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ALFRED's Translation of BOETIUS's Consolations of Philosophy.
BOETIUS flourished at the close of the fifth
century.' He was master of the offices to His trans Theodoric, king of the Goths, who had the discernment to appreciate his intellectual acquisitions, but who at last destroyed him, from a political suspicion, in 524. While he was in prison on this charge, he wrote his celebrated book, de Consolatione Philosophiæ, whose object is to diminish the influence of riches, dignity, power, pleasure, or glory; and to prove their inadequacy to produce happiness.
HE fancies that philosophy visits him in prison, and, by expanding these views, reconciles his mind to the adversity he was suffering. The Author of existence is suggested to be the sovereign good*,
1 See Gibbon on the character, studies, honours, and death
2 The letter of Theodoric to Boetius, full of panegyric on
4 The first and last part of his address to the Supreme, is
On darkling man, in pure effulgence, shine:
From thee, great God! we spring; to thee we tend;
Rambler, No. 7.
and all that the reasonings of a Cicero could supply CHA P. is adduced to show that worldly prosperity is, of itself, as inferior in value and comfort as it is uncertain in its duration, and capricious in its favours. THE book of Boetius is praised by the Erigena, whom Alfred admitted into his friendship. That the king translated it is stated by Ethelwerd, who was his kinsman, and almost his contemporary; by Malmsbury', and by other chroniclers; and by the Saxon preface to the work itself, which reads like the king's own language. A MS. of the Anglo-Saxon translation exists in the Bodleian library, with the metrums rendered in prose.
See his Div. Naturæ, p. 32. 34. 113. and 174. Gibbon calls the book of Boetius "a golden volume, not unworthy of the leisure of Plato, or Tully." Hist. Decl. vol. iv. p. 38.
6 Ethel. Hist. p. 847. 7 Malm. p. 45. and 248. 8 Henry de Silgrave; MSS. Cott. Cleop. A. xii. p. 15. and Joh. Bever, MSS. Harl. 641. p. 21.
9 Its literal translation is:
"Alfred, king, was the translator of this book; and from booklatin into English turned it, as it now is done. Awhile he put down word for word: awhile sense for sense, so as he the most manifestly and intellectually might explain it for the various and manifold worldly occupations that oft, both in mind and in body, busied him. These occupations are very difficult for us to number, which in his days came on this kingdom which he had undertaken. He learned this book, and turned it from Latin to the English phrase, and made it again into song, so as it is now done.
"And now may it be, and for God's name let him beseech every one of those that desire to read this book, that they pray for him, and do not blame him if they should more rightly understand it than he could: because that every man should, according to the condition of his understanding, and from his leisure, speak what he speaks, and do that which he doeth." See the original in Rawlinson's edition.
10 See Wanley's Catal. p. 64. 85. From this Rawlinson published his printed work.
BOOK Another copy existed in the Cotton library with V. the metrums in Anglo-Saxon verse", the preface to which also mentions Alfred as the translator. 12
Alfred considered as a moral essayist.
His feeling of connu
In this translation of Boetius there is a value which has been hitherto unnoticed. It is that Alfred has taken occasion to insert in various parts, many of his own thoughts and feelings. He has thus composed several little moral essays, and by them has transmitted himself to posterity in his own words and manner.
It is highly interesting, at the distance of nearly one thousand years, to hear, as it were, our most revered sovereign speaking to us in his own language, on some of the most important topics of human life. Right feeling and true wisdom appear in all these effusions, and entitle him to be deemed the first moral essayist of our island. As this is new ground, which has been hitherto unexplored, we will extract and translate literally several of the passages which Alfred has added to his version.
BOETIUS had made philosophy call upon him to remember that, amidst his misfortunes, he had comfort yet left him-a celebrated father-in-law, his wife, and children.
ALFRED, after adding, "It is untrue, as thou thinkest, that thou art unhappy," proceeds to enlarge on the short description of Boetius with such
11 It was MS. Otho. A. 6. when it was collated by Rawlinson. It has been since burnt. Wanley thought this MS. was one written in Alfred's life-time. The versification of the metrums seems to be what the prose preface alludes to " and made it again into song."
The plan of Boetius is to add to each division of his prose dialogue a metrum on the same subject in Latin verse.
12 See Rawlinson.
emphatic repetition, that it may be read as his own CHA P. feeling of the value of an affectionate wife.
THE passages in italics are the additions of Alfred.
"Liveth not thy wife also!-She is exceedingly prudent, and very modest. She has excelled all other women in purity. I may, in a few words, express all her merit: this is, that in all her manners she is like her father. She lives now for thee; thee alone. Hence she loves nought else but thee. She has enough of every good in this present life, but she has despised it all for thee alone. She has shunned it all because only she has not thee also. This one thing is now wanting to her. Thine absence makes her think that all which she possesses is nothing. Hence for thy love she is wasting, and full nigh dead with tears and
ALFRED dwells on the "vivit tibi" of Boetius with manifest delight, and dilates upon the thought as if with fond recollections of the conduct of his own wife, who shared his adversity with him.
CONGENIAL with this subject is the narration which he has given of Orpheus and Eurydice. Boetius, in a metrum of Latin verses, has in a more general manner described the incident. But Alfred tells the story so completely in his own way, and with so many of his own little touches and additions, as to make his account an original tale.
"It happened formerly, that there was an harper in that nation which is called Thracia. It was a country in Greece. This harper was incomprehensibly good. His name was Orpheus; he had an incomparable wife: she was called Eurydice.
"Men then began to say of that harper, that he could harp so, that the woods danced, and the stones moved, from its sound. The wild deer would run to him, and stand as if they were tame; so still, that though men or hounds came against them, they would not shun them.
13 Alfred's Boet. p. 17. Rawl. Ed. Boet. lib. ii. prosa 4.
"They mention also that this harper's wife died, and her soul was led into hell. Then the harper became very sorry, so that he could not be among other men. But he withdrew
to the woods, and sat upon the mountains both day and night, and wept and harped. Then the woods trembled, and the rivers stopped, and no hart shunned the lion; no hare the hound. No cattle knew any mistrust or fear of others, from the power of his songs.
"Then the harper thought that nothing pleased him in this world. Then he thought that he would seek the gates of hell, and begin to sooth with his harp, and pray that they would give him his wife again.
"When he came there where he should come, that hellhound, whose name was Cerverus attacked him.
three heads, but he began to sport with his tail, and to play He had with him for his harping. There was also there a very terrible gate-warder: his name should be Caron: he had also three heads, and he was very fierce. Then began the harper to supplicate him for his protection while he was there, and that he should be brought out from thence sound. Caron promised him this, because he was pleased with his uncommon song.
"Then he went on further, till he met the grim goddesses that the multitude call Parcas. They say that they provide honour to no men, but punish every man according to his deserts, and that they govern every man's fortune.
"Then he began to intreat their mercy, and they began to weep with him. Then he went further, and all the citizens of hell ran against him, and led him to their king. And all began to talk with him, and to ask what he prayed.
"The restless wheel that Ixion was bound to, the king of Larista, for his guilt, stood still for his harping; Tantalus, the king that in this world was immoderately covetous, and whom the same evil passion followed, his covetousness was stayed; and the vulture forbore to tear the liver of Titius, the king that before was thus punished; and all hell's citizens rested from their torments while he harped before the king.
"When he had long and long harped, the king of the citizens of hell called him and said, 'Let us give this slave his wife, for he hath earned her by his harping. Bid him, then, that he may well know, that he must never look back after he is gone from hence;' and he said, If he look back, he shall lose this woman.'
"But men can with great difficulty forbid love. Wel-a-way!