Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae and the Lamentatio/Consolatio Tradition

Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae and the Lamentatio/Consolatio Tradition

Phillips, Philip Edward

Medieval English Studies, vol. 9 (2001) No. 2


Boethius’s De Consolatione Philosophiae opens with the narrator lamenting his fall from Fortune’s favor and his exile to a prison cell, where he awaits execution. Contrasting his past happiness with his present distress, the narrator writes that his Muses, who had previously inspired his songs in happier days, now attend on him and console him as he blames Fortune for offering him fickle goods that have been taken away from him. Recalling the closing lines of the tragedy, Oedipus the King―“Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain” (1529-1530)―Boethius’s final lines call attention to the narrator’s conviction that human beings cannot be properly regarded as happy until their final day because happiness is fragile and can be taken away by Fortune as easily as it can be granted. In the elegiac tradition of Vergil, Seneca, and Ovid (in particular, the Tristia, that recounts the Roman poet’s happy youth and his sudden fall), Boethius’s opening meter, which is written in elegiacs in the Latin original, presents many of the commonplaces of lament. These commonplaces will soon be swept away by Lady Philosophy, the narrator’s true source of consolation, who will dismiss the empty rhetoric of the strumpet muses and provide her own songs and arguments meant to lead the speaker back to his “true home.”

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