BECK index

by Boethius

Book II

1. The Mutable Nature of Fortune
I. "As Her Arrogant Right Hand"
2. Fortune Pleads Her Case
II. "If the Roused Sea Turns Up"
3. His Good Fortunes
III. "When by the Pole the Sun"
4. Fortune and Happiness
IV. "Whoever Wishes to Build"
5. Material Goods
V. "Happy the Very Great Previous Age"
6. Positions and Power
VI. "We Know How Many Ruins It Yielded"
7. Glory and Fame
VII. "Whoever Alone by Headlong Mind Seeks"
8. Adversity Better than Fortune
VIII. "Because the Universe by Steady Faith"

After this she was quiet for a little while,
and when she had gathered my attention by her modest silence
she began as follows:
"If I have understood thoroughly
the causes and condition of your sickness,
you are wasting away
in fondness and desire of former fortune;
this change has upset so much of your spirit
just as you imagine it for yourself.

"I understand the manifold pretenses of that monster
and how far with these she depends on
the most flattering intimacy to delude them
until she confuses with irresistible sorrow
those whom she has abandoned unexpectedly.

"If you remember her nature, morals and merit,
you will know that you neither had in her
nor lost in her any beauty at all;
but, as I suppose, I shall not have to work much
to recall this to your memory.
For you used to attack with brave words
both her presence and flattery
and from our sanctuary criticize her with quoted sentences.

"Truly every sudden change of things does not happen
without a certain kind of disturbance of minds;
so the fact is that you too for a little while
have deviated from your calmness.

"But it is time for you to take and taste
something soft and pleasing,
which passing through to the interior
will make way for healthier drinks.
Thus may the persuasion of sweet argument assist,
which then proceeds so much by a straight path
when it does not desert our principles,
and when by this native music of our household god
it may chime in now lighter then heavier meters.

"What is it then, O human,
that has thrown you down in melancholy and mourning?
You have seen, I believe, something new and unusual.
You think fortune is changed toward you:
you are mistaken.

"These are always her morals; that is her nature.
She has preserved around you her peculiar constancy
rather by her very own mutability;
such it was when she was flattering,
when she played with you
by the attractions of false happiness.

"You have detected the blind goddess's ambiguous face.
Though she still veils herself to others,
to you she has become completely known.
If you approve, you may use it for behavior, don't complain.
If you are horrified at dishonesty,
reject and abandon playing at ruin;
for she who now is so great a cause of mourning
ought to have been a cause of calmness.
For she left you,
she whom no one can ever be sure will not leave.

"Or do you really find valuable happiness that goes away,
and is a fortune not reliable in staying present dear to you
and which when it has departed brings mourning?
But if one cannot keep it through control
and fleeing it causes the disastrous,
what else is it but a kind of indication of future disaster?

"For it will never be sufficient
to look at the situation that is in front of one's eyes;
prudence measures the outcome of things;
and in the same way mutability into one or the other
makes both the terrors of fortune to be less
and the longings not alluring.

"Finally you should bear with an even spirit
whatever is produced within fortune's area
since you first put your neck in her yoke.
But if you wish to write the law of staying and going
for the one whom you have freely chosen as your mistress
will you not be wrong,
and will not impatience aggravate a fate
which you cannot exchange?

"If you commit a sail to the winds,
not where your will aims will you advance
but where the breezes will drive;
if you entrust seeds to the fields,
will you not weigh out mutually fruitful and barren years.

"You have given yourself to fortune's ruling;
you should comply with the behavior of the mistress.
Do you really want to hold back
the impetus of her rolling wheel?
But, most stupid of all mortals,
if it begins to stop it ceases to be chance.

"As her arrogant right hand turns the alternations
and is heaving like the surge of Euripus,
just now she crushes cruelly terrible kings
and a deceptive face raises the lowly conquered.
She does not hear the wretched or care for the weeping
and on the other side the groaning,
which she made them endure, she ridicules.
So she plays, so she proves her powers
and with surprises shows a great display, to see if
anyone may be seen prostrate and happy in the same hour.

"Now I might be willing to deliberate briefly with you
in the words of Fortune herself;
then you censure, or the law may prosecute.

"'Why do you, human,
make me a defendant with daily complaints?
What injury have we done to you?
Have we taken away from you your goods?
With a judge from anywhere contend with me
about the possession of wealth and position,
and if you show that any part of these is properly mortals'
I will then freely allow you
to take back what was to have been yours.

"'When nature produced you from your mother's womb,
I received you naked of all things and helpless,
kept you warm with my resources and,
whereas now it makes you impatient with us,
I brought you up under the easy favor of indulgence,
surrounded you with all the abundance and splendor
which are right for me.

"'Now it pleases me to withdraw my hand:
be grateful as for the use of another's;
you have no right of complaining
as if you absolutely lost yours.
Why then do you groan?
No violence is brought against you from us.

"'Wealth, honors and the rest of such things
are right for me.
The servants recognize the mistress:
they come with me; with my going away they depart.
Boldly I declare, if these were yours
which you bemoan are missing,
you never would have lost them.

"'Or am I alone kept from exercising my right?
Heaven is permitted to reveal bright days
and to conceal the same with dark nights;
the year is permitted to redeem the face of the land
at one time with flowers and fruits
at another to confound it with clouds and frosts;
it is right for the sea
at one time to charm with a level surface
at another to tremble with storms and waves:
is incessant human greed to bind us
to a consistency alien to our morals?

"'This is our power; we play this continuous game:
we turn the wheel in a revolving cycle,
we like to change the lowest to the highest,
the highest to the lowest.
Ascend if it pleases,
but choose it, only if you will not think it an injury
when the procedure of my game requires you to descend.

"'Or are you ignorant of my morals?
Don't you know about Croesus, king of Lydia,
who a little before terrified Cyrus,
next was pitifully thrown on a pyre committed to the flames
then protected by rain from heaven?
Surely it has not escaped you that Paulus spent holy tears
for the defeats of Perses the king captured by him?

"'What else is the clamor of tragedies lamenting
but the indiscriminate blows of fortune
overturning happy sovereignties?
Did you not learn in adolescence of two vessels,
one filled with bad, and the other with good
standing in Jove's entranceway?

"'What if you have taken more fully from the good part?
What if I have not gone away from you completely?
What if this mutability of mine itself
is a fair cause for your hoping for better things?
In any case should you waste away in spirit,
and do you want to live by your own law
placed within a sovereignty in common with all?

"'If the roused sea turns up
as many sands with swift breezes
or as many as high stars shine
in the starry night sky
so much wealth may Plenty with a full horn scatter
and not draw back her hand,
still the human race would never stop
crying its wretched complaints.
Although prayers a willing God may receive
wasteful of much gold
and fit out the greedy with bright honors,
already the possessions seem nothing,
but swallowing the gains cruel rapacity
stretches a gaping mouth elsewhere.
What bridle now would hold back
headlong lust by a definite end,
when fluent with rather ample rewards
the thirst of having burns?
Never does the rich one lead who anxiously sighing
believes oneself needing.'

"Then if Fortune spoke in this way for herself to you,
certainly you would not have anything
you could utter in reply;
or if there is anything by which
you may be rightly protected in your complaint,
you should mention it;
we will give space for talking."

Then I said, "In fact yours are plausible,
and smeared over with the honey of rhetoric and sweet music
such that when they are heard they amuse,
but for the wretched it is a deeper feeling of evils;
and so when these stop sounding on the ears
an implanted sadness weighs down the spirit."

And she said, "So it is;
for these are not yet your illness's remedies,
but so far they are a sort of bandage
for the stubborn sorrows opposing the treatment;
for the ones which will penetrate in deep themselves
I will apply when it would be timely.

"Yet truly you may not wish to consider yourself wretched;
or have you forgotten
the number and measure of your happiness?
I say nothing about how abandoned by a parent
the care of the greatest men took you
and gathered you into the city's most eminent family,
because the most valuable kind of relationship is,
you had begun to be dear before being kin.

"Who did not proclaim you most happy
with such magnificent in-laws with a modest wife
besides suitable male offspring too?
I go past---for it pleases to go past the common---
positions assumed in youth denied to the old;
one is glad to come to
the unique culmination of your happiness.

"If the enjoyment of mortal things
has any weight of happiness,
can the memory of that brightness be destroyed
by as great a mass of heaping evils as can be
when you saw your two sons consuls together
transported from home among the numerous senators
among the cheerful common people,
when they were officially seated in the senate
you as speaker praising the king
earned the glory of genius and eloquence,
when in the circus in the middle of the two consuls
you satisfied the expectations of the surrounding crowd
by a triumphal distribution?

"You devoted, as I suppose, words to Fortune
as long as she stroked you,
as long as she cherished you as her darling.
A gift that she never gave to an individual you took away.
Will you not then reckon up accounts with Fortune?

"Now is the first time
she has dazzled you with a black eye.
If you consider the number and measure
of your glad and sad times,
so far you will not be able to deny your happiness.

"But if for this reason
you don't value your being fortunate
since what then seemed pleasing went away,
in that you should not think you are wretched,
since now what they believe is sad will pass.

"Or have you come on this stage of life
now for the first time by surprise and as a stranger?
Do you think there is any consistency in human affairs
when often a quick hour has destroyed a person?

"For even if faith in the chances of remaining is thin,
nevertheless the last day of life
is a kind of death of the fortune still remaining.
What then do you think to answer:
do you desert her by dying, or she you by fleeing?

"When by the pole the sun in a rosy chariot
begins to disperse its light,
the dawning face fades the dulled
stars with tightening flames.
When the grove by the breeze of the warming west wind
has been reddened with spring roses,
the cloudy south wind may blow furiously,
by then with thorns the beauty goes away.
Often in calm serenity shines
the sea with motionless waves;
often the north wind stirs up raging hurricanes
on the upset sea.
If her form in the world seldom is constant,
if the alterations vary so much,
trust in the failing fortunes of humans,
trust in transient goods!
It is constant and fixed by eternal law
that nothing born may be constant."

Then I said, "You are recalling truths,
nurse of all virtues,
nor can I deny my fastest progress of success.
But this is because reflecting boils it more vehemently;
for in all the adversity of fortune
the unhappiest kind of misfortune is to have been happy."

"But because you," she said,
"may be atoning for the punishment of false opinion,
you cannot rightly blame it for things.
For if this empty name of accidental happiness moves you,
you may consider with me
how you may be abundant with more and the greatest.

"Then if you were possessing what is rated
the most valuable in all your fortune
that is preserved for you by the divine
unhurt still and inviolable,
can you while retaining the better ones
pretend rightly it is because of misfortune?

"And yet thrives safe
that most valuable ornament of the human race
your father-in-law Symmachus and,
because you are under an obligation
not to be lazy at the cost of life,
a complete man made out of wisdom and virtues:
in his security he sighs for your injuries.

"Your modest wife lives with character,
excelling in shy chastity and,
as I include all her gifts concisely,
she is like her father;
she lives, I say, and for you
she preserves so much spirit by the detesting of this life,
perhaps I myself too must grant
I have reduced your happiness by one;
in longing for you she languishes in tears and sorrow.

"What should I say about the sons of consular rank,
whose example of character now just as in boyhood
outshines that of either father or grandfather?

"Then since the principal care for mortals
is holding on to life,
you, if you knew your blessings, should be happy,
to whom are available even now
what no one doubts are more dear than life.

"Therefore dry the tears already;
not yet is every single fortune detested,
nor has too strong a storm fallen upon you
since your firm anchors hang on
which allow neither relief in the present
nor hope of future opportunity to go away."

"And I pray they do hang on," I said;
"for in their remaining, however things may hold themselves,
we shall stay afloat.
But you see how many of our distinctions may have ceased."

And she said, "We have moved forward somewhat
if you are no longer annoyed with all of your lot.
But I cannot bear your whims,
whereby you bewail with so much sorrow and trouble
that there is something lacking in your happiness.

"For whose happiness is so constructed
that one has no quarrel from any side
with the quality of one's status?
For the condition of human welfare is a troubled thing,
and either its wholeness never appears
or its continuation never holds out.

"Property for this one abounds,
but the degenerate blood is a shame;
the nobility of another is made known,
but the one shut in prefers
the household scarcity of things to be unknown.

"And that one overflowing with both
laments life unmarried;
that one happy in marriage who is childless
nourishes property to be inherited by strange children;
another rejoicing in offspring
weeps in mourning for the wrongs of a son or daughter.

"For that reason no one easily agrees
with the condition of one's fortune;
for in each one the thing not experienced is unknown,
which having been experienced is terrifying.

"Add that the feeling of the happiest is most delicate,
and unless all things are supplied to one's command
unaccustomed to every adversity
one is thrown by the smallest things:
so very small are the things
which pull down the highest from the happiest blessings.

"How many do you conjecture there are
who would consider themselves near heaven
if the smallest part of your remaining fortune came to them?
This place itself, which you call exile,
is the homeland of those inhabiting it.

"Thus nothing is wretched except when you think so,
and conversely every fate is blessed
by the evenmindedness of being patient.
Who is so happy, who when one yields to impatience
a hand would not wish to change its status?

"With how much bitterness
is the sweetest of human happiness sprinkled!
For even if enjoying it seems to be delightful,
nevertheless one cannot retain it when it would go away.

"Then it is evident how wretched
may be the happiness of mortal things,
which neither endures forever among the evenminded
nor delights entirely the troubled.
Why then, o mortals, do you aim outside
for the happiness placed inside you?
You are confused by error and ignorance.

"I will show you briefly
the axis of the highest happiness.
Is there anything you value more than your very self?
'Nothing,' you will answer.
Then if you would be in control of yourself,
you will possess something you would never want to lose
nor could fortune take it away.

"And yet as you would recognize that
happiness cannot be constant in these accidental things,
check this out.
If happiness is the highest good
of a nature living by reason,
and the highest good is not
what can be torn away by any method,
since what cannot be taken away surpasses it,
it is obvious that the instability of fortune
cannot aspire to gaining happiness.

"Besides, such failing happiness carries along one
who either knows it or does not know it to be changeable.
If one does not know,
what happy fate can there be in the blindness of ignorance?
If one knows, one must be apprehensive of losing
that which one doubts not can be lost;
therefore continuous fear does not allow one to be happy.
Or perhaps if one should lose it,
does one think it indifferent?
So too it is a very small good
whose loss may be borne with an even mind.

"And since you are the same one whom I know
was persuaded and informed by very many proofs
that human minds are in no way mortal,
and since it should be clear that
chance happiness is ended by the body's death,
it cannot be doubted, if this can carry off happiness,
that the entire race of mortals
is collapsing in misery at death's boundary.

"But if we know that many have sought
the true enjoyment of happiness
not by death alone but also by sorrows and sacrifices,
in what way can the present make them happy
which finished does not make them wretched?

"Whoever wishes to build
an unfailing secure foundation
and be steady and not overthrown
by the noise from the breezes of the east wind
and takes care to reject
the threatening sea with its waves,
should avoid the high mountain peak,
the thirsty deserts;
the former the insolent south wind
presses with all its strength,
the latter loose decline
to bear the hovering weight.
Fleeing the dangerous fate
of an elegant foundation
remember to be certain to fix
the home on humble rock.
However much it may thunder with destruction
the wind mixing the level sea,
you built on the calm
happy in fortified vigor
lead a serene life
smiling at the sky's angers.

"But since already the medicines of my reason
are sinking into you,
I am thinking of using somewhat stronger ones.
Well then of course, supposing for the purpose of argument
the property and gifts of fortune were not momentary,
what is there in them which either could ever become yours
or not cheapen upon examination and inspection?

"Are riches valuable either from your nature or theirs?
Which of them is more so?
Gold or the power of accumulated money?
And yet this shines better spent more than heaped up,
if in fact avarice always causes hatred,
generosity distinction.

"But if what cannot remain with one
is transferred to another,
then money is valuable when
having been transferred by bestowing it on others for use
it ceases to be possessed.

"But the same, if it were collected by one
wherever the amount is among the people,
it would make the rest destitute of it.
And a voice in fact fills equally all the many who heard it,
but your riches unless diminished cannot pass to more;
because when it is done,
it is necessary to make poor those whom it leaves.

"Oh then scant and helpless are riches,
which to have them all with more is not right
and they do not come to anyone
without impoverishing the rest.

"Or does the brightness of jewels attract the eyes?
But if what is in this luster is anticipated,
that is the light of the jewels, not of the humans;
in fact I am surprised humans eagerly admire them.
For why is the lacking of movement and structure of spirit
that which rightly seems to be beautiful
to a reasonable and animated nature?

"Although they may be works of their maker
and attract somewhat the lowest distinction of beauty,
all the same placed below your excellence
they are not at all deserving of your admiration.

"Or does the beauty of the land amuse you? Why not?
For it is a very beautiful portion of a beautiful work.
As sometimes we delight in the appearance of a calm sea,
so we admire sky, stars, moon and sun.
Surely none of these touches you;
surely you dare not boast of any such splendor?
Perhaps you yourself are adorned by the flowers of spring
or is it your fertility that swells the fruits in summer?

"Why are you seized by empty delights?
Why do you embrace external goods for yourself?
Fortune will never make yours
what the nature of things made for others.

"In fact the fruits of the earth
far from doubt ought to be nourishment for animals;
but if you wish to fill the need that is enough for nature,
there is nothing that you should seek
from the abundance of fortune.
For nature is content with a few and little;
upon which sufficiency if you wish to impose excess,
what you pour in will be either unpleasant or harmful.

"Now you really think beauty shines in various clothes.
If looking at them is a pleasant sight,
I would admire either the nature of the material
or the ability of the maker.

"Or does a long line of servants really make you happy?
Who if they should be corrupt in morals,
are a ruinous burden to the house,
and quite unfriendly to the master himself;
while if they are honest,
how may the honesty of others be counted as your wealth?

"Out of all these goods which you consider yours
none of them may clearly be shown to be your good.
If none of this beauty is obtained by grasping,
what is that for which
either having lost you should grieve
or having retained you should be glad?

"But if by nature they are beautiful,
what does it matter to you?
For these by themselves would have been pleasing
though separated from your wealth.
For they are not valued
for the reason of coming into your riches,
but since they seem valuable
you prefer to add them to your riches.

"Now why do you desire such clatter from fortune?
To banish need, I think, you seek plenty.
And yet this turns out for you in the reverse;
of course by more supports the work is different
in the guarding of your valuable furniture,
and it is true that
those who possess very much need very much,
and conversely the least
those whose abundance is measured by the necessity of nature
not by the excess of courting.

"Now is there no personal good inside you
that you seek your goods in things outside and remote?
So is the condition of things turned
so that reason's animal deservedly divine
is not otherwise to be bright for itself
unless it is seen in possession of inanimate furniture?

"Also others at any rate are content with their own,
but you, just like a god in mind,
chase after from the lowest things
decorations of an outstanding nature,
nor do you understand how much
you may do injury to your maker.
That one willed the human race
to be superior to all earthly things,
yet you throw down your dignity below the lowest.

"For if by everyone each's good is agreed to be
more valuable than that to which it belongs,
since you judge your goods to be the poorest of things
to these same things you lower yours in reputation.
Which in fact does not happen at all unjustly.

"Since this is the condition of human nature
that one may surpass other things
only when one is aware of oneself,
nevertheless one is reduced below a beast
if one ceases to know oneself;
for to other animals it is natural
to be ignorant of oneself;
with humans it comes by vice.

"How really extensive is this error of yours is evident,
whereby you think someone
can be adorned by strange decorations!
But it cannot be done;
for if anything should shine from the additions,
the additions themselves are in fact what are praised,
while it endures from these that covering and disguise
no less in its own foulness.

"Certainly I deny anything is good
which harms the one having it.
Surely I am not lying about it, am I?
'Not at all,' you will say.
And yet riches very often are harmful in possessing them,
since every worst one all the more covetous of another
thinks it is oneself alone
who is in any way most worthy of gold and jewels.

"You then, who now agitated are alarmed by club and sword,
if you had traveled the path of this life an empty traveler
you might sing in person by the bandit.
How very bright the happiness of mortal wealth,
when you have attained it you stop being secure!

"Happy the very great previous age
content with faithful fields
not ruined by idle debauchery,
with ease when late it was the habit
to dissolve hunger by nuts.

"They did not know the rewards of Bacchus
to mingle in a sweet liquid
nor bright woolly silk
to mix with Tyrian dye.

"Grass gave them healthy sleep,
the sliding stream a drink too,
the tallest pine shade.

"Not yet were they operating on the sea's depths,
nor with costly picked items on every side
did a foreigner see new shores.

"Then the cruel battle trumpets were silent,
nor with bitter hatred
did spilt blood soak the rugged fields.

"For why should the previous wish to provoke
with any arms a hostile furor,
since they never saw cruel wounds
nor any rewards for bloodshed?

"If only our times would return
to the morals of the ancients!
But more cruel than the fires of Aetna
the boiling love of having burns.

"Alas, who was that first one
who wanting to hide
weights of hidden gold and gems
dug expensive dangers?

"But why should I discuss positions and power,
which you unaware of true position and power
equate with heaven?
Which if they had fallen into the worst somehow,
which in the belching flames of Aetna,
then would they have yielded such masses of deluge?

"Surely, as I think you remember,
command by the consul, that had been a principle of liberty,
on account of consular arrogance
your ancestors wanted to abolish it,
just as on account of the same arrogance before
the title of king had been taken away from the state.

"But if when, because it is very rare,
they are conferred on the honest,
what is pleasing in this other than honesty being employed?
Thus honor does not come to the virtuous from position
but from virtue honor comes to position.

"While what is your coveted and bright power?
Do you not, o terrestrial animal, consider
over whom you are looking to preside?
Now if you saw among mice one
claiming some right and power for itself before the rest,
with how much laughter would you be moved!

"While what, if you look at the body,
can you find weaker than a human,
whom often too either a bite or entrance in secret
of any creeping thing into the muscles may kill?

"How can anyone really exercise a right upon any other
except upon the body alone and---
I speak of fortune---what is below the body?
Surely you will not impose anything on a free spirit?
Surely you will not remove from its state of calmness
a mind stable in its coherent reason?

"When a certain tyrant was thinking that a free man
compelled by punishments himself so that he might betray
the ones guilty of conspiring in a plot against himself,
that one bit and cut off his tongue
and raging threw it in the face of the tyrant;
thus the torture,
which the tyrant was thinking was the substance of cruelty,
the wise man made into courage.

"But why is it that everyone can do to another,
what one cannot control from another oneself?
We have heard how Busiris accustomed to killing strangers
was sacrificed by the stranger Hercules.
Regulus drove many Carthaginian prisoners of war in bonds,
but soon held out his own hands to the victor's chains.

"Then do you think anything of that person's power
who oneself can do to another
what one could not make sure one may survive
when the other does it to oneself?

"Besides, if in positions and powers themselves
there belonged any natural and innate good,
they never would come to the worst.
For opposites are not accustomed to uniting with each other;
nature rejects that contraries should be joined together.

"So since it may not be doubted that
generally the worst do function in these positions,
certainly it is clear that that is not natural good itself
which is allowed to cling to the worst themselves.
That in fact can be judged more worthy
from all the rewards of fortune,
which come more fully to the most dishonest.

"From which also I am thinking of considering this,
because no one doubts courage is in the one whom
one has observed to be courageous
and it is also obvious
speed is present in the one who is fast;
thus for instance music makes musicians,
medicine doctors, rhetoric orators:
for the nature of each thing acts because it is appropriate
and is not mixed up with the effects of contrary things
and even expels those which are opposite.

"Nevertheless wealth cannot quench incessant greed,
nor does power cause control of oneself for the one whom
corrupt desires hold back tightly with unbreakable chains,
and position collected by the dishonest
not only does not make them worthy
but rather it betrays and exposes the unworthy.

"Why does it come out so?
It is because you like to call things themselves
having different qualities with false names,
which easily are refuted by the effect of their realities;
and so neither those riches nor that power
nor this position can rightly be called so.

"Finally the same may be concluded about all fortune,
in which nothing is to be sought;
it is obvious nothing of native goodness is in it,
which does not always join itself with the goods,
and it does not make good
those with whom it may have been joined.

"We know how many ruins it yielded
with the city burned and fathers slashed
by a brother who once wild destroyed
and dripped with the profuse blood of his mother,
the body and cold sight perusing
the area he did not wet with tears, but he could be
censor of the decorum of the one extinguished.

"Nevertheless he with a scepter was ruling people
whom the sun sees until its rays
are concealed under the waves,
with the last coming from the beginning,
whom the seven frosty constellations overrule,
whom the raging South with its dry heat
parches recooking the shining sands.

"Surely in the end lofty power could not
turn the perverse madness of Nero?
Alas the heavy fate, how often the unequal
sword is added to cruel poison!"

Then I said, "You know yourself
the ambition of mortal things
has had the least mastery over us;
but we have chosen the opportunity of managing things
so that virtue will not grow old unmentioned."

And she said, "Yet this is one thing
which could attract in fact outstanding natural minds
but which are not yet guided by perfection
to the finishing touch of virtues,
the desire of course for glory
and of best deserving fame in public business.

"Consider how thin it may be and so empty of all weight.
The whole circumference of the earth,
as you have interpreted by astrological demonstration,
compared with the space of heaven
corresponds to holding the calculation of a point, that is,
if it were compared in greatness to the celestial sphere,
it would be judged to have absolutely no space at all.

"Then of this so very meager region in the world
about a fourth portion is,
as you have learned from the proof of Ptolemy,
inhabited by animals which are known to us.
From this fourth if you subtracted in thought
how much is sunk in sea and marsh
and how much may be extended in desolate territory,
barely the narrowest area is left for inhabiting by humans.

"Then in this least point
which you fenced around and enclosed by a point
do you think about making public fame,
about publishing a name,
as though glory so compressed by narrow and meager limits
may have eminence and greatness?

"Add that many nations inhabit this same small living area
diverse in respect to language, customs, their whole life,
to which then the difficulty of travel
besides the difference in speaking plus the rarity of trade
not only the fame of a single human
but that of cities in fact is not able to reach.

"Finally in the time of Cicero,
as he indicates opportunely, the fame of the Roman republic
had not yet passed beyond the Caucasus mountains,
and it was even then mature
terrifying to Parthians and other nations of that region.

"Don't you see then how narrow,
how compressed the glory may be,
which you are laboring to expand and propagate?
Or may the glory of a Roman person advance
where the fame of the Roman name is unable to pass?

"Moreover, don't the morals and also the traditions
of different nations disagree between themselves,
so that what is judged praiseworthy among some
may be worthy of punishment among others?

"Thus if someone delights in this commendation of fame
in most populations it is of no use to publish a name.
Then each will be content
having spread glory among one's own,
and within the boundaries of one nation
that bright immortality of fame will be confined.

"But how many men, the most eminent in their times,
does oblivion blot out in need of writers!
And yet why should the writings themselves profit,
which with their authors longer and obscure age covers?

"While you seem to propagate immortality for yourselves
when you imagine fame in a future time.
But if you study about the infinite extent of eternity,
what do you have that you will enjoy
from the long duration of your name?

"In fact the character of one moment
if it is compared with ten thousand years,
since both ways it is a definite period,
may nevertheless have some very small portion;
but this very number of years
and the multiplication of this as much as you like
cannot even be compared to interminable duration.

"Though compared to themselves
there might be some mutuality with finite things,
with the infinite and the finite
there could never really be a comparison.
So it happens that fame
for however long of a time one may like,
if it is thought of with unexhausted eternity,
may be seen to be not small but plainly non-existent.

"Now you unless for popular sounds and idle rumors
are unable to act correctly,
and having abandoned the pre-eminence
of conscience and virtue
you demand rewards from strange gossip.

"Listen how humorously someone ridiculed
in the lightness of this method of arrogance.
For when a certain person was attacked with insults,
who not for the practice of true virtue
but for false overbearing glory
had assumed for himself the name of philosopher,
and added one might know then oneself
whether that one was a philosopher,
if in fact one could bear
inflicted wrongs gently and patiently,
he for a little while assumed patience
and accepted the assaults as he was taunting.
'Now at last,' he said,
'do you understand me to be a philosopher?'

"Then that one said too sharply,
'I would have understood, if you had kept silent.'

"Why is it that to outstanding men---
for the discussion is about these---
who seek glory from virtue,
why, I ask, is it that one should seek for this from fame
after the body is released by the moment of death?

"For if, because our reasons forbid the belief,
humans die completely, there is no glory at all,
since the one of whom it is said to be
does not exist at all.

"While if the mind correctly conscious in itself
released free from its earthly prison seeks heaven,
does it not spurn all earthly business,
while enjoying itself in heaven
it is glad to be exempt from earthly things?

"Whoever alone by headlong mind seeks
and believes glory is the highest,
should perceive the wide open regions of the ethereal
and the compressed situation of the world;
not being able to fill up the small circle
one will be ashamed of an enlarged name.
Why are the proud eager to lighten
the mortal collar from their necks in vain?
Although diffuse fame through distant peoples passing
may develop languages,
and a great house may shine with bright titles,
death scorns high glory,
rolls on the humble and lofty head alike
and makes the low equal to the highest.
Where do the bones of the loyal Fabricius remain now?
Why is Brutus or Cato stiff?
Surviving shallow fame marks a name
with a very few letters in vain.
But because we have known the noble terms
surely it is not given to know the destroyed?
Consequently you lay absolutely unknown,
and fame does not make them known.
But if you suppose life is drawn out longer
by the aura of a mortal name,
when a later day snatches this from you too
then the second death awaits you.

"But do not think I wage inexorable war against fortune:
there is a time when not deceptive about humans
she may be well served,
at the time of course when she opens herself,
when she uncovers her facade and declares her morals.
By chance you do not yet understand what I mean;
it is strange what I am eager to say,
and so far I can hardly explain the meaning in words.

"As a matter of fact I think adversity
is more beneficial for humans than fortune;
for the latter always with the pretense of happiness,
when it seems charming, is lying;
the former always is true,
when it shows itself inconstant with change.

"The latter deceives; the former instructs;
the latter a lie by pretense of goods
ties the minds of those enjoying them,
the former by awareness of the fragility of happiness
absolves them;
and so you may see that the latter is fickle, lax
and always ignorant of herself,
the former sober and prepared
and through its adversities wise by experience.

"Finally happiness by devious allurements
draws one from the truly good,
and adversity generally leading one back to the truly good
draws one back with a hook.

"Or are you thinking of valuing this among the least
because this rough, this terrifying fortune
describes for you the minds of faithful friends?
She has differentiated for you
the reliable faces of the companions and the doubtful ones;
departing she has taken away hers, left yours.

"For how much might you have let this go intact and,
as you were seeming to yourself, fortunate?
Now you complain about lost resources:
when you have found out that
friends are the most precious kind of riches.

"Because the universe by steady faith
varies harmonious successions,
because struggling seeds
maintain a continuous treaty,
because the sun the rosy day
advances in a golden car,
while the moon may command in the nights
which the western star has led,
while the greedy ocean wave
encloses a definite boundary,
it may not stretch with wandering lands
the wide bounds,
love ties this sequence of things
guiding lands and the open sea
and commanding in heaven.

"If this should relax the reins,
whoever now loves each other
would wage war continuously
and what now associates by faith
inspire with beautiful movements
they would compete to dissolve the scheme.

"This by a sacred treaty too
holds peoples united;
this also the sacredness of marriage
binds with chaste loves;
this again dictates their rights
to trusted companions.

"O happy human race,
if love guides your souls
as heaven is guided!"

Notes to Book 2:

2: According to the history of Herodotus, after the Persian king Cyrus II the Great had defeated the Lydians in battle at Sardis in 546 BC. Croesus was to be burned on a pyre, but moved by the change of fortune of this king, Cyrus ordered the flames extinguished. However, they could not be quenched until Croesus called on Apollo and a rain doused the fire.

2: Aemilius Paulus, consul of Rome, defeated Perses, the last king of Macedonia at Pydna in 168 BC.

6: Diogenes Laertius tells the story of two different philosophers who bit off their tongues and spat them at tyrants: Zeno of Elea about 460 BC and Anaxarchus about 330 BC.

6: The Roman general Regulus was defeated by the Carthaginians in 255 BC. According to Cicero he was sent to Rome with a proposal for a prisoner exchange, which he counseled against, then returned a prisoner himself to Carthage.

VI: Nero ruled the vast Roman empire from 54 to 68 CE, ordering the murder of his stepbrother Britannicus and his mother Agrippina.

VII: Fabricius was a Roman general and consul in the third century BC known for his integrity and refusal to accept a bribe from Pyrrhus.

VII: Brutus led the overthrow of the last Tarquin king and became the first consul of Rome in 509 BC. A later Brutus led the conspiracy which assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

VII: Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) was famous for upholding strict Roman standards of morality and for his orations against Carthage. Cato the Younger (95-46 BC) committed suicide after Pompey's defeat by Caesar, because he feared it was the end of the republic.

Book III Philosophy and Happiness

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