The Consolation of Philosophy by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius
Translated by David R. Slavitt
1. The Consolation of Philosophy by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius is an essay written by Boethius, a wealthy well educated Roman aristocrat, as he is unjustly imprisoned and awaiting execution for treason around 524 A.D. The essay is a conversation with “Lady Philosophy” on the spiritual meaning of human existence. She provides him a philosophy that is capable of consoling him at his moment of greatest despair. Boethius had been a prominent and noble person and was now facing execution for treason on trumped up charges and false testimony. Lady philosophy explains how fortune, health, wealth, honor and power are temporal, and they are given and taken away often quite quickly, so it is unwise to become attached to any such temporal things. Of greater significance to a potential eternal existence are the soul and the intellectual capacity of a combined humanity. As such Lady Philosophy offers up the belief in God as a better path to true happiness than the pursuit of earthly temporal treasures. She offers up a very compelling, empowering, and beautiful argument that does indeed console Boethius. It is an argument on the eternal sustainability of goodness and the temporal nature of wickedness.
2. The theme of the novel is that true happiness can only be found in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and virtue. Nothing we can acquire on earth, such as power, wealth and pleasure are certain or predictable so they cannot provide true happiness.
3. The tone of this book is uplifting and empowering, although the author is unjustly imprisoned awaiting his execution. The book does offer a logical argument for the existence of an eternal universal truth which can provide consolation for a desperate situation. The loss of any material or temporal things including your physical life should not cause sorrow because the only thing of true value is within yourself to realize and once realized is eternal so it cannot be taken away. This is a very “hopeful” and empowering idea. The mind is very powerful and ultimately your ability to be happy does depend on your ability to reconcile evils such as disease, despair, and destruction that eventually affect all temporal things. God being universal truth and happiness is the only thing the really exists as it is sustainable throughout eternity, all evil doesn’t really exists because it is temporal. Evil by its own nature eventually destroys itself.
4. Personification is used as a literary element to enhance the tone as philosophy is personified as a lady who appears to be of a greater world than the one we know. Lady philosophy is a mystical vision or allegory with whom Boethius speaks throughout the essay. Dramatic visualization is used to describe the robe that Lady philosophy wears being made out of imperishable material woven by her own hands, but tattered by the hands of “marauders” who have torn off pieces of the robe. Imagery is used often to describe in detail the setting. It is ironic that the author being more virtuous the most of the current Roman government is the one in prison. The story itself is a paradox in that the author “finds” himself as he is awaiting his execution. An example of symbolism in the story is Lady Philosophy’s varying height. The taller she is the more philosophical her arguments are. When she is an average height she provides practical philosophy.
1. The main characters are the author, narrator and the mystical vision of philosophy, called Lady Philosophy. Boethius’s father-in-law, Symmachus, and his wife, Rusticiana, are moral upstanding characters. Boethius loves them and his son, and is comforted some that they are still alive.
2. The author's syntax and diction changes as some of the philosophy is written in poetry and other in dialog. The essay is a very convincing argument for spirituality. The argument for free will is also maintained.
3. The author is the main character and is a dynamic character. He is profoundly affected by the arguments of Lady Philosophy. Her lessons are indeed consoling and timeless. I really did get the feeling that the author was deeply and profoundly affected by the logic, although he had led a noble and honest life, which in itself was not enough to save him from his untimely death.
4. After reading the book, I definitely felt like I had met a person and felt deeply moved and empowered by the arguments presented. Despite the constraints placed on your freedoms by wicked governments, or other circumstances, you can at least always have the consolation of philosophy. In “saving” yourself perhaps you “save” the world as nothing we can comprehend being temporal has any significance as compared to a concept like eternity. No matter your circumstances, it is good advice to cultivate virtue as it is the only logical (sustainable) path to eternity.