Gold THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE


Dame Philosophy instructs Boethius on the nature of Fortune

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy Book II, Prosa 1




Page 25

THEN for a while she held her peace. But when her silence, so discreet,
made my thoughts to cease from straying, she thus began to speak: `If I
have thoroughly learned the causes and the manner of your sickness, your
former good fortune has so affected you that you are being consumed by
longing for it. The change of one of her this alone has overturned your
peace of mind through your own imagination. I understand the varied
disguises of that unnatural state. I know how Fortune is ever most friendly
and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms
them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. If
you recall her nature, her ways, or her deserts, you will see that you
never had in her, nor have lost with her, aught that was lovely. Yet, I
think, I shall not need great labour to recall this to your memory. For
then too, when she was at your side with all her flattery, you were wont to
reproach her in strong and manly terms; and to revile her with the opinions
that you had gathered in worship of me with my favoured ones. But no sudden
change of outward affairs can ever come without some upheaval in the mind.
Thus has it followed

Page 26

that you, like others, have fallen somewhat away from your calm peace of
mind. But it is time now for you to make trial of some gentle and pleasant
draught, which by reaching your inmost parts shall prepare the way for yet
stronger healing draughts. Try therefore the assuring influence of gentle
argument which keeps its straight path only when it holds fast to my
instructions. And with this art of orators let my handmaid, the art of
song, lend her aid in chanting light or weighty harmonies as we desire.

`What is it, mortal man, that has cast you down into grief and mourning?
You have seen something unwonted, it would seem, something strange to you.
But if you think that Fortune has changed towards you, you are wrong. These
are ever her ways: this is her very nature. She has with you preserved her
own constancy by her very change. She was ever changeable at the time when
she smiled upon you, when she was mocking you with the allurements of false
good fortune. You have discovered both the different faces of the blind
goddess. To the eyes of others she is veiled in part: to you she has made
herself wholly known. If you find her welcome, make use of her ways, and so
make no complaining. If she fills you with horror by her treachery, treat
her with despite; thrust her away from you, for she tempts you to your
ruin. For though she is the cause of this great trouble for you, she ought
to have been the subject of

Page 27

calmness and peace. For no man can ever make himself sure that she will
never desert him, and thus has she deserted you. Do you reckon such
happiness to be prized, which is sure to pass away? Is good fortune dear to
you, which is with you for a time and is not sure to stay, and which is
sure to bring you unhappiness when it is gone? But seeing that it cannot be
stayed at will, and that when it flees away it leaves misery behind, what
is such a fleeting thing but a sign of coming misery? Nor should it ever
satisfy any man to look only at that which is placed before his eyes.
Prudence takes measure of the results to come from all things. The very
changeableness of good and bad makes Fortune`s threats no more fearful, nor
her smiles to be desired. And lastly, when you have once put your neck
beneath the yoke of Fortune, you must with steadfast heart bear whatever
comes to pass within her realm. But if you would dictate the law by which
she whom you have freely chosen to be your mistress must stay or go, surely
you will be acting without justification; and your very impatience will
make more bitter a lot which you cannot change. If you set your sails
before the wind, will you not move forward whither the wind drives you, not
whither your will may choose to go? If you intrust your seed to the furrow,
will you not weigh the rich years and the barren against each other? You
have given yourself over to Fortune`s rule, and you must bow yourself to

Page 28

your mistress`s ways. Are you trying to stay the force of her turning
wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no
longer Fortune.


Book II, Metrum 1 [Dame Fortune and her wheel.]

`As thus she turns her wheel of chance with haughty hand, and presses on
like the surge of Euripus`s tides, fortune now tramples fiercely on a
fearsome king, and now deceives no less a conquered man by raising from the
ground his humbled face. She hears no wretch`s cry, she heeds no tears, but
wantonly she mocks the sorrow which her cruelty has made. This is her
sport: thus she proves her power; if in the selfsame hour one man is raised
to happiness, and cast down in despair, `tis thus she shews her might.

Translated by: W.V. Cooper, J.M. Dent and Company. London, 1902.
Back to Geoffrey Chaucer Page | (Or use your browser's back button to return to the previous page.)

Last modified: June 7, 2006
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College

Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)