Boethius (c. 480–524), Roman patrician, consul of Rome, and minister to Ostrogoth King Theodoric, was known as “the last of the Roman philosophers and the first of the scholastic theologians.” Next to Augustine he was the most influential thinker in the middle ages prior to Thomas of Aquinas. Until the thirteenth century Aristotle was known only through his translations. He set forth the famous definition of eternity as “perfect possession all at the same time of endless life” as well as the difference between conditional and simple necessity which Boethius discusses in our selection. Apparently a victim of political intrigue, Boethius was falsely accused of treason, tortured, imprisoned, and bludgeoned to death. While in prison he composed The Consolation of Philosophy, which Gibbon called “a golden volume not unworthy of the leisure of Plato or of Tully [Cicero],” from which the following selection is taken.
In Consolation Philosophy appears to Boethius as a woman of awe-inspiring beauty, “her eyes burning and keen beyond the usual power of ordinary mortals, whose color was full of life, and whose strength was still intact though she was so full of years that by no means would it be believed that she was of our generation.” She then begins the process of applying spiritual medicine to Boethius's soul, leading him from his lonely despair to an understanding of and resignation to Providence. The healing process takes the form of a dialogue comparable to one of Plato's. In the last book of Consolation, Philosophy explains the meaning of chance and how free will can be reconciled with divine foreknowledge.
Here Philosophy made an end and was steering the conversation to certain other matters when I interrupted her, “I am learning in fact what you stated in words a while ago: the question of Providence is bound up in many others. I would ask you whether you think that chance exists at all, and what you think it is.”
She replied, “I am eager to fulfill my promise and to open for you the way which you may return home. But these things, though very useful to know, are nevertheless rather removed from our proposed path, and we must be careful lest you, wearied of side trips, be not strong enough to complete the main journey.”
“Have no fear about that,” I said, “it will be satisfying to know these things in which I delight so
From The Consolation of Philosophy. Based on the translation of W. V. Cooper (London 1902)