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Topic #J75
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy Book I II
5 April 2002

Scribe: Stefano Oliverio



These minutes were not spoken; for another version,  go to the spoken minutes.



The Lecture began with a mention of the previous lectures discussion on Boethius’ Book II.  Hatred was discussed and it was mentioned to be an irrational human emotion, however, not the only irrational human emotion, as there are many others; envy, receiving joy out of damage, or joy out of the misfortunes of others.  It was agreed that one prefers to posses as little of these qualities as possible.  Some, however, have argued that hatred is a good thing.  A passage in the book—the 6th meter—was mentioned to exemplify this suggestion, in which the Emperor Nero fiddles while Rome burnt.  The Burning of Rome, clearly an act of ruthless destruction and hatred, was orchestrated by Nero deliberately.  The reason Nero deliberately destroyed Rome—Rome referred to as his mother—was to get an advantage over his political opponents as well as to gain political maneuverability among followers.  Such an act of cruelty was believed to be madness asserts Professor Hutchinson.  But no; Nero was the first politician to capture the media, consolidate his hold on the population and military through symbolic communication.  This was the source of Nero’s great power, his control over the media, economics, and military power.  The craziness of Nero was also unique in his stage performances as a woman; examples such as these were the various methods of political communication Nero used that proved effective to further his own cause.  Nero was essentially an opportunist.  Seneca, who had been apparently an accessory, at least after the fact, to some of Nero’s worst works of power, wanted Nero Assassinated, as he believed it would eliminate the conflict that Nero created.

                  The lecture then proceeded to a discussion on Boethius’ Book III.  This book ends in the most extraordinary and miraculous way with the tale of Orpheus.  Next the poem at the end of the ninth meter in Book III was mentioned by Professor Hutchinson to be a geometric turning point in the book, as it has a mystical numerological quality that derives from the Pythagorean Theology of Arithmetic.  Meters, in the book, pick up each other in an elaborate sequence.  Numbers in Boethius are not equal—2 or 4—but odd, 3’s. 


                  The poetical hymn to Zeus in III meter 9 was mentioned to be the most unified in the whole book, as all the subsequent important themes that are mentioned in later chapters of the book have resonance in this poem.  Such topics as: God created man in his own image, God as creator of heaven and earth and fashioned both according to his liking, unmoved mover (an Aristotelian idea that can also be found in the Timaeus).


                  The third book of Boethius borrows various ideas from the Timaeus.  Among these is the idea that a soul is comprised of two parts, the idea of lesser souls, and the idea of planting souls from the stars in an earthly environment.  Boethius was mentioned by Professor Hutchinson to combine the congenial common elements of Christian and Stoic philosophy.  Among such ideas are the souls relationship to fire and warmth—a view that is also shared by Plato—and the regression of souls back to their original status.  However, in this respect Boethius does not go into explicit detail, as the Christian and Stoic philosophies differ greatly when examined in greater detail, even though in a generic sense both are similar in the souls regression to prior status.  This is evident as in the Christian philosophy the soul’s regression back to heaven involves a reuniting of oneself with former associations and loved ones, in contrast to the Stoics which suggests  an impersonal ending to a human life, where in a souls return to form a cloud of souls in heaven.  Moreover, in the Christian philosophy, one’s actions in life dictate their place subsequent to life, however, this does not exist in Stoic philosophy as all share the same fate after death.  Therefore, it is obvious that Boethius generally combines the common elements of Christianity and Stoic philosophy to make it available and compatible to all readers so that, regarding the regression of the soul to its original status, one can assent whether Christian or neo-Platonist. 


                  Prose Seven, in which Boethius discusses the pursuit of bodily pleasure, is thought by Professor Hutchinson, to be the least convincing argument in the book.  The Professor felt the argument against bodily pleasure was tenuous and difficult to argue and compared the argument of Boethius to a haiku poem, hallmark card, or a drinking rhyme.  Professor Hutchinson also disagrees with Boethius asserting that all pleasures are worthless and satisfaction must result in remorse.  There does exist in bodily pleasure some inherent benefit, Boethius takes here an extreme view as he has no interest in bodily pleasure.  Aristotle also speaks of pleasure along the same lines as Boethius, as he attributes hearing and seeing to a higher form of pleasure and tasting and touching to a lower form of pleasure.  This is also manifested in the work of Boethius who considers physical pleasure to be a gratuitous insult and makes the connection of physical pleasure with the realm of animals, as an animal is capable of experiencing the same physical pleasure as humans, therefore, in physical pleasure there exists no real benefit for an individual only vice.  Married life was then mentioned and acknowledged as a rewarding form of physical pleasure, yet Boethius views even this institution as a punishment, as married life and children are often burdensome. 


                  The consolation of Philosophy by Boethius is a reflection of Christian philosophy. In an objective sense virtue has a dynamically different meaning than it does for Boethius, as he shares the same interpretation of virtue that Christianity does; where in virtue is synonymous with chastity.  Often in a Christian context a women’s “virtue” apparently reduces to the question of whether she is a virgin or not.