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The Cosmology of Boethius and the Ancient Literature Essay


In his work Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius develops a cosmology according to which the universe functions in a non-random way. Moreover, his model implies that there is a certain force which maintains this orderly functioning of the universe. Yet, cosmology also leaves some degree of freedom to people, and their actions are not described simply as deterministic.

These are the main principles that this philosopher distinguishes. This paper is aimed at discussing such a novel The Golden Ass written by Apuleius. In particular, it is necessary to determine to what extent this novel is consistent with the cosmology developed by Boethius.

On the whole, it is possible to argue that this literary work provides the model of a chaotic or disorderly world which is not necessarily driven by some internal logic. Therefore, it does not support the views expresses by Boethius. Nevertheless, there are some important similarities. In particular, both authors pay attention such a concept as free will and underline its limitations. These are the main arguments that should be examined more closely.

To some degree, Apuleius’ novel challenges the ideas expressed by Boethius because this literary work stresses the importance of gods, goddesses, and even demons who can affect the life of a person. This worldview is not compatible with the cosmology developed by Boethius who believes that God is the single force which can influence the universe, including human beings (Boethius 114).

In contrast, the narrative presented by Apuleius contains many examples indicating there can be no single power which can govern the life of people. For instance, one can refer to the story of Cupid and Psyche. In particular, Cupid saves Psyche even despite the will of his mother, goddess Venus (Apuleius 183).

Moreover, he even asks Zeus to grant immortality to Psyche (Apuleius 183). These conflicts and compromises challenge the concept of some universal power which has no rivals. So, Apuleius’ conception of the world challenges Boethius’ cosmology. This is one of the main points that can be made.

Furthermore, in this novel, Apuleius frequently stresses the role of coincidence and fortune as one of the key factors that affect the life of the main characters. The events that the author describes are not necessarily determined by some rational being that has some clear objectives. It is important to mention that Boethius reduces the role of chance or luck to the minimum. Instead, he attaches much importance to God’s providence (Boethius 114).

In his view, fate is only the instrument through which divine reason “weaves all things together in their proper orders” (Boethius 114). More importantly, in his opinion, providence is a benevolent force which seeks the wellbeing of a person. This is one of the main assumptions made by this philosopher. In contrast, Apuleius personalizes fortune, and it is regarded as a whimsical and unpredictable being that can sometimes play practical jokes on people. This is one of the main issues that should be considered.

For instance, Lucius, the protagonist of this story, believes that Fortune transformed him into ass and exposed him to many dangers and hardships (Apuleius 324). However, at the same time, this force rescued him many perils. Additionally, one can mention the tale told by Aristomenes (Apuleius 50). Even though, his intentions and actions are mostly noble, he suffers from injustice.

This paradox plays an important role in this novel because it illustrates the complexity of the society in which Apuleius lived. This worldview does not coincide with the idea of providence because Boethius’ model cannot accept the idea of illogical point. This is one of the main issues that should be considered because it is vital for analyzing these books. Additionally, these examples can throw light on the differences in the worldviews of Boethius and Apuleius.

Apart from that, the narrative created by Apuleius is not consistent with the conception of an orderly universe as it is depicted by Boethius. It should be mentioned that this philosopher stresses the importance of harmony or the combination of different elements.

For instance, Boethius writes “you bind in number and ratio the elements, ice and flame…” (Boethius 71). In the view of this philosopher, the universe has some inherent laws. Certainly, Apuleius does not try to determine the way in the world is created. Nevertheless, the novel incorporates numerous elements that contradict the principles of Boethius’ cosmology.

For instance, one should speak about various twists of the plot, coincidences, or people’s use of magic. Again, these elements does not support the cosmology developed by Boethius. Apuleius does not try to seek the logic which governs the functioning of the universe. This is the main distinctions between these authors. This detail should not be overlooked by the readers.

Yet, one should not assume that this ancient novel completely contradicts the views of Boethius. It should be taken into consideration that this philosopher does not deny the concept of free will (Boethius 115). In particular, he believes that a human being has the capacity to choose between various options such as ethical and unethical decisions.

An individual should not be compared to an automaton that cannot think independently. Yet, an individual can operate only within certain limits that are set by God’s providence. This paradoxical nature of a human being is an inherent component of Boethius’ philosophy and cosmology. To some degree, these ideas are explored in Apuleius’ book. For example, Lucius can take independent actions in order to save his life.

Moreover, he can sometimes pass his judgment on the behavior of other characters. Nevertheless, in many cases, his choices are very limited and he only can comply with the demands of other people. As a rule, he acts as a mere observer of various events, but not a participant. These details are vital for understanding the actions of the protagonist and the structure of the narrative. This detail is important for the analysis of this book.

On the whole, this discussion indicates that the cosmology introduced by Boethius is not fully supported by the ancient authors. This philosopher attempts to show that the universe follows certain patterns or laws set by some universal power. In contrast, Apuleius describes the world in which there are many entities that can influence the lives of people.

This is one of the main issues that can be identified. Apart from that, in this novel, the author portrays a chaotic world, and this perception of the universe is not compatible with the cosmology of Boethius. Nevertheless, Apuleius and Boethius view free will in a similar way. These are the main aspects that can be identified. They are critical for understanding the differences between late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

Works Cited

Apuleius. The Transformations of Lucius: Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass, New York: The Floating Press, 2009. Print.

Boethius. Consolation of Philosophy, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2001. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2018. "The Cosmology of Boethius and the Ancient Literature." December 27, 2018. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-cosmology-of-boethius-and-the-ancient-literature/.

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IvyPanda. (2018) 'The Cosmology of Boethius and the Ancient Literature'. 27 December.

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