If thou deemest that splendid raiment is any honour, then I account the honour his who made it, and not thine; and as God is the maker, it is His skill I praise therein. Or dost thou think the number of thy followers renders thee honourable? No, indeed; for if they be wicked and deceitful, then are they more dangerous and troublesome in thy service than out of it, for bad servants are ever their master's foes. Supposing, however, they are good and loyal and true men, is not this to their advantage rather than thine? How canst thou then claim the advantage that belongs to them, since in boasting of it dost thou not boast of what is theirs, not thine own?
It is now clear enough that none of the blessings we have been speaking of, and which thou deemedst thine, really belong to thee. If then the beauty and wealth of this world are not desirable, why dost thou repine after that which thou hast lost, or why regret that which was once thine?
If it is beautiful, that is by virtue of its own nature, not of thine; its beauty is its own, not thine. Why dost thou regret a beauty that is not thine? Wilt thou take delight in what concerns thee not, and which thou hast not created nor dost possess? These things are good and desirable, for so they are created, and would be so even if thou never hadst them for thine own.
Surely thou dost not believe they are the more precious for being lent to thee for thy use? Nay, it is simply because foolish men marvel at riches and prize them that thou gatherest them together and storest them up in thine hoard. What profit hast thou then from such happiness as this? Believe me when I tell thee thou hast none; but, seeking to escape poverty, thou dost put by more than is needful for thee.
Nevertheless I doubt not that all I am saying in this matter accordeth not with thy wish. Your blessings are not what ye men account them to be, for he that would possess great and varied estate needeth much help to carry it. The old saw is very true that was said by the ancients, that they need much who will have much, and their need is little who are content with enough. Nevertheless men would fain glut their avarice with superfluity, but to this they can never attain.
Ye believe, I am sure, that ye have no natural good nor blessing within you, inasmuch as ye seek these in other creatures without. The unreasoning beasts of the field desire no other possession, but are satisfied with the content of their own hides, together with their natural food. And lo! He therefore that hath these three hath his Creator's likeness, in so far as any creature may have it.
But ye look for the blessings and glory of a higher nature in the lower things that perish, not discerning how grievously ye offend God your Maker, who would that all men were lords of all other creatures. Nay rather, ye make your chiefest excellence subject to the most lowly of created things, declaring that by your own free judgement ye rank yourselves below your own chattels, thinking as ye do that your happiness lies in false wealth, and that all your possessions are of more value than yourselves.
And so they are as long as ye wish it to be so. The nature of beasts is to have no knowledge of themselves, but in man it is a blemish not to have self-knowledge. Now thou dost plainly perceive that men err in thinking any man may be held in honour for the wealth that is not his own. If therefore a man be held in honour for wealth, and ennobled for his rich possessions, doth not the honour belong to him that bestoweth it, and is he not more rightly to be praised?
None the fairer is that which is adorned from without, howsoever fair the adornment wherein it is dressed, and if it was before foul it is none the fairer thereby. On the contrary, no good thing hurteth a man. Lo, thou knowest I lie not, and also that riches oft harm their owners in many ways, and especially in the puffing up of a man, so that many a time the worst and most unworthy of all cometh to think himself worthy to have all the wealth in the world, if he could only get it.
He that hath much wealth dreadeth many foes; if he had nothing, no need would there be for him to fear any one. If thou wert a traveller, and hadst much gold on thee, and wert to fall among a company of robbers, why, thou wouldst despair of thy life; whereas, if thou hadst nothing about thee, thou wouldst need to fear naught, but couldst go thy way singing the old verse that was sung of yore, that 'the, naked wayfarer hath naught to dread. WHEN Philosophy had spoken this speech, she began to sing, and said, 'Ah, how blessed was the former age of the world, when each man was content with what the earth yielded!
No splendid mansions were there then; no varied dainties nor drinks; nor did men covet costly apparel, for as yet these things were not; neither were thy seen nor heard of. Men cared not for any wicked pleasure, but followed the path of nature in strict measure.
They ate but once in the day, and that was towards evening. The fruits of trees they ate, and roots; they drank no wine unmixed, nor knew to mingle honey with their drink, nor desired silken raiment of various hues. Always they slept out of doors in the shade of the trees; pure spring water was their drink. No merchant had gazed on strand nor island, and no man had heard tell of the pirate host, nor even of any fighting whatever.
Not yet was earth defiled with the blood of the slain, nor had a man been wounded. Evil men had not been seen as yet; no honour had such then, no love. Alas, that our age cannot become as that was! In these days the greed of men burneth like the fire of hell that is in the mountain called Etna, in the isle of Sicily. This mountain is ever on fire with brimstone, consuming all the countries round about. Alas, who was the first covetous man that began to dig in the ground for gold, and for gems, and brought to light precious things up to that time hidden and covered by the earth?
WHEN Philosophy had sung this song, she began to speak again; and said, 'What more can I say to thee concerning the honour and power in this world? With this power ye men would fain rise to heaven, if ye could. That is because ye do not remember nor even understand the nature of the heavenly power and honour, which is your own, seeing ye came from heaven.
Now, if your wealth and your power which ye now call honours fall into the hands of an utterly bad man, and most unworthy to have them, as, for instance, this very Theodoric, and long ago the Caesar Nero, and many others like unto them, will he not act as they did, and yet do? Thy destroy and ravage all the countries subject to them, or anywhere within their reach, even as fire consumeth the dry heath, or as the burning brimstone of the mount we call Etna that is in the isle of Sicily; or like unto the flood that was of old in Noah's days.
I think thou wilt remember that your forefathers, the Roman senators, in the days of Torcwine [Tarquin], the haughty king, were forced by his pride to banish the name of king from Rome for the first time, and would have banished in their turn, for their pride, even those chief men that had helped to drive him out, had they been able; for the rule of those men pleased the Roman senators yet worse than the former rule of the kings. If then it happens, as it seldom does, that power and honour fall to a good and wise man, what is there that deserves our liking but the virtues and honourable character of the good king himself, and not of his power?
For power is never a good thing, save its possessor be good; for when power is beneficent this is due to the man who wields it. Therefore it is that a man never by his authority attains to virtue and excellence, but by reason of his virtue and excellence he attains to authority and power. No man is better for his power, but for his skill he is good, if he is good, and for his skill he is worthy of power, if he is worthy of it.
Study Wisdom then, and, when ye have learned it, contemn it not, for I tell you that by its means ye may without fail attain to power, yea, even though not desiring it. Ye need not take thought for power. Tell me now, O Mind, what is the height of thy desire in wealth and power? Is it not this present life and the perishable wealth that we before spoke of? O ye foolish men, do ye know what riches are, and power, and worldy weal? They are your lords and rulers, not ye theirs. Suppose ye saw a mouse, a ruler and lawgiver of mice, exacting ytribute of them, how marvellous it would seem to you, and with what laughter would ye be shaken!
And yet compared with his mind a man's body is as a mouse's body compared to a man's. Now, if ye think of it, ye may easily believe that man's body is more frail than that of any other living thing. The smallest fly can hurt it, and gnats with their tiny stings poison it; and even little worms torment man within and without, and sometimes nearly kill him, yea and even the little flea may kill him.
Such creatures may harm him within and without. Again, one man can injure another only in the body, or at least in those worldly possessions that ye call happiness. But no man can harm the discerning mind, nor make it other than it is; and this is very evident in the Roman prince called Liberius, who was put to many tortures for refusing to tell the names of his comrades in the plot to kill the king, who had unjustly oppressed them. And so it fell out that that wich the king meant as a punshment brought praise and honour to this wise man.
What harm can one man do another, and not suffer the same from him; or, if not from the same man, then from another? We have also learnt about the savage tyrant Bosiris the Egyptian. It was the custom of this oppressor to receive every comer with great honour, and treat him as a friend immediately on his coming; but afterwards, before it was time for his departure, he would have him put to death. Now it happened that Erculus [Hercules], son of Jobe [Jove], came to him, and the king thought to treat him as he had treated many a former visitor, drowning him in the river called Nile.
But Erculus was the stronger, and drowned him instead, very rightly and by God's will, even as he had drowned others. And Regulus too, that most famous captain that fought against the Africans; he had won an almost unspeakable victory over them, and, when the slaughter was over, he had the enemy tied together and laid out in heaps. But very soon after it came to pass that he himself was bound in their fetters. Lo, now! Is not power in this case a thing of naught?
Again, dost thou think that if honour and power were wittingly good, and bad control over themselves, they would obey the most infamous men as they now often do? Knowest thou not that contraries by their nature and habit may not mix nor have any intercourse? Nature abhors such admixture, which is as impossible as that good and evil should live together.
But thou seest clearly that this present authority and worldly prosperity and dominion are not good of their own nature and by their own will, and have no control over their own actions, cleaving as they do to the worst men, and suffering them to be their lords; for it is certain that the most infamous men often attain to power and honours. If then power of its own nature and by its own might were good, it would never countenance evil, but good men. The same may be looked for in all blessings brought by Fate during our life here, both with respect to powers of mind and to possessions, for at times they fall to the basest of men.
Surely no man doubts that he is strong that is seen to perform a feat of strength, just as, if he gives evidence of any other quality, we doubt not but that he really has it. For example, music makes a man a musician, and physic makes him a physician, and logic makes him a logician. Likewise the law of nature prevents good from mixing with evil in a man, and evil with good. Though both be in a man, either is separate from the other, for, nature not allowing contrary things to mingle, the one shuns the other, and strives to be itself alone.
Wealth cannot make a miser not covetous, nor sate his boundless greed; nor can power render its owner powerful. Since, therefore, every creature shuns its opposite, and strives amain to repel it, what two things can be more opposed than good and evil, which we never find conjoined? Thus, then, thou mayest understand that if the joys of this present life had control over themselves and were good in their own nature thy would ever cleave to him who used them for good and not for evil.
But when they happen to be good they are so by the goodness of him that uses them for good, and he gets his goodness from God; whereas, if a bad man have them, they are evil by reason of the evil of him that doth evil with them, and through the working of the devil. Of what good is wealth therefore, when it cannot satisfy the boundless greed of the covetous, or power, which cannot make its possessor powerful, his desires binding him with their unbreakable fetters?
Though power be given to a bad man, it doth not make him good or excellent if he was not so before, but it revealeth his wickedness if he was wicked before, and sheweth it in a clear light if before it was not manifest. For, though he aforetime desired evil, he knew not how he could fully display it until such time as he should have attained to full power. This comes, O men, from your foolish delight in making a name, and calling that happiness which is no happiness, and that excellent which hath no excellence; for such things declare by their end, when it comes, that they are neither one nor the other.
Therefore it must not be thought that wealth and power and honours are true happiness. Briefly, then, we may say that of the worldly joys brought by Fate not one is to be desired, for in them is to be found no natural goodness; and this is clear because they never attach themselves to the good, nor make good the evil man they most often flock to.
After Philosophy had finished this discourse, she began to chaunt again, and said, [ M ] 'Lo, we have heard what cruelties, what ruin, what adulteries, what sins, and what savage deeds were wrought by the unrighteous Caesar Nero. Once he had the whole city of Rome set on fire at the same time after the fashion of the burning of Troy of old, wishing to see how long and how brightly it would burn, compared with the latter town. Again, he commanded all the wisest men of Rome to be put to death, nay, even his own mother and brother; yea, even his own wife he put to the sword; and for such deeds he was never the sorrier, but was the more merry and rejoiced therefor.
Nevertheless, during such deeds of wrong, all the world, from east to west, and from north to south, was subject to him; all was his dominion. Dost thou think the divine power could not have taken his power away from this unrighteous Caesar, and put an end to his madness, if it had so pleased?
Yes indeed, I know it could if it had wished. Alas, what a grievous yoke he laid on them that were living on earth in his days, and how often was his sword stained with innocent blood! Is it not now clear enough that his power was not good of itself, since he to whom it was given was no good man? WHEN Philosophy had sung this song she was silent for a time. Then the Mind answered, saying, 'O Philosophy, thou knowest that I never greatly delighted in covetousness and the possession of earthly power, nor longed for this authority, but I desired instruments and materials to carry out the work I was set to do, which was that I should virtuously and fittingly administer the authority committed unto me.
Now no man, as thou knowest, can get full play for his natural gifts, nor conduct and administer government, unless he hath fit tools, and the raw material to work upon. By material I mean that which is necessary to the exercise of natural powers; thus a king's raw material and instruments of rule are a well-peopled land, and he must have men of prayer, men of war, and men of work. As thou knowest, without these tools no king may display his special talent.
Further, for his materials he must have means of support for the three classes above spoken of, which are his instruments; and these means are land to dwell in, gifts, weapons, meat, ale, clothing, and what else soever the three classes need. Without these means he cannot keep his tools in order, and without these tools he cannot perform any of the tasks entrusted to him.
I have desired material for the exercise of government that my talents and my power might not be forgotten and hidden away, for every good gift and every power soon groweth old and is no more heard of, if Wisdom be not in them. Without Wisdom no faculty can be fully brought out, for whatsoever is done unwisely can never be accounted as skill. To be brief, I may say that it has ever been my desire to live honourably while I was alive, and after my death to leave to them that should come after me my memory in good works.
WHEN this was spoken, the Mind was silent; and Philosophy began to discourse again, and spake on this wise: 'O Mind, there is one evil which must be shunned, that very constantly and very grievously deceiveth the minds of men that are choice by nature, but not yet arrived at the highest point of perfect virtue; I mean the desire of false glory and unrighteous power, and fame beyond measure for good works among all people.
Many men desire power, wishing to have good report, though they are unworthy of it; yea, even the most infamous desire this.
Sally Miller Gearhart
But he that is wise and earnest in his quest of good report soon perceiveth how small a thing it is, how fleeting, how frail, and void of all good. If then thou wilt keenly consider, and look into the compass of the whole earth from east to west, and from north to south, as thou mayest read in the book that is called Astralogium, thou wilt perceive that compared with heaven all this earth is but as a tiny dot on a wide board, or as a boss on a shield, according to the judgement of the learned.
Dost thou not remember what thou didst read in the works of Ptolemy, who in one of his books has set out the measurements of all this earth? There thou mayest see that mankind and beasts take up not nearly one fourth of that part of the earth that can be travelled through, for what with heat and what with cold it is not all fit for them to dwell in, and the greater part is taken up by the ocean. Now subtract from the fourth part all the tract covered by the sea, and all its encroachments in the form of inlets, and the parts taken up by fens, and moors, and all the deserts in any land, and thou wilt perceive that there is left for man to dwell in the merest little plot of ground, as it were.
How foolish if ye were therefore to toil and strain all your days to blazon your fame far and wide over such a little plot; since the part of the world in which men dwell is but a point compared to the rest. Is your boast then a liberal, or magnificent, or worthy one, that ye dwell on half the fifth part of the earth, so narrowed is it, what with seas and marshes withal? Why then do ye desire so immoderately to extend your name over this tenth part, for it is no more, what with sea and fen and all? Again, consider this small enclosure that we have been speaking about, whereon dwell such a number and variety of races, all diverse in speech, and habits, and customs, over which ye now so extravagantly desire to spread your name.
This ye can never do, for their speech is divided into two and seventy tongues, and each tongue is further parted out among many peoples; and the nations are severed and kept apart by the sea, and by forests, and mountains, and marshes, and by divers deserts and impassable regions over which even the merchants do not journey. How can the name of any one ruler reach places where the very name of the city where he liveth, and of the nation where he hath his dwelling, is utterly unheard of? I know not for what folly ye desire to spread your names over all the earth, as ye cannot do, nor come near doing.
Thou hast heard, I suppose, how great was the Romans' dominion in the days of the chieftain [consul] Marcus, whose second name was Tullius and his third Cicero. Well, in one of his books, he mentions that the fame of Rome had not yet crossed the mountains called Caucasus, nor had the Scythians, who dwell on the other side of those mountains, ever heard the name of that city or people.
It had come first to the Parthians, and even to them it was still very new. And yet it was a name of dread to many a neighbouring people. Do ye not then understand how narrow must be your fame, which ye toil and strive unduly to spread abroad? How great, thinkest thou, is the fame, and how great the honour, that a single Roman can get in a land that even the name of his city and all the glory of its people have never reached?
Though a man without measure and unduly desire to spread his fame over all the earth, he cannot bring it to pass, for the customs of nations are so diverse, and so various are their ways, that one country likes best that which another most mislikes, and even deems worthy of heavy punishment. Hence no man can have equal fame in every land, the likings of nations being so different.
Therefore let every man be content to be well esteemed in his own country, for, even if he desire more, he cannot attain to it, since a number of men seldom agree in liking the same thing. This is why the fame of a man remains confined to the country where he hath his dwelling, and likewise because it hath often cruelly happened, through the sloth and neglect and carelessness of unlucky historians, that the character and deeds of the foremost and most ambitious men of their day have been left unwritten.
And even if the writers had written of their lives and deeds, as they would have done if good for anything, would not their writings sooner or later have grown too old, and perished out of mind, as certain writers and the men they wrote of have done? And yet ye men think to have eternal honour, if ye can by lifelong effort earn glory after your days! If thou wilt compare the moments of this present fleeting life with those of the life unending, what do they come to?
Compare the length of time in which thine eye can wink with ten thousand years, and there is some likeness, though not much, since each hath a term. Now compare ten thousand years, or more if thou wilt, with everlasting and eternal life; here thou findest nothing in common, for ten thousand years, though it seem long, doth come to an end, while of the other there is no end.
Thus then the finite and the infinite cannot be measured together. If thou wert to count from the beginning of the world to the end thereof, and set all those years against infinity, there would still be no comparison. So it is also with the fame of great men; it may sometimes last long, and endure many years, yet is it very short when compared with that which never endeth. Nevertheless ye care not to do good for aught else save for the poor praise of the people, and for this shortlived fame we have been speaking of.
This ye strive to win, neglecting the powers of your reason, of your understanding, and of your judgement; desiring to have as the reward of your good deeds the good report of unknown men, a reward which ye should seek from God alone. The latter was swollen with self-conceit and used to vaunt his philosophy, not making it known by his intelligence, but by his false and overweening boasts. The wise man, wishing to prove him, whether he was as clever as he thought himself, began to mock and revile him.
The philosopher for a time listened quite patiently to the words of the other, but, hearing his taunts, he lost patience and began to defend himself, though up to this he pretended to be a philosopher. So he asked the wise man whether he thought he was a philosopher or not. Why, he broke down instantly at that one answer! What availed the best of those that were before us their eager desire for idle glory and renown after their death, or what avails it now to us that are still alive?
More useful were it for every man to desire virtues than false fame, for what can fame do for him after body and soul are sundered? Do we not know that all men die in the flesh, although the soul liveth on? For the soul passeth freely to heaven once she is set free and released from the prison of this body, and she despiseth all these things of earth, and delighteth in being able to enjoy the heavenly things after she is sundered from the earthly.
So the Mind itself will be its own witness of God's will. WHEN Philosophy had made an end of her discourse she began again to chaunt, and this was what she sang: [ M ] 'Whosoever wisheth to have idle renown and useless vainglory, let him behold on the four sides of him, and see how spacious is the vault of heaven, and how strait the spread of earth, though to us it seem so broad.
Then he may be ashamed of the extent of his own fame, being unable even to spread it over this narrow earth. O ye proud ones, why do ye desire to put your necks under that deadly yoke? Though it should happen that the uttermost nations were to exalt your name, and praise you in many a tongue, and though a man were to wax great from his noble birth, and prosper in all wealth and all splendour, yet Death recketh not for these things.
He giveth no heed to high birth, but swalloweth up mighty and lowly alike, and so bringeth both great and small to one level. Where now are the bones of the famous and wise goldsmith, Weland? I call him wise, for the man of skill can never lose his cunning, and can no more be deprived of it than the sun may be moved from his station. Where are now Weland's bones, or who knoweth now where they are? Where now is the famous and the bold Roman chief [consul] that was called Brutus, and by his other name Cassius, or the wise and steadfast Cato, that was also a Roman leader, and well known as a sage?
Did they not die long ago, and not a man now knoweth where they are? What is there left of them but a meagre fame, and a name writ with a few letters? And worse still, we know of many famous men, and worthy of remembrance, now dead, of whom but few have any knowledge. Many lie dead and utterly forgotten, so that even fame is not able to make them known.
Though ye now hope for and desire long life here in this world, how are ye the better for it? For doth not Death come, though he come late, and doth he not put you out of this world? What availeth you then your vainglory, you at least whom the second death shall seize, and hold fast for ever? WHEN she had sung this song, Philosophy began to discourse and spake thus: 'Do not think that I am too stubborn in my fight against Fate; I fear her not myself, for often it happens that deceitful Fate can neither help nor harm a man.
She deserveth no praise, seeing that she herself declares her own nothingness, and in making known her ways she betrayeth her source. Yet I think thou dost not yet understand what I am saying to thee, for that which I am about to tell thee is so wonderful, that I can hardly set it forth in words as I would.
Know that to every man Adversity is more profitable than Prosperity. For Prosperity is ever false and deludeth men to believe that she is true happiness; but Adversity is the real happiness, though we may not think so; for she is steadfast, and her promises always come true. Prosperity is false, and betrays all her friends, for by her changefulness she shows forth her fickleness, but Adversity betters and teaches all those to whom she joins herself.
Again, Prosperity takes captive the minds of all them that enjoy her with her cozening pretense that she is good, while Adversity unbinds and sets free all those who are subject to her, by revealing to them how perishable this present happiness is. Prosperity rusheth along in gusts like the wind, but Adversity is ever sober and wary, braced by the prompting of her own peril. By her flattery False Happiness in the end irresistibly leadeth them that consort with her away from true happiness, but Adversity as often forcibly leadeth all them that are subject to her to true happiness, even as the fish is taken by the hook.
Does this then seem to thee a poor possession and a slight increase of thine happiness, this advantage that grim and awful Adversity bringeth thee, in readily laying bare the minds of thy true friends and also of thy foes, so that thou canst clearly know them apart? But this False Happiness, when she forsakes thee, takes away her followers with her, and leaves thy few trusty friends with thee.
What wouldst thou give to be supremely happy and to know that Fate went wholly at thy will? And how much money wouldst give to be able to clearly know friend from foe? Why, I know well thou wouldst give ever so much to be able to distinguish them. Though thou thinkest thyself to have lost things of great price, thou hast bought a thing of more worth, that is, true friends; these thou canst recognize, and their numbers thou knowest. Surely that is the most precious of all possessions. WHEN Philosophy had finished this discourse, she began to chaunt, and in her singing said: [ M ] 'One Creator there is without any doubt, and He is thee ruler of heaven and earth and of all creatures, visible and invisible, even God almighty.
Him serve all things that serve, they that know Him and they that know Him not, they that know they are serving Him and they that know it not. He hath established unchanging habits and natures, and likewise natural concord among all His creatures, even as He hath willed, and for as long as He hath willed; and they shall remain for ever.
The motions of the moving bodies cannot be stayed nor turned aside from their course and their appointed order, but the Lord hath so caught and led, and managed all His creatures with His bridle, that they can neither cease from motion, nor yet move more swiftly than the length of His rein alloweth them.
Almighty God hath so constrained all His creatures with His power, that each of them is in conflict with the other, and yet upholdeth the other, so that they may not break away but are brought round to the old course, and start afresh. Such is their variation that opposites, while conflicting among themselves, yet preserve unbroken harmony together. Thus do fire and water behave, the sea and the earth, and many other creatures that are as much at variance as they are; but yet in their variance they can not only be in fellowship, but still more, one cannot exit without the other, and ever one contrary maketh the due measure of the other.
So also cunningly and befittingly hath Almighty God established the law of change for all His creatures. Consider springtime and autumn; in spring things grow, in autumn they wither away. Again, take summer and winter; in summer it is warm, in winter cold.
So also the sun bringeth bright days, at night the moon shineth, by the might of the same God. He forbiddeth the sea to overstep the threshold of the earth, having fixed their boundaries in such wise that the sea may not broaden her border over the motionless earth. By the same order the alternation of the flow and ebb is ruled.
These ordinances God suffereth to stand as long as He willeth, but whenever He shall loose the bridle-rein wherewith He hath bridled His creatures that is, the law of contraries we have mentioned , and let them fall asunder, they shall leave their present harmony, and, striving together each according to his own will, abandon their fellowship, and destroy all this world, and themselves be brought to nought. The same God uniteth people in friendship. Oh, how blessed were mankind if their minds were as straight and as firmly based and ordered as the rest of creation is!
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WHEN Philosophy had sung this lay, she had so captivated me with the delightfulness of her song, that I was in an admiration, and very eager to hear her with all my heart; and very soon after I called to her and spake thus:. Thou hast so cheered and convinced me with thy wisdom that I think I can not only bear this misfortune that hath come upon me, but, even if yet graver peril befell me, I should never again say that it was undeserved; for I know that I deserve even greater and heavier sorrows.
But I would hear somewhat more concerning the medicine of thy doctrine. For though thou saidst a little while ago that it would seem exceeding bitter to me, as thou didst think, yet I do not now fear it, but am very eager both to hear it and to have it; therefore I beg thee very earnestly to fulfil the promise thou madest to me just now. Then said Philosophy, 'I quickly perceived, when thou didst hold thy peace and didst hearken with such pleasure to my teaching, that thou wast ready to grasp it and ponder it with thine inward mind. Therefore I waited till I was certain of what thou didst desire, and how thou wouldst understand it, and I strove very earnestly to make thee apprehend it.
But now I will tell thee of what nature is the medicine of my doctrine that thou dost ask me for. It is very bitter in the mouth, and makes the throat smart when thou first dost taste it, but it grows sweet when it is swallowed, and is very soothing in the stomach, and returns a very sweet savour. If thou knewest whither I now mean to take thee, doubtless thou wouldst hasten thither eagerly and wouldst be mightily inflamed with desire for it, for I heard thee say before how eager thou wast to hear it. I mean to lead thee to True Happiness, whereof thou dost often conjecture and dream; but as yet thou canst not find the right way to it, being yet mazed with the outward show of False Happiness.
I will gladly do so for love of thee; but I must show thee some analogy by way of example until the matter becomes more familar to thee, so that, having clearly apprehended the example, thou mayest by the analogy arrive at an understanding of True Happiness, and forsake what is contrary to it, namely False Happiness, and then with thy whole soul strive earnestly to attain to the happiness that endureth for ever.
WHEN Philosophy had uttered this discourse she began to chaunt again, and spake thus: [ M ] 'Whoever would sow fertile land, must first pluck up the thorns, and furze, and fern, and all the weeds that he seeth infesting the field, so that the wheat may grow the better. Consider also another example: everybody thinketh honeycomb the sweeter if he a little before taste something bitter. Again, calm weather is often the more grateful, if shortly before there have been violent storms and the north wind with great rains and snows.
And the light of day likewise is more grateful by reason of the dreadful darkness of the night, than it would be if there were no night. So also is True Happiness far more delightful to possess after the miseries of this present life, and thou mayest far more easily understand this True Happiness, and attain to it, if thou first pluck up and utterly remove from thy mind False Happiness. Once thou canst get to know the true one, I know thou will desire nought else before it. AFTER she had sung this song Philosophy stopped singing and was silent awhile, and after musing deeply in her mind said: 'Every mortal man afflicts himself with many and various cares, and nevertheless all desire to come by diverse paths to one end; that is, they desire by diverse deserts to reach one happiness.
Now this is no other than God, who is the beginning and end of every good thing, and He is the Highest Happiness. It would not be the Supreme Good if there existed any outside it, for it would then be apt to desire some good not in its own possession. Then Philosophy answered and said, 'It is quite clear that this is the Highest Happiness, for it is both roof and floor of all good.
What can that be but the Highest Happiness, that hath in itself all other kinds of happiness; and from which, itself lacking or needing nothing, they all proceed, and to which they return, as all water proceeds from and returns to the sea? No brook is too small to seek the sea; afterwards it passeth from the sea into the earth, and so it goeth winding through the earth till it cometh again to the same spring from which it flowed at first, and so again to the sea. Now this is a similitude of True Happiness, which all mortal men desire to get, though they think to come at it by various ways.
For each man hath a natural good in himself, and each mind desires to acquire true good, but is hindered by these fleeting joys because it is more prone thereto. For some men think that the greatest happiness is for a man to be so rich as to need nothing more, and all their life long they yearn after this. Some think that the highest good is to be the most honoured by their fellows, and they strive thereafter with might and main.
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Others think it lies in sovereign power, and desire either themselves to rule or to attach to themselves the friendship of the powerful. Again, some are persuaded that the best thing is to be famous and widely known, and to have a good name, and they labour thereafter both in peace and in war. Many men account it the greatest good and the greatest happiness to be always merry in this present life, and to satisfy every desire.
Some, when they seek wealth, seek it to get more power by it, so that they may with impunity enjoy these worldly pleasures and riches. Many again desire power to enable them to amass enormous wealth, or from a wish to spread abroad their name and fame. Such among others are the frail and corruptible honours that afflict the soul of man with yearning and ambition; he thinks he has acquired some notable good when he has received the flattery of the crowd, but I think he has purchased a very false distinction.
Some men desire wives most earnestly, for the begetting of many children, and also for a pleasant life. Now I assert that the most precious of all this world's blessings is True Friendship, which must be accounted not a worldly good, but a heavenly blessing; for it is not false Fate that produces it, but God, who created natural friends in kinsmen. For every other thing in this world man desireth either because it will help him to power, or to get some pleasure, save only a true friend; him we love for love's sake and for our trust in him, though we can hope for no other return from him.
Nature joins friends together and unites them with a very inseparable love; but by means of these worldly goods and the wealth of this life we oftener make foes than friends. By these and many other reasons all men may be shown that all bodily excellencies are inferior to the qualities of the soul. For instance, we think a man is strong in proportion to the bulk of his body; and a comely and active body gives satisfaction and cheerfulness to its possessor, and good health makes him merry.
Now in all these bodily enjoyments men seek simple happiness as it seems to them, for every man accounts that the best and highest good for him which he loves above all things, and thinks he shall be truly happy when he shall have attained it. And yet I do not deny that happiness and prosperity are the highest blessings of this life of ours, for the reason just given; and when a man is convinced that the possession of a thing will bring him great happiness, then he desires it most.
Is not this semblance of false happiness clearly revealed, namely possessions, honours, power, and vain glory, and carnal pleasure? Speaking of carnal pleasure, Epicurus the philosopher, when investigating all the various kinds of happiness we have spoken about, said that pleasure is the highest good, for all the forms of happiness we have spoken of flatter and encourage the mind.
Pleasure, however, alone flatters the body most exclusively. Though their minds and natures be obscured, and they be hastening on the downward course to evil, yet they desire the highest good, as far as their knowledge and power go. Even as a drunken man knoweth that he should go to his home and his rest, but cannot find the way thither, so it is with the mind when it is weighed down with the cares of this world, for drugged and led astray therewith it cannot find the direct road to what is good.
Nor do men think that they at all err that desire to get hold of so much that they need not strive after more; but they believe they can gather together all these blessings, so that not one thereof be lacking, knowing no higher good than to get together into their own power the most valuable things, and thereby satisfy every need. But God only is without need, not man; God, being self-sufficing, needeth nothing besides what He hath in Himself. Dost thou then account those foolish who think that thing deserving of most honour which they judge to be most perfect? No, surely not, I think that this is not to be despised.
How can that be evil which the mind of every man thinketh good, and striveth after, and desireth to possess? No, it is not evil, but the highest good.
Why then is not power to be accounted one of the highest blessings of this life? Is power, the most valuable of all worldly possessions, to be reckoned a feeble and useless thing? Are good report and fame to be accounted nothing?
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No, no, it is wrong to count these things as naught, for every man thinketh his own object of desire the best. But we know, of course, that no poverty, nor hardship, nor sorrow, nor grief, nor melancholy, can be happiness. Why, then, need we talk about happiness any further? Doth not every man know what it is, and know too that it is the Highest Good? Now these eager cravings are for wealth, honours, authority, worldly splendour, vain glory, and carnal pleasures. All these do men desire, for by their means they hope to attain to a state when they shall be lacking in no desire, neither in honour nor power nor fame nor pleasure.
And their desires, though so various, are reasonable. By these examples a man may see clearly that every one dcsires to compass the highest good wherever he may recognize it and wherever he may know how to seek it aright; but he seeketh it not by the straightest path, for that lieth not in this world. WHEN Philosophy had spoken this discourse she began once more to sing, and her words were on this wise: [ M ] 'Now will I with song declare how wondrously the Lord guideth all His creatures with the bridle of His power, with what order He hath established and controlleth all creatures, and how He hath bound them and fastened them in bonds unbreakable, so that each created thing is held fast locked to its kind, even that to which it was created; yea, everything save man and certain angels--these at times leave their kind.
Lo, the lion, even if he be quite tame and firmly fettered, and very fond moreover and also afraid of his master, yet let him once happen to taste blood, and straightway he forgetteth his recent tameness, and remembereth the wild habits of his fathers.
He beginneth to roar, and to break his bonds asunder; first he rendeth his master, then everything whatsoever he may get hold of, whether man or beast. So with wild birds of the forest; they may be thoroughly tamed, yet once they find themselves in the greenwood, they set at naught their teachers, and live after their kind. Though their teachers offer them the food wherewith they tamed them once, they heed it not, if only they may have the woods to enjoy; far pleasanter is it, they think, to hear other birds singing, and the forest's answering echoes. Again, it is in the nature of trees to rear themselves aloft; though thou draw down to earth a branch as far as thou hast power to bend it, even as thou lettest it go it will spring up and hasten to its natural state.
The sun too doth so; though he sink after midday lower and lower earthwards, yet again he seeketh his natural course and wendeth by hidden ways towards his rising; then mounteth he high and ever higher, as far as is his nature to soar. And so each creature doth; it hasteneth towards its natural state, and is glad if it may reach this. Not one creature is there that doth not wish to reach the place wherefrom it started, where it findeth rest, and naught to trouble.
Now that rest is in God, nay, it is God. But each creature turneth round on itself, as a wheel doth, and turneth in such a way as to come back to its starting point, and to be once more that which it before was, as soon as it hath returned to where it was, and to do again what it did before. WHEN Philosophy had sung this song she began to discourse again and said, 'O ye men of this world, though ye act like the beasts in your folly, yet ye can perceive something, as in a dream, of your original, that is, of God.
Ye perceive that there is a true beginning and a true end of all happiness, though ye understand it not fully; ye are led by your nature towards understanding, but are drawn away from it by manifold error. Bethink yourselves whether men can come to true happiness by their present joys, since nearly all men regard him as the most blest who has all earthly happiness. Can great possessions or honours or all this wealth of the moment make any man so happy as to need nothing more? Certainly I know they cannot. Then is it not manifest that this present good is not the true good, seeing it cannot give what it promises?
For it speciously offers to do what it is unable to fulfil, promising those who incline their ear unto it true happiness, and more often than not disappointing them, for it hath no more happiness to bestow than the others have. Now take thine own case, Boethius: wast thou never sad in the height of thy prosperity, or didst thou never lack aught when possessed of most wealth? No indeed, I was never so evenly poised in mind, as far as I remember, as to be entirely free from care and perplexity, and I never yet liked everything, nor had all I wished, though I concealed the fact.
Wast thou not then miserable and unhappy enough, though conceiting thyself wealthy, when thou either hadst what thou didst dislike, or didst lack what thou desiredst? If then he is miserable he is not content, desiring what he hath not in order to satisfy himself. I cannot help thinking then that all the riches of the world are not able to make one single man so rich as to have enough and need no more; and yet this is what wealth promises to all who possess it.
Why, of course thou must admit it? Dost thou not every day see the strong robbing the goods of the weak? What else causes every day such lamentation and such strife, and lawsuits, and sentences, but the fact that each claims the property plundered from him, or else covets that of another? For this cause every man needeth support from without to make himself stronger, that he may preserve his wealth.
Then Philosophy made protest sorrowfully and said, 'Alas! For when a man has a little he feels he needs to court the protection of such as possess somewhat more, and, whether he need it or no, he sets his mind on it. Where then is moderation to be found? Can a rich man never feel hunger, nor thirst, nor cold? I think however thou wilt urge that the rich have the means to amend all that, but, though thou urge this, wealth cannot always do this, though it is sometimes able to do so.
For they must be able daily to replace their daily loss, human wants being insatiable, and craving every day somewhat of worldly gear, such as clothing, food, drink, and many other things besides; wherefore no man is so well furnished as to want nothing more. But covetousness knoweth no bounds, and is never content with bare necessity, but ever desireth too much.
It passes my understanding why ye men put your trust in perishable wealth, seeing it cannot free you from poverty; nay, ye thereby only increase it. When Philosophy had uttered this discourse she began to chaunt again and singing to say: [ M ] 'What profiteth it the wealthy miser to amass countless riches and to gather store enough of all precious stones, and though he till his fields with a thousand ploughs, and all this earth be his to govern?
For he cannot take with him from this earth anything more than he brought hither. WHEN Philosophy had sung through this song, she began to discourse again and said: 'Two things can honour and power do, if they fall into the hands of a fool; they can make him respected and revered by other fools. But as soon as he quits his power, or his power forsakes him, he has no respect nor reverence from them.
Has power therefore the faculty of rooting up and plucking out vices from the minds of its possessors, and planting in their stead virtues? I know that earthly power doth never sow virtues, but gathereth and harvesteth vices; and, when it hath gathered them in, it maketh a show of them instead of covering them up, for the vices of the great, who know and associate with many men, are beheld of the multitude. Thus, then, we lament over power when lost, and at the same time despise it, seeing how it cometh to the worst of men, and those we think the most unworthy.
Hence the wise Catulus long ago waxed wroth and heaped insult and contumely on the rich Nonius, because he met him seated in a gorgeous carriage; for it was a strict custom among the Romans at that time that only the worthiest should sit in such carriages. Catulus despised the man seated there, whom he knew to be very ignorant and very dissolute; so without more ado he spat upon him. This Catulus was a Roman leader [consul] and a man of great understanding, and he would certainly not have done such great despite to the other, had the latter not been rich and powerful.
Tell me now, I ask thee, Boethius, how it came to pass that thou didst suffer so many evils and such great discomforts when thou hadst power, and why thou didst afterwards abandon it so unwillingly? Why, was it not simply because thou wouldst not in all things fall in with the will of the unrighteous king Theodoric, perceiving him to be in all respects unworthy of power, shameless and turbulent, and without any good parts?
Wherefore we cannot lightly say that evil men are good, even though possessed of authority. Nevertheless thou wouldst not have been banished by Theodoric, nor would he have been displeased with thee, if like his foolish favourites thou hadst shown liking for his folly and unrighteousness. Now, if thou wert to see a very wise man that had much noble pride, but yet was very poor and very unfortunate, wouldst thou say that he was unworthy of power and honours? No, indeed; if I met such a man I would never say that he was unworthy of power and honours; nay, I should consider him worthy of any honour the world may have.
Every virtue hath her own special grace; and this grace, and the honour of it, she bestoweth speedily on him that cherishes her. For example, Wisdom, which is the loftiest of virtues, hath within herself four other virtues, to wit, prudence, temperance, courage, justice. She maketh her lovers wise and worthy, sober, patient, and just, and filleth him that loveth her with every good gift. This they that possess authority in this world cannot do, for they can from their wealth bestow not a single virtue upon their lovers, if these already naturally have none.
Hence it is very clear that the powerful man hath no special virtue in his possessions; they come to him from without, and he cannot possess aught that is outside him as his own. Just consider whether any man is the more unworthy merely because many men despise him; nay, if any man be the more unworthy, it must be the fool who to wise men appeareth the unworthier the more he hath. It is therefore clear enough that authority and riches cannot make their possessor any the more worthy, but rather make him the less worthy, if he were not already good.
So too power and wealth are worse if their possessor be not a good man, and either of them is the baser when they are together. However, I can easily prove to thee by an example, and thou shalt clearly understand, that this present life is like unto a shadow, wherein no man can attain to true happiness. If a very mighty man were to be banished from his own land, or sent on his lord's errand, and came to a foreign country where he was quite unknown and unknowing, and whose language was entirely strange to him, thinkest thou that his power at home would make him honourable there?
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