Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXII - The Consolation of Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
XXXII - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
WHEN Philosophy had sung this lay, she began to discourse again, and spake thus. ‘Wherefore there is no doubt that this present wealth hinders and hampers those men that be drawn towards true happiness, and is unable to make good its promise, namely, to bring them to the highest good. But in a few words I could tell thee with how many evils these riches are filled. What dost thou then mean by coveting money, when thou canst in no way else compass it save by stealing and plundering or begging it, and when one man cannot add to his store of it without another’s store being lessened? Then again thou wouldst be high in repute, but to have that thou must with pitiful and humble mien court him that can help thee thereto. If thou wouldst make thee better and more valued than many, then must thou hold thyself of less account than one. Is it not a part of misery to have to fawn so abjectly on the man who has a gift to bestow? Dost thou crave power? But power without care thou canst not have, not only by reason of strangers, but yet more for thine own people and kinsmen. Dost thou yearn for vain glory? But glory free from care thou canst not have, for thou shalt ever have something to thwart thee and put thee out. Wouldst thou enjoy over-much carnal pleasure? But God’s good ministers will then forsake thee, for thy worthless flesh is thy lord, and not thy servant. How can a man demean himself more pitiably than to make himself the thrall of his poor paltry flesh and not of his reasonable soul? Though thou wert greater than the elephant, or stronger than the lion or bull, or swifter than the beast we call tiger, and of all men fairest to behold, yet if thou wouldst earnestly seek after wisdom until thou didst attain a perfect understanding thereof, then mightest thou plainly perceive that all the powers and qualities we have spoken of are not to be compared with one single quality of the soul. For instance, Wisdom is but a single quality of the soul, and yet we all know that it is better than all the other qualities we have mentioned.
‘Behold the broad compass, the stability, and the swiftness of yonder heavens; and then ye will be able to understand that they are nothing whatever when compared with their Creator and Ruler. Why then do ye not grow tired of admiring and praising what is of less account, namely, these earthly riches? As the heavens are better and loftier and fairer than all they contain, save only man, even so is man’s body better and more precious than all his possessions. But how much better and more precious, thinkest thou, is the soul than the body? Every creature is to be honoured in its due degree, and the highest is ever to be honoured most; therefore the divine power should be honoured and admired and esteemed above all other things. Bodily beauty is very fleeting and very fragile, most like the flowers of the earth. A man might be as beautiful as Prince Alcibiades was; but if another were so keen of sight as to be able to see through him (Aristotle the philosopher said there was a beast that could see through everything, trees, yea, even stones; this beast we call the lynx)—if, I say, this man were so sharpsighted as to be able to see through the other we spoke of, he should think him by no means so fair inside as he seemed without. Thou mayest seem fair to men, but it is not any the truer for that; the dullness of their sight hinders them from perceiving that they see the outside of thee, not the inside. But consider right earnestly, ye men, and reflect discerningly upon the nature of these bodily advantages, and the joys ye now crave so unduly; then may ye get to know clearly that the body’s beauty and strength can be taken away by a three days’ fever. I am telling thee over again all I told thee before, because I wished to prove to thee plainly at the end of this chapter that all present blessings are unable to fulfil the promise they make to their lovers, I mean their promise of the highest good. They may gather together all blessings of the present, but none the more have they perfect good among their number, nor are they able to make their lovers as rich as these would fain be.’
When Philosophy had spoken this discourse, she began once more to sing, and these were the words of her song: ‘Ah me, how grievous and how harmful is the folly that deludeth poor mortals and leadeth them from the right way! The Way is God. Do ye seek gold on trees? I know that ye neither seek it nor find it there, as all men know that it no more groweth there than gems grow in vineyards. Do ye set your net on the top of the hill, when ye would catch fish? I know ye do not set it there. Do ye then take your dogs and your nets out to sea, when ye would go hunting? Ye place them, I ween, high up on the hills, and in the woods. Truly it is wonderful how eager men know they must seek for white and red gems and precious stones of every kind by sea shore and by river strand; and they also know in what waters and at what river-mouths to look for fish. They know where to seek all this temporary wealth, and they pursue it untiringly. But it is a very lamentable thing that foolish men are so blind of judgment as not to know where true happiness is hid, no, nor even take any pleasure in the seeking of it. They think they can find among these fleeting and perishable things true happiness, which is God. I know not how to show their folly as clearly and blame it as strongly as I would, for they are more pitiful, more foolish, and more unhappy than I can well say. Wealth and honours are their desire, and when they have these they ignorantly fancy they have true happiness.’