Platonism In Boethius

Actually, it’s more Plato, than Platonism, which is arguably something different than the the ideas of Plato. Arguably.

I have a strange attachment to Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy. Over a decade ago, my Aunt Petey was in a coma and she was taken off, to use the sterile, clinical phrasing, nutrition and hydration and then brought to her eldest son’s home, where the family gathered and waited.

At one point, I stood beside her bed and started reading aloud from Consolations. Maybe because I was reading it anyway or maybe because it was written by a man waiting to die. Maybe I just thought my family would think me extra super smart if I did it. Maybe I was just killing time, even as my aunt was killing time in a far more literal sense. I honestly don’t remember why.

But whatever my motivations, certainly, something like that burns a particular work onto the brain.

When I read Gorgias, I was unexpectedly hit by some parallels. There are some obvious between the Beothius of Consolations (the only Boethius that I know) and the Plato I know from his broader corpus (though I haven’t read all of Plato): their lack of respect for poetry (which, granted, was more like theater or even pagan ritual at the time) and the fact that the Socrates of Plato’s dialogues, including Gorgias, is always in a state of waiting to be taken away to die, much as my Boethius is in a cell, waiting for eventual punishment (which turned out to be execution, as he suspected).

Gorgias had an unexpected metaphysical aspect, as Socrates argued for the scales of justice righting themselves in the world hereafter as a way for the correct path – the best life, as it were – to be finally rewarded, even if lots of bad things happened to good people in this one, along with some pretty awful people seemingly to live pretty fun loving and enjoyable existences. In the Consolations, the figure of Philosophy (a woman, by the way) seems to take Socrates’ role and lead Boethius to the realization that his unjust accusers are, for this metaphysical reason, ultimately less happy than a just and good man, even if he is about to be tortured and killed.

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