Why consider Providence?

Lady Philosophy may be understood to have addressed Boethius’s immediate concerns about the loss of his fortunate position in life in Books I and II through her explanation of the nature of Fortune. This explanation appears to partially succeed in consoling Boethius, as he tells her once she is finished, “You do revive me, so that I am no longer absolutely devastated by the blows of fortune but seem at least for the moment able to bear them.” (59) Given Boethius’s seeming lack of complete satisfaction with Lady Philosophy’s first explanation, it may be interesting to think about the ways in which Books IV and V further Boethius’s consolation.

Although Lady Philosophy is part of Boethius, Lady Philosophy and Boethius each direct the conversation at different times in the text. Lady Philosophy mentions in Book IV that she plans to direct Boethius “home” once their conversation has concluded, suggesting that she has a direction in which she would like to lead Boethius’s thoughts over the course of their conversation (170). In the first two books, Boethius perhaps recognizes this and allows himself to be led; in response to her poem at the end of Book I, he writes, “She was silent for quite a while, which was perhaps a show of modesty but in fact served to focus my attention so that I was waiting with particular concentration for what she might say next.” (27) Lady Philosophy looks to accommodate Boethius so that he may follow her intended line of thought, demonstrating that Lady Philosophy leads Boethius’s thoughts early in the consolation.

However, Boethius and Lady Philosophy’s interests in the direction of their conversation appear to diverge at the beginning of Book IV. Boethius writes, “When Philosophy had finished singing these graceful verses, she looked at me with a serious face and seemed to be about to speak, but I had not altogether forgotten my troubles and, before she could begin, I asked her a question”, suggesting that Boethius perhaps begins to take responsibility for the direction in which he would like his consolation to advance (106). Boethius’s question of how punished virtue and rewarded vice can exist in God’s kingdom ultimately leads Lady Philosophy to attempt to explain to him the workings of Providence and chance, although she does admit that the human mind is limited in its ability to understand the divine (158). As Lady Philosophy’s explanation of Providence suggests that humans choose to take good or bad actions, and so are judged by God accordingly, Books IV and V perhaps communicate that humans can control how they are perceived by God, which may provide some consolation for Boethius (175). Despite Boethius not necessarily knowing that he would receive such a response from Lady Philosophy when he asks her his question, his pulling away from Lady Philosophy’s intended path of conversation by asking it may present him as stepping into a sense of control over himself during a time when he has little control over the external factors that influence his situation.

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(Group 6)

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