Sight vs Sound in Psychomachia and The Consolation

 Something that continues to strike me about the two texts that we’ve read thus far, is the issue that the characters have with forgetfulness liked with vision. In the Psychomachia, Sobriety is regathering the troops when she says “Have you forgotten, then, the thirst in the desert, the spring that was given to split the stone and brought water leaping from its top? … Stand, I pray you. Remember who ye are, remember Christ too.” (Prudentius, 305). Throughout The Consolation, Lady philosophy insists that Boethius has forgotten himself, but most notably at the beginning of Chapter 1 “he has forgotten who he really is, but he will recover, for he used to know me, and all I have to do is clear the mist that beclouds his vision” (Boethius, 6, Book I). I find it particularly interesting here that the virtues fall into the same conflict as Boethius, of forgetting their purpose. The virtues succumbing to Indulgence’s luxuries demonstrates that the virtues are completely fallible. Were the Virtues to represent just abstract ideals they would have been undeterred by her distractions, but instead, they showed a fault, which makes them analogous to human beings who are virtuous but faltering. Both sets of characters have a sort of void left by forgetfulness. In the case of the Virtues, they forget themselves, and in the process, risk giving over man’s soul to the Vices. In the case of Boethius, “it is what you cannot remember that causes you to feel lost (…) If you cannot remember the goal of all things then you suppose the wicked have power and luck” (Prudentius, 24). 

Both characters fall weak and forget because of visually witnessing evil, Boethius having witnessed his own persecution, the Virtues as they succumb to indulgence just by looking at her. Both characters lose sight, perhaps in relation to their losing sight of a virtuous path set before them. The virtues, by nature, are meant to be on a path to good that they stray from. Philosophy mentions that she would not have intervened had Boethius not been a man of such value, indicating that he was meant for more impressive things (as opposed to wallowing with the musees). These two sets of characters risk vice or grief filling the void of their strength or wisdom.  The resolution to both conflicts ends up filling that gap, the wound, with sound instead of sight. Boethius is cured by discourse with Lady Philosophy. This is fitting, for, in the beginning, she even tells him that poetry is an anodyne she will supply (22). Meanwhile, Sobriety, who has been carrying the cross with her all the while, “plants the spike in the ground (…), and with biting words restores her unsteady regiment, mingling appeals with her reproaches to awake their courage” (Prudentius, 303). Both of these tactics—poetry and entreaty—prioritize sound as a remedy for character weakness and affliction. As Lady Philosophy says to Boethius “the way men’s minds work is that when they lose sight of some correct opinion, a falso one comes to take its place, and confusion arises, a kind of fog that obscures clear vision”(Boethius, 23, Book I). It is as though words and sound offer a way to restore metaphorical vision (and what that implies about being able to perceive with clarity. T0  implant internal clarity the form of faith when illusions trick our eyes and temptation and vice present themselves.

One thought on “Sight vs Sound in Psychomachia and The Consolation

  1. This is an excellent set of observations. With the theme of forgetfulness, I think you’re identifying an intriguing integration of Platonic epistemology–learning as recollection–in Christian theology. This certainly seems to be the case in the way Philosophy’s cure for Boethius’s clouded vision, or forgetfulness , anticipates the nature of God’s prescience, or ability to “see all things,” which Philosophy says, “runs ahead of everything and recollects it to the eternal present of its own knowledge” (V, vi, p.174). With this in mind, the connection you make between Boethius and the Virtues “forgetting themselves” in Psychomachia is compelling, and would seem to imply, even beyond their human fallibility, their possession of souls? An interesting take on personification in this text.

    I’m also interested in the way your description of the relation between forgetfulness and vision seems to identify an operative confusion of cause and effect: do the characters forget “because they visually witness evil” or does their forgetfulness cause them to adopt a “false” or foggy view (of God’s justice in the first instance, and of Vice in the second) and thus succumb to (witnessing) evil? I’m not sure what to make of it, but in your account this confusion of causation (a logical fallacy) seems to be met by a confusion of senses, sight and sound, (or synesthesia). Something is going on with all of these tropes…worth thinking further about.

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