The Consolation of Philosophy


Who wrought my studious numbers

Smoothly once in happier days,

Now perforce in tears and sadness

Learn a mournful strain to raise.

Lo, the Muses, grief-dishevelled,

Guide my pen and voice my woe;

Down their cheeks unfeigned the tear drops

To my sad complainings flow!

These alone in danger's hour

Faithful found, have dared attend

On the footsteps of the exile

To his lonely journey's end.

These that were the pride and pleasure

Of my youth and high estate

Still remain the only solace

Of the old man's mournful fate.

Old? Ah yes; swift, ere I knew it,

By these sorrows on me pressed

Age hath come; lo, Grief hath bid me

Wear the garb that fits her best.

O'er my head untimely sprinkled

These white hairs my woes proclaim,

And the skin hangs loose and shrivelled

On this sorrow-shrunken frame.

Blest is death that intervenes not

In the sweet, sweet years of peace,

But unto the broken-hearted,

When they call him, brings release!

Yet Death passes by the wretched,

Shuts his ear and slumbers deep;

Will not heed the cry of anguish,

Will not close the eyes that weep.

For, while yet inconstant Fortune

Poured her gifts and all was bright,

Death's dark hour had all but whelmed me

In the gloom of endless night.

Now, because misfortune's shadow

Hath o'erclouded that false face,

Cruel Life still halts and lingers,

Though I loathe his weary race.

Friends, why did ye once so lightly

Vaunt me happy among men?

Surely he who so hath fallen

Was not firmly founded then.


While I was thus mutely pondering within myself, and recording my sorrowful complainings with my pen, it seemed to me that there appeared above my head a woman of a countenance exceeding venerable. Her eyes were bright as fire, and of a more than human keenness; her complexion was lively, her vigour showed no trace of enfeeblement; and yet her years were right full, and she plainly seemed not of our age and time. Her stature was difficult to judge. At one moment it exceeded not the common height, at another her forehead seemed to strike the sky; and whenever she raised her head higher, she began to pierce within the very heavens, and to baffle the eyes of them that looked upon her. Her garments were of an imperishable fabric, wrought with the finest threads and of the most delicate workmanship; and these, as her own lips afterwards assured me, she had herself woven with her own hands. The beauty of this vesture had been somewhat tarnished by age and neglect, and wore that dingy look which marble contracts from exposure. On the lower-most edge was inwoven the Greek letter [Greek: P], on the topmost the letter [Greek: Th],[A] and between the two were to be seen steps, like a staircase, from the lower to the upper letter. This robe, moreover, had been torn by the hands of violent persons, who had each snatched away what he could clutch.[B] Her right hand held a note-book; in her left she bore a staff. And when she saw the Muses of Poesie standing by my bedside, dictating the words of my lamentations, she was moved awhile to wrath, and her eyes flashed sternly. 'Who,' said she, 'has allowed yon play-acting wantons to approach this sick man--these who, so far from giving medicine to heal his malady, even feed it with sweet poison? These it is who kill the rich crop of reason with the barren thorns of passion, who accustom men's minds to disease, instead of setting them free. Now, were it some common man whom your allurements were seducing, as is usually your way, I should be less indignant. On such a one I should not have spent my pains for naught. But this is one nurtured in the Eleatic and Academic philosophies. Nay, get ye gone, ye sirens, whose sweetness lasteth not; leave him for my muses to tend and heal!' At these words of upbraiding, the whole band, in deepened sadness, with downcast eyes, and blushes that confessed their shame, dolefully left the chamber.

But I, because my sight was dimmed with much weeping, and I could not tell who was this woman of authority so commanding--I was dumfoundered, and, with my gaze fastened on the earth, continued silently to await what she might do next. Then she drew near me and sat on the edge of my couch, and, looking into my face all heavy with grief and fixed in sadness on the ground, she bewailed in these words the disorder of my mind:


[A] [Greek: P] (P) stands for the Political life, the life of action; [Greek: Th] (Th) for the Theoretical life, the life of thought.

[B] The Stoic, Epicurean, and other philosophical sects, which Boethius regards as heterodox. See also below, ch. iii., p. 14.