I’ve been brushing up on the Classical scholar Boethius as part of the Attributes of God part of my Philosophy course by reading his most well known work, ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’. What struck me, when I turned to the first page, is that it does read very much like first-person fiction. Of course, Boethius isn’t really visited by an apparition-like lady who regales him with ideas of the world – it was all his own ideas to console himself when unjustly thrown in prison.
However, there is something very fluid about the work (I can hardly call it a novel, can I?), whether it’s the translator’s word and syntax choice when translating the original Latin, or just Boethius’ use of voice and subtle imagery, attributed to being educated in one of the linguistic high-spots of the fifth century. His work is typical of Roman writers.
Indeed, as a writer myself, I enjoy the Classical languages’ turns of phrase. Often, I agree with the thoughts of the philosophers I read, who often opt for a landscape of equality and clever implications.
However, in the first ‘book’ of the Consolation of Philosophy, I came across an idea of Boethius’ that I immediately rejected. It was well known that the arts were of secondary interest to the Greeks and Romans, in spite of poetry and drama being recited at regular intervals. Thus, the author is in keeping with this when he writes Lady Philosophy as saying of the Muses:
“Who has allowed these hysterical sluts to approach this sick man’s bedside? They have no medicine to ease his pains, only sweetened poisons to make them worse. They are the very women who kill the rich and fruitful harvest of Reason with those barren thorns of Passion.”
Now, really? That’s a bit harsh!
Perhaps it’s right to divide Passion from Reason in a logical, linguistic sense. Dualism has always been a prominent theory, because it makes sense to declare that there is more than meets the eye in the world around and within humanity. Aristotle thought that the soul was split into two parts, one which dealt with logic and the other with instinct. Boethius himself agreed that Philosophy differs – it can be practical or contemplative.
Many areas of life are split into their different aspects and it is this which makes them unique and interesting. I love Philosophy because it delves into so many different areas of life, both current and temporal.
However, some things shouldn’t be left as utterly separate, such as the arts and the sciences, or Reason and Passion in a living sense. Why? Because they work very well together. Most people have a hobby outside their usual work as proof to the point.
Lady Philosophy later describes the Muses as Sirens, and it is with this that I have my biggest quarrel.
Sirens take us away from our intended target – they are a pleasant but false distraction. Is this what I find nowadays with music or drama? No; I find that these ‘Sirens’ often point me towards a goal, be it related to such arts, or a Reason-related telos that becomes clearer having exposed myself to the creativity boosts.
I don’t think the arts are qualities of ‘sweetened poisons’. I believe that a middle ground can be found out of a combination of both Reason and Passion. Then again, I am applying a modern take and modern theory to my ideas. I can quite understand why the Romans might have seen no similarities in the two disciplines.
If I had my own Lady Philosophy-like conscience, I’d be a bit worried that she might try and part me from my poetic and creative urges. Even if writing was considered scholarly, I would still have to retreat from daily life into the glorious freedom of poetry, like Nero from the flamma Romae. Too, music and drama are my solaces, and I don’t know what I’d do were I to give them up. Many people I know play musical instruments and they are often so very talented that I have more respect for them than for those who don’t play. I also think it is unfair that Apollo, god of poetry, music, prophecies is nearly always portrayed as effeminate, and thus, inferior. *whispers* He is my favourite Roman god, though.
I shan’t choose between Philosophy and the erudite ways or Drama and the creative ways. We must, surely, all have creative instincts within our human selves, even just as temporary ways to de-stress. As I said, the two are required to make a healthy person, like the balances of the humours.
What would you do if you had to choose between Reason and Passion?