Two Takes on Fortune

Euripides. Trojan Women. 101-112.

Fortune changes; endure it.
Sail with the sea. Sail where fortune goes.
Don’t steer life’s prow towards the waves;
Let fortune do the sailing.

Ah me! Ah me!
What’s there for wretched me not to cry about
When my country’s gone, children and husband too?
Ancestors’ prestige, once great now shrunken,
Perhaps you were nothing.

What calls for silence? What does not?
What to lament?
I am not fortunate . . .

μεταβαλλομένου δαίμονος ἀνσχου.
πλεῖ κατὰ πορθμόν, πλεῖ κατὰ δαίμονα,
μηδὲ προσίστη πρῷραν βιότου
πρὸς κῦμα πλέουσα τύχαισιν.
αἰαῖ αἰαῖ.
τί γὰρ οὐ πάρα μοι μελέᾳ στενάχειν,
ᾗ πατρὶς ἔρρει καὶ τέκνα καὶ πόσις;
ὦ πολὺς ὄγκος συστελλόμενος
προγόνων, ὡς οὐδὲν ἄρʼ ἦσθα.
τί με χρὴ σιγᾶν; τί δὲ μὴ σιγᾶν;
τί δὲ θρηνῆσαι;
δύστηνος ἐγὼ . . .

John Calvin. Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.7.10.

Above all else, let the Christian heart be free of that foolish and miserable consolation of the pagans: namely, in order to strengthen their minds against adversity, they imputed adversity to fortune; then, they deemed it foolish to inveigh against fortune, for since fortune is indiscriminate, reckless, and blind, it naturally injures both those who deserve it and those who do not.

In contrast, this is the rule of piety: the hand of God is the sole arbiter and director of fortune, and it certainly does not act in haste with an unthinking carelessness. Rather, it dispenses good and ill to us with supreme justice.

Facessat imprimis a pectore Christiani hominis stulta illa et miserrima ethnicorum consolatio, qui ut animum contra res adversas confirmarent, eas fortunae imputabant: contra quam indignari stultum esse iudicabant, quod ἄσκοπος esset ac temeraria, quae caecis oculis merentes simul ac immerentes vulneraret. Haec enim e converso pietatis est regula, solam Dei manum utriusque fortunae arbitram esse et moderatricem: ac eam quidem ipsam non ruere inconsiderato impetu, sed ordinatissima iustitia nobis bona simul ac mala dispensare.

Bronze relief sculpture showing a partial face covered by overlapping hands
Kathe Kollwitz. Die Klage (Lament). 1938. Bronze. Private Collection.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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