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The Consolation of Philosophy (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

Boethius , Peter Walsh
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Feb 2000 Oxford World's Classics
Boethius composed the De Consolatione Philosophiae in the sixth century AD whilst awaiting death under torture, condemned on a charge of treason which he protested was manifestly unjust. Though a convinced Christian, in detailing the true end of life which is the soul's knowledge of God, he consoled himself not with Christian precepts but with the tenets of Greek philosophy. This work dominated the intellectual world of the Middle Ages; writers as diverse as Thomas Aquinas, Jean de Meun, and Dante were inspired by it. In England it was rendered in to Old English by Alfred the Great, into Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer, and later Queen Elizabeth I made her own translation. The circumstances of composition, the heroic demeanour of the author, and the 'Menippean' texture of part prose, part verse have combined to exercise a fascination over students of philosophy and literature ever since.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (3 Feb 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192838830
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192838834
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,890,857 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"An excellent introduction and overview of this important thinker's thought and legacy."-Calvin Theological Journal

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I who with zest penned songs in happier days, Must now with grief embark on sombre lays. Read the first page
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential 7 Feb 2009
Beautiful passages, poetry with meaning. An essential book for those blue days, it never fails to cheer me up a bit.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An amateur's opinion 18 Nov 2004
I have been an interested amateur when it comes to philosophy for a while, an interest which mostly manifests itself in reading the odd popular text book or Umberto Eco novel. When I came across a reference to Boethius' 'TCOP' I was sufficiently intrigued to give it a go.
Boethius' was prominent in the court of Theodoric, probably the most powerful man in western Europe following the end of the Roman Empire in c.500 AD. However, Theodoric had Boethius locked up (probably unfairly) as he became paranoid that the Eastern Empire was plotting to overthrow him. 'TCOP' was written in prison by Boethius to explain why he, a good Christian, had apparently been abandoned by Fortune and God, and left to die by execution (which he eventually did). It takes the form of a dialogue between Boethius and Philosophy, in which the latter explains the workings of God and his system of rewards and punishments, and why it doesn't always match up to Man's expectations.
The introduction does an excellent job of framing the political, religious and philosophical milieu of the time, explaining both why Boethius ended up where he did and the belief system (neo-platonism) that his dialogue is rooted in, priming the reader to understand everything that follows. However, I think that it would not be accessible without a little knowledge of early medieval philosophy, meaning that this is not a good place to start if you are interested. I don't know much, though, and I got on just fine. This part of the book gets a big thumbs-up. Unforunately, the dialogue itself doesn't. Criticising it as a piece of literature, rather than philosophy, I found it a little dull. It is not really a dialogue, so much as a monologue by Philosophy punctuated by the odd 'I see now' from Boethius.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic of philosophical thought 4 April 2008
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
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.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  42 reviews
72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remains vital after fifteen hundred years 3 Oct 2004
By Robert Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The particular edition I am reviewing is the Oxford World's Classics translation by P. G. Walsh.

This is one of those classics that can catch an unsuspecting reader completely by surprise, especially if one has read many other works by near contemporaries. The circumstances under which it was composed are legendary, and lend the work a legitimacy granted to few other works. Boethius was among the foremost government officials in what was essentially the successor government to the end of the Roman Empire. Rome and much of the rest of what would later become Italy was under the control of the Ostrogoth king Theodoric. A product of one of the leading Roman familes, Boethius ascended to a power of great honor and authority under Theodoric, only to be accused of treason late in the latter's life, at which point Boethius was imprisoned and condemned to death. While awaiting his fate (including whether Theodoric actually intended on carrying out the sentence), Boethius wrote this remarkable dialog between a prisoner whose situation closely resembles Boethius' and Philosophy personified as a woman. Although many topics are discussed, the heart of the dialog is the nature of true happiness.

Although few of its readers are likely to face circumstances as dire as Boethius', the work remains remarkably pertinent in an age where ideals of happiness are dictated almost entirely by our modern consumer society. Philosophy carefully explains to the prisoner that that happiness can never be found in such things as fame or power or riches and other things that are confused with the true source of happiness. For Boethius' Philosophy, happiness is ultimately rooted in the Christian God, but even for non-Christians, the lightly theological tone of the work provides much reflection on the nature of happiness in almost any kind of situation.

The Walsh edition of this work is, in my opinion, the finest readily available edition in English. The notes are marvelous, both providing overviews to each upcoming section as well as providing detailed comments on specific lines in the text. The introduction gives any new reader of the work all the context and background that he or she would need to digest the work. Best of all, the translation is exceptionally readable, and the translations of the many poems far above the average for most academic translations of verse.

I recommend this work strongly to either of two kinds of readers. First, for anyone who is a student of intellectual history the work remains for an understanding of a host of writers in the middle ages, as well as for many 19th century poets. Second, anyone interested in devotional or reflectional works, whether religious or philosophical, this remains one of the most essential works in the history of thought. By almost any standard, this is a work that demands careful reading and study.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A Light Among the Ever-Dimming Roman World" 29 Sep 2000
By Johannes Platonicus - Published on Amazon.com
Boethius was certainly a bright spot in the midst of a darkening world flooded by barbarians and intellectually on the decline. Boethius was among the many commentators and compilers of his age who endeavored to preserve the tenets of Greek Philosophy. His commentaries on the original Greek texts of Aristotle helped to pave the way for Aquinas' "Summa Theologia." So Boethius' works, though lacking originality, nevertheless made a very significant impact upon the later scholastic philosophers, and to the whole of Catholic tradition as well. Italy, during Boethius' time, was under the rule of Theoderic the Ostrogoth, who unjustly imprisoned the statesman/philosopher, falsely accussing him of treason. While waiting for his execution, Boethius wrote his "Consolation of Philosophy." The book itself is among the masterpieces of all time, and the only thing as tradgic as Boethius' untimely death is the fact that we were not able to obtain anymore works from this genius with the golden pen. Had he remained alive, it is very likely that we would have seen a sublime synthesis, in Latin, of Plato and Aristotle, not contradicting each other but complimenting one another. However, in short, this book is a small manifestation of what may have happened if he lived longer. What is interesting about this book is that it handles several different perspectives, namely that of the sorrowful Boethius and the consoling wisdom of Lady Philosophy, written both in eloquent prose and dazzling verse, which together ultimately culminates into a one of the most moving, inspiring, and thought provoking philosophical works of all time. The book is indefatigable, in that it never seems to quit opening new corridors of thought; and it is essential, because it is the philosopher's ideal breviary. It is interesting to note - and this is certainly not a negation to his Christian convictions - that while this Saint was awaiting his execution he remebered Athens, not Calvary.
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and immediate 19 Jan 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Most people don't expect medieval literature to be easy to read, let alone relevant,immediate, and moving. Yet the Consolation is all that and more. As other reviewers here point out, Boethius wrote it under great personal duress. After rising to a high position and enjoying a distinguished career, Boethius is awaiting execution and the Consolation details his gradual movement from despair, grief and anger at the hand he has been played by fortune to a remembrance of his "true nature" and that of the universe...aided at every step by Lady Philosophy. Although the arguments are often familiar to anyone versed in ancient philosophy, and the structure rhetorical, the terrible context and the passion behind the arguments make this about as immediate and real as it gets. PS The medievals thought so too...it is just about the most quoted and imitated book of the period...
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relihan's 'Consolation' Should Not Go Unoticed 6 May 2004
By Johannes Platonicus - Published on Amazon.com
The Relihan translation emphasizes the philosophical depth of Boethius' Consolation, while faithfully and artfully reproducing the original beauty of his verse and the sublimity of its meaning. With this edition comes a detailed and informative introduction, along with exhaustive notes and a definitive glossary. Joel C. Relihan is one of the leading authorities in Boethian studies; his rendition of the Consolation is one that anyone serious about its study can hardly pass.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for a seeker of truth 8 Nov 2000
By J. Gilmore - Published on Amazon.com
This work doesn't raise issues beyond what had been the subject of discourse by Plato and Aristotle. However, as a manual for the student of philosophy, it's bar none. Systematically Boethius scrutinizes the id driven, pleasure-seeking paths to happiness and exposes the flaws inherent in them all. Money creates more anxiety (articulated so eloquently by Bad Boy Entertainment's production of "Mo Money, Mo Problems.") Hedonism similarly leads to dependancy and fear of the loss of the pleasing object. Philosophy, then is the soundness means to indivdual happiness as it is the least dependant upon external sources for its fuel. Self-sufficiency as the key to happiness is of course not a new point, but the means Boethius utilizes to reach this conclusion are straightfoward and the section explaning how self-sufficiency brings us closer to happiness by making us more like God is novel. This book affected me powerfully, as it forced me to examine the sustainablity of my then lifestyle. I have since realized that be it as it may, I'm not a philosopher and can't rely on Boethius' template exclusively.
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