By Chet Yarbrough
The Consolation of Philosophy
Written by: Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius
Narrated by: David Rintoul
This translation of “The Consolation of Philosophy” impresses all who listen to it because of the beauty of Boethius’s writing and Rintoul’s narration. Though one may either agree or disagree with Boethius’s religious philosophy, the juxtaposition of his poetry with chapters of Socratic dialog are a pleasure to hear.
Boethius is born into a rich aristocratic Roman family and achieves high office and continued wealth, even when Rome is conquered by a Ostrogothic King, Theodoric the Great. In the beginning of Theodoric’s reign, Boethius is a court favorite but in 524 AD, he is arrested and imprisoned for (according to Bothius’s writings) defending the poor and powerless from the new Roman Ostrogothic government. During Bothius’s imprisonment, just before his execution, he writes and completes “The Consolation of Philosophy”.
One may think of Bothius’s book from two perspectives. One, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a treatise to justify God. Two, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a rationalization for mistreatment by others; i.e. “others” defined as both God and Mammon.
Boethius is visited by a vision of the “Lady of Philosophy” in his cell. The “Lady” has been Bothius’s companion since childhood. She sees Bothius shedding tears over his plight and asks why he laments his station in life after having so dutifully followed in the steps of the great philosophers of antiquity. As the “Lady” recounts Plato’s and Aristotle’s teachings, she berates Bothius for his lamentation over loss of wealth, power, and prestige. In a Socratic dialog, the “Lady” recounts the folly of those who covet worldly ephemera when “happiness” has always been the goal of human life. Bothius begins to recollect the teachings of Plato and Aristotle that explain wealth, power, and prestige are fleeting values in life and never the source of happiness because of the constant fear of loss and the insatiable lust for more.
The “Lady” reminds Boethius of the omniscience of God. He knows all, sees all, and loves all. Both good and evil are part of earthly life and it is only those who choose moderation in all things good that will find earthly happiness. Bothius creates a Socratic dialog between himself and the “Lady” to question how God allows evil to exist, and whether man can have free will when God is omniscient and knows each human being follows a known path in life. Bothius asks “…is there not chance in every person’s life that leads them in one direction or another?”
Boethius implies these questions are answered to his satisfaction. He accepts God as omniscient. Every listener will have their own opinion after completing Bothius’s story. To some, the answers are the machinations of a man who rationalizes his bereft state; to others, the answers are a guide to life in this world.
In any case, “The Consolation of Philosophy” is a literary work of art.