Front Page Titles (by Subject) V - The Consolation of Philosophy
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V - Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy [520 AD]
King Alfred’s Version of the Consolations of Boethius. Done into Modern English, with an Introduction by Walter John Sedgefield Litt.D. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900).
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WHILE the Mind was thus uttering his plaint and singing this song, Philosophy (that is to say, Reason) watched him with a cheerful eye, in no wise cast down for his melancholy, and she said unto him, ‘No sooner did I see thee lamenting thus and sorrowing than I perceived that thou hadst departed from thy native home—that is to say, from my teachings. Thou didst depart from it when thou didst forsake thy firm belief, and bethink thee that Fate ruled this world at her own pleasure, respectless of God’s will or leave, or of the deeds of men. I knew that thou hadst departed therefrom, but how far I knew not, until thou thyself didst make all clear to me in thy song of sorrow. But though thou hast indeed wandered farther than ever, yet art thou not utterly banished from thine home, though far astray. No one else hath led thee into error; ’twas thyself alone, by thine own heedlessness; nor would any man be led to expect this of thee if thou wouldst but remember thy birth and citizenship as the world P. 7. goes, or again, according to the spirit, of what fellowship thou wast in mind and understanding; for thou art one of the righteous and upright in purpose, that are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. From hence, that is, from his righteous purpose, no man is ever banished save he himself so chooseth. Wheresoever he be, he hath that ever with him, and having it he is with his own kin and his own fellow-citizens in his own land, being in the company of the righteous. Whosoever then is worthy to be in their service hath perfect freedom.
‘Nor do I shun this lowly and this foul dwelling, if only I find thee wise, nor do I care for walls wrought with glass, nor for thrones adorned with gold and gems, nor do I care so much for books written in letters of gold, as I care for a righteous will in thee. What I seek here is not books, but that which understands books, to wit, thy mind. Very rightly didst thou lament the injustice of Fate, both in the exalted power of the unrighteous and in mine own dishonour and neglect, and in the licence of the wicked as regards the prosperity of this world. But as both thine indignation and thy grief have made thee so desponding, I may not answer thee till the time be come. For whatsoever man shall begin untimely hath no perfect ending.
‘When the sun’s beams shine hottest in the month of August he is foolish that would commit any seed to the dry furrows; so too is he that would look for flowers during the storms of winter. Nor canst thou press wine in midwinter, though thou wouldst fain drink of the warm must.’
Then Philosophy cried aloud and said, ‘May I then put thy fixed belief to the proof, that I may thereby get to know by what means and in what manner I am to cure thee?’
‘Prove me as thou wilt,’ answered the Mind.
Then said Philosophy, ‘Dost thou believe that Fate rules this world, or that aught of good may happen without a Cause?’
‘I do not believe,’ replied the Mind, ‘that in that case anything could happen in such orderly fashion; nay, of a truth I know that God is the controller of His own work, and from that true faith I have never swerved.’
Then again Philosophy answered and said, ‘It was about this same thing thou wast singing but a little while ago, that each creature knew from God its due season, and fulfilled its due course, save only man. Wherefore I marvel beyond measure what ails thee, and why thou complainest, holding this faith. But let us consider the matter yet more deeply. I do not fully know which of thy doubts remain; but thou sayest thou hast no doubt that God guideth this world; tell me then, how would He like it to be?’
M. I can hardly understand thy question, yet thou sayest I am to answer thee.
P. Dost think I know not the danger of that confusion in which thou art wrapt around? Come, tell me what is the end that every beginning is minded to have?
M. I knew it once, but this sorrow of mine has reft me of the memory of it.
P. Knowest thou whence everything comes?
M. I know that everything comes from God.
P. How can it be that, knowing the beginning, thou knowest not the end also? Confusions may distract the mind, but cannot rob it of its understanding. And I would have thee tell me whether thou knowest what thou art thyself?
M. I know that I belong to living men, intelligent, yet doomed to die.
P. Dost thou know aught else concerning thyself, besides this thou hast said?
M. Naught else do I know.
P. Now I understand thy melancholy, seeing that thou thyself knowest not what thy nature is; and I know how to cure thee. Thou hast said that thou wast an outcast and bereft of all good, in that thou knewest not what thou wast, and thereby thou didst make known thine ignorance of the end that every beginning has in view, when thou didst think that unguided and reckless men were the happy ones and the rulers of this world. Furthermore, thou didst make known that thou knewest not with what guidance God ruleth this world, or how He would like it to be ordered, saying that thy belief was that this harsh Fate governs the world apart from the design of God. Indeed, there was great risk that thou shouldst think so, for not only wast thou in boundless misfortune, but thou hadst even well-nigh perished withal. Thank God therefore that He hath succoured thee, and that I have not utterly forsaken thine understanding. Now that thou believest that, apart from God’s design, Fate cannot by herself guide the world, we have fuel for thy salvation. Thou needest fear naught now, for from the little spark which thou settest to the under the light of life has shone upon thee. But it is not yet the time for me to hearten thee yet farther, for it is the habit of every mind to follow falsehood when once it hath forsaken the dictates of truth. From this have begun to gather the mists that perplex the understanding and utterly confound the true sight, even such mists as are now over thy mind. But first I must dissipate them, that afterwards I may the more easily be able to bring the true light unto thee.
[P. 7. ]Citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem; cf. Heb. xi. 13-16 Boethius speaks merely of Roman citizenship. This allusion is taken from a Latin commentary. For details concerning the use of the commentaries made by Alfred, see the Oxford edition of Alfred’s Boethius, Introduction.