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Friends Who Are True Friends
Let fortune take her friends with her
Earlier this summer, as I was trying to find a header image for my post “Denigrating Normativity Vs. Punishing Differences: Thoughts on the Backlash,” I came across a book called The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. It was written in AD 523 while Boethius, previously a powerful Roman official, was awaiting trial and eventual execution.
I was surprised that this book escaped my attention all this time, considering my education in Religious Studies and my own personal interests but, somehow, it had!
The Consolation of Philosophy is a dialogue between the despairing Boethius and the female personification of philosophy. The text grapples with questions of fate, fortune, free will, justice, and the nature of true happiness. It was a central text in the philosophy of late antiquity and Medieval and early Renaissance Christianity. Prominent figures, including Thomas Aquinas and Dante Alighieri, were deeply influenced by its themes and ideas. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, he calls Boethius, “The blessed soul who exposes the deceptive world to anyone who gives ear to him.”
The whole book was obviously an amazing read, but there was one section in particular that stood out to me, especially in light of today’s cancel culture. While today we typically opt to deperson rather than outright execute people, many of the victims of cancel culture likewise have to deal with the loss of people they thought were their friends, as Boethius did.
Lady Philosophy shed some light on the topic that I think is always worth remembering in these situations:
For bad fortune I think, is more use to a man than good fortune. Good fortune always seems to bring happiness, but deceives you with her smiles, whereas bad fortune is always truthful because by changing she shows her true fickleness. Good fortune deceives, but bad fortune enlightens. With her display of specious riches good fortune enslaves the minds of those who enjoy her, while bad fortune gives men release through the recognition of how fragile a thing happiness is. And so you can see Fortune is in one way capricious, wayward and even inconstant, and in another way sober, prepared, and made wiser by the experience of her own adversity. And lastly, by her flattery good fortune lures men away from the path of true good, but adverse fortune frequently draws men back to their true good like a shepherdess with her crook. Do you think it is of small account that this harsh and terrible misfortune has revealed those friends whose hearts are loyal to you? She has shown you the friends whose smiles were true smiles, and those whose smiles were false; in deserting you Fortune has taken her friends with her and left those who are really yours. Had you remained untouched and, as you thought, blessed by Fortune, you would have been unable to get such knowledge at any price. So you are weeping over lost riches when you have really found the most precious of all riches — friends who are true friends.
“In deserting you Fortune has taken her friends with her and left those who are really yours…” It is truly a blessing to know which friends are really yours and which are fairweather, especially if you gained them while things were going your way, and especially if you had some status in the eyes of others at the time. Even in a terrible situation the knowledge of who your true friends are can be quite the silver lining.
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