Whims of Lady Fortune or Workings of God:
The Response of Boethius to the Plight of Roland
Dr. George Nicholas and Dr. Susan Traffas
Great Books: The Medieval World
September 24, 2015
Effectively addressing the central issues found in The Song of Roland, such as the seeming cruelty of fortune and whether any good can come from war, requires seeking answers and points of comparison from major philosophy of the age. By placing the principles of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and the motivations and actions of Roland in The Song of Roland into conversation, it is possible to extrapolate the applicability of principles within Boethius to Roland’s actions, and to the role of Fortune in the battle and its aftereffects. Based upon Boethius’ understanding of God as the highest good, and by extension knowing that “the end of all things is the good,” Roland would be advised to fight, albeit out of a desire for good, rather than out of vengeance or a desire for fame or glory (Boethius, Book III, Prose IX, 77). In terms of the role of Fortune, when seen through the lens of fate and fortune participating in the working of Providence, the tragedy of the rear guard takes on new meaning through its’ bringing about of good. Roland’s actions throughout the battle show his agreement with these core principles, as he fights on in spite of the increasingly dire nature of the battle, sure in the knowledge of his actions contributing to a larger good for his country and his lord. Boethius’ ideas regarding the encompassing nature of good and Fortune are largely cohesive with Roland’s actions, which speaks to his nature as an honorable man, as well as to the ability to find hope in dire circumstances.
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... ideas of Boethius are greatly applicable. In understanding God as the greatest good, and of all things working towards good, it would be easier for Roland to find hope to carry on in battle. In addition, the punishment of Ganelon’s treason would also be assured in a larger sense, as evil is its own punishment. Finally, the understanding of all Fortune as working towards the good would enable Roland to see the good that could later be brought out of the tragedy of the rear guard. As a whole, the agreement of the philosophy of Boethius’ with the actions of Roland are clear, and the work is applicable in its arguments to the code of knighthood as well as on an individual basis.
Boethius. The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Victor Watts. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1999. Print.
Sayers, Dorothy L., trans. The Song of Roland. New York: Penguin, 1957. Print.
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