Boethius: Philosopher Beats Tyrant

Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, 2.15-35

(In this passage, Boethius probably alludes to a popular story about the death of Zeno of Elea)

“What in reality is this desired and famous power of yours? Won’t you, earth-born creatures, contemplate who it is you think you command and how? If you saw one mouse among the rest declaring that he had right and power over them, you would laugh so much! Indeed, if you consider only our body, can you find anything weaker than man, whom a fly often kills with a bite or by burrowing into some internal place? How, truly, is there any control over anyone except over his body or, over what is less important than his body, his fortune? Is there any way to rule a free mind? Is there any way to disturb a mind strengthened by true reason from a state of fundamental peace?

When a tyrant thought he was going to force a free man to betray the men conspiring against him with torture, that man bit his own tongue, severed it, and spat it at the face of the rabid tyrant. Thus, the torture, which the tyrant believed to be a tool of cruelty, the wise man made his weapon of virtue. What, then, is there which anyone could do against a man which he could not have done to himself by another?”

boethius

Quae vero est ista vestra expetibilis ac praeclara potentia? Nonne, o terrena animalia, consideratis quibus qui praesidere videamini? Nunc si inter mures videres unum aliquem ius sibi ac potestatem prae ceteris vindicantem, quanto movereris cachinno! Quid vero, si corpus spectes, inbecillius homine reperire queas quos saepe muscularum quoque vel morsus vel in secreta quaeque reptantium necat introitus? Quo vero quisquam ius aliquod in quempiam nisi in solum corpus et quod infra corpus est, fortunam loquor, possit exserere? Num quidquam libero imperabis animo? Num mentem firma sibi ratione cohaerentem de statu propriae quietis amovebis? Cum liberum quendam virum suppliciis se tyrannus adacturum putaret, ut adversum se factae coniurationis conscios proderet, linguam ille momordit atque abscidit et in os tyranni saevientis abiecit; ita cruciatus, quos putabat tyrannus materiam crudelitatis, vir sapiens fecit esse virtutis. Quid autem est quod in alium facere quisquam possit, quod sustinere ab alio ipse non possit?

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