The Consolation of Philosophy

The Consolation of Philosophy

Boethius was an eminent public figure under the Gothic emperor Theodoric, and an exceptional Greek scholar. When he became involved in a conspiracy and was imprisoned in Pavia, it was to the Greek philosophers that he turned. THE CONSOLATION was written in the period leading up to his brutal execution. It is a dialogue of alternating prose and verse between the ailing pris...

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Title:The Consolation of Philosophy
Author:Boethius
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Edition Language:English

The Consolation of Philosophy Reviews

  • Mark Adderley

    Why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people? And why does He allow bad people to get away with doing bad things?

    In 524, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was executed, most likely by strangulation, on a charge of treason. Whilst languishing in prison, he wrote a book that was to become one of the most influential philosophical tracts of the next thousand years,

    .

    Boethius is himself the narrator of the book. He speculates on being visited, in his pl

    Why does a good God allow bad things to happen to good people? And why does He allow bad people to get away with doing bad things?

    In 524, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was executed, most likely by strangulation, on a charge of treason. Whilst languishing in prison, he wrote a book that was to become one of the most influential philosophical tracts of the next thousand years,

    .

    Boethius is himself the narrator of the book. He speculates on being visited, in his plight, by Dame Philosophy, who explains to him patiently why his experiences reflect the existence of a good and benevolent God. The world is not ruled by chaotic forces, reward and punishment are not random--it's just that his limited human perception cannot fully understand the situation.

    Philosophy begins by proving by meticulous reasoning that God is not only good, but the source of goodness. People are good in so far as they participate in divine goodness; they are evil in so far as they reject it. To be human is to accept good; to reject it makes one subhuman. The evil therefore only appear to be triumphant in the world. In fact, their own evil is their punishment.

    The reason the bad seem to be rewarded is that they are favoured by Fortune, the force that rewards and punishes within the world. It is better, Philosophy argues, to follow Providence, the force that sees to it that God's plan is followed, no matter how men mar it.

    Philosophy finishes up by reconciling God's foreknowledge of events with Man's free will. Foreseeing a thing does not necessitate that one has influenced it at all--God's foreknowledge merely enables him to see what will happen. He foresees because, from the perspective of eternity, all events, past, present, and future and simultaneously present to Him.

    Understanding these concepts helps with understanding at least

    and

    more fully; but they are also helpful in one's day-to-day life. Why does a benevolent God allow bad things to happen in His world? Boethius' answer is a rational one, an answer which does not depend on revealed truth (i.e., the Bible). It is therefore a satisfactory answer to that question for someone who doesn't believe in revealed truth.

    Looking over the other reviews here, it seems that one thing people find negative about it is that it's personal--Boethius wrote it to console himself about the situation he was in. It's important to recall that this doesn't disqualify his ideas. That's really an ad hominem argument, and you should evaluate the quality of his thought independently of the circumstances under which they were written. That having been said, there's a poignancy to the situation that, I think, adds an edge to the philosophy. It's no mere abstraction, but a way of thinking that can really make a difference to folk. In short, if you want to understand the Middle Ages and the world in which you live,

    is a cornerstone text.

  • booklady

    is about listening to your inner Voice of Reason. Boethius, the author, personified our conscience by employing a feature familiar to his audience, an imaginary dialogue between self and one’s muse, who in his case was Lady Philosophy. This technique and the ensuing exchange reminded me of similar literary encounters with mythical beings. I could visualize her as Tolkien’s Galadriel appearing (to Frodo) when most needed bringing astutely applicable advice also of a

    is about listening to your inner Voice of Reason. Boethius, the author, personified our conscience by employing a feature familiar to his audience, an imaginary dialogue between self and one’s muse, who in his case was Lady Philosophy. This technique and the ensuing exchange reminded me of similar literary encounters with mythical beings. I could visualize her as Tolkien’s Galadriel appearing (to Frodo) when most needed bringing astutely applicable advice also of a universal nature for the perspicacious. As reader, may I be that eager eavesdropper!

    Where is Reason in an oftentimes unreasonable world? What is the reason for suffering? Extreme poverty? Death? Humanity’s greatest crimes against itself? Is there reason for things as they are? Or do we perhaps fail to listen to our own quiet inner voice...

    Regardless of beliefs, most people agree Reason exists as a basic necessity for a good life—however one defines that good. As such

    can be read as allegory, a reminder of so much which we already know and may have forgotten. It is best read under circumstances similar to those under which it was written, i.e., dire straits. Boethius was in prison awaiting trial and ultimately execution for treason when he wrote this his last and greatest work. For me, this brought an especial poignancy to his words. I was listening to a dying man’s counsels to ‘be strong’ and realize the futility of an oppressor’s actions to ultimate well-being. Written as dialogue between two life-long best friends, this advice was profound, as opposed to so much that passes for wisdom or consolation today.

    Many excellent reviews* on

    have already been written. Amateur philosopher that I am, there is little I can add to the finer points in this important discussion except to encourage modern readers to be gleaners. Reason is an excellent teacher when we are cooperative listeners.

    As a final note, the

    would have been much improved if performed as follows: one reader for each of the characters, Boethius and Lady Philosophy, and a third reader serving as a narrator for the poems at the end of each section.

    *Technically speaking, the best of these on GR is written by Mark Adderley

    .

    ><><><><><><><><><><>

    Have

    wanted to read this and have even started it a few times.* Ha! I even have two different versions of it on my shelves to tempt me--this one and the 2001 translation by

    . Last night the word 'consolation' in the title looked especially appealing and I checked out

    to see if there was an audio version. There is! Unfortunately it's one of those with multiple readers and the quality varies considerably. Even so, this will be an enjoyable Thanksgiving diversion to alternately listen to and read for myself.

    *My daughter about to graduate college has even read it and told me I'd love it.

  • Gary  Beauregard Bottomley

    You ever wonder why God (or the universe) would allow a truly awful human being like Donald Trump to flourish? I do and this book delves into that kind of question with gusto. The author, Boethius, through his dialog with the lady, Philosophy, tells us and much more. There is no cop out with his answers. It's not the standard Christian drivel that we will be rewarded in an infinite after life nothing as easy as that.

    Not to take way from the author, but the answer is along the lines that God (or

    You ever wonder why God (or the universe) would allow a truly awful human being like Donald Trump to flourish? I do and this book delves into that kind of question with gusto. The author, Boethius, through his dialog with the lady, Philosophy, tells us and much more. There is no cop out with his answers. It's not the standard Christian drivel that we will be rewarded in an infinite after life nothing as easy as that.

    Not to take way from the author, but the answer is along the lines that God (or the universe) is the absolute Good. The ultimate good can not know evil. We only can do wrong (vice or evil) when we don't know. A truly wicked person, like Donald Trump, is that way because they do not know and the more wicked they become the less they know about the Good and hence the less they are as a person and their soul suffers for that lack of knowledge and dearth of Good.

    It's clear that Boethius is reworking Plato and Aristotle into a coherent philosophy in support of his world view.

    He doesn't really stop at just what makes us happy and also delves deeply into our passions, free will, a transcendental God and actually he has Einstein's block universe, where time happens all at once. That means he also reworks the dialog Parmenides with his 'one'. I've just recently read Spinoza's Ethics, and I am currently reading Hegel's Logic, and I would say they both definitely borrowed from this very unique take on the universe from Boethius.

    There's a line of reasoning that he often uses. That our intuition, senses and intellect can only intersect within ourselves and that the 'judgement' we make on the particular to the universal can only be made by the individual that is doing the observing and the thing observed can not act alone to understand.

    This guy is a really cool thinker. It's a pity that he's not more widely read. Fortune works on us all and never let yourself be too cocky for the fickled finger of fate will point at you sooner or latter.

    At its core this book is a self help book (at least the first half). I have no idea why the modern self help writers of today ignore books like this one. The worst most popular book ever written was "The Purpose Driven Life" by Rick Warren. Why can't those kind of authors just save us their pablum and refer us back to book like this one. This author really knocks it out of the ball park. A total non believer in fairy tales and someone who tries to never pretend to know things that he doesn't know (i.e. faith) can still enjoy a book such as this one. (Though I think he bends over too much by defending an All Knowing God with a deterministic universe and free will (i.e. a lack of cause and effect) within humans allowing evil by redefining it as 'not good' like Augustine does.

    I like to think truly not good people like Donald Trump are getting there punishment, but Boethius does point out that punishing the wicked really doesn't help us. Too bad.

  • Julie Davis

    I never heard of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius until a couple of years ago when a friend mentioned, somewhat diffidently, that she was reading it. She said just enough to intrigue me and the book looked intriguingly short. It went onto my mental "read someday" list and that was as far as I got.

    Until now. Corey Olsen's first

    on The Consolation of Philosophy hit my iTunes feed. I've mentioned the Mythgard classes before, especially those to do with the Lord of th

    I never heard of The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius until a couple of years ago when a friend mentioned, somewhat diffidently, that she was reading it. She said just enough to intrigue me and the book looked intriguingly short. It went onto my mental "read someday" list and that was as far as I got.

    Until now. Corey Olsen's first

    on The Consolation of Philosophy hit my iTunes feed. I've mentioned the Mythgard classes before, especially those to do with the Lord of the Rings and Dracula. They are really excellent and they are free.

    As it turns out The Consolation of Philosophy is not only one of the most influential books through Middle Ages and Renaissance, but strongly influenced J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Not to mention that the ideas continue to filter through pop culture and can pop up in unlikely places.

    Am thoroughly enjoying this initial reading.

    FINAL UPDATE

    This was an amazing book, made even richer (is that possible?) by Corey Olsen's classes. It is a cogent look at good versus evil, fortune versus innate worth, and the intertwined nature of God's foreknowledge and free will. Thought provoking and inspirational, all without ever going beyond the bounds of philosophical thought and logic.

    I will be coming back to this many more times.

  • Trevor

    I’ve meant to read this for a very long time, probably since I found out that the title of

    , another book I quite enjoyed, was borrowed from this one. In case you don’t know the background, I’ll be quick. The writer was leading a perfectly satisfactory life (in fact, even better than satisfactory) when one day everything went seriously yuck (in case you need a theme song to understand this

    – you can’t say I don’t try to provi

    I’ve meant to read this for a very long time, probably since I found out that the title of

    , another book I quite enjoyed, was borrowed from this one. In case you don’t know the background, I’ll be quick. The writer was leading a perfectly satisfactory life (in fact, even better than satisfactory) when one day everything went seriously yuck (in case you need a theme song to understand this

    – you can’t say I don’t try to provide a multi-media experience with these reviews). He was put in gaol after being set up and accused of treason. There would have been, I can only assume, little doubt in his mind how things were likely to turn out, but he spent a year waiting for his trail while expecting to be executed – he was executed, by the way, and as executions go his was a particularly nasty one. While waiting for all this to happen he wrote this little book. Now, if I was waiting to be executed, or thought that was the most likely outcome of the situation I found myself in, I’m not sure this is the sort of book I would have written – and in saying that I think that reflects badly on me, rather than on Boethius. To be fair, Boethius in this book doesn’t start out as the life of the party. At the start of this remarkable little book he is very upset with the way things have turned out – and who could blame him?

    But while he is in prison he is visited by an incredibly lovely woman who just so happens to turn out to be the incarnation of philosophy. It is hardly surprising that sex is out of the question and so they chat instead, as one is likely to do when visited by the embodiment of wisdom. It should also come as no surprise that they chat about things that are pretty well at the front and centre of Boethius’ mind. Obviously these are not going to be how well the local team is going in the Christians Vs the Lions competition at the local sports ground (this was 526 AD after all), but rather a fascinating little discussion about the fickleness of fortune leading onto a D&M on why God allows suffering to exist if he is all powerful.

    I thought the stuff about the fickleness of fortune at the start of this book was very interesting. I even agreed with much of it – which was essentially a repeat of Plato’s idea from

    that it is better to suffer a wrong than to commit one, mixed in with the Stoic idea that you should be prepared to lose all that you have because one day you are going to anyway. I am someone without a religious faith, but I do believe these are maxims that are as good as any others to live by. I also think that you are more likely to learn something useful from misfortune than from good fortune and that in the long run you are probably likely to end up better off due to your losses than your wins. So I found reading all this a little hard given how much nodding I was doing along the way. Having said that, I would be surprised if I could be quite as rational as Boethius if I was ever confronted with the same or even similar circumstances or quite so stoical.

    The second half of the book is about the nature of god and why god allows suffering. And before we start with his answers to this, we need to talk about whether or not Boethius was a Christian. If I had read a newer version of this book there would have been an introduction and I would have had a chance to see what the latest thinking is on this. I had thought, before I started reading, that he probably had to be a Christian. I knew that this little volume was a standard text throughout the Middle Ages and so figured that he had to be a Christian if that was going to be the case. However, there were a few things that he said in this that really made viewing him as a Christian a little problematic.

    Firstly, there is a bit early on where he says that in the beginning God ordered the universe. Of course, the Christian God doesn’t order the universe, He creates it out of nothing. It is the pegan Roman and Greek gods who in the beginning give order to the Chaos. Another thing I thought was a bit of a give away was the fact that at no time does Boethius mention Christ. I don’t mean to be rude, but when was the last time you had a conversation with a Christian without Christ being mentioned even once? I know this is a short book, but a Christian couldn’t have written for so long on such a topic without ever mentioning Christ.

    The other bit that I think makes it hard to view Boethius as your standard Christian is that he has a very strange idea of freedom of the will and providence. I’m not sure many Christians would agree that our free will is limited due to our inability to understand necessity. My reading of what is said here is that we do not stuff up God’s plan for the future by our random acts of free will (as you might expect us to) by our changing the script along the way and this is because while we think we are acting out of our own discretion we are actually acting according to rules, God’s rules, that always remain beyond our ken. I must admit that I found the latter parts of this book hard work, but mostly because I think the problem of evil and suffering is harder to solve than is done here in what I think is a rather formal and ‘logical’ way. If only suffering could be put aside so easily.

    (This was something else that reminded me of Plato’s Gorgias – I've always thought Plato was better at stating the problems with the pointless and almost adolescent nature of asking philosophical questions than in answering them - I felt much the same with how the problems of suffering and freedom were stated here compared to how these problems were resolved)

    The second part of the book was the most Platonic part of the book, I felt. The style was much the same as reading a Platonic dialogue and the arguments were more or less straight Plato. That is another reason why the Christian stuff didn’t quite work for me. While we could argue over whether or not Boethius was a Christian, no one could argue about whether he was a Neo-Platonist or not.

    Look, this is a fascinating work – any work written by someone waiting to die is going to have a compelling power about it. But one that also shows a way to become reconcilled to fate (and such an awful fate) in such a circumstance is doubly fascinating. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, the mere fact he can form any conclusions at all is enough to be wondered at. That he is so accepting of his fate is breathtaking.

    There are lovely little poems throughout this book too. They are dropped into the text and on the theme of what is being discussed in the text at the time. They really add an entirely unexpected level of delight to this work.

    And the Consolation of Philosophy? Well, to me it doesn’t lie in the answers he finds, but rather in the act of thinking this through in the first place. Time for a crap comparision with something in my life. Obviously I have never been through anything nearly as horrible as Boethius goes through here, but once I had a very stressful and anxious night thinking about some work that I needed to do and needed to do particularly well, something I was fairly confident I was likely to stuff up quite convincingly. I was so worried thinking about the likely consequences of stuffing up the work I was going to do that I couldn’t sleep. In fact, I could hardly even breathe. After tossing and turning for an hour I finally got up and sat at the dining room table reading TS Eliot’s

    – definitely not one of Eliot’s easier poems. The intensity of my concentration on the poem, in trying to understand it and trying to follow all of the twists and turns in the imagery meant that it simply wasn’t possible to go on worrying about my problems at work. When I finally went to bed I was able to keep my focus on the poem and its language and even hear Chopin playing somewhere in the back of my mind. I can hardly remember what my work problem was, but that night with Eliot was one I will never forget.

    I read this book on my Kindle, a wonderful thing, but poor old Amazon aren’t making the money out of me they probably had hoped. You see, I’ve found manybooks.net and what an amazing place that is. I’ve put so many books onto my Kindle from there that it now has the same problem as my bookcases – lots of books I’m just never going to get the time to read all lined up waiting. Still, as Capitalism teaches us, possession is nine-tenths of the fun and consumption is its own reward.

  • Edward

    --The Consolation of Philosophy

  • Steven

    I first read Boethius's

    several years ago, before I ended up studying philosophy more formally. I greatly appreciated it back then, and, when I recently felt the urge to revisit it, I decided to try this new translation by David R. Slavitt, figuring that I'd not only reread it, but also re-experience it (which is what a new translation often helps you do). The translation is very contemporary and verging on the informal, which makes it highly readable. I personally

    I first read Boethius's

    several years ago, before I ended up studying philosophy more formally. I greatly appreciated it back then, and, when I recently felt the urge to revisit it, I decided to try this new translation by David R. Slavitt, figuring that I'd not only reread it, but also re-experience it (which is what a new translation often helps you do). The translation is very contemporary and verging on the informal, which makes it highly readable. I personally lean towards the formal when it comes to works like these, but it wasn't distracting on the whole, excepting perhaps one or two instances where word choice appeared conspicuously removed from what Boethius might have chosen in his time. The verses came across as especially well translated (better, it seems to me, than the translation I previously read).

    As for the work itself, I was less impressed by the philosophy of the

    this time around, which was probably inevitable. Nevertheless, the beauty of both the poetry and the prose, as well as the immense poignancy of the occasion (a man sentenced to death, most likely wrongfully, seeking solace in philosophy and flights of the mind), was just as—if not more—remarkable this time around.

  • Fil

    Confused at how to rate this one.

    As a work of late Antiquity literature it is a masterpiece (beautifully translated by Mr. Slavitt) and I am happy to have read it, specially the first three books, which deal with human happiness and how to achieve it. Readers of self-help books (self-help, pffft!) would be better off reading this than the vacuous, laughable books of our time.

    As a theological work, it is less than convincing. Books IV and V remind me of Augustine's '

    ', circular reason

    Confused at how to rate this one.

    As a work of late Antiquity literature it is a masterpiece (beautifully translated by Mr. Slavitt) and I am happy to have read it, specially the first three books, which deal with human happiness and how to achieve it. Readers of self-help books (self-help, pffft!) would be better off reading this than the vacuous, laughable books of our time.

    As a theological work, it is less than convincing. Books IV and V remind me of Augustine's '

    ', circular reasoning and specious arguments abound. Too many things are taken for granted or inadequately explained; if God does exist, how are we to know that he would be eternal, or omnipotent? How does 'useful' equate 'good' (certain deontological arguments aside)? How can free will and God's foreknowledge co-exist? Et cetera, et cetera... None of the answers provided are satisfying. The song remains the same, I guess.

    Lastly, a minor complaint, why is it (Lady) Philosophy who seeks out Boethius and not Sophia herself?

    From 4 stars for the former reason to 2 stars for the latter I have settled on the obvious compromise.

  • Michael

    171118: reinterpretation/reuse of ancient greek philosophy arguments by imprisoned roman executed in 526, primarily expounded as moral instructions, later used to support christian metaphysics as will develop in medieval centuries. readable layers of translations, poetry rendered prose, some context in plato texts (as translated in 1892?), some commentary/critiques.... probably more interesting if you like medieval philosophy...

  • Jan-Maat

    Written by Boethius while under arrest for allegedly plotting against the Ostrogothic King.

    Boethius writes out conversations, interspersed with poems, between himself and a personification of Philosophy who encourages him to reject concerns with the world and concentrate on the eternal instead. While cursing his evil fortune, Philosophy appears and upbraids Boethius for abandoning her and devoting himself to worldly concerns instead of learning and Christianity. As the dialogues progress, Boethi

    Written by Boethius while under arrest for allegedly plotting against the Ostrogothic King.

    Boethius writes out conversations, interspersed with poems, between himself and a personification of Philosophy who encourages him to reject concerns with the world and concentrate on the eternal instead. While cursing his evil fortune, Philosophy appears and upbraids Boethius for abandoning her and devoting himself to worldly concerns instead of learning and Christianity. As the dialogues progress, Boethius comes to accept what has happened to him and turns the focus of his attention on to Philosophy and the eternal instead.

    I've heard the view that Boethius was not a Christian, and the nature of the discussions between Boethius and Philosophy are such that they could be Christian or Pagan. I would be surprised if there was much here that either Marcus Aurelius or Saint Augustine could take offence to.

    A good part of me wishes that Boethius had remained fixated on his worldly concerns enough to have left us a detailed account of the politics of the Ostrogothic court at least in his initial laments, but the promise of the Kingdom of God proved too much for him!

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