Boethius: "De Consolatione Philosophiae": Book I |
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Latin Text

Boethius: “De Consolatione Philosophiae”: Book I



Having just translated a passage from St. Augustine of Hippo, Sabidius has also realised that he has similarly failed to honour, in his translations, the works of the almost equally renowned Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (consul in 510 A.D.), whose great work, “The Consolation of Philosophy”, which he wrote in prison in 524 A.D., while awaiting the death penalty, was one of the most admired and frequently read books in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Sabidius has therefore put this shortcoming to rights by translating below the first of the five books, of which this great work is comprised. One of the peculiarities of “De Consolatione” is that the work is composed of alternating pieces of poetry and prose. The pieces of poetry, written in somewhat idiosyncratic meter, are far from easy to translate, and those English translations that are available are not very convincing. This is perhaps particularly the case when the translator converts the Latin verse into English verse. Whatever may be the merits of the verse so produced, such verse often appears to be composed at the expense of the actual meaning of the Latin words. In his translations given below, both of the poetic ‘metra’ and the following pieces of ‘prosa’, Sabidius tries to keep as closely as possible to the meaning of the actual words employed by Boethius, and does not seek to express what he is saying in a different way or even to offer an improved version.

Metrum 1: Boethius, imprisoned and alone, bewails his condition. 

I, who once composed these verses with youthful zest, am (now) compelled to begin to (to write) these mournful strains, alas, in tears. Behold, the Muses, bedraggled (as they are), dictate to me that these things must be written, and these elegiac verses wet my cheeks with genuine tears. At least, no terror could stop them (i.e. the Muses) from escorting (me) as companions on my journey. Once the glory of my happy and fresh youth, they comfort (me) now in my misfortunes as a gloomy old man. For old age came unexpectedly, having been hastened (on its way) by (various) evils, and grief (then) bade her time begin. Grey hair grows in abundance on my head out of season (i.e. he was still only middle-aged), and the loose skin quivers on my exhausted body. Alas, how it turns away those wretches with deaf ears, and it cruelly refuses to close eyes that are weeping! While fickle fortune favoured (me) with short-lived blessings, a sad hour almost sank my life (in ruins). Now, since gloomy (fortune) has changed her deceitful countenance, impious life extends its unwelcome delays. Why, my friends, did you so often consider me (to be) fortunate? He who fell was not in a settled state.

Prosa 1: A mysterious female figure, appears at Boethius’ side and puts the poetic Muses to flight. 

While I myself was silently pondering these (things) in my mind and was setting forth my woeful complaint with the help of a pen, a woman seemed to be standing above my head, with a very grave countenance, with her eyes burning and keen in strength (of sight) beyond (what is) common to men; her colour was fresh and (indicative) of an inexhaustible vigour, although she was so full of years that she could in no way be thought (to belong) to our own time,  and her stature was of uncertain measurement. For, on the one hand, she reflected the common height of men, and, on the other, she seemed to knock the heavens with the very top of her head, and, whenever she raised her head any higher, she even penetrated the very heavens and eluded the gaze of the men who were looking (at her). Her garments were made, by delicate workmanship, of the finest threads of an imperishable material, which, as I afterwards discovered when she revealed (it), she had woven herself with her own hands. A certain duskiness, caused by the neglect of old age, had obscured their appearance, like it is usual (to obscure)  smoky portraits. On their lower hem the embroidered Greek (letter) Pi (viz. πρᾶχις, practice, i.e. mechanical competence in philosophy) could be read, and Theta (viz. θεορία, theory, i.e. full contemplative understanding of philosophy) on the upper hem, and between the two letters, in the shape of stairs, distinct steps appeared, from which there was an ascent from the lower to the higher letter. Yet the hands of certain marauders had torn this garment of hers and had carried off such pieces (of it) as each one (of them) could (get). And in her right-hand she carried some books, and in her left-hand she held a sceptre.

When she saw the poetic Muses standing by my bed, and dictating words to go with my tears, for a while (she was) provoked (to anger), and, inflamed with wild looks, she said, “Who has permitted these harlots of the stage to have access to this sick (man), (they) who not only fail to take care of his grief with any (suitable) remedies, but nourish (them) besides with sweet poisons? For these are (the very women) who kill the richly fruitful harvest of reason with the sterile thorns that come from the emotions, and accustom the minds of men to sickness (of mind), (and) do not cure (them). But, if you were carrying off (as a victim) of your blandishments (only) some profane (fellow), (such) as is commonly (to be found) among your people, I would think it could be borne without difficulty; for from him my work should receive no damage. But (now you have taken hold, haven’t you, of) him who has been nourished on the works of the Eleatics (i.e. the teachings of Parmenides of Elea, d, c, 450 B.C.) and the Academics (i.e. the teachings of Plato, d. 347 B.C., founder of the Academy in Athens)? But rather get you gone, (you) Sirens (i.e. legendary birds with the faces of beautiful girls, who lured mariners to the shore and their death), pleasant to the point of destruction (as you are), and leave him to my own Muses to take care of and heal!”

Rebuked by these (words), that band cast (their eyes) on the ground with very sorrowful countenances, and, betraying their bashfulness with blushing, they sadly left the threshold. But I, whose sight was dimmed and drowned in tears, could not discern who this woman of such imperious authority might be, and I was astounded (and), with my sight fixed upon the ground, I began to await in silence what she might do afterwards. Then, she came nearer and sat down on the extreme edge of my bed, and, beholding my face smitten with grief and looking down at the ground in sorrow, she complained in the following verses about the confusion in my mind:

Metrum 2: The visitor compares Boethius’ present enervated state to his former energy and vision. 

Alas, how sluggish (is) your mind, when sunk headlong in the depths (of despair), and, when (all) its own light has been lost, it proceeds to go into outer darkness, whenever the anxiety of guilt, increased by earthly winds, grows to an immense (size)! He was once free (to operate) under an open sky, and, accustomed (as he was) to follow the motions of the heavenly (bodies), he used to discern the light of the rosy sun and to gaze at the stars of the chilly moon, and, whatever wandering return courses a star follows when turned across different spheres, he triumphantly realised that (the movements of) a star could be worked out by mathematical calculations. And, just as he sought the reasons why the sound of storms should disturb the surface of the sea, what (is) the spirit (that) rotates the well-settled world, or why (it is that) the sun, having fallen into the western waves, should rise from the reddish east, what (it is that) tempers the pleasant hours of spring, so that it adorns the earth with rose-red flowers, and whose gift it is that at the full of the year ripe autumn should abound in swollen grapes, so it was customary to disclose and to explain the various reasons for the secrets of nature. Now he lies, with the light of his mind having been exhausted, and with heavy chains pressed around his neck, and, inclining his countenance downwards, he is forced, alas, to contemplate the coarse earth.

Prosa 2: The visitor briefly diagnoses Boethius’ ailment, and makes a first curative gesture.

“But it is time,” says she, ” for remedies rather than for complaints.” But then, (fixing) both her eyes intently upon me, she says, “Are you the man, who, having once been nourished with my milk and reared with my food, had achieved the vigour of a man’s mind? And yet we had given (you) such weapons, as would have protected you with invincible strength, if you had not earlier cast them aside, Do you recognise me? Why do you say nothing? Is it shame or bewilderment that has made you silent? I should prefer (it to be) shame, but, as I perceive, bewilderment has overwhelmed you.” And when she saw me not only silent, but entirely dumb and mute, she gently laid her hand upon my breast, and said: “There is no danger; he is suffering from drowsiness, the common disease of deluded minds. He has forgotten for a while who he is; he will easily remember, if he has recognised me first. To make this possible, let me wipe his eyes a little, dimmed (as they are) with a cloud of mortal concerns.” She said these (things), and, having gathered her dress into a fold, she dried my eyes, (which were) awash with tears.

Metrum 3: Vision returns to Boethius’ eyes. 

Then, night having been dispelled, the darkness left me, and their former vigour returned to my eyes, just as when the clouds are gathered up by the violent Corus (i.e. North-West Wind) and the arch of heaven is conspicuous with stormy rain-clouds. The sun is hiding, and, although the stars have not yet come into the sky, night is shed from above on to the earth; if Boreas (i.e. the North Wind), sent forth from his Thracian cave, should lash the (night) and unlock the imprisoned day, Phoebus (i.e. the Sun) shines out, suffused with a sudden light, and strikes our wondering eyes with his rays.

Prosa 3: Boethius recognises Philosophia; she explains why she has come. 

In the same way the mists of sadness dissolve and I took in the sky and recovered my mind, so that I could recognise the face of the one curing me. So, when I turned my eyes and firmly fixed my gaze upon her, I saw my nurse Philosophia, in whose house I had been kept since my youth. “And why,” said I, “O mistress of all the virtues, have you come down from the highest vault of the sky to these lonely places of my banishment? (Did you come) so that you can also keep company with me, accused (as I am) of false charges?

“Should I,” said she, “desert you, my foster-child, and not share the burden which you have borne through hatred of my name by joining with you in your labour? And yet it was not right for Philosophia to abandon the innocent (man) on his journey unacccompanied; so doubtless I should fear the accusation against me, and I should have a horror (of it), as if something new had happened? For do you now think that wisdom has been exposed to dangers in the presence of wicked customs for the first time? In ancient times, (and) also before the time of my servant Plato (i.e. the Athenian philosopher, teacher and writer, 429-347 B.C.), did we not often contend with great conflict with the rashness of folly, and, while he lived, did (not) his master Socrates (i.e. the renowned Athenian philosopher and orator, d. 399 B.C., having been condemned to death for corrupting the youth) win the victory of an unjust death in my presence? When afterwards the mob of Epicureans and Stoics and others, each one on behalf of its own sect, strove to usurp its inheritance and to draw me (to them), protesting and struggling, as if (I were) a part of their plunder, they tore the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and, having carried off some little pieces of it, they thought that I had yielded totally to them, and they departed. Since some vestiges of my clothing were seen on them, they were rashly supposed to be my familiars and some of them were overwhelmed by the error of the profane multitude.

But, if you did not know of the flight of Anaxagoras (i.e. an Ionian philosopher, and friend of Pericles, he left Athens in 432 B.C., having been accused of impiety) or of the poison (i.e. hemlock) of Socrates, or of the torments of Zeno (i.e. a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and a member of the Eleatic school founded by Parmenides, 495-430 B.C.) because they are foreign (examples), but you may know of (men like) Canius (i.e. Julius Canius, a First Century A.D. Stoic philosopher, martyred in the reign of Caligula, 37-41), and Seneca (i.e. Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, philosopher and prolific writer, driven to suicide by Nero in 65 A.D.) and Soranus (i.e. a First Century A.D. Stoic philosopher, also driven to suicide by Nero), the memory of whom is neither antiquated nor obscure. Nothing else drew them to their ruin, but that they were established in my practices, and they were seen to be very different from wicked (men) in their inclinations. So, there is nothing at which to marvel, if in this high sea of life we are tossed by buffeting storms, and our main purpose is this – to displease (those who are) most wicked. But, although there is a numerous army (of such people), yet it is to be despised, since it is ruled not by any captain, but it is carried off rashly and at random by maddening error. If ever they assail us, while arranging a very strong battle-line, our captain withdraws her forces into a fortress, and they are occupied by seizing little packs (of plunder). But, safe from all their furious activity, we can laugh from above at their snatching every thing of least value, and, protected by that rampart of ours, it is not right for us to aspire to that raging folly.

Metrum 4: Boethius’ goal is indicated by a portrait of the truly wise man, serenely above all the hopes and fears of worldly life. 

Whoever can be happily reconciled to his time of life has cast proud fate beneath his feet, and, looking straight at each (stroke of) fortune, could keep his countenance under control. The rage and threats of the ocean, disturbing totally the turning of the waves, whenever restless Vesuvius hurls steaming flames from its broken furnaces, or accustomed to striking lofty towers with a bolt of its fiery thunder, cannot move him. Why do wretched (men) wonder so much at cruel tyrants raging in their feeble manner? If you neither hope for, nor greatly fear anything, you have disarmed the weak man’s wrath. But whatever a fearful (man) dreads or longs for, inasmuch as he is not subject to his own law, he lays down his shield, and, having gone from the place, he fastens the chain by which he can be pulled.

Prosa 4: Boethius gathers his strength for a long outburst against the injustice of his condition, recounting the principal events of his public career.

“Do you understand such (things),” said she, ” and have they penetrated your mind, or (are you deaf) to the lyre like an ass? Speak out, and do not hide (it) in your mind (viz. Homer: Iliad i. 363). If you are awaiting the attentions of the doctor, you must reveal your wound.”

Then, I gathered together my mind and (answered) strongly: “Surely the severity of raging fortune’s (attack) on me needs no further reminder, nor does it (not) stand out sufficiently by itself? Does not the very appearance of the place move you at all? Is this the library which you yourself had assigned (as) your most fixed seat in my house, (and) in which, as you sat (there), you often used to talk with me about the knowledge of human and divine things? Were my attire and my face the same as this, when I probed the secrets of nature with you, when you described to me the course of the stars with your rod (i.e. a geometrical instrument for measuring and drawing), (and) when you related my character and the manner of my whole life to the patterns of the celestial order. If we are obedient to you, can we bring back these rewards? And yet you decreed this sacred sentence through the mouth of Plato: that the commonwealth would be happy, if either the students of wisdom were governing, or their governors should come to study wisdom (viz. Plato: Republic v. 473). You admonished (us) through the mouth of the same man (i.e. Plato) that it was an indispensable reason for wise (men) to enter public life, that, if the rule of cities were left in the hands of wicked and profligate citizens, they would bring destruction and ruin upon good (men).

“So, following this authority, I wished to transfer to an act of public administration what I had learned from you in our private leisure (sessions). You and the god who had inserted you into the minds of the wise are my witnesses that nothing but the common desire of all good (men) had brought me to office. From this (there stemmed) deep and inexorable differences with wicked (men), and, (something) which freedom of conscience possesses, the constant scorning of the dislike of powerful (people) for guarding the law.

“How often have I intercepted Cunigast making some attack on the fortunes of some weak (man), how often have I stopped Triguilla, the prefect of the royal household, from (committing) some injustice (which he had) begun (or which he had) already carried right through, (and) how often have I protected, by exposing my authority to some danger, those wretched (men) whom the unpunished avarice of the barbarians (i.e. the Ostrogoths) was constantly harassing with false accusations! Never did any man draw me from right to wrong, I grieved, just like (the ones) who suffered (it), that the fortunes of our provincial (citizens) were ruined, at one time by private plundering, and at another by public exactions.

“When, at a time of bitter famine, a grievous and inexplicable (policy of) forced sale (was) imposed, and it seemed that it would crush the province of Campania with want, I got into a dispute with the praetorian prefect for the sake of the common good, and, when the king (i.e. Theodoric) heard the case, I made my argument, and I was successful, to the extent that the forced sale was blocked. Paulinus, a man of consular status (i.e. Flavius Paulinus, consul 498 A.D.), whose wealth those dogs of the Palatine (i.e. the royal palace) had all but devoured in their hope and ambition, I drew from out of the very jaws of those gaping (courtiers). So that the penalty for a preconceived accusation should not take hold of Albinus, a man of consular status (i.e. Caecina Decius Faustus Albinus, consul 493 A.D.), I exposed myself to the hatred of his informer, Cyprian. But I, who through my love of justice have left myself nothing by which I might be safer among courtiers, ought to have been safer among the rest. But by whose accusations have I been overthrown? Of those (informers, by whom) Basilius, having once been expelled from the royal service, was compelled, by the necessity of debt, to denounce me by name. But, when the royal censor had decreed that Opilio (i.e. the brother of Cyprian and son-in-law of Basilius) and Gaudentius should go into exile on account of their innumerable and manifold deceits, and since, as they were reluctant to comply, they protected themselves by (seeking) sanctuary in a sacred building, when the king found out about it, he declared that, unless they departed from the city of Ravenna by a certain day, they would be marked with brands on their foreheads and expelled (by force). What did it seem could be added to such severity? Yet, on that very day, when these same (men) were taken down, their accusation against my name was received. So, why (did that happen)? Did my dealings deserve such action? Or did the prearranged condemnation make these accusers just (ones)? So, did it not put fortune to shame, if not for my integrity being called into question, but for the base (behaviour) of those accusing (me)?

“But what, you will ask, (was) the basis of the crime I am  accused of? I am said to have wanted the senate to be safe. Do you wish (to know by what) means? I am accused of hindering the informer from bringing forward evidence by which he could prove that the senate (was) guilty of treason. So, what do you think, O mistress? Shall I deny the charge, lest I am a (source of) shame to you? But I did want (the senate to be safe), nor shall I ever cease to want (it). Shall I confess (it)? But I have stopped hindering the activities of the informer. Shall I call (it) an offence to have desired the safety of that order (i.e. the senators)? At any rate, with their decrees concerning me, it has caused it to be an offence. But, always deceiving itself, folly cannot change the merits of things, nor, according to the decree of Socrates, do I think it is proper to conceal or to pardon a lie. But how this may be, I leave its appraisal to your judgment and to (that) of the wise. I have also committed the course and the truth of this matter to memory with my pen, lest it may escape the notice of posterity.

“For what does it accomplish to speak of those falsely composed letters, in which I am shown to have hoped for the freedom of Rome? The forgery of these letters would have appeared manifest, if it had been possible for me to have used the confession of my very accusers, (something) which in all matters of this kind carries the greatest weight. For what liberty may remain to be hoped for? Would that there could be any! I would have responded in the words of Canius (viz. Prosa 3), who, when he was charged by Gaius Caesar (i.e. Caligula), the son of Germanicus, with being aware of the conspiracy being made against him, said: ‘If I had known (of it), you would not have known.’ Nor has sorrow so dulled my wits that I am complaining that wicked (men have been) devising criminal deeds against virtue, but I do greatly marvel that they have brought about (the things) which they had hoped (to do). For suppose the desire (to do) bad (things) was perhaps (a mark) of our (human) weakness, (yet) the ability (to do bad things) against the innocent, which every evil (man) may commit with god looking on, is like some monstrous portent. For this reason one of your familiar friends (i.e. Epicurus in Lactantius: De Ira Dei, xiii) asked not unjustly: ‘If there is a god,’ said he, ‘from where (do) bad (things come)? But, if there is no (god), from where (do) good (things come)?’ But (let it be granted) it were right that wicked men, who seek the blood of all good (men) and the whole of the senate, should also have wished to aim at destroying me, whom they saw fighting in defence of good (men) and the senate. But did I also deserve the same (treatment) from members of the senate? You remember, I suppose, how you were always present directing (me), when I was about to say or do anything. You remember, I repeat, (how) at Verona, when the king, eager for a shared downfall, endeavoured to transfer the charge of treason brought against Albinus to the whole order of the senate, with what great disregard for my own danger I defended the innocence of the whole senate; for the autonomy of a good conscience is in some way diminished, when, by declaring (what) he (has) done, a man receives the reward of fame. But you see what a fate has befallen my innocence; instead of the rewards of true virtue, I am undergoing the punishment for a crime I did not commit. Did the manifest confession of any crime ever make the judges so harmonious in their severity, that either the error of men’s judgment or the circumstances of fortune, uncertain in the case of all mortals, placated some of them? If I had been accused of wanting to burn down sacred buildings, or to slit the throats of priests with an impious sword, or to have contrived the death of all good (men), yet sentence would have been pronounced against (me) in my presence, but (only after I had) confessed and (had been) convicted. Now, almost five hundred miles away (i.e. Boethius was imprisoned at Ticinum, modern Pavia, about 20 miles south of Milan) dumb and defenceless, I am condemned to death and proscription (i.e. confiscation of his property). O (how) they (i.e. the senators) deserve that no one should be convicted of a similar crime!

“Even (those) who were accusing (me) could see my status as the accused in a criminal case, and, in order that they might blacken it by the addition of some other charge, they falsely asserted that I had defiled my conscience with sacrilege (i.e. engaged in black magic and witchcraft) for the sake of obtaining public office. But you, (who were) innate in me, did repel the desire for all mortal things from the seat of my mind, and, beneath your gaze, it was not possible for there to be any place for sacrilege. For, on a daily basis, you used to instil in my ears and thoughts that (saying) of Pythagoras, ‘Follow God.’ Neither was it appropriate that I, whom you were preparing for that (state of) excellence, so as to make (me) just like a god, should seek to win the aid of the most vile spirits (i.e. demons). Besides, the harmless sanctuary of my house, the coming together of my most honourable friends, (and) also my holy father-in-law (i.e. Quintus Aurelius Memmius Symmachus, consul 485 A.D.) who is just as worthy of deep respect as you are yourself, clear me from all suspicion of this crime. But, O the wickedness (of it all), for (it is) from you (that) they obtain their faith in so great a crime, and (it is) for this very reason (that) I seem to have been associated with evil-doing, because I am steeped in your teachings (and) trained in your morals. So, it is not enough that respect for you brings me no benefit, but you must be assailed on your own account due to the hatred (directed) against me. But yet this heap (of things) is also added to my ills, because the reputation of most things (is) not merited, but the outcome of fortune keeps its watch, and it considers that only that which happiness has commended should be provided for. For this (reason) it happens that a good reputation (is) the first of all (things to) desert unfortunate (men). I hate to remember those rumours of the people (that) now (go around), and how discordant and various (are) their opinions. I would say only this, that the last burden of adverse fortune is that, when some charge is brought against wretched (men), they are thought to have deserved whatever (punishments) they suffer. And I, for my part, having been banished from all blessings, stripped of all my public offices, (and) defiled in respect of my reputation, have received punishment for my good work.

“But I seem to see the villainous workshops of the wicked, abounding in joy and gladness, all the most desperate men, threatening a fresh (crop of) deceits for the accusers, good (men) lying prostrate with terror at my critical situation, every profligate (fellow) daring (to attempt) some crime without (any fear of) punishment, and then incited by rewards to carry (it) out, but the innocent (are) deprived, not only of (all) composure, but also of any (means of) defence. So would I like to exclaim:

Metrum 5: If the world at large is so harmoniously governed (lines 1-24), why, Boethius complains, are human affairs alone the toy and sport of arbitrary Fortune (lines 25-48)?

“O creator of the starry heavens, who rests upon your eternal throne, you turn the sky with quick motions, and you compel the stars to submit to your law, so that the shining moon, with her full horns opposite all her brother’s fires, makes the lesser stars grow dim, but now, growing pale with a darkened horn, she loses her light (as she comes) closer to Phoebus (i.e. the Sun), and Hesperus (i.e. the Evening Star), who performs his chilly risings at the early period of the night, changes his customary reins once more, as Lucifer (i.e. the Morning Star) (grows) pale at the rising of Phoebus. In the cold of leaf-falling winter, you compress the light for a short period; when hot summer has come, you keep apart the busy hours of the night. Your might rules the changing year, so the tender leaves which the breath of Boreas (i.e. the North Wind) steals, Zephyrus (i.e. the West Wind) restores. And whatever seeds Arcturus (i.e. the Bear-Watcher, who is prominent in the evening sky in the early spring) saw, Sirius (i.e. the Dog-Star, which rises just before dawn in the hottest part of the summer) burns the fully-grown crop. Nothing is free of the ancient law, and no one relinquishes the work of his own post. Governing everything to a fixed purpose, (as) ruler (of the world) you refuse by some just measure to embrace the acts of men. For why does slippery Fortune twist (everything) with such greatly changing circumstances? Harmful punishments, (which are) due to the guilty, oppress the innocent, and (men with) perverse customs reside on a lofty throne, and trample unjustly on the necks of holy (men), harming (them) in turn. Buried in dark shadows, distinguished virtue lurks, and the just (man) has borne the charge of iniquity. No perjury and no deceit, dressed in the colour of a falsehood, harms those (who are doing the damage). But, when it pleases them to use their strength, they are glad to subdue those very great kings, whom countless people fear. O you, who binds the bonds of things, look now at the wretched earth! We men, (who are) not the least part of your very great work (of creation), are tossed by the tide of fortune. (O) ruler, make the rapid waves subside, and strengthen the stability of the earth with the law by which you guide the vast heavens.”

Prosa 5: Philosophia reacts calmly to Boethius’ complaint, and indicates that his illness is so serious that his cure will require two kinds of remedy. 

When I had blurted out these (words), she, with a calm countenance and not at all disturbed by my complaint, said: “When I (first) saw you sad and weeping, I instantly knew you were a wretched exile. But I would not have known how far that exile was, if your speech had not disclosed (it). But it is not only (a question of) how far you have been driven from your homeland, but you (yourself) have strayed (from it); of, if you would prefer it to be thought that you have been expelled, rather have you driven yourself out. For no one else could ever have had this power over you. For, if you remember of which country you are by origin, it is not governed, as Athens once (was), by the rule of the multitude, but ‘there is one ruler, one king,’ (viz. Homer: Iliad ii. 204) and He rejoices in the abundance of His citizens, not in driving (them) away, and to submit to His governance and to obey the law is freedom. Are you unaware of that most ancient law of your city, which has decreed that, (where) any man has chosen to make his abode in that (city), he (has) the right not to be an exile? For, (in the case of any man) who is confined within its walls and moat, there can be no fear that he should deserve to be banished. But whoever should cease to wish to dwell in it, likewise he also ceases to deserve (this benefit).

“And so it is not so much (the sight of) this place, as your appearance, that concerns me, nor (is it) the walls of your library, adorned (as they are) with ivory and glass, (that) I am looking for, but the seat of your mind, where I have placed not my books, but what (it is that) gives books their value, (that is,) what were once my opinions.

“And you have indeed spoken the truth about your services to the common good, but you have spoken (too) little of your deeds on behalf of the multitude. Of (the things with which) you have been charged, whether rightly or falsely, you have said that (they are) known to all. Of the crimes and deceits of your accusers, you (were) right (to) think that they should be cursorily touched upon, because these (things) are frequently on the lips of the common people, (who are) better and more more richly acquainted with their every detail. You have also sharply rebuked the unjust action of the senate. You have also spoken with grief of the accusation (made) against me, and you have also wept at the damage to my reputation. Lastly, your sorrow has burned with rage against fortune, and (you have) complained that rewards have not been equally distributed on the basis of merit. At the end of your bitter verse, you have laid down a prayer that the peace which (governs) the heavens should govern the earth as well.

“But, since a very great storm of passions has lain heavily upon you, and pain, wrath, (and) sorrow are taking you in different directions, stronger remedies should not yet be applied to you, while you are in your present state of mind. So, for a time, I shall use gentler (medicines), so that (those feelings), which have hardened through a flood of emotions into a swelling, may be softened by gentler treatment (to enable you) to receive the force of a sharper remedy.

Metrum 6: Success attends those who adapt their actions to the pattern of nature. (Thus we deduce it makes sense for Philosophia to proceed cautiously with milder remedies at the outset.)

“When the heavy constellation of the Crab burns under the rays of Phoebus (i.e. the Sun), then (he) who has entrusted copious seeds to reluctant furrows, (has been) deceived by faith in Ceres (i.e. the goddess of corn-crops) and proceeds to (grow) oak-trees. You should never seek a flowery grove in order to collect violets, when the plain has bristled as it whistles under (the impact of) the fierce north winds, nor should you seek to trim vine-shoots in the spring with an eager hand, if you should wish to enjoy their grapes; rather has Bacchus (i.e. the god of wine) conferred his gifts in the autumn. God designates the seasons and assigns (to them) their own tasks, nor does he permit the seasons which he controls to be combined. So whatever (it is that) abandons the fixed order by a precipitous path does not have a happy exit.

Prosa 6: Philosophia questions Boethius closely in order to determine the exact nature of his philosophic ailment, and to plan the course of her own argument for the rest of the dialogue. 

“So, firstly, will you allow me to discover and test the state of your mind, so that I may understand what may be the means of your cure?”

“Ask whatever question you like and I will answer,” I said.

Then, she said: “Do you think that the world is governed by haphazard and chance events, or do you believe that the rule of reason is intrinsic to it?”

“Now,” I said, “I could not in any way imagine that such fixed (motions) are caused by casual chance, but I do know that the Creator God watches over his work, and that the day shall never come which drives me away from the truth of this judgment.”

“It is the case,” said she. “For you even said this in song a little earlier, and you have lamented that only men were devoid of divine care. For you are not at all troubled about other (things), but that they should be ruled by reason. But ooh! I do greatly wonder how (it is that you are) ill, while holding such a healthy opinion. But let us examine (these things) more deeply; (for) I guess that something, I know not what, is missing.

“But tell me (then), since you do not doubt that the world is ruled by God, by what rudders do you think it is guided?”

“I scarcely know the meaning of your question,” said I; “much less am I able to respond to your inquiries.”

“I was not deceived, was I,” she said, “(in thinking) something was missing, whereby, as if through a breach in the strength of a rampart, an emotional sickness had crept into your mind? But tell me, what is the end purpose of things, or whither the goal of the whole of nature is directed?”

“I have heard (it),” said I, “but grief has dulled my memory.”

“Well then, do you know from where all (things) have begun their journey?”

“I do know, ” I said, and answered that it was (from) God.

“And how can it be that, knowing the beginning of things, you do not know what is their end purpose? But it is the characteristic (and) the strength of these emotional disturbances that, on the one hand, they can move a man from his (usual) position, but, on the other hand, they cannot destroy (him) and entirely uproot (him) from himself.

“But this too I want you to answer, do you remember that you are a man?”

“Why should I not remember (it),” said I.

“Then, can you tell (me) what a man is?”

“Are you asking me (if) I know whether he is a rational and a mortal creature? I know and confess that that (is what) I am.”

And she (said): “Do you know that you are nothing else?”

“Nothing (else),” (I said).

“Now I know,” she said, “the other or the greatest cause of your illness; you have ceased to know who you are yourself. For this reason I have fully discovered both the manner of your illness and the means of your health being restored. For, since you are perplexed by your loss of memory, you have felt pain that you are an exile and at the confiscation of your goods. But, since you are unaware of what is the end purpose of things, you think that bad and criminal men (are) powerful and happy. Furthermore, since you have forgotten by what means the world is governed, you believe that these alternations in fortune occur without a guide – (these are) not only grave causes of sickness, but also of death. But (it is) thanks to the author of health that nature has not yet altogether deserted you. (As) the greatest means of rekindling your health, we have your true belief about the world’s government, in that you believe that it (is) subject, not to the haphazard nature of chance (events), but to divine reason. So you should have no fear at all; from this tiny little spark the heat of life has blazed within you. But, as it is not yet time for stronger remedies, and it is accepted that the nature of the mind is such that, as often as it rejects true opinions, it is entangled by false ones, from which there arises a fog of emotions to confound its true insight, I shall gradually try to lessen (this particular fog) by (the use of) gentle and moderate poultices, so that, when the darkness of deceitful feelings has been dispelled, you will be able to recognise the true light.

Metrum 7: Philosophia recapitulates the first book’s imagery and doctrine.

“When they are shrouded with dark clouds, stars can shed no light. If a boisterous South Wind churns up the tide of the revolving sea, a wave, just now as crystal clear as cloudless days, (is) soon (made) foul by the mud stirred up (by the wind) and blocks one’s vision. And some stream wanders far and wide as it flows down from some high hills, but it is often brought to a halt by the barrier of a rock torn from a cliff. If you also wish to discern the truth in a clear light and follow the path with a straight course, (then) get rid of joy, get rid of fear, and put hope to flight, and do not permit the presence of grief. The mind is overcast and bound with chains, where these hold sway.”

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