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From Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy

March 19, 2009

Boethius (480-524), is an important music theorist as well as an important philosopher .  This is an extract from the beginning of his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy.  This translation was published in 1609 and the translator is known only as I.T.  I have retained the original spelling and the translator’s footnotes.  I have also included part of I.T.’s Preface.

 

From the translator’s Preface.

 

In thee (Boetius) that true rule appeares,

That wise men gaine most fame by suffering paines.

Of all the actions of thy prosperous yeeres

To after-times small memorie remaines:

But when the cloudes of sorrow strove t’obscure

Thy vertue’s light, then it did clearer shine.

Calamity makes studious minds more pure,

Their glorie groweth, as their states decline.

Thou couldst not in thy joys have pleas’d us so,

As with this worke, which to thy griefe we owe.

 

 

To the friendly Reader

 

Sonnet

 

What need my lines to recommend these leaves,

So frequently by learned hands perus’d,

Since customarise praise suspicion weaves.

For I mistrust a gorgeous Frontispiece,

Of mercenary penns.  If thou doest so,

And art unlearn’d, to better counsell goe.

I, thou, nor any can thinke that amisse.

And lettered though thou bee’st, here mayst thou find,

What other volumes have not, for thy good:

Some passages explained of that kind

And are, at first, not easily understood.

Friend, let with thankes our Author be rewarded,

Who gaines, nor fame, but thy good hath regarded.

 

G.G.

 

THE FIRST BOOKE OF BOETIUS

 

Containing his Complaint and Miseries

 

Verse I

 

Wherein Boetius bewaileth his estate

 

I that with youthfull heate did verses write,

Must now my woes in doleful tunes endite.

My worke is fram’d by Muses torne and rude,

And my sad cheeks are with true teares bedew’d

For these alone no terrour could affray,

From being partners of my weary way.

My happy and delightful age’s glory,

Is my sole comfort, being old and sory.

Old age through griefe makes unexpected hast,

And sorrow in my yeares her signes hath plac’t.

Untimely hoary haires cover my head,

And my loose skin quakes on my flesh halfe dead.

O happy death, that spareth sweetest yeares,

And comes in sorrow often call’d with teares.

Alas how deafe is he to wretches’ cries;

And loth he is to close up weeping eyes;

While trustless chance me with vain favour crowned,

That saddest houre my life had almost drowned:

Now she hath clouded her deceitfull face,

My spiteful dayes prolong their weary race.

My friends, why did you count me fortunate?

He that is fall’n ne’re stood in settled state.

 

Prose I

 

Containing the description of Philosophy

 

While I ruminated these things with myselfe, and determined to set forth my woful complaint in writing; methought I sawe a woman(1) stand higher(2) than my head, having a grave countenance,(3) glistering cleare eyes,()and of quicker sight than commonly Nature doth afford; her colour fresh and (5)[5] and yet discovering so many years, that she could not be thought to have lived in our times; her stature uncertaine and doubtfull,(6) for sometime she exceeded not the common height of men, and sometime she seemed to touch the heavens with her head, and if she lifted it up to the highest, she pearced the very heavens, so that she could not bee seene by the beholders; her garment(7)were made of most fine threads,(8) with cunning workmanship,(9) and of an ever-during stuffe,(10) which (as I knew afterward by her owne report) she had woven with her own hands. (11) A certaine duskishness(12) caused by negligence and time, had darkened their colour, as it is wont to happen, when images stand in a smokie roome.  In the lower part of them was placed the letter(13) π, and in the upper θ,(14) and betwixt the two letters, in the manner of stairs, there were certain degrees(15) made, by which there was a passage from the lower to the higher letter: this her garment had been cut by the violence of some, who had taken away such peeces(16) as they could get.  In her right hand(17) she had certain books, and in her left hand(18) she held a scepter.  This woman seeing the Poeticall Muses(19) standing about my bed, and suggesting wordes to my teares, being moved for a little space, and inflamed with angry looks: “who,” sayth shee, “hath permitted these Tragical harlots to have accesse to this sicke man?  which will not only not comfort his griefes with wholesome remedies, but also nourish them with sugred poyson; for these be they, with the fruitless thornes of affections(20) doe kill the fruitful crop of reason, and doe accustome men’s minds to sicknesse, and not free them.  But if your flattery did deprive us of some prophane fellow, as commonly happeneth, I should thinke, that it were not so greviously to be taken, for in him our labors should receive no harme.  But now you have laid hand of him, who hath beene brought up in Peripateticall,(21) and Academicall studies: but rather get you gone, you Syrens pleasant even to destruction, and leave him to my Muses to be cured and healed”.  That company being thus checked, (22) overcome with griefe, casting their eyes upon the ground, and bewraying their bashfulnesse with blushing, went sadly away.  And I,(23) whose sight was dimmed with teares, so that I could not discern what this woman might be, so imperious, and of such authority, was astonished, and fixing my countenance upon the earth, began to expect with silence(24) what shee would do afterward.  Then she coming nigher, sate downe at my bed’s feet, and beholding my countenance sad with mourning, and cast upon the ground with griefe, complained of the perturbation of my mind with these verses.

 

[Verse II follows.]

 

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. I.T. (full name unknown), 1609.  Reprinted by Arundel Centaur Press, Ed. William Anderson, 1963, pp.27-29.

 

 

 


1. Because in Latine and Greeke Philosophy is the feminine gender.

2. Philosophy is God’s gift.

3. Because she maketh her possessors reverend and grave.

4. Piercing and speculating the hidden nature of things.

5. The beauty of Philosophy is rather encreased then diminished with years.

6. Naturall and Morall Philosophy are not above mens common capacity: Astronomy toucheth the heavens, Metaphysicke or the knowledge of God and Angels etc. cannot bee exactly comprehended.

7. Her disputations or discourses.

8. Learned propositions.

9. Logicke.

10. Everlasting truth.

11. Because none without Philosophy can weave their discoveries.

12. Learning neglected in the time of Boetius, and written obscurely by ancient Philosophers.

13. Practica.

14. Theorica

15. All sciences are to be obtained with Method.

16. Some sentences ill applied to the defence of selfe opinions; see the third Prose.

17. She chiefly delighted in study and contemplation.

18. Next she was occupied in governing the Commonwealth.

19. Poetry is to be esteemed of, according to the matter it handleth.

20. This is the common faults of Poets, to feede and nourish passion against reason.

21. Eleaticis of Elea, the City where Aristotle studied.

22. Note the force of a grave reprehension.

23. Griefe for temporall losses darkneth and dulleth the understanding.

24. The way to be comforted is to give care to good counsell.

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