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Georgios Gemistos Plethon-On Fate

Medieval miniature of the philosopher and mystagogue George Gemistos Plethon.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA, is an excerpt from professor Opsopaus’ latest and much awaited work, ‘The Secret Texts of Hellenic Polytheism: A Practical Guide to the Restored Pagan Religion of George Gemistos Plethon‘, Llewellyn, May 2022. The author literally  took the remnants of Plethon’s ‘Book of Laws’ from the flames of the auto-dafe (inflicted by his cruel opponant, Gennadios Scholarios, who destroyed the book after Plethon’s death), and gives us back in its phoenix-like splendor Plethon’s thought and legacy: ‘Plethon’s book presents a systematic polytheistic theology, which satisfies our need for intellectual understanding of the gods, and a philosophy of life suitable to the modern world.

The extract comes from the appendix B: ‘My book, which includes the first complete English translation of the surviving parts of his ‘Book of Laws’ and other Plethonic texts, explains Plethon’s philosophy and religious rituals‘. Book II, chapter 6. ‘On Fate’ (Εἱμαρμένη,  Heimarmene). The term “Heimarmene” is also widely used in the Greek Stoic tradition and the Gnostic religion (such as in the Pistis Sophia manuscript).

Our following post will be professor Opsopaus’ commentary on Plethon’s conception of Fate.


[64] Are all future things determined and fixed in advance by fate, or are there any things which have not been determined and which occur without order or law, as chance brings them? Without doubt, all things are subject to law; for if some event occurred without being determined by a law, either it would have no cause, and then there would be a fact that would occur without a cause, or the cause which produced it would act without determination, without necessity [ἀνάγκῃ], and then there would be a cause that would not produce its effects necessarily and in a definite way. The two things are equally impossible. But it is still far less possible that the gods change what they have resolved for the future and do something else than what they have decided, determined to change by people’s prayers, by certain gifts, or by some another similar reason. [66] In fact, by denying the necessity and the predetermination of the facts to come, one exposes oneself to denying entirely the gods’ providence [προνοίας] over human affairs, or to accusing them of being the authors of the worse, instead of the best possible, since things that they have decided second must necessarily be worse than the those decided first.

Those who absolutely deny fate therefore fall into one or other of these impieties. But these two suppositions are quite impossible. All future events are fixed from eternity; they are arranged in the best possible order under the authority of Zeus, the sole and supreme master of all things. Alone of all beings, Zeus knows no bounds, since there is nothing that can limit him (for something can be limited only by its own cause), but Zeus is too great to be bounded and remains eternally and perfectly identical to himself. He has for his essence the greatest and most powerful necessity, which is by itself in an absolute manner and does not derive from any different power. For what is necessary is better than what is contingent, and the greatest necessity is to be essentially good. To those who proceed immediately from him, Zeus communicates the same attribute to a lower degree, for the beings he produces are necessarily of the same nature as himself. [68] He determines these things and all the others because of himself, and there is nothing so great or so small that he himself cannot assign its limit, because there is nothing of which he is not the supreme cause.

Moreover, if the future were not fixed, foreknowledge [προεγινώσκετο] would be impossible, both for men and even for the gods; for we cannot know with certainty the indeterminate, of which we cannot say exactly in advance whether it will or will not be. Now, the gods know the future, since it is they who fix it, and they are present in it as the cause even before it has come into existence. They know it only because they determine and produce it, for they cannot know something by being themselves affected by it. Indeed, it is repugnant and impossible to admit that the gods are affected by things of an inferior nature that do not even exist yet. Thus, those who think that the gods exist and who at the same time refuse them the foreknowledge and predetermination [πρόνοιάν τε καὶ εἱμαρμένην] of the things here, are led to deny them knowledge. For they could not know them by being subject to the action of these things [here], since the less perfect cannot act upon the more perfect, nor act upon them, because they would not even be the authors of them. It is necessary, in fact, that what knows be connected with the known thing, either as a participant by undergoing its action, [70] or as a cause by acting on it, all knowledge being impossible in any circumstance other than on a relation between the knowing and the known. And even if the gods were the authors of the things of this world, but not in a determined and necessary way, they would never know what they should do one day, since they could not fix it necessarily and from all eternity in an immutable way.

But the gods know the future, and among people they choose some to whom they make it known to a certain extent. Some people wanted to make use of this forecast of part of the future to try to escape it, but, like others, they discovered the necessary and inevitable determination of fate. It is even the case that, by this forecast of their fates and by their efforts to escape from it, they have brought about their fulfillment, that very thing being in their fate. There is therefore no way to escape or to avert things once decided by Zeus for eternity and fixed by fate.

¶ But, it will be said, if all is determined in advance, if no present or future fact escapes necessity, that is the end of human freedom and divine justice because, on the one hand, people will act under the rule of fate, they will not be masters of themselves, and they will not be free; and on the other hand, the gods will completely renounce punishing the wicked, for they would not be just in punishing them, since their wickedness is destined and involuntary. [72] But people are masters of themselves, not as having no one who governs them, either among other beings, or among the gods themselves, but as having in themselves a single principle that commands, that is to say, the understanding [φρονοῦν], and all the rest [of the faculties] that obey it. It is this unique principle, the best of our nature, that controls all the rest, but nobody would dare to maintain that this understanding itself undergoes no domination. First, it is obviously subject to the impression of external things. Moreover, even if it is true that in different people the understanding is not subjected in the same way to the same influence, it would be no less absurd to think that it does not undergo these influences necessarily, since obviously it depends on the particular character of each individual understanding [φρονοῦντος] and also on its training [ἄσκησιν]. In fact, the same event, coming to act upon several different people, will necessarily produce different impressions on them, for their understanding [φρονοῦν] differs both in nature [φύσιν] and in training. Now, the nature [of the understanding] depends on the gods, and training depends on the prior intention [ἐγγενομένην] of the one who practices it, an intention which cannot be born in a person without the attendance of a god.

[74] Thus, people are masters of themselves by governing their conduct, although this domination is subject to superior domination, and it can be said that they are free and not free. Indeed, it would obviously be a mistake to say that freedom is the opposite of necessity, for slavery would then be called necessity, but slavery presupposes domination in which the slave is subjected in their capacity as slave. But this first necessity, which alone exists absolutely and by itself while all things exist through it, this necessity which we call the absolute Good, Zeus, to what domination will it be subjected? For surely, that which is domination cannot be at the same time slavery. If, on the other hand, slavery is called submission to a superior, and liberty is the liberation from all domination, there will not be one free person, or even one of the gods, except Zeus, for every inferior will be the slave of whoever governs them, and all will be slaves of their common master, Zeus. In this way, the servitude would not be painful or something to flee. In fact, slavery under a good master cannot be unpleasant; more than that, it is profitable and gentle to the slaves themselves, because one experiences only good under a good master.

[76] But if we do not accept this definition of slavery and liberty, if instead we say that these two states consist in being prevented or not from living as we wish, then because everyone wishes to live well and be happy, whoever is happy will at the same time be free, whether they have a master or not, since they live as they wish; the unlucky person, on the contrary, not living as they would have liked, will not be free. Now people can be unhappy only when they are wicked; thus no one wants to be wicked, since no one wants to be unhappy. It is therefore against one’s will and by mistake that one becomes wicked; consequently no wicked person is free, which is the privilege of honest and virtuous people.

If the gods chastise the wicked, the goal they propose to themselves and to which they lead, is not the punishment itself, but the correction of the faults. In fact, it is impossible for people never to err, since they are composed of two natures, one divine, the other mortal. Sometimes they are led by what is divine in themselves to the imitation of this perfection in which they participate; then they are virtuous and happy. But sometimes they carried away by their mortal instincts, and they turn out badly; it is then that the gods come to their aid and seek to correct them by punishments. [78] The gods want the punishments inflicted upon them to deliver them from their wickedness, just as bitter and painful remedies deliver our body from sickness. They intend that people be thereby brought to a better state, and pass from slavery to liberty, when the gods judge that, because of their bad nature, means of sweeter correction cannot reach them. Thus, nothing prevents someone from being punished, although their wickedness is involuntary, since the punishment, far from adding to their ills, gives them a benefit.

In short, there are gods, they watch over people, and they are not the cause of any evil. Finally, according to the inevitable law of fate, they give each one what is best for them. In order not to exceed our limits, we will stop here.


The grave of Gemistus Pletho (1355 ca.-1452) at the Tempio malatestiano in Rimini (1465). Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, april 2004. “Georgos holds fast the earth with his body, the stars with his soul, most venerable temple of all kinds of wisdom”. Words from his student, Basilios Bessarion.
More about Georgios Gemistos Plethon: 🌿Text source: ‘The Secret Texts of Hellenic Polytheism: A Practical Guide to the Restored Pagan Religion of George Gemistos Plethon’:
Georgios Gemistos Plethon-On Fate

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