Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXVII - The Consolation of Philosophy
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XXXVII - 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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AFTER Philosophy had uttered this discourse, she began again to sing, and these were her words:
‘Hear now a tale of overproud and unrighteous kings. These we see seated on high seats; they are bright with many kinds of raiment, and are girt about with a great company of their thanes, who are decked with belts and golden-hilted swords and war dress of many kinds, threatening all mankind with their grandeur. And he that ruleth them recketh no more of friend or foe than doth a mad hound, but is unspeakably uplifted in mind by reason of his boundless power. But if thou strip off his clothes, and take away from him his company of thanes and his power, then shalt thou see that he is most like one of the thanes that minister unto him, if he be not even baser. And if it befall him that for a time he is reft of his servants, and his apparel, and his power, then it seemeth to himthat he is brought to a dungeon or put in chains. For out of unmeet and inordinate apparelling, out of dainty meats and diverse drinks, the raging frenzy of lewd desire awakeneth and confoundeth men’s minds grievously. Then spring up also pride and frowardness; and, when they are swollen up, the mind is lashed with the surge of hot passion, until a man is bound about with gloom of soul, and held prisoner. When this hath come to pass, then the hope of revenge beginneth its lying tale to him, and his reckless mood promiseth whatsoever his passion craveth. I have already told thee in this very book that all creatures desire by their nature some good; but the unrighteous kings can do no good, for the reason I have just given thee. No marvel is it, for they put themselves in thraldom to all the sins I have already spoken of to thee. Such a one must obey the doom of those lords to whom he hath given himself over, and, what is worse, he will not even struggle against it. If he would but make a beginning, and should be unable afterwards to keep up the struggle, then would he bear no blame for it.’
P. 129. When Philosophy had sung this lay, she began again to discourse, and spake on this wise: ‘Dost thou now see in how great and deep and dark an abyss of sins men of evil desires are sunk, and how the good shine brighter than the sun? For the good are never kept out of the rewards of their goodness, nor the wicked out of the punishments they earn. This is not at all unjust; even as once it was the custom of the Romans,and still is among many peoples, for a golden crown to be hung up at the end of a race-course; many men come together and all start level, as many as put their trust in their running. And whosoever first reaches the crown may have it for himself. Each one desires to be first and have it, but it belongs to one only. So do all mankind in this present life; they run and hasten, longing for the Highest Good, which, however, is not allotted to one single man, but to all men. Therefore it behoves every man to hasten with all his might after the prize; for from no good man shall it ever be withheld. He cannot rightly be called a good man who is deprived of the highest good, for no good quality fails to get good reward. Let the wicked do what they may, the crown of good meed shall be held by the good everlastingly. No evil deed of the wicked can rob the good of their goodness and their beauty; but if these had their goodness outside themselves they could be stripped of it either by him who once gave it them or by some other. A good man shall lose his reward when he shall lose his goodness. Understand therefore that to every man good meed is given by his own goodness—the goodness, that is, which is within him. What wise man will say that any good man is deprived of the highest good, because he is ever striving thereafter? But bear thou ever in mind the great and goodly Reward, for it is to be loved beyond all other rewards, and add it to the afore-mentioned kinds of good that I told thee of in the third book. When they are all brought together, then mayest thou conceive that Happiness and the Highest Good are one and the same thing, even God. Then shalt thou also be able to perceive that every good man is blessed, and all blessed men are gods, and have eternal meed of their goodness.
‘For these reasons no man need doubt that the wicked have likewise eternal meed of their wickedness, to wit, everlasting punishment. Though thou mayest think one or other of them happy here as the world goes, yet he hath ever his evil with him, and also the reward of his evil, so long as he takes pleasure therein. There is no wise man but knows that good and evil are ever at strife together, and diverse in purpose, and even as the good man’s goodness is his own good and his own meed, so also is the wicked man’s wickedness his own evil, his own reward, and his own punishment. No man doubts that if he have punishment he has evil. Why do the wicked hope to escape their punishment, being full of every wickedness? Not only are they filled therewith, but well-nigh brought to nothingness. Understand therefore by the case of the good how great the punishment the wicked always suffer, and listen to yet another example, while holding fast to that which I have already told thee. We say that everything that forms a single whole exists so long as it is one, and this united state we call good. For example, a man is a man so long as soul and body hold together; when they are parted he is no longer what he was before. Thou mayest perceive the same thing in the case of the body and its members; if any one of the members be missing, then there is not a perfect manas there was before. Furthermore, if any good man depart from goodness he is no longer quite good if he altogether depart therefrom. Hence it comes to pass that the wicked forsake that which they once did, and yet are not what they were before. But when they forsake what is good and become evil, then they become as nothing and have no likeness to anything. We can see that they once were men, but they have lost the best part of their man’s nature and kept the worst. They part with what is naturally good, to wit, the attributes of man, and yet keep the likeness of men as long as life lasts.
‘But even as men’s goodness exalts them above the nature of men so that they are called gods, so also their wickedness drags them down beneath the nature of man so that they are called evil, and of evil we say that no such thing exists. If, therefore, thou meet a man grown so vile as to have turned from good to evil, thou canst not rightly call him a man, but a beast. If thou observe that a man is greedy and a robber, thou shalt not call him man, but wolf; and the fierce and froward thou shalt call hound, not man. The false and crafty thou shalt call fox, not man; him that is beyond measure savage and wrathful and over-passionate, thou shalt name lion, not man. The lazy one that is too slow, thou shalt call ass rather than man; and the over-timid one that is afraid more than he need be, thou mayest call hare rather than man. To the unsteady and frivolous thou mayest say that he is more like to the wind or the restless fowls of the air than to a steady-going man; and to him whom thou perceivest wallowing in his carnal lusts thou mayest say that he is most like unto fat swine that love always to lie in foul pools, and never care to wash themselves in clean water. When they are now and again made to bathe, they rush back afterwards to their filth and wallow in it.’
[P. 129. ]As once it was the custom of the Romans, &c. The Latin words are uti currendi in stadio, propter quam curritur, iacet praemium coronae.