Boethius and The Consolation of Philosophy
Anicius Manlius Severinus
Boethius was a Roman citizen born about 480 AD and a Christian whose ancestors
numbered two emperors and a pope. His famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy
was written after he was put in prison by political enemies. Although not
a political person, but a philosopher, Boethius was caught in a power struggle
between the Eastern and Western empires and churches. Within a short time
after being in prison, he was tortured and then bludgeoned to death.
In prison he wrote the Consolation. The Consolation is a dialogue between a Speaker and Lady Philosophy, interspersed with poems. The Consolation was written in Latin and translated in the 9th C into Old English, and in the Middle Ages into Old German, Old French, and Middle English. In the Renaissance, Elizabeth I translated it into Early Modern English.
The Consolation begins with the speaker bemoaning his fate. Lady Philosophy visits him and leads him by various paths to God. The philosophy in the book is Neoplatonic based in parts on Plato's Republic. In Book I, Philosophy wipes away Boethius' tears and reminds him that he is made for higher things than this world offers. She reminds him of his love of wisdom and of how all the ancient philosophers suffered. Boethius continues to declare his innocence of all wrong-doing. Finally he sings a hymn bowing to God's will. "All things obey their ancient law/And all perform their proper tasks; /All things thou holdest in strict bounds-/To human acts alone denied/Thy fit control as Lord of all". He continues: "Why else does slippery Fortune change/so much, and punishment more fit/For crime oppress the innocent?"
Philosophy admonishes him and leads him by a series of questions to acknowledge that whatever happens, God continues to have power over all things. At the end of Book I she says, "If you desire/To look on truth/and follow the path/with unswerving course, Rid yourself of joy and fear,/Put hope to flight,/And banish grief." (Stoic philosophy)
Book II is a discussion of the nature of Fortune. Philosophy reminds Boethius that he has lost only what was lent him by God. Speaking as the goddess Fortuna, Philosophy says "Inconstance is my very essence; it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing circle." She gives examples of famous Romans and Greeks who suffered losses of Fortune. She extols reason over fortune.
Bk III deals with the definition of True Happiness. Philosophy notes that nature is satisfied with little, wheras nothing satisfies greed. Also friends acquired because of fortune rather than personality (nature) are not true friends. She notes that the philosopher measures happiness not by popularity, but by the voice of conscience; that nobility requires virtue for fulfillment, but the only place we can find virtue and truth is in God. We become happy by participation in the divine. The end of all things is the good which is also God.
Book IV Boethius complains that evil can still exist and be unpunished. Philosophy considers the governance of the world by God. Supreme good orders and ordains all things mightily.
Book V The consideration of God's control over the world leads to a discussion of the role of providence in the lives of humans. Boethius presents a solution to the complex theological problem of predestination versus free will.