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website Julia Bolton Holloway, 1997/2000. [email]

10/10/2000. The notes and selected quotes from Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, provided below, are taken with permission from the website of Julia Bolton Holloway, which is located at:
Their relevance to the philosophy of life expressed by the Seafarer poet seems indisputable.

A second selection of equally appropriate quotations from Boethius [here] are taken from this website:

Further texts which may be thought to have influenced the Seafarer poet, eg Caesarius of Arles, Columbanus, Pseudo-Augustine (Sermon 68) are given by Corey Owen, under Texts, Translations, Analogues: split screen, at:

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born about A.D. 480. A Christian, he also knew all the classical and pagan works of philosophy written by Plato and Aristotle, Parmenides and Pythagoras, Cicero and Seneca, and he reconciled these to Christian theology in his own writings. He was a Roman Senator, defending the ancient principles of their Republic, but was thrown into prison by the barbarian Emperor Theodoric where he awaited a most brutal form of execution, ropes to be bound around his head till his eyes burst out and then to be finished off by the bludgeon and the axe, A.D. 524. During that time he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, which is modelled upon the biblical books of Job and Wisdom and upon the Platonic dialogues about Socrates while he was awaiting execution in Athens. Boethius in this work presents Philosophia as a beautiful woman who consoles Boethius (she is really his wiser self) for his foolish and mawkish self-pitying. She gets him to recover from his depression by telling him of Time and Eternity, Creation and Creator, Man and God, the Circle and the Centre. She is his and our psychiatrist.

 His book was treasured for centuries, only falling out of favour at the Age of Reason. King Alfred translated it into Anglo-Saxon. Queen Elizabeth I translated it into Elizabethan English. Dante, Chaucer and Julian of Norwich all used its concepts and were all deeply influenced by it. Boethius' Consolation is a key to understanding medieval poetry and Christian theology. It is also a 'golden book' as Edward Gibbon called it, that can be of use to disordered souls in our own time.

The work is written in sections, divided between Prose and Poetry. Medieval manuscripts of the text are richly illuminated, presenting Boethius in prison, mourning on his bed, and visited by the Lady Philosophia, and from her Dante derived his consoling figure of Beatrice.

    Book II, Prose 7 Boethius: You know that ambition for material things has not mastered me; but I have desired the opportunity for public service so that my virtue should not grow old and weak through lack of use.   Philosophia: But think how trivial and empty such glory is. You know from astrological computation that the whole circumference of the earth is no more than a pinpoint when contrasted to the space of the heavens; in   fact, if the two are compared, the earth may be considered to have no size at all. . . But, if the soul, in full awareness of its virtue, is freed from this earthly prison and goes to heaven, does it not disregard all earthly concerns and, in the enjoyment of heaven, find its satisfaction in being separated from earthly things?

    Book II, Poem 8 Philosophia: Love rules the earth and the seas, and commands the heavens.

    Book III, Prose 1 Philosophia: I am about to lead you to true happiness, to the goal your mind has dreamed of. But your vision has been so clouded by false images you have not been able to reach it.

    Poem 1 Philosophia: Just so, by first recognizing false goods, you begin to escape the burden of their influence; then afterwards true goods may gain possession of your spirit.

    Poem 3  Philosophia: The only stable order in things is that which connects the beginning to the end and keeps itself on a steady course.

    Poem 9 Philosophia: You [God] who are most beautiful produce the beautiful world from your divine mind and, forming it in your image, You order the perfect parts in a perfect whole.

    Prose 12 Philosophia: Then it is the supreme good which rules all things firmly and disposes all sweetly (Wisdom 8.1). Boethius: I am delighted not only by your powerful argument and its conclusion, but even more by the words you have used. And I am at last ashamed of the folly that so profoundly depressed me.  Philosophia: Then can God do evil ?  Boethius: No, of course not.  Philosophia: Then evil is nothing, since God, who can do all things, cannot do evil. Boethius: You are playing with me by weaving a labyrinthine argument from which I cannot escape. You seem to begin where you ended and to end where you began. Are you perhaps making a marvellous circle of the divine simplicity?  Philosophia: As Parmenides puts it, the divine essence, is "in body like a sphere, perfectly rounded on all sides".

    Book IV, Prose 6 Philosophia: Consider the example of a number of spheres in orbit around the same central point: the innermost moves toward the simplicity of the centre and becomes a kind of hinge about which the outer spheres circle; whereas the outermost, whirling in a wider orbit, tends to increase its orbit in space the farther it moves from the indivisible midpoint of the centre. If, however it is connected to the centre, it is confined by the simplicity of the centre and no longer tends to stray into space. In like manner whatever strays farthest from the divine mind is most entangled in the nets of Fate; conversely, the freer a thing is from Fate, the nearer it approaches the centre of all things. Therefore, the changing course of Fate is to the simple stability of Providence as time is to eternity, as a circle to its centre.

    Book V, Prose 6 Philosophia: Eternity is the whole, perfect, and simultaneous possession of endless life. The meaning of this can be made clearer by comparison with temporal things, For whatever lives in time lives in the present, proceeding from past to future, and nothing is so constituted in time that it can embrace the whole span of its life at once. It has not arrived at tomorrow, and it has already lost yesterday; even the life of this day is lived only in each moving, passing moment.  But God sees as present those future things which result from free will. If you will face it, the necessity of virtuous action imposed upon you is very great, since all your actions are done in the sight of a Judge who sees all things.

Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus (480-524)

In every adversity of fortune, to have been happy is the most unhappy kind of misfortune.

Who hath so entire happiness that he is not in some part offended with the condition of his estate?

Nothing is miserable but what is thought so, and contrariwise, every estate is happy if he that bears it be content.

From thee, great God, we spring, to thee we tend -- Path, motive, guide, original and end.

Who can give law to lovers? Love is a greater law to itself.

If there is a God, whence proceed so many evils? If there is no God, whence cometh any good?

As faintness is a disease of the body, so is vice a sickness of the mind. Wherefore, since we judge those who have corporeal infirmities to be rather worthy of compassion than hatred, much more are they to be pitied, and not abhorred, whose minds are oppressed with idleness, the greatest malady that may be.

For often in desperate circumstances the will embraces death, which nature shuns, and, on the other hand, the will sometimes restrains the act of propagation on which alone the continuation of mortal things depends, which nature always desires.

Then she [Philosophy, personified] said . . . I assert that there is no such thing as chance, and I declare that chance is just an empty word [inanem vocem] with no real meaning. For what place can be left for purposelessness when God puts all things in order?

There is [free will] she said, for there can be no rational nature that is not endowed with free will

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