The Consolation of Philosophy - Book II
Boethius grieves because he has lost his good fortunes. Philosophy is sure he knew that Fortune always toys with those who least expect it.
If Boethius knows this, then why did he ever think anything from Fortune’s hand was worth having? He has thus lost nothing. In fact, Philosophy adds, when Boethius was in good times, he often spoke of Fortune’s treacheries.
Lady Philosophy analyzes further: Boethius might think he been forsaken by Fortune, but she, Fortune, has not change at all, she is in fact constant in her inconsistencies.
Does he not know the Wheel of Fortune? Either one embraces Fortune without complaint, or fully reject her.
Is it Fortune’s fault then that Boethius is unhappy? Philosophy does not think so.
When born, she explains, humans are naked, poor and helpless. It is Fortune who pampers them, gives them luxuries. Boethius was in fact showered with them. Humans become angry when Fortune takes these fortunes away because they falsely feel they owned all these things she has given. However, they never owned a thing, they should thank her for the loan she gave them.
If the things Boethius complains have been taken from him were actually his, they would still be there.
Why does Boethius lament that his fortunes have changed but not the lost fortunes of others? Is he so ignorant as to assume the laws of fortune don’t apply to him? Wheels are round and spinning them, makes them fall how they may.
Philosophy goes on to explain that things couldn’t be different anyway. If every prayer led to blessings, humans would simply take them for granted.
“Greed opens new maws.”
Boethius has listened but is unimpressed. It is all rhetoric after all, none of this changes his feelings have being betrayed.
Lady Philosophy is understanding - he is not yet responsive to the cure.
She goes on to remind him of his blessings. But aren’t those blessings the very reason he is so completely lacking in fortunes now?
No! It is his wrong beliefs!
Philosophy reminds him that he has many blessings left. His father is safe, his wife, while devastated, is alive, his two songs are consuls! Boethius cannot deny this.
Progress - Boethius has acknowledge that his misfortunes are not universal.
Those most blessed, are also most sensitive to adversity, since they are not used to frustrations. If happiness is to be aspired to as the highest good, and the highest good can not be taken away, then good fortunes, in their changeability, cannot supply happiness.
Philosophy continues with these more in-depth ideas.
What is the value of riches, she asks. Where do they come from? Money cannot be possessed by many and necessarily makes others poorer. Things that are admired are not about the owner, but about the thing itself.
Good clothes might make someone look good, but it is the material and craftsmanship that is admired, not the wearer. Having good servants reflect well on them, not the employer.
It follows that all those things have nothing to do with us and thus are not ours - and if nothing admirable is owned, how can anyone bemoan its loss?
Lady Philosophy herself has something to lament: humans are god-like and yet require useless trinkets to be content. It must be then that humans are only god-like if they know themselves.
“If a good thing is of greater worth than the person it belongs to, then, when you put all this value on things, you reduce yourself in your own estimation and become, yourself, all but valueless.”
Her mood seems darker now and she continues:
Bodies can be corrupted and overtaken. A mosquito or a worm can destroy a human body. A mind however, can not be commanded.
Power can be used against a person and if those in positions of power were good, they’d not so often be held by wicked people. She explains that in nature, opposites do not attract.
Boethius is not liking this train of thought. He wasn’t overly ambitious, he imply wanted to share his virtuous beliefs!
Philosophy is undeterred; he was only seeking recognition and fame - does he not understand how small his fame is and could only ever be? How does it stack up against people from other countries? Even Rome itself is not known beyond the Caucasus, how can a single Roman do what Rome could not?
He talks of virtues - what if his virtues are not shared by other cultures?
To underline her point, Philosophy tells a story.
A man claims he is a philosopher. Another man calls him a fraud. If the claimant could live a life in which he endures the injuries from fate in calm and silence, then, the skeptic will relent.
After years of endurance, the claimant asks the skeptic: Do you admit now that I am a philosopher?
The skeptic responds: I would have, if you’d kept silent!
If Fortune smiles, she is always false; if she is whimsical, she is instructive.