The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
BOOK I
?To pleasant songs my work was erstwhile given, and bright were all my labours then; but now
in tears to sad refrains am I compelled to turn. Thus my maimed Muses guide my pen, and gloomy
songs make no feigned tears bedew my face. Then could no fear so overcome to leave me
companionless upon my way. They were the pride of my earlier bright-lived days: in my later
gloomy days they are the comfort of my fate; for hastened by unhappiness has age come upon me
without warning, and grief hath set within me the old age of her gloom. White hairs are scattered
untimely on my head, and the skin hangs loosely from my worn-out limbs.
?Happy is that death which thrusts not itself upon men in their pleasant years, yet comes to them
at the oft-repeated cry of their sorrow. Sad is it how death turns away from the unhappy with so
2
deaf an ear, and will not close, cruel, the eyes that weep. Ill is it to trust to Fortune?s fickle bounty,
and while yet she smiled upon me, the hour of gloom had well-nigh overwhelmed my head. Now
has the cloud put off its alluring face, wherefore without scruple my life drags out its wearying
delays.
?Why, O my friends, did ye so often puff me up, telling me that I was fortunate? For he that is
fallen low did never firmly stand.?
While I was pondering thus in silence, and using my pen to set down so tearful a complaint,
there appeared standing over my head a woman?s form, whose countenance was full of majesty,
whose eyes shone as with fire and in power of insight surpassed the eyes of men, whose colour
was full of life, whose strength was yet intact though she was so full of years that none would ever
think that she was subject to such age as ours. One could but doubt her varying stature, for at one
moment she repressed it to the common measure of a man, at another she seemed to touch with her
crown the very heavens: and when she had raised higher her head, it pierced even the sky and
baffled the sight of those who would look upon it. Her clothing was wrought of the finest thread
by subtle workmanship brought to an indivisible piece. This had she woven with her own hands,
as I afterwards did learn by her own shewing. Their beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dulness
of long neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. On the border below was
3
inwoven the symbol ?, on that above was to be read a T1
And between the two letters there could
be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, ascent might be made from the lower
principle to the higher. Yet the hands of rough men had torn this garment and snatched such morsels
as they could therefrom. In her right hand she carried books, in her left was a sceptre brandished.
When she saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting,
she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, ?Who has suffered these seducing
mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies,
but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing
harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease,
1
? and T are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy.
2
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
but accustom them thereto. I would think it less grievous if your allurements drew away from me
some uninitiated man, as happens in the vulgar herd. In such an one my labours would be naught
harmed, but this man has been nourished in the lore of Eleatics and Academics; and to him have
ye reached? Away with you, Sirens, seductive unto destruction! leave him to my Muses to be cared
for and to be healed.?
4
Their band thus rated cast a saddened glance upon the ground, confessing their shame in blushes,
and passed forth dismally over the threshold. For my part, my eyes were dimmed with tears, and I
could not discern who was this woman of such commanding power. I was amazed, and turning my
eyes to the ground I began in silence to await what she should do. Then she approached nearer and
sat down upon the end of my couch: she looked into my face heavy with grief and cast down by
sorrow to the ground, and then she raised her complaint over the trouble of my mind in these words.
?Ah me! how blunted grows the mind when sunk below the o?erwhelming flood! Its own true
light no longer burns within, and it would break forth to outer dark nesses. How often care, when
fanned by earthly winds, grows to a larger and unmeasured bane. This man has been free to the
open heaven: his habit has it been to wander into the paths of the sky: his to watch the light of the
bright sun, his to inquire into the brightness of the chilly moon; he, like a conqueror, held fast bound
in its order every star that makes its wandering circle, turning its peculiar course. Nay, more, deeply
has he searched into the springs of nature, whence came the roaring blasts that ruffle the ocean?s
bosom calm: what is the spirit that makes the firmament revolve; wherefore does the evening star
5
sink into the western wave but to rise from the radiant East; what is the cause which so tempers
the season of Spring that it decks the earth with rose-blossoms; whence comes it to pass that Autumn
is prolific in the years of plenty and overflows with teeming vines: deeply to search these causes
was his wont, and to bring forth secrets deep in Nature hid.
?Now he lies there; extinct his reason?s light, his neck in heavy chains thrust down, his
countenance with grievous weight downcast; ah! the brute earth is all he can behold.
?But now,? said she, ?is the time for the physician?s art, rather than for complaining.? Then
fixing her eyes wholly on me, she said, ?Are you the man who was nourished upon the milk of my
learning, brought up with my food until you had won you r way to the power of a manly soul?
Surely I had given you such weapons as would keep you safe, and your strength unconquered; if
you had not thrown them away. Do you know me? Why do you keep silence? Are you dumb from
shame or from dull amazement? I would it were from shame, but I see that amazement has
overwhelmed you.?
When she saw that I was not only silent, but utterly tongue-tied and dumb, she put her hand
gently upon my breast, and said, ?There is no danger: he is suffering from drowsiness, that disease
which attacks so many minds which have been deceived. He has forgotten himself for a moment
6
and will quickly remember, as soon as he recognises me. That he may do so, l et me brush away
from his eyes the darkening cloud of thoughts of matters perishable.? So saying, she gathered her
robe into a fold and dried my swimming eyes.
3
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
Then was dark night dispelled, the shadows fled away, and my eyes received returning power
as before. ?Twas just as when the heavenly bodies are enveloped by the west wind?s rush, and the
sky stands thick with watery clouds; the sun is hidden and the stars are not yet come into the sky,
and night descending from above o?erspreads the earth: but if the north wind smites this scene,
launched forth from the Thracian cave, it unlocks the imprisoned daylight; the sun shines forth,
and thus sparkling Phoebus smites with his rays our wondering eyes.
In such a manner were the clouds of grief scattered. Then I drew breath again and engaged my
mind in taking knowledge of my physician?s countenance. So when I turned my eyes towards her
and fixed my gaze upon her, I recognised my nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent
my life from earliest manhood. And I asked her, ?Wherefore have you, mistress of all virtues, come
down from heaven above to visit my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, may
7
be harried, the victim of false charges?? ?Should I,? said she, ?desert you, my nursling? Should I
not share and bear my part of the burden which has been laid upon you from spite against my name?
Surely Philosophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their journey unbefriended.
Think you I would fear calumnies? that I would be terrified as though they were a new misfortune?
Think you that this is the first time that wisdom has been harassed by d angers among men of
shameless ways? In ancient days before the time of my child, Plato, have we not as well as nowadays
fought many a mighty battle against the recklessness of folly? And though Plato did survive, did
not his master, Socrates, win hi s victory of an unjust death, with me present at his side? When
after him the followers of Epicurus, and in turn the Stoics, and then others did all try their utmost
to seize his legacy, they dragged me, for all my cries and struggles, as though to s hare me as
plunder; they tore my robe which I had woven with mine own hands, and snatched away the
fragments thereof: and when they thought I had altogether yielded myself to them, they departed.
And since among them were to be seen certain signs of my outward bearing, others ill-advised did
think they wore my livery: thus were many of them undone by the errors of the herd of uninitiated.
8
But if you have not heard of the exile of Anaxagoras,2 nor the poison drunk by Socrates,3
nor the
torture of Zeno,4
which all were of foreign lands, yet you may know of Canius,5
Seneca,6
and
Soranus,7
whose fame is neither small nor passing old. Naught else brought them to ruin but that,
being built up in my ways, they appeared at variance with the desires of unscrupulous men. So it
is no matter for your wonder if, in this sea of life, we are tossed about by storms from all sides; for
to oppose evil men is the chief aim we set before ourselves. Though the band of such men is great
in numbers, yet is it to be contemned: for it is guided by no leader, but is hurried along at random
only by error running riot everywhere. If this band when warring against us presses too strongly
upon us, our leader, Reason, gathers her forces into her citadel, while the enemy are busied in
plundering useless baggage. As they seize the most worthless things, we laugh at them from above,
untroubled by the whole band of m ad marauders, and we are defended by that rampart to which
riotous folly may not hope to attain.
2 Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C. 3 Socrates was executed by the Athenian state, B.C. 399. 4 Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrant of Elea, about 440 B.C. 5 Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D. 40. 6 Seneca was driven to commit suicide by Nero, A.D. 66. 7 Soranus was condemned to death by Nero, A.D. 66.
4
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius

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The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
BOOK I
?To pleasant songs my work was erstwhile given, and bright were all my labours then; but now
in tears to sad refrains am I compelled to turn. Thus my maimed Muses guide my pen, and gloomy
songs make no feigned tears bedew my face. Then could no fear so overcome to leave me
companionless upon my way. They were the pride of my earlier bright-lived days: in my later
gloomy days they are the comfort of my fate; for hastened by unhappiness has age come upon me
without warning, and grief hath set within me the old age of her gloom. White hairs are scattered
untimely on my head, and the skin hangs loosely from my worn-out limbs.
?Happy is that death which thrusts not itself upon men in their pleasant years, yet comes to them
at the oft-repeated cry of their sorrow. Sad is it how death turns away from the unhappy with so
2
deaf an ear, and will not close, cruel, the eyes that weep. Ill is it to trust to Fortune?s fickle bounty,
and while yet she smiled upon me, the hour of gloom had well-nigh overwhelmed my head. Now
has the cloud put off its alluring face, wherefore without scruple my life drags out its wearying
delays.
?Why, O my friends, did ye so often puff me up, telling me that I was fortunate? For he that is
fallen low did never firmly stand.?
While I was pondering thus in silence, and using my pen to set down so tearful a complaint,
there appeared standing over my head a woman?s form, whose countenance was full of majesty,
whose eyes shone as with fire and in power of insight surpassed the eyes of men, whose colour
was full of life, whose strength was yet intact though she was so full of years that none would ever
think that she was subject to such age as ours. One could but doubt her varying stature, for at one
moment she repressed it to the common measure of a man, at another she seemed to touch with her
crown the very heavens: and when she had raised higher her head, it pierced even the sky and
baffled the sight of those who would look upon it. Her clothing was wrought of the finest thread
by subtle workmanship brought to an indivisible piece. This had she woven with her own hands,
as I afterwards did learn by her own shewing. Their beauty was somewhat dimmed by the dulness
of long neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. On the border below was
3
inwoven the symbol ?, on that above was to be read a T1
And between the two letters there could
be marked degrees, by which, as by the rungs of a ladder, ascent might be made from the lower
principle to the higher. Yet the hands of rough men had torn this garment and snatched such morsels
as they could therefrom. In her right hand she carried books, in her left was a sceptre brandished.
When she saw that the Muses of poetry were present by my couch giving words to my lamenting,
she was stirred a while; her eyes flashed fiercely, and said she, ?Who has suffered these seducing
mummers to approach this sick man? Never do they support those in sorrow by any healing remedies,
but rather do ever foster the sorrow by poisonous sweets. These are they who stifle the fruit-bearing
harvest of reason with the barren briars of the passions: they free not the minds of men from disease,
1
? and T are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy.
2
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
but accustom them thereto. I would think it less grievous if your allurements drew away from me
some uninitiated man, as happens in the vulgar herd. In such an one my labours would be naught
harmed, but this man has been nourished in the lore of Eleatics and Academics; and to him have
ye reached? Away with you, Sirens, seductive unto destruction! leave him to my Muses to be cared
for and to be healed.?
4
Their band thus rated cast a saddened glance upon the ground, confessing their shame in blushes,
and passed forth dismally over the threshold. For my part, my eyes were dimmed with tears, and I
could not discern who was this woman of such commanding power. I was amazed, and turning my
eyes to the ground I began in silence to await what she should do. Then she approached nearer and
sat down upon the end of my couch: she looked into my face heavy with grief and cast down by
sorrow to the ground, and then she raised her complaint over the trouble of my mind in these words.
?Ah me! how blunted grows the mind when sunk below the o?erwhelming flood! Its own true
light no longer burns within, and it would break forth to outer dark nesses. How often care, when
fanned by earthly winds, grows to a larger and unmeasured bane. This man has been free to the
open heaven: his habit has it been to wander into the paths of the sky: his to watch the light of the
bright sun, his to inquire into the brightness of the chilly moon; he, like a conqueror, held fast bound
in its order every star that makes its wandering circle, turning its peculiar course. Nay, more, deeply
has he searched into the springs of nature, whence came the roaring blasts that ruffle the ocean?s
bosom calm: what is the spirit that makes the firmament revolve; wherefore does the evening star
5
sink into the western wave but to rise from the radiant East; what is the cause which so tempers
the season of Spring that it decks the earth with rose-blossoms; whence comes it to pass that Autumn
is prolific in the years of plenty and overflows with teeming vines: deeply to search these causes
was his wont, and to bring forth secrets deep in Nature hid.
?Now he lies there; extinct his reason?s light, his neck in heavy chains thrust down, his
countenance with grievous weight downcast; ah! the brute earth is all he can behold.
?But now,? said she, ?is the time for the physician?s art, rather than for complaining.? Then
fixing her eyes wholly on me, she said, ?Are you the man who was nourished upon the milk of my
learning, brought up with my food until you had won you r way to the power of a manly soul?
Surely I had given you such weapons as would keep you safe, and your strength unconquered; if
you had not thrown them away. Do you know me? Why do you keep silence? Are you dumb from
shame or from dull amazement? I would it were from shame, but I see that amazement has
overwhelmed you.?
When she saw that I was not only silent, but utterly tongue-tied and dumb, she put her hand
gently upon my breast, and said, ?There is no danger: he is suffering from drowsiness, that disease
which attacks so many minds which have been deceived. He has forgotten himself for a moment
6
and will quickly remember, as soon as he recognises me. That he may do so, l et me brush away
from his eyes the darkening cloud of thoughts of matters perishable.? So saying, she gathered her
robe into a fold and dried my swimming eyes.
3
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius
Then was dark night dispelled, the shadows fled away, and my eyes received returning power
as before. ?Twas just as when the heavenly bodies are enveloped by the west wind?s rush, and the
sky stands thick with watery clouds; the sun is hidden and the stars are not yet come into the sky,
and night descending from above o?erspreads the earth: but if the north wind smites this scene,
launched forth from the Thracian cave, it unlocks the imprisoned daylight; the sun shines forth,
and thus sparkling Phoebus smites with his rays our wondering eyes.
In such a manner were the clouds of grief scattered. Then I drew breath again and engaged my
mind in taking knowledge of my physician?s countenance. So when I turned my eyes towards her
and fixed my gaze upon her, I recognised my nurse, Philosophy, in whose chambers I had spent
my life from earliest manhood. And I asked her, ?Wherefore have you, mistress of all virtues, come
down from heaven above to visit my lonely place of banishment? Is it that you, as well as I, may
7
be harried, the victim of false charges?? ?Should I,? said she, ?desert you, my nursling? Should I
not share and bear my part of the burden which has been laid upon you from spite against my name?
Surely Philosophy never allowed herself to let the innocent go upon their journey unbefriended.
Think you I would fear calumnies? that I would be terrified as though they were a new misfortune?
Think you that this is the first time that wisdom has been harassed by d angers among men of
shameless ways? In ancient days before the time of my child, Plato, have we not as well as nowadays
fought many a mighty battle against the recklessness of folly? And though Plato did survive, did
not his master, Socrates, win hi s victory of an unjust death, with me present at his side? When
after him the followers of Epicurus, and in turn the Stoics, and then others did all try their utmost
to seize his legacy, they dragged me, for all my cries and struggles, as though to s hare me as
plunder; they tore my robe which I had woven with mine own hands, and snatched away the
fragments thereof: and when they thought I had altogether yielded myself to them, they departed.
And since among them were to be seen certain signs of my outward bearing, others ill-advised did
think they wore my livery: thus were many of them undone by the errors of the herd of uninitiated.
8
But if you have not heard of the exile of Anaxagoras,2 nor the poison drunk by Socrates,3
nor the
torture of Zeno,4
which all were of foreign lands, yet you may know of Canius,5
Seneca,6
and
Soranus,7
whose fame is neither small nor passing old. Naught else brought them to ruin but that,
being built up in my ways, they appeared at variance with the desires of unscrupulous men. So it
is no matter for your wonder if, in this sea of life, we are tossed about by storms from all sides; for
to oppose evil men is the chief aim we set before ourselves. Though the band of such men is great
in numbers, yet is it to be contemned: for it is guided by no leader, but is hurried along at random
only by error running riot everywhere. If this band when warring against us presses too strongly
upon us, our leader, Reason, gathers her forces into her citadel, while the enemy are busied in
plundering useless baggage. As they seize the most worthless things, we laugh at them from above,
untroubled by the whole band of m ad marauders, and we are defended by that rampart to which
riotous folly may not hope to attain.
2 Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C. 3 Socrates was executed by the Athenian state, B.C. 399. 4 Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrant of Elea, about 440 B.C. 5 Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D. 40. 6 Seneca was driven to commit suicide by Nero, A.D. 66. 7 Soranus was condemned to death by Nero, A.D. 66.
4
The Consolation of Philosophy Boethius

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *