Centuries before the Wheel of Fortune was in a television game show, it was an image in medieval art. A woman personifying Fortune might be standing beside it as it stood on its side, like a Ferris wheel, with people shown in different positions on it, positions that would change once Fortune spun the wheel again. The message was clear: Sometimes you’re up, and sometimes you’re down.
A different female personification speaks in today’s reading, “When Fortune Seems Kind” (CUA Primer, page 48). She is Lady Philosophy, and she has a warning about that other woman, Fortune. The scene takes place in the imagination of Boethius and in his book The Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius had been a political star in the Roman Empire around the year 500, and his two sons were each installed in the Roman office of consul on the same day.
(By the way, this was during a time when the western side of the Roman Empire, which contained the city of Rome, had seen ups and downs its own, and was experiencing its long process of breaking apart. The eastern side of the Roman Empire had as its capital Constantinople–now called Istanbul (not Constantinople). That side kept on going for roughly another thousand years. We now call that side the Byzantine Empire, but they saw themselves as Romans. You can learn more about what happened to both sides of the Roman Empire from CUA’s Center for Medieval and Byzantine Studies.)
Although Lady Philosophy comes from Boethius’ imagination, the occasion depicted in the Consolation comes from the world outside his mind. As Boethius wrote the Consolation, he was imprisoned and awaiting execution, just as shown in the book. The historical evidence we have suggests that the charge was without merit and politically motivated. He had fallen out of favor with the man in charge, Theodoric. Boethius had been up, and then he was down.
Lady Philosophy makes some interesting observations about fortune, telling Boethius that although we think that good fortune has greater benefits than bad fortune, the truth is, paradoxically, the reverse. What are some of the benefits that Lady Philosophy says that bad fortune bestows? Have you ever experienced something beneficial from bad fortune?