CHRYSIPPUS, the leader of the Stoic philosophy, defined fate, which the Greeks call εἱμαρμένη, in about the following terms: 1 “Fate,” he says, “is an eternal and unalterable series of circumstances, and a chain rolling and entangling itself through an unbroken series of consequences, from which it is fashioned and made up.” But I have copied Chrysippus' very words, as exactly as I could recall them, in order that, if my interpretation should seem too obscure to anyone, he may turn his attention to the philosopher's own language. For in the fourth book of his work On Providence, he says that εἱμαρμένη is “an orderly series, established by nature, of all events, following one another and joined together from eternity, and their unalterable interdependence.” But the authors of other views and of other schools of philosophy openly criticize this definition as follows: “If Chrysippus,” they say, “believes that all things are set in motion and directed by fate, and that the course of fate and its coils cannot be turned aside or evaded, then the sins and faults of men too ought not to cause anger or be attributed to [p. 97] themselves and their inclinations, but to a certain unavoidable impulse which arises from fate,” which is the mistress and arbiter of all things, and through which everything that will happen must happen; and that therefore the establishing of penalties for the guilty by law is unjust, if men do not voluntarily commit crimes, but are led into them by fate. Against these criticisms Chrysippus argues at length, subtilely and cleverly, but the purport of all that he has written on that subject is about this: 2 “Although it is a fact,” he says, “that all things are subject to an inevitable and fundamental law and are closely linked to fate, yet the peculiar properties of our minds are subject to fate only according to their individuality and quality. For if in the beginning they are fashioned by nature for health and usefulness, they will avoid with little opposition and little difficulty all that force with which fate threatens them from without. But if they are rough, ignorant, crude, and without any support from education, through their own perversity and voluntary impulse they plunge into continual faults and sin, even though the assault of some inconvenience due to fate be slight or non-existent. And that this very thing should happen in this way is due to that natural and inevitable connection of events which is called 'fate.' For it is in the nature of things, so to speak, fated and inevitable that evil characters should not be free from sins and faults.” A little later he uses an illustration of this statement of his, which is in truth quite neat and appropriate: 3 “For instance,” he says, “if you roll a cylindrical stone over a sloping, steep piece of ground, you do indeed furnish the beginning and [p. 99] cause of its rapid descent, yet soon it speeds onward, not because you make it do so, but because of its peculiar form and natural tendency to roll; just so the order, the law, and the inevitable quality of fate set in motion the various classes of things and the beginnings of causes, but the carrying out of our designs and thoughts, and even our actions, are regulated by each individual's own will and the characteristics of his mind.” Then he adds these words, in harmony with what I have said: 4 “Therefore it is said by the Pythagoreans also: 5
You'll learn that men have ills which they themselvesfor harm comes to each of them through themselves, and they go astray through their own impulse and are harmed by their own purpose and determination.” Therefore he says that wicked, slothful, sinful and reckless men ought not to be endured or listened to, who, when they are caught fast in guilt and sin, take refuge in the inevitable nature of fate, as if in the asylum of some shrine, declaring that their outrageous actions must be charged, not to their own heedlessness, but to fate. The first to express this thought was the oldest and wisest of the poets, in these verses: 6
Bring on themselves,
Alas! how wrongly mortals blame the gods!Therefore Marcus Cicero, in the book which he wrote On Fate 7 after first remarking that this question is highly obscure and involved, declares that [p. 101] even the philosopher Chrysippus 8 was unable to extricate himself from its difficulties, using these words: “Chrysippus, in spite of all efforts and labour, is perplexed how to explain that everything is ruled by fate, but that we nevertheless have some control over our conduct.”
From us, they say, comes evil; they themselves
By their own folly woes unfated bear.