The Consolation of Philosophy

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The Consolation of Philosophy — Boethius | Harvard University Press

Now the "honorable" Basilius and Opilio were saying that Boethius had treasonous designs. Boethius was locked up in Pavia three hundred miles from Rome while a sentence was passed against him and confirmed by the Senate, probably under pressure from Theodoric. In a strong cord was tied so tightly around his head that his eyes bulged out; then he was beaten with a club until he died. Shortly after that his father-in-law, the senator Symmachus, was taken from Rome to Ravenna and also executed.

The historian Procopius wrote how Theodoric was stricken with guilt soon after this when the head of a large fish was served him, reminding him of the head of Symmachus. Terrified he caught a chill, which piles of blankets could not smother.

He lamented the wrongs he had done against Symmachus and Boethius and died in The Pi and Theta represent the first letters of Greek words describing philosophy from the practical to the theoretical. The Eleatic school of philosophy was founded by Parmenides a little before Socrates and emphasized the unity of being. The Academics were those who studied at the Academy founded by Plato.

The Epicureans followed the philosophy of Epicurus BC which believed in maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Anaxagoras was condemned for impiety and exiled from Athens about BC. Socrates was executed by the Athenians in BC. Zeno of Elea was tortured for challenging the tyranny of Nearchus about BC. Canius was executed by Caligula in 40 CE. Seneca was forced to commit suicide by Nero in 65 CE, and Soranus was condemned to death by Nero in For ordering information, please click here.

I Songs which once I wrote in flourishing description, tearful, alas, I am forced to form into gloomy measures. Look how the torn Muses dictate to me writing, and elegies bathe my face with real tears. Not even terror could overcome these from proceeding as our companions along the way. Once the glory of my happy and green youth, they now console my fate of gloomy old age.

For hurried unexpected age comes with evils, and sorrow has ordered her time to come in. From the head unseasonable gray hairs are spreading, and slack skin trembles on an exhausted body.

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Human death is lucky which in sweet years itself does not intrude and comes when often called by sorrows. Alas, how it turns aside the wretched by a deaf ear and cruelly refuses to close weeping eyes! While fortune may have favored by wrong trust in easy goods a sad hour nearly overwhelmed my head; now because the clouds have changed their deceitful face vicious life is dragged out by unwelcome delays. Why did you so often consider me happy, friends? Whoever has fallen, that one was not in a steady position. For at one time she held herself to common human measure, while at another time in height she actually seemed to strike the heaven of the highest summit; which when her head was raised higher even penetrated heaven and was frustrating the observation of the humans looking.

Her clothes with the finest threads were by delicate skill from the imperishable material of perfection, which, as I have since learned from her coming out, she wove herself with her own hands; just as it usually does smoky pictures, a kind of fog of neglected antiquity covered their form. On the lowest border of these a Greek Pi was embroidered, while on the highest a Theta could be read, and between both letters could be seen in the manner of stairs a kind of marked grade, by which the ascent should be from the lower to the higher element.

However the hands of some violent ones had torn this dress and had taken away whatever particulars each could. At any rate in her right hand were books, while in the left she was carrying a scepter. When she saw the poetic Muses standing by our bed and dictating words for my tears, upset for a little while and inflamed with wild lights: "Who," she asked, "allowed the actress harlots to approach this sick person? These sorrows not only have not encouraged any cures, but they actually nourish them further with sweet drugs.

For these are the ones who with the unproductive thorns of passion kill the fertile crop of reason with its fruits and accustom human minds to stress; they do not liberate. But rather depart, Sirens pleasant all the way into ruin, and leave him to caring and healing by my Muses. But I, whose sight immersed by tears may have been dimmed so that I could not distinguish who this woman of such imperious authority might be, was astounded, and I fixed my sight on the earth to wait in silence for what action would begin next.

Then personally approaching she sat down on the farthest part of my bed and observing my face heavy from mourning and so cast down by gloom, about the disturbance of our mind the complaint is in these verses: II "Alas, how immersed in the deep of the ruined a mind is dull and by proper light abandoned stretches to go into external darkness as often as it is enlarged by terrestrial breezes guilty care arises in immensity!

The Consolations of Philosophy

Once this one was free to the open heaven accustomed to going into ethereal movements he was perceiving the lights of the rosy sun, seeing the constellations of the cold moon and wherever a star winding practices its wandering returns through various orbits the victor was having counted with numbers; why and again from where do the noisy winds stir up causes from the sea's surface, what spirit turns the stable world or why does the western constellation on the wave falling rise red from the east, what in truth would moderate the calm hours so that it may adorn the land with rosy flowers, who gives so that in a full year the fertile autumn may flow into the loaded grapes it is the custom to examine and so to report various causes of a secret nature: now it is neglected by the exhausted light of the mind and the neck pressed by heavy chains and bearing under a burden the sloping face it is compelled, alas, to perceive the dull earth.

And yet we contributed retaliatory weapons which if you had not previously thrown away would have protected you with invincible firmness. Why are you silent? Have you been silenced by shame or by bewilderment? While it is not overtly a religious work, it contains aspects of Christian and Platonic belief, among others. It is neither Christian nor pagan. The Consolation has fallen out of wide favor over the past years or so, but its influence remains very strong within Medieval and Renaissance thinking; authors including Milton, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and many others up to and including Herman Melville were greatly influenced by it.

It is not an easy book for more secular modern readers to embrace, but it is well worth reading for the scope of its vision, its honest wrestling with issues that are still unanswered today, and an understanding of its influence on and appearance in the works of subsequent authors. This book, short in length but immeasurably deep in impact, was one of my nicest reading surprises in quite a while.

Boethius, a important Roman official sentenced to death on charges of which he maintained his innocence, wrote this beautiful book from his cell in about A. It is the account of his vision of, and subsequent dialog with, Lady Philosophy, who appeared to him while he was imprisoned. A This book, short in length but immeasurably deep in impact, was one of my nicest reading surprises in quite a while.

The Consolations of Philosophy (In Our Time)

Actually, it is a very profound book in which the Lady instructs and counsels Boethius about predestination, the problem of suffering, good vs. The poetry sections, though much earlier in history, made me think of Shakespeare, and the prose sections were equally lovely. I can easily see why this book is such a classic. A further delight was that I listened to the Audible version, with the rich voice and noble, theatrical accent of David Rintoul, a London-based Scottish born voice-over actor. Highly recommended!

Like if Augustine had taken a few too many dank rips from his neoplatonism bong. I suppose if I were on death row I too would write a self insert fanfic about my waifu. Apr 27, Cindy Rollins rated it really liked it Shelves: Because I had read so many of the books which were born out of Boethius's thoughts before reading this, I did not find this life-changing, but I am glad that I read it finally. It is good to go back and see where the stream started. May 11, Daria rated it it was ok. As other reviewers have mentioned, dead useful as a background text to medieval Western literature - because it was the background text of medieval Western literature.

It is clear and relatively easy to follow. As far as its consolatory abilities, I'm a little more dubious. The entire consolation hinges on the fact that God exists, and, well, if that foundation is shaky, then we can't say much about what's built upon it. Can it be read today with its original intentions? I found the sor As other reviewers have mentioned, dead useful as a background text to medieval Western literature - because it was the background text of medieval Western literature. I found the sort of evidence that Boethius gives to proves God's existence interesting: he says, well, things stay together, in their orbits, in their currents, rocks fall down and fire rises up; there must be some great thing keeping it all in check.

What would we call it today - the Strong Nuclear Force, maybe? Also I'm never exactly thrilled to read philosophical works - especially early philosophy - and I think, with the help of Victor Watts, I've realized why. Watts points out that the Platonic dialectic rests with treating words as if they have unchanging value, like the symbols of algebra or logic. But could anything be further from the truth? Chase Philosophy away, and bring back the Muses of poetry, I say; even if they do lull you into a stupor, it will be a sweet one.

Mar 10, Jesse Broussard rated it it was amazing Shelves: non-fiction , classic , world-class , poetry. How absolutely delightful: an honest use for Philosophy. Never again will I agree with Edward de Vere that there was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently: here is a man who endured a dungeon and finally an unjust death. Here is yet another example of the proof that "Wisdom infinite must form the best" world; if it took the torment of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius to create his magnum opus, which of us would deny that, if he must die, as he must, this method of his How absolutely delightful: an honest use for Philosophy.

Here is yet another example of the proof that "Wisdom infinite must form the best" world; if it took the torment of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius to create his magnum opus, which of us would deny that, if he must die, as he must, this method of his death was far superior to any other? Who among us could have known that a penalty that must be paid could be put to such an use as this? Lightly drifting from poetry into prose, carrying on a dialogue with Madame Philosophy, who appeared, as Dante's Virgil, to lead him through the darkened paths of his mind and reveal to him the causes of his torment, beginning with two: he had forgotten the end aim of all things, and he had forgotten what man truly is.

The journey is well worth taking. As a delightful aside: one of the earliest English translations of this book which has been translated into every European tongue , if not the earliest, was a paraphrase by none other than Chesterton's White Horse King, King Alfred the Great. This book is magnificent, and truly worth any price. Which is good, as Boethius paid a great one for it. Sep 04, Ron rated it really liked it Recommends it for: students of the Dark Ages. One of the most influential books of the Middle Ages, bridging the passing of classical culture and rise of Medieval Europe.

Invaluable aid to understanding the worldview of Medieval man.


For a scholarly analysis of what and how, refer to C. Paradoxically, another complementary text is Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, ISBN covering the same period when Boethius' influence was greatest though Cahill offers Augustine as One of the most influential books of the Middle Ages, bridging the passing of classical culture and rise of Medieval Europe.

Paradoxically, another complementary text is Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, ISBN covering the same period when Boethius' influence was greatest though Cahill offers Augustine as the pinnacle and depth of the lost culture and Ausunius the Poetas as the weary, wasted remains. I first heard of this book from the novel Confederacy of the Dunces, where the protagonist is obsessed with Boethius, and "sacred geometry". I picked up this translation, because of good reviews on its readability. As someone concerned mostly with the application of good advice to living, rather than technical study of the classics, I really enjoy a translation that focuses on communicating the content effectively and simply.

That being said, the first time I picked up this book, I finished abou I first heard of this book from the novel Confederacy of the Dunces, where the protagonist is obsessed with Boethius, and "sacred geometry". Eventually, I picked it up again while studying for the bar learning the technicalities of real property would make anyone want to seek consolation and I'm glad to have finished it.

Some consider Boethius the last of the Romans and the first of the medievals. He was an interesting figure living in an interesting time. He achieved the high rank of consul after the collapse of the Western Empire, and served as an adviser to King Theodoric. Due to some political scuffling possibly related to Boethius's opposition to Theodoric's Arianism, or Boethius's defense of the Senate , Boethius was thrown into prison and sentenced to death.

Boethius wrote Consolation in prison before he was executed. Consolation takes the framing device of 5 books, where Lady Philosophy comes to cure Boethius of his depression by teaching him about the nature of Good, Evil, and God. In-between the dialogue of Lady Philosophy and Boethius, Lady Philosophy sings allegorically, weaving in the classical Western tradition of the Greco-Roman world with references to the Illiad, and the names of the winds with Christianity.

Boethius was a scholar of both the classical Greco-Roman tradition and a devout Christian. Lady Philosophy appears with torn clothing, a result of both the Stoics and Epicureans fighting over her legacy. I liked in particular the clearly Stoic parts of Consolation. In particular, Lady Philosophy's extended discussion on how fame, office, and riches do not bring true happiness. Philosophy argues that the office does not bring virtue how could it when so many patently evil men have office?

Riches are supposed to allow a man to be self sufficient but ends up requiring a man to hire guards to protect his money and lawyers to sue on his behalf. Fame, is either useless to the soul after death, or even more useless if there is nothing after death. Philosophy reminds Boethius that even Rome is small compared to the world, and different cultures would view different conduct through different lenses. Instead, Philosophy argues that men should seek goodness, which she equates to happiness which by itself brings the lesser individual natures of fame, riches, and office.

Philosophy reminds Boethius not to trust Fortune, who spins her wheel. Sometimes Fortune favors someone, but that person should not forget Fortune's fickle nature and hold Fortune's gifts as their's permanently but a simple loan for the time being. There can be no complaint for losing something that really never was yours in the first place. Boethius's heavy Platonism is less appealing to me. Philosophy makes the classic Platonist argument good men are more powerful even evil men even if evil men hold more earthly power.

Since good men are more properly seeking goodness and happiness, they are actually more powerful than evil men. I find this kind of argument a bit heavy on rhetoric over strict logic or realism. It may appeal to some, perhaps they understand it better than I, or maybe my skeptical nature makes it harder have faith even in the things that are true.

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Philosophy also argues that seemingly evil events may actually be in God's plan for goodness, and not to assign too quickly labels of good and bad to events because of our limited ability to foresee all the consequences of the great chain of events. I really enjoyed the last book's discussion on free will. Boethius is worried that there can be no free will since God knows all. If all is ordained to be knowable to God, punishments and rewards are arbitrary and capricious. Philosophy explains, by analogy that higher beings have more senses to perceive. Philosophy argues that God perceives time differently than humans, seeing all that there was, is, and to be at once.

This solution really blew my mind, and makes me glad that I returned and finished the work and makes me wonder if Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five was at all inspired by this. In short, there are a few reasons to read Consolations. First, it should be read because it sits at the cross road of so many traditions, the Greco-Roman classics, Christianity, Platonism, and Stoicism.

Reading the book is almost like a survey of the "greats". Second, Consolation itself has went on to become highly influential. By existing copies, it was one of the most popular medieval manuscripts. Finally, the work stands on its own as a tranquil and deep reflection of the nature of Good, Evil, and man's place in the universe.

It's really quite amazing what Boethius produced alone in prison to console himself. I would bet that it has consoled many during moments of doubt and despair and it will console many in the future. If not for the substantive arguments in the book which are considerable , one can always be inspired by Boethius's resilience to his own suffering, never despairing but still hoping that the universe is orderly and fair.

The least I could say is that I know I was. Dec 09, Tyler Jones rated it liked it Shelves: philosophy. I'm not a great student of philosophy, but even I can see Boethius made some rather large errors in logic. As a result the conclusions he came to are sometimes a little ridiculous. This is the kind of thinking that Voltaire would make cat food of many centuries later. Still, as a window to the intellectual mind of the citizen of the middle ages, this book is valuable, and it may even serve to illustrate many philosophical mistakes we continue to make today.

Feb 11, Noah Goats rated it really liked it. I first became aware of this book when I read A Confederacy of Dunces years and years ago. It's Ignatius Reilly's favorite book and he references Fortuna and her wheel several times. He was both a victim of Rome's collapse and a light of philosophy whose work had a powerful influence throughout the dark ages. Boethius wrote this book as he languished in prison he would eventually be brutally executed , and it is his attempt to bring comfort to himself in his darkest hours.

The book begins by addressing the fickleness of fortune and arguing that it is a mistake to find happiness in worldly success. It is in doing good that we find happiness. Boethius goes on to discuss the nature of God and the possibility of free will, and even though I was frequently unconvinced by his arguments I always found them interesting.

This book was a pure pleasure to read. Engaging and winsome, Boethius filters Plato and Aristotle through a medieval, Christian lens. I don't know why I hadn't gotten around to reading it before now. For the benefit of his Latin readers, his genius submitted to teach the first elements of the arts and sciences of Greece.

The geometry of Euclid, the music of Pythagoras, the arithmetic of Nicomachus, the mechanics of Archimedes, the astronomy of Ptolemy, the theology of Plato, and the logic of Aristotle, with the commentary of Porphyry, were translated and illustrated by the indefatigable pen of the Roman senator. While Boethius, oppressed with fetters, expected each moment the sentence or the For the benefit of his Latin readers, his genius submitted to teach the first elements of the arts and sciences of Greece.

While Boethius, oppressed with fetters, expected each moment the sentence or the stroke of death, he composed in the tower of Pavia the Consolation of Philosophy; a golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or Tully, but which claims incomparable merit from the barbarism of the times and the situation of the author And the sage who could artfully combine in the same work the various riches of philosophy, poetry, and eloquence, must already have possessed the intrepid calmness which he affected to seek.

That is the place where I once stored away — not my books, but — the thing that makes them have any value, the philosophy they contain. Your mind dreams of it but your sight is clouded by shadows of happiness and cannot see reality. No man is so completely happy that something somewhere does not clash with his condition. Watts, Introduction. View all 5 comments. I can't think of a book whose title was more appropriate than this one.

I had imagined this book would be about the consolations the author had received from the study of philosophy. And I suppose this is the case, in a sense. The title can also be read rather more literally. The book opens with Boethius feeling sad, but then who should manifest in front of him with the purpose of consoling him? The statue of liberty! Sorry, I mean, the physical embodiment of philosophy! While I was quietly think I can't think of a book whose title was more appropriate than this one. While I was quietly thinking these thoughts over to myself and giving vent to my sorrow with the help of my pen, I became aware of a woman standing over me.

She was of awe-inspiring appearance, her eyes burning and keen beyond the usual power of men. It was difficult to be sure of her height, for sometimes she was of average human size, while at other times she seemed to touch the very sky with the top of her head, and when she lifted herself even higher, she pierced it and was lost to human sight. There were some books in her right hand, and in her left hand she held a scepter. Boethius wrote this quite remarkable text whilst he was awaiting execution.

He may or may not have been working against the interests of his king, Theodoric. We will probably never know whether he was guilty or innocent, but the key point is that he was sentenced to death. The Consolation of Philosophy was his final work. In terms of the text's outlook, it's distinctly from the Platonic and Aristotelian school of philosophy. Not entirely though, because it fuses these classical ideas with Christian ones.

Presenting both a Platonic-Aristotelian view and a deeply Christian one simultaneously. It's worth noting also that Boethius saw no contradiction in the writings of Plato and Aristotle, and in fact even devoted a good deal of his academic life attempting to show that the two philosophers could be harmonized entirely. Sadly, he was sentenced to death before he could complete this project. The text is written in a mixture of prose and verse. It's quite an unusual style, but its quite easy to get used to.

My edition Penguin Classics came with an excellent introduction by Victor Watts. I can highly recommend it. He covers the main points of Boethius's life with both brevity and appropriate detail. A text with such a remarkable background as this one is best read with the context understood.

Boethius had a fascinating and distinguished life, and was a giant figure for the philosophers of the medieval period. Mar 04, Aung Sett Kyaw Min rated it it was ok. It is this assumption, which is arguably teleological in nature, which also informs her lessons on the positive role of Fortune, the imperfection in perishable good, and the goodness in the punishment that the wicked receive.

Meaning that there is still something to be salvaged in the moment the drive towards happiness falls short of fulfilling its objective. Fortune, though fickle in her temperament, allows Man to discern her true, constant nature i. Imperfection and perfection are always coupled. It is through intuitively presupposing the latter that we can recognize the former.

The wicked can enjoy a tinge of goodness in the very punishment they received for their wickedness. Many a man do not realize her true nature so they become despondent the first instance Fortune turns her back on them. The awareness of the ephemeral nature of the blessings which he presently enjoys generates anxiety and fear in the subject, so he can never become truly happy.

Neither can the blindness of ignorance deliver happiness. Therefore, one can never attain happiness viz. Yet for all of her reproach against Fortune for leading men astray Lady Philosophy nonetheless does have some positive things to say about the former. Specifically, she praises Fortune for the times when the latter lifts the veil of deception and appears to Man in her true countenance.

While good fortune entices a man with the false promises of happiness, bad fortune takes hold of their consciousness and shatters this mirage. By rearing its ugly head Fortune compels men to return to the path of true good. First, however, she must put a stop to his self-pitying poetry, which she does by symbolically banishing the Muses, goddesses of song and art, from Boethius's prison cell.

Though he is honored by Philosophy's presence, Boethius admits to feeling somewhat abandoned by her. He relates the story of his imprisonment on false charges and rails against the injustice of his sentence. How, he asks, can Philosophy help him when virtuous and innocent people are doomed to suffer at the hands of evildoers? This "long and noisy display of grief" concludes with a poetic prayer in which Boethius asks God to reassert control over the chaos of human affairs.

After Boethius has said his piece, Philosophy turns to him and pityingly declares him to be ill. He has forgotten his true nature, she says, which is a form of illness only Philosophy can remedy. Because Boethius is plunged so deeply into his melancholy, she proposes to "cure" him gradually.

In the process she promises to show him he has gotten it all wrong: the wicked are powerless, not powerful, and happiness consists of inward, not outward things. The book closes with another "song" or poem in which Philosophy describes the dangers of being controlled by one's feelings. Even seemingly positive emotions, such as joy, are a distraction in the quest for truth. The Consolation of Philosophy begins with a memorable confrontation between Philosophy , who appears in person, and poetry, represented by the Muses. Clashes between philosophy and the arts, framed more broadly as clashes between cool reasoning and hotheaded emotionality, were nothing new in Boethius 's day.

Boethius, writing almost a millennium after Plato, avoids a simplistic judgment in Consolation i. Instead, the entirety of the work will be punctuated by poems, and lavish poetic imagery is often used to underscore important philosophical points. It's worth noting, however, the poems become less and less frequent as The Consolation of Philosophy progresses. Book 1 moves quickly but includes seven poems, some of them quite long.