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The Theological Tractates And The Consolation of Philosophy

I THAT with youthful heat did verses write,

Must now my woes in doleful tunes indite.

My work is framed by Muses torn and rude,

And my sad cheeks are with true tears bedewed:

For these alone no terror could affray

From being partners of my weary way.

The art that was my young life’s joy and glory

Becomes my solace now I’m old and sorry;

Sorrow has filched my youth from me, the thief!

My days are numbered not by time but Grief.

Untimely hoary hairs cover my head,

And my loose skin quakes on my flesh half dead.

O happy death, that spareth sweetest years,

And comes in sorrow often called with tears.

Alas, how deaf is he to wretch’s cries;

And loath he is to close up weeping eyes;

While trustless chance me with vain favours crowned,

That saddest hour my life had almost drowned:

Now she hath clouded her deceitful face,

My spiteful days prolong their weary race.

My friends, why did you count me fortunate?

He that is fallen, ne’er stood in settled state.

While I ruminated these things with myself, and determined to set forth my woful complaint in writing, methought I saw a woman stand above my head, having a grave countenance, glistening clear eye, and of quicker sight than commonly Nature doth afford; her colour fresh and bespeaking unabated vigour, and yet discovering so many years, that she could not at all be thought to belong to our times; her stature uncertain and doubtful, 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 pierced the very heavens, so that she could not be seen by the beholders; her garments were made of most fine threads with cunning workmanship into an ever-during stuff, which (as I knew afterward by her own report) she had woven with her own hands. A certain duskishness caused by negligence and time had darkened their colour, as it is wont to happen when pictures stand in a smoky room. In the lower part of them was placed the Greek letter Π, and in the upper Θ, and betwixt the two letters, in the manner of stairs, there were certain degrees 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 pieces as they could get. In her right hand she had certain books, and in her left hand she held a sceptre.

This woman, seeing the poetical Muses standing about my bed, and suggesting words to my tears, being moved for a little space, and inflamed with angry looks: “Who,” saith she, “hath permitted these tragical harlots to have access to this sick man, which will not only not comfort his grief with wholesome remedies, but also nourish them with sugared poison? For these be they which with the fruitless thorns of affections do kill the fruitful crop of reason, and do accustom men’s minds to sickness, instead of curing them. But if your flattery did deprive us of some profane fellow, as commonly it happeneth, I should think that it were not so grievously to be taken, for in him our labours should receive no harm. But now have you laid hold of him who hath been brought up in Eleatical and Academical studies? Rather get you gone, you Sirens pleasant even to destruction, and leave him to my Muses to be cured and healed.”

That company being thus checked, overcome with grief, casting their eyes upon the ground, and bewraying their bashfulness with blushing, went sadly away. But I, whose sight was dimmed with tears, 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 what she would do afterward. Then she coming nigher, sat down at my bed’s feet, and beholding my countenance sad with mourning, and cast upon the ground with grief, complained of the perturbation of my mind with these verses.

Alas, how thy dull mind is headlong cast

In depths of woe, where, all her light once lost,

She doth to walk in utter darkness haste,

While cares grow great with earthly tempests tost.

He that through the opened heavens did freely run,

And used to travel the celestial ways,

Marking the rosy splendour of the sun,

And noting Cynthia’s cold and watery rays;

He that did bravely comprehend in verse

The different spheres and wandering course of stars,

He that was wont the causes to rehearse

Why sounding winds do with the seas make wars,

What spirit moves the world’s well-settled frame,

And why the sun, whom forth the east doth bring,

In western waves doth hide his falling flame,

Searching what power tempers the pleasing Spring

Which makes the earth her rosy flowers to bear,

Whose gift it is that Autumn’s fruitful season

Should with full grapes flow in a plenteous year,

Telling of secret Nature every reason,

Now having lost the beauty of his mind

Lies with his neck compassed in ponderous chains;

His countenance with heavy weight declined,

Him to behold the sullen earth constrains.

But it is rather time,” saith she, “to apply remedies, than to make complaints.” And then looking wistfully upon me: “Art thou he,” saith she, “which, being long since nursed with our milk, and brought up with our nourishments, wert come to man’s estate? But we had given thee such weapons as, if thou hadst not cast them away, would have made thee invincible. Dost thou not know me? Why dost thou not speak? Is it shamefastness or insensibleness that makes thee silent? I had rather it were shamefastness, but I perceive thou art become insensible.” And seeing me not only silent but altogether mute and dumb, fair and easily she laid her hand upon my breast saying: “There is no danger; he is in a lethargy, the common disease of deceived minds; he hath a little forgot himself, but he will easily remember himself again, if he be brought to know us first. To which end, let us a little wipe his eyes, dimmed with the cloud of mortal things.” And having thus said, with a corner of her garment she dried my eyes which were wet with tears.

Then fled the night and darkness did me leave,

Mine eyes their wonted strength receive,

As when swift Corus spreads the stars with clouds

And the clear sky a veil of tempest shrouds

The sun doth lurk, the earth receiveth night,

Lacking the boon of starry light;

But if fierce Boreas, sent from Thrace, make way

For the restoring of the day,

Phoebus with fresh and sudden beams doth rise,

Striking with light our wondering eyes.

In like manner, the mists of sadness dissolved, I came to myself and recovered my judgment, so that I knew my Physician’s face; wherefore casting mine eyes upon her somewhat stedfastly, I beheld my nurse Philosophy, in whose house I had remained from my youth, and I said: “O Mistress of all virtues, for what cause art thou come from heaven into this our solitary banishment? Art thou come to bear me company in being falsely accused?”

“Should I,” saith she, “forsake thee, my disciple, and not divide the burden, which thou bearest through hatred of my name, by partaking of thy labour? But Philosophy never thought it lawful to forsake the innocent in his trouble. Should I fear any accusations, as though this were any new matter? For dost thou think that this is the first time that Wisdom hath been exposed to danger by wicked men? Have we not in ancient times before our Plato’s age had oftentimes great conflicts with the rashness of folly? And while he lived, had not his master Socrates the victory of an unjust death in my presence, whose inheritance, when afterward the mob of Epicures, Stoics, and others (every one for his own sect) endeavoured to usurp, and as it were in part of their prey, sought to draw me to them, exclaiming and striving against them; they tore the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and having gotten some little pieces of it, thinking me to be wholly in their possession, departed. Some of whom, because certain signs of my apparel appeared upon them, were rashly supposed to be my familiar friends, and condemned accordingly through the error of the profane multitude.

But if thou hast not heard of the flight of Anaxagoras, the poison of Socrates, nor the torments of Zeno, because they are foreign examples; yet thou mayst have heard of Canius, of Seneca, of Soranus, whose memory is both fresh and famous, whom nothing else brought to their overthrow but that they had been instructed in our school and were altogether disliking to the humours of wicked men; wherefore thou hast no cause to marvel, if in the sea of this life we be tossed with boisterous storms, whose chiefest purpose is to displease the wicked; of which though there be an huge army, yet it is to be despised, because it is not governed by any captain, but is carried up and down by fantastical error without any order at all. And if at any time they assail us with great force, our captain retireth her band into a castle, leaving them occupied in sacking unprofitable baggage. And from above we laugh them to scorn for seeking so greedily after most vile things, being safe from all their furious assault, and fortified with that defence which aspiring folly cannot prevail against.

Who mildly can his age dispose,

And at his feet proud destiny throws:

Who stoutly doth each chance behold,

Keeping his countenance uncontrolled:

Not him the ocean’s rage and threat,

Stirring the waves with angry heat,

Nor hot Vesuvius when he casts

From broken hills enflamèd blasts,

Nor fiery thunder can dismay,

Which takes the tops of towers away.

Why do fierce tyrants us affright.

Whose rage is far beyond their might?

For nothing hope, nor fear thou harm,

So their weak wrath thou shalt disarm.

But he whom hope or terror takes,

Being a slave, his shield forsakes,

And leaves his place, and doth provide

A chain wherewith his hands are tied.

Understandest thou these things,” saith she, “and do they make impression in thy mind? Art thou ‘like the ass, deaf to the lyre’? Why weepest thou? Why sheddest thou so many tears? Speak out; hide not thy thoughts. If thou expectest to be cured, thou must discover thy wound.”

Then I, collecting the forces of my mind together, made her answer in these words: “Doth the cruelty of fortune’s rage need further declaration, or doth it not sufficiently appear of itself? Doth not the very countenance of this place move thee? Is this the library which thou thyself hadst chosen to sit in at my house, in which thou hast oftentimes discoursed with me of the knowledge of divine and human things? Had I this attire or countenance when I searched the secrets of nature with thee, when thou describedst unto me the course of the stars with thy geometrical rod, when thou didst frame my conversation and the manner of my whole life according to the pattern of the celestial order? Are these the rewards which thy obedient servants have? But thou didst decree that sentence by the mouth of Plato: That commonwealths should be happy, if either the students of wisdom did govern them, or those which were appointed to govern them would give themselves to the study of wisdom. Thou by the same philosopher didst admonish us that it is a sufficient cause for wise men to take upon themselves the government of the commonwealth, lest, if the rule of cities were left in the hands of lewd and wicked citizens, they should work the subversion and overthrow of the good.

Wherefore, following this authority, I desired to practise that by public administration which I had learnt of thee in private conference. Thou and God Himself who had inserted thee in the minds of the wise, are my witnesses that nothing but the common desire of all good men brought me to be a magistrate. This hath been the cause of my grievous and irreconcilable disagreements with wicked men, and that which freedom of conscience carrieth with it, of ever contemning the indignation of potentates for the defence of justice.

How often have I encountered with Conigastus, violently possessing himself with poor men’s goods? How often have I put back Triguilla, Provost of the King’s house, from injuries which he had begun, yea, and finished also? How often have I protected, by putting my authority in danger, such poor wretches as the unpunished covetousness of the barbarous did vex with infinite reproaches? Never did any man draw me from right to wrong. It grieved me no less than them which suffered it, to see the wealth of our subjects wasted, partly by private pillage, and partly by public tributes.

When in the time of a great dearth things were set at so excessive and unreasonable a rate that the province of Campania was like to be altogether impoverished, for the common good I stuck not to contend with the chief Praetor himself, and the matter was discussed before the King, and I prevailed so far that it went not forward. I drew Paulinus, who had been Consul, out of the very mouth of the gaping courtiers, who like ravenous curs had already in hope and ambition devoured his riches. That Albinus who had likewise been Consul might not be punished upon presumptuous and false accusation, I exposed myself to the hatred of Cyprian his accuser. May I seem to have provoked enmity enough against myself? But others should so much the more have procured my safety, since that for the love I bear to justice I left myself no way by the means of courtiers to be safe. But by whose accusations did I receive this blow? By theirs who, long since having put Basil out of the King’s service, compelled him now to accuse me, by the necessity which he was driven to by debt. Opilio likewise and Gaudentius being banished by the King’s decree, for the injuries and manifold deceits which they had committed, because they would not obey, defended themselves by taking sanctuary, of which the King hearing, gave sentence, that unless they departed out of the city of Ravenna within certain days, they should be branded in the foreheads, and put out by force. What could be added to this severity? And yet that very day their accusations against me went for current. What might be the reason of this? Did my dealing deserve it? Or did the condemnation, which went before, make them just accusers? Was not fortune ashamed, if not that innocency was accused, yet at least that it had so vile and base accusers? But what crime was laid to my charge? Wilt thou have it in one word? I am said to have desired the Senate’s safety. Wilt thou know the manner how? I am blamed for having hindered their accuser to bring forth evidence by which he should prove the Senate guilty of treason.

What thinkest thou, O Mistress? Shall I deny this charge, that I may not shame thee? But it is true, I desired it, neither will I ever cease from having that desire. Shall I confess it? But I have already left hindering their accuser. Shall I call it an offence to have wished the safety of that order? Indeed the Senate with their decrees concerning me had made it an offence. But folly, always deceiving herself, cannot change the deserts of things, nor, according to the decree of Socrates, do I think it is lawful either to conceal the truth or grant a lie. But how this may be, I leave to thine and Wisdom’s censure. And that posterity may not be ignorant of the course and truth of the matter, I have put it down in writing.

For why should I speak of those feigned letters, in which I am charged to have hoped for Roman liberty? The deceit of which would manifestly have appeared, if it might have been lawful for me to have used the confession of my very accusers, which in all business is of greatest force. For what liberty remaineth there to be hoped for? I would to God there were any! I would have answered as Canius did, who being charged by Gaius Caesar, son to Germanicus, that he was privy to the conspiracy made against him, answered: ‘If I had been made acquainted with it, thou shouldest never have known of it.’ Neither hath sorrow so dulled my wits in this matter that I complain of the wicked endeavours of sinful men against virtue, but I exceedingly marvel to see that they have brought to pass the things they hoped to do. For the desire of doing evil may be attributed to our weakness, but that in the sight of God the wicked should be able to compass whatsoever they contrive against the innocent, is altogether monstrous. Whence not without cause one of thy familiar friends demanded: ‘If,’ saith he, ‘there be a God, from whence proceed so many evils? And if there be no God, from whence cometh any good?’ But let that pass that wicked men, which seek the blood of all good men, and of the whole Senate, would also have overthrown me, whom they saw to stand in defence of good men and of the Senate. But did I deserve the same of the Senators themselves? I suppose thou rememberest how thou being present didst alway direct me when I went about to say or do anything. Thou rememberest, I say, when at Verona the King, being desirous of a common overthrow, endeavoured to lay the treason, whereof only Albinus was accused, upon the whole order of the Senate, with how great security of my own danger I defended the innocency of the whole Senate. Thou knowest that these things which I say are true, and that I was never delighted in my own praise, for the secret of a good conscience is in some sort diminished when by declaring what he hath done a man receiveth the reward of fame. But thou seest to what pass my innocency is come; instead of the rewards of true virtue, I undergo the punishment of wickedness, wherewith I am falsely charged. Was it ever yet seen that the manifest confession of any crime made the judges so at one in severity, that either the error of man’s judgment or the condition of fortune, which is certain to none, did not incline some of them to favour? If I had been accused that I would have burnt the churches, or wickedly have killed the priests, or have sought the death of all good men, yet sentence should have been pronounced against me present, having confessed, and being convicted. Now being conveyed five hundred miles off, dumb and defenceless, I am condemned to death and proscription for bearing the Senate too much good will. O Senate, which deserves that never any may be convicted of the like crime!

The dignity of which accusation even the very accusers themselves saw, which that they might obscure by adding some sort of fault, they belied me that I defiled my conscience with sacrilege, for an ambitious desire of preferment. But thou, which hadst seated thyself in me, didst repel from the seat of my mind all desire of mortal things, and within thy sight there was no place for sacrilege to harbour; for thou didst instil into my ears and thoughts daily that saying of Pythagoras, ‘Follow God.’ Neither was it fitting for me to use the aid of most vile spirits when thou wast shaping me into that excellency to make me like to God. Besides the innocency which appeared in the most retired rooms of my house, the assembly of my most honourable friends, my holy father-in-law Symmachus, who is as worthy of reverence as thou thyself art, do clear me from all suspicion of this crime. But O detestable wickedness! they the rather credit thee with so great a crime, and think me the nigher to such mischievous dealing, because I am endued with thy knowledge, and adorned with thy virtues, so that it is not enough that I reap no commodity for thy respect, unless thou beest also dishonoured for the hatred conceived against me. And that my miseries may increase the more, the greatest part do not so much respect the value of things as the event of fortune, and they esteem only that to be providently done which the happy success commends. By which means it cometh to pass that the first loss which miserable men have is their estimation and the good opinion which was had of them. What rumours go now among the people, what dissonant and diverse opinions! I cannot abide to think of them; only this will I say, the last burden of adversity is that when they which are in misery are accused of any crime, they are thought to deserve whatsoever they suffer. And I, spoiled of all my goods, bereaved of my dignities, blemished in my good name, for benefits receive punishments.

And methinks I see the cursed crews of the wicked abounding with joy and gladness, and every lost companion devising with himself how to accuse others falsely, good men lie prostrate with the terror of my danger, and every lewd fellow is provoked by impunity to attempt any wickedness, and by rewards to bring it to effect; but the innocent are not only deprived of all security, but also of any manner of defence. Wherefore I may well exclaim:

Creator of the Sky,

Who sittest on Thine eternal throne on high,

Who dost quick motions cause

In all the heavens, and givest stars their laws,

That the pale Queen of Night,

Sometimes receiving all her brother’s light,

Should shine in her full pride,

And with her beams the lesser stars should hide;

Sometimes she wants her grace,

When the sun’s rays are in less distant place;

And Hesperus that flies,

Driving the cold, before the night doth rise,

And oft with sudden change

Before the sun as Lucifer doth range.

Thou short the days dost make,

When Winter from the trees the leaves doth take;

Thou, when the fiery sun

Doth Summer cause, makest the nights swiftly run.

Thy might doth rule the year,

As northern winds the leaves away do bear,

So Zephyrus from west

The plants in all their freshness doth revest;

And Syrius burns that corn

With which Arcturus did the earth adorn.

None from Thy laws are free,

Nor can forsake their place ordained by Thee.

Thou to that certain end

Governest all things; deniest Thou to intend

The acts of men alone,

Directing them in measure from Thy throne?

For why should slippery chance

Rule all things with such doubtful governance?

Or why should punishments,

Due to the guilty, light on innocents?

But now the highest place

Giveth to naughty manners greatest grace,

And wicked people vex

Good men, and tread unjustly on their necks;

Virtue in darkness lurks,

And righteous souls are charged with impious works,

Deceits nor perjuries

Disgrace not those who colour them with lies,

For, when it doth them please

To show their force, they to their will with ease

The hearts of kings can steer,

To whom so many crouch with trembling fear.

O Thou that joinest with love

All worldly things, look from Thy seat above

On the earth’s wretched state;

We men, not the least work thou didst create,

With fortune’s blasts do shake;

Thou careful ruler, these fierce tempests slake,

And for the earth provide

Those laws by which Thou heaven in peace dost guide.”

When I had uttered these speeches with continued grief, she, with an amiable countenance and nothing moved with my complaints, said: “When I first saw thee sad and weeping, I forthwith knew thee to be in misery and banishment. But I had not known how far off thou wert banished, if thy speech had not bewrayed it. O how far art thou gone from thy country, not being driven away, but wandering of thine own accord! Or if thou hadst rather be thought to have been driven out, it hath been only by thyself; for never could any other but thyself have done it; for if thou rememberest of what country thou art, it is not governed as Athens was wont to be, by the multitude, but ‘one is its ruler, one its king,’ who desires to have abundance of citizens, and not to have them driven away. To be governed by whose authority, and to be subject to her laws, is the greatest freedom that can be. Art thou ignorant of that most ancient law of thy city, by which it is decreed that he may not be banished that hath made choice of it for his dwelling-place; for he that is within her fort or hold need not fear lest he deserve to be banished? But whosoever ceaseth to desire to dwell in it, ceaseth likewise to deserve so great a benefit. Wherefore the countenance of this place moveth me not so much as thy countenance doth. Neither do I much require thy library adorned with ivory adornments, and its crystal walls, as the seat of thy mind, in which I have not placed books, but that which makes books to be esteemed of, I mean the sentences of my books, which were written long since. And that which thou hast said of thy deserts to the common good, is true indeed, but little in respect of the many things which thou hast done. That which thou hast reported, either of the honesty or of the falseness of those things which are objected against thee, is known to all men. Thou didst well to touch but briefly the wickedness and deceit of thy accusers, for that the common people to whose notice they are come do more fitly and largely speak of them. Thou hast also sharply rebuked the unjust Senate’s deed. Thou hast also grieved at our accusation, and hast bewailed the loss or diminishing of our good name; and lastly, thy sorrow raged against fortune, and thou complainedst that deserts were not equally rewarded. In the end of thy bitter verse, thou desiredst that the earth might be governed by that peace which heaven enjoyeth. But because thou art turmoiled with the multitude of affections, grief and anger drawing thee to divers parts, in the plight thou art now, the more forcible remedies cannot be applied unto thee; wherefore, for a while, we will use the more easy, that thy affections, which are, as it were, hardened and swollen with perturbations, may by gentle handling be mollified and disposed to receive the force of sharper medicines.

When hot with Phoebus’ beams

The Crab casts fiery gleams,

He that doth then with seed

Th’ unwilling furrows feed,

Deceived of his bread

Must be with acorns fed.

Seek not the flowery woods

For violets’sweet buds,

When fields are overcast

With the fierce northern blast,

Nor hope thou home to bring

Vine-clusters in the Spring

If thou in grapes delight;

In autumn Bacchus’ might

With them doth deck our clime.

God every several time

With proper grace hath crowned

Nor will those laws confound

Which He once settled hath.

He that with headlong path

This certain order leaves,

An hapless end receives.

First, therefore, wilt thou let me touch and try the state of thy mind by asking thee a few questions, that I may understand how thou art to be cured?” To which I answered: “Ask me what questions thou wilt, and I will answer thee.” And then she said: “Thinkest thou that this world is governed by haphazard and chance? Or rather dost thou believe that it is ruled by reason?” “I can,” quoth I, “in no manner imagine that such certain motions are caused by rash chance. And I know that God the Creator doth govern His work, nor shall the day ever come to draw me from the truth of that judgment.”

“It is so,” saith she, “for so thou saidst in thy verse a little before, and bewailedst that only men were void of God’s care; for as for the rest, thou didst not doubt but that they were governed by reason. And surely I cannot choose but exceedingly admire how thou canst be ill affected, holding so wholesome an opinion. But let us search further; I guess thou wantest something, but I know not what.

Tell me, since thou doubtest not that the world is governed by God, canst thou tell me also by what means it is governed?” “I do scarcely,” quoth I, “understand what thou askest, and much less am I able to make thee a sufficient answer.” “Was I,” quoth she, “deceived in thinking that thou wantedst something by which, as by the breach of a fortress, the sickness of perturbations hath entered into thy mind? But tell me, dost thou remember what is the end of things? Or to what the whole intention of nature tendeth?” “I have heard it,” quoth I, “but grief hath dulled my memory.” “But knowest thou from whence all things had their beginning?” “I know,” quoth I, and answered, that from God. “And how can it be that, knowing the beginning, thou canst be ignorant of the end? But this is the condition and force of perturbations, that they may alter a man, but wholly destroy, and as it were root him out of himself, they cannot.

But I would have thee answer me to this also; dost thou remember that thou art a man?” “Why should I not remember it?” quoth I. “Well then, canst thou explicate what man is?” “Dost thou ask me if I know that I am a reasonable and mortal living creature? I know and confess myself to be so.” To which she replied: “Dost thou not know thyself to be anything else?” “Not anything.”

“Now I know,” quoth she, “another, and that perhaps the greatest, cause of thy sickness: thou hast forgotten what thou art. Wherefore I have fully found out both the manner of thy disease and the means of thy recovery; for the confusion which thou art in, by the forgetfulness of thyself, is the cause why thou art so much grieved at thy exile and the loss of thy goods. And because thou art ignorant what is the end of things, thou thinkest that lewd and wicked men be powerful and happy; likewise, because thou hast forgotten by what means the world is governed, thou imaginest that these alternations of fortune do fall out without any guide, sufficient causes not only of sickness, but also of death itself. But thanks be to the author of thy health, that Nature hath not altogether forsaken thee. We have the greatest nourisher of thy health, the true opinion of the government of the world, in that thou believest that it is not subject to the events of chance, but to divine reason. Wherefore fear nothing; out of this little sparkle will be enkindled thy vital heat. But because it is not yet time to use more solid remedies, and it is manifest that the nature of minds is such that as often as they cast away true opinions they are possessed with false, out of which the darkness of perturbations arising doth make them that they cannot discern things aright, I will endeavour to dissolve this cloud with gentle and moderate fomentations; that having removed the obscurity of deceitful affections, thou mayest behold the splendour of true light.

When stars are shrouded

With dusky night,

They yield no light

Being so clouded.

When the wind moveth

And churneth the sea,

The flood, clear as day,

Foul and dark proveth.

And rivers creeping

Down a high hill

Stand often still,

Rocks them back keeping.

If thou wouldst brightly

See Truth’s clear rays,

Or walk those ways

Which lead most rightly,

All joy forsaking

Fear must thou fly,

And hopes defy,

No sorrow taking.

For where these terrors

Reign in the mind,

They it do bind

In cloudy errors.”

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