Boethius, Theta and Pi
I have just made my usual Thursday posting over on the ACS blogg - today I glanced at the very famous The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
This book I first saw mentioned about 20 years ago, in a fraternity magazine from the 1950s or 60s, at a time when I was busy with - uh - fraternity matters. It is an amazing and powerful book, relevant to far more than even Greek college societies - or it should be.
Stored away in a mystical file in a little-used part of my disk, long forgotten and collecting e-dust, is a small collection of excerpts from this wonderful book. I e-blew off the e-dust, looked it over, and thought it would do good to give you a taste of this important book.
Excerpts from The Consolation of Philosophy
by Boethius, translated by W. V. Cooper.
Written by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524 A.D.) while in prison awaiting execution, The Consolation of Philosophy is a dialog between the author and the personification of Philosophy, treating such topics as the being and nature of God, providence, and fate, the origin of the universe, the freedom of the will and the transitoriness of earthly greatness.
[From the back cover]
(Philosophy approaches Boethius; the form of her appearance is allegorical.)
[In these first excerpts, the "I" is Boethius.]
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 color 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 inwoven the symbol P, on that above was to be read a Q.
[At this point a footnote reads: P and Q are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of Philosophy.]
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.
... 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 recognized 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 be harried, the victim of false charges?
[in the following excerpts, the "I" is Philosophy herself.]
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 the 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 dangers among men of shameless ways?
...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 it is 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 mad marauders, and we are defended by that rampart to which riotous folly may not hope to attain...
[Wow. This strongly reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth. -- Dr. T.]
...It is not the walls of your library, decked with ivory and glass, that I need, but rather the resting-place in your heart, wherein I have not stored books, but I have of old put that which gives value to books, a store of thoughts from books of mine...
...Now I know the cause, or the chief cause, of your sickness. You have forgotten what you are... You do not know the aim and end of all things... You have forgotten by what methods the universe is guided... But let us thank the Giver of all health, that you nature has not altogether left you. We have yet the chief spark for your health's fire, for you have a true knowledge of the hand that guides the universe; you do believe that its government is not subject to random chance, but to divine reason. Therefore have no fear. From this tiny spark the fire of life shall forthwith shine upon you...