THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY
'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 deaf
an ear, and will not close, cruel, the eyes that weep. Ill is it 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
'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 dullness of long
neglect, as is seen in the smoke-grimed masks of our ancestors. On the
border below was inwoven the symbol II, on
that above was to be read a a and w ; 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, 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.'
Their band thus rated cast a saddened glance
are the first letters of the Greek words denoting
Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy.]
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 darknesses. 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 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
' 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 your 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 utter]y 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 and will quickly remember, as
soon as he recognises me. That he may do so, let 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.
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 Phœbus smites with his rays our
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
[Note: , may 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 dangers 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 his 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 share 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. But if you have not heard of the exile of
[Note: Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C.]
nor the poison drunk by Socrates,1 nor the torture of Zeno,2 which all
were of foreign lands, yet you may know of Canius,3 Seneca,4 and
Soranus,5 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
mad marauders, and we are defended by that rampart to which riotous
folly may not hope to attain.
'He who has calmly reconciled his life to fate, and set proud death
beneath his feet, can
[Note: Socrates was executed by the Athenian state,B.C. 399.]
[Note: Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrantof Elea, about 440
[Note: Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D.40. ]
[Note: Seneca was driven to commit suicide byNero, A.D. 66.]
[Note: Soranus was condemned to death by Nero,A.D. 66.]
look fortune in the face, unbending both to good and bad: his
countenance unconquered he can shew. The rage and threatenings of the
sea will not move him though they stir from its depths the upheaving
swell: Vesuvius's furnaces may never so often burst forth, and he may
send rolling upwards smoke and fire ; the lightning, whose wont it is
to smite down lofty towers, may flash upon its way, but such men shall
they never move. Why then stand they wretched and aghast when fierce
tyrants rage in impotence ? Fear naught, and hope naught: thus shall
you have a weak man's rage disarmed. But whoso fears with trembling,
or desires aught from them, he stands not firmly rooted, but
dependent: thus has he thrown away his shield ; he can be rooted up,
and he links for himself the very chain whereby he may be dragged.
'Are such your experiences, and do they sink into your soul?' she
asked. 'Do you listen only as "the dull ass to the lyre " ? Why do you
weep ? Wherefore flow your tears ? " Speak, nor keep secret in thine
heart." If you expect a physician to help you, you must lay bare your
wound.' Then did I rally my spirit till it was strong again, and
answered, ' Does the savage bitterness of my fortune still need
recounting ? Does it not stand forth plainly enough of itself? Does
not the very aspect of this place strike you ? Is this the library
which you had chosen
for yourself as your sure resting-place in my house ? Is this the room
in which you would so often tarry with me expounding the philosophy of
things human and divine ? Was my condition like this, or my
countenance, when I probed with your aid the secrets of nature, when
you marked out with a wand the courses of the stars, when you shaped
our habits and the rule of all our life by the pattern of the
universe?1 Are these the rewards we reap by yielding ourselves to you
? Nay, you yourself have established this saying by the mouth of
Plato, that commonwealths would be blessed if they were guided by
those who made wisdom their study, or if those who guided them would
make wisdom their study.2 By the mouth of that same great man did you
teach that this was the binding reason why a commonwealth should be
governed by philosophers, namely that the helm of government should
not be left to unscrupulous or criminal citizens lest they should
bring corruption and ruin upon the good citizens.3 Since, then, I had
learned from you in quiet and inaction of this view, I followed it
further, for I desired to practise it in public government. You and
God Himself, who has grafted you in the minds of philosophers, are my
witnesses that never have I applied myself to any office of state
except that I might work for the
[Note: Boethius means that his chief ' philosophical ' studies had
been physics, astronomy, and ethics.]
[Note: Plato, Repub. v 473.]
[Note: Plato, Repub. vi, 488, 489.]
common welfare of all good men. Thence followed bitter quarrels with
evil men which could not be appeased, and, for the sake of preserving
justice, contempt of the enmity of those in power, for this is the
result of a free and fearless conscience. How often have I withstood
Conigastus 1 to his face, whenever he has attacked a weak man's
fortune ! How often have I turned by force Trigulla,1 the overseer of
the Emperor's household, from an unjust act that he had begun or even
carried out ! How many times have I put my own authority in danger by
protecting those wretched people who were harried with unending false
charges by the greed of barbarian Goths which ever went unpunished !
Never, I say, has any man depraved me from justice to injustice. My
heart has ached as bitterly as those of the sufferers when I have seen
the fortunes of our subjects ruined both by the rapacity of persons
and the taxes of the state. Again, in a time of severe famine, a
grievous, intolerable sale by compulsion was decreed in Campania, and
devastation threatened that province. Then I undertook for the sake of
the common welfare a struggle against the commander of the Imperial
guard ; though the king was aware of it, I fought against the
enforcement of the sale, and fought successfully. Paulinus was a man
who had been consul: the jackals of the court had
[Note: Conigastus and Trigulla were favourite officersof the Emperor,
Theodoric, the Goth: they used their influence with him for the
oppression of the weak. ]
in their own hopes and desires already swallowed up his possessions,
but I snatched him from their very gaping jaws. I exposed myself to
the hatred of the treacherous informer Cyprian, that I might prevent
Albinus, also a former consul, being overwhelmed by the penalty of a
trumped-up charge. Think you that I have raised up against myself
bitter and great quarrels enough ? But I ought to have been safer
among those whom I helped ; for, from my love of justice, I laid up
for myself among the courtiers no resource to which I might turn for
safety. Who, further, were the informers upon whose evidence I was
banished ? One was Basilius: he was formerly expelled from the royal
service, and was driven by debt to inform against me. Again, Opilio
and Gaudentius had been condemned to exile by the king for many unjust
acts and crimes: this decree they would not obey, and they sought
sanctuary in sacred buildings, but when the king was aware of it, he
declared that if they departed not from Ravenna before a certain day,
they should be driven forth branded upon their foreheads. What could
be more stringent than this ? Yet upon that very day information
against me was laid by these same men and accepted. Why so ? Did my
character deserve this treatment? Or did my prearranged condemnation
give credit and justification to my accusers ? Did Fortune feel no
shame for this ? If not for innocence calumniated, at any rate for the
baseness of the calumniators ?
' Would you learn the sum of the charges against me? It was said that
"I had desired the safety of the Senate." You would learn in what way.
I was charged with "having hindered an informer from producing papers
by which the Senate could be accused of treason." What think you, my
mistress ? Shall I deny it lest it shame you? Nay, I did desire the
safety of the Senate, nor shall ever cease to desire it. Shall I
confess it ? Then there would have been no need to hinder an informer.
Shall I call it a crime to have wished for the safety of that order ?
By its own decrees concerning myself it has established that this is a
crime. Though want of foresight often deceives itself, it cannot alter
the merits of facts, and, in obedience to the Senate's command, I
cannot think it right to hide the truth or to assent to falsehood.
' However, I leave it to your judgment and that of philosophers to
decide how the justice of this may be ; but I have committed to
writing for history the true course of events, that posterity may not
be ignorant thereof. I think it unnecessary to speak of the forged
letters through which I am accused of " hoping for the freedom of
Rome." Their falsity would have been apparent if I had been free to
question the evidence of the informers themselves, for their
confessions have much force in all such business.
' But what avails it ? No liberty is left to hope for. Would there
were any! I would answer in the words of Canius, who was accused
by Gaius Cæsar,1 Germanicus's son, of being cognisant of a plot
against himself: " If I had known of it, you would not have."
' And in this matter grief has not so blunted my powers that I should
complain of wicked men making impious attacks upon virtue: but at this
I do wonder, that they should hope to succeed. Evil desires are, it
may be, due to our natural failings, but that the conceptions of any
wicked mind should prevail against innocence while God watches over
us, seems to me unnatural. Wherefore not without cause has one of your
own followers asked, " If God is, whence come evil things? If He is
not, whence come good ? "
' Again, let impious men, who thirst for the blood of the whole Senate
and of all good citizens, be allowed to wish for the ruin of us too
whom they recognise as champions of the Senate and all good citizens:
but surely such as I have not deserved the same hatred from the
members of the Senate too ?
' Since you were always present to guide me in my words and my deeds,
I think you remember what happened at Verona. When King Theodoric,
desiring the common ruin of the Senate, was for extending to the whole
order the charge of treason laid against Albinus, you remember how I
laboured to defend the innocence of the order without any care for my
own danger? You know that I declare this truthfully and with no
boasting praise of self.
[Note: The Emperor Caligula.]
For the secret value of a conscience, that approves its own action, is
lessened somewhat each time that it receives the reward of fame by
displaying its deeds. But you see what end has fallen upon my
innocency. In the place of the rewards of honest virtue, I am
suffering the punishments of an ill deed that was not mine. And did
ever any direct confession of a crime find its judges so well agreed
upon exercising harshness, that neither the liability of the human
heart to err, nor the changeableness of the fortune of all mankind,
could yield one dissentient voice? If it had been said that I had
wished to burn down temples, to murder with sacrilegious sword their
priests, that I had planned the massacre of all good citizens, even so
I should have been present to plead guilty or to be convicted, before
the sentence was executed. But here am I, nearly five hundred -miles
away, without the opportunity of defending myself, condemned to death
and the confiscation of my property because of my tao great zeal for
the Senate. Ah ! well have they deserved that none should ever be
liable to be convicted on such a charge ! Even those who laid
information have seen the honour of this accusation, for, that they
might blacken it with some criminal ingredient, they had need to lie,
saying that I had violated my conscience by using unholy means to
obtain offices corruptly. But you, by being planted within me,
dispelled from the chamber of my soul all craving for that which
where your eyes were looking there could be no place for any such
sacrilege. For you instilled into my ears, and thus into my daily
thoughts, that saying of Pythagoras, " Follow after God." Nor was it
seemly that I, whom you had built up to such excellence that you made
me as a god, should seek the support of the basest wills of men. Yet,
further, the innocent life within my home, my gathering of most
honourable friends, my father-in-law Symmachus,l a man esteemed no
less in his public life than for his private conscientiousness, these
all put far from me all suspicion of this crime. But--O the shame of
it!--it is from you that they think they derive the warrant for such a
charge, and we seem to them to be allied to ill-doing from this very
fact that we are steeped in the principles of your teaching, and
trained in your manners of life. Thus it is not enough that my deep
respect for you has profited me nothing, but you yourself have
received wanton contumely from the hatred that had rather fallen on
me. Yet besides this, is another load added to my heap of woes: the
judgment of the world looks not to the deserts of the case, but to the
evolution of chance, and holds that only this has been intended which
good fortune may chance to foster: whence it comes that the good
opinion of the world is the first to desert the unfortunate. It is
wearisome to recall what were the tales by people told, or how little
[Note: Symmachus was executed by Theodoric at the same time as
their many various opinions agreed. This alone I would fain say: it is
the last burden laid upon us by unkind fortune, that when any charge
is invented to be fastened upon unhappy men, they are believed to have
deserved all they have to bear. For kindness I have received
persecutions ; I have been driven from all my possessions, stripped of
my honours, and stained for ever in my reputation. I think I see the
intoxication of joy in the sin-steeped dens of criminals: I see the
most abandoned of men intent upon new and evil schemes of spying: I
see honest men lying crushed with the fear which smites them after the
result of my perilous case: wicked men one and all encouraged to dare
every crime without fear of punishment, nay, with hope of rewards for
the accomplishment thereof: the innocent I see robbed not merely of
their peace and safety, but even of all chance of defending
themselves. So then I may cry aloud:--
' Founder of the star-studded universe, resting on Thine eternal
throne whence Thou turnest the swiftly rolling sky, and bindest the
stars to keep Thy law ; at Thy word the moon now shines brightly with
full face, ever turned to her brother's light, and so she dims the
lesser lights ; or now she is herself obscured, for nearer to the sun
her beams shew her pale horns alone. Cool rises the evening star at
night's first drawing nigh: the same is the morning star who casts off
the harness that she bore
before, and paling meets the rising sun. When winter's cold doth strip
the trees, Thou settest a shorter span to day. And Thou, when summer
comes to warm, dost change the short divisions of the night. Thy power
doth order the seasons of the year, so that the western breeze of
spring brings back the leaves which winter's north wind tore away ; so
that the dog-star's heat makes ripe the ears of corn whose seed
Arcturus watched. Naught breaks that ancient law: naught leaves undone
the work appointed to its place. Thus all things Thou dost rule with
limits fixed: the lives of men alone dost Thou scorn to restrain, as a
guardian, within bounds. F or why does Fortune with her fickle hand
deal out such changing lots ? The hurtful penalty is due to crime, but
falls upon the sinless head: depraved men rest at ease on thrones
aloft, and by their unjust lot can spurn beneath their hurtful heel
the necks of virtuous men. Beneath obscuring shadows lies bright
virtue hid: the just man bears the unjust's infamy. They suffer not
for forsworn oaths, they suffer not for crimes glozed over with their
lies. But when their will is to put forth their strength, with triumph
they subdue the mightiest kings whom peoples in their thousands fear.
O Thou who dost weave the bonds of Nature's self, look down upon this
pitiable earth! Mankind is no base part of this great work, and we are
tossed on Fortune's wave. Restrain, our Guardian, the engulfing surge,
and as Thou dost the unbounded
heaven rule, with a like bond make true and firm these lands.'
While I grieved thus in long-drawn pratings, Philosophy looked on with
a calm countenance, not one whit moved by my complaints Then said she,
' When I saw you in grief and in tears I knew thereby that you were
unhappy and in exile, but I knew not how distant was your exile until
your speech declared it. But you have not been driven so far from your
home; you have wandered thence yourself: or if you would rather hold
that you have been driven, you have been driven by yourself rather
than by any other. No other could have done so to you. For if you
recall your true native country, you know that it is not under the
rule of the many-headed people, as was Athens of old, but there is one
Lord, one King, who rejoices in the greater number of his subjects,
not in their banishment. To be guided by his reins, to bow to his
justice, is the highest liberty. Know you not that sacred and ancient
law of your own state by which it is enacted that no man, who would
establish a dwelling-place for himself therein, may lawfully be put
forth ? For there is no fear that any man should merit exile, if he be
kept safe therein by its protecting walls. But any man that may no
longer wish to dwell there, does equally no longer deserve to be
there. Wherefore it is your looks rather than the aspect of this place
which disturb me.l It
[Note: Cp. Prose iv. of this book,p. 9.]
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. As to your services to the
common weal, you have spoken truly, though but scantily, if you
consider your manifold exertions. Of all wherewith you have been
charged either truthfully or falsely, you have but recorded what is
well known. As for the crimes and wicked lies of the informers, you
have rightly thought fit to touch but shortly thereon, for they are
better and more fruitfully made common in the mouth of the crowd that
discusses all matters. You have loudly and strongly upbraided the
unjust ingratitude of the Senate: you have grieved over the charges
made against myself, and shed tears over the insult to my fair fame:
your last outburst of wrath was against Fortune, when you complained
that she paid no fair rewards according to deserts: finally, you have
prayed with passionate Muse that the same peace and order, that are
seen in the heavens, might also rule the earth. But you are
overwhelmed by this variety of mutinous passions: grief, rage, and
gloom tear your mind asunder, and so in this present mood stronger
measures cannot yet come nigh to heal you. Let us therefore use
gentler means, and since, just as matter in the body hardens into a
swelling, so have these disquieting influences, let these means soften
by kindly handling the
unhealthy spot, until it will bear a sharper remedy.
' When the sign of the crab doth scorch the field, fraught with the
sun's most grievous rays, the husbandman that has freely intrusted his
seed to the fruitless furrow, is cheated by the faithless
harvest-goddess ; and he must turn him to the oak tree's fruit.
' When the field is scarred by the bleak north winds, wouldst thou
seek the wood's dark carpet to gather violets ? If thou wilt enjoy the
grapes, wouldst thou seek with clutching hand to prune the vines in
spring ? 'Tis in autumn Bacchus brings his gifts. Thus God marks out
the times and fits to them peculiar works: He has set out a course of
change, and lets no confusion come. If aught betake itself to headlong
ways, and leaves its sure design, ill will the outcome be thereto.
' First then,' she continued, ' will you let me find out and make
trial of the state of your mind by a few small questions, that so I
may understand what should be the method of your treatment ? '
'Ask,' said I, ' what your judgment would have you ask, and I will
Then said she, ' Think you that this universe is guided only at random
and by mere chance ? or think you there is any rule of reason
constituted in it ? '
' No, never would I think it could be so, nor
believe that such sure motions could be made at random or by chance. ~
know that God, the founder of the universe, does overlook His work ;
nor ever may that day come which shall drive me to abandon this belief
'So is it,' she said, 'and even so you cried just now, and only
mourned that mankind alone has no part in this divine guardianship:
you were fixed in your belief that all other things are ruled by
reason. Yet, how strange ! how much I wonder how it is that you can be
so sick though you are set in such a health-giving state of mind ! But
let us look deeper into it: I cannot but think there is something
lacking. Since you are not in doubt that the universe is ruled by God,
tell me by what method you think that government is guided ? '
' I scarcely know the meaning of your question ; much less can I
' Was I wrong,' said she, ' to think that something was lacking, that
there was some opening in your armour, some way by which this
distracting disease has crept into your soul ? But tell me, do you
remember what is the aim and end of all things ? what the object to
which all nature tends ? '
' I have heard indeed, but grief has blunted my memory.'
' But do you not somehow know whence all things have their source ? '
' Yes,' I said ; ' that source is God.'
' Is it possible that you, who know the beginning of all things,
should not know their end ?
But such are the ways of these distractions, such is their power, that
though they can move a man's position, they cannot pluck him from
himself or wrench him from his roots. But this question would I have
you answer: do you remember that you are a man ? '
'How can I but remember that ? '
'Can you then say what is a man ? '
'Need you ask ? I know that he is an animal, reasoning and mortal ;
that I know, and that I confess myself to be.'
'Know you naught else that you are ? ' asked Philosophy.
'Naught,' said I.
'Now,' said she, ' I know the cause, or the chief cause, of your
sickness. You have forgotten what you are. Now therefore I have found
out to the full the manner of your sickness, and how to attempt the
restoring of your health. You are overwhelmed by this forgetfulness of
yourself: hence you have been thus sorrowing that you are exiled and
robbed of all your possessions. You do not know the aim and end of all
things ; hence you think that if men are worthless and wicked, they
are powerful and fortunate. You have forgotten by what methods the
universe is guided ; hence you think that the chances of good and bad
fortune are tossed about with no ruling hand. These things may lead
not to disease only, but even to death as well. But let us thank the
Giver of all health, that your 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. But it is not time to use severer remedies, and since we know
that it is the way of all minds to clothe themselves ever in false
opinions as they throw off the true, and these false ones breed a dark
distraction which confuses the true insight, therefore will I try to
lessen this darkness for a while with gentle applications of easy
remedies, that so the shadows of deceiving passions may be dissipated,
and you may have power to perceive the brightness of true light.'
'When the stars are hidden by black clouds, no light can they afford.
When the boisterous south wind rolls along the sea and stirs the
surge, the water, but now as clear as glass, bright as the fair sun's
light, is dark, impenetrable to sight, with stirred and scattered
sand. The stream, that wanders down the mountain's side, must often
find a stumbling-block, a stone within its path torn from the hill's
own rock. So too shalt thou: if thou wouldst see the truth in undimmed
light, choose the straight road, the beaten path ; away with passing
joys ! away with fear ! put vain hopes to flight ! and grant no place
to grief ! Where these distractions reign, the mind is clouded o'er,
the soul is bound in chains.'
THEN for a while she held her peace. But when her silence, so
discreet, made my thoughts to cease from straying, she thus began to
speak: 'If I have thoroughly learned the causes and the manner of your
sickness, your former good fortune has so affected you that you are
being consumed by longing for it. The change of one of her this alone
has overturned your peace of mind through your own imagination. I
understand the varied disguises of that unnatural state. I know how
Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives
to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by
deserting them when least expected. If you recall her nature, her
ways, or her deserts, you will see that you never had in her, nor have
lost with her, aught that was lovely. Yet, I think, I shall not need
great labour to recall this to your memory. For then too, when she was
at your side with all her flattery, you were wont to reproach her in
strong and manly terms ; and to revile her with the opinions that you
had gathered in worship of me with my favoured ones. But no sudden
change of outward affairs can ever come without some upheaval in the
mind. Thus has it followed
that you, like others, have fallen somewhat away from your calm peace
of mind. But it is time now for you to make trial of some gentle and
pleasant draught, which by reaching your inmost parts shall prepare
the way for yet stronger healing draughts. Try therefore the assuring
influence of gentle argument which keeps its straight path only when
it holds fast to my instructions. And with this art of orators let my
handmaid, the art of song, lend her aid in chanting light or weighty
harmonies as we desire.
' What is it, mortal man, that has cast you down into grief and
mourning ? You have seen something unwonted, it would seem, something
strange to you. But if you think that Fortune has changed towards you,
you are wrong. These are ever her ways: this is her very nature. She
has with you preserved her own constancy by her very change. She was
ever changeable at the time when she smiled upon you, when she was
mocking you with the allurements of false good fortune. You have
discovered both the different faces of the blind goddess. To the eyes
of others she is veiled in part: to you she has made herself wholly
known. If you find her welcome, make use of her ways, and so make no
complaining. If she fills you with horror by her treachery, treat her
with despite ; thrust her away from you, for she tempts you to your
ruin. For though she is the cause of this great trouble for you, she
ought to have been the subject of
calmness and peace. For no man can ever make himself sure that she
will never desert him, and thus has she deserted you. Do you reckon
such happiness to be prized, which is sure to pass away? Is good
fortune dear to you, which is with you for a time and is not sure to
stay, and which is sure to bring you unhappiness when it is gone? But
seeing that it cannot be stayed at will, and that when it flees away
it leaves misery behind, what is such a fleeting thing but a sign of
coming misery ? Nor should it ever satisfy any man to look only at
that which is placed before his eyes. Prudence takes measure of the
results to come from all things. The very changeableness of good and
bad makes Fortune's threats no more fearful, nor her smiles to be
desired. And lastly, when you have once put your neck beneath the yoke
of Fortune, you must with steadfast heart bear whatever comes to pass
within her realm. But if you would dictate the law by which she whom
you have freely chosen to be your mistress must stay or go, surely you
will be acting without justification ; and your very impatience will
make more bitter a lot which you cannot change. If you set your sails
before the wind, will you not move forward whither the wind drives
you, not whither your will may choose to go? If you intrust your seed
to the furrow, will you not weigh the rich years and the barren
against each other? You have given yourself over to Fortune's rule,
and you must bow yourself to
your mistress's ways. Are you trying to stay the force of her turning
wheel? Ah! dull- witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is
no longer Fortune.
'As thus she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand, and presses
on like the surge of Euripus's tides, fortune now tramples fiercely on
a fearsome king, and now deceives no less a conquered man by raising
from the ground his humbled face. She hears no wretch's cry, she heeds
no tears, but wantonly she mocks the sorrow which her cruelty has
made. This is her sport: thus she proves her power ; if in the
selfsame hour one man is raised to happiness, and cast down in
despair, 'tis thus she shews her might.
' Now would I argue with you by these few words which Fortune herself
might use: and do you consider whether her demands are fair "Why, O
man," she might say, " do you daily accuse me with your complainings ?
What injustice have I wrought upon you ? Of what good things have I
robbed you ? Choose your judge whom you will, and before him strive
with me for the right to hold your wealth and honours. If you can
prove that any one of these does truly belong to any mortal man,
readily will I grant that these you seek to regain were yours. When
nature brought you forth from your mother's womb, I received you in my
arms naked and bare of all things ; I cherished you
with my gifts, and I brought you up all too kindly with my favouring
care, wherefore now you cannot bear with me, and I surrounded you with
glory and all the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases me
to withdraw my hand: be thankful, as though you had lived upon my
loans. You have no just cause of complaint, as though you had really
lost what was once your own. Why do you rail against me ? I have
wrought no violence towards you. Wealth, honours, and all such are
within my rights. They are my handmaids ; they know their mistress ;
they come with me and go when I depart. Boldly will I say that if
these, of whose loss you complain, were ever yours, you would never
have lost them at all. Am I alone to be stayed from using my rightful
power ? The heavens may grant bright sunlit days, and hide the same
beneath the shade of night. The year may deck the earth's countenance
with flowers and fruits, and again wrap it with chilling clouds. The
sea may charm with its smoothed surface, but no less justly it may
soon bristle in storms with rough waves. Is the insatiate discontent
of man to bind me to a constancy which belongs not to my ways? Herein
lies my very strength ; this is my unchanging sport. I turn my wheel
that spins its circle fairly; I delight to make the lowest turn to the
top, the highest to the bottom. Come you to the top if you will, but
on this condition, that you think it no unfairness to sink when the
rule of my game demands it. Do
you not know my ways? Have you not heard how Crœsus,1 king of
Lydia, who filled even Cyrus with fear but a little earlier, was
miserably put upon a pyre of burning faggots, but was saved by rain
sent down from heaven? Have you forgotten how Paulus shed tears of
respect for the miseries of his captive, King Perses?2 For what else
is the crying and the weeping in tragedies but for the happiness of
kings overturned by the random blow of fortune ? Have you never learnt
in your youth the ancient allegory that in the threshold of Jove's
hall there stand two vessels, one full of evil, and one of good? What
if you have received more richly of the good ? What if I have not ever
withheld myself from you ? What if my changing nature is itself a
reason that you should- hope for better things ? In any way, let not
your spirit eat itself away: you are set in the sphere that is common
to all, let your desire therefore be to live with your own lot of
life, a subject of the kingdom of the world.
"'If Plenty with o'erflowing horn scatter her wealth abroad,
abundantly, as in the storm- tossed sea the sand is cast around, or so
beyond all measure as the stars shine forth upon the studded sky in
cloudless nights; though she
[Note: The proverbially rich and happy king; defeatedand condemned to
death by Cyrus, king of Media, in 546 B.C., but spared by him.]
[Note: The last king of Macedonia, defeated at Pydna,168.c., by
never stay her hand, yet will the race of men Met II. still weep and
wail. Though God accept their prayers freely and give gold with
ungrudging hand, and deck with honours those who deserve them, yet
when they are gotten, these gifts seem naught. Wild greed swallows
what it has sought, and still gapes wide for more. What bit or bridle
will hold within its course this headlong lust, when, whetted by
abundance of rich gifts, the thirst for possession burns? Never call
we that man rich who is ever trembling in haste and groaning for that
he thinks he lack
' If Fortune should thus defend herself to you,' said Philosophy, '
you would have naught, I think, to utter on the other part. But if you
have any just defence for your complaining, you must put it forward.
We will grant you the opportunity of speaking.'
Then I answered, ' Those arguments have a fair form and are clothed
with all the sweetness of speech and of song. When a man listens to
them, they delight him ; but only so long. The wretched have a deeper
feeling of their misfortunes. Wherefore when these pleasing sounds
fall no longer upon the ear, this deep- rooted misery again weighs
down the spirit.'
' It is so,' she said. ' For these are not the remedies for your
sickness, but in some sort are the applications for your grief which
chafes against its cure. When the time comes, I will apply those which
are to penetrate deeply. with Boethius
But that you may not be content to think yourself wretched, remember
how many and how great have been the occasions of your good fortune. I
will not describe how, when you lost your father, men of the highest
rank received you into their care: how you were chosen by the chief
men in the state to be allied to them by marriage ; 1 and you were
dear to them before you were ever closely related; which is the most
valuable of all relationships. Who hesitated to pronounce you most
fortunate for the greatness of your wives' families, for their
virtues, and for your blessings in your sons too? I need not speak of
those things that are familiar, so I pass over the honours which are
denied to most old men, but were granted to you when yet young. I
choose to come to the unrivalled crown of your good fortune. If the
enjoyment of anything mortal can weigh at all in the balance of good
fortune, can your memory of one great day ever be extinguished by any
mass of accumulated ills ? I mean that day when you saw your two sons
proceed forth from your house as consuls together, amid the crowding
senators, the eager and applauding populace: when they sat down in the
seats of honour and you delivered the speech of congratulation to the
[Note: Boethius's first wife was Elpis, daughter of Festus: his second
was Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, a senator and consul, A.D. 485.
His second wife was the mother of the two sons mentioned below. (See
Appendix,, p. 169.)]
thereby glory for your talent and your eloquence: when in the circus
you sat in the place of honour between the consuls, and by a display
of lavishness worthy of a triumphing general, you pleased to the full
the multitude who were crowded around in expectation.
' While Fortune then favoured you, it seems you flaunted her, though
she cherished you as her own darling. You carried off a bounty which
she had never granted to any citizen before. Will you then balance
accounts with Fortune ? This is the first time that she has looked
upon you with a grudging eye. If you think of your happy and unhappy
circumstances both in number and in kind, you will not be able to say
that you have not been fortunate until now. And if you think that you
were not fortunate because these things have passed away which then
seemed to bring happiness, these things too are passing away, which
you now hold to be miserable, wherefore you cannot think that you are
wretched now. Is this your first entrance upon the stage of life? Are
you come here unprepared and a stranger to the scene ? Think you that
there is any certainty in the affairs of mankind, when you know that
often one swift hour can utterly destroy a man? For though the chances
of life may seldom be depended upon, yet the last day of a lifetime
seems to be the end of Fortune's power, though it perhaps would stay.
What, think you, should we therefore say ; that you desert her by
dying, or that she deserts you by leaving you ? '
'When o'er the heaven Phœbus from his rose-red carbegins to shed
his light abroad, his flames oppress the paling stars and blunt their
whitened rays. When the grove grows bright in spring with roses 'neath
the west wind's warming breath, let but the cloudy gale once wildly
blow, and their beauty is gone, the thorns alone remain. Often the sea
is calmly glistening bright with all untroubled waves, but as often
does the north wind stir them up, making the troubling tempest boil.
If then the earth's own covering so seldom constant stays, if its
changes are so great, shalt thou trust the brittle fortunes of
mankind, have faith in fleeting good ? For this is sure, and this is
fixed by everlasting law, that naught which is brought to birth shall
constant here abide.'
Then I answered her, ' Cherisher of all the virtues, you tell me but
the truth: I cannot deny my rapid successes and my prosperity. But it
is such remembrances that torment me more than others. For of all
suffering from Fortune, the unhappiest misfortune is to have known a
' But,' said Philosophy, ' you are paying the him penalty for your
mistaken expectations, and with this you cannot justly charge your
life's circumstances. If you are affected by this empty name of
Fortune's gift of happiness, you must listen while I recall how many
and how great are your sources of happiness: and thus, if you have
possessed that which is the most
precious among all Fortune's gifts, and if that is still safe and
unharmed in your possession, you will never, while you keep these
better gifts, be able to justly charge Fortune with unkindness.
Firstly, your wife's father, Symmachus, is still living and hale ; and
what more precious glory has the human race than him ? And he, because
your worth is undiminished and your life still so valuable, is
mourning for the injustice you suffer, this man who is wholly made up
of wisdom and virtue. Again, your wife lives, a woman whose character
is full of virtue, whose modesty excels its kind ; a woman who (to put
in a word the gifts she brought you) is like her father. She lives,
and, hating this life, for your sake alone she clings to it. Herein
only will I yield to allow you unhappiness ; she pines with tears and
grief through her longing for you. Need I speak of your sons who have
both been consuls, and whose lives, as when they were boys, are yet
bright with the character of their grandfather and their father?
Wherefore, since mortals desire exceedingly to keep a hold on life,
how happy you should be, knew you but your blessings, since you have
still what none doubts to be dearer than life itself? Wherefore now
dry your tears. For- tune's hatred has not yet been so great as to
destroy all your holds upon happiness: the tempest that is fallen upon
you is not too great for you: your anchors hold yet firm, and they
should keep ever nigh to you confidence in the present and hope for
' And may they continue to hold fast,' said I, 'that is my prayer:
while they are firm, we will reach the end of our voyage, however
things may be. But you see how much my glory has departed.'
And she answered, ' We have made some progress, if youare not now
weary entirely of your present lot. But I cannot bear this dallying so
softly, so long as you complain that your happiness lacks aught, so
long as you are full of sorrow and care. Whose happiness is so firmly
established that he has no quarrel from any side with his estate of
life ? For the condition of our welfare is a matter fraught with care:
either its completeness never appears, or it never remains. One man's
wealth is abundant, but his birth and breeding put him to shame.
Another is famous for his noble birth, but would rather be unknown
because he is hampered by his narrow means. A third is blessed with
wealth and breeding, but bewails his life because he has no wife.
Another is happy in his marriage, but has no children, and saves his
wealth only for an heir that is no son of his. Another is blessed with
children, but weeps tears of sorrow for the misdeeds of son or
daughter. So none is readily at peace with the lot his fortune sends
him. For in each case there is that which is unknown to him who has
not experienced it, and which brings horror to him who has experienced
it. Consider further, that the feelings of the most fortunate men are
the most easily affected, wherefore, unless all
their desires are supplied, such men, being unused to all adversity,
are cast down by every little care: so small are the troubles which
can rob them of complete happiness.
' How many are they, think you, who would thinkthemselves raised to
heaven if the smallest part of the remnants of your good fortune fell
to them ? This very place, which you call a place of exile, is home to
those who live herein. Thus there is nothing wretched unless you think
it to be so: and in like manner he who bears all with a calm mind
finds his lot wholly blessed. Who is so happy but would wish to change
his estate, if he yields to impatience of his lot ? With how much
bitterness is the sweetness of man's life mingled ! For even though
its enjoyment seem pleasant, yet it may not be surely kept from
departing when it will. It is plain then how wretched is the happiness
of mortal life which neither endures for ever with men of calm mind,
nor ever wholly delights the care-ridden. Wherefore, then, O mortal
men, seek yethat happiness without, which lies within yourselves? Ye
are confounded by error and ignorance. I will shew you as shortly as I
may, the pole on which turns the highest happiness. Is there aught
that you value more highly than your own self ? You will answer that
there is nothing. If then you are master of yourself, you will be in
possession of that which you will never wish to lose, and which
Fortune will never be able to take from you. Yet consider this
further, that you may
be assured that happiness cannot be fixed in matters of chance: if
happiness is the highest good of a man who lives his life by reason,
and if that which can by any means be snatched away, is not the
highest good (since that which is best cannot be snatched away), it is
plain that Fortune by its own uncertainty can never come near to
reaching happiness. Further, the man who is borne along by a happiness
which may stumble, either knows that it may change, or knows it not:
if he knows it not, what happiness can there be in the blindness of
ignorance ? If he knows it, he must needs live in fear of losing that
which he cannot doubt that he may lose ; wherefore an ever-present
fear allows not such an one to be happy. Or at any rate, if he lose it
without unhappiness, does he not think it worthless ? For that, whose
loss can be calmly borne, is indeed a small good. You, I know well,
are firmly persuaded that men's understandings can never die; this
truth is planted deep in you by many proofs: since then it is plain
that the happiness of fortune is bounded by the death of the body, you
cannot doubt that, if death can carry away happiness, the whole race
of mortals is sinking into wretchedness to be found upon the border of
death. But we know that many have sought the enjoyment of happiness
not only by death, but even by sorrow and sufferings: how then can the
presence of this life make us happy, when its end cannot make us
' He that would build on a lasting resting-place ; who wouldbe firm to
resist the blasts of the storming wind ; who seeks, too, safety where
he may contemn the surge and threatening of the sea ; must leave the
lofty mountain's top, and leave the thirsting sands. The hill is swept
by all the might of the headstrong gale: the sands dissolve, and will
not bear the load upon them. Let him fly the danger in a lot which is
pleasant rest unto the eye: let him be mindful to set his house surely
upon the lowly rock. Then let the wind bellow, confounding wreckage in
the sea, and thou wilt still be founded upon unmoving peace, wilt be
blessed in the strength of thy defence: thy life will be spent in
calmness, and thou mayest mock the raging passions of the air.
' But now,' she continued, ' the first remedies of reasoningare
reaching you more deeply, and I think I should now use those that are
somewhat stronger. If the gifts of Fortune fade not nor pass quickly
away, even so, what is there in them which could ever be truly yours,
or which would not lose its value when examined or thought upon ?
' Are riches valuable for their own nature, or on account of your and
other men's natures ? Which is the more valuable, the gold itself or
the power of the stored up-money ? Surely wealth shines more brightly
when spent than when put away in masses. Avarice ever brings hatred,
while generous spending brings honour.
But that cannot remain with one person which is handed over to
another: therefore money becomes valuable to its possessor when, by
being scattered, it is transferred to others, and ceases to be
possessed. And if all that is heaped together among mankind comes to
one man, it makes the others all poor. A voice indeed fills equally
the ears of all that hear: but your riches cannot pass to others
without being lessened: and when they pass, they make poor those whom
they leave. How strait then and poor are those riches, which most men
may not have, and which can only come to one by making others poor !
' Think again of precious stones: does their gleam attractyour eyes ?
But any excellence they have is their own brilliance, and belongs not
to men: wherefore I am amazed that men so strongly admire them. What
manner of thing can that be which has no mind to influence, which has
no structure of parts, and yet can justly seem to a living, reasoning
mind to be beautiful? Though they be works of their creator, and by
their own beauty and adornment have a certain low beauty, yet are they
in rank lower than your own excellence, and have in no wise deserved
' Does the beauty of landscape delight you ? '
' Surely, for it is a beautiful part of a beautiful creation: andin
like manner we rejoice at times in the appearance of a calm sea, and
we admire the sky, the stars, the sun, and the moon.
' Does any one of these,' said she, ' concern you ? Dareyou boast
yourself of the splendid beauty of any one of such things ? Are you
yourself adorned by the flowers of spring ? Is it your richness that
swells the fruits of autumn ? Why are you carried away by empty
rejoicing. Why do you embrace as your own the good things which are
outside yourself ? Fortune will never make yours what Nature has made
to belong to other things. The fruits of the earth should doubtless
serve as nourishment for living beings, but if you would satisfy your
need as fully as Nature needs, you need not the abundance of Fortune.
Nature is content with very little, and if you seek to thrust upon her
more than is enough, then what you cast in will become either
unpleasing or even harmful
' Again, you think that you appear beautiful in many kindsof clothing.
But if their form is pleasant to the eyes, I would admire the nature
of the material or the skill of the maker. Or are you made happy by a
long line of attendants? Surely if they are vicious, they are but . a
burden to the house, and full of injury to their master himself; while
if they are honest, how can the honesty of others be counted among
your possessions ?
' Out of all these possessions, then, which you reckon asyour wealth,
not one can really be shown to be your own. For if they have no beauty
for you to acquire, what have they for which you should grieve if you
lose them, or in keeping which you should rejoice ? And if
they are beautiful by their own nature, how are you the richer thereby
? For these would have been pleasing of themselves, though cut out
from your possessions. They do not become valuable by reason that they
have come into your wealth ; but you have desired to count them among
your wealth, because they seemed valuable. Why then do you long for
them with such railing against Fortune ? You seek, I believe, to put
want to flight by means of plenty. But you find that the opposite
results. The more various is the beauty of furniture, the more helps
are needed to keep it beautiful ;and it is ever true that they who
have much, need much ; and on the other hand, they need least who
measure their wealth by the needs of nature, not by excess of display.
Is there then no good which belongs to you and is implanted within
you, that you seek your good things elsewhere, in things without you
and separate from you ? Have things taken such a turn that the animal,
whose reason gives it a claim to divinity, cannot seem beautiful to
itself except by the possession of. lifeless trappings ? Other classes
of things are satisfied by their intrinsic possessions ; but men,
though made like God in understanding, seek to find among the lowest
things adornment for their higher nature: and you do not understand
that you do a great wrong thereby to your Creator. He intended that
the human race should be above all other earthly beings ; yet you
thrust down your honourable place below the lowest.
For if every good thing is allowed to be more valuable than that to
which it belongs, surely you are putting yourselves lower than them in
your estimation, since you think precious the most worthless of things
; and this is indeed a just result. Since, then, this is the condition
of human nature, that it surpasses other classes only when it realises
what is in itself ; as soon as it ceases to know itself, it must be
reduced to a lower rank than the beasts. To other animals ignorance of
themselves is natural ; in men it is a fault. How plainly and how
widely do you err by thinking that anything can be adorned by
ornaments that belong to others! Surely that cannot be. For if
anything becomes brilliant by additions thereto, the praise for the
brilliance belongs to the additions. But the subject remains in its
own vileness, though hidden and covered by these externals.
'Again, I say that naught can be a good thing which doesharm to its
possessor. Am I wrong? "No," you will say. Yet many a time do riches
harm their possessors, since all base men, who are therefore the most
covetous, think that they themselves alone are worthy to possess all
gold and precious stones. You therefore, who now go in fear of the
cudgel and sword of the robber, could laugh in his face if you had
entered upon this path with empty pockets.l How wonderful is the
[Note: This is an application of Juvenal's lines (Sat.x. 19)which
contrast the terror of the money-laden traveller]
surpassing blessing of mortal wealth ! As soon as you have acquired
it, your cares begin !
'O happy was that early age of men, contented with their trusted and
unfailing fields, nor ruined by the wealth that enervates. Easily was
the acorn got that used to satisfy their longwhile fast. They knew not
Bacchus' gifts, nor honey mixed therewith. They knew not how to tinge
with Tyre's purple dyes the sheen of China's silks. Their sleep kept
health on rush and grass ; the stream gave them to drink as it flowed
by: the lofty pine to them gave shade. Not one of them yet clave the
ocean's depths, nor, carrying stores of merchandise, had visited new
shores. Then was not heard the battle's trump, nor had blood made red
with bitter hate the bristling swords of war. For why should any
madness urge to take up first their arms upon an enemy such ones as
knew no sight of cruel wounds nor knew rewards that could be reaped in
blood? Would that our times could but return to those old ways ! but
love of gain and greed of holding burn more fiercely far than &Etna's
fires. Ah ! who was the wretch who first unearthed the mass of hidden
gold, the gems that only longed to lie unfound? For full of danger was
the prize he found.
'What am I to say of power and of the with the careless happiness of
the man who meets highwayman with no purse and empty pockets.
honours of office, which you raise to heaven because you know not true
honoured power ? What fires belched forth from &Etna's flames, what
overwhelming flood could deal such ruin as these when they fall into
the hands of evil men ? I am sure you remember how your forefathers
wished to do away with the consular power, which had been the very
foundation of liberty, because of the overbearing pride of the
consuls, just as your ancestors had too in earlier times expunged from
the state the name of king on account of the same pride. But if, as
rarely happens, places of honour are granted to honest men, what else
is delightful in them but the honesty they practise thereby ?
Wherefore honour comes not to virtue from holding office, but comes to
office from virtues there practised.
' But what is the power which you seek and esteem sohighly? O
creatures of the earth, can you not think over whom you are set ? If
you saw in a community of mice, one mouse asserting his rights and his
power over the others, with what mirth you would greet the sight! Yet
if you consider the body, what can you find weaker than humanity?
Cannot a tiny gnat by its bite, or by creeping into the inmost parts,
kill that body ? How can any exercise right upon any other except upon
the body alone, or that which is below the body, whereby I mean the
fortunes? Can you ever impose any law upon a free spirit ? Can you
eyer disturb the peculiar restfulness which is the property of a mind
that hangs together
upon the firm basis of its reason ? When a certain tyrant thought that
by tortures he would compel a free manl to betray the conspirators in
a plot against his life, the philosopher bit through his tongue and
spat it out in the tyrant's face. Thus were the tortures, which the
tyrant intended to have cruel results, turned by the philosopher into
subjects of high courage. Is there aught that one man can do to
another, which he may not suf~er from another in his turn ? We have
heard how Busiris, who used to kill strangers, was killed by Hercules
when he came to Egypt. Regulus,2 who had cast into chains many a
Carthaginian captive, soon yielded himself a prisoner to their chains.
Do you think that power to be any power, whose possessor cannot ensure
his own escape from suffering at another's hands what he inflicts upon
some other ?
' Further, if there were any intrinsic good in the nature of honours
and powers themselves, they could never crowd upon the basest men. For
opposites will not be bound together. Nature refuses to allow
contraries to be linked to each other. Wherefore, while it is un-
doubted that for the most part offices of honour are enjoyed by bad
men, it is also manifest that those things are not by nature ~ood,
[Note: This story is told of Anaxagoras andNicocreon, king of Cyprus,
c. B.C. 323.]
[Note: Regulus was the Roman general in Sicily inthe first Punic War,
taken prisoner in 255 B.C., and put to death in 250.]
allow themselves to cling to evil men. And this indeed may worthily be
held of all the gifts of fortune which come with the greatest success
to the most unscrupulous. And in this matter we must also think on
this fact, that no one doubts a man to be brave in whom he has found
by examination that bravery is implanted: and whoever has the quality
of swiftness is plainly swift. So also music makes men musical,
medicine makes men physicians, oratory makes men orators. The nature
of each quality acts as is peculiar to itself: it is not confused with
the results of contrary qualities, but goes so far as to drive out
those qualities which are opposed to it. Wealth cannot quench the
insatiable thirst of avarice: nor can power ever make master of
himself the man whom vicious passions hold fast in un- breakable
chains. Honours, when joined to dishonest men, so far from making them
honour- able, betray them rather, and show them to be dishonourable.
Why is this so ? It is because you rejoice to call things by false
€ames which belong not to them their names are refuted by the
reality of their qualities: wherefore neither riches, nor that kind of
power, nor these honours, can justly so be called. Lastly, we may come
to the same conclusion concerning all the aspects of Fortune: nothing
is to be sought in her, and it is plain she has no innate good, for
she is not always joined with good men, nor does she make good those
with whom she is joined.'
' We have heard what ruin Nero wrought when Rome was burnt and
senators were slain. We know how savagely he did to death his
brother,l how he was stained by the spilling of his own mother's
blood, and how he looked upon her cold body and yet no tear fell upon
his cheek: yet could this man be judge of the morals that were dead.
Nay, he was ruler of the peoples whom the sun looks upon from the time
he rises in the east until he hides his rays beneath the waves, and
those whom the chilling northern Wain o'errules, and those whom the
southern gale burns with its dry blast, as it heats the burning sands.
Say,could great power chasten Nero's maddened rage? Ah ! heavy fate,
how often is the sword of high injustice given where is already most
poisonous cruelty ! '
Then I said, ' You know that the vain-glory of this worldhas had but
little influence over me ; but I have desired the means of so managing
affairs that virtue might not grow aged in silence.'
'Yes,' said she, ' but there is one thing which can attract minds,
which, though by nature excelling, yet are not led by perfection to
the furthest bounds of virtue ; and that thing is the love of fame and
reputation for deserving well of one's country. Think then thus upon
it, and see that it is but a slight
[Note: Britannicus, son of Nero's father, the Emperor Claudius, put to
death A.D. 55.]
thing of no weight. As you have learnt from astronomers' shewing, the
whole circumference of the earth is but as a point compared with the
size of the heavens. That is, if you compare the earth with the circle
of the universe, it must be reckoned as of no size at all. And of this
tiny portion of the universe there is but a fourth part, as you have
learnt from the demonstration of Ptolemæus,l which is inhabited by
living beings known to us. If from this fourth part you imagine
subtracted all that is covered by sea and marsh, and all the vast
regions of thirsty desert, you will find but the narrowest space left
for human habitation. And do you think of setting forth your fame and
publishing your name in this space, which is but as a point within
another point so closely circumscribed ? And what size or magnificence
can fame have which is shut in by such close and narrow bounds ?
Further, this narrow enclosure of habitation is peopled by many races
of men which differ in language, in customs, and in their whole scheme
of living ;and owing to difficulty of travelling, differences of
speech, and rareness of any intercourse, the fame of cities cannot
reach them, much less the fame of men. Has not Cicero written
somewhere that in his time the fame of Rome had not reached the
mountains of the Caucasus, though the Republic was already well grown
[Note: A mathematician, astronomer, and geographerof Alexandria. Fl.
140-160 A.D. Boethius translated one of his works. ]
striking awe among the Parthians and other nations in those parts ? Do
you see then how narrow and closely bounded must be that fame which
you wish to extend more widely ? Can the fame of a Roman ever reach
parts to which the name of Rome cannot come ?
Further, the manners and customs of different races are so little in
agreement, that what is make his name known, because he takes pleasure
in a glorious fame. So each man shall be content if his fame travels
throughout his own countrymen, and the immortality of his name shall
be bounded by the limits of one nation. But how many men, the most
famous of their times, are wiped out by oblivion because no man has
written of them ! 1 And yet what advantage is there in much that is
written ? For with their authors these writings are overwhelmed in the
length and dimness of age. Yet when you think upon your fame in future
ages, you seem to think that you are prolonging it to immortality. But
if you think upon the unending length of eternity, what enjoyment do
you find in the long endurance of Boethius is thinking of Horace, Odes
iv. 9. Ere Agamemnon saw the light, There lived brave men: but
tearless all Enfolded in eternal night, For lack of sacred minstrels,
fall. (Mr.. Gladstone's translation.)
your name? For though one moment bears but the least proportion to ten
thousand years, yet there is a definite ratio, because both are
limited spaces of time. But even ten thousand years, or the greatest
number you will, cannot even be compared with eternity. For there will
always be ratio between finite things, but between the finite and the
infinite there can never be any comparison. Wherefore, however long
drawn out may be the life of your fame, it is not even small, but it
is absolutely nothing when compared with eternity. You know not how to
act rightly except for the breezes of popular opinion and for the sake
of empty rumours; thus the excellence of conscience and of virtue is
left behind, and you seek rewards from the tattle of other men. Listen
to the witty manner in which one played once upon the shallowness of
this pride. A certain man once bitterly attacked another who had taken
to himself falsely the name of philosopher, not for the purpose of
true virtue, but for pride of fame ; he added to his attack that he
would know soon whether he was a philosopher, when he saw whether the
other bore with meekness and patience the insults he heaped upon him.
The other showed patience for a while and took the insults as though
he scoffed at them, until he said, " Do you now see that I am a
philosopher ? " " I should have, had you kept silence," said the other
stingingly. But we are speaking of great men: and I ask, what do they
gain from fame, though they seek
glory by virtue? what have they after the body is dissolved at death?
For if men die utterly, as our reason forbids us to believe, there is
no glory left to them at all, since they whose it is said to be, do
not exist. If, on the other hand, the mind is still conscious and
working when it is freed from its earthly prison, it seeks heaven in
its freedom and surely spurns all earthly traffic: it enjoys heaven
and rejoices in its release from the of this world.
' The mind that rushes headlong in its search for fame, thinking that
is its highest good, should look upon the spreading regions of the
air, and then upon the bounded tracts that are this world: then will
shame enter it ; that, though fame grow, yet can it never fill so
small a circle. Proud men ! why will ye try in vain to free your necks
from the yoke mortality has set thereon? Though fame may be wide
scattered and find its way through distant lands, and set the tongues
there talking ; though a splendid house may draw brilliance from
famous names and tales; yet death regards not any glory, howsoever
great. Alike he overwhelms the lowly and the lofty head, and levels
high with low.
' Where are Fabricius's1 bones, that honourable man ?What now is
Brutus?2 or un Fabricius was the Roman general whom Pyrrhus could
neither bribe nor intimidate, B.C. 280.
[Note: L. Junius Brutus, who led the Romans to expel the last ofthe
kings, and was elected the first consul, B.C. 509.]
bending Cato?1 Their fame survives in this: it has no more than a few
slight letters shewing forth an empty name. We see their noble names
engraved, and only know thereby that they are brought to naught. Ye
lie then all unknown, and fame can give no knowledge of you. But if
you think that life can be prolonged by the breath of mortal fame, yet
when the slow time robs you of this too, then there awaits you but a
' But,' she said, ' do not think that I would urge implacablewar upon
Fortune. There are VIII times when her deception of men has certain
merits: I mean when she discovers herself, unveils her face, and
proclaims her ways. Perhaps youdo not yet understand what I would say.
It is a strange thing that I am trying to say, and for that reason I
can scarcely explain myself in words. I think that ill fortune is of
greater advantage to men than good fortune. Good fortune is ever lying
when she seems to favour by an appearance of happiness. Ill fortune is
ever true when by her changes she shews herself inconstant. The one
deceives ; the other edifies. The one by a deceitful appearance of
good things enchains the
[Note: Probably Cato Major, the great censor, B.C.184, the rigid
champion of the stern old Roman morals ; or possibly Cato Minor, who
committed suicide at Utica after the battle of Thapsus, B.C. 46,
because he considered that Cæsar's victory was fatal to the Republic
and the liberty of Rome.]
minds of those who enjoy them: the other frees VIII them by a
knowledge that happiness is so fragile. You see, then, that the one is
blown about by winds, is ever moving and ever ignorant of its own self
; the other is sober, ever prepared and ever made provident by the
undergoing of its very adversities. Lastly, good fortune draws men
from the straight path of true good by her fawning: ill fortune draws
most men to the true good, and holds them back by her curved staff.
'And do you think that this should be reckoned among theleast benefits
of this rough, unkind, and terrible ill fortune, that she has
discovered to you the minds of your faithful friends ? Fortune has
distinguished for you your sure and your doubtful friends; her
departure has taken away her friends and left you yours. At what price
could you have bought this benefit if you had been untouched and, as
you thought, fortunate ? Cease then to seek the wealth you have lost.
You have found your friends, and they are the most precious of all
' Through Love1 the universe with constancy makeschanges all without
discord: earth's elements, though contrary, abide in treaty bound:
Phœbus in his golden car leads up the glowing day ; his sister
rules the night that
[Note: Boethius in this passage is probably thinking ofEmpedocles's
doctrine of Love which unites, and Strife which divides, the two
primal forces in the universe.]
Hesperus brought: the greedy sea confines its waves in bounds, lest
the earth's borders be changed by its beating on them: all these are
firmly bound by Love, which rules both earth and sea, and has its
empire in the heavens too. If Love should slacken this its hold, all
mutual love would change to war ; and these would strive to undo the
scheme which now their glorious movements carry out with trust and
with accord. By Love are peoples too kept bound together by a treaty
which they may not break. Love binds with pure affection the sacred
tie of wedlock, and speaks its bidding to all trusty friends. O happy
race of mortals, if your hearts are ruled as is the universe, by Love
! ' C p. Bk. I. Prose iv, p. 10.]
When she finished her lay, its soothing tones left me spellbound with
my ears alert in my eagerness to listen. So a while afterwards I said,
'Greatest comforter of weary minds, how have you cheered me with your
deep thoughts and sweet singing too ! No more shall I doubt my power
to meet the blows of Fortune. So far am I from terror at the remedies
which you did lately tell me were sharper, that I am longing to hear
them, and eagerly I beg you for them.'
Then said she, 'I knew it when you laid hold uponmy words in silent
attention, and I was waiting for that frame of mind in you, or more
truly, I brought it about in you. They that remain are indeed bitter
to the tongue, but sweet to the inner man. But as you say you are
eager to hear, how ardently you would be burning, if you knew whither
I am attempting to lead you ! '
Whither is that ? ' I asked.
'To the true happiness, of which your soul too dreams; but your sight
is taken up in imaginary views thereof, so that you cannot look upon
Then said I, ' I pray you shew me what that truly is, and quickly.'
' I will do so,' she said, ' for your sake willingly. But firstI will
try to picture in words and give you the form of the cause, which is
already better known to you, that so, when that picture is perfect and
you turn your eyes to the other side, you may recognise the form of
' When a man would sow in virgin soil, first he clears awaythe bushes,
cuts the brambles and the ferns, that the corn-goddess may go forth
laden with her new fruit. The honey, that the bee has toiled to give
us, is sweeter when the mouth has tasted bitter things. The stars
shine with more pleasing grace when a storm has ceased to roar and
pour down rain. After the morning star has dispersed the shades of
night, the day in all its beauty drives its rosy chariot forth. So
thou hast looked upon false happiness first; now draw thy neck from
under her yoke: so shall true happiness now come into thy soul.'
She lowered her eyes for a little while as though searchingthe
innermost recesses of her mind ; and then she continued:--' The
trouble of the many and various aims of mortal men bring them much
care, and herein they go forward by different paths but strive to
reach one end, which is happiness. And that good is that, to which if
any man attain, he
can desire nothing further. It is that highest of all good things, and
it embraces in itself all good things: if any good is lacking, it
cannot be the highest good, since then there is left outside it
something which can be desired. Wherefore happiness is a state which
is made perfect by the union of all good things. This end all men seek
to reach, as I said, though by different paths. For there is implanted
by nature in the minds of men a desire for the true good ; but error
leads them astray towards false goods by wrong paths.
' Some men believe that the highest good is to lack nothing,and so
they are at pains to possess abundant riches. Others consider the true
good to be that which is most worthy of admiration, and so they strive
to attain to places of honour, and to be held by their fellow-
citizens in honour thereby. Some determine that the highest good lies
in the highest power ;and so they either desire to reign themselves,
or try to cleave to those who do reign. Others think that renown is
the greatest good, and they therefore hasten to make a famous name by
the arts of peace or of war. But more than all measure the fruit of
good by pleasure and enjoyment, and these think that the happiest man
is abandoned to pleasure.
' Further, there are those who confuse the aims and thecauses of these
good things: as those who desire riches for the sake of power or of
pleasure, or those who seek power for the sake of money or celebrity.
In these, then, and
other things like to them, lies the aim of men's actions and prayers,
such as renown and popularity, which seem to afford some fame, or wife
and children, which are sought for the pleasure they give. On the
other hand, the good of friends, which is the most honourable and holy
of all, lies not in Fortune's but in Virtue's realm. All others are
adopted for the sake of power or enjoyment.
'Again, it is plain that the good things of the body must be accounted
to those false causes which we have mentioned; for bodily strength and
stature seem to make men more able and strong ; beauty and swiftness
seem to give renown; health seems to give pleasure. By all these
happiness alone is plainly desired. For each man holds that to be the
highest good, which he seeks before all others. But we have defined
the highest good to be happiness. Wherefore what each man desires
above all others, he holds to be a state of happiness.
'Wherefore you have each of these placed before you as the form of
human happiness: wealth, honours, power, glory, and pleasure. Epicurus
1 considered these forms alone, and accordingly determined upon
pleasure as the highest good, because all the others seemed but
[Note: Epicurus (B.C. 342-270) was the famousfounder of the Epicurean
school of philosophy. His school had a large following of Romans under
the Empire. His own teaching was of a higher nature than might be
supposed from this bare statement that he thought 'pleasure was the
to join with it in bringing enjoyment to the mind.
'But to return to the aims of men: their minds seem to seekto regain
the highest good, and their memories seem to dull their powers. It is
as though a drunken man were seeking his home, but could not remember
the way thither. Can those people be altogether wrong whose aim it is
to lack nothing ? No, there is nothing which can make happiness so
perfect as an abundant possession of good things, needing naught that
belongs to others, but in all ways sufficing for itself. Surely those
others too are not mistaken who think that what is best is also most
worthy of reverence and respect. It cannot be any cheap or base thing,
to attain which almost all men aim and strive. And is power not to be
accounted a good thing ? Surely it is: can that be a weak thing or
forceless, which is allowed in all cases to excel? Is renown of no
value ? We cannot surrender this ; that whatever is most excellent,
has also great renown. It is hardly worth saying that happiness has no
torturing cares or gloom, and is not subject to grief and trouble ;
for even in small things, the aim is to find that which it is a
delight to have and to enjoy. These, then, are the desires of men:
they long for riches, places of honour, kingdoms, glory, and pleasure
;and they long for them because they think that thereby they will find
satisfaction, veneration, power, renown, and happiness. It is the good
then which men seek by their different desires ;
and it is easy to shew how great a force nature has put therein, since
in spite of such varying and discordant opinions, they are all agreed
in the goal they seek, that of the highest good.
' I would to pliant strings set forth a song of how almighty Nature
turns her guiding reins, telling with what laws her providence keeps
safe this boundless universe, binding and tying each and all with
cords that never shall be loosed. The lions of Carthage, though they
bear the gorgeous bonds and trappings of captivity, and eat the food
that is given them by hand, and though they fear their harsh master
with his lash they know so well ; yet if once blood has touched their
bristling jaws, their old, their latent wills return ; with deep
roaring theyremember their old selves; they loose their bands and free
their necks, and their tamer is the first torn by their cruel teeth,
and his blood is poured out by their rage and wrath.
'If the bird who sings so lustily upon the high tree-top, be caught
and caged, men may minister to him with dainty care, may give him cups
of liquid honey and feed him with all gentleness on plenteous food ;
yet if he fly to the roof of his cage and see the shady trees he
loves, he spurns with his foot the food they have put before him ; the
woods are all his sorrow calls for, for the woods he sings with his
' The bough which has been downward thrust by force of strength to
bend its top to
earth, so soon as the pressing hand is gone, looks up again straight
to the sky above.
' Phœbus sinks into the western waves, but by hisunknown track
he turns his car once more to his rising in the east.
' All things must find their own peculiar course again, and each
rejoices in his own return. Not one can keep the order handed down to
it, unless in some way it unites its rising to its end, and so makes
firm, immutable, its own encircling course.
'And you too, creatures of the earth, do dream of your first state,
though with a dim idea. With whatsoever thinking it may be, you look
to that goal of happiness, though never so obscure your thoughts:
thither, to true happiness, your natural course does guide you, and
from the same your various errors lead you. For I would have you
consider whether men can reach the end they have resolved upon, namely
happiness, by these ways by which they think to attain thereto. If
money and places of honour and such-like do bring anything of that
sort to a man who seems to lack no good thing, then let us acknowledge
with them that men do become happy by the possession of these things.
But if they cannot perform their promises, and there is still lack of
further good things, surely it is plain that a false appearance of
happiness is there discovered. You, therefore, who had lately abundant
riches, shall first answer me. With all that great wealth, was your
perturbed by torturing care arising from some sense of injustice ? '
' Yes,' I said ; ' I cannot remember that my mind was ever free from
some such care.'
Was it not because something was lacking, which youmissed, or because
something was present to you which you did not like to have ? '
' Yes,' I answered.
' You desired, then, the presence of the one, and theabsence of the
other ? '
' I acknowledge it.'
'Then,' said she, 'such a man lacks what he desires.'
' He does.'
' But while a man lacks anything, can he possibly satisfy himself ? '
' No,' said I.
' Then, while you were bountifully supplied with wealth,you felt that
you did not satisfy yourself ? '
' I did indeed.'
'Then,' said she, 'wealth cannot prevent a man from lackingor make him
satisfied. And this is what it apparently professed to do. And this
point too I feel is most important: money has in itself, by its own
nature, nothing which can prevent its being carried off from those,
who possess it, against their will.'
' It has not,' I said.
' No, you cannot deny that any stronger man may any day snatch it from
them. For how come about the quarrels of the law-courts ? Is it not
because people try to regain money that
has been by force or by fraud taken from them ? ' ' Yes,' I answered.
' Then,' said she, ' a man will need to seek from theoutside help to
guard his own money.'
' That cannot be denied,' I said.
'And a man will not need that unless he possesses money which he can
' Undoubtedly he will not.'
' Then the argument turns round the other way,' she said. ' The riches
which were thought to make a man all-sufficient for himself, do really
put him in need of other people's help. Then how can need be separated
from wealth ? Do the rich never feel hunger nor thirst ? Do the limbs
of moneyed men never feel the cold of winter ? You will say, " Yes,
but the rich have the wherewithal to satisfy hunger and thirst, and
drive away cold." But though riches may thus console wants, they
cannot entirely take them away. For, though these ever crying wants,
these continual requests, are satisfied, yet there must exist that
which is to be satisfied. I need not say that nature is satisfied with
little, greed is never satisfied. Wherefore, I ask you, if wealth
cannot remove want, and even creates its own wants, what reason is
there that you should think it affords satisfaction to a man ?
' Though the rich man with greed heap up from ever-flowing streams the
wealth that cannot satisfy, though he deck himself with pearls from
the Red Sea's shore, and plough
his fertile field with oxen by the score, yet gnawing care will never
in his lifetime leave him, and at his death his wealth will not go
with him, but leave him faithlessly.'
' But,' I urged, ' places of honour make the man, to whom they fall,
honoured and venerated.'
'Ah! ' she answered, ' have those offices their force in truththat
they may instil virtues into the minds of those that hold them, and
drive out vices therefrom? And yet we are too well accustomed to see
them making wickedness conspicuous rather than avoiding it. Wherefore
we are displeased to see such places often falling to the most wicked
of men, so that Catullus called Nonius "a diseased growth," 1 though
he sat in the highest chair of office. Do you see how great a disgrace
high honours can add to evil men? Their unworthiness is less
conspicuous if they are not made famous by honours. Could you yourself
have been induced by any dangers to think of being a colleague with
Decoratus,2 when you saw that he had the mind of an unscrupulous
buffoon, and a base informer ? We cannot consider men worthy of
veneration on account of their high places, when we hold them to be
unworthy of those
[Note: Probably Boethius makes a mistake in his interpretation of
Catullus (Carm. 52), as Nonius's surname was very likely ' Struma '
(which also means a wen) ; in which case Catullus cannot at most have
intended more to be understood than a play upon the man's true name.]
[Note: Decoratus was a minion ofTheodoric.]
high places. But if you see a man endowed with wisdom, you cannot but
consider him worthy of veneration, or at least of the wisdom with
which he is endowed. For such a man has the worth peculiar to virtue,
which it transmits directly to those in whom it is found. But since
honours from the vulgar crowd cannot create merit, it is plain that
they have not the peculiar beauty of this worth. And here is a
particular point to be noticed: if men are the more worthless as they
are despised by more people, high position makes them all the worse
because it cannot make venerable those whom it shews to so many people
to be contemptible. And this brings its penalty with it: wicked people
bring a like quality into their positions, and stain them with their
' Now I would have you consider the matter thus, that youmay recognise
that true veneration cannot be won through these shadowy honours. If a
man who had filled the office of consul many times in Rome, came by
chance into a country of barbarians, would his high position make him
venerated by the barbarians ? Yet if this were a natural quality in
such dignities, they would never lose their effective function in any
land, just as fire is never aught but hot in all countries. But since
they do not receive this quality of veneration from any force peculiar
to themselves, but only from a connexion in the untrustworthy opinions
of men, they become as nothing as soon as they are among those who do
not consider these dignities as such.
' But that is only in the case of foreign peoples. Among the very
peoples where they had their beginnings, do these dignities last for
ever ? Consider how great was the power in Rome of old of the office
of Præfect: now it is an empty name and a heavy burden upon the income
of any man of Senator's rank. 'The præfect then, who was commissioner
of the corn-market, was held to be a great man. Now there is no office
more despised. For, as I said before, that which has no intrinsic
beauty, sometimes receives a certain glory, sometimes loses it,
according to the opinion of those who are concerned with it. If then
high offices cannot make men venerated, if furthermore they grow vile
by the infection of bad men, if changes of time can end their glory,
and, lastly, if they are held cheaply in the estimation of whole
peoples, I ask you, so far from affording true beauty to men, what
beauty have they in themselves which men can desire ?
' Though Nero decked himself proudly with purple of Tyreand snow-white
gems, none the less that man of rage and luxury lived ever hated of
all. Yet would that evil man at times give his dishonoured offices to
men who were revered. Who then could count men blessed, who to such a
villain owed their high estate ?
'Can kingdoms and intimacies with kings make people powerful ? "
Certainly," some The may answer, " in so far as their happiness is
lasting." But antiquity and our times too are
full of examples of the contrary ; examples of men whose happiness as
kings has been exchanged for disaster. What wonderful power, which is
found to be powerless even for its own preservation ! But if this
kingly power is really a source of happiness, surely then, if it fail
in any way, it lessens the happiness it brings, and equally causes
unhappiness. However widely human empires may extend, there must be
still more nations left, over whom each king does not reign. And so,
in whatever direction this power ceases to make happy, thereby comes
in powerlessness, which makes men unhappy ; thus therefore there must
be a greater part of unhappiness in every king's estate. That tyrant 1
had learnt well the dangers of his lot, who likened the fear which
goes with kingship to the terror inspired by a sword ever hanging
overhead. What then is such a power, which cannot drive away the bite
of cares, nor escape the stings of fear ?
'Yet these all would willingly live without fear, but they cannot, and
yet they boast of their power. Think you a man is powerful when you
see that he longs for that which he cannot bring to pass ? Do you
reckon a man powerful who walks abroad with dignity and attended by
servants ? A man who strikes fear into his subjects, yet fears them
more himself? Damocles, what it was to be a tyrant, by setting him in
his own seat at a sumptuous banquet,'but hung a sword above him by a
A man who must be at the mercy of those that serve him, in order that
he may seem to have power ?
'Need I speak of intimacies with kings when kingship itselfis shewn to
be full of weakness ? Not only when kings' powers fall are their
friends laid low, but often even when their powers are intact. Nero
compelled his friend and tutor, Seneca,l to choose how he would die.
Papinianus,2 for a long while a powerful courtier, was handed over to
the soldiers' swords by the Emperor Antoninus. Yet each of these was
willing to surrender all his power. Seneca even tried to give up all
his wealth to Nero, and to seek retirement. But the very weight of
their wealth and power dragged them down to ruin, and neither could do
what he wished.
' What then is that power, whose possessors fear it ? in desiring to
possess which, you are not safe, and from which you cannot escape,
even though you try to lay it down? What help are friends, made not by
virtue but by fortune? The friend gained by good fortune becomes an
enemy in ill-fortune. And what plague can more effectually injure than
an intimate enemy ?
' The man who would true power gain, must needs subduehis own wild
[Note: Seneca, the philosopher and wise counsellor ofNero, was by him
compelled to commit suicide, A.D. 65. ]
[Note: Papinianus, the greatest lawyer of his time,was put to death by
the Emperor Antoninus Caracalla, A.D. 212.]
must he let his passions triumph and yoke his neck by their foul
bonds. For though the earth, as far as India's shore, tremble before
the laws you give, though Thule bow to your service on earth's
farthest bounds, yet if thou canst not drive away black cares, if thou
canst not put to flight complaints, then is no true power thine.
'How deceitful is fame often, and how base a thing it is!Justly did
the tragic poet cry out,1 "O Fame, Fame, how many lives of men Of
naught hast thou puffed up ! " For many men have got a great name from
the false opinions of the crowd. -And what could be baser than such a
thing ? For those who are falsely praised, must blush to hear their
praises. And if they are justly won by merits, what can they add to
the pleasure of a wise man's conscience ? For he measures his
happiness not by popular talk, but by the truth of his conscience. If
it attracts a man to make his name widely known, he must equally think
it a shame if it be not made known. But I have already said that there
must be yet more lands into which the renown of a single man can never
come ; wherefore it follows that the man, whom you think famous, will
seem to have no such fame in the next quarter of the earth.
' Popular favour seems to me to be unworthy even ofmention under this
head, for it comes not by any judgment, and is never constant.
' Again, who can but see how empty a name, and howfutile, is noble
birth ? For if its glory is due to renown, it belongs not to the man.
For the glory of noble birth seems to be praise for the merits of a
man's forefathers. But if praise creates the renown, it is the
renowned who are praised. Wherefore, if you have no renown of your
own, that of others cannot glorify you. But if there is any good in
noble birth, I conceive it to be this, and this alone, that the
highborn seem to be bound in honour not to show any degeneracy from
their fathers' virtue.
' From like beginning rise all men on earth, for there is oneFather of
all things ; one is the guide of everything. 'Tis He who gave the sun
his rays, and horns unto the moon. 'Tis He who set mankind on earth,
and in the heavens the stars. He put within our bodies spirits which
were born in heaven. And thus a highborn race has He set forth in man.
Why do ye men rail on your forefathers ? If ye look to your beginning
and your author, which is God, is any man degenerate or base but he
who by his own vices cherishes base things and leaves that beginning
which was his ?
' And now what am I to say of the pleasures of the body ?The desires
of the flesh are full of cares, their fulfilment is full of remorse.
What terrible diseases, what unbearable griefs,
truly the fruits of sin, do they bring upon the bodies of those who
enjoy them ! I know not what pleasure their impulse affords, but any
who cares to recall his indulgences of his passions, will know that
the results of such pleasures are indeed gloomy. If any can shew that
those results are blest with happiness, then may the beasts of the
field be justly called blessed, for all their aims are urged toward
the satisfying of their bodies' wants. The pleasures of wife and
children may be most honourable ; but nature makes it all too plain
that some have found torment in their children. How bitter is any such
kind of suffering, I need not tell you now, for you have never known
it, nor have any such anxiety now. Yet in this matter I would hold
with my philosopher Euripides,l that he who has no children is happy
in his misfortune.
'All pleasures have this way: those who enjoy them theydrive on with
stings. Pleasure, like the winged bee, scatters its honey sweet, then
flies away, and with a clinging sting it strikes the hearts it
' There is then no doubt that these roads to VIII happinessare no
roads, and they cannot lead any man to any end whither they profess to
take him. I would shew you shortly with
[Note: Referring to lines in the Andromache(419-420), where Euripides
says: 'The man who complains that he has no children suffers less than
he who has them, and is blest in his misfortune.' ]
what great evils they are bound up. Would you heap up money ? You will
need to tear VIII it from its owner. Would you seem brilliant by the
glory of great honours? You must kneel before their dispenser, and in
your desire to surpass other men in honour, you must debase yourself
by setting aside all pride. Do you long for power ? You will be
subject to the wiles of all over whom you have power, you will be at
the mercy of many dangers. You seek fame? You will be drawn to and fro
among rough paths, and lose all freedom from care. Would you spend a
life of pleasure ? Who would not despise and cast off such servitude
to so vile and brittle a thing as your body? How petty are all the
aims of those who put before themselves the pleasures of the body, how
uncertain is the possession of such ? In bodily size will you ever
surpass the elephant? In strength will you ever lead the bull, or in
speed the tiger ? Look upon the expanse of heaven, the strength with
which it stands, the rapidity with which it moves, and cease for a
while to wonder at base things. This heaven is not more wonderful for
those things than for the design which guides it. How sweeping is the
brightness of outward form, how swift its movement, yet more fleeting
than the passing of the flowers of spring. But if, as Aristotle says,
many could use the eyes of lynxes to see through that which meets the
eye, then if they saw into the organs within, would not that body,
though it had the most fair outside of Alcibiades,
[Note: Alcibiades was the most handsome and brilliantlyfascinating of
all the public men of Athens in her mostbrilliant period.]
seem most vile within ? Whereforeit is not your own nature, but the
weaknessof the eyes of them that see you, which makesyou seem
beautiful. But consider how in excessyou desire the pleasures of the
body, when youknow that howsoever you admire it, it can bereduced to
nothing by a three-days' fever. Toput all these points then in a word:
these thingscannot grant the good which they promise; theyare not made
perfect by the union of all goodthings in them; they do not lead to
happinessas a path thither; they do not make menblessed.
[Note: Compare Philosophy's first words about the highestgood, p. 58.]
' Ah ! how wretched are they whom ignoranceleads astray by her crooked
path ! Ye seeknot gold upon green trees, nor gather preciousstones
from vines, nor set your nets on mountaintops to catch the fishes for
your feast, nor huntthe Umbrian sea in search of goats. Manknows the
depths of the sea themselves, hiddenthough they be beneath its waves;
he knowswhich water best yields him pearls, and whichthe scarlet dye.
But in their blindness menare content, and know not where lies hid
thegood which they desire. They sink in earthlythings, and there they
seek that which has soared
above the star-lit heavens. What can I call down upon them worthy of
their stubborn folly ?They go about in search of wealth and
honours;and only when they have by labours vast storedup deception for
themselves, do they at lastknow what is their true good.
'So far,' she continued, ' we have been content to set forth the form
of false happiness.If you clearly understand that, my next dutyis to
shew what is true happiness.'
' I do see,' said I, 'that wealth cannotsatisfy, that power comes not
to kingdoms,nor veneration to high offices; that true renowncannot
accompany ambition, nor true enjoymentwait upon the pleasures of the
' Have you grasped the reasons why it is so ? 'she asked.
' I seem to look at them as through a narrowchink, but I would learn
more clearly fromyou.'
'The reason is to hand,' said she; 'human error takes that which is
simple and by nature impossible to divide, tries to divide it, and
turns its truth and perfection into falsity andimperfection. Tell me,
do you think thatanything which lacks nothing, can be withoutpower ? '
' Of course not.'
' You are right; for if anything has anyweakness in any part, it must
lack the help ofsomething else.'
' That is so,' I said.
' Then perfect satisfaction and power havethe same nature ? '
' Yes, it seems so.'
' And do you think such a thing contemptible,or the opposite, worthy
of all veneration ? '
' There can be no doubt that it is worthy.'
'Then let us add veneration to that satisfaction and power, and so
consider these threeas one.'
' Yes, we must add it if we wish to proclaimthe truth.'
'Do you then think that this whole is dulland of no reputation, or
renowned with allglory ? For consider it thus: we have grantedthat it
lacks nothing, that it has all power andis worthy of all veneration;
it must not therefore lack the glory which it cannot supply foritself,
and thereby seem to be in any directioncontemptible.'
'No,' I said, 'I must allow that it hasglory too.'
'Therefore we must rank this glory equallywith the other three.'
'Yes, we must.'
'Then that which lacks nothing from outsideitself, which is
all-powerful by its own might,which has renown and veneration, must
surelybe allowed to be most happy too?'
'I cannot imagine from what quarter unhappiness would creep into such
a thing, whereforewe must grant that it is full of happiness if
theother qualities remain existent.'
'Then it follows further, that though perfect
satisfaction, power, glory, veneration, and happiness differ in name,
they cannot differ at all inessence ?'
'This then,' said she, 'is a simple, singlething by nature, only
divided by the mistakesof base humanity; and while men try to gain
apart of that which has no parts, they fail bothto obtain a fraction,
which cannot exist, and thewhole too after which they do not strive.'
' Tell me how they fail thus,' I said.
' One seeks riches by fleeing from poverty,and takes no thought of
power,' she answered,'and so he prefers to be base and unknown,and
even deprives himself of natural pleasureslest he should part with the
riches which hehas gathered. Thus not even that satisfactionreaches
the man who loses all power, who isstabbed by sorrow, lowered by his
meanness,hidden by his lack of fame. Another seekspower only: he
scatters his wealth, he despisespleasures and honours which have no
power,and sets no value upon glory. You see howmany things such an one
lacks. Sometimes hegoes without necessaries even, sometimes hefeels
the bite and torture of care; and ashe cannot rid himself of these, he
loses thepower too which he sought above all things.The same argument
may be applied to offices,glory, and pleasure. For since each one
ofthese is the same as each other, any man whoseeks one without the
others, gains not eventhat one which he desires.'
' What then? ' I asked.
' If any man desires to obtain all together, hewill be seeking the sum
of happiness. But will heever find that in these things which we
haveshewn cannot supply what they promise?''No.
'Then happiness is not to be sought foramong these things which are
separately believedto supply each thing so sought.'
'Nothing could be more plainly true,' I said.
'Then you have before you the form of falsehappiness, and its causes;
now turn your attention in the opposite direction, and you willquickly
see the true happiness which I havepromised to shew you.'
' But surely this is clear even to the blindest,and you shewed it
before when you were tryingto make clear the causes of false
happiness.For if I mistake not, true and perfect happinessis that
which makes a man truly satisfied,powerful, venerated, renowned, and
happy.And (for I would have you see that I havelooked deeply into the
matter) I realise withoutdoubt that that which can truly yield any
oneof these, since they are all one, is perfecthappiness.
' Ah ! my son,' said she, ' I do see that youare blessed in this
opinion, but I would haveyou add one thing.'
' What is that ? ' I asked.
' Do you think that there is anything amongmortals, and in our
perishable lives, which couldyield such a state ? '
'I do not think that there is, and I think that you have shewn this
beyond the need offurther proof.'
' These then seem to yield to mortals certainappearances of the true
good, or some suchimperfections; but they cannot give true andperfect
' Since, then, you have seen what is truehappiness, and what are the
false imitationsthereof, it now remains that you should learnwhence
this true happiness may be sought.'
' For that,' said I, ' I have been impatientlywaiting.'
' But divine help must be sought in smallthings as well as great (as
my pupil Plato says inhis Timœ;us);
[Note: Plato, Timœ;us, 27 C. (ch. v.) -- ' All those who have
even the least share of moderation, on undertaking any enterprise,
small or great, always call upon God at the beginning.]
so what, think you, must we do todeserve to find the place of that
highest good ? '
' Call,' I said, ' upon the Father of all, for ifwe do not do so, no
undertaking would berightly or duly begun.'
'You are right,' said she; and thus shecried aloud : --
[Note: This hymn is replete with the highest developmentof Plato's
theory of ideas, as expressed in the Timœ;us,and his theory of
the ideal good being the moving spiritof the material world. Compare
also the speculativeportion of Virgil, Æneid, vi.]
' Thou who dost rule the universe with
everlasting law, founder of earth and heavenalike, who hast bidden
time stand forth fromout Eternity, for ever firm Thyself, yet
givingmovement unto all. No causes were withoutThee which could thence
impel Thee to createthis mass of changing matter, but withinThyself
exists the very idea of perfect good,which grudges naught, for of what
can it haveenvy? Thou makest all things follow thathigh pattern. In
perfect beauty Thou movestin Thy mind a world of beauty, making all
ina like image, and bidding the perfect whole tocomplete its perfect
functions. All the firstprinciples of nature Thou dost bind togetherby
perfect orders as of numbers, so that theymay be balanced each with
its opposite: coldwith heat, and dry with moist together ; thusfire
may not fly upward too swiftly because toopurely, nor may the weight
of the solid earthdrag it down and overwhelm it. Thou dostmake the
soul as a third between mind andmaterial bodies: to these the soul
gives lifeand movement, for Thou dost spread it abroadamong the
members of the universe, nowworking in accord. Thus is the soul
dividedas it takes its course, making two circles, asthough a binding
thread around the world.Thereafter it returns unto itself and
passesaround the lower earthly mind; and in likemanner it gives motion
to the heavens to turntheir course. Thou it is who dost carryforward
with like inspiration these souls andlower lives. Thou dost fill these
with lofty souls, and send them abroad throughout the heavens and
earth, and by Thy kindlylaw dost turn them again to Thyself and
bringthem to seek, as fire doth, to rise to Theeagain.
' Grant then, O Father, that this mind ofours may rise to Thy throne
of majesty; grantus to reach that fount of good. Grant that wemay so
find light that we may set on Theeunblinded eyes; cast Thou therefrom
theheavy clouds of this material world. Shineforth upon us in Thine
own true glory. Thou art the bright and peaceful rest of all
Thychildren that worship Thee. To see Theeclearly is the limit of our
aim. Thou art ourbeginning, our progress, our guide, our way,our end.
' Since then you have seen the form both of the imperfect and the
perfect good, I think I should now shew you where lies this perfection
of happiness. In this I think our first inquirymust be whether any
good of this kind can exist in the very nature of a subject; for
wemust not let any vain form of thought make usmiss the truth of this
matter. But there canbe no denial of its existence, that it is as
thevery source of all good. For if anything issaid to be imperfect, it
is held to be so bysome loss of its perfection. Wherefore if inany
kind of thing a particular seems imperfect,there must also be a
perfect specimen in thesame kind. For if you take away the perfection,
it is impossible even to imagine whencecould come the so-called
imperfect specimen.For nature does not start from degenerate
orimperfect specimens, but starting from theperfect and ideal, it
degenerates to these lowerand weaker forms. If then, as we have
shewnabove, there is an uncertain and imperfecthappiness to be found
in the good, then theremust doubtless be also a sure and
[Note: This reasoning hangs upon Plato's theory of ideasand so is the
opposite of the theory of evolution.]
' Yes,' said I, ' that is quite surely proved tobe true.'
' Now consider,' she continued, ' where itlies. The universally
accepted notion of menproves that God, the fountain-head of all
things,is good. For nothing can be thought of betterthan God, and
surely He, than whom there isnothing better, must without doubt be
good.Now reason shews us that God is so good, thatwe are convinced
that in Him lies also theperfect good. For if it is not so, He
cannotbe the fountain-head; for there must then besomething more
excellent, possessing thatperfect good, which appears to be of
olderorigin than God: for it has been proved thatall perfections are
of earlier origin than theimperfect specimens of the same:
wherefore,unless we are to prolong the series to infinity,we must
allow that the highest Deity must befull of the highest, the perfect
good. But aswe have laid down that true happiness is perfect
good, it must be that true happiness is situatedin His Divinity.'
' Yes, I accept that; it cannot be in any waycontradicted.'
' But,' she said, ' I beg you, be sure that youaccept with a sure
conscience and determination this fact, that we have said that the
highestDeity is filled with the highest good.'
' How should I think of it ? ' I asked.
' You must not think of God, the Father ofall, whom we hold to be
filled with the highestgood, as having received this good into Himself
from without, nor that He has it by naturein such a manner that you
might consider Him,its possessor, and the happiness possessed,
ashaving different essential existences. For ifyou think that good has
been received fromwithout, that which gave it must be moreexcellent
than that which received it; but wehave most rightly stated that He is
the mostexcellent of all things. And if you think thatit is in Him by
His nature, but different inkind, then, while we speak of God as
thefountain-head of all things, who could imagineby whom these
different kinds can have beenunited ? Lastly, that which is different
fromanything cannot be the thing from which itdiffers. So anything
which is by its naturedifferent from the highest good, cannot be
thehighest good. And this we must not think ofGod, than whom there is
nothing more excellent, as we have agreed. Nothing in thisworld can
have a nature which is better than
its origin, wherefore I would conclude thatthat which is the origin of
all things, accordingto the truest reasoning, is by its essence
' Most truly,' I said.
'You agree that the highest good is happiness ? '
' Then you must allow that God is absolutehappiness ?
' I cannot deny what you put forward before,and I see that this
follows necessarily fromthose propositions.'
' Look then,' she said, 'whether it is provedmore strongly by this
too: there cannot be twohighest goods which are different. For
wheretwo good things are different, the one cannotbe the other;
wherefore neither can be theperfect good, while each is lacking to
theother. And that which is not perfect cannotbe the highest, plainly.
Therefore if twothings are highest good, they cannot be different.
Further, we have proved to ourselvesthat both happiness and God are
each thehighest good. Therefore the highest Deitymust be identical
with the highest happiness.'
' No conclusion,' I said, ' could be truer infact, or more surely
proved by reason, or moreworthy of our God.'
' Besides this let me give you corollary, asgeometricians do, when
they wish to add apoint drawn from the propositions they haveproved.
Since men become happy by
acquiring happiness, and happiness is identical with divinity, it is
plain that they become happyby acquiring divinity. But just as men
becomejust by acquiring the quality of justice, and wiseby wisdom, so
by the same reasoning, by acquiring divinity they become divine.
Everyhappy man then is divine. But while nothingprevents as many men
as possible from beingdivine, God is so by His nature, men becomeso by
'This corollary,' I said, ' or whatever youcall it, is indeed
beautiful and very precious.'
' Yes, but nothing can be more beautiful thanthis too which reason
would have us add to whatwe have agreed upon.'
' What is that ? ' I asked.
'Happiness seems to include many things:do all these join it together
as into a wholewhich is happiness, as though each thing werea
different part thereof, or is any one of thema good which fulfils the
essence of happiness,and do the others merely bear relations to
thisone .? '
' I would have you make this plain by theenunciation of these
' Do we not,' she asked, ' hold that happinessis a good thing ? '
' Yes,' I answered, ' the highest good.'
' But you may apply this quality of happinessto them all. For the
perfect satisfaction is thesame, and the highest power, and
veneration, andrenown, and pleasure; these are all held to
' What then ? ' I asked.
' Are all these things, satisfaction, power,and the others, as it
were, members of the body,happiness, or do they all bear their
relation tothe good, as members to a head ? '
' I understand what you propose to examine,but I am waiting eagerly to
hear what youwill lay down.'
'I would have you take the following explanation,' she said. ' If
these were allmembers of the one body, happiness, theywould differ
individually. For this is thenature of particulars, to make up one
body ofdifferent parts. But all these have been shewnto be one and the
same. Therefore they arenot as members; and further, this happiness
willthen appear to be joined together into a wholebody out of one
member, which is impossible.'
' That is quite certain,' said I, ' but I wouldhear what is to come.'
'It is plain that the others have some relation to the good. It is for
that reason,namely because it is held to be good, thatthis
satisfaction is sought, and power likewise,and the others too; we may
suppose the sameof veneration, renown, and pleasure. The goodthen is
the cause of the desire for all of these,and their consummation also.
Such a thing ashas in itself no real or even pretended good,cannot
ever be sought. On the other hand,such things as are not by nature
good, but seemto be so, are sought as though they were trulygood.
Wherefore we may justly believe that
their good quality is the cause of the desire for them, the very hinge
on which they turn, andtheir consummation. The really importantobject
of a desire, is that for the sake of whichanything is sought, as a
means. For instance,if a man wishes to ride for the sake of hishealth,
he does not so much desire the motionof riding, as the effect, namely
health. As,therefore, each of these things is desired for thesake of
the good, the absolute good is the aim,rather than themselves. But we
have agreedthat the other things are desired for the sakeof happiness,
wherefore in this case too, it ishappiness alone which is the object
of thedesire. Wherefore it is plain that the essenceof the good and of
happiness is one and thesame. '
' I cannot see how any one can think otherwise.'
' But we have shewn that God and truehappiness are one and the same.'
'Therefore,' said she, 'we may safely conclude that the essence of God
also lies in theabsolute good and nowhere else.
' Come hither all who are the prey of passions, bound by their
ruthless chains; thosedeceiving passions which blunt the minds ofmen.
Here shall you find rest from yourlabours; here a haven lying in
tranquil peace;this shall be a resting-place open to receivewithin
itself all the miserable on earth. Not
all the wealth of Tagus's golden sands, norHermus's gleaming strand,
[Note: The modern Sarabat, in Asia Minor, formerly auriferous.]
nor Indus, nighearth's hottest zone, mingling its emeralds andpearls,
can bring light to the eyes of any soul,but rather plunge the soul
more blindly in theirshade. In her deepest caverns does earthrear all
that pleases the eye and excites themind. The glory by which the
heavens moveand have their being, has nought to do with thedarknesses
which bring ruin to the soul. Whosoever can look on this true light
will scarceallow the sun's rays to be clear.'
'I cannot but agree with that,' I said, ' forit all stands woven
together by the strongestproofs.'Then she said, 'At what would you
valuethis, namely if you could find out what is theabsolute good ? '
'I would reckon it,' I said, 'at an infinitevalue, if I could find out
God too, who is thegood.'
'And that too I will make plain by mosttrue reasoning, if you will
allow to stand theconclusions we have just now arrived at.'
' They shall stand good.'
' Have I not shewn,' she asked, ' that thoseupon the things which most
men seek are for this reasonnot perfect goods, because they differ
betweenthe highest themselves; they are lacking to one another,and so
cannot afford full, absolute good ? But
when they are gathered together, as it were, into one form and one
operation, so that complete satisfaction, power, veneration,
renown,and pleasure are all the same, then they becomethe true good.
Unless they are all one andthe same, they have no claim to be
reckonedamong the true objects of men's desires.'
' That has been proved beyond all doubt.'
'Then such things as differ among themselves are not goods, but they
become so whenthey begin to be a single unity. Is it notthen the case
these become goods by the attainment of unity ? '
' Yes,' I said, ' it seems so.'
' But I think you allow that every good isgood by participation in
good ? '
' Yes, I do.'
' Then by reason of this likeness both unityand good must be allowed
to be the same thing;for such things as have by nature the
sameoperation, have the same essence.'
' Do you realise that everything remainsexistent so long as it keeps
its unity, butperishes in dissolution as soon as it loses itsunity ? '
' How so ? ' I asked.
' In the case of animals,' she said, ' so longas mind and body remain
united, you have whatyou call an animal. But as soon as this unityis
dissolved by the separation of the two, theanimal perishes and can
plainly be no longercalled an animal. In the case of the body, too,
so long as it remains in a single form by theunion of its members, the
human figure ispresented. But if the division or separation ofthe
body's parts drags that union asunder, it atonce ceases to be what it
was. In this wayone may go through every subject, and it willbe quite
evident that each thing exists individually, so long as it is one, but
perishes sosoon as it ceases to be one.'
' Yes, I see the same when I think of othercases.'
' Is there anything,' she then asked, ' which,in so far as it acts by
nature, ever loses itsdesire for self-preservation, and would
voluntarilyseek to come to death and corruption ? '
' No,' I said; ' while I think of animals whichhave volition in their
nature, I can find in themno desire to throw away their determination
toremain as they are, or to hasten to perish oftheir own accord, so
long as there are noexternal forces compelling them thereto.
Everyanimal labours for its preservation, shunningdeath and
extinction. But about trees andplants, I have great doubts as to what
I shouldagree to in their case, and in all inanimateobjects.'
' But in this case too,' she said, 'you haveno reason to be in doubt,
when you see howtrees and plants grow in places which suitthem, and
where, so far as nature is able toprevent it, they cannot quickly
wither andperish. For some grow in plains, others onmountains; some
are nourished by marshes,
others cling to rocks; some are fertilised by otherwise barren sands,
and would wither awayif one tried to transplant them to better
soil.Nature grants to each what suits it, and worksagainst their
perishing while they can possiblyremain alive. I need hardly remind
you thatall plants seem to have their mouths buried inthe earth, and
so they suck up nourishment bytheir roots and diffuse their strength
throughtheir pith and bark: the pith being the softestpart is always
hidden away at the heart andcovered, protected, as it were, by the
strengthof the wood; while outside, the bark, as beingthe defender who
endures the best, is opposedto the unkindness of the weather. Again,
howgreat is nature's care, that they should allpropagate themselves by
the reproduction oftheir seed; they all, as is so well known, arelike
regular machines not merely for lasting atime, but for reproducing
themselves for ever,and that by their own kinds. Things toowhich are
supposed to be inanimate, surely doall seek after their own by a like
process. Forwhy is flame carried upward by its lightness,while solid
things are carried down by theirweight, unless it be that these
positions andmovements are suitable to each ? Further,each thing
preserves what is suitable to itself,and what is harmful, it destroys.
Hard things,such as stones, cohere with the utmost tenacityof their
parts, and resist easy dissolution; whileliquids, water, and air,
yield easily to division,but quickly slip back to mingle their parts
which have been cut asunder. And fire cannotbe cut at all.
'We are not now discussing the voluntarymovements of a reasoning mind,
but the naturalinstinct. For instance, we unwittingly digest thefood
we have eaten, and unconsciously breathein sleep. Not even in animals
does this love ofself-preservation come from mental wishes, butfrom
elementary nature. For often the will,under stress of external causes,
embraces theidea of death, from which nature revolts inhorror.
[Note: Boethius is possibly thinking here of passages inPlato's
Republic, Bk. iv. (439-441) where Socrates pointsout the frequent
opposition of reason and instinct.]
And, on the other hand, the willsometimes restrains what nature always
desires,namely the operation of begetting, by whichalone the
continuance of mortal things becomesenduring. Thus far, then, this
love of self- preservation arises not from the reasoninganimal s
intention, but from natural instinct.Providence has given to its
creatures this thegreatest cause of permanent existence,
theinstinctive desire to remain existent so far aspossible. Wherefore
you have no reason todoubt that all things, which exist, seek
apermanent existence by nature, and similarlyavoid extinction.'
'Yes,' I said, 'I confess that I see nowbeyond all doubt what appeared
to me just nowuncertain.'
'But,' she continued, 'that which seeks tocontinue its existence, aims
at unity; for take
this away, and none will have any chance of continued existence.'
' That is true.'
' Then all things desire unity,' she said, andI agreed.
'But we have shewn unity to be identicalwith the good ? '
' Yes,' said I.
'Then all things desire the good; and thatyou may define as being the
absolute goodwhich is desired by all.'
' Nothing could be more truthfully reasoned.For either everything is
brought back tonothing, and all will flow on at random withno guiding
head; or if there is any universalaim, it will be the sum of all
'Great is my rejoicing, my son,' said she,'for you have set firmly in
your mind the markof the central truth. And hereby is madeplain to you
that which you a short time agosaid that you knew not.'
'What was that ? '
'What was the final aim of all things,' shesaid, ' for that is plainly
what is desired by all:since we have agreed that that is the good,
wemust confess that the good is the end of allthings.
' If any man makes search for truth with all his penetration, and
would be led astray by nodeceiving paths, let him turn upon himself
thelight of an inward gaze, let him bend by forcethe long-drawn
wanderings of his thoughts into
one circle; let him tell surely to his soul,that he has, thrust away
within the treasures ofhis mind, all that he labours to acquire
without.Then shall that truth, which now was hid inerror's darkening
cloud, shine forth more clearthan Phoebus's self. For the body, though
itbrings material mass which breeds forgetfulness,has never driven
forth all light from the mind.The seed of truth does surely cling
within, andcan be roused as a spark by the fanning ofphilosophy. For
if it is not so, how do yemen make answers true of your own
instinctwhen teachers question you ? Is it not that thequick spark of
truth lies buried in the heart'slow depths ? And if the Muse of Plato
sendsthrough those depths the voice of truth, eachman has not
forgotten and is but remindinghimself of what he learns.'
[Note: Plato's doctrine of remembrance is chiefly treated ofin his
Phæ;do and Meno.]
When she made an end, I said, 'I agreevery strongly with Plato; for
this is the secondtime that you have reminded me of thesethoughts. The
first time I had lost themthrough the material influence of the body;
thesecond, when overwhelmed by this weight oftrouble.'
' If,' said she, ' you look back upon what wethat have agreed upon
earlier, you will also soonrecall what you just now said you knew
' What is that ? ' I asked.
'The guidance by which the universe is directed.'
'Yes, I remember confessing my ignorance,and though I think I foresee
the answer youwill offer, I am eager to hear you explain itmore
' This world,' she said, ' you thought alittle while ago must without
doubt be guidedby God.'
'And I think so now,' I said, 'and willnever think there is any doubt
thereof; and Iwill shortly explain by what reasoning I arriveat that
point. This universe would never havebeen suitably put together into
one form fromsuch various and opposite parts, unless therewere some
One who joined such different partstogether; and when joined, the very
variety oftheir natures, so discordant among themselves,would break
their harmony and tear themasunder unless the One held together what
itwove into one whole. Such a fixed order ofnature could not continue
its course, could notdevelop motions taking such various directionsin
place, time, operation, space, and attributes,unless there were One
who, being immutable,had the disposal of these various changes.
Andthis cause of their remaining fixed and theirmoving, I call God,
according to the namefamiliar to all.'
Then said she, ' Since these are your feelings,I think there is but
little trouble left me beforeyou may revisit your home with happiness
inyour grasp. But let us look into the matter we
have set before ourselves. Have we not shewnthat complete satisfaction
exists in true happiness,and we have agreed that God is
happinessitself, have we not ? '
'Wherefore He needs no external aid ingoverning the universe, or, if
He had any suchneed, He would not have this completesufficiency. '
' That of necessity follows,' I said.
' Then He arranges all things by Himself.'Without doubt He does.'
' And God has been shewn to be theabsolute good.'
' Yes, I remember.'
'Then He arranges all things by good, ifHe arranges them by Himself,
whom we haveagreed to be the absolute good. And so thisis the tiller
and rudder by which the ship of theuniverse is kept sure and
'I feel that most strongly,' I said; 'and Iforesaw that you would say
so before, thoughI had a slight uncertainty.'
' I believe you,' she said, ' for now youbring your eyes more
watchfully to scan thetruth. But what I am going to say is no
lessplain to the sight.'
'What is that; '
' Since we may reasonably be sure that Godsteers all things by the
helm of goodness, and,as I have shewn you, all things have a
naturalinstinct to hasten towards the good, can therebe any doubt that
they are guided according to
their own will: and that of their own accord they turn to the will of
the supreme disposer,as though agreeing with, and obedient to,
thehelmsman ? '
'That is so,' I said, 'and the governmentwould not seem happy if it
was a yoke upondiscontented necks, and not the salvation of
' Then nothing need oppose God's way forits own nature's
' But if it try to oppose Him, will it everhave any success at all
against One whom wehave justly allowed to be supremely powerful
inmatters of happiness ? '
' Certainly not. '
'Then there is nothing which could havethe will or the power to resist
the highestgood ? 'I think not.'
'Then it is the highest good which isguiding with strength and
disposing withgentleness ? '
Then said I, 'How great pleasure thesethings give me! not only those
which havebeen proved by the strongest arguments, butstill more the
words in which you prove them,which make me ashamed that my folly
hasbragged so loudly.'
' You have heard in mythology how thegiants attacked heaven. It was
this kindlystrength which overthrew them too, as wastheir desert. But
would you care to put these
arguments at variance ? For perhaps from sucha friction, some fair
spark of truth may leapforth.'
' As you hold best,' I said.
'Nobody would care to doubt that God isall-powerful ? '
' At any rate, no sane man would doubt it.'
' Being, then, all-powerful, nothing is beyondHis power ? '
' Can, then, God do evil ? '
' Then evil is nothing, since it is beyond Hispower, and nothing is
beyond His power ? '
' Are you playing with me,' I asked, ' weaving arguments as a
labyrinth out of which I shallfind no way ? You may enter a labyrinth
bythe way by which you may come forth: comenow forth by the way you
have gone in: or areyou folding your reason in some wondrous circleof
divine simplicity ? A little while ago youstarted from happiness, and
said that happinesswas the highest good; and you shewed howthat rested
in the highest Deity. And youreasoned that God too was the highest
good,and the fullest happiness; and you allowed, asthough granting a
slight gift, that none couldbe happy except such as were similarly
divine.Again, you said that the essence of God andof happiness was
identical with the very form ofgood; and that that alone was good
which wassought by all nature. And you argued, too,that God guided
this universe by the helm of
goodness; and that all creatures with free willobeyed this guidance,
and that there was nosuch thing as natural evil; and all these
thingsyou developed by no help from without, but byhomely and internal
proofs, each gaining itscredence from that which went before it.'
Then she answered, ' I was not mocking you.We have worked out the
greatest of all mattersby the grace of God, to whom we prayed.For the
form of the divine essence is such thatit is not diffused without, nor
receives aughtinto itself from without. But as Parmenidessays of it, "
It is a mass well rounded upon allsides."
[Note: This is a verse from the poems in which Parmenidesembodied his
philosophy: this was the doctrine of theunity which must have been in
Boethius's mind above.Parmenides, the founder of the Eleatic school
(495 B.C.)was perhaps, considering his early date, the greatest
andmost original of Greek philosophers. Boethius probablydid not make
a clear distinction between the philosopher's own poems and the views
expressed in Plato'sParmenides.]
But if you examine it with reasoning,sought for not externally but by
lying withinthe sphere of the very thing we are handling,you will not
wonder at what you have learnt onPlato's authority,
[Note: Plato in the Timoeus says, ' The language must alsobe akin to
the subjects of which its words are theinterpreters'---(29 B.).]
that our language must beakin to the subjects of which we speak.
' Happy the man who could reach the crystal fount of good: happy he
who could shake off
the chains of matter and of earth. The singerof Thrace in olden time
lamented his deadwife: by his tearful strains he made the treesto
follow him, and bound the flowing streams tostay: for him the hind
would fearlessly go sideby side with fiercest lions, and the hare
wouldlook upon the hound, nor be afraid, for he wasgentle under the
song's sway. But when thehotter flame burnt up his inmost soul, even
thestrains, which had subdued all other things,could not soothe their
own lord's mind. Complaining of the hard hearts of the gods above,he
dared approach the realms below. Therehe tuned his songs to soothing
tones, and sangthe lays he had drawn from his mother's
[Note: Orpheus's mother was the Muse Calliope, mistressof the
fountof excellence. His unrestrained grief did givehim power, his love
redoubled his grief's power:his mourning moved the depths of hell.
Withgentlest prayers he prayed to the lords of theshades for grace.
The three-headed porter
[Note: The dog Cerberus.]
was taken captive with amazement at his freshsongs. The avenging
[Note: The Furies.]
who hauntwith fear the guilty, poured out sad tears.Ixion's
[Note: Ixion for his crimes was bound upon a rolling wheel]
wheel no longer swiftly turned. Tantalus,
[Note: Tantalus for his crimes was condemned to perpetualhunger and
thirst though surrounded by fruits and waterwhich ever eluded his
so long abandoned unto thirst, could
then despise the flowing stream. The vulture, satisfied by his
strains, tore not awhile at Tityos's
[Note: Tityos for his crimes was for ever fastened to theground while
a vulture devoured his entrails.]
heart. At last the lord of the shades
in pitycried: "We are conquered; take your bridewith you, bought by
your song; but one condition binds our gift: till she has left
thesedark abodes, turn not your eyes upon her."Who shall set a law to
lovers ? Love is agreater law unto itself. Alack ! at the verybounds
of darkness Orpheus looked upon hisEurydice; looked, and lost her, and
was lost himself.
' To you too this tale refers; you, who seekto lead your thoughts to
the light above. Forwhosoever is overcome of desire, and turns hisgaze
upon the darkness 'neath the earth, he,while he looks on hell, loses
the prize hecarried off.'
THUS gently sang the Lady Philosophy withdignified mien and grave
countenance; andwhen she ceased, I, who had not thoroughlyforgotten
the grief within me, interrupted heras she was about to speak further.
' Herald oftrue light,' I said, 'right clear have been theoutpourings
of your speech till now, seeminginspired as one contemplates them, and
invincible through your reasonings. And thoughthrough grief for the
injustices I suffer, I hadforgotten them, yet you have not spoken
ofThey what I knew not at all before. But this onething is the chief
cause of my grief, namelythat, when there exists a good governor of
theworld, evils should exist at all, or, existing,should go
unpunished. I would have you thinkhow strange is this fact alone. But
there is aneven stranger attached thereto: ill-doing reignsand
flourishes, while virtue not only lacks itsreward, but is even
trampled underfoot by wickeddoers, and pays the penalties instead of
crime.Who can wonder and complain enough thatsuch things should happen
under the rule ofOne who, while all-knowing and all-powerful,wills
good alone ? '
Then she answered: ' Yes, it would be mostterrible, monstrous, and
infinitely amazing if
it were as you think. It would be as though in a well-ordered house of
a good master, the vilestvessels were cared for while the precious
wereleft defiled. But it is not so. If our former conclusions are
unshaken, God Himself, of whosegovernment we speak, will teach you
that thegood are always powerful, the evil are alwaysthe lowest and
weakest; vice never goes unpunished; virtue never goes without its
ownreward; happiness comes to the good, misfortuneto the wicked: and
when your complaints areset at rest, many such things would most
firmlystrengthen you in this opinion. You have seennow from my
teaching the form of true happiness; you know now its place: let us
goquickly through all that must be lightly passedover, and let me shew
you the road which shalllead you to your home. I will give wings
toyour mind, by which it shall raise itself aloft:so shall disquiet be
driven away, and you mayreturn safe to your home by my guidance, bythe
path I shall shew you, even by myselfcarrying you thither.
' Yea, airy wings are mine to scale the heights of heaven; when these
the mind has donned,swiftly she loathes and spurns this earth.
Shesoars above the sphere of this vast atmosphere,sees the clouds
behind her far; she passeshigh above the topmost fires which seethe
abovethe feverish turmoil of the air,
[Note: This and some of the following lines allude to someof the
theories of the early Physicists.]
until she rises
to the stars' own home, and joins her pathunto the sun's; or
accompanies on her path thecold and ancient Saturn, maybe as the
shiningwarrior Mars; or she may take her coursethrough the circle of
every star that decks thenight. And when she has had her fill
ofjourneying, then may she leave the sky andtread the outer plane of
the swift moving air,as mistress of the awful light. Here holds
theKing of kings His sway, and guides the reinsof the universe, and
Himself unmoved Hedrives His winged chariot, the bright disposerof the
world. And if this path brings theeagain hither, the path that now thy
memoryseeks to recall, I tell thee, thou shalt say," This is my home,
hence was I derived, hereshall I stay my course." But if thou choose
tolook back upon the earthly night behind thee,thou shalt see as
exiles from light the tyrantswhose grimness made wretched peoples so
'Wondrous,' I cried; 'what vast things doyou promise ! and I doubt not
that you canfulfil them. I only beg that you will not holdme back with
delays, now that you have excitedme thus far.'
' First, then, you must learn that power isnever lacking to the good,
while the wicked aredevoid of all strength. The proofs of thesetwo
statements hang upon each other. Forgood and bad are opposites, and
therefore, if itis allowed that good is powerful, the weakness
of evil is manifest: if the weakness and uncertainty of evil is made
plain, the strength andsureness of good is proved. To gain more
fullcredit for my opinion, I will go on to make myargument sure by
first the one, then the other ofthe two paths, side by side.
' It is allowed that there are two things uponwhich depend the entire
operation of humanactions: they are will and power. For if thewill be
wanting, a man does not even attemptthat which he has no desire to
perform; if thepower be wanting, the will is exercised in
vain.Wherefore, if you see a man wish for that whichhe will in no wise
gain, you cannot doubt thathe lacks the power to attain that which
' That is plain beyond doubt.'
' And if you see a man gain that which hewishes, can you doubt that he
has the power ? '
' But wherein a man has power, he is strong;wherein he has not power,
he must be countedweak ? '
' Do you remember that we agreed from ourearlier reasonings, that the
instinct of all humanwill, though acted upon by different aims,
doeslead with eagerness towards happiness ? '
' Yes,' said I, ' I remember that that too wasproved.'
' Do you remember that happiness is theabsolute good, and that the
good is desired ofall, when in that manner happiness is sought ? '
'I need not recall that,' I said, 'since it ispresent fixedly in my
' Then all men, good and bad alike, seek toarrive at the good by no
different instincts ? '
' Yes, that follows necessarily.'
' But it is certain that the good become so bythe attainment of good ?
' Then the good attain that which they wish ? '
' Yes,' said I, ' it seems so.'
'But if evil men attain the good they seek,they cannot be evil ? '
' Since, then, both classes seek the good, whichthe good attain, but
the evil attain not, it isplain that the good are powerful, while the
evilare weak ? '
' If any doubt that, he cannot judge by thenature of the world, nor by
the sequence o~arguments.'
Again she said, ' If there are two personsbefore whom the same object
is put by naturalinstinct, and one person carries his objectthrough,
working by his natural functions, butthe other cannot put his natural
instinct intopractice, but using some function unsuitable tonature he
can imitate the successful person, butnot fulfil his original purpose,
in this case, which ofthe two do you decide to be the more capable ? '
' I think I guess what you mean, but I wouldhear more explicitly.'
' You will not, I think, deny that the motionof walking is a natural
one to mankind ? '
' No, I will not.'
' And is not that the natural function of thefeet ? '
' If, then, one man walks, being able to advanceupon his feet, while
another, who lacks thenatural function of feet, uses his hands and
sotries to walk, which of these two may justly beheld the more capable
'Weave me other riddles I ' I exclaimed,' for can any one doubt that a
man who enjoyshis natural functions, is more capable than onewho is
incapable in that respect ? '
'But in the case of the highest good,' shesaid, ' it is equally the
purpose set before goodand bad men; good men seek it by the
naturalfunctions of virtue, while bad men seek to attainthe same
through their cupidity, which is not anatural function for the
attainment of good.Think you not so ? '
' I do indeed,' said I; ' this is plain, as alsois the deduction which
follows. For it mustbe, from what I have already allowed, that thegood
are powerful, the wicked weak.'
'Your anticipation is right; and as doctorsare wont to hope, it shews
a lively nature nowfit to withstand disease. But I see that you
arevery ready in understanding, and I will multiplymy arguments one
upon another. See howgreat is the weakness of these wicked men
whocannot even attain that to which their naturalinstinct leads them,
nay, almost drives them.And further, how if they are deprived of this
great, this almost invincible, aid of a naturalinstinct to follow?
Think what a powerlessness possesses these men. They are no
lightobjects which they seek; they seek no objectsin sport, objects
which it is impossible that theyshould achieve. They fail in the very
highestof all things, the crown of all, and in this theyfind none of
the success for which they labourday and night in wretchedness. But
herein thestrength of good men is conspicuous. If a mancould advance
on foot till he arrived at anutmost point beyond which there was no
pathfor further advance, you would think him mostcapable of walking:
equally so, if a man graspsthe very end and aim of his search, you
mustthink him most capable. Wherefore also thecontrary is true; that
evil men are similarlydeprived of all strength. For why do theyleave
virtue and follow after vice ? Is it fromignorance of good? Surely
not, for what isweaker or less compelling than the blindness
ofignorance ? Do they know what they ought tofollow, and are they
thrown from the straightroad by passions? Then they must be weaktoo in
self-control if they cannot struggle withtheir evil passions. But they
lose thus not onlypower, but existence all together. For thosewho
abandon the common end of all who exist,must equally cease to exist.
And this mayseem strange, that we should say that evil men,though the
majority of mankind, do not exist atall; but it is so. For while I do
not deny thatevil men are evil, I do deny that they " are,"
in the sense of absolute existence. You may say, for instance, that a
corpse is a dead man,but you cannot call it a man. In a like
manner,though I grant that wicked men are bad, Icannot allow that they
are men at all, as regardsabsolute being. A thing exists which keeps
itsproper place and preserves its nature; but whenanything falls away
from its nature, its existencetoo ceases, for that lies in its nature.
Youwill say, " Evil men are capable of evil ": andthat I would not
deny. But this very power oftheirs comes not from strength, but from
weakness. They are capable of evil; but this evilwould have no
efficacy if it could have stayedunder the operation of good men. And
thisvery power of ill shews the more plainly thattheir power is
naught. For if, as we have agreed, evil is nothing, then, since they
are onlycapable of evil, they are capable of nothing '
' That is quite plain.'
'I would have you understand what is thisstrength of power. We have a
little while agolaid down that nothing is more powerful thanthe
highest good ? '
' Yes,' I said.
'But the highest good can do no evil ? '
' Is there any one who thinks that men areall-powerful ? '
' No one,' I said, 'unless he be mad.'
' And yet those same men can do evil.'Would to heaven they could not !
' I cried.' Then a powerful man is capable only of all
good; but even those who are capable of evil,are not capable of all:
so it is plain that thosewho are capable of evil, are capable of
less.Further, we have shewn that all power is to becounted among
objects of desire, and all objectsof desire have their relation to the
good, as tothe coping-stone of their nature. But the powerof
committing crime has no possible relation tothe good. Therefore it is
not an object ofdesire. Yet, as we said, all power is to bedesired.
Therefore the power of doing evil isno power at all. For all these
reasons thepower of good men and the weakness of evilmen is apparent.
So Plato's opinion
[Note: From Plato's Gorgias (466). Boethius in this andseveral other
passages in this book has the Gorgias inmind; for Plato there
discusses the strength and happiness of good men, and the impotence
and unhappinessof bad men. Socrates is also there represented as
provingthat the unjust man is happier punished than unpunished,as
Boethius does below.]
is plainthat " the wise alone are able to do what theydesire, but
unscrupulous men can only labour atwhat they like, they cannot fulfil
their realdesires." They do what they like so long asthey think that
they will gain through theirpleasures the good which they desire; but
theydo not gain it, since nothing evil ever reacheshappiness.
' Kings you may see sitting aloft upon theirthrones, gleaming with
purple, hedged aboutwith grim guarding weapons, threatening with
fierce glances, and their hearts heaving with passion. If any man take
from these proudones their outward covering of empty honour,he will
see within, will see that these greatones bear secret chains. For the
heart of oneis thus filled by lust with the poisons of greed,or
seething rage lifts up its waves and lashes hismind therewith: or
gloomy grief holds themweary captives, or by slippery hopes they
aretortured. So when you see one head thuslabouring beneath so many
tyrants, you knowhe cannot do as he would, for by hard task-masters is
the master himself oppressed.
' Do you see then in what a slough crimes are invo]ved, and with what
glory honesty shines forth ? It is plain from this that reward is
never lacking to good deeds, nor punishment to crime. We may justly
say that the rewardof every act which is performed is the objectfor
which it is performed. For instance, onthe racecourse the crown for
which the runnerstrives is his reward. But we have shewn thathappiness
is the identical good for the sake ofwhich all actions are performed.
Thereforethe absolute good is the reward put before allhuman actions.
But good men cannot bedeprived of this. And further, a man wholacks
good cannot justly be described as agood man; wherefore we may say
that goodhabits pever miss their rewards. Let thewicked rage never so
wildly, the wise man'scrown shall never fail nor wither. And the
wickedness of bad men can never take awayfrom good men the glory which
belongs tothem. Whereas if a good man rejoiced in aglory which he
received from outside, thencould another, or even he, may be, who
grantedit, carry it away. But since honesty grants toevery good man
its own rewards, he will onlylack his reward when he ceases to be
good.And lastly, since every reward is sought forthe reason that it is
held to be good, who shallsay that the man, who possesses goodness,
doesnot receive his reward ? And what reward isthis? Surely the
fairest and greatest of all.Remember that corollary
[Note: P.84. ]
which I emphasisedwhen speaking to you a little while ago; andreason
thus therefrom. While happiness is theabsolute good, it is plain that
all good menbecome good by virtue of the very fact thatthey are good.
But we agreed that happy menare as gods. Therefore this is the reward
ofthe good, which no time can wear out, nopower can lessen, no
wickedness can darken;they become divine. In this case, then, no
wiseman can doubt of the inevitable punishment ofthe wicked as well.
For good and evil are soset, differing from each other just as reward
andpunishment are in opposition to each other:hence the rewards, which
we see fall to thegood, must correspond precisely to the punishments
of the evil on the other side. As,therefore, honesty is itself the
reward of thehonest, so wickedness is itself the punishment
of the wicked. Now whosoever suffers punishment, doubts not that he is
suffering an evil:if, then, they are ready so to judge of themselves,
can they think that they do not receivepunishment, considering that
they are not onlyaffected but thoroughly permeated by wickedness, the
worst of all evils ?
' Then, from the other point of view of thegood, see what a punishment
ever goes with thewicked. You have learnt a little while pastthat all
that exists is one, and that the gooditself is one; it follows
therefrom that all thatexists must appear to be good. In this
way,therefore, all that falls away from the good,ceases also to exist,
wherefore evil men ceaseto be what they were. The form of theirhuman
bodies still proves that they have been men; wherefore they must have
lost theirhuman nature when they turned to evil-doing.But as goodness
alone can lead men forwardbeyond their humanity, so evil of necessity
willthrust down below the honourable estate ofhumanity those whom it
casts down from theirfirst position. The result is that you cannothold
him to be a man who has been, so to say,transformed by his vices. If a
violent manand a robber burns with greed of other men'spossessions,
you say he is like a wolf. Anotherfierce man is always working his
restless tongueat lawsuits, and you will compare him to ahound. Does
another delight to spring uponmen from ambushes with hidden guile ? He
isas a fox. Does one man roar and not restrain
his rage? He would be reckoned as havingthe heart of a lion. Does
another flee andtremble in terror where there is no cause offear? He
would be held to be as deer. Ifanother is dull and lazy, does he not
live thelife of an ass ? One whose aims are inconstantand ever changed
at his whims, is in no wisedifferent from the birds. If another is in
aslough of foul and filthy lusts, he is kept downby the lusts of an
unclean swine. Thus then aman who loses his goodness, ceases to be a
man,and since he cannot change his condition forthat of a god, he
turns into a beast.
'The east wind wafted the sails which carriedon the wandering ships of
Ithaca's king to theisland where dwelt the fair goddess Circe,
thesun's own daughter. There for her new guestsshe mingled cups
bewitched by charms. Herhand, well skilled in use of herbs, changed
theseguests to different forms. One bears the faceof a boar; another
grows like to an Africanlion with fangs and claws; this one becomes
asa wolf, and when he thinks to weep, he howls;that one is an Indian
tiger, though he walks allharmless round about the dwelling-place.
Theleader alone, Ulysses, though beset by so manydangers, was saved
from the goddess's bane bythe pity of the winged god, Mercury. But
thesailors had drunk of her cups, and now hadturned from food of corn
to husks and acorns,food of swine. Naught is left the same,speech and
form are gone; only the mind remains
unchanged, to bewail their unnatural sufferings.
'How weak was that hand, how powerlessthose magic herbs which could
change thelimbs but not the heart ! Within lies thestrength of men,
hidden in deep security.Stronger are those dread poisons which candrag
a man out of himself, which work theirway within: they hurt not the
body, but onthe mind their rage inflicts a grievous wound.'
[Note: Cf. St. Matthew x. 28.]
Then I answered: 'I confess that I thinkit is justly said that vicious
men keep only theoutward bodily form of their humanity, and, inthe
attributes of their souls, are changed tobeasts. But I would never
have allowed themwillingly the power to rage in the ruin ofgood men
through their fierce and wickedintentions.'
' They have not that power,' said she, ' as Iwill shew you at a
convenient time. But ifthis very power, which you believe is allowedto
them, were taken from them, the punishmentof vicious men would be to a
great extentlightened. For, though some may scarcelybelieve it, evil
men must be more unhappywhen they carry out their ill desires than
whenthey cannot fulfil them. For if it is pitiableto have wished bad
things, it is more pitiableto have had the power to perform them,
withoutwhich power the performance of this pitiablewill would never
have effect. Thus, when you
see men with the will and the power to commita crime, and you see them
perform it, theymust be the victims of a threefold misfortune,since
each of those three things brings its ownmisery.
' Yes,' said I,' I agree; but I do wish frommy heart that they may
speedily be rid of oneof these misfortunes, being deprived of
thispower of doing evil.'
' They will be rid of it,' she said, 'morespeedily even than you wish
perhaps, andsooner than they think they will be rid thereof.There is
in the short course of life naughtwhich is so long coming that an
immortal mindcan think it has long to wait for it. Many atime are
their high hopes and great plans forevil-doing cut short by a sudden
and unlooked-for end. This indeed it is that sets a limit totheir
misery. For if wickedness makes a manmiserable, the longer he is
wicked, the moremiserable must he be; and I should hold themmost
miserable of all, if not even death at lastput an end to their
evil-doing. If we havereached true conclusions concerning the
unhappiness of depravity, the misery, which is said tobe eternal, can
have no limit.'
'That is a strange conclusion and hard toaccept. But I see that it is
suited too well bywhat we have agreed upon earlier.'
'You are right,' she said; ' but when onefinds it hard to agree with a
conclusion, oneought in fairness to point out some fault in
theargument which has preceded, or shew that
the sequence of statements is not so joinedtogether as to effectively
lead to the conclusion;otherwise, if the premises are granted, it is
notjust to cavil at the inference. This too, whichI am about to say,
may not seem less strange,but it follows equally from what has been
' What is that ? ' I asked.
'That wicked men are happier when theypay the penalty for their
wickedness than whenthey receive no penalty at the hands of justice.
[Note: Plato, Gorgias, 472 and ff.]
I am not going to urge what may occur to anyone, namely, that depraved
habits are correctedby penalties, and drawn towards the right byfear
of punishment, and that an example ishereby given to others to avoid
all that deservesblame. But I think that the wicked who arenot
punished are in another way the moreunhappy, without regard to the
correctivequality of punishment, nor its value as anexample.'
'And what way is there other than these?'
'We have allowed, have we not,' she said,'that the good are happy, but
the bad aremiserable .
' Then if any good be added to the misery ofany evil man, is he not
happier than the manwhose miserable state is purely and
simplymiserable without any good at all mingledtherewith?'
' I suppose so.'
'What if some further evil beyond thoseby which a man, who lacked all
good things,were made miserable, were added to hismiseries ? Should
not he be reckoned far moreunhappy than the man whose misfortune
waslightened by a share in some good ? '
' Of course it is so.'
' Therefore,' she said, ' the wicked whenpunished have something good
added to theirlot, to wit, their punishment, which is good byreason of
its quality of justice; and they also,when unpunished, have something
of furtherevil, their very impunity, which you haveallowed to be an
evil, by reason of its injustice.'
' I cannot deny that,' said I.
' Then the wicked are far more unhappywhen they are unjustly
unpunished, than whenthey are justly punished. It is plain that it
isjust that the wicked should be punished, andunfair that they should
' No one will gainsay you.'
' But no one will deny this either, that allwhich is just is good; and
on the other part,all that is unjust is evil.'
Then I said: 'The arguments which wehave accepted bring us to that
conclusion.But tell me, do you leave no punishment of thesoul to
follow after the death of the body?'
' Yes,' she answered, ' heavy punishments,of which some, I think, are
effected by bitterpenalties, others by a cleansing mercy.
[Note: It must not be supposed from the words ' cleansingmercy '
(purgatoria clementia) that Boethius held thesame views as were held
by the Church later concerningpurgatory, and as are now taught by the
Roman CatholicChurch. It is true that St. Augustine had in 407
A.D.hinted at the existence of such a state, but it was
notdogmatically inculcated till 604, in the Papacy ofGregory the
it is not my intention to discuss these now. My object has been to
bring you to knowthat the power of evil men, which seems toyou so
unworthy, is in truth nothing; and thatyou may see that those wicked
men, of whoseimpunity you complained, do never miss thereward of their
ill-doing; and that you maylearn that their passion, which you
prayedmight soon be cut short, is not long-enduring,and that the
longer it lasts, the more unhappiness it brings, and that it would be
most unhappy if it endured for ever. Further, I havetried to shew you
that the wicked are more tobe pitied if they escape with unjust
impunity,than if they are punished by just retribution.And it follows
upon this fact that they will beundergoing heavier penalties when they
arethought to be unpunished.'
'When I hear your arguments, I feel surethat they are true as
possible. But if I turn tohuman opinions, I ask what man would
notthink them not only incredible, but evenunthinkable ? '
' Yes,' she said, ' for men cannot raise to thetransparent light of
truth their eyes which havebeen accustomed to darkness. They are
likethose birds whose sight is clear at night, butblinded by daylight.
So long as they look not
upon the true course of nature, but upon theirown feelings, they think
that the freedom ofpassion and the impunity of crime are happythings.
Think upon the sacred ordinances ofeternal law. If your mind is
fashioned afterbetter things, there is no need of a judge toaward a
prize; you have added yourself to thenumber of the more excellent. If
your mindsinks to worse things, seek no avenger fromwithout: you have
thrust yourself downwardto lower things. It is as though you
werelooking at the squalid earth and the heavens inturn; then take
away all that is about you;and by the power of sight, you will seem to
bein the midst now of mud, now of stars. Butmankind looks not to such
things. What thenshall we do ? Shall we join ourselves to thosewhom we
have shewn to be as beasts ? If aman lost utterly his sight, and even
forgot thathe had ever seen, so that he thought he lackednaught of
human perfection, should we thinkthat such a blind one can see as we
do ? Mostpeople would not even allow another point,which rests no less
firmly upon strong reasons,namely, that those who do an injury are
moreunhappy than those who suffer one.'
[Note: Plato, Gorgias, 474 and ff.]
' I would hear those strong reasons,' I said.
' You do not deny that every wicked mandeserves punishment ? '
' It is plain for many reasons that the wickedare unhappy ? '
'Then you doubt not that those who areworthy of punishment are
miserable ? '
' No, I agree.'
' If then you were sitting as a judge, uponwhich would you consider
punishment shouldfall--the man who did the injury, or the manwho
suffered it ? '
' I have no hesitation in saying that I wouldmake amends to the
sufferer at the expense ofthe doer of the injustice.'
' Then the doer of the injustice would seemto you more miserable than
the sufferer ? '
' That follows.'
' Then from this,' said she, ' and othercauses which rest upon the
same foundation,it is plain that, since baseness makes men
moremiserable by its own nature, the misery isbrought not to the
sufferer of an injustice, butto the doer thereof. But the speakers in
law-courts take the opposite course: they try toexcite the pity of the
judges for those whohave suffered any heavy or bitter wrong; butmore
justly their pity would be due to thosewho have committed the wrong.
These guiltymen ought to be brought, by accusers kindlyrather than
angry, to justice, as patients to adoctor, that their disease of crime
may bechecked by punishment. Under such anarrangement the occupation
of advocates fordefence would either come to a complete stand-still,
or if it seemed more to the advantage ofmankind, it might turn to the
work of prosecution.
And if the wicked too themselvesmight by some device look on virtue
left behindthem, and if they could see that they wouldlay aside the
squalor of vice by the pain ofpunishment, and that they would gain the
compensation of achieving virtue again, they wouldno longer hold it
punishment, but would refusethe aid of advocates for their defence,
andwould intrust themselves unreservedly to theiraccusers and their
judges. In this way therewould be no place left for hatred among
wisemen. For who but the most foolish wouldhate good men? And there is
no cause tohate bad men. Vice is as a disease of themind, just as
feebleness shews ill-health in thebody. As, then, we should never
think thatthose, who are sick in the body, deserve hatred,so are
those, whose minds are oppressed by afiercer disease than feebleness,
namely wickedness, much more worthy of pity than ofpersecution.
'To what good end do men their passionsraise, even to drag from fate
their deaths bytheir own hands ? If ye seek death, she issurely nigh
of her own will; and her wingedhorses she will not delay. Serpents and
lions,bears, tigers and boars, all seek your lives withtheir fangs,
yet do ye seek them with swords ?Is it because your manners are so
wide invariance that men raise up unjust battles andsavage wars, and
seek to perish by each other'sdarts ? Such is no just reason for this
Wouldst thou apportion merit to merit fitly? Then love good men as is
their due, and forthe evil shew your pity.'
Then said I, ' I see how happiness and misery lie inseparably in the
deserts of good and bad men. But I am sure that there is some good and
some bad in the general fortune of men. For no wise man even would
wish to be exiled, impoverished, and disgraced rather than full of
wealth, power, veneration, andstrength, and flourishing securely in
his owncity. The operation of wisdom is shewn inthis way more nobly
and clearly, when thehappiness of rulers is in a manner transmittedto
the people who come into contact with theirrule; and especially when
prisons, bonds, andother penalties of the law become the lot of
theevil citizens for whom they were designed. Iam struck with great
wonder why these duesare interchanged; why punishments for crimesfall
upon the good, while the bad citizens seizethe rewards of virtue; and
I long to learn fromyou what reason can be put forward for suchunjust
confusion. I should wonder less if Icould believe that everything was
the confusionof accident and chance. But now the thoughtof God's
guidance increases my amazement;He often grants happiness to good men
andbitterness to the bad, and then, on the otherhand, sends hardships
to the good and grantsthe desires of the wicked. Can we lay ourhands
on any cause ? If not, what can make this state different in any way
from accidentalchance ? '
'It is no wonder,' she answered, ' if one whoknows not the order and
reasons of nature,should think it is all at random and confused.But
doubt not, though you know not the causeof such a great matter of the
world's government, doubt not, I say, that all is rightly done,because
a good Governor rules the universe.
'If any man knows not that the star Arcturus
[Note: Arcturus, the star in Boötes nearest to the Bear,used to be
thought the nearest star to our pole. Boöouteswas also known as the
Arctophylax, or Bearward, andso also as the driver of the Wain.]
has his course nearest the topmost polehow shall he not be amazed that
Bo"tes soslowly takes his wain and is so late to dip hisbrightness in
the ocean, and yet so swiftly turnsto rise again ? The law of heaven
on highwill but bewilder him. When the full moongrows dim to its
horns, darkened by the shadowof dull night, when Phoebe thus lays bare
allthe varying bands of the stars, which she hadhidden by the power of
her shining face: thenare the nations stirred by the errors of
thevulgar, and beat without ceasing brazen cymbals.
[Note: The old superstition was that an eclipse meant thewithdrawal of
the moon, and that by a noise of beatenbrass, etc., she could be
No man is surprised when the blasts ofthe wind beat a shore with
roaring waves, norwhen a solid mass of frozen snow is melted by
the warmth of Phoebus's rays; for herein the causes are ready at hand
to be understood.But in those other matters the causes arehidden, and
so do trouble all men's hearts, fortime does not grant them to advance
withexperience in such things as seldom recur: thecommon herd is ever
amazed at all that isextraordinary. But let the cloudy errors
ofignorance depart, and straightway these shallseem no longer
' That is true,' I said; 'but it is your kind office to unravel the
causes of hidden matters,and explain reasons now veiled in
darkness;wherefore I beg of you, put forth your decreeand expound all
to me, since this wonder mostdeeply stirs my mind.'
Then said she, smiling, ' Your question callsme to the greatest of all
these matters, and afull answer thereto is well-nigh impossible.For
this is its kind: if one doubt be cut away,innumerable others arise,
as the Hydra's heads;and there can be no limit unless a man
restrainsthem by the most quick fire of the mind. Forherein lie the
questions of the directness ofProvidence, the course of Fate, chances
whichcannot be foreseen, knowledge, divine predestination, and freedom
of judgment. Youcan judge for yourself the weight of thesequestions.
But since it is a part of your treatment to know some of these, I will
attempt tomake some advantage therefrom, though we arepenned in by our
narrow space of time. But
if you enjoy the delights of song, you mustwait a while for that
pleasure, while I weavetogether for you the chain of reasons.'
' As you will,' said I.Then, as though beginning afresh, she
' The engendering of all things, the wholeadvance of all changing
natures, and everymotion and progress in the world, draw theircauses,
their order, and their forms from theallotment of the unchanging mind
of God,which lays manifold restrictions on all actionfrom the calm
fortress of its own directnessSuch restrictions are called Providence
whenthey can be seen to lie in the very simplicity ofdivine
understanding; but they were calledFate in old times when they were
viewed withreference to the objects which they moved orarranged. It
will easily be understood thatthese two are very different if the
mindexamines the force of each. For Providenceis the very divine
reason which arranges allthings, and rests with the supreme disposer
ofall; while Fate is that ordering which is apart of all changeable
things, and by means ofwhich Providence binds all things together
intheir own order. Providence embraces allthings equally, however
different they may be,even however infinite: when they are assignedto
their own places, forms, and times, Fate setsthem in an orderly
motion; so that thisdevelopment of the temporal order, unified inthe
intelligence of the mind of God, is Providence.
The working of this unified development in time is called Fate. These
aredifferent, but the one hangs upon the other.For this order, which
is ruled by Fate,emanates from the directness of Providence.Just as
when a craftsman perceives in his mindthe form of the object he would
make, he setshis working power in motion, and brings throughthe order
of time that which he had seendirectly and ready present to his mind.
So byProvidence does God dispose all that is to bedone, each thing by
itself and unchangeably;while these same things which Providence
hasarranged are worked out by Fate in many waysand in time. Whether,
therefore, Fate worksby the aid of the divine spirits which
serveProvidence, or whether it works by the aid ofthe soul, or of all
nature, or the motions of thestars in heaven, or the powers of angels,
or themanifold skill of other spirits, whether thecourse of Fate is
bound together by any or allof these, one thing is certain, namely
that Providence is the one unchangeable direct powerwhich gives form
to all things which are tocome to pass, while Fate is the changing
bond,the temporal order of those things which arearranged to come to
pass by the direct disposition of God. Wherefore everything which
issubject to Fate is also subject to Providence, towhich Fate is
itself subject. But there arethings which, though beneath Providence,
areabove the course of Fate. Those things arethey which are immovably
set nearest the
primary divinity, and are there beyond thecourse of the movement of
Fate. As inthe case of spheres moving round the sameaxis, that which
is nearest the centre approachesmost nearly the simple motion of the
centre,and is itself, as it were, an axis around whichturn those which
are set outside it. Thatsphere which is outside all turns through
agreater circuit, and fulfils a longer course inproportion as it is
farther from the central axis;and if it be joined or connect itself
with thatcentre, it is drawn into the direct motionthereof, and no
longer strays or strives to turnaway. In like manner, that which goes
fartherfrom the primary intelligence, is bound themore by the ties of
Fate, and the nearer itapproaches the axis of all, the more free it
isfrom Fate. But that which clings withoutmovement to the firm
intellect above, surpassesaltogether the bond of Fate. As,
therefore,reasoning is to understanding; as that whichbecomes is to
that which is; as time is toeternity; as the circumference is to the
centre:so is the changing course of Fate to the immovable directness
of Providence. That course ofFate moves the heavens and the stars,
moderatesthe first principles in their turns, and alters theirforms by
balanced interchangings. The samecourse renews all things that are
born andwither away by like advances of ofFspring andseed. It
constrains, too, the actions and fortunes of men by an unbreakable
chain of causes:and these causes must be unchangeable, as they
proceed from the beginnings of an unchangingProvidence. Thus is the
world governed forthe best if a directness, which rests in
theintelligence of God, puts forth an order ofcauses which may not
swerve. This orderrestrains by its own unchangeableness changeable
things, which might otherwise run hitherand thither at random.
Wherefore in disposing the universe this limitation directs all
forgood, though to you who are not strong enoughto comprehend the
whole order, all seems confusion and disorder. Naught is there
thatcomes to pass for the sake of evil, or due towicked men, of whom
it has been abundantlyshewn that they seek the good, but
misleadingerror turns them from the right course; fornever does the
true order, which comes forthfrom the centre of the highest good, turn
anyman aside from the right beginning.
' But you will ask, " What more unjust confusion could exist than that
good men shouldsometimes enjoy prosperity, sometimes sufferadversity,
and that the bad too should sometimes receive what they desire,
sometimes whatthey hate ? " Are then men possessed of suchinfallible
minds that they, whom they considerhonest or dishonest, must
necessarily be whatthey are held to be? No, in these mattershuman
judgment is at variance with itself, andthose who are held by some to
be worthy ofreward, are by others held worthy of punishment. But let
us grant that a man coulddiscern between good and bad characters. Can
he therefore know the inmost feelings of thesoul, as a doctor can
learn a body's temperature ?For it is no less a wonder to the ignorant
whysweet things suit one sound body, while bitterthings suit another;
or why some sick peopleare aided by gentle draughts, others by
sharpand bitter ones. But a doctor does not wonderat such things, for
he knows the ways andconstitutions of health and sickness. Andwhat is
the health of the soul but virtue ? andwhat the sickness, but vice ?
And who is thepreserver of the good and banisher of the evil,who but
God, the guardian and healer ofminds ? God looks forth from the high
watch-tower of His Providence, He sees what suitseach man, and applies
to him that which suitshim. Hence then comes that conspicuous causeof
wonder in the order of Fate, when a wiseman does that which amazes the
ignorant.For, to glance at the depth of God's workswith so few words
as human reason is capableof comprehending, I say that what you think
tobe most fair and most conducive to justice'spreservation, that
appears different to an all-seeingProvidence. Has not our
fellow-philosopherLucan told us how " the conquering cause didplease
the gods, but the conquered, Cato?"
[Note: Lucan, Pharsalia, i. 128. This famous line refersto the final
triumph of Cæ;sar at Thapsus, B.C. 46, whenCato considered that the
Republican cause was finallydoomed and he committed suicide at Utica
rather thansurvive it.]
What then surprises you when done on this
earth, is the true-guided order of things; it isyour opinion which is
perverted and confused.But if there is any one whose life is so
goodthat divine and human estimates of him agree,yet he must be
uncertain in the strength of hismind; if any adversity befall him, it
mayalways be that he will cease to preserve hisinnocence, by which he
found that he couldnot preserve his good fortune. Thus then awise
dispensation spares a man who might bemade worse by adversity, lest he
should sufferwhen it is not good for him to be oppressed.Another may
be perfected in all virtues, whollyconscientious, and very near to
God: Providence holds that it is not right such an oneshould receive
any adversity, so that it allowshim to be troubled not even by bodily
diseases.As a better man
[Note: The author is supposed to be Hermes Trismegistus,who wrote in
the third century after Christ. The word'powers' was used by many
Neo-Platonic philosophersfor those beings in the scale of nature, with
which theyfilled the chasm between God and man. But Boethiusdoes not
seem to intend the word to have that definitemeaning here.]
than I has said, " The powersof virtues build up the body of a good
man."It often happens that the duty of a supremeauthority is assigned
to good men for thepurpose of pruning the insolent growth
ofwickedness. To some, Providence grants amingled store of good and
bad, according to thenature of their minds. Some she treats
bitterly,lest they grow too exuberant with long
continued good fortune; others she allows tobe harassed by hardships
that the virtues oftheir minds should be strengthened by thehabit and
exercise of patience. Some havetoo great a fear of sufferings which
they canbear; others have too great contempt for thosewhich they
cannot bear: these she leads on bytroubles to make trial of
themselves. Somehave brought a name to be honoured for alltime at the
price of a glorious death. Someby shewing themselves undefeated by
punishment, have left a proof to others that virtuemay be invincible
by evil. What doubt canthere be of how rightly such things are
disposed,and that they are for the good of those whomwe see them
befall ? The other point tooarises from like causes, that sometimes
sorrows,sometimes the fulfilment of their desires, falls tothe wicked.
As concerns the sorrows, no oneis surprised, because all agree that
they deserveill. Their punishments serve both to deterothers from
crime by fear, and also to amendthe lives of those who undergo them;
theirhappiness, on the other hand, serves as a proofto good men of how
they should regard goodfortune of this nature, which they see
oftenattends upon the dishonest. And anotherthing seems to me to be
well arranged: thenature of a man may be so headstrong andrough that
lack of wealth may stir him tocrime more readily than restrain him;
for thedisease of such an one Providence prescribes aremedy of stores
of patrimony: he may see
that his conscience is befouled by sin, he may take account with
himself of his fortune, andwill perhaps fear lest the loss of this
property,of which he enjoys the use, may bringunhappiness. Wherefore
he will change hisways, and leave off from ill-doing so long ashe
fears the loss of his fortune. Again, goodfortune, unworthily
improved, has flung someinto ruin. To some the right of punishing
iscommitted that they may use it for the exerciseand trial of the
good, and the punishment ofevil men. And just as there is no
leaguebetween good and bad men, so also the badcannot either agree
among themselves: nay,with their vices tearing their own
consciencesasunder, they cannot agree with themselves, anddo often
perform acts which, when done, theyperceive that they should not have
done.Wherefore high Providence has thus oftenshewn her strange wonder,
namely, that badmen should make other bad men good. Forsome find
themselves suffering injustice at thehands of evil men, and, burning
with hatredof those who have injured them, they havereturned to
cultivate the fruits of virtue,because their aim is to be unlike those
whomthey hate. To divine power, and to thatalone, are evil things
good, when it uses themsuitably so as to draw good results
therefrom.For a definite order embraces all things, sothat even when
some subject leaves the trueplace assigned to it in the order, it
returns toan order, though another, it may be, lest aught
in the realm of Providence be left to randomchance. But "hard is it
for me to set forthall these matters as a god,"
[Note: Homer, Iliad, xii. 176.]
nor is it right fora man to try to comprehend with his mind allthe
means of divine working, or to explainthem in words. Let it be enough
that wehave seen that God, the Creator of all nature,directs and
disposes all things for good. Andwhile He urges all, that He has made
manifest,to keep His own likeness, He drives out by thecourse of Fate
all evil from the bounds of Hisstate. Wherefore if you look to the
dispositionof Providence, you will reckon naught as badof all the
evils which are held to abound uponearth.
' But I see that now you are weighed downby the burden of the
question, and wearied bythe length of our reasoning, and waiting for
thegentleness of song. Take then your draught,be refreshed thereby and
advance further thestronger.
'If thou wouldst diligently behold with unsullied mind the laws of the
God of thunderupon high, look to the highest point of heavenabove.
There, by a fair and equal compact, dothe stars keep their ancient
peace. The sun ishurried on by its whirl of fire, but impedes notthe
moon's cool orb. The Bear turns itsrushing course around the highest
pole of theuniverse, and dips not in the western depths,
and though it sees the other constellations sink,it never seeks to
quench its flames in the oceanstream. In just divisions of time does
theevening star foretell the coming of the lateshadows, and, as
Lucifer, brings back again thewarming light of day. Thus does the
interchanging bond of love bring round their neverfailing courses; and
strife is for ever an exilefrom the starry realms. This unity rules
byfair limits the elements, so that wet yields todry, its opposite,
and it faithfully joins cold toheat. Floating fire rises up on high,
and matterby its weight sinks down. From these samecauses in warm
spring the flowering seasonbreathes its scents; then the hot summer
driesthe grain; then with its burden of fruits comesautumn again, and
winter's falling rain givesmoisture. This mingling of seasons
nourishesand brings forth all on earth that has the breathof life; and
again snatches them away andhides them, whelming in death all that has
arisen.Meanwhile the Creator sits on high, rules alland guides, king
and Lord, fount and sourceof all, Law itself and wise judge of
justice.He restrains all that stirs nature to motion,holds it back,
and makes firm all that wouldstray. If He were not to recall them to
theirtrue paths, and set them again upon the circlesof their courses,
they would be torn from theirsource and so would perish. This is
thecommon bond of love; all seek thus to berestrained by the limit of
the good. In noother manner can they endure if this bond of
love be not turned round again, and if thecauses, which He has set,
return not again.
'Do you see now,' she continued, 'whatfollows upon all that we have
said ? '
'What is it?' I asked.
'That all fortune is plainly good,' sheanswered.
'How can that be ? ' said I.
'Consider this,' she said: 'all fortune, whetherpleasant or difficult,
is due to this cause; it is for the sake of rewarding the good or
exercisingtheir virtue, and of punishing and correcting bad men:
therefore it is plain that all thisfortune which is allowed to be just
or expedient, must be good.'
'Yes,' I said, 'that is a true argument, andwhen I think of the
Providence or Fate aboutwhich you have taught me, the conclusionrests
upon strong foundations. But if it pleaseyou, let us count it among
those conclusionswhich you a little while ago set down as
'Why?' she asked.
'Because it is a commonplace saying amongmen -- indeed an especially
frequent one -- thatsome people have bad fortune.'
'Would you then hav e us approach morenearly the common converation of
men, lestwe should seem to withdraw too far from humanways?'
'If you will,' I said.
'Do you not think that that, which is advantageous, is good?'
'And that fortune, which exercises or corrects, is advantageous ? '
' I agree,' said I.
' Then it is good, is it not ? '
' It must be so.'
' This is the fortune of those who are eitherfirmly set in virtue and
struggling against theirdifficulties, or of those who would leave
theirvices and take the path of virtue ? '
' That is true,' I said.
' But what of that pleasant fortune which isgranted as a reward to
good men? Do mostpeople perceive that it is bad ? No; but, as istrue,
they esteem it the best. And what ofthe last kind of fortune, which is
hard andwhich restrains bad men by just punishment?Is that commonly
held to be good ? '
' No,' said I, ' it is held to be the mostmiserable of all that can be
' Beware lest in following the common conception, we come to some
'What do you mean ? '
' From what we have allowed,' she said, ' itresults that the fortune
of those who are inpossession of virtue, or are gaining it, or
advancing therein, is entirely good, whatever it be,while for those
who remain in wickedness, theirfortune is the worst.'
' That is true, but who would dare confess it ? '
'For this reason a wise man should nevercomplain, whenever he is
brought into strifewith fortune; just as a brave man cannotproperly be
disgusted whenever the noise ofbattle is heard, since for both of them
their verydifficulty is their opportunity, for the braveman of
increasing his glory, for the wise manof confirming and strengthening
his wisdom.From this is virtue itself so named,
[Note: The Latin word 'virtus' means by its derivation, manly
because itis so supported by its strength that it is notovercome by
adversity. And you who wereset in the advance of virtue have not come
tothis pass of being dissipated by delights, orenervated by pleasure;
but you fight toobitterly against all fortune. Keep the middlepath of
strength and virtue, lest you be overwhelmed by misfortune or
corrupted by pleasantfortune. All that falls short or goes too
farahead, has contempt for happiness, and gainsnot the reward for
labour done. It rests inyour own hands what shall be the nature of
thefortune which you choose to form for yourself.For all fortune which
seems difficult, eitherexercises virtue, or corrects or punishes vice.
'The avenging son of Atreus strove for fullten years before he
expiated in the fall ofPhrygian Troy the wrong done to his
brother'smarriage. The same Agamemnon must needsthrow off his father's
nature, and himself, anunwilling priest, thrust his knife into his
daughter's throat, and buy the winds atthe cost of blood, when he
sought to fill thesails of the fleet of Greece. The King ofIthaca wept
sore for his lost comrades whom thesavage Polyphemus swallowed into
his hugemaw as he lay in his vast cave; but, whenmad for his blinded
eye, he paid back withrejoicings for the sad tears he had
drawn.Hercules became famous through hard labours.He tamed the haughty
Centaurs, and from thefierce lion of Nemea took his spoil. With
hissure arrows he smote the birds of Stymphalus;and from the watchful
dragon took the applesof the Hesperides, filling his hand with
theirprecious gold; and Cerberus he dragged alongwith threefold chain.
The story tells how heconquered the fierce Diomede and set beforehis
savage mares their master as their food.The Hydra's poison perished in
his fire. Hetook the horn and so disgraced the brow of theriver
Achelous, who hid below his bank hishead ashamed. On the sands of
Libya he laidAntæ;us lw; Cacus he slew to sate Evander'swrath. The
bristling boar of Erymanthusflecked with his own foam the shoulders
whichwere to bear the height of heaven; for in hislast labour he bore
with unbending neck theheavens, and so won again his place in
heaven,the reward of his last work.
' Go forth then bravely whither leads the loftypath of high example.
Why do ye sluggardsturn your backs? When the earth is overcome,the
stars are yours.
HERE she made an end and was for turning thecourse of her speaking to
the handling andexplaining of other subjects. Then said I:'Your
encouragement is right and most worthyin truth of your name and
weight. But I amlearning by experience what you just now saidof
Providence; that the question is bound upin others. I would ask you
whether you thinkthat Chance exists at all, and what you thinkit is?'
Then she answered: ' I am eager to fulfilmy promised debt, and to shew
you the path bywhich you may seek your home. But thesethings, though
all-expedient for knowledge, arenone the less rather apart from our
path, and wemust be careful lest you become wearied by ourturnings
aside, and so be not strong enough tocomplete the straight journey.'
'Have no fear at all thereof,' said I. 'Itwill be restful to know
these things in whichI have so great a pleasure; and when everyview of
your reasoning has stood firm withunshaken credit, so let there be no
doubt ofwhat shall follow.'
' I will do your pleasure,' she made answer,and thus she began to
'If chance is defined as an outcome of random influence, produced by
no sequence of causes, I am sure that there is no such thing as
chance, and I consider that it is butan empty word, beyond shewing the
meaningof the matter which we have in hand. Forwhat place can be left
for anything happeningat random, so long as God controls everythingin
order ? It is a true saying that nothingcan come out of nothing. None
of the oldphilosophers has denied that, though they didnot apply it to
the effective principle, but tothe matter operated upon--that is to
say, tonature; and this was the foundation uponwhich they built all
their reasoning. If anything arises from no causes, it will appear
tohave risen out of nothing. But if this isimpossible, then chance
also cannot be anythingof that sort, which is stated in the
definitionwhich we mentioned.'
' Then is there nothing which can be justlycalled chance, nor anything
"by chance" ? 'I asked. ' Or is there anything which commonpeople know
not, but which those words dosuit ? '
' My philosopher, Aristotle, defined it in hisPhysics
[Note: Aristotle, Physics, ii. 3.]
shortly and well-nigh truly.'
' How ? ' I asked.
'Whenever anything is done with one intention, but something else,
other than wasintended, results from certain causes, that iscalled
chance: as, for instance, if a man digs
the ground for the sake of cultivating it, and findsa heap of buried
gold. Such a thing is believedto have happened by chance, but it does
notcome from nothing, for it has its own causes,whose unforeseen and
unexpected coincidenceseem to have brought about a chance. For ifthe
cultivator did not dig the ground, if theowner had not buried his
money, the goldwould not have been found. These are thecauses of the
chance piece of good fortune,which comes about from the causes
whichmeet it, and move along with it, not fromthe intention of the
actor. For neither theburier nor the tiller intended that the
goldshould be found; but, as I said, it was acoincidence, and it
happened that the one dugup what the other buried. We may
thereforedefine chance as an unexpected result from thecoincidence of
certain causes in matters wherethere was another purpose. The order of
theuniverse, advancing with its inevitable sequences,brings about this
coincidence of causes. Thisorder itself emanates from its source,
which isProvidence, and disposes all things in theirproper time and
'In the land where the Parthian, as heturns in flight, shoots his
arrows into thepursuer's breast, from the rocks of the crag
ofAchmenia, the Tigris and Euphrates flow fromout one source, but
quickly with divided streamsare separate. If they should come
togetherand again be joined in a single course, all, that
the two streams bear along, would flow in onetogether. Boats would
meet boats, and treesmeet trees torn up by the currents, and
themingled waters would together entwine theirstreams by chance; but
their sloping bedsrestrain these chances vague, and the downward order
of the falling torrent guides theircourses. Thus does chance, which
seems torush onward without rein, bear the bit, andtake its way by
'I have listened to you,' I said,' and agree that it is as you say.
But in this close sequence of causes, is there any freedom for our
judgment or does this chain of fate bind the very feelingsof our minds
'There is free will,' she answered. 'Norcould there be any reasoning
nature withoutfreedom of judgment. For any being thatcan use its
reason by nature, has a power ofjudgment by which it can without
further aiddecide each point, and so distinguish betweenobjects to be
desired and objects to be shunned.Each therefore seeks what it deems
desirable,and flies from what it considers should beshunned. Wherefore
all who have reason havealso freedom of desiring and refusing in
themselves. But I do not lay down that this isequal in all beings.
Heavenly and divinebeings have with them a judgment of greatinsight,
an imperturbable will, and a powerwhich can effect their desires. But
spirits must be more free when they keep themselves safe in the
contemplation of the mind ofGod; but less free when they sink into
bodies,and less still when they are bound by theirearthly members. The
last stage is mereslavery, when the spirit is given over to vicesand
has fallen away from the possession ofits reason. For when the mind
turns its eyesfrom the light of truth on high to lower darkness, soon
they are dimmed by the clouds ofignorance, and become turbid through
ruinouspassions; by yielding to these passions andconsenting to them,
men increase the slaverywhich they have brought upon themselves,
andtheir true liberty is lost in captivity. But God,looking upon all
out of the infinite, perceivesthe views of Providence, and disposes
each asits destiny has already fated for it according toits merits: "
He looketh over all and hearethall "
[Note: A phrase from Homer (Iliad, iii. 277, and Odyssey,xi. 1O9),
where it is said of the sun.]
' Homer with his honeyed lips sang of thebright sun's clear light; yet
the sun cannotburst with his feeble rays the bowels of theearth or the
depths of the sea. Not so withthe Creator of this great sphere. No
massesof earth can block His vision as He looks overall. Night's
cloudy darkness cannot resist Him.With one glance of His intelligence
He seesall that has been, that is, and that is to come.
He alone can see all things, so truly He maybe called the Sun.'
[Note: This sentence, besides referring to the application ofHomer's
words used above, contains also a play on wordsin the Latin, which can
only be clumsily reproduced inEnglish by some such words as ' The sole
power whichcan see all is justly to be called the solar.']
Then said I, ' Again am I plunged in yet more doubt and difficulty.'
'What are they,' she asked, 'though Ihave already my idea of what your
trouble consists ?
' There seems to me,' I said, ' to be suchincompatibility between the
existence of God'suniversal foreknowledge and that of any freedomof
judgment. For if God foresees all thingsand cannot in anything be
mistaken, that, whichHis Providence sees will happen, must
result.Wherefore if it knows beforehand not onlymen's deeds but even
their designs and wishes,there will be no freedom of judgment Forthere
can neither be any deed done, nor wishformed, except such as the
infallible Providenceof God has foreseen. For if matters could everso
be turned that they resulted otherwise thanwas foreseen of Providence,
this foreknowledgewould cease to be sure. But, rather than knowledge,
it is opinion which is uncertain; andthat, I deem, is not applicable
to God. And,further, I cannot approve of an argument bywhich some men
think that they can cut thisknot; for they say that a result does not
to pass for the reason that Providence has foreseen it, but the
opposite rather, namely, thatbecause it is about to come to pass,
thereforeit cannot be hidden from God's Providence.In that way it
seems to me that the argumentmust resolve itself into an argument on
theother side. For in that case it is not necessarythat that should
happen which is foreseen, butthat that which is about to happen should
beforeseen; as though, indeed, our doubt waswhether God's
foreknowledge is the certaincause of future events, or the certainty
of futureevents is the cause of Providence. But let ouraim be to prove
that, whatever be the shapewhich this series of causes takes, the
fulfilmentof God's foreknowledge is necessary, even ifthis knowledge
may not seem to induce thenecessity for the occurrence of future
events.For instance, if a man sits down, it must bethat the opinion,
which conjectures that he issitting, is true; but conversely, if the
opinionconcerning the man is true because he is sitting,he must be
sitting down. There is thereforenecessity in both cases: the man must
besitting, and the opinion must be true. But hedoes not sit because
the opinion is true, butrather the opinion is true because his
sittingdown has preceded it. Thus, though thecause of the truth of the
opinion proceeds fromthe other fact, yet there is a common necessityon
both parts. In like manner we must reasonof Providence and future
events. For eventhough they are foreseen because they are about
to happen, yet they do not happen because they are foreseen. None the
less it is necessary that either what is about to happen shouldbe
foreseen of God, or that what has beenforeseen should happen; and this
alone isenough to destroy all free will.
'Yet how absurd it is that we should say thatthe result of temporal
affairs is the cause ofeternal foreknowledge ! And to think thatGod
foresees future events because they areabout to happen, is nothing
else than to holdevents of past time to be the cause of thathighest
Providence. Besides, just as, when Iknow a present fact, that fact
must be so; soalso when I know of something that willhappen, that must
come to pass. Thus itfollows that the fulfilment of a foreknownevent
must be inevitable.
' Lastly, if any one believes that any matteris otherwise than the
fact is, he not only hasnot knowled~ge, but his opinion is false also,
andthat is very far from the truth of knowledgeWherefore, if any
future event is such that itsfulfilment is not sure or necessary, how
can itpossibly be known beforehand that it willoccur ? For just as
absolute knowledge has notaint of falsity, so also that which is
conceivedby knowledge cannot be otherwise than as it isconceived. That
is the reason why knowledgecannot lie, because each matter must be
just asknowledge knows that it is. What thenHow can God know
beforehand these uncertainfuture events ? For if He thinks inevitable
fulfilment of such things as may possibly notresult, He is wrong; and
that we may notbelieve, nor even utter, rightly. But if Heperceives
that they will result as they are insuch a manner that He only knows
that theymay or may not occur, equally, how is thisforeknowledge, this
which knows nothing forsure, nothing absolutely ? How is such a
fore-knowledge different from the absurd prophecywhich Horace puts in
the mouth of Tiresias:" Whatever I shall say, will either come topass,
or it will not " ?
[Note: Horace, Staires, II. v. 59.]
How, too, would God'sProvidence be better than man's opinion, if,
asmen do, He only sees to be uncertain suchthings as have an uncertain
result ? But ifthere can be no uncertainty with God, the mostsure
source of all things, then the fulfilment ofall that He has surely
foreknown, is certain.Thus we are led to see that there is no freedom
for the intentions or actions of men; forthe mind of God, foreseeing
all things withouterror or deception, binds all together and controls
their results. And when we have onceallowed this, it is plain how
complete is thefall of all human actions in consequence. Invain are
rewards or punishments set beforegood or bad, for there is no free or
voluntaryaction of the mind to deserve them and whatwe just now
determined was most fair, willprove to be most unfair of all, namely
to punishthe dishonest or reward the honest, since theirown will does
not put them in the way of
honesty or dishonesty, but the unfailing necessity of development
constrains them. Wherefore neither virtues nor vices are anything,
butthere is rather an indiscriminate confusion ofall deserts. And
nothing could be morevicious than this; since the whole order of
allcomes from Providence, and nothing is left tohuman intention, it
follows that our crimes, aswell as our good deeds, must all be held
due tothe author of all good. Hence it is unreasonable to hope for or
pray against aught. Forwhat could any man hope for or pray against,if
an undeviating chain links together all thatwe can desire? Thus will
the only understanding between God and man, the right ofprayer, be
taken away. We suppose that at theprice of our deservedly humbling
ourselvesbefore Him we may win a right to the inestimable reward of
His divine grace: this is theonly manner in which men can seem to
dealwith God, so to speak, and by virtue of prayerto join ourselves to
that inaccessible light,before it is granted to us; but if we allow
theinevitability of the future, and believe that wehave no power, what
means shall we have tojoin ourselves to the Lord of all, or how canwe
cling to Him ? Wherefore, as you sangbut a little while ago,
[Note: Supra, Book IV. Met. vi. p. 135. ]
the human race must becut off from its source and ever fall away.
'What cause of discord is it breaks the
bonds of agreement here ? What heavenlypower has set such strife
between two truths ?Thus, though apart each brings no doubt, yetcan
they not be linked together. Comes thereno discord between these
truths? Stand theyfor ever sure by one another ? Yes, 'tis themind,
o'erwhelmed by the body's blindness,which cannot see by the light of
that dimmedbrightness the finest threads that bind the truth.But
wherefore burns the spirit with so strongdesire to learn the hidden
signs of truth?Knows it the very object of its careful search ?Then
why seeks it to learn anew what italready knows ? If it knows it not,
whysearches it in blindness ? For who woulddesire aught unwitting? Or
who could seekafter that which is unknown ? How should hefind it, or
recognise its form when found, ifhe knows it not ? And when the mind
of manperceived the mind of God, did it then knowthe whole and parts
alike ? Now is the mindburied in the cloudy darkness of the body,
yethas not altogether forgotten its own self, andkeeps the whole
though it has lost the parts.Whosoever, therefore, seeks the truth, is
notwholly in ignorance, nor yet has knowledgewholly; for he knows not
all, yet is notignorant of all. He takes thought for thewhole which he
keeps in memory, handlingagain what he saw on high, so that he may
addto that which he has kept, that which he hasforgotten.'
Then said she, ' This is the old plaint concerning Providence which
was so strongly urged Philosophyby Cicero when treating of Divination,
[Note: Cicero, De Divinatione, II.]
and you yourself have often and at length questioned the same subject.
But so far, none of you haveexplained it with enough diligence or
certainty.The cause of this obscurity is that the workingof human
reason cannot approach the directnessof divine foreknowledge. If this
could beunderstood at all, there would be no doubt left.And this
especially will I try to make plain, ifI can first explain your
' Tell me why you think abortive the reasoning of those who solve the
question thus; theyargue that foreknowledge cannot be held to bea
cause for the necessity of future results, andtherefore free will is
not in any way shackledby foreknowledge.
[Note: Referring to Boethius's words in Prose iii. of this book,
Whence do you draw yourproof of the necessity of future results if
notfrom the fact that such things as are knownbeforehand cannot but
come to pass ? If, then(as you yourself admitted just now),
foreknowledge brings no necessity to bear uponfuture events, how is it
that the voluntary resultsof such events are bound to find a fixed end
?Now for the sake of the argument, that you mayturn your attention to
what follows, let us statethat there is no foreknowledge at all.
Thenare the events which are decided by free will,bound by any
necessity, so far as this goes ?
Of course not. Secondly, let us state thatforeknowledge exists, but
brings no necessity tobear upon events; then, I think, the same
freewill will be left, intact and absolute. " But,"you will say, "
though foreknowledge is nonecessity for a result in the future, yet it
is asign that it will necessarily come to pass."Thus, therefore, even
if there had been noforeknowledge, it would be plain that
futureresults were under necessity; for every sign canonly shew what
it is that it points out; it doesnot bring it to pass. Wherefore we
must firstprove that nothing happens but of necessity, inorder that it
may be plain that foreknowledgeis a sign of this necessity. Otherwise,
if thereis no necessity, then foreknowledge will not bea sign of that
which does not exist. Now it isallowed that proof rests upon firm
reasoning,not upon signs or external arguments; it mustbe deduced from
suitable and binding causes.How can it possibly be that things, which
areforeseen as about to happen, should not occur ?That would be as
though we were to believethat events would not occur which
Providenceforeknows as about to occur, and as though wedid not rather
think this, that though theyoccur, yet they have had no necessity in
theirown natures which brought them about. Wecan see many actions
developing before oureyes; just as chariot drivers see the development
of their actions as they control and guidetheir chariots, and many
other things likewise.Does any necessity compel any of those things
to occur as they do ? Of course not. All art, craft, and intention
would be in vain, if everything took place by compulsion. Therefore,
ifthings have no necessity for coming to passwhen they do, they cannot
have any necessityto be about to come to pass before they do.Wherefore
there are things whose results areentirely free from necessity. For I
think notthat there is any man who will say this, thatthings, which
are done in the present, were notabout to be done in the past, before
they aredone. Thus these foreknown events have theirfree results. Just
as foreknowledge of presentthings brings no necessity to bear upon
them asthey come to pass, so also foreknowledge offuture things brings
no necessity to bear uponthings which are to come.
' But you will say that there is no doubtof this too, whether there
can be any foreknowledge of things which have not resultsbounden by
necessity. For they do seem tolack harmony: and you think that if they
areforeseen, the necessity follows; if there is nonecessity, then they
cannot be foreseen; nothingcan be perceived certainly by knowledge,
unlessit be certain. But if things have uncertainty ofresult, but are
foreseen as though certain, this isplainly the obscurity of opinion,
and not thetruth of knowledge. For you believe that tothink aught
other than it is, is the opposite oftrue knowledge. The cause of this
error isthat every man believes that all the subjects,that he knows,
are known by their own force or
nature alone, which are known; but it is quitethe opposite. For every
subject, that is known,is comprehended not according to its own
force,but rather according to the nature of those whoknow it. Let me
make this plain to you by abrief example: the roundness of a body may
beknown in one way by sight, in another way bytouch. Sight can take in
the whole body atonce from a distance by judging its radii,while touch
clings, as it were, to the outside ofthe sphere, and from close at
hand perceivesthrough the material parts the roundness of thebody as
it passes over the actual circumference.A man himself is differently
comprehended bythe senses, by imagination, by reason, and
byintelligence. For the senses distinguish theform as set in the
matter operated upon by theform; imagination distinguishes the
appearancealone without the matter. Reason goes evenfurther than
imagination; by a general anduniversal contemplation it investigates
theactual kind which is represented in individualspecimens. Higher
still is the view of theintelligence, which reaches above the sphereof
the universal, and with the unsullied eye ofthe mind gazes upon that
very form of the kindin its absolute simplicity. Herein the chiefpoint
for our consideration is this: the higherpower of understanding
includes the lower, butthe lower never rises to the higher. For
thesenses are capable of understanding naught but thematter;
imagination cannot look upon universalor natural kinds; reason cannot
the absolute form; whereas the intelligence seems to look down from
above and comprehendthe form, and distinguishes all that lie below,but
in such a way that it grasps the very formwhich could not be known to
any other thanitself. For it perceives and knows the generalkind, as
does reason; the appearance, as doesthe imagination; and the matter,
as do thesenses, but with one grasp of the mind it looksupon all with
a clear conception of the whole.And reason too, as it views general
kinds, doesnot make use of the imagination nor the senses,but yet does
perceive the objects both of theimagination and of the senses. It is
reasonwhich thus defines a general kind according toits conception:
Man, for instance, is an animal,biped and reasoning. This is a general
notionof a natural kind, but no man denies that thesubject can be
approached by the imaginationand by the senses, just because reason
investigatesit by a reasonable conception and not by theimagination or
senses. Likewise, though imagination takes its beginning of seeing and
formingappearances from the senses, yet without theiraid it surveys
each subject by an imaginativefaculty of distinguishing, not by the
distinguishingfaculty of the senses.
' Do you see then, how in knowledge of allthings, the subject uses its
own standard ofcapability, and not those of the objects known ?And
this is but reasonable, for every judgmentformed is an act of the
person who judges, andtherefore each man must of necessity perform
his own action from his own capability and notthe capability of any
other.' In days of old the Porch at Athens
[Note: Zeno, of Citium (342-270 B.C), the founder of theStoic school,
taught in the Stoa Poekile, whence thename of the school. The
following lines refer to theirdoctrine of presentations and
gaveus men, seeing dimly as in old age, who couldbelieve that the
feelings of the senses and theimagination were but impressions on the
mindfrom bodies without them, just as the oldcustom was to impress
with swift-running pensletters upon the surface of a waxen tablet
whichbore no marks before. But if the mind withits own force can bring
forth naught by its ownexertions; if it does but lie passive and
subjectto the marks of other bodies; if it reflects, asdoes, forsooth,
a mirror, the vain reflections ofother things; whence thrives there in
the soulan all-seeing power of knowledge? What isthe force that sees
the single parts, or whichdistinguishes the facts it knows ? What is
theforce that gathers up the parts it has distinguished, that takes
its course in order due,now rises to mingle with the things on
high,and now sinks down among the things below,and then to itself
brings back itself, and, soexamining, refutes the false with truth ?
Thisis a cause of greater power, of more effectiveforce by far than
that which only receives theimpressions of material bodies. Yet does
thepassive reception come first, rousing and stirring
all the strength of the mind in the living body When the eyes are
smitten with a light, or theears are struck with a voice's sound, then
isthe spirit's energy aroused, and, thus moved,calls upon like forms,
such as it holds withinitself, fits them to signs without and mingles
theforms of its imagination with those which it hasstored within.
' With regard to feeling the effects of bodies,natures which are
brought into contact from without may affect the organs of the
senses,and the body's passive affection may precede the active energy
of the spirit, and call forth to itself the activity of the mind; if
then, when the effects of bodies are felt, the mind is not marked in
any way by its passive receptionthereof, but declares that reception
subject tothe body of its own force, how much less dothose subjects,
which are free from all affections of bodies, follow external objects
in theirperceptions, and how much more do they makeclear the way for
the action of their mind ?By this argument many different manners
ofunderstanding have fallen to widely differentnatures of things. For
the senses are incapableof any knowledge but their own, and they
alonefall to those living beings which are incapableof motion, as are
sea shell-fish, and other lowforms of life which live by clinging to
rocks;while imagination is granted to animals with thepower of motion,
who seem to be affected bysome desire to seek or avoid certain things.
But reason belongs to the human race alone,just as the true
intelligence is God's alone.Wherefore that manner of knowledge is
betterthan others, for it can comprehend of its ownnature not only the
subject peculiar to itself,but also the subjects of the other kinds
ofknowledge. Suppose that the senses andimagination thus oppose
reasoning, saying, " Theuniversal natural kinds, which reason
believesthat it can perceive, are nothing; for what iscomprehensible
to the senses and the imagina-tion cannot be universal: therefore
either thejudgment of reason is true, and that which canbe perceived
by the senses is nothing or, sincereason knows well that there are
many subjectscomprehensible to the senses and imagina-tion, the
conception of reason is vain, for itholds to be universal what is an
individualmatter comprehensible to the senses." To thisreason might
answer, that " it sees from ageneral point of view what is
comprehensibleto the senses and the imagination, but theycannot aspire
to a knowledge of universals,since their manner of knowledge cannot
gofurther than material or bodily appearances;and in the matter of
knowledge it is better totrust to the stronger and more nearly
perfcctjudgment." If such a trial of argumentoccurred, should not we,
who have within usthe force of reasoning as well as the powers ofthe
senses and imagination, approve of the causeof reason rather than that
of the others? Itis in like manner that human reason thinks that
the divine intelligence cannot perceive thethings of the future except
as it conceives themitself. For you argue thus: " If there areevents
which do not appear to have sure ornecessary results, their results
cannot be knownfor certain beforehand: therefore there can beno
foreknowledge of these events; for if webelieve that there is any
foreknowledge thereof,there can exist nothing but such as is
broughtforth of necessity." If therefore we, who haveour share in
possession of reason, could gofurther and possess the judgment of the
mindof God, we should then think it most just thathuman reason should
yield itself to the mind ofGod, just as we have determined that
thesenses and imagination ought to yield toreason.
' Let us therefore raise ourselves, if so be thatwe can, to that
height of the loftiest intelligence.For there reason will see what it
cannot ofitself perceive, and that is to know how evensuch things as
have uncertain results are perceived definitely and for certain by
foreknowledge; and such foreknowledge will not bemere opinion, but
rather the single and directform of the highest knowledge unlimited by
' In what different shapes do living beingsmove upon the earth ! Some
make flat theirbodies, sweeping through the dust and usingtheir
strength to make therein a furrow withoutbreak; some flit here and
there upon light wings
which beat the breeze, and they float throughvast tracks of air in
their easy flight. 'Tisothers' wont to plant their footsteps on
theground, and pass with their paces over greenfields or under trees.
Though all these thouseest move in different shapes, yet all havetheir
faces downward along the ground, andthis doth draw downward and dull
their senses.Alone of all, the human race lifts up its headon high,
and stands in easy balance with thebody upright, and so looks down to
spurn theearth. If thou art not too earthly by an evilfolly, this pose
is as a lesson. Thy glance isupward, and thou dost carry high thy
head,and thus thy search is heavenward: then leadthy soul too upward,
lest while the body ishigher raised, the mind sink lower to theearth.
' Since then all that is known is apprehended,as we just now shewed,
not according to itsnature but according to the nature of theknower,
let us examine, so far as we lawfullymay, the character of the divine
nature, so thatwe may be able to learn what its knowledge is.
' The common opinion, according to all menliving, is that God is
eternal. Let us thereforeconsider what is eternity. For eternity will,
Ithink, make clear to us at the same time thedivine nature and
knowledge.' Eternity is the simultaneous and completepossession of
infinite life. This will appearmore clearly if we compare it with
things. All that lives under the conditions of time moves through the
present from the pastto the future; there is nothing set in timewhich
can at one moment grasp the wholespace of its lifetime. It cannot yet
comprehend to-morrow; yesterday it has alreadylost. And in this life
of to-day your life is nomore than a changing, passing moment. Andas
[Note: Aristotle, De Cæ;elo, 1.]
said of the universe, so it is of allthat is subject to time; though
it never beganto be, nor will ever cease, and its life is co-extensive
with the infinity of time, yet it is notsuch as can be held to be
eternal. For thoughit apprehends and grasps a space of infinite
lifetime, it does not embrace the whole simultaneously; it has not yet
experienced the future.What we should rightly call eternal is
thatwhich grasps and possesses wholly and simultaneously the fulness
of unending life, whichacks naught of the future, and has lost
naughtof the fleeting past; and such an existencemust be ever present
in itself to control and aiditself, and also must keep present with
itself theinfinity of changing time. Therefore, peoplewho hear that
Plato thought that this universehad no beginning of time and will have
no end,are not right in thinking that in this way thecreated world is
co-eternal with its creator
[Note: .Boethius speaks of people who 'hear that Platothought, etc.,'
because this was the teaching of some ofPlato's successors at the
Academy. Plato himselfthought otherwise, as may be seen in the
Timæ;us, e.g.ch. xi. 38 B., 'Time then has come into being alongwith
the universe, that being generated together, togetherthey may be
dissolved, should a dissolution of them evercome to pass; and it was
made after the pattern of theeternal nature that it might be as like
to it as possible.For the pattern is existent for all eternity, but
the copyhas been, and is, and shall be, throughout all
timecontinually.' (Mr. Archer Hind's translation.)]
For to pass through unending life, the attributewhich Plato ascribes
to the universe is onething; but it is another thing to grasp
simultaneously the whole of unending life in thepresent; this is
plainly a peculiar property ofthe mind of God.
' And further, God should not be regardedas older than His creations
by any period oftime, but rather by the peculiar property of Hisown
single nature. For the infinite changingof temporal things tries to
imitate the eversimultaneously present immutability of His life:it
cannot succeed in imitating or equailing this,but sinks from
immutability into change, andfalls from the single directness of the
presentinto an infinite space of future and past. Andsince this
temporal state cannot possess its lifecompletely and simultaneously,
but it does inthe same manner exist for ever without ceasing,it
therefore seems to try in some degree to rivalthat which it cannot
fulfil or represent, for itbinds itself to some sort of present time
out ofthis small and fleeting moment; but inasmuchas this temporal
present bears a certain appearance of that abiding present, it somehow
those, to whom it comes, seem to be in truth what they imitate. But
since this imitationcould not be abiding, the unending march oftime
has swept it away, and thus we find that ithas bound together, as it
passes, a chain of life,which it could not by abiding embrace in
itsfulness. And thus if we would apply properepithets to those
subjects, we can say, followingPlato, that God is eternal, but the
'Since then all judgment apprehends thesubjects of its thought
according to its ownnature, and God has a condition of
ever-presenteternity, His knowledge, which passes overevery change of
time, embracing infinite lengthsof past and future, views in its own
directcomprehension everything as though it weretaking place in the
present. If you wouldweigh the foreknowledge by which God
distinguishes all things, you will more rightly holdit to be a
knowledge of a never-failing constancyin the present, than a
foreknowledge of thefuture. Whence Providence is more rightly tobe
understood as a looking forth than a lookingforward, because it is set
far from low mattersand looks forth upon all things as from a
loftymountain-top above all. Why then do you demand that all things
occur by necessity, if divinelight rests upon them, while men do not
rendernecessary such things as they can see ? Becauseyou can see
things of the present, does yoursight therefore put upon them any
Surely not. If one may not unworthily compare this present time with
the divine, just asyou can see things in this your temporal present,so
God sees all things in His eternal present.Wherefore this divine
foreknowledge does notchange the nature or individual
qualitiesofthings:it sees things present in its understanding just
asthey will result some time in the future. Itmakes no confusion in
its distinctions, and withone view of itS mind it discerns all that
shallcome to pass whether of necessity or not. Forinstance, when you
see at the same time a manwalking on the earth and the sun rising in
theheavens, you see each sight simultaneously, yetyou distinguish
between them, and decide thatone is moving voluntarily, the other of
necessity.In like manner the perception of God looksdown upon all
things without disturbing at alltheir nature, though they are present
to Himbut future under the conditions of time. Wherefore this
foreknowledge is not opinion butknowledge resting upon truth, since He
knowsthat a future event is, though He knows toothat it will not occur
of necessity. If youanswer here that what God sees about tohappen,
cannot but happen, and that whatcannot but happen is bound by
necessity, youfasten me down to the word necessity, I willgrant that
we have a matter of most firm truth,but it is one to which scarce any
man canapproach unless he be a contemplator of thedivine. For I shall
answer that such a thing
will occur of necessity, when it is viewed fromthe point of divine
knowledge; but when it isexamined in its own nature, it seems
perfectlyfree and unrestrained. For there are two kindsof necessities;
one is simple: for instance, anecessary fact, "all men are mortal ";
the otheris conditional; for instance, if you know that aman is
walking, he must be walking: for whateach man knows cannot be
otherwise than it isknown to be; but the conditional one is by nomeans
followed by this simple and directnecessity; for there is no necessity
to compela voluntary walker to proceed, though it isnecessary that, if
he walks, he should be proceeding. In the same way, if Providence
seesan event in its present, that thing must be,though it has no
necessity of its own nature.And God looks in His present upon
thosefuture things which come to pass through freewill. Therefore if
these things be looked atfrom the point of view of God's insight,
theycome to pass of necessity under the condition ofdivine knowledge;
if, on the other hand, theyare viewed by themselves, they do not
losethe perfect freedom of their nature. Withoutdoubt, then, all
things that God foreknows docome to pass, but some of them proceed
fromfree will; and though they result by cominginto existence, yet
they do not lose their ownnature, because before they came to pass
theycould also not have come to pass.
'"What then," you may ask, " is the difference
in their not being bound by necessity,since they result under all
circumstances as bynecessity, on account of the condition of
divineknowledge ? " This is the difference, as I justnow put forward:
take the sun rising and a manwalking; while these operations are
occurring,they cannot but occur: but the one was boundto occur before
it did; the other was not sobound. What God has in His present,
doesexist without doubt; but of such things somefollow by necessity,
others by their authors'wills. Wherefore I was justified in sayingthat
if these things be regarded from the viewof divine knowledge, they are
necessary, butif they are viewed by themselves, they areperfectly free
from all ties of necessity: justas when you refer all, that is clear
to thesenses, to the reason, it becomes general truth,but it remains
particular if regarded by itself." But," you will say, " if it is in
my power tochange a purpose of mine, I will disregardProvidence, since
I may change what Providenceforesees." To which I answer, " You
canchange your purpose, but since the truth ofProvidence knows in its
present that you cando so, and whether you do so, and in whatdirection
you may change it, therefore youcannot escape that divine
foreknowledge: justas you cannot avoid the glance of a present
eye,though you may by your free will turn yourselfto all kinds of
different actions." "What ? "you will say, " can I by my own action
divine knowledge, so that if I choose now one thing, now another,
Providence too will seemto change its knowledge?" No; divine insight
precedes all future things, turning themback and recalling them to the
present timeof its own peculiar knowledge. It does notchange, as you
may think, between this andthat alternation of foreknowledge. It is
constant in preceding and embracing by oneglance all your changes. And
God does notreceive this ever-present grasp of all things andvision of
the present at the occurrence of futureevents, but from His own
peculiar directness.Whence also is that difficulty solved which
youlaid down a little while ago, that it was notworthy to say that our
future events were thecause of God's knowledge. For this power
ofknowledge, ever in the present and embracingall things in its
perception, does itself constrainall things, and owes naught to
following eventsfrom which it has received naught. Thus,therefore,
mortal men have their freedom ofjudgment intact. And since their wills
arefreed from all binding necessity, laws do notset rewards or
punishments unjustly. God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer,
and the ever-present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the
future nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and
punishments to the bad. Hopes are not vainly put in God, nor prayers in
vain offered: if these are right, they cannot but be answered. Turn
therefore from vice: ensue virtue: raise your soul to upright hopes:
send up on high your prayers from this earth. If you would be honest,
great is the necessity enjoined upon your goodness, since all you do is
done before the eyes of an all-seeing Judge.'