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DENNIS QUINN Me audiendi ... stupentem: The Restoration of Wonder in Boethius's Consolation During the last hours of his life Socrates made his final apology for philosophy as a mode of dying. The manner of his own death as described in the Phaedo was his most conclusive argument. By comparison, the opening scene of The Consolation of Philosophy seems almost a parody of the deathcell dialogue of Socrates, for if ever there was a philosopher unready to die, it is the Boethius whom Philosophy finds ignominiously bemoaning his fate. Having lost philosophy, he seems about to prove the truth of the Socratic apology per contrarium. But then Philosophy returns. It is often thought that the consolation she brings to Boethius is simply a reeducation in certain crucial truths, for which the dramatic setting and form of the dialogue serves as a mere framework. That Boethius relearns those truths I do not intend to dispute, but philosophy in the Consolation is more than a body of doctrine, more than a dialectical exercise. It is, rather, what Pythagoras and Socrates had declared it to be - the love of wisdom rather than the possession of it. Boethius himself explicitly espoused that traditional etymological definition.' It is this loving pursuit of wisdom that he has lost, and this in turn entails the loss of the principle or .rche of philosophy, which is, as both Plato and Aristotle had said, the passion of wonder. No wonder, no philosophy: that is the startling implication of the Platonic-Aristotelian dictum - and it stood virtually unchallenged until Montaigne revived the niladmirareof scepticism and Descartes devised'la methode: which was to relegate wonder to the period of childhood. Indeed, it is part ofour own Cartesian inheritance, increased by the habits of empirical science, to think of philosophy as consisting of problems that are ultimately and definitively soluble rather than of mysteries that can be known only in part and obscurely. Even before Descartes, the sixteenthcentury Dutch scientist Simon Stevin spoke for the new age in asserting that despite appearances to the contrary, there is really nothing in nature that is marvellous, nothing beyond the reach of man'5 measuring mind.2 If that is the case, then no matter how intricate the world machine, it can inspire curiosity, perhaps, but not wonder. Recently, a few scientists like Einstein and Planck have begun to suggest again that there is more of mystery than of mechanism in the universe. Before the advent of modern science, for both pagan and Christian thinkers, the common wisdom held UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 57, NUMBER 4, SUMMER 1988 448 DENNIS QUINN that in things themselves there abides an irreducible enigma that by exceeding our grasp begets a continuous searching wonder. This long-enduring tradition, however, did not conceive of wonder as an instinctive response that could be taken for granted but as an appetite hard to keep, easily dulled, and sometimes altogether lost, even by the wisest of men. Such was the case of Boethius as he awaited in abject despair his unjust execution in AD 524; but Lady Philosophy dramatically restored in her beloved disciple t",at passion which is the seed of her science. The steps by which this restoration is achieved are first, the arousing of the victim's intellectual attention and the retaining of it, so that he may be freed from the captivity of his emotions of grief and fear; second, the diagnosis of Boethius's malady - namely, stupor, the excess of wonder; third, the formulation of the question whose implications have caused him to fall into stupor; and fourth, the restoration and development of wonder by means of poetry and paradox, two traditional means of arousing wonder. By the end of the Consolation, Boethius has resolved his philosophical doubts, but he has not exhausted his wonder. On the contrary, he has achieved a state of wonder that is the beginning of the contemplation of God. Although the connections among stupor, wonder, philosophy, poetry, and paradox were well known before the time of Boethius and for a long time afterwards, modern scholars have neglected the subject of wonder in general and its role in Boethian psychology in particular. A...


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