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Recap of Book 1, Chapters 1, 2, & 3

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Recap of Book 1, Chapters 1, 2, & 3

Postby magpie » 25 Aug 2005, 17:24

The first three threads of this forum were begun by rudif who is no longer participating and involved several others who have also dropped away. A certain amount of the dialogue included repeated misunderstandings over exactly what sections we were to read, a confusion now solved by more explicit thread titles. The remainder was concerned with a series of introductory issues which I will try my best to recall. If anyone else has additions or corrections, please help me out.

Having incurred the wrath of King Theodoric, Boethius had been exiled and was in prison under a death sentence when he was "visited" by Lady Philosophy. The first question raised was why philosophy was protrayed as a woman. There is both classical and biblical precedent for this device. Greco-Roman mythology embodied wisdom as the goddess Athena/Minerva, while in the Old Testament (especially in Proverbs) wisdom was also presented as a woman, hokmah in Hebrew and sophia in Greek both being feminine nouns.

The next puzzle was why Philosophy angrily drove away the Muses of poetry when she herself proceeds to produce her own poems. (Professional jealousy perhaps. ;) ) It was decided that her anger was not so much directed toward poetry per se as it was a condemnation of what we might today term pop-culture.
Who let these whores from the theater come to the bedside of this sick man?
It must be remembered that the theater was widely regarded as a place of great vice by ancient Christian writers (see the Confessions of St. Augustine for more on this.) Thus Philosophy is not attacking poetry itself and even calls in poetic "reinforcements."
Get out, you Sirens; your sweetness leads to death. Leave him to be cured and made strong by my Muses.


Philosphy sets the theme for the rest of The Consolation by declaring that the once wise Boethius has allowed earthly cares to dull his previously acute mind. This observation is immediately followed by a scathing attack on both the Epicureans and the Stoics. Her rejection of the former is understandible in view of what follows in later chapters, but her remarks against the latter are puzzling to say the least. Philosophy immediately launches into a volley of praise for various truly wise men, among whom she numbers Seneca who was a very well known Stoic. And indeed, throughout this entire work, the arguments of Philosophy are strongly influenced by classical Stoic teachings.

Prose 3 concludes with a cryptic reference to "our leader" who clearly is not God (not in that century!).
And if they sometimes attack us with extraordinary force, our leader withdraws her followers into a fortress, leaving our enemies to waste their energies on worthless spoils.
Who is this personage with her fortress? We speculated that she might be Wisdom whom Philosophy served, and hence that Boethius was now making a distinction between the two which had previously seemed fused, but since he never makes further reference to this female leader, the puzzle is never fully resolved.

These then are my attempts to restore the gist of the early threads which were lost. I know that there was also some link to a helpful site giving other information, but I cannot recall what it was. I think that it might have involved the connection between Boethius and Lewis, but I am not certain of that. Does anyone remember making such a contribution?
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Postby Air of Winter » 25 Aug 2005, 18:41

magpie wrote:Philosphy sets the theme for the rest of The Consolation by declaring that the once wise Boethius has allowed earthly cares to dull his previously acute mind. This observation is immediately followed by a scathing attack on both the Epicureans and the Stoics. Her rejection of the former is understandible in view of what follows in later chapters, but her remarks against the latter are puzzling to say the least. Philosophy immediately launches into a volley of praise for various truly wise men, among whom she numbers Seneca who was a very well known Stoic. And indeed, throughout this entire work, the arguments of Philosophy are strongly influenced by classical Stoic teachings.
...

These then are my attempts to restore the gist of the early threads which were lost. I know that there was also some link to a helpful site giving other information, but I cannot recall what it was. I think that it might have involved the connection between Boethius and Lewis, but I am not certain of that. Does anyone remember making such a contribution?


Yup.

Wikipedia on Epicureanism
Wikipedia on Stoicism

Boethius' problem with the Epicureans is obvious: they're atheists and materialists. But he sounds so much like a Stoic that the only thing I can think of that he could be taking issue with them over is their view of the Logos. When I read more Classical philosophy I might figure it out.

I made the comments on Lewis with respect to Chapter 5, I think. -- They're still there.

We also discussed the harshness of Philosophy's approach, and her disdain for the emotions that Boethius is expressing. If another person really did speak to Boethius this way, I'd be inclined to use words like 'Job's comforter'; but this is Boethius arguing with himself. I doubt that it is either possible or desirable to set aside the emotions as thoroughly as Boethius seems to think he ought to, in the sense that grief, fury, and despair often need to be acknowledged rather than suppressed. Nevertheless, it's possible to let emotions drive one in unproductive ways, and if I'm not sure of the soundness of all of Boethius' ideas here, I think his attempt to pull himself out of his despondency is commendable.
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Postby magpie » 25 Aug 2005, 20:04

Thanks for the links. They are very helpful. I will also be making some comment on your last paragraph as soon as I have more time.

But I want to quickly add that I also recall some link provided by either John Anthony or Stanley Anderson. I can't remember which one it was, if indeed it was either of them. However, since the link was posted last April before you joined the Wardrobe, I know that it was not yours.

Does anyone remember what it was???
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Postby magpie » 26 Aug 2005, 15:37

Air of Winter wrote:We also discussed the harshness of Philosophy's approach, and her disdain for the emotions that Boethius is expressing. If another person really did speak to Boethius this way, I'd be inclined to use words like 'Job's comforter'; but this is Boethius arguing with himself. I doubt that it is either possible or desirable to set aside the emotions as thoroughly as Boethius seems to think he ought to, in the sense that grief, fury, and despair often need to be acknowledged rather than suppressed. Nevertheless, it's possible to let emotions drive one in unproductive ways, and if I'm not sure of the soundness of all of Boethius' ideas here, I think his attempt to pull himself out of his despondency is commendable.


Your comments have set me thinking about the reality surrounding the composition of this work. (Unless any discussion of "reality" is absurd coming from a woman who calls herself a bird while writing in cyberspace disguised as a small furry animal.) Dismissing any idea that Boethius was taking dictation from some supernatural visitor (ala Joseph Smith), we automatically assume that the words of Lady Philosophy are indeed his own. But what was his motive for writing? That he does not tell us.

One could take the approach that he is writing a sort of summa philosophica as his lasting legacy to insure his reputation for the ages. (I wonder what he would think of Lady Philosophy's words being dissected by two philosophical ladies over the internet.) But the idea of this being a monument to his fame is undermined by his own assertion (yes I have read ahead) that fame and good repute, even that of virtuous men, is not a sufficient source for true happiness.

Moreover, there is no indication that he had any assurance that his writing would survive his own life. This was not an era when convicts sitting for years on death row had publishing contracts. It could easily have happened (and fortunately did not) that any material found in his cell could have been destroyed after him.

Thus I am led to agree with you that Boethius was writing to himself, or more specifically that Boethius the philosopher, the intellect, the "head person," was giving what he considered sound advice to Boethius the man, the sufferer, the lonely frightened exile, the "heart person." It remains to be seen if this advice is sufficient or effective under such circumstances, either for Boethius himself or for subsequent readers. While I believe that the "head" and "heart" do need to be integrated, I do not think that this ought to be done by the one overwhelming and silencing the other. This approach might have worked personally for Boethius, but I question its unversal applicability.
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