Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXIII - The Consolation of Philosophy
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XXXIII - 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 lay, she began again to discourse, and spake on this wise: ‘I have now said enough to thee concerning semblances and shadows of true happiness. But if thou art now able to discern the semblances of true happiness, then I must next show thee true happiness itself.’
Then I answered, saying, ‘Now I perceive quite clearly that there is no sufficiency of every good in these worldly riches, no perfect power in any worldly authority. True honour does not exist in this world, nor do the greatest of glories lie in this worldly glory, nor the highest joy in fleshly lusts.’
Then Philosophy made answer and said, ‘Dost thou then fully understand why it is so?’
‘I may,’ I answered, ‘understand somewhat of it, but nevertheless I would know it more fully and more plainly from thee.’
‘It is sufficiently evident,’ answered Philosophy, ‘that God is single and indivisible, though ignorant men divide Him into many parts, when they misguidedly seek the highest good in the baser creatures. Dost thou think he that has most power in this world has need of no more?’
Again I answered, saying, ‘I do not say he has no need of more, for I know that no man is so wealthy as not to need something to boot.’
‘Thou sayest quite rightly,’ answered Philosophy; ‘a man may have power, but if another has more, then the less strong needs the help of the stronger.’
‘It is all,’ I said, ‘as thou sayest.’
Then said Philosophy, ‘Though Power and Self-sufficiency are counted as two things, they are but one.’
M. I think so too.
P. Dost thou think that Power and Self-sufficiency are to be despised, or to be honoured more than other advantages?
M. No man may doubt that Power and Self-sufficiency are to be honoured.
P. Let us then, if it so please thee, increase Power and Self-sufficiency by adding to them Honour, and then reckon the three as one.
M. Let us do this, for it is the truth.
P. Dost thou then deem wanting in honour and fame the union of the three qualities, when they are reckoned as one, or does it on the contrary seem to thee of all things most worthy of honour and fame? If thou knewest any man with power over everything and having every honour to such a degree as to need none further, just bethink thee how honourable and glorious that man would seem to thee. And yet if he had the three qualities, but were not of good repute, he would be wanting honour in some measure.
M. I cannot deny this.
P. Is it not then quite evident that we must add Good Repute to the three, and reckon the four as one?
M. ’Tis the natural thing to do.
P. Dost thou think him at all merry who has all these four? Good Temper is the fifth, and then a man may do what he will, without needing anything more than he has.
M. I cannot conceive, if he were like this and had all these things, whence any sorrow could reach him.
P. Nevertheless we must bear in mind that the five things we spoke of, though kept apart in speech, are all one thing when united; to wit, Power, Self-sufficiency, Fame, Honour, Good Temper. These five, when all united, are God; wherefore no mortal man can possess all five in perfection while he is in this world. But when the five qualities (as we have before observed) are all joined together they make but one whole, and that whole is God; and He is single and indivisible, though before divided into many parts.
Then I answered and said, ‘To all this I agree.’
Then said she, ‘Though God be single and indivisible (and He is so), yet human error divides Him with its idle words into many parts. Each man counts that his highest good which he loves most.Now one loves this, another loves something else; so that what a man most loves is his god. In dividing their god therefore into so many parts, they find neither God Himself nor that part of the Good which they love more. When they make the Godhead into one separate whole they neither have Him altogether nor the part they have taken from Him. So no man finds what he seeks, for he seeks it in the wrong way. Ye seek what ye cannot find, when ye seek all that is Good in one form of Good.’
‘That is true,’ I said.
Then said she, ‘When a man is poor he cares not for any power, but desires wealth and flees from poverty. He labours not to be first in fame, and that which a man does not toil after he does not compass. So all his life he toils after wealth, and lets go many a worldly desire, if he may get and keep wealth, for he craves it above all other things. When he does attain it he does not think he has enough unless he have power to boot, for without power he fancies he cannot keep his wealth. So too he is never content until he has all he desires, for wealth craves power, power honour, and honour glory. When he has his fill of wealth, he thinks he shall have every desire if he but possess power; and for power he gives away all his wealth, unless he can get it with less; and he forsakes every other kind of honour, so he may come to power. It often happens that when he has given all he owned in return for power he has neither the power nor what he gave for it, but is now so poor as not even to have the bare necessaries, that is, food and clothing. What he desires therefore is not power, but the necessaries of life.
‘We were speaking of the five forms of happiness, Wealth, Power, Honour, Fame, and Desire. We have now discussed Wealth and Power, and we may treat in the same way of the three qualities we have not yet considered, Honour, Fame, and Desire. Respecting these three, and the two we mentioned before, though a man think he may enjoy perfect happiness with any one of them, it is not any the more true. Though men may desire it so, they must have all five.’
Then I answered, saying, ‘What are we to do then, since thou sayest we cannot have the Highest Good and Perfect Happiness with any one of these, and we have no hope that any one among us may compass all together?’
P. If any man desire to have all five, he desires the highest happiness; but he may not get them in perfection in this world, for though he were to obtain all five kinds of happiness, yet they, not being eternal, will not be the Highest Good nor the Best Happiness.
M. Now I understand quite clearly that the Best Happiness is not in this world.
P. No man in this present life need seek for True Happiness nor hope to find here a sufficiency of good.
M. Thou sayest truly.
Then said she, ‘I think I have said enough to thee concerning False Happiness. I would now have thee turn thy thoughts from False Happiness, and then thou wilt perceive right soon the True Happiness I promised once to show thee.’
M. Why, even ignorant men understand that there is a Perfect Happiness, though it is not where they expect it to be. A little while ago thou didst promise me to show me it. I believe, however, True and Perfect Happiness is that which is able to give to each of her followers abiding wealth, eternal power, perpetual honour, glory everlasting, and perfect independence. Yea further, I say that is True Happiness which can fully bestow one of these five; for in each one of them all reside. I tell thee this because I would have thee know that this principle is very firmly rooted in my mind, so firmly that no man can lead me away from it.
P. Ah, my disciple, thou art happy indeed to have thus grasped it; but I would that we might further seek to know that thing in which thou art lacking.
M. Why, what is that?
P. Dost thou believe that any of these present blessings can bring thee perfect happiness?
Thereupon I answered, saying, ‘I know of nothing in this present life that can bestow such a gift.’
P. These present blessings are the semblances of the Eternal Good, but are not Perfect Good, for they are unable to give true and perfect good to their followers.
M. I fully agree with what thou sayest.
P. Since thou knowest what is False Happiness and what the True, I wish thee to learn how thou mayest attain to True Happiness.
M. Thou didst promise me long ago, didst thou not, to teach it to me; and I would now right gladly hear it.
P. 87.P. What then must we do to the end that we may reach true happiness? Shall we pray for divine help in less as well as in greater matters, even as our philosopher Plato has said?
M. I think we should pray to the Father of all things; for he that will not pray to Him findeth Him not, nor even taketh the right way to find Him.
Then said she, ‘Thou art quite right,’ and thereupon she began to sing, and these were her words:
‘O Lord, how great and how wonderful Thou art, Thou that didst wonderfully fashion all Thy creatures, visible and invisible, and rulest them wisely. O Thou that hast appointed the seasons in due order from the beginning of the world to the end thereof, so that they fare forth and again return; Thou that wieldest according to Thy will all things that move, Thou dost Thyself abide ever still and unchanging. For none is mightier than Thou, none like unto Thee, nor did any necessity teach Thee to make that which Thou hast made, but by Thine own will and with Thine own power Thou hast made all things, needing none. Most wonderful is the nature of Thy goodness, for Thou and Thy goodness are one; not from without did it come to Thee; it is Thine own. But all the good that we have in this world came to us from without, even from Thee. No enmity hast Thou towards any thing, for none is more capable than Thou, none like unto Thee; all good things Thoudidst plan and bring to pass, of Thy sole contriving. No man set Thee the example, for before Thee none was, either to do aught or to leave undone. But Thou hast made all very good and very fair, and Thou art Thyself the highest good and the fairest. Thou didst make this earth even as Thou didst Thyself plan it, and Thou rulest it as Thou wilt, and Thyself dost deal out all good even as Thou wilt. All creatures Thou hast made alike, and in some things also not alike. Though Thou hast given one name to all creatures, naming them the World when taken together, yet Thou hast parted the single name among four creatures: One is Earth, the second Water, the third Air, the fourth Fire. To each of them Thou hast appointed its own separate place; each is kept distinct from the other, and yet held in bonds of peace by Thine ordinance, so that none of them should overstep the other’s bounds, but cold brooketh heat, and wet suffereth dry. Earth and water have a cold nature; earth is dry and cold; water wet and cold. Air is defined as both cold and wet, and also warm. This is not to be wondered at, for air is created half-way between the dry cold earth and the hot fire. Fire is uppermost above all these worldly creatures. Wonderful is Thy contriving, to have done both things: namely, to have bounded things one over against the other, and likewise to have mingled the dry cold earth beneath the cold wet water, so that the yielding and flowing water hath a floor on the solid earth, being unable to stand alone.The earth holdeth the water and in some degree sucketh it in, and is moistened by what it sucketh, so that it groweth and beareth blossoms and likewise fruits; for, if the water did not moisten it, it would dry up and be scattered by the wind like dust or ashes. No living thing could enjoy the land or the water, nor dwell in either for the cold, if Thou hadst not in some measure mingled them with fire. With marvellous skill Thou hast so ordered that fire doth not burn up water and earth, when mingled with either; nor again do water and earth wholly quench fire. The real home of water is on the earth, likewise in the air, and again above the skies. The real home of fire is above all visible worldly creatures, yet it is mingled with all; no creature, however, can it utterly destroy, for it hath not the leave of the Almighty. Next, the earth is heavier and denser than other creatures, for it is lower than any other save the firmament. The firmament surroundeth it from day to day, though it nowhere toucheth it; at every point it is equally near it, both above and beneath. Each of the substances we have spoken of hath its own place apart, and yet one is mingled with another; for no creature can exist without the other, though not apparent in it. Thus earth, ice, and water are very hard for ignorant men to see or conceive of in fire; nevertheless they are mingled therewith. Fire also subsisteth in stones and in water; it is very hard to perceive, but still it is there. Thou hast bound fire in bonds very hard to loose, so that it cannot come to its own home, that is,P. 90.to the exceeding great fire above us, lest it forsake the earth. All other creatures will perish from uttermost cold if it utterly depart. Thou hast made fast the earth very wonderfully and firmly, so that it leaneth to no side, nor standeth on any earthly thing; nor doth anything of the earth keep it from falling, nor is it easier for it to fall down than up. Thou plantest also threefold souls in befitting members, so that there is not less of the soul in the little finger than in the whole body. I said the soul was threefold because philosophers affirm that it hath three natures. One of these natures is to be subject to desire, the second to be subject to passion, and the third that it is rational. Two of these qualities are possessed by beasts in the same way as by men, namely, desire and passion; no creature, save man alone, hath reason, and therefore he hath excelled all earthly creatures in forethought and sense. Reason must control both desire and passion, for it is a special virtue of the soul. Thou hast fashioned the soul so as to turn upon itself, as the whole firmament doth, or as a wheel turneth, reflecting on its Creator, on itself, or on these earthly things. When it thinketh on its Creator it is above itself; when it reflecteth on itself it is in itself; and it is beneath itself when it loveth these earthly things and admireth them. O Lord, Thou gavest to souls a home in heaven, and there givest them honourable gifts, to each according to its deserving; and Thou makest them to shine exceeding bright, and yet with very various brightness, some more brightly, some less, likeP. 91.the stars, each according to its merits. Thou, O Lord, bringest together heavenly souls and earthly bodies, and minglest them in this world. As they came hither from Thee, even so also they seek to go hence to Thee. Thou didst fill this earth with divers kinds of beasts, and afterwards didst sow it with divers seeds of trees and plants. Grant unto our minds, O Lord, that they may rise up to Thee through the hardships of this world, and from these troubles come to Thee, and that with the eyes of our minds opened we may behold the noble fountain of all good things, even Thee. Grant us health for our minds’ eyes, that we may fasten them upon Thee, and scatter the mist that now hangeth before our minds’ sight, and let Thy light lighten our eyes; for Thou art the Brightness of the True Light. Thou art the comfortable resting-place of the righteous, and Thou enablest them to see Thee. Thou art the Beginning and the End of all things. Thou bearest up all things without effort. Thou art the Way, and the Guide, and the Bourne whither the Way leadeth; to Thee all men are hastening.’
[P. 87. ]Our philosopher Plato. In the Timaeus.
[P. 90. ]One of these natures is, &c. This is from a commentary, where it is explained that by the words of Boethius triplicis naturae media anima must be understood anima rationabilis, anima irascibilis, and anima concupiscibilis.
[P. 91. ]To Thee all men are hastening. The commentary has per quem perveniamus ad te.