Boethius, born in 477 B.C. was a Roman senator. He is known in our era chiefly for the literary work he left behind. Most notable among those is The Consolation of Philosophy. One of the things Boethius discusses as he sadly observes the fall of the Roman Empire is the symbolic construct he refers to as “the wheel of fortune”. The idea is that fortunes change, and are never constant. The one constant thing about Lady Fortune is her inconstancy.
It’s my belief that history is a wheel. ‘Inconstancy is my very essence,’ says the wheel. ‘Rise up on my spokes if you like but don’t complain when you’re cast back down into the depths. Good time pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it’s also our hope. The worst of time, like the best, are always passing away.
As Boethius’ fortunes turn for the worst and he laments his fate, Lady Philosophy challenges him:
But Lady Philosophy stayed my tongue and would not let me slander she who turns the Wheel. Was it not my choice to make Lady Fortune my mistress? Did I not surrender my calm peace of mind to her flattering ways? Who exactly did I think I was taking as my companion and guide?
“Know this,” Philosophy spoke and sang, “that Lady Fortune shows her constancy by being inconstant. Were she ever to stop the spinning of her Wheel, she would no longer be Fortune. Indeed, she can only be constant by being perpetually inconstant. That is her nature and her end. Those who make her their mistress must turn with each turn of her Wheel.”
In other words, to attach our affections to the temporal pleasures of life is to make Lady Fortune our mistress, and when the wheel of fortune turns, as it always does, we will be ill-equipped to handle it. But even the bottom of Fortune’s wheel serves a purpose:
All fortune is good fortune; for it either rewards, disciplines, amends, or punishes, and so is either useful or just.
Empires rise and fall, and as I consider the words of Boethius I wonder how close our civilization is to the bottom of Lady Fortune’s wheel.