To the first of these two arguments it may be replied that as the Latin original was laid aside, and B only was used in the preparation of C, Alfred might have easily overlooked some of the metra which were not preceded nor followed by the usual formulas; or again, he might have purposely omitted them for some reason or other. The second argument takes it for granted that Alfred must have been a good poet as well as a good king; and further, it puts C in a false light. We have to bear in mind that in the days of King Alfred, poetry, if ever it had been cultivated in the Edition: current; Page: [ xxx ] south of England as a branch of literature, had greatly declined in form and substance from the splendour to which it had attained in the preceding century in Northumbria.
The modern critic is too apt to compare C with this older poetry, much to the disadvantage of the former; whereas we should remember that C was most probably meant to be read aloud or chanted. Thus then the seemingly idle expansions and repetitions which we find in it, and the occurrence of words and phrases consecrated to the use of poetry, would have greatly added to its effect, and made it more acceptable to the illiterate but unspoiled West-Saxons, to whose ears the folk-songs were quite familiar. This is only an illustration of the fondness that all primitive races have for a regular chanted measure accompanied by a well-marked rhythm.
Further, we learn from the Life attributed to Asser that Alfred loved the poetry of his native land, and learned much of it as a child, and we may well believe that he would welcome the chance of himself adding to the national store of verse.
The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton
Nor should we forget that he has given us some specimens of his verses in the Preface to his Pastoral Care. To sum up then, there seems no reason to doubt the tradition of antiquity and the testimony of the prefaces, even if these were not written by the King, that it was Alfred who turned the prose of B into the verse of C. We may imagine that, having completed the prose version of the De Consolatione, he felt that by versifying the metra he should be only doing the right thing by his author, and at the same time giving the lays of Boethius a form that would readily lend itself to learning by heart and recitation.
There would be no necessity for bringing Edition: current; Page: [ xxxi ] new thoughts into the verses. He had shown plenty of originality already in his prose version of Boethius, far more than in any of his other translations; and, besides, a fresh handling of the subject would probably have taken more time than he could spare in his busy life. His end then would be fully attained if he produced a rough metrical version with the familiar alliteration and swing of the national poetry; and in this he succeeded very fairly.
His subjects may well have preferred the more long-winded verses, with their familiar poetical catchwords and reminiscences of the older poetry, to the more severe and colourless prose of his earlier version. Biblical and Christian. Noah, pp. Nimrod, p. Jerusalem, p. Heavenly city, pp. Angels, pp. Holy martyrs, p. Christ, pp. Christians, pp. Devil, p. God the roof and base, p. Unity of God, p. Orpheus and Eurydice, pp. Ulysses and Circe, pp.
Hercules and Busiris, p. Hercules and the Hydra, p. Titans war with gods, p. Weland the smith, p. Boethius, p. Cyrus and Croesus, p. Theodoric, pp. Nero, pp. Pope John, p. Aleric, p. Tarquin, p. Regulus, p. Homer and Virgil, p. Ptolemy, p. Burning of Troy, p. Roman Treasurers, p. Cato, p. Brutus, p. Cicero, pp. Catullus and Nonius, p. Nero and Seneca, p.
Papinianus and Antonius, p. Unnatural children, p. Mount Etna, pp. Scythians, pp. Thule, p. Pirate fleet, p. Noxious insects, p. Languages of the world, pp. Air, fire, and water, pp. Seasons, p. Sea and land, p. The lynx, p. True friends, p. Attributes of Wisdom, p. Common origin of mankind, p. Soul and body, pp. Sun, moon, and stars, pp. Saturn, pp. The Wain Shafts, p. Collapse of Universe, p. The use of fables, p. The spoken word, p. The threefold soul, p. Growth of trees, p. Instruments and materials for government, p. Race for a crown, p. The deed and the will, p.
Proud kings, p. Excess leads to sin, p. Folly and fools, p. The example of great men, p. Grades of intelligence, pp. Similes and Metaphors. Brook, river, and ocean, pp. Sifting meal, p. Ingot of metal, p. Fire and smoke, p. Woman in travail, p. Light shining through crack in door, p. Children and old men, p.
The eagle, p. Habits of swine, p. Crash of forest-tree, p. Refining silver, p. Wheel, nave, spokes and fellies, pp. Good seamanship, p. Dung in midden, p. The body and its members, p. Diseased eyes unable to bear light, p.
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The King with enslaved subjects, p. Taken together they give a fair idea of the course of English translation during the last five Edition: current; Page: [ xxxiii ] hundred years. The same passages, both from the prose and the verse, will be given where possible. The task would have been perhaps too heavy for the English language and for English learning.
During these centuries our speech had been as it were in the melting-pot. The old standard West-Saxon, in the political and social ferment that had followed the Norman Conquest, had given place to various provincial dialects as literary media. These in their turn had begun to merge in another standard form, rivalling in vigour and adaptability the Norman stocks from which it took many a graft.
This standard English, which at length emerged from the competition of dialects, to last with comparatively slight change to the present day, was largely indebted to the labours of our first great modern poet. Geoffrey Chaucer in the beginning of his literary career devoted much of his time to translation, and felt himself obliged, in the course of his work, to transplant hundreds of Norman-French words into his own tongue. By this means he made English a more complete instrument than he found it; and in his literal translation of the Consolation of Philosophy he laid the foundations of an English philosophical prose.
This version, all in prose, swarming with new words, the greater number of which are still in use, is of uncommon interest, as it is the first prose work of the master, and the source of the many allusions to and quotations from Boethius which run through his original poems. The real name of the translator is, in the Christ Church MS. His version was printed for the first and only time in , in The Boke of Comfort at the monastery of Tavistock. The following lines from the first proem are interesting:—.
A century and a half now passed before the next English translation of the Consolation made its appearance.
The Consolation of Philosophy
George Colvile, or Coldewel, turned the whole into English prose, and dedicated his book to Queen Mary in It pleaseth me to shew, with a sownynge songe, upon softe strynges, by what raynes or meanes, that is to say: by what naturall inclinacions, myghtie nature ruleth. And by what lawes nature beynge pronydente and circumspecte conserueth and kepythe the hole greate worlde. And by what lawes nature kepeth in and fastenyth all thynges with a fast and sure knot, that cannot be loosed. Althoughe the lions of Libia, haning goodly chaines aboute their neckes doo take mete at their maysters handes, and althoughe they feare their cruell mayster and be wont to suffer beating, yet if the bloud of beastes that the same lyons haue denoured do moist or tast in theyr mouthes, that is to saye: if they once taste bloude: then their corage that before was forgotten for lacke of vse, cometh agayne to his old nature and kynde.
And with greet roryng they breke their chaynes from theyr neckes, and fyrste of all their mayster that kept them as tame felyth theyr rauenyng rage, beyng rente into peces with their blody teethe, that is to saye they fyrste kylle their mayster, that kept them.
Likewise the syngyng byrde that syngeth vpon the hygh bowghes in the woode, if she be taken and put into a strayte cage, although the dilygent cure of men delytynge in her, geneth her swete drinkes and dyners meates wyth plesaunt labour: yet yf she chaunse to escape out of the strayt cage and seith the plesant shadowes of the woodes, beyng sorye of her strayt kepyng, ouerthrowith her metes and treadeth them vnder her fete and flyethe vnto the woodes, and there syngeth, and warbleth with swete notes and songs.
Also the sprigge or bough of a tree by greate vyolence made croked boweth downe the toppe, but when the hand of him that boweth it, letteth it go at lyberte, it holdethe the toppe Edition: current; Page: [ xl ] vpryght towarde heuen, that is to sai: it returnyth to his olde naturall course.
The sonne lykewyse that at euen before night fallyth as the poets faine into the westerne waters: by a secrete path retourneth his charyot, to his accustomed rysing. So that all thynges naturall do returne and come agayne, to their naturall courses. And all naturall things reioyseth at theyr returne to their owne nature. And nothynge hath any other prescribed order, but that onely that hath ioyned the begynnyng to the ende.
And hath so establyshed the worlde of it selfe: that it shall not chaunge from hys naturall course. Then if a man beynge myghtye to go vpon his fete walketh, another that lacketh the naturall offyce of hys fete laboureth to go upon his handes. Which of these may iustely be iudged more strong or myghtye?
I say, procede in thy other sayinges, for noo man doughteth but that he that maye go by naturall offyce of his fete, is stronger then he that maye not do the same. Even soo the soueraygne good before spoken of is shewed indifferently, aswel unto the euyll folke as to the good folke; but the good doo optayne it by the naturall offyce of vertue, and the wycked folke do enforce themselfe to get it by sundry couytous desyres of temporall and worldly thinges, whyche is not the naturall offyce or meane to obteyne good.
Dost thou thynke it other wyse? No truly, for the thyng, that is the consequence, is manyfest. And of these thinges that I haue graunted, it is necessarye, that good folke be myghtye, and euyll folke vnmyghtye and weake. Thou sayest right, and it is a sygne or iudgement that nature is recouered in the, and resisteth the dyssease, as the phisicions be wonte to hope of the paciente and sycke folke. In the Public Record Office in London there is a manuscript containing an English metrical version of all the carmina of the first book of the De Consolatione and the first two of the second book, made about Edition: current; Page: [ xli ] by Sir Thomas Challoner, Ambassador to the Low Countries in , and to Spain in These renderings in a variety of metres are so spirited as to make us wish Sir Thomas had translated the whole of the metres, as he says he was willing to do, if the burdensome duties of his office had allowed him.
Queen Elizabeth, amid the countless preoccupations of her high estate, found time to translate the Consolations of Philosophy at Windsor, and several other Latin works, in the year In this MS. Dost thou think the contrary? For heerby may we gather that I graunted afore, good men to be mighty, and yll men weake. The book is dedicated to the Countess of Dorset.
The metres are in terza rima. Wherefore if one, that can go vpon his feete, doeth walke, and another, who hath not this naturall function of his feete, endeuoureth to walke by creeping vpon his hands: which of these two is deseruedly to be esteemed the stronger? Inferre the rest quoth I for no man doubteth, but that hee which can vse that naturall function is stronger then he which cannot. But quoth she the good seeke to obtaine the chiefest good, which is equally proposed to badde and good, by the naturall function of vertues, but the euill endeuour to obtaine the same by diuers concupiscences, which are not the natural function of obtaining goodnesse.
Thinkest thou otherwise? No quoth I for it is manifest, what followeth. For by force of that which I haue already granted, it is Edition: current; Page: [ xlvi ] necessary, that good men are powerful, and euil men weake. Thou runnest rightly quoth she and it is as Physitions are wont to hope a token of an erected and resisting nature.
In appeared a free metrical version of the whole work, the prose being rendered in eight-syllable rhyming couplets the metre of Hudibras , and the verse in quatrains of a peculiar metre, a 8 b 6 a 8 b 8. This was written by Harry Coningsby, a Royalist. The rendering of Boethius Book iii. Proceed, said I, for it is unquestionable, that he who has a Power to perform those Actions, which Nature requires, has more Strength than he, who is not Able so to do. Dost thou think otherwise? No surely, said I: the Consequence also is very clear.
For from what I have granted, it must of necessity follow that Good men are Powerful, that Wicked men are altogether Feeble, and Impotent. Thou dost well, quoth she, thus to run before me; and this, as Phisitians are wont to hope, is a sign that Nature gathers Strength, and begins to resist the Disease. He mentions in his preface the version of Chaucer, that of , and that of In his verses we find an irregular metre, then much in vogue.
If then he who is able to use his Feet walks, and if another to whom this natural Office of the Feet is wanting, creeping upon his Hands, doth endeavour to walk, which of these, by right, ought to be esteemed more able? Proceed with what remains; for no one doubteth but he who is able to move naturally upon his Feet, is more powerful than he who cannot. But the Sovereign Good, which even the Vertuous and Impious propose to themselves as their End, by the one Party is sought by the natural means of Vertue, whilst the other endeavours after it by various and differing Desires of earthly things, which is not the natural way of obtaining it; dost thou think otherwise?
No; for the Consequence is plain, and it appears out of that which before I granted, which was, that the Good were endowed with Power and Might, and that the evil Men were destitute of it Ph. Thou dost rightly run before me; and it is a good Sign, as Physicians observe, when Nature exerts herself, and resists the Malady. During the eighteenth century there appeared four versions, none of which show more than moderate merit, and a few lines from the verse in each case will suffice as a specimen.
By the Rev. Philip Ridpath, Nonconformist minister, who alludes in his dedicatory epistle to the translations by King Alfred and Queen Elizabeth, and gives a Life of Boethius.
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London, He uses the octosyllabic couplet, much affected by Nonconformists of his day. By Robert Duncan, who employs the blank verse that his countryman Thompson had made fashionable again, Edinburgh, The last translation of the Consolations into English was made by H. James, London, First comes the Historical Introduction chap i. While Boethius is lying in the dungeon lamenting his hard lot and vanished happiness, there appears to him divine Philosophy, the spirit of Wisdom, who raises him up and bids him look on her. He then recognizes in her his old teacher whom he had known in his happier days.
She proceeds to show him that his misfortune arises from his neglect of her precepts, and his trust in the promises of fickle Fortune; and she undertakes to cure him of his melancholy. Philosophy tells Boethius that what he once accounted happiness was not really such; that he is not the first to suffer a reverse of fortune; that worldly joys are deceitful. Fortune changes, and men must also change with her. Boethius owes his misfortune to his desire for worldly happiness.
In reply, Boethius confesses his wrong and is in despair. Philosophy then points out that he is not really unhappy, for his sorrows will pass away as his riches have done. He has many blessings left—his noble father-in-law Symmachus, his wife, and his two sons Let him seek happiness within himself, not outside; for he does wrong to set his heart on inferior creatures, over which he has no right of possession. God wishes man to rule all other creatures, but man makes himself their slave.
Riches bring enemies; and power, often coming to very bad men, is not in its nature Edition: current; Page: [ liv ] good. As for fame, even if it be worldwide it has but a narrow range, this earth being a mere speck in the universe When Fortune turns her back on a man she does him a real service, in enabling him to find the way to goodness. Boethius admits that he is greatly comforted by the words of Philosophy, but he would like to hear more of her healing doctrine.
In what does true happiness consist? Thereupon Philosophy discusses the nature of the Supreme Good, and shows how all men, even the worst, long to reach it. This Good does not lie in power, nor in wealth, nor in fame, nor in high birth, nor in carnal pleasure; no, it lies in God; and therefore True Happiness lies in Him Men can participate in happiness, and thereby attain to divinity. Evil has no existence, for God, who can do all things, cannot do evil.
Boethius says he cannot quite cease to be unhappy until he knows why God suffers evil to exist, or why, suffering it, He does not punish evil-doers, instead of allowing them to flourish, while wisdom and other virtues go dishonoured. Philosophy replies that Boethius is mistaken, for the wicked have no real power, and never reach the Supreme Good, and moreover are punished.
Punishment is a real benefit to the wrong-doer. Then the discussion leads to the subject of Fate and Providence. Providence is the supreme Reason that plans and orders all things; Fate is the instrument which links them together, and sets them in motion, under Providence. King Alfred was the interpreter of this book, and turned it from book Latin into English, as it is now done. Now he set forth word by word, now sense from sense, as clearly and intelligently as he was able, in the various and manifold worldly cares that oft troubled him both in mind and in body. These cares are very hard for us to reckon, that in his days came upon the kingdoms to which he had succeeded, and yet when he had studied this book and turned it from Latin into English prose, he wrought it up once more into verse, as it is now done.
For every man must, according to the measure of his understanding and leisure, speak what he speaketh and do what he doeth. Theodoric was an Amuling and a Christian, though he held fast to the Arian heresy. To the Romans he promised his friendship, and that they should keep their old rights; but he kept that promise very basely, and his end was grievous and full of sin, in that his countless crimes were increased by the murder of Pope John. At that time there lived a consul, a chief we should now call him, whose name was Boethius, a man of book-learning and in worldly life most truly wise.
He, perceiving the manifold wrongs wrought by Theodoric upon the Christian faith and upon the chief men of the Romans, began to recall the glad times and immemorial rights they had once Edition: current; Page: [ 2 ] enjoyed under the Caesars, their ancient lords. And so meditating, he began to muse and cast about within himself how he might wrest the sovereignty from the unrighteous king and restore it to them of the true faith and of righteous life.
Wherefore, sending word privily to the Caesar at Constantinople, the chief city of the Greeks and the seat of their kings, because this Caesar was of the kin of the ancient lords of the Romans, he prayed him to help them back to their Christian faith and their old laws.
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But cruel King Theodoric heard of these designs, and straightway commanded that Boethius be thrust into a dungeon and kept fast therein. Now when this good man fell into so great straits he waxed sore of mind, by so much the more that he had once known happier days. In the prison he could find no comfort; falling down, grovelling on his face he lay sorrowing on the floor, in deep despair, and began to weep over himself, and to sing, and this was his song:. THE songs that I, poor exile, once sang so merrily I must now croon sadly sighing, and make of unmeet words.
I who of old did oft so deftly weave them, now even the fitting words I fit awry, weeping aye and sobbing. It hath turned its Edition: current; Page: [ 3 ] back upon me and utterly fled from me. Why, oh why, did my friends tell me I was a happy man? How can he be happy that cannot abide in happiness? Then how comes it that thou art thus grievously oppressed with these worldly sorrows? Unless, methinks, thou hast too soon forgotten the weapons that once I gave thee. With that the Mind turned towards her and forthwith clearly recognized his own mother, that same Philosophy that long before had trained and taught him.
And perceiving that the mantle of her doctrine was much rent and torn by the hands of foolish men, he asked her how this came about. And Philosophy made answer and said that her disciples had torn her thus, being minded to possess Edition: current; Page: [ 4 ] her altogether. But of a truth they will gather much folly by their presumption and vainglory unless every one of them shall turn again to her healing care.
If it forget its own light that is, joy eternal , and press on to unfamiliar darkness that is, the cares of this world , as this Mind now doth, naught else shall it know but sorrow. Wherefore, if only thou wilt show shame for thine error, I will soon begin to raise thee up and carry thee with me to heaven. Dost thou mark how the righteous are hated and oppressed because they are resolved to do thy will, and how the unrighteous are exalted by reason of their misdeeds and their self-esteem?
Even that they may do their wicked will the sooner, they are furthered with gifts and possessions. Therefore I will now call earnestly upon God. Wherefore, O Lord, hast Thou ever suffered that Fate should change as she doth, for she oppresseth the innocent and harmeth not the guilty at all? The wicked sit on thrones, and trample the saints under their feet; bright virtues abide in hiding, and the unrighteous mock the righteous.
False swearing bringeth no harm to men, nor false guile that is cloaked with deceits. Wherefore well-nigh all men shall turn to doubt, if Fate shall change Edition: current; Page: [ 6 ] according to the will of wicked men, and Thou wilt not check her. I knew that thou hadst departed therefrom, but how far I knew not, until thou thyself didst make all clear to me in thy song of sorrow. But though thou hast indeed wandered farther than ever, yet art thou not utterly banished from thine home, though far astray.
From hence, that is, from his righteous purpose, no man is ever banished save he himself so chooseth. Wheresoever he be, he hath that ever with him, and having it he is with his own kin and his own fellow-citizens in his own land, being in the company of the righteous.
Whosoever then is worthy to be in their service hath perfect freedom. What I seek here is not books, but that which understands books, to wit, thy mind. Very rightly didst thou lament the injustice of Fate, both in the exalted power of the unrighteous and in mine own dishonour and neglect, and in the licence of the wicked as regards the prosperity of this world.
But as both thine indignation and thy grief have made thee so desponding, I may not answer thee till the time be come. For whatsoever man shall begin untimely hath no perfect ending. Nor canst thou Edition: current; Page: [ 8 ] press wine in midwinter, though thou wouldst fain drink of the warm must. Wherefore I marvel beyond measure what ails thee, and why thou complainest, holding this faith. But let us consider the matter yet more deeply. I do not fully know which of thy doubts remain; but thou sayest thou hast no doubt that God guideth this world; tell me then, how would He like it to be?
I can hardly understand thy question, yet thou sayest I am to answer thee. Dost think I know not the danger of that confusion in which thou art wrapt around? Come, tell me what is the end that every beginning is minded to have? I knew it once, but this sorrow of mine has reft me of the memory of it. Knowest thou whence everything comes? I know that everything comes from God.
How can it be that, knowing the beginning, thou knowest not the end also? Confusions may distract the mind, but cannot rob it of its understanding. And I would have thee tell me whether thou knowest what thou art thyself? I know that I belong to living men, intelligent, yet doomed to die. Dost thou know aught else concerning thyself, besides this thou hast said? Now I understand thy melancholy, seeing that thou thyself knowest not what thy nature is; and I know how to cure thee. Thou hast said that thou wast an outcast and bereft of all good, in that thou knewest not what thou wast, and thereby thou didst make known thine ignorance of the end that every beginning has in view, when thou didst think that unguided and reckless men were the happy ones and the rulers of this world.
Furthermore, thou didst make known that thou knewest not with what guidance God ruleth this world, or how He would like it to be ordered, saying that thy belief was that this harsh Fate governs the world apart from the design of God. It was midway through the 6th century that the last…. This book was extremely popular and influential in the Middle Ages. It contains not only a Platonic view….
His Consolation of Philosophy was widely studied in the Middle Ages, but he also composed technically philosophical works, including translations of, and commentaries on, Aristotle. Beside him should be set his longer-lived contemporary, Cassiodorus c. It is true that the book is said to be, aside from the Bible, one of the most translated, most commented upon, and…. Oct 13, Joe rated it it was amazing Recommends it for: Absolutely everyone. I have read quite a few of the original works from all the philosophers covered in this book; this nails the relevent ideas and is waaaaaay easier to read.
This book could and should replace the entire pop psychology and self help sections of any bookstore. Botton reveals the truth that most of the ideas authors of those genres have been slinging around and re-using for so long were actually written a long long time ago. His format works best here and shows us that philosophy is not some far off I have read quite a few of the original works from all the philosophers covered in this book; this nails the relevent ideas and is waaaaaay easier to read.
His format works best here and shows us that philosophy is not some far off subject that has no relevency to our lives. It is our lives. He reveals that these philosophers weren't the strong jawed leaders we see portrayed in mable, rather they were mostly sickly depressed outcasts with no money who were just trying to figure out why things are they way they are and we can learn a lot from them.
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Jan 14, Antigone rated it really liked it Shelves: philosophy-psychology. Alain de Botton is on a quest for perspective. His first outing, How Proust Can Change Your Life , brought that legendary figure front and center in an engaging study of the Proustian approach to the universe - with special attention paid to insights useful enough to assist us in navigating the world today. Having tested those waters and determined them sufficiently warm, de Botton has moved on from Marcel to the far more ambitious and dustier sextet of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Sch Alain de Botton is on a quest for perspective.
Having tested those waters and determined them sufficiently warm, de Botton has moved on from Marcel to the far more ambitious and dustier sextet of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche Pause for amusement. That changing your life via Proust can result in the need for consolation seems worth a wry little grin. While I don't put much stock in de Botton's advice on the self-help front, the good news is that's rarely more than five percent of the content of these books. The other ninety-five invariably contains the nifty reconstitution of a prominent personality in all its baseline complexity - talents, accomplishments, fallibilities, habitual tics the shrewish wife, the impotence, the succession of poodles.
The six philosophers featured here are brought back to life in a genuinely personable way, and this makes them interesting. More than that, it makes them human. And that makes de Botton's modest volume an excellent spot to enter into the field we work so hard to keep on avoiding. I mean, c'mon. You've got Plato in one hand and anything else in the other. You tell me which wins. This was pleasant.
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And painless. If you're of a mind? Dig in. View all 4 comments. May 31, WarpDrive rated it liked it Shelves: philosophy. This is a self-help book providing a very simplified, popularized version of the approach to the problems of human life as expressed by some major philosopher such as Socrates, Seneca, Epicurus, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche. I have mixed feelings about this book: while the author is undoubtedly quite good at providing a very readable, witty and fluent narrative, on the other hand it must be said that there can be a blurred boundary between oversimplified interpretations and unoriginal plati This is a self-help book providing a very simplified, popularized version of the approach to the problems of human life as expressed by some major philosopher such as Socrates, Seneca, Epicurus, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche.
I have mixed feelings about this book: while the author is undoubtedly quite good at providing a very readable, witty and fluent narrative, on the other hand it must be said that there can be a blurred boundary between oversimplified interpretations and unoriginal platitudes on one side, and a concise, simplified but still meaningful and faithful representation on the other side: the author does not always manage to strike a proper balance, and to consistently stay on the right side of such boundary. In particular, I have been quite disappointed by how the philosophical thought of thinkers such as Schopenhauer has been trivialized up to the point of making it difficult to recognize.
I also found the choice of Montaigne quite strange - I recognize that such choices are always quite subjective, but I can easily think of dozens of philosophers who would have been much more highly deserving of pride of place in this book. On a more positive side, the representation of stoic thinking is quite good, and the book is peppered with some good points and interesting remarks and perspectives. So it is not uniformly bad at all, just uneven in quality and depth. Not too bad at all for a beginner with no or little previous exposure to philosophy; nice, quick, breezy and pleasant beachside reading for everybody else; just be aware that there is more consolation than actual philosophy here.
Not a bad book overall. View all 9 comments. Apr 12, Gordon rated it really liked it. In fact, he teaches philosophy at the University of London. Much to my surprise, Epicurus turns out to have little to do with the hedonism I always thought was the basic idea behind his beliefs. View 1 comment. Concise, relevant, down to earth, pragmatic. The spin of the book is that philosophy can help you overcome obstacles in your life unpopularity, poverty, frustration and a broken heart among others. It's a cute angle, but not to be taken too seriously. This book is a refresher, a booster injection to remind you of the contributions put forward by a handful of thinkers.
A wholesome tidbit before tackling Sophie's World or similar. Do not drive or operate heavy machinery while reading this book. Sep 23, Todd N rated it it was amazing. This is a strange and enjoyable mixture of philosophy and self-help and potty words! They can be read in any order. I couldn't wait for Nietzsche the last section so I skipped ahead and read that fourth instead of sixth.
But be careful not to dismiss this book because it makes its points clearly and with pictures to aid retention. Several times I had to force myself to slow down as I was reading it, so that I could reflect on what I was reading. The simple prose belies the heady concepts that it is covering. Highly recommended.
If you come across this in a bookstore or library, just read the section on love Schopenhauer for yuks and the ultimately depressing thesis. Not having experienced heartbreak in a while the will-to-life has already had its evil way with me , I can't vouch for what consolation if any the concepts in this section are. View all 5 comments. Recommended to David by: A friend from work who bought this book for me as a Kris Kringle. Philosophers show us how to handle life 11 August I guess the question that has been raised a number of times is whether this book is a self-help book.
I guess the problem with self-help books is that people don't like to be seen reading them because it creates the suggestion that maybe they have problems and that their life is not where they want it to be — in a sense it is a neon sign that blares to the world 'I am weak and helpless'. This is probably why people don't like to admit that th Philosophers show us how to handle life 11 August I guess the question that has been raised a number of times is whether this book is a self-help book.
This is probably why people don't like to admit that they are going to psychologists because of the same thing — it makes them appear weak and socially inept. Well, to be honest with you, one of the biggest selling books ever compiled is basically a self-help book, and that would be the Bible, though I would probably suggest that it is a little more than a self-help book in that it is not so much telling us how to overcome our problems, but rather that the God who is there is willing to provide us with that assistance.
Anyway, with regards to this book, it seems to take the name of a book written back in the middle ages by a guy name Boetheus. Now, I have never read the original book but it appears that Botton borrowed his ideas for this book from the original, in that the works of numerous eminent philosophers can assist us in the struggles that life throws at us. The difference is that Botton is able to draw on both modern and ancient philosophers in his search for comfort, as well as instruct us how their teachings can help us make sense of a chaotic world.
What I found interesting in this book is Botton's use of pictures, and he uses them extensively in this work, no doubt providing a break in the text. This reminds of some Goodreads commentators who also extensively use pictures to attempt to outline their views on a particular work. For instances, Botton will be writing about Socrates and be discussing a painting portraying his death, and will reproduce the painting as such: However, he does a little more than simply produce copies of pictures that he is referring to, or even pictures or carvings or the specific philosophers.
If, say, he is talking about a goat which he does he will then produce a picture as such: Or when he is talking about Neiztsche and the concept of the superman, he points out that it is not so much Neiztsche's writings that influenced Hitler, but rather his sister, as demonstrated by this picture: Anyway, I am probably getting a bit off track by using pictures, not that using pictures is a bad thing, but I will move on and outline each of the philosophers that Botton looks at, say a few words about their consolations, and then point out that the Bible actually also has answers for these problems as well though the philosophers are also quite helpful in that they tend to flesh these ideas out a bit more.
However, one point I need to make is that after reading this book I have a little more understanding of Francis Schaeffer 's concerns when he was talking about how modern philosophy is attempting to find away to provide answers to these problems by moving away from the bible. Socrates: The whole idea about Socrates is not so much his philosophy, though he does explore his philosophy and the concept of virtue, but rather the fact that at the end of his life Socrates was put on trial and sentenced to death on what turned out to be trumped up charges.
However, Socrates never despaired at his sudden unpopularity because even though his philosophy may have offended people, he still believed that he was right. To back this up, Botton then outlines that after his execution, the original people that brought him to court were suddenly turned upon and either forced into exile or executed themselves. While that may be cold comfort, one must remember that it is not the man who has lived on, but his teaching. Despite that moment of unpopularity, Socrates has gone on, after death, to become an incredibly influencial philosopher.
However, one should also remember that this was the same fate that Jesus suffered. There is a difference because at the end of Socrates' life he still had a core group of friends that supported him, and that when he was found guilty it was only by a small margin. Right up until the end he had friends and companions. Jesus did not. He died alone, on the cross, with pretty much everybody either deserting him or turning against him.
Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating, but Socrates had more company at his death than did Jesus, yet Jesus went on to become one of the most influential figures in the history of humanity. Epicurus: I once suggested that the core of Epicurean philosophy is 'if it feels good, do it. However, the idea that comes out here is that wealth does not necessarily bring happiness, friendship does.
Okay, Epicurus did not live a life of poverty, but his philosophical writings pointed out that happiness does not come out of possessions, but out of the company of others. I can attest to that personally because even though I lived in a big house and had a nice car I also desired companionship, and love, and the lack of that still made me depressed. Also, while the car itself started off nice it pretty much ended up where all cars finish their lives: the scrap heap.
However, while Epicurus is correct in pointing out that friendship is more valuable than wealth, what happens when these friendships break down. The problem with friendship is that we desire it so much that when we get caught up with the wrong type of friends we simply do not want to give them up for fear of being alone.
The same is the case with people who live in abusive relationships. Also friendships are not necessarily permanent as we humans are a flawed lot and are prone to fight. While it might be fun living in a commune for a while, that is not necessarily going to last. Once again the Bible offers an answer to that as well and that is the suggestion that God is the perfect friend, and father. Granted, he may be slow at answering prayers, and may impose certain rules on us that we may not like, but seriously, is a good Earthly father going to give us everything we want.
If we want to stick our tongue in a power socket, is a good father going to let us do that, or is he going to want to prevent it. You see, the difference between friends and God is that God is reliable, though the other difference is that he is not present physically, which ends up requiring a leap of faith. Seneca: The section on Seneca deals with frustrations, and what better person to turn to since he was the tutor to one of the most sadistic emperors Rome had ever known, and no matter how much he tried to get away, Nero would step in and prevent him.
In a way, just like a spoilt child, Nero wanted Seneca as his play thing, and when he no longer wanted him, he had him killed. The basis of Seneca's philosophy is simply this: the world is a chaotic mess — learn to deal with it. To go further: just because something annoys you, it does not necessarily mean that the person causing that annoyance is specifically targeting you though some people are sadistic enough that they will go out of their way to annoy as many people as possible.
So, the crux of the philosophy is this: don't take everything so personally, expect the unexpected, and expect the worst. Goblets get smashed at parties and builders make noise — that does not mean that the builder, or the universe, is out to get you. Jesus suggested something similar, though I think the Church does not necessarily annunciate it appropriately. Basically Jesus once said 'if the world hates you, it is because they hated me first'. What he is saying is that if, as a Christian, you are being persecuted, it is not because they are persecuting you, but because they hate the Christian message.
However, we can take this further. If somebody is acting like a git, and you are suffering because they are acting like a git, it does not necessarily mean that they are personally targeting you though sometimes they are but rather because they are basically a git. In fact, you may be surprised to discover that if you are being annoyed by a particular person, there are probably quite a lot of other people out there that are annoyed by this particular person as well, so, as Seneca says, don't take things so personally.
Montaigne: I have written a lot about Montaigne elsewhere, but the crux of this section deals with difference. Basically, the idea is that if you are different, then that is not necessarily a bad thing because there are a lot of different people out there, and you are one of them. In fact, the Bible actually points out that each and every one of us are unique, and that is something to be joyful about. Schopenhauer: Now the idea that comes out of Schopenhauer is how to deal with rejection. Basically his idea is that there is this subconscious 'will to live' namely an innate part of the human race that wants to propagate itself.
However he goes further to suggest that we want to propagate with the person who will produce for us the best child, and as such we will seek out that partner that can give us that child. Therefore, if we are rejected it is not something that is conscious, but something that is subconscious. Darwin explores this idea further in his writings on sexual selection, and no doubt he borrowed from Schopenhauer's thesis when he was writing this. My concern here is that because we live in a flawed universe, this 'will to live' in itself is going to be flawed as well. Humanity does not necessarily want to breed out the worst traits and keep the best traits, because if that were the case, we would be clearly on our way to becoming ubermensch.
However, we are not. We are still greedy, selfish, and racist. While our technology has increased, we have also remained lazy. Instead of using slaves to do the work we don't want to do we use machines. This demonstrates that this so called 'will to live' is not breeding out those traits that we don't like. In fact, the whole Hollywood premise is that we should marry physical beauty, and if the idea of the 'will to live' is to propagate beauty, then we are far from moving towards the idea of the ubermensch.
Nietzsche: I cannot begin writing about Nietzsche without doing this: Okay, he is not necessarily one of my favourite philosophers, but I also think he is a much misunderstood philosopher. For instance, the idea of the ubermensch was not Hitler's idea of the Ayrian Master Race, but rather the idea of the enlightened person. A person who has risen above their base, animalistic urges, to embrace the reality of the universe, and developed the ability to think and reason.
Now, the philosophy of Nietzsche that is explored here is an idea that is actually not new, and that is 'no pain, no gain'. The idea of climbing a mountain is used. To get to the top of the mountain, one must climb the mountain, and in climbing the mountain, one suffers pain, but at the top of the mountain the person is rewarded with spectacular views.
Yes, granted, this is simplistic because these days we can also catch a cable car, but that can provide other forms of pain such as waiting in line and paying exorbitant fees. Now, Nietzsche hated alcohol because he believed that it was a quick way to happiness which was not happiness in itself.
Basically Nietzsche suggested that to achieve our goals, one had to experience pain to get there and all alcohol did was to dull that pain. However, he also hated the New Testament, believing that it taught the same thing. Personally I believe that the apostle Paul would disagree with him vehemently.