Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

On Fortune
by [?]

Sec. I. “Fortune, not wisdom, rules the affairs of mortals.”[946] And does not justice, and fairness, and sobriety, and decorum rule the affairs of mortals? Was it of fortune or owing to fortune that Aristides persevered in his poverty, when he might have been lord of much wealth? And that Scipio after taking Carthage neither saw nor received any of the spoil? Was it of fortune or owing to fortune that Philocrates spent on harlots and fish the money he had received from Philip? And that Lasthenes and Euthycrates lost Olynthus, measuring happiness by their belly and lusts? Was it of fortune that Alexander the son of Philip not only himself abstained from the captive women, but punished others that outraged them? Was it under the influence of an evil genius and fortune that Alexander,[947] the son of Priam, intrigued with the wife of his host and ran away with her, and filled two continents with war and evils? For if all these things are due to fortune, what hinders our saying that cats and goats and apes are under the influence of fortune in respect of greediness, and lust, and ribaldry?

Sec. II. And if there are such things as sobriety and justice and fortitude, with what reason can we deny the existence of prudence, and if prudence exists, how can we deny the existence of wisdom? For sobriety is a kind of prudence, as people say, and justice also needs the presence of prudence. Nay more, we call the wisdom and prudence that makes people good in regard to pleasure self-control and sobriety, and in dangers and hardships endurance and fortitude, and in dealings between man and man and in public life equity and justice. And so, if we are to ascribe to fortune the acts of wisdom, let us ascribe justice and sobriety to fortune also, aye, and let us put down to fortune stealing, and picking pockets, and lewdness, and let us bid farewell to argument, and throw ourselves entirely on fortune, as if we were, like dust or refuse, borne along and hurried away by a violent wind. For if there be no wisdom, it is not likely that there is any deliberation or investigation of matters, or search for expediency, but Sophocles only talked nonsense when he said,

“Whate’er is sought is found, what is neglected
Escapes our notice;”[948]

and again in dividing human affairs,

“What can be taught I learn, what can be found out
Duly investigate, and of the gods
I ask for what is to be got by prayer.”[949]

For what can be found out or learnt by men, if everything is due to fortune? And what deliberative assembly of a state is not annulled, what council of a king is not abrogated, if all things are subject to fortune? whom we abuse as blind because we ourselves are blind in our dealings with her. Indeed, how can it be otherwise, seeing that we repudiate wisdom, which is like plucking out our eyes, and take a blind guide of our lives?

Sec. III. Supposing any of us were to assert that seeing is a matter of fortune, not of eyesight, nor of the eyes that give light, as Plato says, and that hearing is a matter of fortune, and not the imbibing of a current of air through the ear and brain, it would be well for us then to be on our guard against the evidence of our senses. But indeed nature has given us sight and hearing and taste and smell, and all other parts of the body and their functions, as ministers of wisdom and prudence. For “it is the mind that sees, and the mind that hears, everything else is deaf and blind.” And just as, if there were no sun, we should have perpetual night for all the stars, as Heraclitus says, so man for all his senses, if he had no mind or reason, would be little better than the beasts. But as it is, it is not by fortune or chance that we are superior to them and masters of them, but Prometheus, that is reason, is the cause of this,