The Uses of Fortune

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, Book IV, Prosa 7

Page 134

`Do you see now,' she continued, `what follows upon all that we have said?'

`What is it?' I asked.

`That all fortune is plainly good,' she answered.

`How can that be?' said I.

`Consider this,' she said: `all fortune, whether pleasant or difficult, is
due to this cause; it is for the sake of rewarding the good or exercising
their virtue, and of punishing and correcting bad men: therefore it is
plain that all this fortune which is allowed to be just or expedient, must
be good.'

`Yes,' I said, `that is a true argument, and when I think of the Providence
or Fate about which you have taught me, the conclusion rests upon strong
foundations. But if it please you, let us count it among those conclusions
which you a little while ago set down as inconceivable.'

`Why?' she asked.

`Because it is a commonplace saying among men -- indeed an especially
frequent one -- that some people have bad fortune.'

`Would you then have us approach more nearly the common conversation of
men, lest we should seem to withdraw too far from human ways?'

`If you will,' I said.

Page 137

`Do you not think that that, which is advantageous, is good?'


`And that fortune, which exercises or corrects, is advantageous? '

`I agree,' said I.

`Then it is good, is it not? '

`It must be so.'

`This is the fortune of those who are either firmly set in virtue and
struggling against their difficulties, or of those who would leave their
vices and take the path of virtue? '

`That is true,' I said.

`But what of that pleasant fortune which is granted as a reward to good
men? Do most people perceive that it is bad? No; but, as is true, they
esteem it the best. And what of the last kind of fortune, which is hard and
which restrains bad men by just punishment? Is that commonly held to be
good? '

`No,' said I, `it is held to be the most miserable of all that can be

`Beware lest in following the common conception, we come to some truly
inconceivable conclusion.'

`What do you mean? '

`From what we have allowed,' she said, `it results that the fortune of
those who are in possession of virtue, or are gaining it, or advancing
therein, is entirely good, whatever it be, while for those who remain in
wickedness, their fortune is the worst.'

`That is true, but who would dare confess it? '

Page 138

`For this reason a wise man should never complain, whenever he is brought
into strife with fortune; just as a brave man cannot properly be disgusted
whenever the noise of battle is heard, since for both of them their very
difficulty is their opportunity, for the brave man of increasing his glory,
for the wise man of confirming and strengthening his wisdom. From this is
virtue itself so named,65 because it is so supported by its strength that
it is not overcome by adversity. And you who were set in the advance of
virtue have not come to this pass of being dissipated by delights, or
enervated by pleasure; but you fight too bitterly against all fortune. Keep
the middle path of strength and virtue, lest you be overwhelmed by
misfortune or corrupted by pleasant fortune. All that falls short or goes
too far ahead, has contempt for happiness, and gains not the reward for
labour done. It rests in your own hands what shall be the nature of the
fortune which you choose to form for yourself. For all fortune which seems
difficult, either exercises virtue, or corrects or punishes vice.

Translated by: W.V. Cooper, J.M. Dent and Company. London, 1902.

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