Friday, February 12, 2010

Stone Motto Addendum

I was delighted to get from Brandon of Siris, as comment to the last post, indications where the wondrous motto quoted yesterday originated—and how it was first transformed by Chaucer and one of his “translators” before it appeared on stone, in a shortened and, as it were, updated version in a garden in Georgetown in Washington, DC.

Brandon informs us that the original concept was framed by Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius (480-524) was a high-level imperial civil servant and philosopher. He fell victim to political intrigues while serving Theodoric the Great and was imprisoned. While in prison, he consoled himself with philosophy, and hence we are heir to his thought. He was executed within a year of his arrest.

Brandon identifies the spot in Consolation where the verse I quoted undoubtedly originated, Book I, Meter V. To make this account complete, I thought I’d quote the passage from what is known as King Alfred’s Version of the Consolations of Boethius. A Google Books digitized version is available here. The book was a translation prepared for King Alfred by Walter John Sedgefield and internally dated 1900. Herewith the passage:

THOU Creator of heaven and earth, that rulest on the eternal throne, Thou that makest the heavens to turn in swift course, and the stars to obey Thee, and the sun with his shining beams to quench the darkness of black night, (so too the moon with her pale beam maketh the stars to grow dim in the heaven, and at times robbeth the sun of his light, coming between him and us men; and that bright star too that we call the morning star, and which by its other name we call the evening star), Thou that givest short hours to the days of winter, and longer ones to those of summer, Thou that in autumn with the strong north-east wind spoilest the trees of their leaves, and again in spring givest them fresh ones with the soft south-west winds, lo! all creatures do Thy will, and keep the ordinances of Thy commandments, save man only; he setteth Thee at naught.

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