Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXVI - The Consolation of Philosophy
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XXVI - 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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WHEN Philosophy had sung this song she began to discourse again and said, ‘O ye men of this world, though ye act like the beasts in your folly, yet ye can perceive something, as in a dream, of your original, that is, of God. Ye perceive that there is a true beginning and a true end of all happiness, though ye understand it not fully; ye are led by your nature towards understanding, but are drawn away from it by manifold error. Bethink yourselves whether men can come to true happiness by their present joys, since nearly all men regard him as the most blest who has all earthly happiness. Can great possessions or honours or all this wealth of the moment make any man so happy as to need nothing more? Certainly I know they cannot. Then is it not manifest that this present good is not the true good, seeing it cannot give what it promises? For it speciously offers to do what it is unable to fulfil, promising those who incline their ear unto it true happiness, and more often than not disappointing them, for it hath no more happiness to bestow than the others have. Now take thine own case, Boethius: wast thou never sad in the height of thy prosperity, or didst thou never lack aught when possessed of most wealth? or again, was thy life in all respects according to thy desire?’
B. No indeed, I was never so evenly poised in mind, as far as I remember, as to be entirely free from care and perplexity, and I never yet liked everything, nor had all I wished, though I concealed the fact.
P. Wast thou not then miserable and unhappy enough, though conceiting thyself wealthy, when thou either hadst what thou didst dislike, or didst lack what thou desiredst?
B. All was with me as thou sayest.
P. Is not then a man miserable, when he hath not that which he fain would have?
B. That is true.
P. If then he is miserable he is not content, desiring what he hath not in order to satisfy himself.
B. All thou sayest is true.
P. Well then, wast thou not also miserable in the midst of thy plenty?
Then I answered and said, ‘I know thou speakest truth. I was indeed miserable.’
P. I cannot help thinking then that all the riches of the world are not able to make one single man so rich as to have enough and need no more; and yet this is what wealth promises to all who possess it.
‘Nothing,’ said I, ‘is truer than what thou art saying.’
P. Why, of course thou must admit it? Dost thou not every day see the strong robbing the goods of the weak? What else causes every day such lamentation and such strife, and lawsuits, and sentences, but the fact that each claims the property plundered from him, or else covets that of another?
B. A fair question, and what thou sayest is true.
P. For this cause every man needeth support from without to make himself stronger, that he may preserve his wealth.
B. Who can deny it?
P. If he had no fear of losing any of his possessions, he would have no need of outside help.
B. Thou speakest true.
Then Philosophy made protest sorrowfully and said, ‘Alas! how contrary to every man’s wont and every man’s desires is what I shall now say to thee, to wit that their fancied source of riches maketh them poorer and more cowardly! For when a man has a little he feels he needs to court the protection of such as possess somewhat more, and, whether he need it or no, he sets his mind on it. Where then is moderation to be found? who possesses it? when will it appear and utterly banish poverty from the wealthy man, who, the more he has, the more he feels himself bound to court the crowd? Can a rich man never feel hunger, nor thirst, nor cold? I think however thou wilt urge that the rich have the means to amend all that, but, though thou urge this, wealth cannot always do this, though it is sometimes able to do so. For they must be able daily to replace their daily loss, human wants being insatiable, and craving every day somewhat of worldly gear, such as clothing, food, drink, and many other things besides; wherefore no man is so well furnished as to want nothing more. But covetousness knoweth no bounds, and is never content with bare necessity, but ever desireth too much. It passes my understanding why ye men put your trust in perishable wealth, seeing it cannot free you from poverty; nay, ye thereby only increase it.’
When Philosophy had uttered this discourse she began to chaunt again and singing to say: ‘What profiteth it the wealthy miser to amass countless riches and to gather store enough of all precious stones, and though he till his fields with a thousand ploughs, and all this earth be his to govern? For he cannot take with him from this earth anything more than he brought hither.’