While I was quietly thinking these thoughts [about misfortune] over to myself and giving vent to my sorrow with the help of my pen, I became aware of a woman standing over me. She was of awe-inspiring appearance, her eyes burning and keen beyond the usual power of men. She was so full of years that I could hardly think of her as of my own generation, and yet she possessed a vivid colour and undiminished vigour … Her clothes were made of imperishable material, of the finest thread woven with the most delicate skill … On the bottom hem could be read the embroidered Greek letter Pi, and on the top hem the Greek letter Theta. Between the two a ladder of steps rose from the lower to the higher letter. Her dress had been torn by the hands of marauders who had each carried off such pieces as he could get. There were some books in her right hand and in her left hand she held a sceptre … As she spoke she gathered her dress into a fold and wiped from my eyes the tears that filled them … the clouds of my grief dissolved and I drank in the light.
So begins the famous work by Boethius from which I have taken my title: a work which, according to one of its earliest translators, King Alfred, is ‘among the books most necessary for all men to know’.