Consolation Of Philosophy

Boethius (ca. 523 c.e.) The Consolation of Philosophy is a complex work that connects Greek and Roman thought to the medieval period and had significant influence throughout the medieval times on writers such as Thomas Aquinas, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante, and Giovanni Boccaccio. The work has been translated numerous times and into many languages. Chaucer's translation, entitled Boece, used only prose, rather than alternating prose and poetic forms. Queen Elizabeth I also translated The Consolation of Philosophy, perhaps as an intellectual exercise or possibly to seek her own consolation at a difficult period in her life. Regardless of the reasons for the numerous translations and references, the impact of The Consolation remains beyond question.

Boethius wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while imprisoned and facing execution for an apparently unfounded charge of treason against Emperor The-odoric. The Consolation is prosimetric in style—that is, it alternates verse and prose—and sets forth a conversation between Boethius and Lady Philosophy concerning the poet's ill fortune, the problem of evil in the world, and the existence of free will.

Book 1 begins with a verse in which Boethius bemoans his current ill fortune and sorrowful state. Lady Philosophy enters and casts the muses from his room, indicating that Boethius has "forgotten himself" but will be able to remember himself again if he is able to return to wisdom. Lady Philosophy promises to "remove the obscurity of deceitful affections" so that Boethius may "behold the splendour of true light."

In book 2, Lady Philosophy sets forth a critique of Boethius's current state of affairs. She concludes that Fortune, which has smiled mightily on Boethius, is necessarily fleeting and inconstant. Furthermore, she states, riches, prosperity, fame, glory, pleasure, and power are not the source of true happiness.

Book 3 turns to a discussion of true happiness. Lady Philosophy spends the first half of this book describing why no "temporal thing" can achieve or even contribute to true happiness. Perfect goodness and unity are identical and identified in God, who is perfect goodness, unity, and blessedness. Lady Philosophy then asserts that God cannot do evil and, that being the case, evil itself is nothing.

The assertion that God cannot do evil brings Boethius to articulate his "chief sorrow," which is that evil appears to both exist and to exist unpunished. Book 4 focuses on the question of why God permits evil. In order to address this question, Lady Philosophy distinguishes between Fate and Providence. Fate is the changeable and temporal order of things, whereas Providence is the unmovable and simple form of God's understanding. At the end of book 4, Lady Philosophy concludes that everything that seems evil is in fact intended to exercise, correct, or punish.

Book 5 begins with Boethius asking whether or not in the view of Lady Philosophy there is such a thing as chance. she replies that some actions appear as chance but are in fact guided by Providence. Boethius then asks if human beings have free will. Lady Philosophy replies that those who use reason have judgment, and we are free to the degree that we are in possession of reason. Boethius remains unsatisfied and asks for a fuller accounting to reconcile God's foreknowledge with human free will. In the end, Lady Philosophy asserts that foreknowledge is not a necessity from the divine perspective, as God does not reside in a temporal universe. In the same manner that a human being may observe an action and that observation does not "cause" the action, God exists in a "never fading instant," a constant present, and thus foresight does not imply necessity and free will exists from a temporal, human perspective. The Consolation of Philosophy ends with an exhortation to pursue virtue and avoid evil since we all live in the sight of a Judge who "beholdeth all things."

Many commentators have wondered why Boethius, to all appearances a Christian, would turn to the nonChristian representation of Lady Philosophy at the end of his life. Some have found in this fact reason to question his religious orientation; others have seen in the work an attempt to illustrate the compatibility of reason and faith within religion. still others have argued that Lady Philosophy fails to respond to Boethius's final question about free will, and then provides a weak consolation to Boethius, implying through silence the primacy of faith. In the end, The Consolation of Philosophy resists simplistic interpretation, as is perhaps fitting for a work occupying such a pivotal position between ancient and medieval times.

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