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Language, Latin Literature

De Consolatione Philosophiae : O Stelliferi Conditor Orbis!


Boethius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Good Friday contemplation, a little Boethius:

o stelliferi conditor orbis, qui perpetuo nixus solio rapido caelum turbine uersas legemque pati sidera cogis, ut nunc pleno lucida cornu totis fratris obuia flammis condat stellas luna minores, nunc obscuro pallida cornu Phoebo propior lumina perdat et qui primae tempore noctis agit algentes Hesperos ortus solitas iterum mutet habenas Phoebi pallens Lucifer ortu. tu frondifluae frigore brumae stringis lucem breuiore mora, tu cum feruida uenerit aestas agiles nocti diuidis horas. tua uis uarium temperat annum, ut quas Boreae spiritus aufert reuehat mites Zephyrus frondes, quaeque Arcturus semina uidit Sirius altas urat segetes: nihil antiqua lege solutum linquit propriae stationis opus. omnia certo fine gubernans hominum solos respuis actus merito rector cohibere modo. nam cur tantas lubrica uersat Fortuna uices? premit insontes debita sceleri noxia poena,  clara tenebris iustusque tulit crimen iniqui.  nil periuria, nil nocet ipsis fraus mendaci compta colore.  sed cum libuit uiribus uti, quos innumeri metuunt populi summos gaudent subdere reges. iam miseras respice terras, quisquis rerum foedera nectis! operis tanti pars non uilis homines quatimur fortunae salo. rapidos, rector, comprime fluctus et quo caelum regis immemsum firma stabiles foedere terras.  (Boethius. De Consolatione Philosophiae. verse 1M5

I was reminded of Boethius some months ago in a book I was reading, one of those that precedes each section with a quote.  I had read Boethius as part of my graduate studies, and the Consolation has always been a favorite, as it displays at once a very Christian and Eastern (in the sense of Buddhist) sensibility.  Although not overtly Christian in subject, it was written during Boethius’ imprisonment at the hands of his political enemies, and I think just the thing to put one in a ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ mindset.  The quote I came across by the way:

For he who overcome should turn his gaze/Towards the Tartarean cave,/Whatever excellence he takes with him/He loses when he looks on those below. [ “Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 3.M, translation is taken from Baldwin and Hutton. Platonism and the English Imagination, Cambridge University Press, 1994-selections available on Google Books]

This is a reference to Orpheus and Euridyce, and all that is lost in looking back, looking down into Hades.  I like what Baldwin and Hutton say, in making reference to the Platonic influences in Boethius, about the portrayal of the failure of a soul in its ascent towards the light.  Although the references in Boethius are ultimately Christian, the Platonic influence (the cave) and the personage of Lady Philosophy provide an entrance into this text by others ‘ascending towards the light.’

Here is the Latin, extended a bit to include that marvelous line, Love is greater than law:

maior lex amor est sibi. heu, noctis prope terminos Orpheus Eurydicen suam uidit, perdidit, occidit. uos haec fabula respicit quicumque in superum diem mentem ducere quaeritis; nam qui Tartareum in specus uictus lumina flexerit, quicquid praecipuum trahit perdit dum uidet inferos.


Translation of the main quote

‘Founder of the star-studded universe, resting on Thine eternal throne whence Thou turnest the swiftly rolling sky, and bindest the stars to keep Thy law; at Thy word the moon now shines brightly with ful l face, ever turned to her brother’s light, and so she dims the lesser lights; or now she is herself obscured, for nearer to the sun her beams shew her pale horns alone. Cool rises the evening star at night’s first drawing nigh: the same is the morn ing star who casts off the harness that she bore
before, and paling meets the rising sun. When winter’s cold doth strip the trees, Thou settest a shorter span to day. And Thou, when summer comes to warm, dost ch ange the short divisions of the night. Thy power doth order the seasons of the year, so that the western breeze of spring brings back the leaves which winter’s north wind tore away; so that the dog-star’s heat makes ripe the ears of corn whose seed Arcturus watched. Naught breaks that ancient law: naught leaves undone the work appointed to its place. Thus all things Thou dost rule with limits fixed: the lives of men alone dost Thou scorn to restrain, as a guardian, within bounds. F or why does Fortune with her fickle hand deal out such changing lots? The hurtful penalty is due to crime, but falls upon the sinless head: depraved men rest at ease on thrones aloft, and by their unjust lot can spurn beneath their hurtful heel the necks of vir tuous men. Beneath obscuring shadows lies bright virtue hid: the just man bears the unjust’s infamy. They suffer not for forsworn oaths, they suffer not for crimes glozed over with their lies. But when their will is to put forth their strength, with triumph they subdue the mightiest kings whom peoples in their thousands fear. O Thou who dost weave the bonds of Nature’s self, look down upon this pitiable earth! Mankind is no base part of this great work, and we are tossed on Fortune’s wave. Rest rain, our Guardian, the engulfing surge, and as heaven rule, with a like bond make true and firm these lands.’  (p18/19 http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/boethius/boetrans.html)

Selections from the Baldwin and Hutton can be found at the rather unwieldy Google Books link:


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