Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXV - The Consolation of Philosophy
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
XXXV - 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 she had spoken this discourse, she began to sing once more in these words:
‘Whosoever will search deeply with earnest mind after truth, and would have no man nor thing to hinder him, let him begin to seek within himself that which he before sought outside, and have done with useless troubling, as far as he may; and let him attend to this one matter, and tell his mind that it can find within itself all the good things which it seeketh without. Then will he be able very quickly to perceive the evil and vanity that he had before in his mind, as clearly as thou mayest see the sun. Thou wilt then perceive thine own understanding, that it is far brighter and clearer than the sun. For no grossness nor infirmity of the body hath power utterly to take away righteousness from his mind, so that he shall have no trace thereof, though bodily sloth and infirmities often vex the mind with a dullness and lead it astray with a mist of delusion, so that itP. 108.cannot shine as brightly as it would. Nevertheless a grain of the seed of truth is ever dwelling in the soul, so long as soul and body are united. This grain must be awakened with questioning and with teaching, if it is to grow. How then can any man question righteously and shrewdly, if he have in himself not a jot of righteousness? None is so sorely bereft of righteousness that he can give no right answer, when asked. It is a very true saying that philosopher Plato spake: “Whosoever,” said he, “remembereth not righteousness, should turn him to his memory; then shall he find righteousness hid there amid the sloth of the body and the distractions and afflictions of his mind.” ’
Then said I, ‘I admit that was a true saying that Plato spake. Hast thou not now reminded me twice of the same matter? First thou saidst I had forgotten the natural goodness I had within myself, owing to the sloth of the body. The second time thou saidst thou hadst noticed that I was myself of the opinion that I had utterly lost the natural goodness I ought to have within me, owing to my unmeasured sorrow for my lost prosperity.’
P. Hadst thou but called to mind the words I spake to thee in the first book, thou wouldst thereby clearly have perceived what it was thou didst profess not to know.
M. What was it that I said I did not know?
P. Thou saidst in the same book that thou wast convinced that God ruled this world, but thou didst also say thou couldst not understand after what fashion He ruled it.
M. I remember quite well mine own foolishness, and I had already acknowledged it before thou didst speak of it. However, although I in some degree understood the matter at the time, I would hear yet more from thee concerning it.
P. Thou didst not doubt that God governed and ruled all the world?
M. I have till now no doubts of it, nor ever shall have any. I will further tell thee shortly how I first came to know it. I perceived that this world was put together out of many and diverse materials, and very firmly stuck and cemented together. If these materials, being so froward, had not been brought together and set in order, they would never have been made nor yet combined; and if He had not bound them with fetters that cannot be loosed they would all fall asunder. Their places and their courses had not been ordered so wisely, so fittingly, and so regularly in respect of their positions and their seasons, were there not one unchanging God to wield them. Him, as He is the Good One, I call by the name of God, even as all creatures call Him.
P. 109. Thereupon she said, ‘Now that thou hast so clear an understanding, I need not trouble over-much to tell thee more about God, for thou art wellnigh come into the city of True Happiness which long ago thou couldst not reach. But we must nevertheless seek that which we before had in mind.’
M. What is that?
P. Did we not prove that Sufficiency was Happiness, and Happiness was God?
M. It is as thou sayest.
P. God needs no other help save Himself, wherewith to rule His creatures, no more than He needed to make them; for if He needed help in any thing He would not be self-sufficient.
M. It is as thou sayest.
P. By Himself He did create all things, and governeth all things.
M. I cannot gainsay this.
P. We have already shown thee that God is through Himself good.
M. I remember thou didst say so.
P. Through goodness God created all things, for of Himself He ruleth all that we before said was good; and He is alone the steady Ruler, and Steersman, and Rudder, and Helm, for He guideth and governeth all creatures, even as a good steersman does a ship.
M. Now I confess to thee that I have found a door where before I saw but a little crack, so that I could only just spy a very little gleam of light from out this darkness. Thou didst show me the door, but I was none the abler to come to it, and I groped about it where I saw the little gleam twinkling. I told thee long since in this very book that I knew not what was the beginning of all creatures, and then thou didst tell me it was God. Next I knew not concerning the end, until again thou didst tell me it was also God. Then I told thee I knew not how He ruled all creation; but thou hast now set it very plain before me, as if thou hadst plucked open the door I had been seeking.
Then she made answer unto me, and said: ‘I know that I once put thee in mind of this very matter, and now methinks thou art getting to know better and better about the truth. Nevertheless I would further show thee an instance, as plain as that which I mentioned before.’
‘What is it?’ I said.
Then said she: ‘No man can doubt that God reigneth over all creatures by their own consent, and they humbly turn their wills to His will. Thereby it is very evident that God wieldeth everything with the helm and rudder of His goodness, for all creatures naturally of their own will strive to reach God, as we have already often said in this very book.’
M. Who can doubt this? for God’s power would not be full happiness, if creatures obeyed Him against their will.
P. There is no creature that thinks it must resist its Creator’s will, if it would be true to its nature.
M. No creature wishes to resist its Creator’s will save foolish man or the rebellious angels.
P. How thinkest thou, if any creature deemed itself bound to fight against His will, what would it avail against One so mighty as we have shown Him to be?
M. They cannot do so, even though they wish it.
Hereupon she marvelled, saying: ‘There is nothing that is able or willing to gainsay so exalted a God.’
M. Nor do I fancy anything is willing to fight against Him, excepting what we before spoke of.
At this she smiled and said, ‘Know for a truth that that is the Highest Good which ordereth all things so mightily, and created all, and so fittingly ruleth all, and setteth it all out so easily without any effort.’
M. What thou didst tell me before pleased me well, and this pleases me even better; but I am now ashamed that I did not perceive it before.
P. 112.P. Truly I know thou hast often heard tell in old fables how that Job (Jove) son of Saturn was the highest god above all other gods, and was son of the sky, and reigned in heaven; and how there were Giants, sons of the earth, who did rule over the earth, and how they were, so to speak, sisters’ children, Jove being son of the sky, and they sons of the earth. Now the Giants were wrath that he had sway over them, and sought to burst the heavens beneath him; but he sent thunders and lightnings and winds, and scattered therewith all their handiwork, and themselves he slew. Such were the false stories they made up; they could easily have told true ones, and yet very like the others, if false ones had not seemed sweeter to them. They could have told what foolishness Nefrod (Nimrod) the Giant wrought. Nefrod was son of Chus (Cush), Chus was son of Cham (Ham), Cham son of Noe (Noah). Nefrod bade build atower in the field called Sennar (Shinar), and among the folk called Deira (Dura), hard by the town which men now call Babylonia. This they did for the reason that they wished to know how near it was to heaven, how thick and fast heaven was, and what was above it. But it fell out, as was fitting, that the divine might dashed them down before they could bring it to a head, and cast down the tower and slew many a man among them, and split their speech into two and seventy tongues. Thus it happens to all that strive against the might of God; their honour grows not thereby, and that which they had before is lessened.
But consider now whether thou wilt have us search any further after distinctions now that we have found what we were looking for. I think, however, that if we go on letting our words clash together there will spring up some spark of truth that we have not yet seen.
M. Do as thou wilt.
P. Now, no man doubts that God is so mighty that He can bring to pass what He pleases.
M. No man doubts this that knows aught.
P. Is there any one that thinks there is anything that God cannot do?
M. I know there is not.
P. Dost thou think He is able to do anything evil?
M. I know He is not able.
P. Thou sayest truly, for there is no such thing; if evil existed, God could do it, and so it does not exist.
M. It seems to me thou art misleading and baffling me, as a child does. Thou leadst me hither and thither into a wood so thick that I cannot get out; for always after a while thou takest up again the same matter that thou wast before speaking about, and then thou givest it up before finishing it, and takest hold on a strange matter, so that I know not what thou wouldst be at. Methinks thou art turning round about a wonderful and strange discourse concerning the unity of the Godhead. I remember thou didst tell me a marvellous tale about it, saying that Happiness and the Highest Good were all one. Thou saidst that Happiness was firmly rooted in the Highest Good, and the Highest Good was God Himself, who was abounding in every happiness; and thou didst say that every happy man was a god. Next, thou saidst that God’s goodness and His happiness were all one with Himself, even the Most High God, and to this God all creatures that are true to their kind tend and desire to come. Moreover, thou didst say that God governed all His creatures with the rudder of His goodness, and that all creatures of their own will and undriven were subject to Him. Now, lastly, thou hast said that there is no such thing as evil; and all this thou hast proved to be true, most reasonably and without any false imagining.
Then said she, ‘Thou hast said that I lead thee astray, but I for my part do not think I mislead thee, P. 115. but have told thee an exceeding long and wondrous and rational tale about the God that we once prayed to; and I mean yet further to unfold to thee concerning the same God a somewhat unfamiliar tale. It is of the nature of Godhead that it can exist unmixed with other things and without the support of other things, as no other thing can exist. No creature can stand by itself, as Parmenides the poet long ago sang, saying, “Almighty God is the ruler of all things, and He alone dwelleth without change, and wieldeth all things that change.” Therefore thou needest not wonder exceedingly if we go on searching into that which we have taken in hand, with less or more words, as we can show it forth. Though we have to treat of many and diverse instances and parables, yet our mind cleaves all the while to that which we are searching into. We use not these instances and these parables from a love of fables, but because we desire therewith to show forth the truth, and would like it to be of profit to our hearers. By the way, I call to mind a precept of the wise Plato; he said that a man who would make use of parables should not take those that were too foreign to the matter he was speaking of at the moment. But listen patiently to what I am now going to say; though once it seemed to thee unprofitable, perhaps the end will please thee better.’
Here she fell to singing, and said,
Blessed is the man that is able to see the clear wellspring of the Highest Good, and cast off the darkness of his mind. We must tell thee yet another from the fables of old. Once on a time it came to pass that a harp-player lived in the country called Thracia, which was in the kingdom of the Crecas (Greeks). The harper was so good, it was quite unheard of. His name was Orfeus, and he had a wife without her equal, named Eurudice. Now men came to say of the harper that he could play the harp so that the forest swayed, and the rocks quivered for the sweet sound, and wild beasts would run up and stand still as if they were tame, so still that men or hounds might come near them, and they fled not. The harper’s wife died, men say, and her soul was taken to hell. Then the harpman became so sad that he could not live in the midst of other men, but was off to the forest, and sate upon the hills both day and night, weeping, and playing on his harp so that the woods trembled and the rivers stood still, and hart shunned not lion, nor hare hound, nor did any beast feel rage or fear towards any other for gladness of the music. And when it seemed to the harper that nothing in this world brought joy to him he thought he would seek out the gods of hell and essay to win them over with his harp, and pray them to give him back his wife. When he came thither, the hound of hell, men say, came towards him, whose name was Ceruerus and who had three heads; and he began to welcome him with his tail, and play with him on account of his harp-playing. There was likewise there a most dreadful gateward whose name was Caron; he had also three heads, and was very,very old. Then the harper fell to beseeching him that he would shield him while he was in that place, and bring him back again unharmed. And he promised him to do so, being overjoyed at the rare music. Then he went on farther until he met the fell goddesses that men of the people call Parcæ, saying that they know no respect for any man, but punish each according to his deeds; and they are said to rule each man’s fate. And he began to implore their kindness; and they fell to weeping with him. Again he went on, and all the dwellers in hell ran to meet him, and fetched him to their king; and all began to speak with him and join in his prayer. And the ever-moving wheel, that Ixion king of the Leuitas (Lapithae) was bound to for his guilt, stood still for his harping, and King Tantalus, that was in this world greedy beyond measure, and whom that same sin of greed followed there, had rest, and the vulture, it is said, left off tearing the liver of King Ticcius (Tityus), whom he had thus been punishing. And all the dwellers in hell had rest from their tortures whilst he was harping before the king. Now when he had played a long, long time, the king of hell’s folk cried out, saying, ‘Let us give the good man his wife, for he hath won her with his harping.’ Then he bade him be sure never to look back once he was on his way thence; if he looked back, he said, he should forfeit his wife. But love may hardly, nay, cannot be denied! Alas and well-a-day! Orpheus led his wife along with him, until he came to the border of light and darkness, and his wife was close behind. He had but stepped into the light when he looked back towards his wife, and immediately she was lost to him.
These fables teach every man that would flee from the darkness of hell and come to the light of the True Goodness that he should not look towards his old sins, so as again to commit them as fully as he once did. For whosoever with entire will turneth his mind back to the sins he hath left, and then doeth them and taketh full pleasure in them, and never after thinketh of forsaking them, that man shall lose all his former goodness, unless he repent.
Here endeth the third book of Boethius and beginneth the fourth.
[P. 108. ]How then can any man, &c. Alfred has mistaken the sense of the Latin, Nam cur rogati sponte recta censetis. Also Plato’s doctrine is summarized by Boethius in the words Quod quisque discit, immemor recordatur.
[P. 109. ]Alfred continually plays on the words ‘God’ and ‘good,’ which were often written alike in Anglo-Saxon, though pronounced differently, ‘God’ having probably its modern pronunciation, and ‘good’ approximately the modern pronunciation of ‘goad.’
[P. 112. ]The word used by Alfred for giants is gigantes, whereas we might have expected an equivalent word taken from Germanic legend. In the Beowulf, however, the word gigant occurs.
[P. 115. ]Parmenides, as quoted by Plato in the Timaeus, said that the divine substance was ‘like a massive perfect sphere.’ Alfred was probably misled by a Latin gloss immediately following the Greek words.