The Consolation of Philosophy


In the rugged Persian highlands,

Where the masters of the bow

Skill to feign a flight, and, fleeing,

Hurl their darts and pierce the foe;

There the Tigris and Euphrates

At one source[O] their waters blend,

Soon to draw apart, and plainward

Each its separate way to wend.

When once more their waters mingle

In a channel deep and wide,

All the flotsam comes together

That is borne upon the tide:

Ships, and trunks of trees, uprooted

In the torrent's wild career,

Meet, as 'mid the swirling waters

Chance their random way may steer.

Yet the shelving of the channel

And the flowing water's force

Guides each movement, and determines

Every floating fragment's course.

Thus, where'er the drift of hazard

Seems most unrestrained to flow,

Chance herself is reined and bitted,

And the curb of law doth know.


[O] This is not, of course, literally true, though the Tigris and Euphrates rise in the same mountain district.


'I am following needfully,' said I, 'and I agree that it is as thou sayest. But in this series of linked causes is there any freedom left to our will, or does the chain of fate bind also the very motions of our souls?'

'There is freedom,' said she; 'nor, indeed, can any creature be rational, unless he be endowed with free will. For that which hath the natural use of reason has the faculty of discriminative judgment, and of itself distinguishes what is to be shunned or desired. Now, everyone seeks what he judges desirable, and avoids what he thinks should be shunned. Wherefore, beings endowed with reason possess also the faculty of free choice and refusal. But I suppose this faculty not equal alike in all. The higher Divine essences possess a clear-sighted judgment, an uncorrupt will, and an effective power of accomplishing their wishes. Human souls must needs be comparatively free while they abide in the contemplation of the Divine mind, less free when they pass into bodily form, and still less, again, when they are enwrapped in earthly members. But when they are given over to vices, and fall from the possession of their proper reason, then indeed their condition is utter slavery. For when they let their gaze fall from the light of highest truth to the lower world where darkness reigns, soon ignorance blinds their vision; they are disturbed by baneful affections, by yielding and assenting to which they help to promote the slavery in which they are involved, and are in a manner led captive by reason of their very liberty. Yet He who seeth all things from eternity beholdeth these things with the eyes of His providence, and assigneth to each what is predestined for it by its merits:

'"All things surveying, all things overhearing.'"