Essay: on Boethius’ Gifts of Fortune, Philosophy, and Reason

Contemplative Nature of Humankind:

on Boethius’ Gifts of Fortune, Philosophy, and Reason

by A.D. Shaffer

{Graduate Studies; originally written for Humanities 520 Fall 2014}

Who better to offer guidance than real aspects of human nature? Human aspects that assist the self in distinguishing emotional experience are displayed through contemplative reasoning and the guidance of Wisdom, Truth, Fate, and naturally – Philosophy. Boethius invokes the celestial elements of the universe along with the human experience; Reason and Philosophy grant him comfort: “There is a moral here for you to learn: / Deceitful are the goods you first discern. / Withdraw your neck, and leave their yoke behind; / Then truth at once will infiltrate your mind” (Boethius Book 3 Chapter 1 Verse 11-14).  Speaking of the autonomic self and the ability to contemplate appropriate actions via Reason, man is able to achieve fulfillment to duty while maintaining a decent grasp on self-love and community expectations. Philosophy suggests he look inward first, and return to the natural now that deceitful pleasures cannot sate his hunger. His exile and eventual death equated to a separation of the luxuriant and worldly customs which his position afforded him, raised as a privileged, though orphaned, child.

The significance in contemplation and the acknowledgement of human thought thrives passionately in his words, retreating back to when man and nature held closer bonds, when man remembered the plentiful splendor of the earth. Philosophy reminds Boethius that long ago, when man was natural, he loved the earth and succeeded in his life. She said, “Acorns at hand, when day was spent, / Sated their hunger. None then knew / the liquid honey to apply / To Bacchus’ gifts; nor to imbue / The sheen of silk with Tyrian dye” (Boethius Book 2 Chapter 5 Verse 4-8). Manners of old are noted as wholesome; man would benefit from a natural approach to life. The narrator speaks to the elements, as old as time, and personifies the abilities of man – to think and put into action possible changes which effect the world at large. The winds and sky are prevalent in The Consolation of Philosophy which implies respect and significance of the air and/or the vastness of the unknown; the sky as a natural wonder sure to offer hope.

The writing style of the text, at once personable and quick to empathize with, utilizes the sense of the divine through verse, and then on a deeper level demonstrates that man holds great gifts which he needs only to activate by acknowledgement of the struggle of man – that joy may be appreciated only when great sorrow is inflicted, that lifelong gifts of Fortune, once withdrawn, were still grand gifts to be pleasantly remembered in times of strife. Philosophy sings of the greed of man: “Relentless greed devours those earlier gains, / Reopens wide its jaws; / Can headlong lust be curbed by any reins, / Be bounded by fixed laws? // Thirst for possessions* blazes all the more, / The more those gifts extend; / With anxious sighs, believing he is poor, / The rich man hates to spend” (Boethius Book 2 Chapter 2 Verse 13-20). Man is greedy, filled with a lust for riches but loathe to let them go once attained; man is constantly wanting more without the appreciation of what he already has/is experiencing. Philosophy urges to absorb happiness as it comes, to store it up in memories so that in times of strife grand pleasure may be contemplated.

The imagery cast by Boethius in divine revelry of the celestial bodies {such as: the directional winds, firey volcanoes, abundant sands, crashing waves, bountiful soil, natural man} imply not only that man is related to an a priori connection and understanding of life, but also that Wisdom, Fortune, and Reason may or may not assist during the mortal struggle. The key factor is that man, once enlightened to life’s systematic offerings, understands the need for his suffering – one cannot know safety without experiencing fear, or recognize happiness if misery had not been a shadow. The careful man is noted by Philosophy as wise for respecting the east and south-west winds, steep mountainous terrain, consumptive sands, and wave-tossed deep and building, appropriately for safety and success (Boethius Book 2 Chapter 4 Verse 1-14). She goes on to say, “Enclosed by your walls’ silent strength, / You’ll live untroubled for the length / Of all your days; and by and by / Smile at the anger of the sky” (Boethius Book 2 Chapter 4 Verse 15-18). A careful man will succeed once he accepts his slice of the vast universe of life – man is not the center of existence but a mere counterpart.

Work Cited

Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. P.G. Walsh. New York: Oxford

University Press, 2008.

Picture c/o:  http://rjgeib.com/thoughts/boethius/hover.jpg

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