A work by Boethius
, written c.A.D. 475-525. Boethius was a Greek scholar
imprisoned in Pavia
, and during the long period leading up to his execution
, he found comfort in his own written discourse with his “nurse,” Philosophy
. Philosophy offers Boethius insight on the nature of man, fortune and happiness
, fate and free will
, helping to restore him from his sickness and bestow
onto him enlightenment.
There had been nothing written previous to The Consolation of Philosophy, or the De Consolatione Philosophiae,
that could compare in its clarity and wealth in philosophical discussion. Boethius’ consolation while in prison inspired both Chaucer and Dante and he is considered one of the most eminent of Middle-Age writers. The dialogue alternates between prose and verse, and Boethius makes references to and quotes from literary figures such as Catullus, Euripides, Homer, Ovid, Sophocles, Virgil and more. While a certain amount of beauty in the piece is lost in translation, the inherent quality and profundity of the work remains quite clear. Boethius wrote an amazing book in the attempt to justify the work of God to man. This was my favorite book read in my Medieval Literature class in college, and I still peruse it on occasion.
When Philosophy comes to Boethius at the start of the book, they begin a conversation in which she explains the primary goal in her visit:
"'Now,' said she,' I know the cause, or the chief cause, of your sickness. You have forgotten your true nature. 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. We have yet the chief 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. Therefore have no fear. From this tiny spark the fire of life shall forthwith shine upon you."
She goes on to speak to him of false paths such as fame, wealth, and office, and attempts to show Boethius the true path to happiness. They argue about free will and whether or not it exists, as well as whether or not chance is actual- and Philosophy says neither exist- to a certain extent. After arguing about chance, for example, Philosophy says, “We may therefore define chance as an unexpected event due to the conjunction of its causes with action which is done for some purpose.”
Philosophy also, among numerous other issues, discusses the heirarchy of knowledge: The base would be sense only, found in animals without backbones; next would be imagination, in animals like dogs; then reason, found in the human race; and finally intelligence, of which only divinity knows.
I could go on, but it’d be better simply to read “The Consolation of Philosophy.” Here are a few other passages, simple but eloquent, I enjoy in this work:
On the false path of “office”:
“The only way one man can exercise power over another is over his body and what is inferior to it, his possessions. You cannot impose anything on a free mind, and you cannot move from its state of inner tranquility a mind at peace with itself and firmly founded on reason.”
”There is no need for me to mention that nature is satisfied with little, whereas nothing satisfies greed.”
“Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing.”