Girls are cute and all until you peer review their essay and realize they're dumb af
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When Boethius wrote the Consolation
, he was in prison accused of treason. This had followed a stellar career
at the court of Theoderic the Great, which had won him great renown as
statesman, orator, and scholar. He had made a brilliant marriage, and
his sons had been made consuls, the greatest honor a Roman could hope
to attain. But the advisors of the aging king had used Theoderic's uneasiness
over the future of his kingdom to accuse a number of their enemies of
working to subvert his rule. Boethius was one of these. Suddenly his brilliant
career is in tatters, and so he sits in prison raging against Fortune.
He is comforted by the spirit of Philosophy, who
tells him that the greatest gifts are not due to Fortune, but to other
forces, such as the laws of God and nature. Fortune's gifts are fleeting
and may be withdrawn at any time, because that is her nature. Holding
an office will not make an man better, for instance, because "...honour
is not accorded to virtue because of the office held, but to the office
because of the virtue of the holder". Those who pin their hopes on Fortune
should always realize the risk they take. In describing Fortune, Boethius
(speaking through Philosophy) provides us with a very visual description
of the turning of the wheel:
"Inconstancy is my very essence;
it is the game I never cease to play as I turn my wheel in its ever changing
circle, filled with joy as I bring the top to the bottom and the bottom
to the top. Yes, rise up on my wheel if you like, but don't count it an
injury when by the same token you begin to fall, as the rules of the game
Depictions of the Wheel in literature in the Middle
Ages abound, from the Romance of the Rose to Chaucer,
to name just a couple. Dante's Inferno has this to say:
No mortal power may stay her spinning
The nations rise and fall by her decree.
None may foresee where she will set her heel: she passes, and things pass. Man's mortal reason
cannot encompass her. She rules her sphere
as the other gods rule theirs. Season by season her changes change her changes endlessly,
and those whose turn has come press on her so,
she must be swift by hard necessity.
( Inferno VII 82-90) The famous 13th century text of the Carmina Burana quoted above is just another example of this phenomenon. Illustrations of Fortune's Wheel in various texts are also common. Earlier conceptions of the wheel seem to depict a globe on which Fortune stands, turning it with her feet. However, in about the twelfth century this evolves into a depiction of Fortune standing beside a mechanical wheel which she controls with a lever. On the wheel are depicted (usually) four figures: one at the top, one at the bottom, one rising, and one falling. These figures often wear the guise of kings. The metaphor became so popular during the latter twelfth and thirteenth centuries that it made it into the iconography of the cathedral , culminating in the great rose wheel windows of many cathedrals , which were essentially based on the idea of Fortune's wheel. The image was a favorite of Henry III of England (who apparently spent too much time dwelling on higher things), to name just one noble who was mindful of the idea. The Wheel served to remind people, particularly nobles who were seen as being the most susceptible to the sin of ambition and the wiles of Fortune, of the temporality of earthly things. Far better for one to aspire to higher things--God and his divinely-inspired philosophy, as Boethius eventually concludes in the Consolation ; for these things are untouched by Fortune's waxing and waning. Boethius was later executed on grounds of treason; his wheel had indeed come full circle. But the medieval readers of Boethius saw victory, not defeat, in his life and his final rejection of the wiles of Fortune. I think the metaphor can be useful to us in a number of ways. Not only does it help us get into a medieval mindset, but it can help remind us that the important things in life come from within, that hard work has its own merits. An award, an office, a title--these are not the things that make for greatness, though a worthy person holding one of these can enhance its glory. Riding the Wheel of Fortune can still be dangerous.
Great article! I’m right at the point that this is useful, and I’m glad to see that my thoughts are on track since you mentioned them (especially the boring introduction part!)
Thanks again for all your posts!
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