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Lady Fortune


"The Consolation of Philosophy" written by Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius in the early Christian era, is a western classic that uses both Stoic and Christian philosophical arguments to raise the spirits of its author, unjustly imprisoned and awaiting execution.

Boethius lived and prospered in the late classical / early Christian era (480-524 AD). He was wealthy, educated and held high office in the court of Theodoric the Great, before coming under suspicion of treasonous correspondence with the eastern Emperor (Justin I). 


In "The Consolation of Philosophy" Boethius, imprisoned and awaiting execution bemoans his fall from grace and good fortune. Despondent and desperate for salvation, he tells us the story of a visitation from Lady Fortune who appears in his cell to offer him hope and comfort in his hour of need. She does this by cleansing him of his incorrect beliefs about his situation.

Their meeting is chock full of inquiry, examination and debate. Early in their conversations, Lady Philosophy challenges his perceptions of his misfortune - using stoic logic -  to shock him out of his despondency. 

Recommended Reading

Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy

Translated by David R. Slavitt

Harvard University Press

Lady Fortune's wisdom...

The following arguments reinforce several stoic principles related to fortune and our impressions of the circumstances we find ourselves in. In her attempt to comfort Boethius, Lady Fortune must first show him that his circumstances are not unique, or without hope.


Good fortune is not something you posses completely, or forever. You were born naked and poor. I gave you comfort, luxuries, affluence and power and you grabbed them, as if they were your right. What I give is of little real lose nothing of importance when you lose those things. 


You wallow in grief because you believe that if you are not absolutely happy, then you are absolutely miserable. The most fortunate among us are not free from worry. Were you never worried or anxious when you were rich? 


Your misery is a frame of mind. You can find contentment in the most miserable of circumstances, if you know how to look for it. Look inside yourself for comfort. A calm, free mind cannot be disturbed. Despite your misery, you need to acknowledge the blessings you still possess. 

All men want to be happy, each seeking different routes towards that goal. Neither riches, nor power can guarantee happiness. Only virtue and those that are virtuous are worthy of admiration. Those who have abandoned goodness, have descended to the level of beasts.

Boethius felt that he - being a good man - was undeserving of the fate bestowed him. Lady Fortune reminds him that none of us are immune to the capricious nature of fortune and that material things are not the things of real value. She helps him see the silver lining in some very dark clouds. Later, as she advances Christian arguments to raise his spirits further, she reassures him that God rewards virtue and punishes the wicked. A 6th century transition from Stoic philosophy to Christian theology.

Here's some food for thought found recently in a social media meme (origin unknown). It underscores the role that fortune plays in the endeavours and intentions of men: "Every single corpse on Mount Everest was once a highly motivated individual."

As lady Fortune says "...none of us are immune to the capricious nature of fortune...".

Girl holds a glass glowing sphere. Styli

Fortune is a monster: lifting spirits up before dashing them down.

I have a wheel (of fortune): what is low can be raised high and what is high can be brought low again. 

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