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Tragedy, Fate and Nemesis




"There be many shapes of mystery And many things God makes to be, Past hope or fear.
And the end men looketh for cometh not And a path there is where no man sought.
So hath it fallen here."

– Euripedes

In our modern-day western culture we think we have control over our lives; indeed, we take this for granted, it is our presumed worldview.  But, in many or perhaps even most cultures of the world, the opposite is the norm. These 'other than western' and more ancient cultures live in the daily, everyday recognition of greater and more powerful forces than the will and intelligence of any individual.


It is just as obvious to a person of these cultures that an individual does not control his destiny . . . Rather, they believe, one lives under the control of powerful constraints and must live in constant acknowledgment of that greater force or what could be called 'Fate.'

Carl Jung

"Fate is a superior force: When we are talking about fate
we are talking about God, the Divine or the Devil."
- Carl Jung

Outside of our modern age of technology, where man did and still does not have so much 'control' over the natural world and lived closer to everything and more obviously at the mercy of natural forces, it was plainly and often painfully apparent that man could not control his world, his destiny or his fate. In this more original, primitive environment, man recognized, believed in, and sought to be in harmony with, a great God or gods and lived with a fear of the 'Devil' or nature spirits and feared them if he violated their laws.


More recently, in our so-called 'New Age' we have become ‘Godless’, especially in the West (and in whatever part of the world that is touched by the technology of the west). We no longer feel ourselves at the mercy of God, or a superior force or 'Law' that we must supplicate or be in accord with. We no longer stand in humble awe of the mystery of our own or another's fate. We naively believe that we control our fate and our destiny. We say we can ‘do our own thing . . .’


Western culture is lived from behind the insulated walls of houses and cars, easily available food, endless amounts of information, quickly changing news, discoveries and fashions; we are no longer are enmeshed in the idea of fate and what it represents. We don't have many stories about it and we don't educate our children concerning fate. We lack an understanding of this great ancient principle and rarely consider it. We do not recognize the great Mystery in which we live and the slender thread by which we hang within it. We feast our attention on the daily news, eating the easily available fast food of our 'popular' culture.


We confuse true heroes with celebrities. We burn mere incense with our medical treatments, addressing the symptoms of our diseases with drugs and surgeries, instead of identifying and removing the causes that produced them. Our western medical system is now the third leading cause of death in the western world. 'The maxim of Hippocrates to physicians to 'First do no harm' has been forgotten. We have become so used to the stench of our sickness (and how we treat it) that we don't even notice anymore.


Our failure to appreciate fate or a ‘superior force’ results in a psychic blindness peculiar to our modern age and western man in general. Borne upon the great technological advances of our modern-day world, (which fills our minds with ideas and images, but little wisdom) only tends to increase our insulation from Reality). 


Tragedy and the tragic nature of all things, an ancient 'truth' of life, has been forgotten, and with this forgetting comes the rise of what I call - 'New Age' thinking (thinking based on the fundamental assumption that individuals can determine their own destiny and control their life). This is a basic teaching of the New Age. Many have heard about,  ’The Secret': . . . It postulates the theory of attraction. Thoughts work like magnets, attracting what we want through our vibration . In this way, the Law of Attraction establishes that we have the power to achieve everything we truly set our minds to,” ”Everyone has the ability to create their own reality and that our thoughts can become things or Reality.”


People are encouraged in countless workshops and self-help books to create their own reality, to manifest their desires and to visualize down to the last detail what it is they seek to attain. It is thought that if you can see or imagine it, if you can visualize it, you can create it and it will become reality.


A view of life as controllable lies at the basis of such thinking. I would agree, that in a petri dish or laboratory, or with a calibrated machine, this approach might be appropriate, but life is not such a machine. Of course, there are some aspects of life that can be controlled and measured. But the vast majority of life is out of our control. One would certainly agree if they had ever been in an earthquake, tsunami, riot, had a terrible accident, sickness or experienced the chaos of war. 


I suggest that a consideration of the ancient ideas of Fate and Tragedy offer a more wholesome, inclusive and humbling truth, a truth that offers a glimpse of the 'nature' of Reality, which is something that cannot be escaped or denied. 


It is critically important to observe the nature of Reality so we may conform and harmonize ourselves with it, merely attempt to shape it to our desires. Otherwise, we may waste our life struggling against something which we cannot change; indeed, this is the very reason that ancient civilizations sought to conform themselves with God or superior powers of life.


There is an intriguing story of Lawrence of Arabia that places the modern idea of controlling one's reality against the ancient idea of tragedy and fate; it is supposedly a true story; related in Lawrence's autobiography: The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  It is a story that contrasts what I am calling - 'New Age,' 'positive' thinking’) with the view  of ancient cultures throughout the world.




T. E. Lawrence

In 1917, during WWI, Lawrence of Arabia (an Englishman) united many of the 'up-till-then' warring Arab tribes and led them to attack the Turks at the port city of Al'Aqabah which sits at the head of what is called, today, the Gulf of Katherina, a hundred and fifty miles south of the Dead Sea; a place where the modern-day Sinai peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel all meet.

Al'Aqabah was a key port for all supplies and guns coming through the Suez canal. The city was surrounded on it's back by a vast 'uncrossable' desert and on either side by impassable hills. Considered accessible only by way of the gulf, huge guns had been placed by the Turks at a fort there to guard and secure the water approach. The guns at Aqabah could only face the water. They were not capable of being turned to face the desert for no one had ever crossed that terrible stretch of desert hell known as the 'Devil's Anvil.' But now, Lawrence, working on behalf of the English, after much work, cajoling and consideration with the Arab tribes, had boldly decided to take Al'Aqabah from behind, sweeping in and conquering, unanticipated, from the desert itself.  

To unite the various tribes of Arabs that dwelt in that area, had been a long and considerable task. Now, with his campaign to take Aqabah finally underway, Lawrence and his men began traveling at night, as the sun was too intense to travel during the day across that burning desert. After many days of such travel, one morning, as the first light of dawn broke, it was discovered that one of the men was no longer on his camel.

He had 'obviously' fallen asleep during the night and tumbled off his mount onto the ground, knocking himself unconscious. Everyone knew that a man without shelter from the sun, without water and without a camel would never survive in such a situation. Lawrence insisted that someone go back immediately to rescue the man.


As a 'Christian', Western man, Lawrence saw action of this sort as necessary to maintain the sense of rightness, unity and camaraderie upon which he felt their enterprise succeeding. The Arabs, however, to a man, all refused. "No", they said. "He will most certainly die." This so-called 'fact' was the law and world view with which they lived their lives. "You cannot change the will of Allah," they argued. "It is written!"

Lawrence, offended with what he thought their too easy acceptance of fate, emphatically insisted, "Nothing is written!", and set off himself, back into the blazing furnace of that desert day to find the man and bring him back. The Arab tribesmen watched him go and hobbling their camels, set up their awnings and tents and made ready to rest and sleep through the day. That evening, after the blazing heat of the day, began to abate, they made ready to travel again.

As they did so, on the horizon, they saw Lawrence, on his camel, riding back with the man who had been lost. The Arabs burst out in ecstatic celebration and ran towards him, firing their rifles into the sky and gesticualting wildly. "LAUR-RANCE, LAUR-RANCE, LAUR-RANCE!", they shouted. Lawrence, exhausted and totally spent, was supremely happy. He had proven to these men that they could create their own destiny He had shown that 'Nothing was written.'
Now he became an even greater leader among them; he had demonstrated another way to accept the heavy mantle of God and fate. The Arabs came to believe that perhaps for Lawrence, nothing was written. He was free of the normal constraints that fell upon the rest of them. He was a unique and mighty man. They would follow him anywhere. He would write his own chapter in the book of life and they would be there with him to witness and share it.

“Good resolutions are checks that men draw

on a bank where they have no account”

   – Oscar Wilde

Several days passed and Lawrence and his group of Arab warriors neared Aqabah. To escape detection, they began to travel during the day and rest at night, sending out scouts ahead of them. As they approached nearer to Aqabah, tension began to run high amongst the tribesmen. One night, when they had paused to rest and sleep had settled over the camp, several shots rang out; then shouts and a raucous turmoil split the night. Lawrence awoke and ran immediately to see what was the problem. The two main (and previously antagonistic) tribes which he had worked so hard to unite, were up in arms, bearing torches and guns and shouting threats at each other.

It seems a man from one tribe had attempted to steal something from a man in the other tribe. When the thief had been discovered, he had shot the man he was stealing from and killed him. Then, the thief/murderer had run back to his own encampment. But, he had been seen and identified. The tribesmen of the man who had been murdered angrily demanded the right to kill the thief immediately. The other tribe, while not condoning the crime, absolutely refused to let members of the 'other' tribe kill one of their own. They would punish him themselves. It was a volatile standoff. The old enmities arose and the unity of the assemblage and the taking of Aqabah hung in the balance. The situation called for immediate action or a battle amongst the tribes would surely ensue.

Lawrence walked out between the two tribes and shouted, "Give me a gun. I will kill him myself. Then both tribes will preserve honor." The tribesmen on both sides fell silent as they accepted this solution. Lawrence was given a gun and the murderer was brought before him, arms bound behind him and then forced to his knees; both tribes gathered to witness the shot that would fulfill the law. As Lawrence raised the gun to the man's head, the man looked up at Lawrence, and Lawrence saw that the man he was to kill was the very man he had rescued only a few days before from the desert. Lawrence pulled the trigger and the man fell dead.

The next day they rode into Aqabah and took the city.

This true story presents a great mystery beyond the walls of our everyday considerations. What is fate? What is written? For whom is it written? Can it be changed? Are we in control of our lives? Can we ever be?


"Two bums are sitting on a curb downtown and one says to the other, "Do you believe in fate?" "Hell yes!", says the other bum. I sure wouldn't have chosen to be here on my own."  


This is a humorous way of considering a great paradox in our lives. Are we impelled by 'fate' or is it our own actions, our own weaknesses or strengths that bring about our destiny? Is there is such a thing as tragedy or unmerited misfortune? Do we 'deserve' exactly what we get?   


TRAGEDY: 1. a serious play having an unhappy or disastrous ending brought about by the characters or central character, impelled in ancient drama, by fate or, more recently, by moral weakness, pyschological maladjustment, or social pressures.

As evident in the modern dictionary definition (above), there have been major changes in the definition of tragedy. It is important to note  that whereas in the ancient world, tragedy was brought about by 'fate', in our modern world it is considered due to some individual 'moral weakness' or lapse.


This latter idea (tragedy as the result of moral lapse), corresponds with the modern idea that every man is directly responsible for his fate through his will and/or moral action. The thinking is that if a man acts well, acts righteously, then all will turn out well for him. In our modern western culture, as I have already proposed, we have little sympathy for the ancient idea of 'fate' as the cause of tragedy. We tend to hold a person or persons responsible, we blame someone. This 'difference' between the ancient and modern cultures represents profoundly different views of the world, views which we will now further consider.

Isak, Dinesen wrote that the difference between various people of her time could be seen in their views on tragedy.


"The true aristocracy and the true proletariat of the world are both in understanding with tragedy. To them, it is the fundamental principle of God and the key, the minor key to existence. They differ in this way from the bourgeoisie of all classes who deny tragedy, who will not tolerate it and to whom the word tragedy means, in itself, unpleasantness."


- Isak Dinesen, the pen name of Karen von Blixen who wrote about her life in the book: 'Out of Africa'

Karen von Blixen

In the world of ancient Greece, tragedy was considered such an important idea that it formed a complete and separate category of drama. Ancient Tragedies involved noble characters with good intentions trying to accomplish great and noble purposes where they not only failed in what they sought to accomplish but they brought suffering, misery and even death to those they tried to help.


To the ancient Greeks, 'Tragedy' was a demonstration of unmerited misfortune, brought about by fate, not just by a 'moral weakness' in which one 'knowingly' does something wrong. One of the most famous examples of tragedy is the story of Oedipus. Although this story is today primarily known for the famous 'Oedipus complex' first put forward by Sigmund Freud, it is also a profound consideration of fate and free-will.


Oedipus unknowingly killed his father and married his mother and then blinded himself when it was revealed to him what he had done. Here is a summary of the story:


King Laius and his wife, Jocasta, heard a prophecy that their new-born son was fated to kill his Father and marry his Mother. Heartbroken, they sought to avoid such a fate for the sake of themselves, their country and their baby. So, they pierced their baby's feet with a nail (Oedipus mean 'swollen foot'), tied them together and abandoned him on a mountain to die. There he was found by a shepherd and taken to the neighboring kingdom of Corinth where he was adopted by King Polybus and his Queen Merope. As Oedipus grew up he heard rumors that King Polybus and his queen were not his real birth parents, so Oedipus went to the oracle at Delphi to fund out the truth of his situation. The oracle there again prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother.


Horrified by this and determined to prevent it, Oedipus did not return to Corinth and his, (unknown to him) only 'adoptive' parents (not the ones he was prophesied to kill) and began to wander through the land, determined never to see his home again where the terrible fate of killing his father might ever occur. Traveling on the way to Thebes (the home of his real parents), he met his (unknown to him) Father. They fell into an argument about who had right away on the narrow mountain road and when Laius (his father) tried to strike Oedipus with his scepter, Oedipus threw his father down from the chariot and killed him.


After this, all the while traveling through the countryside to Thebes, he encounters the Sphinx, a beast with the head and breast of a woman, the body of a lioness, and the wings of an eagle. The Sphinx had been terrorizing the people of Thebes by killing anyone who could not answer his questions. Oedipus successfully answered the questions of the Sphinx and the Sphinx threw itself from the mountain ledge where it had lived to its death. In this way, Oedipus freed the city of Thebes from its curse. Because of his great act and because King Laius had been killed (killer unknown), Oedipus was chosen to be the king and he married his (real-life) Mother, Jocasta, fulfilling the fate predicted for him at birth as well as by the Delphic Oracle.


So, in spite of his real parents hearing his fate from an oracle and attempting to avoid it and in spite of his hearing his own fate and trying to avoid it, it all came to pass. Was it written?



Consider another well known Greek Tragedy- Iphigenia, by Euripides. The story tells of Agamemnon, a king who had asked the best men of all Greece to fight and even die for him and his brother, Menelaus, in the war on Troy. They sought to retrieve Helen, Menelaus' wife, who had been abducted and taken to Troy by Paris, the son of the King of Troy. The men of Greece assembled at the Greek port of Aulis to sail for Troy, leaving their homes, families and country, but, they could not leave the harbor. The fleet was delayed month after month at Aulis as the favorable winds, necessary to get them out of the harbor, would not blow. As long as the winds blew directly into the harbor, there was no way they could depart.


Once again the Delphic Oracle was asked what was the reason for this and the Oracle said that Agamemnon had offended the Gods and the only way he could repent for his deed and the Greek fleet could sail, was if he, Agamemnon, sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia. Now, Agamemnon loved his daughter and he did not want to do this. But, on the other hand, he had asked all the men of Greece to possibly give up their own lives under his leadership. He was the leader of this great host of men. Now, what sacrifice would he make?


As he considered what was the right thing to do, King Agamemnon, was filled with horror, as doubt and fear washed over him. Finally, he decided to sacrifice Iphigenia so that the Greek fleet could sail out of Aulis to Troy. 


Iphigenia had been brought to Aulis under the guise that she was to marry the great hero - Achilles. When she learned that was not true and that death was to be her fate, she agreed to be sacrificed for the sake of the Greeks. (Achilles was greatly angered by the use of his name to lure Iphigenia to Aulis and this was the root of the animosity between Agamemnon and Achilles). Ten years later, after the conclusion of the Trojan War and on the very day that King Agamemnon returned to his own palace, he was slain by his wife, Clytemnestra in retribution for this slaying of Iphigenia. 


But, this tragedy does not end there. Orestes, the son of Agamemnon, angry at the killing of his Father by his Mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, was unsure of what to do to avenge the slaying of his father by his mother. He had no problem with killing Aegisthus, but he hesitated to slay his Mother, even though it seemed to be his duty as the surviving son to slay the killers of his Father. So, Orestes went to the Delphic Oracle where he was instructed to avenge the death of his Father and slay his Mother. Orestes obeyed the oracle and killed Aegisthus and his mother, but he was then pursued and driven mad by the Furies who tormented him terribly for what he had done. What else could or should he have done?


The story goes on as it portrays a great and complex tragedy. The Greeks found in this story a dilemmas and mysteries holding ideas worthy of contemplation that have perplexed human beings throughout history. The three stories (Oedipus, Iphigenia, and Orestes) are but a few of the great Tragedies that have come down to us from ancient Greece. 

Orestes pursued by the Furies after killing his Mother- Clytemnestra

Is our life in our hands?



These are stories of fate. free will and what can we do and what we cannot do and the Greeks pondered these questions at the dawn of Western civilization. As you might imagine, it is clear the Greeks believed in Fate. They marveled at a world in which even when people had great hope and ideals and sought to attain something noble, they often were not able to do so and because of this, the Greeks considered the idea and reality of tragedy to be worthy of contemplation.


When I look around, it is obvious that I am not in charge of my life. Not in some "I can't get to the store if I want to," but, rather in the 'sense' that I may not always get there through my own efforts. Perhaps a good metaphor for this is the ancient sailor -  He can build a good boat, have an experienced crew, put up his sails and set sail for Ithaca, but like Odysseus, he cannot control the winds. He is totally at the mercy of the weather; he is at the mercy of the sea, of storms, typhoons, currents and becalming, gods and goddesses. The very first lines of Homer's Odyssey lay out the power of fate on the hero - Ulysses:

Speak, Memory —
Of the cunning hero,
The wanderer, blown off course time and again
After he plundered Troy's sacred heights.


Imagine that you are out on the ocean, perhaps rounding the Cape of Good Hope and the southrn tip of Africa where the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific ocean meet. Some of the most dangerous weather and waves are found there. You would distinctly feel and notice, as so many have before you, that you are not completely in charge of your journey; this was the felt and observed worldview of the Greeks and ancients all around the world. This is what people and cultures were acknowledging when they offered 'sacrifices' to the Gods and the forces of nature. This is the worldview that we have lost because of our 'seeming' separation from nature through technology, a separation that is literally impossible or as possible as separating wetness from water. But, we have fallen into blindness and insensitivity and this is  how we have become 'Godless'.


Losing our sense of tragedy, we have come to believe that we control our fate and can dominate the world. We believe that we can create the ideal government or political system or create the perfect relationship. We think that if we can think it, if we can see it in our mind's eye it will happen. We believe that we can make it, whatever 'it' is,  happen. This way of thinking has become more prevalent than ever before in the West and this is why I have titled my reflections in this essay, "The Loss of the sense of Tragedy and the Rise of New Age Thinking".



Isabelle Eberhardt

No one ever lived more from day to day than I, or was more dependent on chance. It is the inescapable chain of events that has brought me to this point, rather than I who have caused these things to happen."

-Isabelle Eberhardt, The Oblivion Seekers

Now let us consider another particular aspect of God or fate, that force which is greater than ourselves.

Let us consider what has sometimes been called the 'Devil' in modern times

but which the ancient Greeks called, the goddess 'Nemesis'.  



"Revenge (Nemesis) pursues a person. All things run against him.

No disgrace comes alone. Some meet resistance in whatever they do;

for others, everything goes right even though they are dumb."

- Linnaeus

The Goddess- Nemesis

From the ancient Greeks, from whom we have both word and concept,

Nemesis was the Goddess of retributive justice and Divine vengeance.

Nemesis, in today's usage, usually refers to the one who seeks to impose retribution.

Darius on throne

When the Persian armies of Darius invaded Greece, they hauled with them, with tremendous effort, a huge piece of exquisite white Parian marble with which, they expected, to erect a trophy, memorializing their victory over the Greeks. Defeated on the plains of Marathon by a smaller Greek force, they failed in their quest.


Abandoned in their retreat, that same block of white marble was then taken by the Greeks and hauled thirty miles inland by Persian captives where it was carved into a statue of the Goddess Nemesis by Agorakritos, a pupil of the famous sculptor, Phidias. It stood in Greece in the city of Rhamnus, the principal sanctuary of Nemesis.    

Nemesis is the goddess that prescribed both happiness and misery to mortals, and a zealous punisher of "hubris," the disrespectful arrogance of humans who thought their destiny was under their own control. (The worship of Nemesis ended in 382 CE when the Byzantine emperor Arcadius ordered that all pagan temples be destroyed).


The Greeks made that statue to honor the Goddess Nemesis. She represented that force of life that was out of their hands, both theirs and those of the Persians. She represented the inescapable destiny that determined the life of every mortal being. To build a statue to Nemesis was to recognize and honor with awe and reverence the Gods, and in this case the idea of tragedy and fate.


 Nemesis, was one of two younger sisters of the Fates. These two sisters helped the Fates carry out their work. The first of these younger sisters was Tyche or luck, representing chance or capriciousness. Tyche distributed good or bad fortune and the accompanying signs of wealth and progeny, irrespective of the industry or virtue of the individual. Notice how she stands with her foot on the shoulder of the man below. It is a symbol of being under the foot of or in submission to that aspect of fate called - 'luck'.


With Tyche, it did not matter who you were or how you acted, she might bless you with good or bad fortune. If you ever go to Reno or Las Vegas you can witness a whole city dedicated to Tyche.


Tyche was also called - Automatia, from whom we have the word, 'automatic'.  This referred to her quality of causing things to happen according to her own will, without regard to man's merit. 


The lack of justice of Tyche, was countered and balanced by her sister Nemesis. For, whereas Tyche awarded her blessings indiscriminately, Nemesis was moved by a sense of divine justice. Nemesis brought low those that soared too high and humbled those who thought themselves mighty and not cognizant of fate or destiny.


One way a person could transgress against the Gods in ancient Greece was by an excess of good fortune itself. . . Even though a person may be blessed by all the fruits of Tyche or Luck, Nemesis would inevitably demonstrate the divine retributive and balancing force that would bring low the offending individual.  


The Greeks tell the story of the king of Samos, Polycrates, who became terrified

of the incredible good luck that pursued him.

King Polycrates

Polycrates was always mindful of the necessity of preventing the retribution of Nemesis and he offered greater and greater sacrifices of his good fortune to her, trying to placate this 'irresistable and inevitable' force of fate and balance, but, his luck only became more and more phenomenal.


After (another) incredible great good fortune had been visited upon him, he was advised to make a sacrifice to the goddess Nemesis, of something very dear to him and of great value. So, Polycrates went out in a ship and threw his most treasured and priceless ring, a ring that had been handed down for generation in his family as a symbol of power and wealth, into the sea as an offering to Nemesis. Then he retired to his palace and a week later had prepared a great feast to honor the gods.


A great many fish were caught for the celebration and when the cook cut one open, there in the belly of the fish was the ring that Polycrates had thrown into the sea. The ring was returned to Polycrates. Struck with this ominous sign of the refusal of his sacrifice by the Goddess Nemesis, an Egyptian priest who was visiting Polycrates quickly left the kingdom. Polycrates was sickened and soon after, assasinated.  


To the ancient Greeks, the ideas of Nemesis and her sister Tyche, are inextricably woven together with fate and tragedy and I believe they still are. But they are like unwanted children to our current thinking, going against our culture and opposing our 'parents' who tell us we control our own fate and can manifest our desires. It is not impossible to direct our destiny, of course we can try and do that. But, again, we cannot ultimately and finally control our lives or fate and if we live long enough, we will see many instances of unsought for results and events. The realization of the tragic nature of life is a fact that is rarely noticed and a wisdom gained by those who are older, not by the idealistic young.


Consider how many factors go into even everyday circumstances; although things are predictable to an extent, they are not so completely and this is what Tyche or luck represents. But one does not need to go to Las Vegas or Reno to realize this truth. Life, itself, represents a gamble, even to the best prepared and sober and in the soberest of enterprises.


Would anyone accuse General Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied forces during WWII of being a negative or sloppy thinker? When 'Fortress' Europe was held by the Nazis, it took years of meticulous planning to invade Europe by the sea and the failure of that mission would have dramatically extended the cost of the war in materials and lives.


But Eisenhower was more than a great general and planner; he recognized there was a higher power that would ultimately decide whether the invasion would succeed or fail. In recognition of that 'higher power,' Eisenhower wrote out an admission of failure on a scrap of paper on the eve of the Normandy invasion. He kept it in his wallet to be issued as a press release if the D-Day invasion of the European mainland in World War II turned out to be a failure.


It read:  


"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold, and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and navy did all their bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."  


- Ike Eisenhower-June 5, 1944-the eve of the Normandy invasion (Misdated by Eisenhower "July 5")

The letter is on display in the National Archives in Washington D.C.

Eisenhower with troops 24hrs before D-Day

Eisenhower, in spite of tremendously thorough planning, was aware of the huge and potentially 'terrible' amount of factors outside of his control. Unlike the Persians, he was humbled by it all. His letter was an example of not just being prepared for all circumstances, it was a recognition of the impossibility of knowing everything; Eisenhowers letter was a recognition of fate and Nemesis. He recognized superior forces to the ones he had assembled, not only the Germans but the great and far more powerful unknown. He did not haul a block of marble for his victory like Darius so that he could be immortalized. Instead, he planned for defeat. Eisenhower both took responsibility for his actions and realized that the results of his actions were beyond his control. He recognized both God and Devil and was humbled by that recognition.


Eisenhower spent months going over plans and scenarios for the landing on the European continent. He visualized every detail of the Normandy invasion as if the fate of civilization was at stake, and it was. But, he also was conscious of and planning for defeat and failure. In this, he represented a man still in touch with the ancient idea of tragedy.

Another Way to Look at Tragedy

“God created the Law of Karma and then retired.”

- Mahatma Gandhi


In Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, there is no such thing as tragedy. Everything happens according to the Law of Karma. Gandhi suggests that God 'retired', once the Law of Karma had been created; for nothing else was needed. In Hinduism and Buddhism, according to whether one does good or evil, one will inevitably and always receive the fruits of his actions. It is the Law.

According to the Indian philosophy of karma, the fruits of action are gathered and then expressed over many lifetimes and it is difficult to judge a person or their actions or predict their future on what we can observe in only one life. The great sages of the East have said that the ability to rightly judge another is extremely subtle.

The great Tibetan Lama, Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche said:

If you want to know your past, look at your present.

If you want to know your future, look at your actions.


So, how do we understand fate? How does one understand the Law of Karma? I don’t know for sure, but, I hope to have deepened the questions you might ask in this consideration.


Personally, I notice that I do not control my life, nor, I believe, does anyone else completely control theirs. I notice, that In spite of all that we do to make something happen, it may not happen and in spite of everything we do to prevent something from happening, it may happen. This makes me humble in the face of my lack of ability. It sensitizes me to force, power and intelligence that is far greater than myself. It opens me out like a sacrifice to what many call 'God.' I do not know who or what that is or means but I sense something, some Him or Her or Fate.


Tragedy is far from being merely an error or lack of a person or group who tries and fails to accomplish something grand, it may be something else . . . perhaps it is our sense of what we must call 'God.'



‘It is written” and life is tragic, or fated after all.

Perhaps not?

I believe there is both Fate (Destiny) and 'Free will'. I believe in the paradoxical statement that fate can be modified to some degree. What is fated to be a rock falling on your head can change, through right action, into a leaf falling off a tree that only brushes past your face.


I hope to clarify that one day- God Willing, I doubt I ever will.








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