BECK index

by Boethius

Book 4

1. Why Does Bad Prosper?
I. "In Fact Swift Wings are Mine"
2. Only the Good Have Power
II. "Those Eminent Kings You See"
3. Good Rewarded, Bad Punished
III. "The Sails of Ithaca's Leader"
4. Unpunished Bad are Wretched
IV. "Why is One Glad to Excite"
5. Rewards and Punishments Seem Accidental
V. "If Someone is Ignorant of Arcturus"
6. Providence and Fate
VI. "If You Wish to Discern the Laws"
7. All Fortune is Good
VII. "Wars for Twice Five Years Occupied"

When with dignity of expression and a serious face
Philosophy recited this service gently and pleasantly,
then I not yet having forgotten the depth of sorrow inside
broke off something she was still intending to say
and said, "O foreseer of true light,
which right up to now your speech has shed
the unconquered have been evident
not only by their divine observation but by your arguments,
and these even if recently forgotten
because of the pain of the wrong to me
nevertheless you have not spoken of
what was completely unknown previously.

"But this itself is even the greatest cause of our grief
which, when a good guide of things should emerge,
either evils could not exist at all
or they may escape unpunished;
you should certainly consider with so much surprise
that it alone may be fitting.

"Yet to this another even greater is attached;
for by commanding and prospering worthlessness
virtue not only lacks rewards,
but is even subject to being trampled
under the feet of the wicked
and pays the punishment in place of the criminals.
For it to happen in the reign of God
the all-knowing, the all-powerful, but willing only good
no one can either wonder or complain enough."

Then she said, "And it would be of infinite bewilderment
and more terrible with all monstrous things if,
as you estimate, in such
as in the most arranged home of the master of an estate
the cheap dishes might be cherished, the expensive trashed.
But it is not so;
for if these which were concluded a little before
are preserved undestroyed,
from the very originator of whose reign we are now speaking
you understand in fact goods always are powerful,
while bads always are contemptible and so helpless,
neither is vice ever to be without penalty
nor virtues without reward;
to the good happiness always comes,
to the bad misfortune and many things of that kind,
which with your complaints calmed
it may corroborate in firm solidity.

"And since the form of true happiness
you have just now seen from my demonstrating,
you have also recognized where it may be situated,
from all the maneuvers which I think necessary to precede
the proven way that brings you back to your home.
Also I may fasten wings to your mind
by which it could lift itself into heaven,
so that with confusion removed you may return safe
into your country by my guidance, my path, and my vehicles.

"In fact swift wings are mine
which climb the heights of the pole;
which when the quick mind has put on for itself
it looks down on detested lands,
rises above the globe of vast atmosphere
and sees the clouds left behind
and which is warmed by the agile motion of the sky,
passes beyond the peak of fire,
until it may rise into the home of the stars
and join the ways of the sun
or it follows the route of the old in the cold,
the soldier of the shimmering constellation
or wherever sparkling night is pictured
recurs the orbit of stars
and so when it might already be exhausted enough
it may leave the farthest pole
and press the ridges of the fast sky
in control of the respected light.
Here the master of kings holds the scepter
and regulates the reins of the orbit
and steady it steers the flying car,
the shimmering arbiter of things.
If the way should bring you back returned here
which now forgetful you request,
'These I remember,' you will say, 'the country is mine,
from this source, here I stand firm.'
But if it should please you to visit
the night of earthly things left behind,
you will perceive grim dictators exiled
whom the wretched peoples fear."

Then I said, "Wow, what greatness you promise!
Not that I doubt you could accomplish it,
and don't delay what you have just excited."

"Then first," she said, "you should recognize that
power always supports the good,
the bad are devoid of all strengths;
in fact each of these is explained from the other.
For since good and bad should be opposites,
if power consisted of being good
the helplessness of the bad is evident,
or if the fragility of bad should be clear
the firmness of good is noted.
But so that confidence in our opinion may be more abundant,
I may proceed by both paths now from here
then from there confirming the propositions.

"There are two things,
in which every effect of human actions is established,
will, of course, and power,
of which if one or the other has been left off,
there is nothing which can be accomplished.
For in lacking will
no one in fact undertakes what is not picked,
but if power be absent the will may be in vain.
Thus, if you should see that
one wishes to attain what may not be attained,
you cannot doubt one has been missing the ability
for obtaining this which one has wanted."

"It is clear," I said, "and in no way can it be doubted."

"While if you should see someone has accomplished
what one has wanted,
surely you will not actually doubt one to have been able?"

"Not at all."

"Truly everyone is rated effective
in that which one can do,
while one is helpless in this which one cannot."

"I admit it," I said.

"Then do you remember," she asked,
"that it was inferred from the preceding arguments
that every intention of human will,
which is acted on by various pursuits,
accelerates toward happiness?"

"I remember," I said, "that to be proven too."

"Surely you may recall that the good is happiness itself
and in this way, since happiness is sought,
the good is desired by everyone?"

"I recall," I said, "since I hold it fixed in memory."

"Then all humans, good and bad alike,
by indistinguishable intention
are striving to come to the good?"

"Accordingly," I said, "it is logical."

"But it is certain they become good
by attainment of the good?"

"It is certain."

"Then do the good attain what they desire?"

"So it seems."

"While if the bad should attain what they desire,
the good, they could not be bad."

"So it is."

"Then since both may seek the good,
but these in fact should attain it, while those do not,
surely it is not doubted that the good are in fact powerful,
while the ones who are bad should be helpless?"

"Whoever doubts it," I said, "can consider
neither the nature of things nor the logic of arguments."

"Again," she said, "if there be two
for whom the same purpose may be second nature,
and one of them by a natural function
should act and complete the thing itself,
while the other cannot manage that natural function,
but by another method which is not suited to nature
in fact should not fulfill one's purpose
but is imitating the fulfilling,
which of these do you determine is more capable?"

"Even if I infer," I said, "what you want,
nevertheless I long to hear it more plainly."

"Surely you will not deny," she said,
"that the motion of walking is second nature for humans?"

"Not at all," I said.

"And surely you do not doubt that
feet are the natural function of that?"

"Not in this case," I said.

"If someone then with feet is able to advance walking
and another, who lacking this natural function of the feet,
is attempting to walk leaning on the hands,
which of these can be considered rightly more capable?"

"Devise other riddles," I said, "for no one could argue
but that the one with the power of the natural functions
should be more capable than the same."

"But the highest good,
which is equally the purpose of the bad and good
the good in fact seek by the natural function of virtues,
while the bad through a different desire,
which is not the natural function for attaining the good,
are attempting to attain the very same;
or do you consider it otherwise?"

"No," I said, "for even what is following is obvious.
For out of this which I should have conceded
it is necessary that the good in fact are powerful,
while the bad are helpless."

"You anticipate it correctly," she said,
"and, as doctors are accustomed to hope,
the indication is now of a nature uplifted and resistant.
But since I am perceiving you
to be understanding most readily,
I shall accumulate crowded arguments;
for look how obvious the weakness of vicious humans may be,
who cannot even come to this to which their nature leads
and intention almost compels them.

"And what if they were deprived of going forward
with so great and nearly invincible assistance of nature?
Truly consider how much impotence
the wicked humans should have.
For neither easy nor sporting are the rewards they seek
which it follows also they could not obtain,
but concerning the very highest and top of things they fail
and from that in miseries success is not reached
for which alone the days and nights are working;
in which thing the strengths of goods excel.

"For if one who is advancing on foot
toward that place up to which one could have arrived
beyond which lay nothing accessible to attack
you would consider that one to be most capable of walking,
so the one who takes hold of the goal of aiming
beyond which is nothing
you must judge is most capable.
Thus, what is opposite to this,
seeing that it is the same for the wicked
they seem to be abandoned by all the strengths.

"For why having been left by virtue do they chase vice?
Is it ignorance of the goods?
But what is weaker than the blindness of ignorance?
Or have they known chasing, but does lust throw them across?
So too is excess fragile,
which cannot struggle against vice.

"Or do the knowing and willing desert the good
and turn aside to vice?
But in this way they abandon not only being capable,
but being entirely;
for they too equally stop being
who abandon what is the common goal of all who are.

"It may in fact seem rather strange to some
that we should say the bad, who are the majority of humans,
that these same ones do not exist;
but the reality in themselves has it so.
Now I am not denying those who are bad are the bad ones,
but I do plainly and simply deny that these exist.

"For though you might say a corpse is a dead person,
you simply could not really call it a person,
so I might concede that the vicious are in fact bad,
but I cannot confess they exist completely.
For it is what retains order and preserves nature;
while what defects from this being,
which is situated in its nature, also abandons it.

"But they are capable, you say, of bad;
I would not even deny it,
but this power of theirs comes
not from strengths but from helplessness.
They can do bad things,
which they would not have been able to do
if they could have stayed in the effectiveness of goods.
Which capability shows more clearly they can do nothing;
for if, as we inferred a little before, the bad is nothing,
since they could do only bad things,
it is evident the dishonest can do nothing."

"It is clear."

"And so that you may understand
what the strength of this power may be:
we have defined a little before
nothing to be more powerful than the highest good."

"So it is," I said.

"But the same," she said, "is unable to do bad."


"Is there then," she asked,
"anyone who thinks that humans can do everything?"

"Unless someone may be insane, no one."

"And yet the same can do bad."

I said, "I wish in fact they couldn't!"

"Then since only one capable of goods could do everything,
while those capable of evils still could not do everything,
it is obvious those who can do evils can do less.
Moreover we have indicated that
all power among aims being counted
and all aims are to be referred to the good
as to a kind of summit of their natures.
But the possibility of committing a crime
cannot be referred to the good;
then it is not aiming.
Yet all power is aiming;
then it is evident the capability of evils is not power.

"Out of all these the power of goods is fact,
while the weakness of evils appears not doubtful at all,
and that true sentence of Plato is evident
that it is the wise alone who can do what they may desire,
truly the dishonest in fact practice what may please,
while they cannot fulfill what they desire.

"For they do what pleases,
as long as they think through things in which they delight
they will attain for themselves the good which they desire;
but they are not attained,
because abuses do not come to happiness.

"Those eminent kings you see sitting on a lofty throne,
bright in gleaming purple, walled in with sad weapons,
threatening from a grim face, panting in the heart's fury,
if someone should take away from the arrogant
the vain's cultured covering,
then one will see inside masters bearing tight chains;
for here lust twists hearts with greedy poisons,
here troubled anger raising a flood whips the mind,
captured grief either tires or slippery hope tortures.
So when you may perceive one head bear so many tyrants,
it does not do what it chooses itself,
oppressed by unjust masters.

"Do you see then in how much filth abuses are maintained,
by which light honesty may shine?
In this it is clear never are rewards for the good missing,
never for the wicked their punishments.
And as a matter of fact of the things which are produced
that reward can not seem to be wrong
on account of which everyone of the same is produced,
as with running in the stadium
the garland is the reward for which one is running.

"But we have indicated happiness is the same good itself
for which all things are produced;
then it is for human actions the good itself
just as if the proposed reward is in common.
And yet this cannot be separated from the good ones---
for besides the one who may be missing the good
will not be rightly called good---;
therefore honest morals do not forsake their rewards.

"Then however much the bad may rage,
nevertheless the garland of the wise
does not fall off, does not dry up;
nor does dishonesty by another
pluck off personal honor from honest souls.

"But if one is glad for credit from outside,
this could be taken away either by someone else
or even by the very one who conferred it;
but since honesty confers one's own on each,
then one will lack one's reward
only when one stops being honest.

"Finally, since every reward is desired
for the reason that it is believed to be good,
would someone judge the experienced
in control of a good reward?
But of which reward?
The most beautiful and greatest of all;
remember that corollary I emphasized a little before,
and conclude as follows.

"Since happiness should be the good itself,
it is evident that all the good who should be good
become blessed by that itself.
But it is agreed that those who may be blessed are gods.
Then it is the reward of the good to become gods,
which no time may erase, no power may lessen,
no dishonesty may darken.

"Since this should be so, the wise cannot doubt
the inevitable punishment of the bad too;
for since good and bad,
like the opposites of punishment and reward
should disagree broadly,
the reward which we see taken in by the good must match
the same penalty opposite on the side of the bad.

"Then just as honesty itself
becomes a reward for the honest
worthlessness itself is a punishment for the dishonest.
While surely whoever is afflicted by bad
does not doubt oneself to be suffering a penalty.
If then they themselves may be willing to judge themselves,
could they seem to themselves not free of punishment,
which not only afflicts them with the worst of all evils,
worthlessness, but also actually infects them violently?

"Now from the opposite side of the good ones
look at the penalty which accompanies the dishonest;
for example you learned a little before
that everything which may be is one
and that the one itself is good;
from which it is logical that
everything which may be also may be seen to be good.

"Then in this way
whatever defects from the good ceases to be.
Thus the bad should stop being what they had been.
But the form of the human body still left them
proves that they had been humans;
therefore to be turned into evil
is to lose human nature too.

"But since honesty alone
could advance someone beyond humans,
it is necessary that
the ones whom dishonesty throws down from the human condition
it may deservedly push down below humans;
then it turns out that you could not judge as human
one whom you may see is transformed by vices.

"A violent robber burns from greed of others' wealth:
you might say is like a wolf.
One insolent and so restless
exercises the tongue with quarrels:
you will compare to a dog.

"The hidden ambusher likes to steal with frauds:
and is equal to a little fox.
The intemperate roars with anger:
and is believed to carry about the spirit of a lion.

"The terrified and timid fears things not to be feared:
and may be held like deer.
The lazy and stupid is dumb:
and lives as an ass.

"The trivial and so fickle changes parties:
and is no different from birds.
One is immersed in foul and dirty lusts:
and is held back by the sordid pleasure of swine.

"Thus the one who deserts honesty ceases to be a person,
since one could not change the condition into the divine,
one may be turned into a beast.

"The sails of Ithaca's leader
and the wandering rafts on the open sea
the east wind drove to an island,
where was residing a beautiful goddess
descended from the seed of the sun;
she mixes for her new guests
potions influenced by song.

"Whereby her herb-powerful hand
turns them into various shapes,
the face of a boar covers this one,
that one appears as an African lion
with a fang and claws;
here recently added were wolves
while intending to weep one howls,
that one like a tiger from India
gently prowls around the house.

"But although in various misfortunes
the divinity reared in Arcadia
pitying the covered leader
released him from the plague of the hostess,
though the crew had already
drunk by the mouth the evil potions;
by then the pigs had turned
from cereals to acorn fodder,
and nothing remains intact
with voice, body in ruins.

"The mind alone staying steady
bewails the monsters which suffer.
O too slight the hand
and not potent the herbs,
which though they could turn the limbs,
are not able to turn the hearts!

"Inside is the energy of humans
established by a hidden fortress.
More powerful are these dreadful drugs
which going deep inside
withdraw the human from oneself
and not harmful to the body
they cruelly wound the mind."

Then I said, "I acknowledge and see that
it is not wrong to say that the vicious,
although they may preserve the form of the human body,
nevertheless in the quality of their souls
may be changed into beasts;
but that their fierce and wicked mind
rages with the ruin of the good
I would have refused to allow this itself for them."

"It is not allowed," she said,
"as will be shown with an appropriate argument,
but nevertheless, if this itself should be taken away,
which it is believed is permitted to them,
the punishment of wicked humans
would be to a great extent relieved.
In fact, what may seem to anyone as perhaps incredible,
it must be the bad are more unhappy
when they might carry through desires
than when they could not fulfill things which they desire.

"For if it is wretched to have wanted the perverse,
it is more wretched to have been able to get it,
without which the wretched will's effect would be weak.
And so since one's own misery may be single,
they must be urged as triply unfortunate
whom you may see willing, able, and performing crime."

"I agree," I said, "but so that they may be freed soon
from this misfortune of suffering crime
I desire strongly that it to be removed from the ability."

"They will be free of it," she said,
"sooner than either you may wish perhaps
or those may guess themselves to be freed;
for there is nothing in such brief lives apprehended so late
that especially the immortal soul
should think it has to wait a long time.

"Their great hope and eminent scheme of crimes
often are destroyed by a sudden and unexpected end,
which in fact imposes a limit on their misery;
for if worthlessness makes them wretched,
the longer one is worthless the more wretched one must be.

"I would judge them to be most unhappy
if final death at least should not finish their malice;
and in fact if we have concluded truly
about the misfortune of depravity,
it is evident that infinite is the misery
which is agreed to be eternal."

Then I said, "At any rate
it is a strange inference and hard concession,
but I know it fits too well
with these which previously were conceded."

"You evaluate it correctly," she said,
"but one who thinks it is reasonable
that it is hard to come to a conclusion
either should point out that something false has preceded it
or show the arrangement of propositions
of the necessary conclusion not to be effective;
otherwise with the preceding concessions
there is absolutely nothing
which may excuse one from the inference.

"For this too which I am going to say
may not seem any less strange,
but from these which are assumed it is equally necessary."

"What?" I asked.

"That the dishonest are happier paying the punishments
than if no penalty of justice should stick to them.
Now I am not devising what may come into anyone's mind,
that perverted morals be corrected by revenge
and be led away toward the right by fear of punishment,
to be an example to others also fleeing blaming;
but in another way I think
the unpunished dishonest are unhappier,
even if no method of correction is being considered,
nor the respect for example."

"And what other way would it be besides these?" I asked.

And she said, "Did we not concede that
the good are happy, while the bad are wretched?"

"So it is," I said.

"If then," she said, "something good
may be added to the misery of someone, is not one happier
than the one whose pure and solitary misery
is without any admixture of good?"

"So it seems," I said.

"But if with the same misery,
the one who may be free from all goods,
besides this by which one is wretched
should have something bad connected to them,
is it not agreed that this one is much more unhappy
than the one whose misfortune
is relieved by the participation of good?"

"Why not?" I asked.

"But for the dishonest to be punished is just,
while to get off unpunished is obviously unfair."

"Who would deny it?"

"But no one at any rate," she said;
"will deny that what is just is good
and the contrary that what is unjust is bad."

I answered that it is clear.

"Then the dishonest have when they are punished
in fact some connection of the good,
the punishment itself of course,
which is good by reason of the justice,
and the same when they are free of punishment
something extra of the bad belongs to them,
the impunity itself, which in being deserving of adversity
you have confessed is bad."

"I cannot deny it."

"Then of the dishonest presented
the ones unjust by impunity are much more unhappy
than the just ones punished by revenge."

Then I said, "Your consequences from these are in fact
what was concluded a little before;
but I ask you, don't you allow for any punishments of souls
after the body is discharged by death?"

"Yes, great ones in fact," she said,
"of which some are to be carried out by severe penalty,
while others I think by purgatorial mercy;
but it is not my purpose to discuss these now.

"While so far we have managed it so that
what will seem to you the most unworthy power of evils
might be understood to be nothing,
and dishonesty's unpunished about whom you seem to complain
never are free of their punishment,
the licentiousness which you were asking to be soon ended
you might learn is not long
and if longer will be more unhappy,
while most unhappy if it should be eternal;
after this more wretched are the dishonest
let go by unjust impunity
than the ones punished by just revenge.
With this sentence it is logical that
not till then may they be oppressed by heavy punishments
when they are believed to be unpunished."

Then I said, "When I consider your arguments,
I think nothing could be said more truly;
but if I should turn back to the judgment of humans,
is there anyone to whom these things would seem
not only believable but even understandable?"

"So it is," she said.
"For they are unable to lift up eyes
accustomed to the dark to the light of clear truth
and like birds whose sight night illuminates, day blinds;
for as long as they are looking not at the order of things
but at their feelings, they may think
either the license or the impunity of the wicked is happy.

"But see what eternal law sanctifies.
You might have shaped the soul with better things:
there is no need for a reward from a conferring judge,
you have added yourself to the more excellent;
you might have perverted study to worse things:
you should not look for an avenger outside,
you have thrust yourself into the inferior---
just as if you should look back
by turns at the sordid earth and heaven,
in discerning by reason all the loiterings outside yourself
you seem to be between now the mud then the stars.

"But the crowd does not look back at yours.
What then, should we agree with these
whom we have shown are like beasts?
What if someone who utterly lost vision itself
also has forgotten ever having had sight oneself
and thought oneself lacking nothing for human perfection,
surely we the seeing should not think the same as the blind?
For they do not even acquiesce to that
which equally rests on valid supports of arguments;
unhappier are those who do than those who suffer injury."

"I should like to hear these very reasons," I said.

"Surely you do not deny," she asked,
"that everyone dishonest is deserving of punishment?"

"Not at all."

"While it is abundantly evident that
those who may be dishonest are unhappy."

"Yes," I said.

"Then you do not doubt that
those who are deserving of punishment are wretched?"

"It is agreed," I said.

"Then if you might be the idle attorney," she said,
"upon which would you think of putting the punishment,
on the one who did it
or on the one who endured the injury?"

"I would not waver," I said, "but in making amends
to the one who suffered from the trouble."

"Then to you the bringer of the injury
seems to be more wretched than the receiver."

"It follows," I said.

"Then it appears from this and other causes
resting on this foundation
that baseness makes one wretched by its own nature,
the misery put on anyone injured
being not the recipient's but the perpetrator's."

"It appears so," I said.

"And yet now," she said, "the speakers do the opposite;
for they try to arouse the pity of the jurors
for these who suffered severely and who are bitter,
when more justly the pity should be for those committing it;
whom should be led to trial not by the angry
but rather by gracious and pitying accusers
as the sick are to the doctor
so that the fault's diseases may be cut short by treatment.

"By this contract the works of the defenders
either would completely fall flat
or if one would rather be useful to humans
it could be turned into the practice of prosecution.

"The very dishonest too, if it were possible for them
by some crack to catch sight of abandoned virtue
and they could see themselves laying down the dirt of vices
by the tortures of penalties,
from the compensation of acquiring honesty
they would not consider these to be torture
and they would refuse the work of the defenders
and entrust themselves completely to the prosecutors.

"Thus among the wise
absolutely no place would be left for hatred.
For who but the most foolish would hate the good?
While one does not have any reason to hate the bad.

"For just like the feebleness of bodies
so vice is like a certain disease of souls,
since we should not judge the sick in body
as deserving hatred but rather pity,
much more deserving not being persecuted but being pitied
are the minds whose dishonesty oppresses
by a more dreadful disease than any feebleness.

"Why is one glad to excite so much emotion
and to disturb fate with one's own hand?
If you seek death, it is near itself
of its own accord nor does it delay swift horses.
Those a snake, lion, tiger, bear and boar by a fang attack
nevertheless they themselves attack the same with a sword.
Or is it because morals are diverse and different,
that they provoke unjust battles and cruel wars
and want to perish by one weapon after another?
It is not a just enough reason for fury.
You want to give back merits suitable in turn:
esteem rightly the good and feel pity for the bad."

At this point I said, "I see that
either happiness or misery may be established
in the very merits of the honest and dishonest.
But in this way I find fortune itself
to be in some good people and in some bad;
for no one wise would be an exile, destitute and degraded
rather than strong in business, respected in honor,
effective in power to prosper permanently in one's city.

"For thus the duty of wisdom
is handled more clearly and publicly,
when the happiness of the ruling
is in a way transfused into the contacting people,
especially when prison, murder,
and the other tortures of legal penalties
should be rather for the ruinous citizens
for whom they are actually established.

"Then why these should be turned in reverse
and crimes' punishments should press on the good,
while the bad should snatch the rewards of virtues,
I am very much amazed,
and I long to know from you
what reason may be seen for such confusions of the unjust.

"And in fact I would be less amazed if I could believe
everything to be mixed up with chance accidents.
Now the divine guide heightens my bewilderment.
Since one may concede that the one who often may assign
delights to the good, the bitter to the bad
and on the contrary the hard to the good, wishes to the bad,
unless the cause is detected,
what is it that seems to differ from chance accidents?"

"It is no wonder," she said,
"if what is unknown of the order by reason
may be believed accidental and confused;
but although you may be ignorant
of the cause of so great an arrangement,
nevertheless, since a good guide regulates the universe,
you should not doubt that all things happen correctly.

"If someone is ignorant of Arcturus
the star sinking near the highest pole,
why the slow Bootes should steer the Great Bear
and sink its late flames into the horizon,
although very quickly it unfolds its rising,
one will marvel at the law of high heaven.

"The unfinished horns of the full moon become pale
by the dark of fearful night,
and the moon uncovers the diffused stars,
which she had covered with her shining face:
public error agitates the nations
and they tire from repeatedly striking cymbals.

"No one wonders at the northwest winds
beating the coast with roaring waves
nor the mass hardened by the snow's cold
being dissolved by the burning heat of the sun.
For here it is easy to discern the causes,
there hidden things disturb the feelings.

"Age promotes all things which are rare,
and the fickle crowd is stunned by sudden things,
but should the cloudy error of ignorance depart,
with progress they cease to seem strange!"

"So it is," I said;
"but since it should be in your duties
to unfold the causes of things hiding
and to explain the reasons veiled by mist,
I ask that you may determine what is here;
since this marvel especially upsets me,
you should explain it in detail."

Then smiling for a moment she said,
"By a question you call me to the greatest matter of all,
on which hardly anything would be enough to exhaust it.
For the matter is such that
one head having been cut off by doubt
countless others like the hydra's grow back;
nor would there be any limit
unless someone should enclose them
with the most lasting fire of the mind.

"For in this one is accustomed to inquiring
about the singleness of providence,
about the sequence of fate,
about the chances of a sudden event,
about divine cognition and predestination,
about freedom of decision,
which you weigh yourself how much of a load they may be.

"But since it is part of your medicine
for you to know some of these too,
although fenced in by a narrow limit of time
nevertheless I'll try to determine some of them.
But if the musical amusements of song delight you,
you should delay this pleasure for a while
until I weave in their order the entwining arguments."

"As you please," I said.

Then as though starting from another beginning
she examined it as follows:
"The generation of all things
and the whole progress of mutable natures
and whatever is moved in any way
draw causes, order and forms
out of the stability of the divine mind.

"This in the regular arc of its singleness
established a manifold method for producing things.
Which method when it is observed in itself
by the purity of divine intelligence,
is named providence;
while when it refers to what moves and so arranges,
it is called by tradition fate.

"It will soon be evident how different these are
if someone might observe mentally the force of both;
for providence is that very divine reason
established in the highest principle of all
which arranges all things,
while fate is the arrangement inherent in moveable things
through which providence ties everything in its order.

"For providence embraces all things together
however different however infinite,
while fate divides the individual things distributed
in motion with places, forms and times,
so that providence may be
this impotent unfolding of the temporal order
in the perspective of the divine mind,
while the same impotence divided
and so unfolded in times may be called fate.

"Although these may be different,
nevertheless one depends on the other;
for the destined order comes forth
out of the singleness of providence.
For just as an artist perceiving mentally
the form of the thing being made
puts in motion the accomplishment of the work
and what one had foreseen simply and immediately
one constructs through the temporal order,
so God by providence in fact
arranges the things being done individually and reliably,
while fate manages variously and temporally
this itself which has been arranged.

"Then whether fate is carried out by divine spirits
in some kind of serving of providence
or by a soul or by all nature submitting
or by the motions of the stars in the heavens
or by angelic virtue or by the varied skill of spirits
whether by some of these or by all
the fatal sequence is woven,
it is certainly obvious that
providence is the unchanging and single form
of the things being produced,
while fate is the changing bond and temporal order of those
which the divine singleness producing them has arranged.

"Thus all things which are under fate
should be subject to providence too,
to which fate itself is even subject,
while some things which are placed under providence
may rise above the sequence of fate;
these truly are the things which
reliably fixed near the primary divinity
exceed the order of destined mobility.

"For as in the case of circles
turning themselves around the same pole
the one which is innermost
goes toward the singleness of the center
and it exists as a kind of pole of the others placed outside
around which they are turned,
while the outermost rotated in a greater circuit
by however much it is away from the indivisible center point
so much is it extended in a larger space;
while whatever connects and unites itself to that center
is gathered into singleness
and ceases to be diffused and flow away:
by a similar argument
whatever goes farther away from the primary mind
is entwined in greater bonds of fate,
and something is so much freer from fate
by however much closer it aims at that pole of things;
but if it should cling to the firmness of the supernal mind,
being free of the motion of fate it too surpasses necessity.

"Then as reasoning is to understanding,
that which is produced to that which is,
time to eternity, a circle to the centerpoint,
so is the mobile sequence of fate
to the stable singleness of providence.

"This sequence moves heaven and the stars,
regulates the elements mutually in themselves
and transforms them one after another by change,
the same renews all things being born and dying
through the similar progress of breeding and procreation.

"This also constrains the actions and fortunes of humans
by the imperishable connection of causes;
which since it originates
from the immovable beginnings of providence,
it is necessary for these to be unchangeable too.

"Accordingly things are guided best
if the singleness remaining in the divine mind
brings out the unavoidable order of causes;
while this order by its own unchangeableness
should control mutable things
or else they would float about at random.

"Thus, although to us not able to contemplate this order
all things may seem confused and disordered,
nonetheless however its method may arrange
the directing of all things toward the good.

"For there is nothing which may happen because of evil
nor even from the dishonest themselves;
whom, as is most amply explained,
perverse error diverts the ones looking for the good,
much less would the order
profiting from the pole of the highest good
turn aside anywhere from its beginning.

"'What truly,' you may ask,
'can any confusion be more unfair than that
now set-backs should affect the good then successes,
while now wishes should affect the bad then hates?'

"Surely then humans do not pass these
with such integrity of mind
that those whom they rate honest or dishonest
must also be as they judge?
And yet on this human courts fight hard,
and those whom some think fit for a reward
others think fit for punishment.

"But let us concede that
someone could discern good and bad;
surely then one will not be able to
look into that innermost temperature of souls,
just as temperature is usually told in bodies?

"For it is no less a miracle to the ignorant
why sweet things for instance
may be suited to some healthy bodies
while bitter things may be suited to others,
why certain of the sick are likewise helped by mild things
while others are helped by sharp ones.
But a doctor, who distinguishes the method and temperament
of health itself and so of sickness,
is not surprised by this at all.

"While what else other than honesty
is seen to be the health of souls,
what the sickness other than vice?
Who else other than God the guide and healer of minds
is either preserver of the good or remover of the bad?
When this one who has looked back
out of the deep mirrors of providence,
recognizes what may be proper to each one
and has learned what to apply it accommodates.

"Here already arises that destined
distinguishing marvel of order,
when from the knowing is produced
what may astound the ignorant.

"Now considering how few words human reason is capable of,
I'll touch lightly on divine profundity;
about this which you think is most just
and most protective of equality
to the omniscience of providence it seems different.

"As our familiar Lucan suggested,
the conquering cause pleased the gods,
while the conquered pleased Cato.
Then whatever you may see here short of hope
with things to be produced the order is in fact correct,
while in your opinion it is perverse confusion.

"But someone may be so well mannered that about him
divine and human judgment may agree together,
but in the strengths of soul he is weak,
and if something adverse should happen to him
he might perhaps stop cultivating the innocence
through which he could not retain fortune:
and so a wise dispensation spares
the one whom adversity could make worse,
lest it not be fitting to work for one who may suffer.

"Another is complete in all the virtues
and holy and so near God:
providence judges it would be so wrong
for this one to be touched by any adversity whatever
that he is not allowed to be agitated
by bodily diseases for instance.
For as someone better than I put it:

'So the ethers build the body of a sacred man.'

"Moreover it often happens that
the highest guiding of things is conferred upon the good
so that abounding dishonesty may be checked.
To others a certain one distributes a mixture
according to the quality of the souls:
Some she torments lest they be luxuriant in long happiness;
others may be agitated by hardships
so that they may reinforce the virtues of the soul
by the use and exercise of patience.
Some are too afraid of what they can bear;
others look down too much on what they cannot bear;
these she leads into proof with their sad things.

"Some revering the ages
have earned a name of glory at the price of death;
the impregnable by other sacrifices
have held out a certain example
of virtue being unconquered by evils;
there is no doubt how correctly these may happen
and so to whom they seem to come
by arrangement and out of their good.

"For that too is induced out of the same causes,
because now sadness then wishes come to the dishonest.
As to the sad ones in fact no one is surprised,
because everyone thinks them deserving of bad;
whose punishments in fact then deter others from crimes
by which then they are driven themselves to improve.
While the glad ones speak a great argument to the good,
about how they ought to judge this kind of happiness
which they should discern often serves the dishonest.

"There is another thing also I believe to be regulated
which is someone's nature
being perhaps so headstrong and insolent
that domestic material poverty
could rather irritate one into crimes;
for an illness of this kind
providence heals with the remedy of collected money.

"Here one viewing the conscience fouled by abuses
and comparing it with one's fortune perhaps is very alarmed
lest the loss of that of which the use is pleasing be sad;
then one will change morals
and so as long as one is afraid to lose a fortune
one forsakes wrong.

"Happiness shamefully spent
has thrown others into deserved ruin;
for some the right of punishing is permitted
so that it might be a cause of exercise for the good
and of punishment for the bad.
For just as there is no treaty
between the honest and dishonest
so among themselves the dishonest are not able to agree.

"Why not, since with vices tearing apart the conscience
by the selves themselves everyone disagrees,
and they often may do things
which when they may have managed them
they may decide they should not be managing them?

"Out of which that highest providence
often brought forth a distinguishing marvel,
so that the bad might make the bad good.
For while they seem to allow
a certain inequality to themselves from the worst,
burning with hatred of the guilty ones
they return to the fruit of virtue,
until they apply themselves
to be unlike those whom they hate.

"For it is divine force alone
for which evils may be goods too;
when using them competently
it elicits the effect of something good.
For a certain order embraces all things,
so that what has departed
the place assigned by reason of order
this nevertheless falls back into order, though another one,
lest anything in the realm of providence be left to chance.

'But it is difficult for me
to proclaim all these things as a god.'

For it is not possible for a human
either with genius to comprehend
all the engines of the divine work
or to explain them by language.

"It may be sufficient to have observed this enough
that the same God, the producer of all nature,
directing all may arrange them for the good,
and while it hastens to retain this
which it has brought forth in its likeness,
it may eliminate through the sequence of destined necessity
all evil from the boundaries of its republic.
Thus what is believed to abound on earth,
if you should look at the providential arrangement,
you would judge nothing at all to be evil.

"But I have seen for a long time that you are
both overloaded by the weight of the question
and exhausted by the length of the argument
waiting for some poetry's sweetness;
take then a drink by which refreshed
you may strive farther stronger.

"If you wish to discern the laws
of the high Thunderer with a clear and clever mind,
focus on the summit of the highest heaven;
there by a fair agreement of matters
the stars preserve the ancient peace.

"The sun roused by red fire
does not obstruct the cold axis of the moon
nor does the Bear which by the world's highest pole
turns its swift movements
never washed in the western deep
perceiving other stars to be sunk
desire to dip its flames in the ocean;
always by equal intervals of time
does the evening star announce the late shadows,
and Venus brings back the nourishing day.

"Thus does mutual love
restore the eternal courses;
thus discordant war
is an exile of the stellar face.

"This concord regulates
the first principles by equal measures,
so that by fighting
wet may by successions yield to dry
and cold things may join faith with flames;
a flickering fire should rise into heaven,
and heavy earthly things by their weight should sink.

"Truly from these causes of warming
the flowery year breathes the odors,
summer heat dries the grain,
autumn comes back heavy with fruit,
falling rain irrigates the winter.

"This temperature nourishes and brings forth
whatever breathes life in the world;
the same snatching conceals and takes them away
burying the born in a final death.

"Meanwhile the creator sits on high
and guiding turns the reins of things,
king and master, source and origin,
law and wise judge of the just,
and what stirs by angry emotion
it may check drawing it back
and so strengthen the wavering;
for unless the movement recalling the corrected
winding again collected them in cycles,
which now a stable order contains
the separated would be split from their source.

"Here love is common to all,
and they go back to be held by the goal of the good,
because in no other way are they able to endure
unless turned back around by love
the causes which gave them being may flow again.

"By now then do you see what all these things are
which follow from what we have said?"

"What?" I asked.

"That all fortune," she said, "is absolutely good."

"And how can that be?" I asked.

"Listen," she said.
"Since all fortune whether pleasant or difficult
is brought about for the sake of
at one time rewarding or disciplining the good
at another punishing or correcting the dishonest,
everything which consists of being
either just or useful is good."

"In fact," I said, "the argument is very true, and,
if I should consider the providence or fate
which was taught a little before,
the sentence rests upon firm strength.
But if it seems good,
let us count it among those which a little before
were set down as inconceivable."

"Why?" she asked.

"Because the common talk of people says of it,
and in fact frequently,
that the fortune of some is bad."

"Do you wish then," she asked, "that for a little while
we should not go too far from the talk of the crowd
as we would seem to have departed
from the experience of humanity?"

"As it pleases," I said.

"Then don't you consider what is productive to be good?"

"So it is," I said.

"While what either disciplines or corrects,
is it productive?"

"I admit it," I said.

"Then is it good?"

"Why not?"

"But this is theirs who either
set in virtue wage war against difficulties
or turning aside from vices take the way of virtue."

"I am unable to deny it," I said.

"What about the truly pleasant,
which as a reward is bestowed upon the good,
surely the crowd does not consider it to be bad?"

"Not at all, as it is true
so too one rates it to be the best."

"What about the rest,
which since it may be difficult
curbs the bad by just punishment,
surely the people do not think it good?"

"No," I said, "of all which can be imagined
one judges it to be most wretched."

"Watch out then lest following the opinion of the people
we might formulate something quite inconceivable."

"What?" I asked.

"For out of these," she said, "which are conceded
it turns out that all the fortune of those who either are
or are in possession of or are advanced in
or are in the attainment of virtue may be entirely good,
while for those staying in dishonesty
all fortune is the worst."

"This is true," I said,
"although no one would dare confess it."

"Accordingly," she said,
"a wise hero should not become annoyed
whenever struggle is drawn into fortune,
just as it is not proper for a brave hero to be indignant
whenever the tumult of war is noisy.

"For both the difficulty itself is an opportunity
for the latter in fact in extending glory
while for the former in shaping wisdom.
From which even virtue is named,
which thriving on its strengths
is not overcome by adversities;
nor have you positioned in the advancement of virtue come to
melting away in delights and wasting away in pleasure.

"You are engaged in a battle for passions
with every sharp fortune
lest either the sad should oppress you
or the pleasant should corrupt you.
Occupy the middle with firm strengths;
whatever either stops lower or advances beyond
has the contempt of happiness,
does not have the reward of labor.

"For in your hands is situated
the kind of fortune you prefer to form for yourself;
for everything which seems difficult,
unless it either disciplines or corrects, punishes.

"Wars for twice five years occupied
the avenging son of Atreus in the ruins of Phrygia
where he expiated his brother's lost marriage-beds;
when that one wished to set sail with a Greek army
and in bloodshed ransomed the winds,
he put off paternal pity and as a sad priest
marred the throat of his daughter.

"The Ithacan mourned for his lost companions,
whom the savage Polyphemus reclining in a vast cave
plunged into his monstrous stomach;
but nevertheless frenzied by a blind face
delight compensated for the sad tears.

"Hard labors glorify Hercules:
that one tamed the arrogant Centaurs,
carried away the spoils from the fierce lion,
pierced with unerring arrows the birds,
snatched fruits from the perceiving dragon
in a left hand heavier with golden quarry,
dragged Cerberus with a triple chain;
the victor is said to have set the inexorable
master as fodder for the fierce team of four;
Hydra perished in burned up poison;
the river Achelous disfigured in appearance
submerged its modest face under the banks;
he threw down Antaeus on the Libyan sands;
Cacus appeased the anger of Evander,
the shoulders which the deep world was to press
the bristly one marked with foams;
the last labor lifted heaven
with an unbent neck and earned again
the heavenly prize of the last labor.

"Go now, brave ones, where the lofty way
of the great leads by example.
Why do you lazy ones expose your backs?
The earth surpassed, the stars are bestowed."

Notes to Book 4:

III: Ithaca's leader was Odysseus (Ulysses). His visit to the island of the magical Circe and his rescue by the Arcadian god Hermes is described in Homer's Odyssey book X.

V: Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern constellation Bootes and is in direct line with the tail of the Great Bear (Ursa Major); Arcturus in Greek means "bear guard."

6: The poet Lucan (39-65 CE.) in Pharsalia i, 128 refers to Caesar's victory at Thapsus in 46 BC which led to Cato's suicide.

VII: Agamemnon, the son of Atreus, fought the Trojans for ten years in Phrygia because the wife of his brother Menelaus was taken by them; to gain favorable winds for sailing he sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia.

VII: Odysseus (Ulysses) of Ithaca had some of his crew eaten by the Cyclops Polyphemus, but getting him drunk Odysseus blinded the one-eyed giant.

VII: Hercules is credited with accomplishing twelve great labors for which he won a heavenly reward. These included overcoming the half-human half-horse Centaurs, killing the Nemean lion, destroying the many-headed Hydra by fire and the Stymphalian birds with arrows, picking the golden apples of the Hesperides that were guarded by a dragon, capturing the triple-headed dog Cerberus, overcoming the river god Achelous, outwrestling Antaeus the king of Libya, helping king Evander and punishing Cacus for stealing cattle, and for a while taking the weight of heaven off the shoulders of Atlas.

Book V Freedom and Omniscience

This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. For ordering information, please click here.


BECK index