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. Here it is.
About Terence, or, My Name Is Terence and I'm a Playwright.
The English name Terence comes from the Roman playwright Terentius. It wasn't my birth first name, Douglas is, but I got it when adopted at about six months old. Well it wasn't Terentius' birth name either, how about that? And it wasn't even his first name ever! Hell, he wasn't even Roman, nor was I of the ethnic descent of the people who adopted me!
Here's the deal. My namesake 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, freed him. 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 within the clan. 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 -- who btw was another non-Roman who got a Roman name on being made a Roman citizen, and is there ever a story to that. Or, he may have been none of the above and 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 mom wanted to name me Cornelius Steven, but my new dad wanted Terence James. Dad won. Which is unusual twice over. For one thing generally moms 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 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.
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. 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 baptismal font, I was given the name of a Roman playwright Luther admired!
About the Saying, or, What the Translations Can't Translate.
First, the phrase itself. I think I learned 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, 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 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' 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".
Next thing, about 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, but 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. Holy crap, that's the day before my birthday, and holy crap again the later state church of the Roman Empire, which still survives in an RC or EO parish near you, has holy days for its "saints" still! 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.
Now Fortuna was known as Tyche to the Greeks, from whom the Romans took much of their original state religion, and 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, the wheel of the goddess Fortune, as she spins the year and what happens to you 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 else just say she's a fickle whore who does what she damn well pleases. 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 "Man's Search For Meaning" are best sellers for years? Why do you think people say "shit happens"? Judas H Priest, the whole question of is life 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 audacious, 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.
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 happened because the state had not only abandoned traditional Roman religion for the new state Catholic Church, established by the co-emperors Theodosius in the East and Gratian and Valentinian II in the West with the Edict of Thessalonica on 27 February 380, but also had destroyed the sites and institutions of the old Imperial religion. As part of making the case that this is not so, he says Fortune, since she brings good things to good and bad people alike, is unworthy of worship -- his answer to why good things happen to bad people I guess, along with why abandoning stuff like that 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 then, the last Western Emperor, Romulus Augustus, having 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. 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" but 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. Quick time line for review:
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; pope, after killing supporters of a rival, is Damasus, 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, 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;
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 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, or just maybe the one helluva lot of gold he brought along to buy them off, and then on 2 June 455 met with Genseric, King of the Vandals, to try 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 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, and that 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 ass. And which they eventually did, but in the face of the 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 then 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 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, 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? Well 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, old Fortuna spinning her wheel, here 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 in 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 level 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, Judas) 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.
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, whether you like that point or not, in the process, 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) do, 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. God himself helps you with finding out how he's gonna help ya 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. It didn't occur to me while it was happening, but it's kind of a wild ride that a guy who doesn't start out with the name Terence says something that goes 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 of us -- Fortuna fortes adjuvat. Yeah I know I wrote adiuvat above but since I'm saying it as I remember being taught it I'm writing it 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.
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