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The Consolation of Philosophy

📅 2021-Jun-05 ⬩ ✍️ Ashwin Nanjappa ⬩ 🏷️ boethius, book ⬩ 📚 Archive

One of the things I like about my bookclub at work is that it gives me a chance to read books outside of my comfort zone. For example, I would almost never voluntarily choose an ancient philosophical book, but that is what folks chose as our recent read. The book in question was The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. Originally written in Latin, I read the 1902 English translation by W. V. Cooper.

The book is patterned along the lines of Plato’s dialogues. It is a fictional dialogue between the author himself and the Goddess of Philosophy who appears in front of him in his darkest hour and tries to reason about his conflicts. Essentially, Boethius is a well respected Roman statesman of that time and his enemies have falsely accused him of crimes and gotten him into prison. He explains the reason for his sadness and how unfair his situation is to Philosophy. And over the course of 5 chapters, Philosophy tries to explain to him why he has no reason to be so despondent and how God moves in mysterious ways.

In the dialogues, Boethius mainly questions the fairness of the world, about the workings of God in a world where Evil exists and why a good man like himself should end up in prison. Philosophy argues that fame and wealth are temporary, happiness comes from within and that Fortune is fleeting. Though convincing initially, I personally found Philosophy’s arguments getting weaker as the book progressed. For example, on the question of why bad people can thrive in a Godly world, she basically says though those people get rich and successful, they do not attain true happiness. In the final dialogue about the conflict between free will and a world preordained by God, I found her reasoning to be confusing and weak.

This is apparently one of the most influential books of the early Christianity period and used to be read by philosophers of that age. This book appears at the beginning of the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire and most of the Christian religious books of today were not even created at that time. The reader can notice how the singular God of Christianity shares the lines in these dialogues with innumerable mentions of Greek mythological Gods, characters and stories. It almost seems like the author is arguing between the classical Roman/Greek philosophy and the Christian religious lines, with the latter not really being able to hold up the arguments.

The book was short, with lots of quotable lines. Based on feedback from my club members it seems like you might want to pick up a more modern translation than the Cooper one that I chose. This is a deep, thoughtful read, especially if you are the type who likes these kinds of philosophical debates. Do remember though that despite writing this book, Boethius was executed.

Rating: 3/4