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Boethius: Fortune's Prisoner, trs James Harpur

Anvil £8.95

Of old Roman aristocratic stock, the great philosopher-theologian Boethius came to the attention of Theodoric, the Gothic king of Italy, whose enlightened attitude failed him when Boethius was slandered by an envious foe. In prison, awaiting execution, Boethius composed his great Consolation of Philosophy. Like many starved of help and in need of some echo from elsewhere, he imagined an interlocutor, in his case, an angel, talking him out of the "sickness" of his misery. Most of the work is in prose; James Harpur, however, has given us the poems.

Boethius's deeply intricate thought (in which, for example, evil is conceived not as the opposite of good so much as its shadow), is here distilled into beautiful aperçus. "So in this way reciprocating love / Creates anew the world's eternal cycles / And strife is exiled from the starry shores." As an explanation for cosmic order this might not please the hard-core materialist, but, as a dream dreamt in a cell of nightmare, it should inspire everyone.