Summary of Part VII
In his own defense, Boethius tells Philosophy he has not been governed by worldly ambition. He went into politics in order to exercise virtue. Philosophy says perhaps he thought of “the desire for glory,” to be thought a noble servant of the state (p. 41)? Human fame is so tiny compared to the large universe. The earth is like a pinpoint, and one’s fame cannot even reach over the whole globe. A famous Roman means nothing in another country, whose customs are different, and soon his memory is forgotten “in the depths of time which makes all things obscure” (p. 42). The desire for fame is a bid for immortality, but “the finite and the infinite can never be compared” (p. 42). One should act rightly for the sake of conscience and not reputation. Philosophy sings a song about “man’s mortality” and the “leveller Death” that will bring fame to nothing (p. 43).
Commentary on Part VII
Philosophy is going through the list of Fortune’s gifts one by one to show Boethius they are nothing. He has not really lost anything. She touches on every earthly joy he had: his honor, power, riches, and his fame. Cato and Brutus, for instance, are now but names on a tomb: “We know their splendid names but not their selves” (p. 44). Fame is just “A line or two of empty reputation” (p. 44).
Summary of Part VIII
Philosophy concludes Book II’s diatribe against Fortune by saying she is not completely against Fortune. There are times when Fortune stops deceiving men and reveals herself to them. Here is a paradox: bad fortune is of more use than good fortune because it is truthful in showing up the fickleness of Fortune itself. From the point of view of Philosophy: “bad fortune enlightens” (p. 44). Good fortune lures men away from the good; bad fortune sobers them up. You find out who your true friends are then.
Commentary on Part VIII
There is a way in which Philosophy’s argument does not convince, because no one will really feel that a piece of misfortune is better than good luck. Yet it has been a common experience that people’s lives were turned around by a tragedy. Their eyes were suddenly opened to the emptiness of worldly happiness and they began to use their time on earth for virtuous pursuits or to help others.
Philosophy ends the book with a poem about the paradox of how Nature can maintain harmony in the midst of change. There is a constant war of opposites, like night and day, hot and cold, but “all this chain of things” is held in peace by Love, the great sacred unity upholding the laws of Nature (p. 45).
This beautiful hymn about the great marriage always going on in Nature through divine love was a constant theme in later medieval and Renaissance literature, as for instance, in the poetry of Edmund Spenser and John Milton. Philosophy sings this hymn now as a remedy for Boethius’s fear of the chaos wrought by the ups and downs of Fortune. There may be change in the world, but it is not random, she implies. The mutability of the world is overseen by a divine Love.