What is the Role of the Wheel of Fortune?

The Consolation of Philosophy deals heavily with the concept of the Wheel of Fortune, illustrating the difficulty of witnessing, at the same time confronting the problem of evil. The Wheel of Fortune represents a seemingly arbitrary dispensation of fortune. Fortune appears to reward, both justly and unjustly. Moreover, fortunes are ever-shifting, rarely perceived to keep people in the same state forever. Philosophy writes, “Who has composed himself in the face of fate and crushed it beneath his heel? Who has a life in proper order, prepared for good fortune or bad? Only he can hold his head high, untroubled by the tides of contingency,” (9). Philosophy here states that fortune plays a key role in people’s lives, but proper witnessing of it can allow one to survive changes in fortune. The ideal person is to understand fate’s nature, dispensing both good and bad fortune, and preparing accordingly. Virtue is not indicated as impacting fortune: instead, it is virtuous to be prepared for fortune to change.

Boethius’s response dismisses Philosophy’s advice. He expounds on his poor fortune, caused specifically by his love of philosophy: his desire to do good in his situation has led to his imprisonment. Of course, Boethius’s peril is real, and he would soon be executed afterwards. He is his own witness in this instance, and he fails to reconcile his actions with his treatment. He suffers from great injustice and cannot rationalize why. He is a virtuous man in his own eyes, punished for a noble deed. He decries, “The world judges actions not on their merit but on their results, which are often a matter of pure chance.” (17). What Boethius fails to recognize is that Fortune is not miscarrying justice: it is in fact devoid of justice. Philosophy does not describe Fortune in kind terms, instead describing her as arbitrary. “Fortune, of course, is a monster, and she toys with those for whom she intends catastrophe, showing her friendly face and lifting them up before dashing them down when they are least prepared for it,” (27). Philosophy attempts to console Boethius, but does not mince words on the nature of Fortune. It is arbitrary and cruel, raising and lowering status at its whim. Philosophy provides an accurate witness, bringing attention to the ebb and flow of Fortune, not merely the negative aspects that Boethius rightfully focuses upon. Through her, Fortune’s entire role is witnessed: not as unjust, but simply unconcerning.


One thought on “What is the Role of the Wheel of Fortune?

  1. I love the pun in your title! I also am struck by your claim that Fortune is “devoid of justice.” I think that is right, and I wonder if you might extrapolate, then, upon the meaning of justice. To put the question another way, what is the role of consistency in the application of justice?

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