Boethius on Good Fortune

“What I want to tell you is something wonderful, which makes it very difficult for me to put it into words.  For I think that ill fortune is better for men than good.  Fortune always cheats when she seems to smile, with the appearance of happiness, but is always truthful when she shows herself to be inconstant by changing.  The first kind of fortune deceives, the second instructs; the one binds the minds of those who enjoy goods that cheatingly only seem to be good, the other frees them with knowledge of the fragility of mortal happiness.  So you can see that the one is inconstant, always running hither and thither, uncertain of herself; and the other is steady, well prepared and–with the practice of adversity itself–wise.  Lastly fortune when apparently happy leads men astray by her blandishments, wandering from the true good; when she is adverse, she commonly draws them back, as it were with a hook, towards it.” Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy II. viii. Loeb Classical Library No. 74, trans. S.J. Tester. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1918), p. 225.

In this famous work from late antiquity Boethius discusses the true nature of Fortune. Good fortune is temporal and vanishes quickly.  It deceives because it does not endure and human beings who experience it forget the true and highest good.  Adversity acts to draw us back to permanent things, that reside only in God and are under the control of Providence.  This work was not simply philosophical speculation for Boethius.  He wrote this work during his time in prison in the early 520s.  Boethius had lived as a philosopher and state official under the Ostrogothic king, Theodoric.  He accused Boethius of treason and imprisoned him.  Later, Boethius was executed.

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