Consolation of Philosophy

The Obvious cited a bit reminding me how often I seem to return to The Consolation of Philosophy.

Not the book he cited, but one by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, circa 523 AD. It topped the bestseller list in the Middle Ages, with perhaps more surviving manuscripts than any other work of the time, a big influence on Chaucer, and through Chaucer, on the whole of English literature. It’s also one of the earliest examples of a prison novel as well; Boethius is sitting in prison singing the blues:

Songs which once I wrote in flourishing description,
tearful, alas, I am forced to form into gloomy measures.
Look how the torn Muses dictate to me writing,
and elegies bathe my face with real tears.
Not even terror could overcome these
from proceeding as our companions along the way.
Once the glory of my happy and green youth,
they now console my fate of gloomy old age.
For hurried unexpected age comes with evils,
and sorrow has ordered her time to come in.
From the head unseasonable gray hairs are spreading,
and slack skin trembles on an exhausted body.
Human death is lucky which in sweet years itself
does not intrude and comes when often called by sorrows.
Alas, how it turns aside the wretched by a deaf ear
and cruelly refuses to close weeping eyes!
While fortune may have favored by wrong trust in easy goods
a sad hour nearly overwhelmed my head;
now because the clouds have changed their deceitful face
vicious life is dragged out by unwelcome delays.
Why did you so often consider me happy, friends?
Whoever has fallen, that one was not in a steady position.

Dame Philosophy appears just after, and proceeds to console Boethius. She explains the “Wheel of Fate” which is in place on this earth, and how, to use the crude cliché, what goes around comes around. But that’s not the point. The point is that truth is inside, independent of the changes of earthly fate, and we should talk of the relations of external to internal, rather than cruel fate itself, as Philosophy (a beautiful woman), explains:

But if you should seek reasons too not outside
but inside of the matter which we were tossing around
we have deliberated on things established,
there is no reason to be surprised,
since you have learned from Platonic ordaining
that the relations about the matters which are spoken
ought to be the discourses.

Oddly enough, I think that’s Shelley’s point of view in a nutshell. It’s miles away from Keats. It is really weird how they’re always confused. Keats was internal and introspective to a degree that Shelley seldom touches. Shelley wanted to understand the world, not just himself. I suppose that’s why I gather much greater consolation from Shelley.

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