Consolation of Philosophy

Consolation of Philosophy

Consolation of Philosophy

Consolation of Philosophy


''Entirely faithful to Boethius' Latin; it makes the philosophy of the Consolation intelligible to students; it gives equal weight to the poetry -- in fact, Relihan's metrical translation of Boethius' metra are themselves contributions of the first moment to Boethian studies. Boethius finally has a translator equal to his prodigious talents and his manifold vision.''-- Joseph Pucci, Brown University. Joel Relihan is Associate Professor of Classics, Wheaton College.


As I prepared to send this manuscript to the press I was struck by the realization that I was at the age at which Boethius may be supposed to have been executed. My first temptation was to say that I had spent more of my life in contemplation of his Consolation of Philosophy than he ever did, two decades that have seen a dissertation and two literary studies as well as the painstaking work that has resulted in this, what I hope will be seen as, not only a new translation, but a new sort of translation, of Consolation. But the truth rapidly displaced this boast: Boethius did spend more time on Consolation than I have. I do not mean that he composed it over twenty years; rather, it had become clear to me that this book encapsulates and consummates a lifetime of work, embracing in subtle and remarkable ways both the volumes of translations and commentaries that he had been able to commit to paper and all of those projects for which he would never be given the opportunity or the time. I do not refer just to the well-known hopeful statement of the young Boethius that he intended to translate and comment on all of the works of Plato and Aristotle and demonstrate their harmony and consistency. Rather, the spirit of St. Augustine, whose Confessions presides over many aspects of this work (the general structural principle of dialogue as self-examination, for example, and the anguished doubts about the nature of rational inquiry at V.3 and V.m.3), directed Boethius to compose as his last work what may in many ways be seen as a parallel to Augustine’s Retractions. Augustine was once able to contemplate all the works that he had written and comment on their strengths and weaknesses; Boethius, I would argue, does the same here in these retractions, meaning not “withdrawals” but “going over one more time.”

It is an unfortunate and incurious simplification that sees Consolation as merely inspirational; it is also confessional, and the prisoner’s struggle to locate himself within the world of time, Book V’s capstone to Philosophy’s presentations, is no mere step in an impersonal argument. Frank Kermode, toward the end of The Sense of an Ending, quotes Philip Larkin:

Truly, though our element is time,

We are not suited to the long perspectives

Open at each instant of our lives.

They link us to our losses.… . . .

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