Boethius Quote on Hope


What could this mean? Is he referring to false Hope or Expectation? True hope is a theological virtue. So what kind of Hope might Boethius be referring to?


Theological hope is the expectation of being in heaven with God. That’s why out of faith, hope, and love, love is the most important one— because in the afterlife, there’s nothing else to hope for (because you have full contentment in the presence of God) and there’s no requirement for faith (because you see God as he is). So all that’s left is love/caritas.

Boethius’ poem reminds me of Sir Edward Dyer’s famous poem— basically, being self-sufficient and content with what you have, to the point that no one outside of you can manipulate you with offers of wealth/status/gain. When you allow yourself to be tossed around by promises from those above you, and hoping to gain what they’ve offered, you’ve allowed yourself to lose mastery over yourself by becoming dependent upon those promises and expectations.

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such present joys therein I find,
That it excels all other bliss
That earth affords or grows by kind:
Though much I want that most would have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed a loving eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall;
For why? my mind doth serve for all.

I see how plenty surfeits oft,
And hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those which are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all:
They get with toil, they keep with fear:
Such cares my mind could never bear.

Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look, what I lack my mind supplies.
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.

Some have too much, yet still do crave;
I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store;
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss,
I grudge not at another’s gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain:
I fear no foe, I fawn no friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.

Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will;
Their treasure is their only trust,
A cloakèd craft their store of skill;
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.

My wealth is health and perfect ease,
My conscience clear my chief defence;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offence:
Thus do I live; thus will I die;
Would all did so as well as I!


I think sometimes (my own interpretation) when you hope, with that comes anxiety, and those two mixed together can be a recipe for disaster; a self fulfilling end driven by the paranoia of loss. But if you move in the world to accomplish an end without worry of a hope, without worry of a loss, expecting nothing in return for your motivation, then there is less fear and more chance that you will not buckle under the beckoning call of failure.

People with nothing to lose tend to dig themselves out of the darkest holes. And people with something to lose always have their minds focused on loss.

The hope of faith is a bit different. But if we focus our mind on the journey then there is more chance of reaching the destination. Don’t hope to get there, just get there.

I don’t know, that’s just what i think he is trying to say.


Also, remember where Boethius is writing from.

He’s sitting in prison while waiting for his execution.

Can you imagine how nerve-wracking that was? Basically sitting on the medieval equivalent of Death Row? Will you get a last-minute pardon? Will someone intercede on your behalf against injustice? etc, etc, etc. How many ups and downs did he experience before he finally found tranquility?

Here’s the translation of that passage in mine-- it’s more prosey, less poetic.

The serene man who has ordered his life stands above menacing fate and unflinchingly faces good and bad fortune. This virtuous man can hold his head unconquered. The threatening and raging ocean storms which churn the waves cannot shake him; nor can the bursting furnace of Vesuvius, aimlessly throwing out its smoky fire; nor the firey bolts of lightning which can topple the highest towers. Why then are we wretched, frightened by fierce tyrants who rage without the power to harm us? He who hopes for nothing and fears nothing can disarm the fury of these impotent men; but he who is burdened by fears and desires is not master of himself. He throws away his shield and retreats; he fastens the chain by which he will be drawn.


This was Boethius’ muse quoting from the Iliad.

So the word hope isn’t being expressed as the theological hope that Boethius would have been familiar with. It’s simply a quote from the Iliad.


It is saying that when one worries about all the consequences that doing the right thing might have, and hopes not to have any, they will be slaves to whatever or whoever is controlling them. If they “have nothing to lose” then they will be able to stand up to even the “fierce tyrants” who then will become just “impotent men”, because their power is maintained only by fear and people not wanting to suffer anything bad by challenging it. It seems to be talking about hope for everything to go well, instead of hope by doing what is right no matter what.


“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” Ps 118:8


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