: your last outburst of wrath was against Fortune, when you complained that she paid no fair rewards according to deserts: finally, you have prayed with passionate Muse that the same peace and order, t hat are seen in the heavens, might also rule the earth.
But you are overwhelmed by this variety of mutinous passions: grief, rage, and gloom tear your mind asunder, and so in this present mood stronger measures cannot yet come nigh to heal you. Let us therefore use gentler means, and since, just as matter in the body hardens into a swelling, so have these disquieting influences, let these means soften by kindly handling the Page 21 unhealthy spot, until it will be ar a sharper remedy. If thou wilt enjoy the grapes, wouldst thou seek with clutching hand to prune the vines in spring?
Thus God marks out the times and fits to them peculiar works: He has set out a course of change, and lets no confusion come. If aught betake itself to headlong way s, and leaves its sure design, ill will the outcome be thereto. Then said she,' Think you that this universe is guided only at random and by mere chan ce? I kno w that God, the founder of the universe, does overlook His work; nor ever may that day come which shall drive me to abandon this belief as untrue.
Yet, how strange! But let us look deeper into it: I cannot but think there is something lacking. Since you are not in doubt that the universe is ruled by God, tell me by what method you think that government is guided? But tell me, do you remember what is the aim and end of all things? Page 23 But such are the ways of these distractions, such is their power, that though they can move a man's position, they cannot pluck him from himself or wrench him from his roots. But this question would I have you answer: do you remember that you are a man? I know that he is an animal, reasoning and mortal; that I know, and th at I confess myself to be.
You have forgotten what you are. Now therefore I have found out to the full the manner of your sickness, and how to attempt the restoring of your health. You are overwhelmed by this forgetfulness of yourself: hence you have been thus sorrowing that you are exiled and robbed of all your possessions. You do not know the aim and end of all things; hence you think that if men are worthless and wicked, they are powerful and fortunate.
You have forgotten by what methods the universe is guided; hence you think that the chances of good and bad fortune are tossed about with no ruling hand.
These things may lead not to disease only, but even to death as well. But let us thank the Giver of all health, that your nature has not altogether left you. W e have yet the chief Page 24 spark for your health's fire, for you have a true knowledge of the hand that guides the universe: you do believe that its government is not subject to random chance, but to divine reason. T herefore have no fear. From this tiny spark the fire of life shall forthwith shine upon you. But it is not time to use severer remedies, and since we know that it is the way of all minds to clothe themselves ever in false opinions as they throw off t he true, and these false ones breed a dark distraction which confuses the true insight, therefore will I try to lessen this darkness for a while with gentle applications of easy remedies, that so the shadows of deceiving passions may be dissipated, a nd you may have power to perceive the brightness of true light.
When the boisterous south wind rolls along the sea and stirs the surge, the water, but n ow as clear as glass, bright as the fair sun's light, is dark, impenetrable to sight, with stirred and scattered sand. The stream, that wanders down the mountain's side, must often find a stumbling-block, a stone within its path torn from the hill's own rock. So too shalt thou: if thou wouldst see the truth in undimmed light, choose the straight road, the beaten path; away with passing joys! Where these distractions reign, t he mind is clouded o'er, the soul is bound in chains.
THEN for a while she held her peace. But when her s ilence, so discreet, made my thoughts to cease from straying, she thus began to speak: 'If I have thoroughly learned the causes and the manner of your sickness, your former good fortune has so affected you that you are being consumed by longing for i t. The change of one of her this alone has overturned your peace of mind through your own imagination. I understand the varied disguises of that unnatural state. I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to decei ve, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected.
If you recall her nature, her ways, or her deserts, you will see that you never had in her, nor have lost with her, aught that was lovely. Yet, I think, I shall not need great labour to recall this to your memory. For then too, when she was at your side with all her flattery, you were wont to reproach her in strong and manly terms; and to revile her with the opinions that you had gathered in worship of me with my favoured ones. But no sudden change of outward affairs can ever come without some upheaval in the mind. Thus has it followed Page 26 that you, like others, have fallen somewhat away from your calm peace of mind.
But it is time now for you to make trial of some gentle and pleasant draught, which by reaching your inmost parts shall prepare the way for yet stronger healing draughts. Try therefore the assuring influence of gentle argument which keeps its straight path only when it holds fast to my instructions. And with this art of orators let my handmaid, the art of song, lend her aid in chanting light or weighty harmonies as we desire.
You have seen something unwonted, it would seem, something strange to you. But if you think that Fortune has changed towards you, you are wrong. These are ever her ways: this is her very nature. She has with you pr eserved her own constancy by her very change. She was ever changeable at the time when she smiled upon you, when she was mocking you with the allurements of false good fortune. You have discovered both the different faces of the blind goddess.
To th e eyes of others she is veiled in part: to you she has made herself wholly known. If you find her welcome, make use of her ways, and so make no complaining. If she fills you with horror by her treachery, treat her with despite; thrust her away from you, for she tempts you to your ruin. For though she is the cause of this great trouble for you, she ought to have been the subject of Page 27 calmness and peace. For no man can ever make himself sure that she will neve r desert him, and thus has she deserted you.
Do you reckon such happiness to be prized, which is sure to pass away? Is good fortune dear to you, which is with you for a time and is not sure to stay, and which is sure to bring you unhappiness when it is gone? But seeing that it cannot be stayed at will, and that when it flees away it leaves misery behind, what is such a fleeting thing but a sign of coming misery?
Nor should it ever satisfy any man to look only at that which is placed before his eyes. Prudence takes measure of the results to come from all things. The very changeableness of good and bad makes Fortune's threats no more fearful, nor her smiles to be desired. And lastly, when you have once put your neck beneath the yoke of For tune, you must with steadfast heart bear whatever comes to pass within her realm.
But if you would dictate the law by which she whom you have freely chosen to be your mistress must stay or go, surely you will be acting without justification; and you r very impatience will make more bitter a lot which you cannot change. If you set your sails before the wind, will you not move forward whither the wind drives you, not whither your will may choose to go? If you intrust your seed to the furrow, will you not weigh the rich years and the barren against each other? You have given yourself over to Fortune's rule, and you must bow yourself to Page 28 your mistress's ways.
Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? She hears no wretch's cry, she heeds no tears, but wantonly she mocks the sorrow which her cruelty has made. This is her sport: thus she proves her power; if in the selfsame hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in despair,'tis thus she shews her might.
What injustice have I wrought upon you? Of what good things have I robbed you? Choose your judge whom you will, and before him strive with me for the right to hold your wealth and honours. If you can prove that any one of these does truly belong to any mortal man, readily will I grant that these you seek to regain were yours.
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When nature brought you forth from your mother's womb, I received you in my arms naked and bare of all things; I cherished you Page 29 with my gifts, and I brought you up all too kindly with my favouring care, wherefore now you cannot bear with me, and I surrounded you wi th glory and all the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases me to withdraw my hand: be thankful, as though you had lived upon my loans.
You have no just cause of complaint, as though you had really lost what was once your own. Why do you rai l against me? I have wrought no violence towards you. Wealth, honours, and all such are within my rights. They are my handmaids; they know their mistress; they come with me and go when I depart. Boldly will I say that if these, of whose loss you com plain, were ever yours, you would never have lost them at all. Am I alone to be stayed from using my rightful power? The heavens may grant bright sunlit days, and hide the same beneath the shade of night.
The year may deck the earth's countenance wi th flowers and fruits, and again wrap it with chilling clouds. The sea may charm with its smoothed surface, but no less justly it may soon bristle in storms with rough waves. Is the insatiate discontent of man to bind me to a constancy which belongs not to my ways? Herein lies my very strength; this is my unchanging sport. I turn my wheel that spins its circle fairly; I delight to make the lowest turn to the top, the highest to the bottom.
Come you to the top if you will, but on this condition, that you think it no unfairness to sink when the rule of my game demands it. Do Page 30 you not know my ways? Have you not heard how Croesus, 1 king of Lydia, who filled even Cyrus with fe ar but a little earlier, was miserably put upon a pyre of burning faggots, but was saved by rain sent down from heaven?
Have you forgotten how Paulus shed tears of respect for the miseries of his captive, King Perses? Have you never learnt in your youth the ancient allegory that in the threshold of Jove's hall there stand two vesse ls, one full of evil, and one of good? What if you have received more richly of the good? What if I have not ever withheld myself from you?
What if my changing nature is itself a reason that you should- hope for better things? In any way, let not you r spirit eat itself away: you are set in the sphere that is common to all, let your desire therefore be to live with your own lot of life, a subject of the kingdom of the world. Page 31 never stay her hand, yet will the race of men Met II. Though God accept their prayers freely and give gold with ungrudging hand, and deck with honours those who deserve them, yet when they are gotten, these gifts seem naught. Wild greed swallows what it has sought, and still gapes wide for more.
What bit or bridle will hold within its course this headlong lust, when, whetted by abundance of rich gifts, the thirst for possession burns? Never call we that man rich who is ever trembling in haste and groaning for that he thinks he lack. But if you have any just defence for your complaining, you must put it forward. We will grant you the opportunity of speaking. Then I answered,' Those arguments have a fair form and are clothed with all the sweetness of speech and of song.
Whe n a man listens to them, they delight him; but only so long. The wretched have a deeper feeling of their misfortunes. Wherefore when these pleasing sounds fall no longer upon the ear, this deep- rooted misery again weighs down the spirit. When the time comes, I will apply those which are to penetrate deeply. I will not describe how, when you lost your father, men of the highest rank received you into their care: how you were chosen by the chief men in the state to be allied to them by marriage; 1 and you were dear to them before you were ever closely related; which is the most valuable of all relationships.
Who hesitated to pronounce you most fortunate for the greatness of your wives' families, for their virtues, and for your blessings in your sons too? I need not speak of those things that are familiar, so I pass over the honours which are denied to most old men, but were granted to you when yet young. I choose to come to the unrivalled crown of your good fortune.
If the enjoyment of anything mortal can weigh at all in the balance of good fortune, can your memory of one gre at day ever be extinguished by any mass of accumulated ills? I mean that day when you saw your two sons proceed forth from your house as consuls together, amid the crowding senators, the eager and applauding populace: when they sat down in the seats of honour and you delivered the speech of congratulation to the king, gaining -- Boethius's first wife was Elpis, daughter of Festus: his second was Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, a senator and consul, A.
His second wife was the mother of the two sons mentioned below. See Appendix,, p. Page 33 thereby glory for your talent and your eloquence: when in the circus you sat in the place of honour between the c onsuls, and by a display of lavishness worthy of a triumphing general, you pleased to the full the multitude who were crowded around in expectation. You carried off a bounty which she had never granted to any citizen before. Will you then balance accounts with Fortune? This is the first time that she has looked upon you with a grudging eye. If you think of your happ y and unhappy circumstances both in number and in kind, you will not be able to say that you have not been fortunate until now.
And if you think that you were not fortunate because these things have passed away which then seemed to bring happiness, t hese things too are passing away, which you now hold to be miserable, wherefore you cannot think that you are wretched now. Is this your first entrance upon the stage of life? Are you come here unprepared and a stranger to the scene? Think you that there is any certainty in the affairs of mankind, when you know that often one swift hour can utterly destroy a man?
For though the chances of life may seldom be depended upon, yet the last day of a lifetime seems to be the end of Fortune's power, th ough it perhaps would stay. What, think you, should we therefore say; that you desert her by dying, or that she deserts you by leaving you? When the grove grows bright in spring with roses 'neath the west wind's warming breath, let but the cloudy gale once wildly blow, and their be auty is gone, the thorns alone remain.
Often the sea is calmly glistening bright with all untroubled waves, but as often does the north wind stir them up, making the troubling tempest boil. If then the earth's own covering so seldom constant stays, if its changes are so great, shalt thou trust the brittle fortunes of mankind, have faith in fleeting good?
The Consolation of Philosophy
For this is sure, and this is fixed by everlasting law, that naught which is brought to birth shall constant here abide. But it is such remembrances that torment me more than others. For of all suffering from Fortune, the unhappiest mis fortune is to have known a happy fortune. If you are affected by thi s empty name of Fortune's gift of happiness, you must listen while I recall how many and how great are your sources of happiness: and thus, if you have possessed that which is the most Page 35 precious among all Fortun e's gifts, and if that is still safe and unharmed in your possession, you will never, while you keep these better gifts, be able to justly charge Fortune with unkindness.
Firstly, your wife's father, Symmachus, is still living and hale; and what more p recious glory has the human race than him? And he, because your worth is undiminished and your life still so valuable, is mourning for the injustice you suffer, this man who is wholly made up of wisdom and virtue. Again, your wife lives, a woman whose character is full of virtue, whose modesty excels its kind; a woman who to put in a word the gifts she brought you is like her father. She lives, and, hating this life, for your sake alone she clings to it. Herein only will I yield to allow you unh appiness; she pines with tears and grief through her longing for you.
Need I speak of your sons who have both been consuls, and whose lives, as when they were boys, are yet bright with the character of their grandfather and their father? Wherefore, sin ce mortals desire exceedingly to keep a hold on life, how happy you should be, knew you but your blessings, since you have still what none doubts to be dearer than life itself? Wherefore now dry your tears.
For- tune's hatred has not yet been so great as to destroy all your holds upon happiness: the tempest that is fallen upon you is not too great for you: your anchors hold yet firm, and they should keep ever nigh to you confidence in the present and hope for future time. But you see how much my glory has departed. But I cannot bear this dallying so softly, so long as you complain that your happiness lacks aught, so long as you are full of sorrow and care.
Whos e happiness is so firmly established that he has no quarrel from any side with his estate of life? For the condition of our welfare is a matter fraught with care: either its completeness never appears, or it never remains. One man's wealth is abundant , but his birth and breeding put him to shame. Another is famous for his noble birth, but would rather be unknown because he is hampered by his narrow means. A third is blessed with wealth and breeding, but bewails his life because he has no wife.
Ano ther is happy in his marriage, but has no children, and saves his wealth only for an heir that is no son of his. Another is blessed with children, but weeps tears of sorrow for the misdeeds of son or daughter. So none is readily at peace with the lot h is fortune sends him. For in each case there is that which is unknown to him who has not experienced it, and which brings horror to him who has experienced it. Consider further, that the feelings of the most fortunate men are the most easily affected, wherefore, unless all Page This very place, which you call a place of exile, is home to those wh o live herein.
Thus there is nothing wretched unless you think it to be so: and in like manner he who bears all with a calm mind finds his lot wholly blessed. Who is so happy but would wish to change his estate, if he yields to impatience of his lot? W ith how much bitterness is the sweetness of man's life mingled! For even though its enjoyment seem pleasant, yet it may not be surely kept from departing when it will. It is plain then how wretched is the happiness of mortal life which neither endures for ever with men of calm mind, nor ever wholly delights the care-ridden. Wherefore, then, O mortal men, seek ye that happiness without, which lies within yourselves?
Ye are confounded by error and ignorance. I will shew you as shortly as I may, th e pole on which turns the highest happiness. Is there aught that you value more highly than your own self? You will answer that there is nothing. If then you are master of yourself, you will be in possession of that which you will never wish to lose, a nd which Fortune will never be able to take from you.
Yet consider this further, that you may Page 38 be assured that happiness cannot be fixed in matters of chance: if happiness is the highest good of a man who lives his life by reason, and if that which can by any means be snatched away, is not the highest good since that which is best cannot be snatched away , it is plain that Fortune by its own uncertainty can never come near to reaching happiness. Further, the ma n who is borne along by a happiness which may stumble, either knows that it may change, or knows it not: if he knows it not, what happiness can there be in the blindness of ignorance?
If he knows it, he must needs live in fear of losing that which he cannot doubt that he may lose; wherefore an ever-present fear allows not such an one to be happy. Or at any rate, if he lose it without unhappiness, does he not think it worthless? For that, whose loss can be calmly borne, is indeed a small good. You, I know well, are firmly persuaded that men's understandings can never die; this truth is planted deep in you by many proofs: since then it is plain that the happiness of fortune is bounded by the death of the body, you cannot doubt that, if death can carry away happiness, the whole race of mortals is sinking into wretchedness to be found upon the border of death.
But we know that many have sought the enjoyment of happiness not only by death, but even by sorrow and sufferings: how then can the pres ence of this life make us happy, when its end cannot make us unhappy? The hill is swept by all the might of the headstrong gale: the sands dissolve, and will not bear the load u pon them. Let him fly the danger in a lot which is pleasant rest unto the eye: let him be mindful to set his house surely upon the lowly rock.
Then let the wind bellow, confounding wreckage in the sea, and thou wilt still be founded upon unmoving peace , wilt be blessed in the strength of thy defence: thy life will be spent in calmness, and thou mayest mock the raging passions of the air. If the gifts of Fortune fade not nor pass quickly away, even so, what is there in them which could ever be truly yours, or which would not lose its value when examined or thought upon?
Which is the more valuable, the gold itself or the power of the stored up-money? Surely wealth shines more brightly when spent than whe n put away in masses. Avarice ever brings hatred, while generous spending brings honour. Page 40 But that cannot remain with one person which is handed over to another: therefore money becomes valuable to its possessor wh en, by being scattered, it is transferred to others, and ceases to be possessed.
And if all that is heaped together among mankind comes to one man, it makes the others all poor. A voice indeed fills equally the ears of all that hear: but your riches c annot pass to others without being lessened: and when they pass, they make poor those whom they leave.
How strait then and poor are those riches, which most men may not have, and which can only come to one by making others poor! But any excellence they have is their own brilliance, and belongs not to men: wherefore I am amazed that men so strongly admire them. What manner of thing can that be which has no mind to influence, which has no structure of parts, and yet can justly seem to a living, reasoning mind to be beautiful? Though they be works of their creator, and by their own beauty and adornment have a certain low beauty, yet are they in rank lowe r than your own excellence, and have in no wise deserved your admiration.
Dare you boast yourself of the spl endid beauty of any one of such things? Are you yourself adorned by the flowers of spring? Is it your richness that swells the fruits of autumn?
The Consolations of Philosophy
Why are you carried away by empty rejoicing. Why do you embrace as your own the good things which are outs ide yourself?
- The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius?
- Online Library of Liberty;
- And Were All Brothers: Singing in Yiddish in Contemporary North America (SOAS Musicology Series).
- The Consolation of Philosophy - Online Library of Liberty.
- Little Moments of Truth;
- Buckley: Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture.
- Rückspiel: Roman (German Edition)?
Fortune will never make yours what Nature has made to belong to other things. The fruits of the earth should doubtless serve as nourishment for living beings, but if you would satisfy your need as fully as Nature needs, you need not the a bundance of Fortune. Nature is content with very little, and if you seek to thrust upon her more than is enough, then what you cast in will become either unpleasing or even harmful. But if their form is pleasant to the eyes, I would admire the nature of the material or the skill of the maker.
Or are you made happy by a long line of attendants? Surely if they are vicious, they are but. For if they have no beauty for you to acquire, what have they for which you should grieve if you lose them, or in keeping which you should rejoice? And if Page 42 they are beautiful by their own nature, how are you the richer thereby? For these would have been pleasing of themselves, though cut out from your possessions.
They do not become valuable by reason that they have come into your wealth; but you have desired to count them among yo ur wealth, because they seemed valuable. Why then do you long for them with such railing against Fortune? You seek, I believe, to put want to flight by means of plenty.
But you find that the opposite results. The more various is the beauty of furniture , the more helps are needed to keep it beautiful;and it is ever true that they who have much, need much; and on the other hand, they need least who measure their wealth by the needs of nature, not by excess of display.
Is ther e then no good which belongs to you and is implanted within you, that you seek your good things elsewhere, in things without you and separate from you? Have things taken such a turn that the animal, whose reason gives it a claim to divinity, cannot s eem beautiful to itself except by the possession of. Other classes of things are satisfied by their intrinsic possessions; but men, though made like God in understanding, seek to find among the lowest things adornment for their h igher nature: and you do not understand that you do a great wrong thereby to your Creator.
He intended that the human race should be above all other earthly beings; yet you thrust down your honourable place below the lowest. For if every good thing is allowed to be more valuable than that to which it belongs, surely you are putting yourselves lower than them in your estimation, since you think precious the most worthless of things; a nd this is indeed a just result.
Since, then, this is the condition of human nature, that it surpasses other classes only when it realises what is in itself; as soon as it ceases to know itself, it must be reduced to a lower rank than the beasts. To ot her animals ignorance of themselves is natural; in men it is a fault. How plainly and how widely do you err by thinking that anything can be adorned by ornaments that belong to others! Surely that cannot be. For if anything becomes brilliant by additi ons thereto, the praise for the brilliance belongs to the additions. But the subject remains in its own vileness, though hidden and covered by these externals.
Am I wrong? Yet many a time do riches harm their possessors, since all base men, who are therefore the most covetous, think that they themselves alone are worthy to possess all gold and precious stones. You therefore, who now go in fear of the cudgel and sword of the robber, could laugh in his face if you had entered upon this path with empty pockets. As soon as you have acquired it, your cares begin!
Easily was the acorn got that used to satisfy their longwhile fast. They knew not Bacchus' gifts, nor h oney mixed therewith. They knew not how to tinge with Tyre's purple dyes the sheen of China's silks. Their sleep kept health on rush and grass; the stream gave them to drink as it flowed by: the lofty pine to them gave shade. Not one of them yet clave the ocean's depths, nor, carrying stores of merchandise, had visited new shores.
Then was not heard the battle's trump, nor had blood made red with bitter hate the bristling swords of war. For why should any madness urge to take up first their arms up on an enemy such ones as knew no sight of cruel wounds nor knew rewards that could be reaped in blood? Would that our times could but return to those old ways! For full of danger was the prize he found.
King Alfred’s Version of the Consolations of Boethius
Page 45 honours of office, which you raise to heaven because you know not true honoured power? I am sure you remember how your forefathers wished to do away with the consular power, which had been the very foundation of liberty, because of the overbearing pride of the cons uls, just as your ancestors had too in earlier times expunged from the state the name of king on account of the same pride.
But if, as rarely happens, places of honour are granted to honest men, what else is delightful in them but the honesty they prac tise thereby? Wherefore honour comes not to virtue from holding office, but comes to office from virtues there practised. O creatures of the earth, can you not think over whom you are set? If you saw in a community of mice, one mouse asserting his rights and his power over the others, with what mirth you would greet the sight!
Yet if you consider the body, what can you find weaker than humanity? Cannot a tiny gna t by its bite, or by creeping into the inmost parts, kill that body?