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The Consolation of Philosophy

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The Consolation of Philosophy

Oxford UP,

15 min read
10 take-aways
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How a condemned sixth-century Roman consoled himself using Christian philosophy.

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Editorial Rating



  • Eloquent
  • Inspiring


The next time you have a bad day and get mired in self-pity, think about Boethius. Born into a wealthy Roman family around 480 C.E., Boethius was a successful scholar and politician. Early in his career, he wrote influential treatises on Aristotle’s logic and Christian theology. He became a senator and found favor with the rulers of the Roman world, ultimately taking the highest post in the Western government (then located in Ravenna, rather than Rome). But his world fell apart when his king, Theoderic, charged him with treason. Confined to his house and awaiting a particularly gruesome execution (you don’t want to know), Boethius comforted himself with philosophical reflection. Working partly in verse and partly in prose, as translated by P.G. Walsh, Boethius crafted a long dialogue with the goddess Philosophy, who slowly convinces him that happiness based on worldly things is fleeting and false, and that true happiness can come only from knowledge of God and his goodness. getAbstract is glad to offer a look at this classic work, which inspired people from Dante to C.S. Lewis, even in their darkest hours.


Book 1

Boethius is under arrest for treason and confined to his chamber, ruminating on his miserable situation. He has tried to take refuge in poetry as various poetic muses have appeared in his room to inspire him. Suddenly, another apparition appears, a female figure Boethius doesn’t recognize. She wears a long gown. In her left hand she has books; in her right, a scepter. This new apparition rebukes the muses for their ineffectiveness and they flee. The apparition then chastises Boethius for not recognizing her and for wallowing in self-pity. She says he is confused about his situation and will feel better only when he recognizes his “true identity.”

The apparition wipes Boethius’ eyes with her robe and he realizes she is the goddess Philosophy. Boethius is relieved and his melancholy lifts for a moment. He asks her why she has appeared, thinking that maybe she is going to go on trial with him. She says she has come to support him, just as she supported other condemned philosophers, such as Socrates and Seneca. The philosopher shouldn’t worry about physical harm, she says. He should be above it. Boethius can’t accept this and begins railing about how he was wronged...

About the Authors

Boethius was a Christian philosopher of the 6th century. Translator P.G. Walsh is professor emeritus of humanity at the University of Glasgow.

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