Book Review: Boethius – The Consolation of Philosophy
Boethius (d. 524 a.d.) pronounced with long o sound, “boh-ee-thee-us”.
Boethius was an early Christian philosopher (circa 480 – 524). He was also a scholar, statesman and theologian. (If you read this book, you will find that Boethius had a very comprehensive knowledge of all the ancient western philosophy that preceded his time.) He was imprisoned by Theodoric, the king of the Ostrogoths, and was eventually executed.
Let me briefly quote from the outside back cover of the book, as it does better justice to the work than I can do. (It has been about 5 years since I read this important book; but, stick with me here and kindly read this entire short review – it may prove helpful to you.)
“While awaiting his fate, he wrote this dialogue in alternating prose and poetry between himself and his spiritual guardian. Its subject is human happiness and the possibility of achieving it in the midst of the suffering and disappointment that characterize human existence.”
This book is of importance for two reasons. First, as a piece in the history of western philosophical thinking, it ought not be overlooked or ignored. Second, and more relevant, is that the book addresses the human condition, or in the terms of James Joyce, “that which is grave and constant in human suffering”. With its critique of the transitory nature of this world, the book seems to echo some of the tenets of Vedic philosophy. It is not an atheistic nor agnostic work. (Atheism is a dead end, and does not do justice to the spiritual dimension of our human nature.)
One of the most important things I recall from this book is that it tells us that God stands outside of Time. Past, present, and future are all easily seen by Him from his perspective outside of Time. (Similarly, Lord Krishna, in the Vedic philosophy, transcends His creation.)
Here are a few examples of what is discussed inside this work. Book V, Prose 1, Philosophy discusses the question of chance. Book V, Prose 3, Boethius contends that divine foreknowledge and freedom of the human will are incompatible. Book III, Prose 11, Philosophy shows that God is One and that He is the goal toward which all things tend. Book IV, Prose 4, Philosophy argues that, in spite of appearances, the wicked are impotent and miserably unhappy. (Good and evil are discussed in the book.)
Like any philosophical work, it is not always easy reading. But, the very value of this book’s contents lies precisely in challenging the reader to think about the important issues raised and discussed in the dialogue between Lady Philosophy and Boethius. As Nietzsche said, “anything worth having is worth working for”. (Boethius does not suffer from the nihilism of Nietzsche.) All truly great books either have a very important moral to their story and/or they make the reader think! Despite the skepticism of this materialistic, skeptical (even cynical) age we are living in, it is still (undeniably) true that western civilization was profoundly impacted by, even shaped by, Christianity. (I think I am going to reread this book this summer as it has much value.)
There is a very helpful index at the back of the book. Even with preface and introduction, the entire book is only about 140 pages long. It is not the type of book to attempt to read in one sitting; but works much better if the reader tries a piece-meal approach, and reads several pages at each sitting over several days.
A current reprint is available from Dover Publications. Here is the link to the book on their website:
For the general reader, Dover Publications is a good source for many current reprints of hard to find titles in many fields of interest. As Dover produces only quality paperbacks, the prices are affordable. They also have seasonal sales when they will mark down the prices on select titles by 20 to 50%. I think their summer sale may be on now (July). The autumn sale is in either September or October, the winter sale is in January, and the spring sale is usually in April. Dover’s home page is located at http://doverpublications.com
Happy reading and thinking! Now, share the kindness.