The Consolation of Philosophy

From When things go wrong…

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius

Song II. His Despondency

Alas! in what abyss his mind
Is plunged, how wildly tossed!
Still, still towards the outer night

She sinks, her true light lost,

As oft as, lashed tumultuously

By earth-born blasts, care’s waves rise high.

Yet once he ranged the open heavens,

The sun’s bright pathway tracked;

Watched how the cold moon waxed and waned;

Nor rested, till there lacked

To his wide ken no star that steers

Amid the maze of circling spheres.

The causes why the blusterous winds

Vex ocean’s tranquil face,

Whose hand doth turn the stable globe,

Or why his even race

From out the ruddy east the sun

Unto the western waves doth run:

What is it tempers cunningly

The placid hours of spring,

So that it blossoms with the rose

For earth’s engarlanding:

Who loads the year’s maturer prime

With clustered grapes in autumn time:

All this he knew—thus ever strove

Deep Nature’s lore to guess.

Now, reft of reason’s light, he lies,

And bonds his neck oppress;

While by the heavy load constrained,

His eyes to this dull earth are chained.

II.

‘But the time,’ said she, ‘calls rather for healing than for lamentation.’ Then, with her eyes bent full upon me, ‘Art thou that man,’ she cries, ‘who, erstwhile fed with the milk and reared upon the nourishment which is mine to give, had grown up to the full vigour of a manly spirit? And yet I had bestowed such armour on thee as would have proved an invincible defence, hadst thou not first cast it away. Dost thou know me? Why art thou silent? Is it shame or amazement that hath struck thee dumb? Would it were shame; but, as I see, a stupor hath seized upon thee.’ Then, when she saw me not only answering nothing, but mute and utterly incapable of speech, she gently touched my breast with her hand, and said: ‘There is no danger; these are the symptoms of lethargy, the usual sickness of deluded minds. For awhile he has forgotten himself; he will easily recover his memory, if only he first recognises me. And that he may do so, let me now wipe his eyes that are clouded with a mist of mortal things.’ Thereat, with a fold of her robe, she dried my eyes all swimming with tears.

Song III. The Mists dispelled

Then the gloom of night was scattered,

Sight returned unto mine eyes.

So, when haply rainy Caurus

Rolls the storm-clouds through the skies,

Hidden is the sun; all heaven

Is obscured in starless night.

But if, in wild onset sweeping,

Boreas frees day’s prisoned light.

All suddenly the radiant god outstreams,

And strikes our dazzled eyesight with his beams.

III.

Even so the clouds of my melancholy were broken up. I saw the clear sky, and regained the power to recognise the face of my physician. Accordingly, when I had lifted my eyes and fixed my gaze upon her, I beheld my nurse, Philosophy, whose halls I had frequented from my youth up.

‘Ah! why,’ I cried, ‘mistress of all excellence, hast thou come down from on high, and entered the solitude of this my exile? Is it that thou, too, even as I, mayst be persecuted with false accusations?’

‘Could I desert thee, child,’ said she, ‘and not lighten the burden which thou hast taken upon thee through the hatred of my name, by sharing this trouble? Even forgetting that it were not lawful for Philosophy to leave companionless the way of the innocent, should I, thinkest thou, fear to incur reproach, or shrink from it, as though some strange new thing had befallen? Thinkest thou that now, for the first time in an evil age, Wisdom hath been assailed by peril? Did I not often in days of old, before my servant Plato lived, wage stern warfare with the rashness of folly? In his lifetime, too, Socrates, his master, won with my aid the victory of an unjust death. And when, one after the other, the Epicurean herd, the Stoic, and the rest, each of them as far as in them lay, went about to seize the heritage he left, and were dragging me off protesting and resisting, as their booty, they tore in pieces the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and, clutching the torn pieces, went off, believing that the whole of me had passed into their possession. And some of them, because some traces of my vesture were seen upon them, were destroyed through the mistake of the lewd multitude, who falsely deemed them to be my disciples. It may be thou knowest not of the banishment of Anaxagoras, of the poison draught of Socrates, nor of Zeno’s torturing, because these things happened in a distant country; yet mightest thou have learnt the fate of Arrius, of Seneca, of Soranus, whose stories are neither old nor unknown to fame. These men were brought to destruction for no other reason than that, settled as they were in my principles, their lives were a manifest contrast to the ways of the wicked. So there is nothing thou shouldst wonder at, if on the seas of this life we are tossed by storm-blasts, seeing that we have made it our chiefest aim to refuse compliance with evil-doers. And though, maybe, the host of the wicked is many in number, yet is it contemptible, since it is under no leadership, but is hurried hither and thither at the blind driving of mad error. And if at times and seasons they set in array against us, and fall on in overwhelming strength, our leader draws off her forces into the citadel while they are busy plundering the useless baggage. But we from our vantage ground, safe from all this wild work, laugh to see them making prize of the most valueless of things, protected by a bulwark which aggressive folly may not aspire to reach.’

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