Front Page Titles (by Subject) XIV - The Consolation of Philosophy
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XIV - 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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THEN the Mind answered Philosophy and said, ‘Why should I not be pleased to behold a fair country-side? Is it not the fairest part of God’s creation? Ofttimes we admire the calm ocean and marvel at the beauty of sun and moon and all the stars.’
Thereupon Philosophy, that is Reason, answered Mind: ‘But what hast thou to do with their beauty? Darest thou boast it to be from thee? Nay, not at all. Thou knowest that none of these things is thy handiwork; but, if thou must glory, glory in God. Dost thou take pleasure in fair flowers in the spring, as if P. 29. thou wert their creator? Couldst thou create any such thing, or maintain it when it is created? Nay, by no means. Make not then any such attempt. Art thou the cause that autumn is so rich in fruits? Do I not know thou art not? Why then art thou aglow with such vain pleasure, why so immoderate in thy delight in things not thine, as if they were truly thine own? Dost thou think Fate can cause those things to belong to thee that their own nature makes alien to thee? Nay, indeed, it is not thy nature to possess them, nor is it their obligation to obey thee. But heavenly things naturally belong to thee, not earthly ones. Now these fruits of the earth were created for the subsistence of beasts of the field, and riches were created to delude those men who are like unto the beasts, to wit, the unrighteous and intemperate; to such men riches come oftenest. If therefore thou wouldst know what is due measure and what is needful, I tell thee it is meat and drink and clothes, and implements wherewith to exercise the powers thou hast, and that are natural to thee, and that may be rightly used. What profit is there for thee to crave beyond measure the riches of this life, when they can help neither thee nor themselves? Very little of them is enough for our natural wants, even such as we have above mentioned. If thou have more of them, either it worketh thee harm, or it is unpleasant to thee, or noisome or dangerous, whatever thou dost in excess. For example, if thou eat or drink in excess, or wear more clothes than thou art in need of, this superfluity brings grief to thee, or loathing, or perhaps mischance and danger. If thou deemest that splendid raiment is any honour, then I account the honour his who made it, and not thine; and as God is the maker, it is His skill I praise therein. Or dost thou think the number of thy followers renders thee honourable? No, indeed; for if they be wicked and deceitful, then are they more dangerous and troublesome in thy service than out of it, for bad servants are ever their master’s foes. Supposing, however, they are good and loyal and true men, is not this to their advantage rather than thine? How canst thou then claim the advantage that belongs to them, since in boasting of it dost thou not boast of what is theirs, not thine own? It is now clear enough that none of the blessings we have been speaking of, and which thou deemedst thine, really belong to thee. If then the beauty and wealth of this world are not desirable, why dost thou repine after that which thou hast lost, or why regret that which was once thine? If it is beautiful, that is by virtue of its own nature, not of thine; its beauty is its own, not thine. Why dost thou regret a beauty that is not thine? Wilt thou take delight in what concerns thee not, and which thou hast not created nor dost possess? These things are good and desirable, for so they are created, and would be so even if thou never hadst them for thine own. Surely thou dost not believe they are the more precious for being lent to thee for thy use? Nay, it is simply because foolish men marvel at riches and prize them that thou gatherest them together and storest them up in thine hoard. What profit hast thou then from such happiness as this? Believe me when I tell thee thou hast none; but, seeking to escape poverty, thou dost put by more than is needful for thee. Nevertheless I doubt not that all I am saying in this matter accordeth not with thy wish. Your blessings are not what ye men account them to be, for he that would possess great and varied estate needeth much help to carry it. The old saw is very true that was said by the ancients, that they need much who will have much, and their need is little who are content with enough. Nevertheless men would fain glut their avarice with superfluity, but to this they can never attain. Ye believe, I am sure, that ye have no natural good nor blessing within you, inasmuch as ye seek these in other creatures without. ’Tis a crooked wisdom to think that man, though of a godlike understanding, hath in himself no sufficiency of happiness, but must gather together more of the creatures of no understanding than he needeth or is fitting. The unreasoning beasts of the field desire no other possession, but are satisfied with the content of their own hides, together with their natural food. And lo! ye have something divine in your souls, even Reason and Memory, and the discerning Will to choose. He therefore that hath these three hath his Creator’s likeness, in so far as any creature may have it. But ye look for the blessings and glory of a higher nature in the lower things that perish, not discerning how grievously ye offend God your Maker, who would that all men were lords of all other creatures. Nay rather, ye make your chiefest excellence subject to the most lowly of created things, declaring that by your own free judgement ye rank yourselves below your own chattels, thinking as ye do that your happiness lies in false wealth, and that all your possessions are of more value than yourselves. And so they are as long as ye wish it to be so.
‘The nature of men is that they surpass all other creatures only in that they know what they are and whence they came; but they are lower than the beasts in that their will holdeth not with their knowledge. The nature of beasts is to have no knowledge of themselves, but in man it is a blemish not to have self-knowledge. Now thou dost plainly perceive that men err in thinking any man may be held in honour for the wealth that is not his own. If therefore a man be held in honour for wealth, and ennobled for his rich possessions, doth not the honour belong to him that bestoweth it, and is he not more rightly to be praised? None the fairer is that which is adorned from without, howsoever fair the adornment wherein it is dressed, and if it was before foul it is none the fairer thereby. On the contrary, no good thing hurteth a man. Lo, thou knowest I lie not, and also that riches oft harm their owners in many ways, and especially in the puffing up of a man, so that many a time the worst and most unworthy of all cometh to think himself worthy to have all the wealth in the world, if he could only get it. He that hath much wealth dreadeth many foes; if he had nothing, no need would there be for him to fear any one. If thou wert a traveller, and hadst much gold on thee, and wert to fall among a company of robbers, why, thou wouldst despair of thy life; whereas, if thou hadst nothing about thee, thou wouldst need to fear naught, but couldst go thy way singing the old verse that was sung of yore, that the naked wayfarer hath naught to dread.’ Being then free from care, and the robbers departed, thou couldst mock at wealth, saying, “Verily a fine and pleasant thing is it to have great riches when he that hath them hath no peace.” ’
[P. 29. ]If therefore thou wouldst know, &c. Perhaps this passage suggested part of chap. xvii to Alfred.