The Consolation of Philosophy. By. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius. Translated from the Latin. By. W. V. Cooper. Published by the Ex-classics Project, The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no. treatise on the consolation of philosophy. His imprisonment, however, “ Consolation” it can scarcely be supposed that Boethius had embraced the Christian.
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EBook PDF, KB, This text-based PDF or EBook was created from the HTML . This book is his version of the Consolations of Philosophy of Boethius, the. English] The consolation of philosophy / Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius ; translated by David R. Slavitt. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. isbn . Can Change Your Life, The Consolations of Philosophy, and The Art of Travel. he is an Associate Research Fellow of the Philosophy Programme of the.
I have recalled my servants from you, and they have been obedient and have returned to me. I am their mistress, after all. The sky is bright and clear sometimes, and then, on other days, it is dark and cloudy. The sea is smooth and pleasant on occasion, but then it can be stormy with great waves and winds. That my nature is changeable you know perfectly well. I have a wheel, and I turn it so that what is low is raised high and what is up is brought down.
You ascend? You were not unaware of how a wheel works. What else is tragedy but the sad story of happy men who are overthrown by the blows of fortune?
But it is irrational to pine away and to suppose that you are different from the rest of mankind and that you live under a law that applies only to yourself. If God were prodigal, showering gold in answer to every prayer, and heaping honors on every head, they would not be content, never mind grateful. Greed opens new maws.
What could your answer possibly be? Explain it to me. It is a plausible series of high-sounding phrases. A man can listen to them and even be beguiled, but his sense of having been injured lies much deeper than that.
He listens to the arguments and follows along, but the moment they stop, he is again reminded of the grief that gnaws at his heart. When the right time comes, there will be stronger medicines. But it is also true that there is no particular reason for you to want pity.
And even before you joined their families, you had won their love and friendship, which is perhaps even more valuable. It would be tedious to list the honors that were bestowed upon you in your youth that older men envied.
Let us skip on to the pinnacle of your achievement, which was your greatest distinction. And I ask you, if any happiness can come from success in the affairs of men, then how could the weight of your present misfortunes obliterate the memory of that spectacular day when you saw your two sons carried from your house to ascend to their joint consulship?
That was the day they took their seats in the curule chairs in the senate to hear you deliver your oration in honor of the king! And later that day, you were between them in the stadium with the mob crowding around you as if it were a military triumph! And now you want to reckon up your accounts with her? Balance out the good things and the bad that have happened in your life and you will have to acknowledge that you are still way ahead.
You are unhappy because you have lost those things in which you took pleasure? But you can also take comfort in the likelihood that what is now making you miserable will also pass away. But a part of you always knew that there is no constancy in human affairs, and that time brings change inevitably. And do you suppose it makes any difference to him at such a moment whether good fortune is leaving him or he is leaving good fortune? The beauty of earth changes.
Enjoy it but never think to trust it. But it is also true that the worst kind of misfortune is one that befalls someone who has previously known happiness. If you put all that emphasis on the vacuous idea of fortuitous happiness, then you would have to admit to me that you are still relatively well off.
Your most esteemed father-in-law, Symmachus, a man entirely wise and virtuous, is safe. And you would be willing in a minute to download such wisdom and goodness at the cost of your life. Your wife, that excellent woman, is alive, although for your sake she is most unhappy. And I grant you that her unhappiness is a legitimate cause of your distress, that she is spending her days weeping and longing for you. And I do not need to burden you with any reference to your two sons, who are both consuls, and who display such a commendable likeness to their father and their grandfather.
Now, I realize that men are concerned with preserving their own lives, but it ought to be of some help that you can recognize those blessings you still possess, which everyone would agree are dearer than life itself. So stop your weeping. Fortune does not hate everyone in your family, and when those anchors still hold fast, the storm, however violent, is not overwhelming.
You have present consolation and you have hope for the future. As long as I have them, I shall probably not drown. But you can nevertheless understand how my life has deteriorated from my recent prosperity.
You are no longer bewailing everything but have begun to focus, which is a good thing. The human condition is such that even the most fortunate are not free from worry. Good fortune is not something we possess entirely or forever.
One man owns a lot of property and is prosperous enough, but he is ashamed of his undistinguished forebears. Another is of high birth but never goes anywhere because he is ashamed of how poor he is.
A third is both well born and rich enough, but he is unmarried. There is hardly anyone anywhere who is without something to fret about. And, almost always, people on the outside have no hint whatever of what is troubling the hearts and souls of their friends or associates. There are people in the world who would trade places with you—just as you are now—and think that they were in heaven. This place that you complain about as remote and an exile is home to the people who live here.
Almost nothing is inherently miserable, unless you think it is. Happiness is a good thing, surely, but it is a mood and no matter how pleasant it may be, one cannot prevent its passing when it will, as moods do.
It is error that confuses you, and ignorance. Let us explore this just a little. Is there anything more precious to you than yourself? No, certainly not. To understand how happiness cannot depend on fortuitous external circumstances, think about the question this way. On the other hand, we know that many men have looked for happiness through death and even through pain and suffering. How, then, can this present life make them happy when the prospect of its end does not make them miserable?
Those places are pretty enough, but danger is part of their nature, and no one ought to be reckless. Let us suppose for the moment that the gifts of Fortune were not all temporary; still, is there anything among them that would not, on close scrutiny, turn out to be worthless? Are riches ever really yours? Are they valuable in themselves? And where would that value be?
In the piles of gold? It seems to me that wealth is more splendid in the spending of it than in the getting of it. Avarice is not admirable, but liberality is generally praised.
Imagine if you will that a single man had all the money in the world. The rest of mankind would have to manage to live without it. So what is so wonderful about money? It cannot be shared with many men, and it cannot be possessed without making others poorer.
Even if you are, you must admit that the sparkle is that of the gems themselves and has nothing to do with the men who may admire them. There is no movement of living spirit that a rational person could think of as beautiful. They are the work of the Creator, and there is a kind of attractiveness of a lower order, but they come nowhere near the excellence of a man, do they?
And why not, after all? It is a part of the creation, which is, indeed, beautiful. In the same way, we can take pleasure in a view of the sea when it is calm, and we can admire the sky with the myriad stars and the moon and, in the daytime, the sun. But do any of these things in any way belong to you? Can you claim for yourself any part of their splendor? Are they your fruits that grow on the trees in the summertime?
Why are you so fascinated by these things and why do you embrace them as if they were your own? The fruits of the earth are meant for the nourishment of living things, and, by all means, take what you need. But there is no point in asking Fortune for more than that. But if you look good, I either admire the skill of the tailor or the quality of the material. Servants then? But they are a great burden in a household, and often dishonest and even dangerous. But even if they happen to be honest, how is that virtue of theirs attributed to you or counted as a part of what you possess?
So all those things that you enjoy turn out to have nothing to do with you. None of those goods is yours. And if they have no value or beauty that you could have claimed, why would you mourn their loss? They were precious only because you thought of them as precious and enjoyed adding them up as if they were your belongings.
You want to fortify yourself against need by storing up plenty, and yet what you do has exactly the opposite effect. You have precious furniture, but that requires guards. Those who have a lot need a lot. Is your world so topsy-turvy that a living, rational, almost godlike being would need the possession of all this lifeless stuff to be happy? Other creatures are content being what they are.
He appointed men to be the lords of earth and you contrive to reduce yourselves to a base dependency. If a good thing is of greater worth than the person it belongs to, then, when you put all this value on things, you reduce yourself in your own estimation and become, yourself, all but valueless. Man is better than other things—but only if he knows who and what he is!
If he forgets himself, then he is lower than the beasts. And in man it can prove to be a fault, for you can wander from right reason when you imagine that you can improve yourself by putting on the beauties of other things. Do you disagree? Of course not! But riches have very often harmed those who possess them, because every man turns envious and greedy and supposes that he has a better right to the loot and wants all the gold and jewels for himself.
So what good are riches if they cost you your sense of security and safety? They had not yet learned to mix sweet honey into their wine.
They did not dress up in silks dyed bright with Tyrian purple. They fell asleep on the grass and drank from a nearby stream. They did not chop down these trees to fashion the keels of boats to sail on the seas and venture to unknown shores and peoples. Look at us now and compare our lives to those of the ancients. You mourn their loss too and talk about how wonderful they were, but without any real understanding of their true worth.
You are aware, I am sure, of how the old Romans wanted to abolish the power of the consuls that once had been the bastions of Roman liberty but had turned into something quite different as the consuls became proud and arrogant. You are all earthbound animals, are you not? And if you saw a mouse that somehow claimed to have authority over all the other mice.
What power does one man exert over another except over his body, or over what is of even less worth than his body, which is to say his fortune? The natural calm of a composed mind that has reason at its disposal cannot be disturbed. Busirus used to murder his guests, until one of them, Hercules, murdered him instead. Regulus chained many Carthaginian prisoners of war, and then he found his own hands bound in chains by his captors.
As you think about such stories, can you maintain that one man has power over another who can never be certain that such power may not one day be used against him? And the same thing can be said about all the gifts of Fortune, which so many evil men enjoy so often.
Consider the case of a man we call brave—whom we see to be behaving bravely.
Or a swift runner is one who demonstrates swiftness. A man who can give a resounding and persuasive speech we call eloquent. Each of these qualities is demonstrated in the behavior of the person to whom we attribute them. And each quality necessarily rejects whatever is contrary to it. But riches do not get rid of avarice, nor can power give a man moderation and self-control if power is what he lusts after.
And what does all this mean? Wealth is not really wealth, and power is not really power, just as honor turns out not really to be honor. How could Nero look at her cold corpse with dry eyes and praise its beauty?
Could all this power restrain his madness, sharp as a sword and bitter as poison? It seemed to me a duty to contribute what I could and not let my abilities go to waste. What you are talking about is still the desire for glory, for recognition for your great services to the state.
For one thing, you have studied astronomy and you know how tiny the earth is in the vast spaces of the heavens.
You know from Ptolemy how little of the universe is inhabited by living things. Now is it in this little niche in the universe that you want to spread your reputation and memorialize your name? What could be the point? How does your ambition seem then?
Never mind the fame of individual men; there are entire cities that you have never heard of. Do you remember that Cicero says somewhere that the fame of Rome has not gone beyond the Caucasus, and he said that when Rome was at the height of its power and was feared by the Parthians and other people in that part of the world. Now, even in this little speck in the universe that we live in, do you suppose the fame of a single Roman can go where the glory of Rome itself cannot?
If you are known abroad, it is all but certain that you will be misunderstood there. Each person, then, must be content to be known within the bounds of his own country. Either there was no written record, or, if there was, then the writers are lost or forgotten in the shimmer of time. And do you still think that you can succeed at those odds and that your fame will somehow endure? And for how long? A thousand years?
And even if your fame were to last that millennium we were speaking of, that would mean nothing—not just small but absolutely nonexistent. And still, there you were, doing the political thing, testing the changing winds of popularity, listening to empty rumors, and ignoring the dictates of your own virtue as you deferred to the prattle of the mob.
There was a man who made such a claim, not from a dedication to truth and reason but out of vanity, as a way of enhancing his reputation. Somebody came along to taunt him and suggested that he was a fraud.
Then he would admit that the fellow was a philosopher. Well, the other one adopted a patient manner and for months and even years bore up under the insults and injuries of life. What has fame to offer to virtuous men after death destroys the body? If men disappear utterly—which we cannot believe—then glory is nothing at all because he to whom it attaches will not exist.
But if there is a mind that is let loose at last from its earthly prison and is free to return to its heavenly home, will it care any longer about mere earthly affairs? Will it not rather, in its seat on high, prefer to rejoice in its liberation from mundane things? Can he think of shouting his name and proclaiming his pride into the icy distances looming above him?
They are reduced now, those glorious names, to anecdotes. What can we know of the dead? Your last day will take even this hope from your unclenching hand in a second death.
But those are the times when she is honest and candid and shows her true face. It may seem counterintuitive, but it is nonetheless true, although it sounds peculiar when one puts it bluntly into words.
When Fortune smiles, she is always false. But when she is inconstant and whimsical, she shows her true self. The man who enjoys good fortune is driven frantic, running this way and that and trying to maintain what he has. The other is steady and, if he learns from his experience, even wise. Good fortune can lead men astray, deceiving them about what to expect from life and how to think of themselves. When Fortune is unkind, she draws men back to an understanding of what the world is like, and who their friends are.
Surely, in your time of trouble, you must have learned who were your real friends. The honest ones have been winnowed out from that crowd of associates and companions, all of whom have deserted you. What would you have paid back then to know which were which and whom to trust?
Here you are, complaining of the wealth that you have lost, and you fail to recognize the wealth you have gained—knowledge of your true friends. How happy is mankind, if the love that orders the stars above rules, too, in your hearts. I waited a bit and then thanked her. You do revive me, so that I am no longer absolutely devastated by the blows of fortune but seem at least for the moment able to bear them.
I am happy to have brought you to this state of mind. The remedies, I must warn you, sting a little, but once you have absorbed them they do soothe. And you say you are eager. But if you knew where I was leading you, you would be, I think, even more eager. Show me. I am eager to know what true happiness is. I beg you, let us proceed. The taste in the mouth of honey is sweeter by far if it follows something bitter, and stars in the sky are all the brighter after the dark storm clouds have been blown away by a steady wind from the south.
And you, too, must prepare yourself for change, withdraw your neck from the yoke of your false gods and raise your head in order that truth may enter. Then she raised her face to look directly at mine. That is the summum bonum, the supreme good, the one that leaves room for no others, for if there were anything further to want it could not be the highest good.
Something beyond it or outside it would remain to be desired. So happiness is necessarily that state that is perfect and that includes within it everything a man could want. Now, all men strive for this condition, although they do so by various means. The desire for happiness is inborn, instinctive in the minds of men. But they are led astray by false ideas of the good. Others are sure that honor is the highest good and they exert themselves to be honored and respected by their fellow citizens in the hope of having titles and distinctions awarded to them.
Still others think that the highest good is in having the greatest power, and these men either try to rule or attach themselves as closely as possible to those who do. But most men think of the good as their allotment of joy and good spirits, and they abandon themselves to the pursuit of pleasure. There are also those who mix and match, going after wealth so that they can use it to pursue power, or they work for power to get rich or to increase their fame.
You can see in how many different directions men scurry in the pursuit of what they think will bring them happiness. Men want rank in order to be famous; or they want a wife and children for the pleasures of family life; or they want friendship—which is not a gift of Fortune but of virtue. But almost anything else they want for the purposes of what it can do or how it can be pleasing.
With strength and size comes power; with beauty and speed comes fame; and from good health comes pleasure. But in every one of these things, it is happiness that men really want and that they reckon as the highest good.
And each man simply assumes that what he happens to want more than anything else will bring him happiness. Epicurus looked at this array and decided that pleasure was the highest good, since all the rest of them were merely mental. But I think that the mind is not to be so easily dismissed, and although it can sometimes be clouded and confused, still, what it wants is its proper good; but, like some drunk on his way home, it cannot remember which is the right path.
Are those who are trying not to want for anything really wrong? Are those who want reverence and respect altogether wrong? The effort of men to obtain respect is by no means base or contemptible. Is power a bad thing?
Surely, it is better than weakness. And is fame always bad? Nobody can argue that most things that are excellent are also famous. And it hardly needs to be said that happiness is not possible for one who is worried, or depressed, or afraid of pain or trouble. The good, then, is that which men pursue by these various means and avenues. Each thing seeks its own return to what it knows as its preordained course, so that endings often announce new beginnings in ordered cycles.
Your natural inclinations draw you in that direction, toward the true good, but your mistaken ideas confuse you and lead in wrong directions. If money or honors or any of those things produce a perfect happiness from which nothing is left to be desired, we would admit that some men at least are happy seeking those things, at least as the means to their end.
Some seek and then later, head of the civil service and chief of the pal- wealth; others seek to be respected; some seek power; oth- ace officials. He had been held in high esteem by the em- ers seek fame; and many seek those things that provide peror Theodoric, until Theodoric came to suspect him of a them with pleasure. Boethius identified himself tations of another's happiness.
Philosophy responds by ar- with Socrates and other champions of truth but represents guing that such things as wealth, position, power, fame and himself in The Consolation of Philosophy as unable to share pleasure are subject to fortune and that because fortune is their peace of mind. Boethius-the-prisoner resents the in- ultimately unreliable, they cannot be genuine routes to hap- justice of his position: he had been a good man living ac- piness.
She is by of any opportunity to defend himself, banished from all that nature a random goddess in that she vehemently withdraws w. He writes, "I seem to see good men lying prostrate Megan Laverty is Assistant Professor in the Department of Educa- with fear at the danger I am in while all abandoned villains tional Foundations at Montclair State University. Thinking: The Journal of Philosophy for Children, Volume 16, Number 2 15 zyxwvutsrqpon Philosophy instructs the prisoner, that "In the very act of present sadness because it too is rapidly passing.
Boethius' changing she has preserved her own particular kind of con- bad fortune resulted in him being abandoned by all but his stancy towards you.
So much so that Philosophy advises each in- Boethius-the-prisoner comes to appreciate, with the dividual to "Commit your boat to the winds and you must aid of Philosophy, that happiness does not lie outside hu- sail whichever way they blow, not just where you want. If man beings but within themselves, or more specifically you were a farmer who entrusts his seed to the fields, you within a certain relation or orientation towards oneself would balance the bad years against the good.
So now you have committed yourself to the rule of Fortune, you must "Whoever deeply searches out the truth acquiesce in her ways. Happiness cannot consist in things governed by chance The advantage of The Consolation of Philosophy as a as we see in those individuals who have found happiness in text for philosophical community of inquiry with adoles- suffering and even imminent death - fortune cannot give cents is that Boethius-the-prisoner is presented as having to what it cannot take away.
Hence Philosophy reveals to find the answers to very real questions about happiness and Boethius that he has many reasons to be happy. Although justice if he is to deal with his moral isolation and gain unfairly accused, banished and awaiting death, his wife, two peace of mind.
Boethius-the-author presents answers to sons, and father-in-law are all still alive. He has his memo- these questions for future generations to see a reason for ries, many of which are happy. Admittedly these experi- acting justly in a society that consistently seems to punish ences are past, but given that Boethius endures over time, the just and reward the corrupt. The text has a genuine or these past experience are as much a part of his identity as is authentic feel, enhanced by dramatic effect the prison cell, his present 'unhappiness'.
Further, to deny the significance the grieving prisoner, the appearance of Philosophy etc. Students feel compelled to ask themselves and each other such questions as: 'How must he have felt? Boethius-the-prisoner articulates for the students many of their unspoken reservations about morality. So for example the prisoner asks Philosophy why justice or good- ness isn't always rewarded?
Although philosophical. The Consolation of Philoso- phy is also a narrative about an individual coming to wis- dom: Boethius-the-prisoner begins in ignorance and ends in enlightenment. Students can adopt this narrative structure for meta-reflection on their own philosophical inquiry, lo- cating their inquiry, and positions taken within it, in relation to the trajectory Boethius' inquiry into the nature of happi- ness.
Philosophy is represented as being Boethius-the- prisoner's guide in the journey towards increasing under- standing. She answers his questions, his pleas, his with some relatively straightforward arguments for why wealth, office, fame and pleasure are not appropriate routes to hap- piness. She represents wealth as in inherently contradic- tory: being generous with it earns the person who has enough of it to give it away power and friendship but they 16 Laverty, Philosophy for Children andzyxwvutsrqponmlkjihgfedcbaZYX The Consolation of Philosophy in turn lessen their wealth and therefore their ability to ac- poral duration of humans with that of eternity, you will see quire friendship and power by being generous and giving it that fame amongst human beings is just a flash in time.
Wealth enables the person who has it to download Furthermore what good is fame to the individual who has it beautiful objects jewels, clothing and other such artifacts. For example a student Similarly with high office. It would be a mistake to might want to respond that Philosophy's arguments apply in believe that an individual can take credit for the office they the case of physical beauty, or inherited wealth but not in hold, for it is the individual who confers upon the office its the case of sporting accomplishments, scholarly excellence public status and worth.
In de- worthy individuals as often as they fall into the hands of veloping and formulating their objections to the arguments worthy individuals. The apparent power of an individual in offered by Philosophy in The Consolation of Philosophy, high office is in reality minimal, for the reason that a person students consider and evaluate their own values with re- inflicts loss on another cannot ensure that another person spect to ambition, wealth, fame, consumerism, fashion etc..