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Medieval English Literature Week 10
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Medieval English Literature Week 10


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Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy Lecture Slides

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy Lecture Slides

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  • 1. Consolation of Philosophy
    • Medieval English Literature
  • 2. Outline
    • Context
    • Form
    • Function
    • Legacy
  • 3. Context
    • Anicius Severinus Manlius Boethius, c.475-526
    • Post- “fall of Rome”, ruled by Ostrogoth Theoderic from Ravenna (n. Italy)
    • Ostrogoths: Austria, N. Italy
  • 4. Fall of Rome
    • Internal social collapse
    • Overexpansion
    • Decadence
    • Loss of civic virtue and use of mercenaries
    • Price controls, taxation, etc.
  • 5. Results of the fall
    • Increasing marginalization of power centers
    • Growth of indigenous languages, decline of Latin
    • Economic collapse
    • Relatively de-centralized Christianity
  • 6. Boethius
    • “The last of the Romans”
    • Statesman family
    • Writer of various philosophical texts
    • Became Theoderic’s “Master of Offices”
    • Lost favor for fighting corruption
    • Treason, execution of Boethius and family
  • 7. Form
    • Consolation of Philosophy as a prosimetrum
    • Five books, in prose with songs interspersed
    • Largely dialogue between B. and Lady Fortune; cf. catechisms and Socrates
    • Debate between student/pupil
    • Christian vision
  • 8. Function
    • Overt purpose is to console Boethius for his sudden fall in fortune
    • Concept of “Lady Fortune”
    • Latinate anthropomorphizations of ideas
    • Presentation of a “fatalist” yet consoling world-view
  • 9. Argument of CoP
    • Book 1: Boethius in prison cell, in despair, Dame says there is no reason to complain
    • Wider perspective shows wicked do not thrive
    • Hierarchy of success: goods and greater good
  • 10. Book II
    • Distinguishes between ornamental and non-ornamental goods
    • Riches, status, sensual pleasure are transitory
    • Friends, family, love are greater rewards
    • Loss of riches provides austere opportunity
    • “Perfect happiness” as God
  • 11. Books III-IV
    • God as final cause
    • “Helm and rudder” of the world
    • Happiness is good, thus wicked are never happy
    • Wickedness is punishment because it dehumanizes
    • God as efficient cause : Fate and destiny
  • 12. Book V
    • Volition within larger chain of predestination
    • Chance versus freedom: Example of farmer digging up treasure
    • True freedom: Contemplation of God, lost in pursuit of material wealth
  • 13. Fortune
    • Arbitrariness on Earth, God as prima causa
    • Luck (good or bad) from human perspective
    • Thus Earthy values are arbitrary and worthless
    • Non-arbitrariness is found in contemplating God
  • 14. Legacy
    • Enormously influential in the Middle Ages
    • Concept of “fortune” and “fate” as opposing forces in life
    • Translated into every European language
    • Embodied into many literary texts (e.g. Troilus and Criseyde )
    • Replaced: empiricism, optimism, humanism