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The nature of Fortune; Fortune and Tragedy

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book II., prosa 2



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`Now would I argue with you by these few words which Fortune herself might
use: and do you consider whether her demands are fair "Why, O man," she
might say, " do you daily accuse me with your complainings? What injustice
have I wrought upon you? Of what good things have I robbed you? Choose your
judge whom you will, and before him strive with me for the right to hold
your wealth and honours. If you can prove that any one of these does truly
belong to any mortal man, readily will I grant that these you seek to
regain were yours. When nature brought you forth from your mother`s womb, I
received you in my arms naked and bare of all things; I cherished you

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with my gifts, and I brought you up all too kindly with my favouring care,
wherefore now you cannot bear with me, and I surrounded you with glory and
all the abundance that was mine to give. Now it pleases me to withdraw my
hand: be thankful, as though you had lived upon my loans. You have no just
cause of complaint, as though you had really lost what was once your own.
Why do you rail against me? I have wrought no violence towards you. Wealth,
honours, and all such are within my rights. They are my handmaids; they
know their mistress; they come with me and go when I depart. Boldly will I
say that if these, of whose loss you complain, were ever yours, you would
never have lost them at all. Am I alone to be stayed from using my rightful
power? The heavens may grant bright sunlit days, and hide the same beneath
the shade of night. The year may deck the earth`s countenance with flowers
and fruits, and again wrap it with chilling clouds. The sea may charm with
its smoothed surface, but no less justly it may soon bristle in storms with
rough waves. Is the insatiate discontent of man to bind me to a constancy
which belongs not to my ways? Herein lies my very strength; this is my
unchanging sport. I turn my wheel that spins its circle fairly; I delight
to make the lowest turn to the top, the highest to the bottom. Come you to
the top if you will, but on this condition, that you think it no unfairness
to sink when the rule of my game demands it. Do

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you not know my ways? Have you not heard how Croesus, king of Lydia,
who filled even Cyrus with fear but a little earlier, was miserably put
upon a pyre of burning faggots, but was saved by rain sent down from
heaven? Have you forgotten how Paulus shed tears of respect for the
miseries of his captive, King Perses? For what else is the crying and the
weeping in tragedies but for the happiness of kings overturned by the
random blow of fortune? Have you never learnt in your youth the ancient
allegory that in the threshold of Jove`s hall there stand two vessels, one
full of evil, and one of good? What if you have received more richly of the
good? What if I have not ever withheld myself from you? What if my changing
nature is itself a reason that you should hope for better things? In any
way, let not your spirit eat itself away: you are set in the sphere that is
common to all, let your desire therefore be to live with your own lot of
life, a subject of the kingdom of the world.
Translated by: W.V. Cooper, J.M. Dent and Company. London, 1902.
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Last modified: June 7, 2006
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Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (ldb@wjh.harvard.edu)