Boethius is blaming Fortuna for having left him: once he was a celebrated scholar working at the court of Theodoric and esteemed by everyone. Now he is in prison on charges of treason and waiting for his death penalty. Philosophia is reproaching him for this: one should not rely on Fortuna as human life is unstable. Take for instance the change of seasons: there is the warm-blowing western wind (Zephyrus), the nebulous southern wind (Auster) and the stormy northern wind (Aquilo). Like the seasons life of man is. One thing is certain (constat), that nothing is certain for human beings.
Boethius: De Consolatione Philosophiae, book 2 p3 (second half) and m3
Dedisti, ut opinor, uerba Fortunae dum te illa demulcet, dum te ut delicias suas fouet. Munus quod nulli umquam priuato commodauerat abstulisti. Uisne igitur cum Fortuna calculum ponere? Nunc te primum liuenti oculo praestrinxit. Si numerum modumque laetorum tristiumue consideres, adhuc te felicem negare non possis. Quodsi idcirco te fortunatum esse non aestimas, quoniam quae tunc laeta uidebantur abierunt, non est quod te miserum putes, quoniam quae nunc creduntur maesta praetereunt. An tu in hanc uitae scenam nunc primum subitus hospesque uenisti? Ullamne humanis rebus inesse constantiam reris, cum ipsum saepe hominem uelox hora dissoluat? Nam etsi rara est fortuitis manendi fides, ultimus tamen uitae dies mors quaedam fortunae est etiam manentis. Quid igitur referre putas tune illam moriendo deseras an te illa fugiendo?
verba do = laudo
demulceo: to touch softly
ut delicias suas: as her darling
munus… abstulisti: you carried off the prize (of meeting Lady Philosphia.)
commodo: to grant
calculum ponere: to make up the bill
liuenti oculo praestrinxit: has touched you with a dark (i.e. envying) eye
quodsi idcirco: but even if therefor
non est quod: there is no reason
vitae scenum: the stage of life (life as a play on stage was – and is – a common metaphor)
uelox hora: quickly running time
fortuitis manendi fides: (litt.) faith (In things) unstable of remaining. (Note the reafliojnship between fortuitus and Fortuna.)
ultimus tamen uitae dies mors quaedam fortunae est etiam manentis: that last day of your life is some kind of death of Fortuna, even if she is remaining (all your life).
quid igitur referre: what difference does it make
(meter: sapphic (uneven line) and glyconeus (even line)
- u - x - u u - u - -
x x - u u - u –
Cum polo Phoebus roseis quadrigis
Lucem spargere coeperit,
Pallet albentes hebetata uultus
Flammis stella prementibus.
Cum nemus flatu Zephyri tepentis
Uernis inrubuit rosis,
Spiret insanum nebulosus Auster,
Iam spinis abeat decus.
Saepe tranquillo radiat sereno
Immotis mare fluctibus,
Saepe feruentes Aquilo procellas
Uerso concitat aequore.
Rara si constat sua forma mundo,
Si tantas uariat uices,
Crede fortunis hominum caducis,
Bonis crede fugacibus!
Constat aeterna positumque lege est
Ut constet genitum nihil.
polo: at the heaven
quadrigae: chariot drawn by 4 horses
palleo pallui: to become pale
albentes hebetata uultus: (the stars stella: collective singular) becoming dim with regard to their white faces
Uernis inrubuit rosis: reddens through spring roses
(sub) tranquillo sereno (serenum: bright sky)
verso aequore: the sea being whirled
vicis vicis (f.): change, condition
caducus: frail, transitory
genitum: poetic gen. pl.
Translation by H.R. James (1897):
—methinks thou didst cozen Fortune while she caressed thee, and made thee her darling. Thou didst bear off a boon which she had never before granted to any private person. Art thou, then, minded to cast up a reckoning with Fortune? Now for the first time she has turned a jealous glance upon thee. If thou compare the extent and bounds of thy blessings and misfortunes, thou canst not deny that thou art still fortunate. Or if thou esteem not thyself favoured by Fortune in that thy then seeming prosperity hath departed, deem not thyself wretched, since what thou now believest to be calamitous passeth also. What! art thou but now come suddenly and a stranger to the scene of this life? Thinkest thou there is any stability in human affairs, when man himself vanishes away in the swift course of time? It is true that there is little trust that the gifts of chance will abide; yet the last day of life is in a manner the death of all remaining Fortune. What difference, then, thinkest thou, is there, whether thou leavest her by dying, or she leave thee by fleeing away?'
When, in rosy chariot drawn,
Phœbus 'gins to light the dawn,
By his flaming beams assailed,
Every glimmering star is paled.
When the grove, by Zephyrs fed,
With rose-blossom blushes red;—
Doth rude Auster breathe thereon,
Bare it stands, its glory gone.
Smooth and tranquil lies the deep
While the winds are hushed in sleep.
Soon, when angry tempests lash,
Wild and high the billows dash.
Thus if Nature's changing face
Holds not still a moment's space,
Fleeting deem man's fortunes; deem
Bliss as transient as a dream.
One law only standeth fast:
Things created may not last.