Summary of Part IV
Philosophy recites another poem exhorting men to be at peace “And look unmoved on fortune good and bad” (p. 8). The person who “quakes in fear or hope,/ Drifting and losing mastery,/ Has cast away his shield” (p. 9). She asks Boethius if her words have penetrated his mind yet, or if he is still weeping. In order to be helped, he must reveal his sorrow to her.
Boethius replies that he has merely to point out his place in prison and the loss of his life, his home, his wealth, his family, his reputation, and his study of philosophy, to explain his grief. Once he probed the secrets of Nature and the celestial order with Philosophy. Is this how she rewards her followers? He entered politics because Plato said that philosophers should rule the state instead of stand by and watch evil happen. Boethius tried to apply his learning to public administration, not for fame, but for the common good. He used his power to protect the innocent and stand up for principles. He provoked a lot of opposition in his defense of justice. He was accused of treason by men who were actually convicted criminals.
He can never hope for freedom, he says, for he has been framed by the wicked with forged evidence. He was given no trial and is now 500 miles from home awaiting execution. Philosophy herself drove all ambition from his mind when he was young with the Pythagorean maxim “Follow God” (p. 14). He was raised in a virtuous home with the venerable Symmachus. Yet Boethius’s devotion to Philosophy makes him suspect to others. Why is God looking on at this? No wonder philosophers debate where evil comes from! The innocent are punished, and the evil are rewarded.
Commentary on Part IV
Boethius begins with his own story of injustice at the hands of the king and the state. He has tried to be a just administrator and by doing so has made enemies. The very men who informed on him were convicted criminals, yet their word prevailed over his. He has unwisely chosen the wrong side in a political struggle by siding with the Senate over the domination of King Theodoric. The verdict, however, was based on forged letters, and he was given no trial to defend himself. Even his reputation as a good man, steeped in philosophy, has gone against him. Boethius complains that the world does not judge action by merit, but on chance results. If something has a good appearance, it is deemed right. If someone falls into disfavor as he has done, he is believed to be deserving of punishment. At the end of his recital of woes, he broadens the charge of injustice to include God and Philosophy. Why didn’t they defend him? What good has the study of philosophy done him?
He has striven to put philosophy into action as Plato advised in The Republic (ca. 380 BCE ). Plato recommends that the state should be administered by the wisdom of philosophers. Pythagoras (570-495 BCE) whom Boethius mentions, was a Greek philosopher and founder of a religious movement, a mystic and mathematician who influenced Plato. Boethius lives by the precepts and examples of these philosophers. He tells Philosophy that he has tried to bring his training from her into the world to produce the good, and instead, he has been surprised that the world turned against him.
Boethius’s case is an extreme one, but it is made to stand for the case of everyman. Most people at some time find themselves questioning the justice of the world and the existence of evil. Even being good, as we are told to be by religion and philosophy, does not guarantee a good outcome for us. Who is to blame, Boethius wants to know?
Summary of Parts V, VI, VII
Boethius composes a poem about the Lord who rules the heavens and earth with “fixed laws” (p. 15). Day and night, summer and winter, all come on time: “Thy power rules the changing year” (p. 15). All the elements and creatures exist within strict boundaries. Only human acts seem to escape God’s lawfulness, as we see the corrupt on thrones persecuting holy men. The poem ends with a prayer to God to look at earth’s misery, to make earth more stable, and asks if it is true that only man is tossed around by Fortune?
Philosophy is calm and unperturbed, telling Boethius she can see that he has not only been banished from his home but also from his own self. No one can banish a person from himself except himself. To submit to the law of God is the ultimate freedom. Philosophy is not concerned about seeing the author in prison, for that is but a circumstance, but she is concerned about the state of his mind. She enumerates his woes again and says that his “tumult of emotions”(p. 18) is to blame for his grief. The behavior of men is to be expected. She will soothe him with some gentle medicine, she says, as she sings him a song about healing, balance, and order:
If you sow seeds in the extreme heat of summer, you will not get wheat, she says. You will not get flowers when the North wind blows, and you cannot harvest wine in May. “For God has fixed the seasons’ tasks/ And each receives its own;/ No power is free to disarray/ The order God has shown” (p. 18).
Philosophy then proposes to heal Boethius by asking him questions to discover the best cure for him. Does he believe in chance or that the world is ruled by “rational principle” (p. 19)?
Boethius replies that God rules the world. Philosophy wonders then how he can be sick when he has such a healthy belief? What means then does he think God employs? What is the goal of Nature? Boethius says he has forgotten these things, but he knows that God is the source of all things. Philosophy is amazed that Boethius knows the beginning of all things but not their end. Does he know what a man is? Boethius replies that man is a rational creature.
Philosophy says that now she understands why the author is “sick.” He has forgotten his true nature. He has memory loss and does not know the end or purpose of things. He thinks Fortune is haphazard. The only hope for him is that he does remember that the world of Nature is governed by God. She will begin there with his cure. Meanwhile, she tells him if you want to look on truth, you must rid yourself of both hope and fear.
Commentary on Parts V, VI, VII
Through both poems and dialogue, Philosophy discovers how far Boethius’s memory loss goes. He knows God rules Nature but thinks that God does not rule the world of men where injustice reigns. Fortune seems to toss humans about according to chance, he thinks. He does not know why God has deserted him. Philosophy says now she can begin to heal him because she knows he has forgotten himself and has forgotten the purpose of life and how God works in the world. She warns him to put aside both hope and fear; meaning, he should leave behind his small conceptions of God’s purpose and the way God works. This ends Book I in which Philosophy diagnoses the spiritual sickness of Boethius.