Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Boethius Day!

Today is the Feast of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, Martyr, who had the victory of an unjust death.

(1) Consolation of Philosophy, Book II, Meter 8 (Relihan, tr.):

A steadfast, trustworthy universe
Makes harmonious, ordered change;
Pacts eternal restrain and curb
Warring physical elements.
Phoebus brings forth the rose-red day
From a chariot made of gold;
Stars that Hesperus ushers in
Phoebe governs in dead of night;
Seas immoderate keep in check
Rolling waves in determined bounds;
Dry land, shapeless and protean,
May not stretch out beyond its pale.
What binds this sequence of things so tight,
What is king over land and sea,
What the heavens obey, is Love.
Should he slacken or drop his reins,
Things that now love each other well
Will do battle forever more,
And will venture to tear apart
What they faithfully now impel
With Love's motion--the world machine.
He holds nations together too
With inviolate treaties bound;
He joins marriage's sacred rites
In immaculate bonds of love;
For the loyal and faithful friends
He lays down what is right and wrong.
O how happy the mortal race,
Were Love king over all your hearts,
Love that heaven accepts as king!

(2) A link to a post from about two years back, on one of my favorite parts of the Consolation.

(3) A reminder in this election year of a different kind of politician, who held that a statesman should teach people to think more logically:
Although the cares of my consular office prevent me from devoting my entire attention to these studies, yet it seems to me a sort of public service to instruct my fellow-citizens in the products of reasoned investigation. Nor shall I deserve ill of my country in this attempt. In far-distant ages, other cities transferred to our state alone the lordship and sovereignty of the world; I am glad to assume the remaining task of educating our present society in the spirit of Greek philosophy.
[Boethius, In Categorias, E. K. Rand translation, quoted in F. Anne Payne, King Alfred and Boethius, U Wisconsin P (Madison, WI: 1968) p. 7.]

(4) In one of my classes we're talking (briefly, in relation to Book III of the Consolation) about Boethius's De Hebdomadibus, and I was re-reading Aquinas's commentary (PDF) on the work. I find I am completely puzzled as to why Aquinas thinks "hebodmada" and "to investigate" mean the same thing; there's bound to be some reason for such a strange identification. If you don't approach the text form a Neoplatonist angle, treating 'hebdomad' as something like 'a period of investigation' actually makes a lot of sense of the text, or, at least, keeps it from sounding very strange; but the identification suggests that there was more to it than this. Does anybody have any ideas? It's possible he's adapting prior interpretations; a similar interpretation is also found in Gilbert of Poitiers and Thierry of Chartres, since they interpret it as 'conception', and Aquinas links his interpretation to this interpretation; they all seem to think there is some etymological link between the two, but I can't see what makes them see the etymology in the first place.

Alain of Lille also proposed an interpretation: he thought 'hebodmad' meant 'something worthy of assent'; it's also unclear why. But, of course, they all had the excuse of not knowing the Greek word; Schultz and Synan, in their introduction to their translation, suggest that it refers to the seven axioms, which almost everyone lists as nine. I regard this as just as speculative an exercise of stretching as anything the medievals suggested. Incidentally, my own preferred speculative stretch, if we must stretch at all: Boethius is talking about a week, and the puzzle in question is how God can call all things good in the week of creation given that we are also told that God alone is good; both claims, of course, have philosophical backing, and so there's a question as to how they can both be true. Pro: It actually makes sense of everything, except possibly the plural form of the word 'hebdomad', and even that could be explained away. Con: There's not a hint of actual linkage to the week of creation, unless you count 'hebdomad' itself and its linkage to the goodness of things. Of course, who knows? Despite the title, the only thing we learn about the hebdomads is that Boethius has been thinking about them, and that this problem about participated good arose with regard to them. In matters like these we are necessarily only saving the phenomena.

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