Festschrift for the feast of St Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius, 23 October.
Now whoda thunk that an apparently purely entertainment TV game show actually references one of the more important topics in philosophy, with a history back to ancient Rome and an influence for centuries thereafter, including why there's Lutherans and what we think we're doing here.
It all comes from the Latin phrase "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" which is usually translated "fortune favours the brave" and is generally taken to mean that those who take risks, or at least take action, are going to be luckier, or at least get more results, in life than those who don't.
It was first written by a Roman playwright named Terence, which is also my first name.
There's just a bit more to it than that. First a bit about who that Terence was, then about who this Terence is, then about the famous phrase, what it means and the significance of that.
About Terence, or, My Name Is Terence and I'm a Playwright.
The English name Terence comes from the Roman playwright Terentius. Here's where the fun starts. Terence is a "first name" in English but Terentius is not a "first name" in Latin. It wasn't my name at birth and it wasn't his at birth either. And, I am not of the ethnic descent of the people who gave me that name, and he wasn't either.
Here's the deal. The Roman Terence was born around 185 or 195 BC, depending on which ancient source got it right. He was born in or around Carthage, or possibly to a woman in Greek-speaking Italy (yeah, they spoke more Greek than Latin in Rome back then, it was the cultural language) who was sold into slavery and then taken to in or around Carthage. He himself was sold as a slave to a Roman senator named Publius Terentius Lucanus, who brought him to Rome, gave him an education, and then, apparently impressed with the result, adopted him and freed him, which made him a Roman citizen. Ancient sources indicate he was lost at sea in 159 B.C., making him either 36 or 26 at the time of his death.
So why do we call him Terence? Well, Romans actually had three names. First comes the praenomen, which means your first name, or given name as it is called. Second comes the nomen, aka the nomen gentile or sometimes the gentilicium, which by whichever term designates the clan, or gens, from which one came. Third and last comes the cognomen, which designates your family branch, stirps in Latin, among the branches (stirpes) within the clan. We still use the cognomen term in estate law, where distribution of the estate per stirpes is equal to each branch no matter how many people are in each branch, as opposed to per capita, by head, meaning equal to each individual. This structure is even older than the Romans, who got it from the Etruscans before them.
But that's Romans, not slaves or kids of slaves who become slaves themselves. Nobody knows what Terentius' birth name was, but it wasn't Terence, sure as hell. His name reflects his status as a Roman citizen, upon being freed. So he took the praenomen Publius, meaning "public", which was one of the relatively few first names, and was also his former master's first name, and took the clan name of his master, Terentius, and for a last name to distinguish his family within the clan, took Afer, since he was not a blood Terentius but from Afer.
Afer, what the hell is that, sounds like Africa. Yeah it does and for good reason. Africa now means the whole continent, but in Terence' lifetime it meant the land of the Libyan tribe the Afri, who hung in and around Carthage, which is in modern Tunisia but was founded as a Phoenician colony in 814 BC, or so the Romans said. But when the Romans trashed Carthage in 146 BC, by which time Terence had been dead several years, the Carthaginians themselves were called Punic, a reference to Carthage's Phoenician origin, and Afri came to mean the Libyan Berbers around them.
So hard telling. He may have been a Berber, although that use of Afri is just a little later than his lifetime. Or, he may have been Afri, who were descendants of Abraham's grandson Epher, hence the name Afri, according to Titus Flavius Josephus, the great Roman historian. Btw Josephus was another non-Roman who got a Roman name on being made a Roman citizen, and is there ever a story to that. Or, Terence may have been none of the above and was who knows what, since when you're a slave you don't get a hell of a lot of choice about where you end up.
Afer as a Roman cognomen meant people who whatever else were from in or around Carthage, but that doesn't clarify whether he was from there originally, and if so was he Afri or something else, or was he something else and got brought there.
So we got a guy whose birth name and people are not known, who was sold as a slave but treated well and educated, and when freed took his former master's praenomen or given name, his clan name, within which he was distinguished by his Carthaginian/Tunisian origins at least with regard to the Roman world.
About Terence, or, My Name Is Terence and I'm a Blogger.
Now, when I was adopted, my new mother wanted to name me Cornelius Steven, but my new dad wanted Terence James. Dad won. Which is unusual twice over. For one thing generally mothers get naming rights, and for another the usual RC practice in those days was to name a kid after one of the saints. So here's my dad naming me after a pagan Roman playwright and the RCC allowed it, and so I was baptised at Holy Name By God Cathedral in Chicago.
My details aren't as murky as the Roman Terence, but here's the thing. I don't know how it's done now, but in those days after an adoption a birth certificate was rewritten with the adoptive parents as if it were a live birth. What I have for a baptismal certificate is not the certificate itself, but a signed documents from Holy Name By God Cathedral ("By God" isn't actually in the name, I'm just clowning around, happens from time to time on this blog) dated 1958, probably because we were in Minnesota by then and a parish wanted evidence that I had been baptized. It says that a baptism was on record for 7 July 1950 and there's my adopted name. Thing is, according to the court documents, I wasn't placed in my adoptive parents care until later that month, and the adoption and name change wasn't official until February 1951. So, it may well be that the baptism was re-expressed to reflect my later adoption and name change. Even God knows better than to mess with Cook County (ok, more clowning around). But no matter how exactly it happened, I ended up with a non-saint's name, and picked by my dad, both factors unusual at the time.
My adoptive parents were of Irish-American stock, which completes both the irony and the fittingness of the name Terence for me. I learned later, from seeing the adoption papers among my parents' stuff after they died, my original name. Douglas John Clutterham. The last name is English, from the Suffolk area specifically, making me an Angle by descent, not Irish.
So I get a first name from a guy whose first name it wasn't! Which is OK, you don't hear Publius much these days. And neither that Terence nor this one started out with the name, or came from the people who gave him that name (he wasn't Roman and I ain't Irish), but got names that look like it by, as they say in insurance, major life event. He by being freed from slavery and made a Roman, me by being adopted. I doubt Dad was thinking of all that, but he did know the correct spelling to give me, which, the original being Terentius, is Terence. No double damn r.
Which was totally in tune with what was to come, namely, the great gift of the Christian faith, as revealed in Scripture and accurately confessed in the Book of Concord. Not in not having a saint's name, since there ain't no Saint Douglas either, but in getting Terence. Luther admired the plays of Terence and quoted them a lot, and thought they were good for kids to learn in their educational formation.
Ain't that a kick? My first Lutheran pastor once said -- not sure if he was joking or not -- that my growing up in Minnesota and going to a Bavarian Benedictine founded school and picking up German and the whole German thing was God's way of getting me to be ready to be Lutheran, so I could lapse into German when ranting. But right there at the RC origins, I was given the name of a Roman playwright Luther admired!
About the Saying, or, What the Translations Can't Translate.
Now to the phrase itself. I think I learnt it "Fortuna fortes adiuvat". OK, "adiuvat" is the verb and verbs go at the end of a sentence in Latin, so at least that part's right. It means "helps" or "assists" or "aids", and you can see it in the English word "adjutant", which means a helper, or assistant, or aide. So what's "fortes"? It's the direct object of the verb, the one helped or assisted or aided, and means "the brave" or "the strong", and you can see it in the English word "fortitude" for courage aka guts or grit.
So, the generally accepted Latin form is "fortes fortuna adiuvat" and the generally accepted English translation is "fortune favours the brave". It was widely used as a proverb and first appears in a play by Terence, namely, in line 203 of Phormio. End of story? Oh hell no.
For one thing, the first of many, some Latin scholars contend that it should be fortis fortuna adiuvat. Huh? Well, Latin is an inflected language, which means that the function of words is shown by differences in how the word ends rather than by prepositions cluttering things up and word order as in English. These differences are classified into typical uses of words, called cases, and direct objects, which are that to which the action of the verb is applied, go in what is called the accusative case.
Some say that while "fortes" is the usual ending of the word in the plural accusative in Latin generally, in Terence's time -- which was 195 or 185 to 159, which was the era of the Roman Republic, before the Roman Empire -- the accusative plural was then fortis, not fortes, and so in his play it's actually fortis fortuna adiuvat. The Latin texts available online give it both ways.
The next thing is, fortes literally means the strong, as in physically powerful, not the brave, but just like "strength" itself, the word took on a figurative meaning of brave or courageous from the associated connotation of those characteristics with the physically strong. Like we may say "Be strong" meaning to man up and get through it rather than start working out. So that makes it literally "fortune favours the strong".
Now to the verb. "Favours" is a little different than "aids" or "assists". "Favours" is more a general reference to your overall chances, but "aids" or "assists" or "helps" means that someone or something is actually actively helping or assisting you. That's a real big difference, and that's where "fortuna" comes in. The word is obviously the root of the English words "fortune", "fortunately" and the like, but while now it's like random chance or good luck or something like that, in Latin and to the ancient Romans it wasn't just that, it was the goddess Fortuna who was in charge of that.
So altogether, that makes it more like the goddess "Fortuna helps the strong".
That was a real big deal. Fortuna's sacred day was 11 June. The cult of Fors Fortuna (hey, there's that "strong" thing again) was found all over the Roman world and was a festival on 24 June. Fortuna was known as Tyche to the Greeks, from whom the Romans took much of their original state religion, and Fortuna, as Tyche, was all over the Greek world before the Roman world. The Roman name comes from Vortumna, which means "she who spins the year" and if you're paying attention, there you go with a "wheel of fortune".
But, just like with the saying from Terence, wheel of fortune isn't all there is to it. It's rota Fortuna in Latin, not just wheel of fortune, but the wheel of the goddess Fortune. As she spins the year what happens to you during the year shakes out. Thing is though, you don't get to buy any damn letters to move things in your, uh, favour, so instead, you'd better hit her temple and make her happy, or, you might just say she's a fickle whore who does what she damn well pleases anyway so who cares about her temple. Both opinions and behaviours were common in the ancient world.
About Augustine's Answer, or, So What?
Now is this just some more musty old stuff from Past Elder? Hey, why do you think books with titles like "Purpose Driven Life", "Your Best Life Now" and are best sellers for years? Why do you think people say "shit happens"? Judas H Priest, the whole question of whether life is just a bunch a random stuff that happens without any meaning or any ability to change it much and then you die, or, does it have a meaning, maybe even a reason or purpose, and you can get in there and affect it, has been bugging Mankind since there's been Mankind. It's the biggest question of all -- Why?
So we've got the wheel of the goddess Fortuna, and the original Wheel of Fortune, Rota Fortuna. As she spins the wheel, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, stuff just seems to happen, and here we are wondering if there's any rhyme or reason to it, to life. A lot people still wonder that about life.
Terence's phrase became a commonplace saying and had been used and/or quoted by heavyweights of Roman literature. Pliny uses it in his Epistles (don't freak, no lost works of the Bible here, just means "letters"). Cicero referred to it as a proverb. Virgil used it in the Aeneid (Book Ten, Line 284) as audentis fortuna iuvat. Audentis is where English gets audacity, audacious, etc, iuvat is just plain helps, the "ad" intensifies the intention toward (that's what "ad" is, toward) someone, so you get the idea. And Ovid topped that in his Metamorphoses (10/86), saying not just Fortuna but God himself helps the bold. Well OK he actually wrote audentes deus ipse iuvat, I translated.
Another guy from Carthage, good old Augustine, took Fortune on in De civitaitis Dei contra Paganos (On the City of God Against the Pagans). Gus wrote The City of God right after the Visigoths trashed Rome in 410. The Romans were wondering if maybe that sacking happened because of two things. One, thirty years before, the state abandoned the traditional Roman religion for the new state Catholic Church that was established by the co-emperors Theodosius in the East and Gratian and Valentinian II in the West issuing the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380. Two, the new Imperial religion then launched a destruction of the sites and institutions of the old Imperial religion (details in the next section). As part of making the case that this is was not the cause, Gus says Fortune, since she brings good things to good and bad people alike, is unworthy of worship. That's his answer to why good things happen to bad people I guess, along with why abandoning the traditional religion didn't bring down the whole damn Empire.
About What Sets Up Another Answer, or, Everything Falls Apart.
But Boethius, writing over a century later, about 524, as he was waiting to be executed, took a different slant on Fortuna. Holy crap, executed -- for what? Well, more Goths, this time of the Ostro kind. Visigoths were from what is now Spain, Ostro or East Goths were from the Balkans.
The Western Roman Empire was gone by 524. The last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, had been deposed by Odoacer, a non-Roman Roman officer of uncertain origin though his name is Germanic, on 4 September 476. Odoacer's army proclaimed him the first "King of Italy" though he was a "barbarian". At first the Roman Senate thought it would be fine to just continue under the remaining of the two Roman Emperors, the Eastern one, Zeno at the time. Zeno made Odoacer a Patrician but also thought he should restore emperor Julius Nepos, whom Romulus Augustus had overthrown. Well actually his father Orestes, Julius Nepos' military chief of staff (magister militum) overthrew him, then named him emperor.
Odoacer declined to do so, and as his power increased, Zeno determined to get rid of him and promised Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths, that he and the Ostrogoths could have Odoacer's Italian kingdom if they would get rid of him. Theodoric and Odoacer's forces slugged it out all over Italy. Now both these guys were Arian Christians btw, not the kind still around. Anyway, a treaty was signed and a celebration arranged, at which Theodoric proposed a toast then killed Odoacer personally. And that's the real story of the real "Dietrich von Bern". (OK you Lutherans oughta be laughing like hell right now, if not, go read the preface to the Large Catechism.)
Which far from being a "useless story" here shows that the century between Augustine and Jerome, both of whom we saw in recent posts on each's feast days, and Boethius, was one hell of a century. Here's a timeline of the major events Rome did replacing its traditional religion with its new Catholic Church.
380, the Roman Empire both East and West constituted the Catholic Church and made it the state religion on 27 February with the Edict of Thessalonica; Damasus, pope after killing supporters of a rival, is proclaimed to have the true faith from Peter, emperor Gratian refuses title of pontifex maximus, head of the state Roman religion, established by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome, elected by the Senate after the death of the first king and co-founder of Rome (21 April 753 BC) Romulus. The Babylonian Captivity of the Church begins.
382, Jerome called to Rome to help Damasus, then run out of town after Damasus dies.
390, the Roman Empire destroys the Temple of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi.
391, the Roman Empire destroys the Serapeum and Great Library of Alexandria.
392, the Roman Empire ends the Eleusinian Mysteries after 2,000 years.
393, the Roman Empire ends the Olympic Games for Zeus, begun 776 BC, after that year's games.
394, the Eastern Empire crushes classic Roman resistance to the Catholic Church on 6 September at the Battle of The Frigidus.
394, the Roman Empire disbands the Temple of Vesta, established by Numa Pompilius, second king of Rome (715-673 BC), and puts out its eternal flame.
395, Augustine becomes Bishop of Hippo.
410, the Visigoths under Alaric sacked Rome on 24 August.
420, Jerome died on 30 September.
430, Augustine died on 28 August at 75.
455, Rome was sacked again this time by the Vandals.
476, Romulus Augustus was deposed becoming the last Western Roman Emperor on 4 September by Germanic foederati (non-Roman allies) of Rome under Odoacer.
475 to 480, somewhere in there, Boethius was born.
The entire world these guys knew changed completely during these decades. Jerome himself said of it, that the city which had conquered the world had now itself been conquered. Augustine and Jerome lived at the end of the Western Roman Empire, which is also to say at the end of the full Roman Empire, either divided into East and West or undivided, whereas Boethius never knew that and was born right about the time the last Western Roman Emperor was deposed leaving only the Eastern Roman Empire.
As the Western Roman Empire approached its end, at the same time as its state Catholic Church was busy destroying the institutions of the classic Roman religion, its theologians were busy incorporating and synthesising the state church's faith with classic Roman philosophy -- which religion and philosophy were derived from ancient Greece before them -- and the bishop of Rome increasingly became a symbol of stability that the emperor of Rome no longer was.
Goes like this. "Pope" Leo himself met with no less than Attila the Hun in 452 and averted a sacking by the Huns, due to the grace of God. Well, the one helluva lot of gold he brought along to buy them off mighta helped too. Then on 2 June 455 he met with Genseric, King of the Vandals, trying to repeat his performance with Attila, which this time did not prevent a sacking but did hold its severity down somewhat with less physical destruction than the Goths did in 410.
But the Vandals, like the Goths Germanic types who were Arian Christians and who by then were operating out of North Africa, made off with so much loot, and people to be sold as slaves, that it became legendary, and centuries later, the religious and social order destruction following the French Revolution was described as "vandalisme" by the bishop of Blois Henri Gregoire in 1794, the year the Reign of Terror ended, which quickly became a name for any notable destruction -- vandalism.
It is right here that the doctrine of "Petrine" supremacy becomes established. Petrine, what the hell is that? Nothing to do with St Peter, but with the popes, the bishops of Rome, who had come from being proclaimed by the Roman Empire as conservators of the true Apostolic faith in 380 to just 70-some years later meeting with leaders of powers about to kick Rome's butt. But in the face of that oncoming destruction Leo asserted a religious authority complementary to his civil influence, with the bishop of Rome assuming the significance of the long-gone undivided emperor of Rome, the last emperor of an undivided Roman Empire being Diocletian, who retired (about the only one to do so without being killed into retirement) 1 May 305.
So from an edict issued during the reign of the last Roman Emperor of both the Eastern and Western Empire, Theodosius in 380, Leo just decades later harks back to the last Roman Emperor of an undivided Roman Empire. Just as "Rome" became more a concept than a place as new imperial seats of power (Trier, Milan, etc) emerged, as Herodian put it "Rome is where the Emperor is" (OK that's an English translation of his Latin words), so now Rome asserts itself as the seat of power, and not just a concept, and that is where Peter is, meaning Peter's supposed successor the bishop of Rome, and he heads the whole Christian church, with the heads of local churches valid insofar as they are "in communion" with him.
None of which has the faintest justification in Scripture, but when the entire world about you is swirling down the tubes politically and culturally it looks pretty good, and when this pontifex maximus, now the Roman pope rather than the Roman emperor, is about all that's left it looks damn good. Unfortunately it still looks damn good to many looking for the Kingdom of God to have the same external signs of visibility and continuity as a Kingdom or State of Man.
About Boethius' Answer, or, So What Revisited?
Theodoric, though Germanic, was interested in keeping the culture and institutions of the Roman Empire going, and appointed Boethius his Master of Offices (magister officiorum), the head of the government bureaucracy. Theodoric was educated in Constantinople, capital of the Eastern Empire, and kind of worked out a deal where the defeated Romans could continue their thing under his rule while the Goths continued the Goth thing. As part of this, Theodoric, though an Arian Christian, was pretty favourable toward the Pope, head of the Catholic Church, about the only major institution of the Roman Empire in the West to survive. Theodoric was effectively but unofficially the new Western Roman Emperor.
Boethius, a Roman, was a Trinitarian, or Nicene, Christian, which is to say Christian in the usual sense now, and eventually Theodoric, an Arian Christian, came to distrust him, thinking he might be more in sympathy with the effective AND official emperor of the surviving Eastern Roman Empire, then Justin, also a Nicene Christian. So he ordered him tried and executed for treason. Thing is, while he is awaiting execution, he writes this book, one of the most influential books ever, and for some time THE most influential book in philosophy, as a consolation, but it's not the Consolation of Christianity but the Consolation of Philosophy. Well, De consolatione philosophiae, actually. Christianity is never mentioned or treated by name, but it sounds a lot like Christianity, and that's because since Augustine Christianity sounded a lot like Plato.
The basic idea of the Consolation is pure Platonism -- even if everything looks like it's going right straight to hell it ain't. Now you might say well hell, don't Christians believe that too? Yes they do but with a different idea about why that is. For Christians it's not just a matter of an ideal world that is truly real beyond the mess we see here, old Fortuna spinning her wheel in what appears to be real.
But Boethius, and this is typical of everything about him, blended Christianity and Roman/Greek philosophy to-gether, so that while Fortuna may indeed spin her wheel, apparently at random and pretty much indifferent to the results, nonetheless, distinct from Gus' take that therefore she is unworthy of worship, she is herself subject to God and her effects and any other such effects all bend to the unseen plan of God, so it's all good even when it looks like pure crap. So the Consolation is kind of like the Book of Esther, in which as the rabbis pointed out God is not mentioned yet he is everywhere present in it.
Boethius was on a mission, and the mission was, to pass on the learning and wisdom of the Greek/Roman world falling apart in his time to the new world that would emerge from it. So he translated into the new language of learning, Latin, the great works of classic learning in Greek.
Specifically, he attempted to pass on the system for organising and teaching knowledge outlined in his book De arithmetica. You may have heard of this system, it's the Seven Liberal Arts. And within that system, for example, he attempted to pass on the three-fold division of one of those arts, called musica -- but, musica means a hell of a lot more than we do by "music". What we mean by music was the lowest of three levels of it and best left to the uneducated. All that stuff was the subject of my doctoral dissertation, and a lot of it is summarised in the post "Readin, Writin and Absolute Multitude" posted in February on this blog.
What's "absolute multitude" and didn't I mean arithmetic? I ain't gonna tell you here since it's in the post and no I didn't mean arithmetic, which too was more than the word means now. Well hell, you didn't think the future Past Elder was gonna write another music theory dissertation in which some obscure piece or musical relationship is analysed into further obscurity while putting everyone who isn't into such things, which is nearly everyone, to bloody sleep, now did you? Hell no.
You can read a rather good summary about Boethius by "Pope" Benedict XVI, given at a general audience on 12 March 2008, here.
Boethius succeeded in his mission. His works would form the backbone of the learning system for centuries in the new world that emerged from the ancient. The Consolation was one of the bedrocks of education and formation for hundreds and hundreds of years to come. King Alfred of old England, Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth (not the current one, the first one) all translated it, it's all over Dante and Chaucer's original works, Shakespeare too, and students read and studied The Consolation for a thousand years after.
About Time, or, Conclusion.
Ironic, isn't it, that Theodoric, the non-Roman Arian Christian Germanic type who became effectively the new Roman Emperor, in the West anyway, and Boethius, the Roman Nicene Christian that Theodoric had executed for suspected Eastern sympathies, were both concerned that Roman, and thus classical Greek along with it, learning and culture survive into the new world just beginning to emerge from the destruction of the Western Roman Empire.
The Eastern Roman Empire survived until it fell to the Islamic Ottoman Empire in 1453. Whereupon the Russian regime of Ivan III (no, not the "Terrible", that was Ivan IV, his grandson) of the Grand Principality of Moscow took up the mantle: Czar, or Tsar, is a Russianisation of "Caesar", Ivan married the niece (Sophia Palaiologina) of the last Eastern Roman Emperor (Constantine XI), and Moscow established itself as the "Third Rome". The state church of the Roman Empire survives in the East in the various churches known as Eastern Orthodoxy. I might mention that the Eastern Roman double-headed eagle, adopted by the Russian Empire, survives in the coat of arms of the Russian Federation, after an interruption by the Soviet Union. Then again, I might not.
In the West, the state church of the Roman Empire survives in what is known as, though this is not its actual name, the Roman Catholic Church. It would be joined by what its participants understood to be a transfer of rule, translatio imperii in Latin, of the authority of the Roman Empire in what would later become known as the Holy Roman Empire, sacrum romanum imperium in Latin, which survived until Napoleon dissolved it in 1806.
As the Empire was falling apart and the Western Empire fell in 476, the idea that this fall happened because of abandoning traditional Roman religion for the then 96-year-old state Catholic Church was so prominent that, as we saw above, Augustine wrote a huge volume generally known in English as The City of God to say that wasn't so.
It was so.
Not as a matter of the truth or falsity of any religion. Believe what one will about why it happened, there is no disputing that it did happen that:
1) in the West, although the translatio imperii is defined in terms of political entities, these entities brought with them the culture and learning evolving through the Romans since the ancient Greeks, and this survived and grew throughout the Holy Roman Empire, and
2) in the East, though the Eastern Empire survived nearly a thousand years after the Western, it fell to the Islamic Ottoman culture and the mantle passed to Russia.
The Roman Empire did not survive the abandonment of its traditional religion for its then-new state church, but its state church did survive the loss of the Empire, and around it, both East and West, new entities carried on the culture and learning. This is why Boethius' answer is to be preferred over Augustine's, which is actually no answer at all.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, the great orator and statesman of the Roman Republic, once said "Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum." Yeah, yeah, what does this mean? To not know what happened before one was born, that is to be always a child (boy, actually), that's what it means. Godfrey once said to me that institutions have memories too, and an institution that loses its memory functions much like a person who does -- institutional Alzheimer's.
We ourselves are products of an evolution of culture and learning that came to-gether in ancient Greece and matured in Rome. But here's the thing -- while much is made of the Roman Empire, the culture and learning that it passed on was largely matured in the Roman Republic. Cicero, that great champion of republican Rome, saw an empire coming and tried to articulate republican values against it. He was proscribed by the new regime, captured and executed on 7 December 43 B.C. What he feared was exactly what came to pass. The Empire had the culture and learning of the Republic, but traded the dignity and freedom of the Republic for a strong custodian state that would take care of everything. The transition was clear enough that just a few decades into the Empire, Juvenal wrote satires decrying what was lost, including the famous warning, Who guards the guardians? (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, Juvenal, Satire VI, lines 347/8) The Roman Empire was distinctly un-Roman, as was and is the state Roman church it founded some three centuries later that would survive the Empire.
New entities emerged, that like the Empire had the culture and learning but within had quite un-Roman political structures. Now comes the difference for us. The outcome of the world war that began just over one hundred years ago in 1914 brought an end to the last remnants of those political entities that continued the evolution of classic culture and learning. We are now in a period much like those which followed both the fall of the Western Empire. Comparisons of the present with "the Fall of Rome" are often made. But which Fall of Rome? Generally the comparisons refer to the fall of the Western Empire in 476. But as we have seen with all this Boethius stuff, there's the fall of the Western reconstitution of the Western Empire as the Holy Roman Empire in 1806 and then fall of spin-off empires still within its world order in WWI, and the fall of the Eastern Empire in 1476, and before all that the real Fall of Rome, the fall of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, which gave to itself and all later "Romes" a distinctly unRoman character.
The difference now is, whether that culture and learning will continue in the order which is still emerging one hundred some years later after the fall of the remnants of that world order in WWI is yet to be seen. The 20th Century saw two of the most disruptive regimes in all of human history, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and an even worse world war after the first one that was supposed to "end all wars" but didn't and only led to worse wars. Win the war, lose the peace. Even now our headlines are daily full of events from states imposed on what is now called the Middle East after the first, and in the case of Israel, second, world war.
More than just the incomplete chronology at this point, the real difference is that where before, in the transition from Republic to Empire and from Empire to resurrected Empire, the new entities were at pains to preserve the learning and culture from before, even within structures that are foreign to it, now no transition or transfer is sought, but rather, peace to many is characterised by a full scale retreat from, and ignorance of, and more recently outright rejection of, the culture and learning that went before, seeing it as part of the package that was the problem, and from which we have moved on. Is that moving on, or cultural Alzheimer's? And, an Alzheimer's that mistakes its condition for Progress, when in fact it is just as Cicero said, always to be a child. And due to the technological advances in its toys, much like a child with a loaded pistol.
The Wheel of Fortune was, and endures as, an allegory. You can get all hung up in why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people and whether there's anything to life but a bunch of stuff that happens and then you die, but what you gotta see is that the wheel keeps on turning. Big wheel keeps on turning, proud Mary keeps on burning, just like Tina Turner said. Things change, and you can't get all hung up on one point in the process. The mighty fall, the lowly rise. Riding high in April, shot down in May, like the Dean Kay and Kelly Gordon song written for Sinatra says. (Hey, that song made it into the Tony Hawk video game Underground 2.)
Stay in the process, not one point of it, and that applies equally to when things look good as to when things look bad. You can't put your trust in any one point in the process, whether you like that point or not, because the process is gonna keep right on processing. There ain't no Fortuna, and the process itself ain't God either. And just like Boethius -- not to mention St Paul -- said, there is a God and while things aren't all good all things do work to-gether for the good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
Fortune does favour the brave. And as Ovid tweaked it, God himself's gonna help ya. Except Ovid didn't know how. None of us (Mankind) does, did, or can, which is why the whole life thing bugs us so much and we come up with all sorts of answers to it. But God himself helps you with finding out how he's gonna help you too. He reveals it, first in the Law of Moses, then in the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus Christ. The wheel stops there even if it keeps on turning in the world. Sooner or later the world is gonna stop too. But the good news is, you're free even when you remain here, Jesus paid your price on the cross for your disconnect with the "wheel", he gives you new life in him in Baptism, his Law and Gospel are proclaimed to you in preaching by the Office of Holy Ministry, and he gives you his body and blood in Holy Communion that he gave for you at Calvary as his sure pledge of that.
Besides, Vanna is way better looking than any representation I ever saw of Fortuna. I wasn't thinking about it at the time, but it's kind of a wild ride that a guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence says something that leads right into Boethius, the major force in the intellectual transition from the ancient world to the modern one, then, as the postmodern one is emerging from that, another guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence becomes a Philosophiae doctor writing about it for the postmodern world.
So take it from Terence, either one -- Fortuna fortes adjuvat. (Yeah I know I wrote adiuvat above but since I'm saying it as I remember being taught it, I'll write it in closing with the spelling more common to ecclesiastical Latin as I was taught to write and pronounce it.) But more importantly, take it from God how that works out, as he revealed it to us in the Law and Gospel of Scripture, and accurately confessed in the Book of Concord.