Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, Books II-V

Books II
Prose 1

Now begins the cure.
What is the nature of Fortune? Note the way she is described (physically) at the top of page 22.

Note the wind image in the final paragraph, too. This prose section contains the kernel of the argument of Philosophy. Understand it, and the rest will be easy. The poem that follows simply embroiders on what she has said already.

Prose 2

Here Fortune clearly becomes a woman, and the two women are worth spending some time thinking about. (Makes a change from our usual Christian God and Satan dichotomy, doesn't it? Remember that this is not the Consolation of Religion, but the Consolation of Philosophy.

Can you summarize the attitude of Fortune in this section? Is this what you think fortune is like? How is it different (if it is)?

Poem 2 What do you think of Fortune's estimation of man?

It is not necessary for me to hold your hand through the following arguments, so I will make only a few random observations.

Page 28 bottom: Do you find Boethius's misery "childish," as Lady Philosophy does?

Page 29 middle: "nothing is miserable unless you think it so"--is that true? What can it mean to "possess yourself"?

Page 30: Pay special attention to Poem 4. You will have occasion to remember is later.

Page 33: On the entrance to the oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece was carved two phrases: Know thyself. Nothing in excess. In spite of the simplicity of these two statements, they sum up a good deal of what has been said at greater length by many writers. Remember that Boethius has forgotten who he is. Who (or what) is he? Do you know yet?

Page 34: This is not the first time avarice (greed) has appeared. Why? Each prose section adds discussion of more of "Fortune's goods." Keep your eye on the ball. Think about your own life and those of others.

Page 37: Boethius declares himself innocent of all these misconceptions, but Lady P. is not done with him yet. Pay attention to the view of the universe here (taken from Macrobius), and come back to it when you've read the end of the Troilus.

Page 40: Not only is good fortune a bad thing, but bad fortune is a good thing! Can you get your mind around this one? Do you believe it?

Page 41: A new term--love. Poem 8 should be read in conjunction with Boethius's prayer in Book 1, Poem 5 (p. 14). What are the differences? Can you see any better into the narrator's problem now?

Book III

How has the narrator's demeanor changed since the opening of the work?

Ask yourself, what would make me truly happy? If you aren't working through all this along with Boethius, you are not reading with medieval eyes.

Page 43: Lady Philosophy never seems to doubt that happiness in intimately bound up with goodness. Is that the way you think of it?

In the first paragraph on page 46 you will find an image used more than once by Chaucer.

Riches, honor, power, fame, bodily pleasure are dealt with in order in the first eight sections; then Philosophy turns to the subject of true happiness, which needs no extended treatment. She then goes on to describe and explain the nature of God. On page 69, Philosophy summarizes the argument nicely.

Beginning in Prose 12, Philosophy takes up the question she posed at the beginning of the work (p. 18) concerning the way the world is governed. Read this section carefully. Note the surprising conclusion that "evil is nothing." St. Augustine had offered a similar argument, and on similar grounds.

What is the author doing in the last paragraph on page 72? Sure, it's a summary, but what else is it, too?

Page 73: The story of Orpheus is an important one in the Middle Ages. In Medieval Literature class we usually read a medieval romance entitled Sir Orfeo. Philosophy puts the Greek story to rather different uses here--a good lesson in the "usability" of stories. "Who can give lovers a law?" Who, indeed? Never forget that Chaucer knew this text like the back of his hand!

Book IV

Page 76: Here is his "own country" again.

Work at understanding the statement at the bottom of page 79. It may be difficult at first.

"The good are always rewarded and the wicked always punished," says Lady P. (p. 81)--exactly the opposite of Boethius's opinion.

Book V

Finally, Lady Philosophy returns to her promise to show Boethius the way home. She begins from Boethius's definition of man as rational, adding the power of judgment and hence free will into the mix. This gets her into the vexed problem of man's free will and God's foreknowledge. On page 111, she once more returns to man, the "biped, rational animal," but adds what Boethius had forgotten in his definition. What is it? (No, don't get lost in the language on page 112. Go on to Prose 5.)

Now, are any questions left unanswered? If so, ask them.

Rev. 1/96