Medieval English Literature Week 10

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Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy Lecture Slides

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Medieval English Literature Week 10

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

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