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The Consolation of Philosophy - NOTES


1. Π (Pi) and Θ (Theta) are the first letters of the Greek words denoting Practical and Theoretical, the two divisions of philosophy.

2. Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C.

3. Socrates was executed by the Athenian state, B.C. 399.

4. Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrant of Elea, about 440 B.C.

5. Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D. 40.

6. Seneca was driven to commit suicide by Nero, A.D. 65.

7. Soranus was condemned to death by Nero, A.D. 66.

8. Boethius means that his chief 'philosophical' studies had been physics, astronomy, and ethics.

9. Plato, Repub. v. 473.

10. Plato, Repub. vi. 488, 489.

11. Conigastus and Trigulla were favourite officers of the Emperor Theodoric, the Goth: they used their influence with him for the oppression of the weak.

12. The Emperor Caligula.

13. Symmachus was executed by Theodoric at the same time as Boethius.

14. Cp. Prose iv. of this book, above.

15. The proverbially rich and happy king; defeated and condemned to death by Cyrus, king of Media, in 546 B.C., but spared by him.

16. The last king of Macedonia, defeated at Pydna, 168 B.C., by L. Æmilius Paulus.

17. Boethius's first wife was Elpis, daughter of Festus: his second was Rusticiana, daughter of Symmachus, a senator and consul, A.D.485. His second wife was the mother of the two sons mentioned below. (See Appendix)

18. This is an application of Juvenal's lines (Sat. x. 19) which contrast the terror of the money-laden traveller with the careless happiness of the man who meets a highwayman with no purse and empty pockets.

19. This story is told of Anaxagoras and Nicocreon, king of Cyprus, c. B.C. 323.

20. Regulus was the Roman general in Sicily in the first Punic War, taken prisoner in 255 B.C., and put to death in 250.

21. Britannicus, son of Nero's father, the Emperor Claudius, put to death A.D. 55.

22. A mathematician, astronomer, and geographer of Alexandria. Fl. 140-160 A.D. Boethius translated one of his works.

23. Boethius is thinking of Horace, Odes iv. 9.
Ere Agamemnon saw the light,
There lived brave men: but tearless all
Enfolded in eternal night,
For lack of sacred minstrels, fall.
(Mr. Gladstone's translation.)

24. Fabricius. was the Roman general whom Pyrrhus could neither bribe nor intimidate, B.C. 280.

25. L. Junius Brutus, who led the Romans to expel the last of the kings, and was elected the first consul, B.C. 509.

26. Probably Cato Major, the great censor, B.C. 184, the rigid champion of the stern old Roman morals; or possibly Cato Minor, who committed suicide at Utica after the battle of Thapsus, B.C. 46, because he considered that Cæsar's victory was fatal to the Republic and the liberty of Rome.

27. Boethius in this passage is probably thinking of Empedocles's doctrine of Love which unites, and Strife which divides, the two primal forces in the universe.

28. Cp. Bk. I. Prose iv, above.

29. Epicurus (B.C. 342-270) was the famous founder of the Epicurean school of philosophy. His school had a large following of Romans under the Empire. His own teaching was of a higher nature than might be supposed from this bare statement that he thought 'pleasure was the highest good.'

30. Probably Boethius makes a mistake in his interpretation of Catullus (Carm. 52), as Nonius's surname was very likely 'Struma' (which also means a wen); in which case Catullus cannot at most have intended more to be understood than a play upon the man's true name.

31. Decoratus was a minion of Theodoric.

32. Dionysius, tyrant of Syracuse, shewed his flattering courtier Damocles, what it was to be a tyrant, by setting him in his own seat at a sumptuous banquet, but hung a sword above him by a hair.

33. Seneca, the philosopher and wise counsellor of Nero, was by him compelled to commit suicide, A.D. 65.

34. Papinianus, the greatest lawyer of his time, was put to death by the Emperor Antoninus Caracalla, A.D. 212.

35. Euripedes, Andromache, l. 319-320.

36. Referring to lines in the Andromache (419-420), where Euripides says: 'The man who complains that he has no children suffers less than he who has them, and is blest in his misfortune.'

37. Alcibiades was the most handsome and brilliantly fascinating of all the public men of Athens in her most brilliant period.

38. Compare Philosophy's first words about the highest good, above.

39. Plato, Timæus, 27 C. (ch. v.) -- 'All those who have even the least share of moderation, on undertaking any enterprise, small or great, always call upon God at the beginning.'

40. This hymn is replete with the highest development of Plato's theory of ideas, as expressed in the Timæus, and his theory of the ideal good being the moving spirit of the material world. Compare also the speculative portion of Virgil, Æneid, vi.

41. This reasoning hangs upon Plato's theory of ideas and so is the opposite of the theory of evolution.

42. The modern Sarabat, in Asia Minor, formerly auriferous.

43. Boethius is possibly thinking here of passages in Plato's Republic, Bk. iv. (439-441) where Socrates points out the frequent opposition of reason and instinct.

44. Plato's doctrine of remembrance is chiefly treated of in his Phædo and Meno.

45. This is a verse from the poems in which Parmenides embodied his philosophy: this was the doctrine of the unity which must have been in Boethius's mind above. Parmenides, the founder of the Eleatic school (495 B.C.) was perhaps, considering his early date, the greatest and most original of Greek philosophers. Boethius probably did not make a clear distinction between the philosopher's own poems and the views expressed in Plato's Parmenides.

46. Plato in the Timæus says, 'The language must also be akin to the subjects of which its words are the interpreters'

47. Orpheus's mother was the Muse Calliope, mistress of the Castalian fount.

48. The dog Cerberus.

49. The Furies.

50. Ixion for his crimes was bound upon a rolling wheel.

51. Tantalus for his crimes was condemned to perpetual hunger and thirst though surrounded by fruits and water which ever eluded his grasp.

52. Tityos for his crimes was for ever fastened to the ground while a vulture devoured his entrails.

53. Pluto.

54. This and some of the following lines allude to some of the theories of the early Physicists.

55. From Plato's Gorgias (466). Boethius in this and several other passages in this book has the Gorgias in mind; for Plato there discusses the strength and happiness of good men, and the impotence and unhappiness of bad men. Socrates is also there represented as proving that the unjust man is happier punished than unpunished, as Boethius does below.

56. Cf. St. Matthew x. 28.

57. Plato, Gorgias, 472 and ff.

58. It must not be supposed from the words 'cleansing mercy' (purgatoria clementia) that Boethius held the same views as were held by the Church later concerning purgatory, and as are now taught by the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that St. Augustine had in 407 A.D. hinted at the existence of such a state, but it was not dogmatically inculcated till 604, in the Papacy of Gregory the Great.

59. Plato, Gorgias, 474 and ff.

60. Arcturus, the star in Boötes nearest to the Bear, used to be thought the nearest star to our pole. Boötes was also known as the Arctophylax, or Bearward, and so also as the driver of the Wain.

61. The old superstition was that an eclipse meant the withdrawal of the moon, and that by a noise of beaten brass, etc., she could be saved.

62. Lucan, Pharsalia, i. 128. This famous line refers to the final triumph of Cæsar at Thapsus, B.C. 46, when Cato considered that the Republican cause was finally doomed and he committed suicide at Utica rather than survive it.

63. The author is supposed to be Hermes Trismegistus, who wrote in the third century after Christ. The word 'powers' was used by many Neo-Platonic philosophers for those beings in the scale of nature, with which they filled the chasm between God and man. But Boethius does not seem to intend the word to have that definite meaning here.

64. Homer, Iliad, xii. 176.

65. The Latin word 'virtus' means by its derivation, manly strength.

66. Aristotle, Physics, ii. 3.

67. A phrase from Homer (Iliad, iii. 277, and Odyssey, xi. 1O9), where it is said of the sun.

68. This sentence, besides referring to the application of Homer's words used above, contains also a play on words in the Latin, which can only be clumsily reproduced in English by some such words as 'The sole power which can see all is justly to be called the solar.'

69. Horace, Satires, II. v. 59.

70. Supra, Book IV. Met. vi.

71. Cicero, De Divinatione, II.

72. Referring to Boethius's words in Prose III. of this book

73. Zeno, of Citium (342-270 B.C), the founder of the Stoic school, taught in the Stoa Poekile, whence the name of the school. The following lines refer to their doctrine of presentations and impressions.

74. Aristotle, De Cœlo, 1.

75. Boethius speaks of people who 'hear that Plato thought, etc.,' because this was the teaching of some of Plato's successors at the Academy. Plato himself thought otherwise, as may be seen in the Timæus, e.g. ch. xi. 38 B., 'Time then has come into being along with the universe, that being generated together, together they may be dissolved, should a dissolution of them ever come to pass; and it was made after the pattern of the eternal nature that it might be as like to it as possible. For the pattern is existent for all eternity, but the copy has been, and is, and shall be, throughout all time continually.' (Mr. Archer Hind's translation.)

76. Elpis is a Greek word meaning hope

77. This line is lost from the original Latin.