The idea of Fortune or Fate as the arbiter of human destiny persisted for many centuries; we could even argue that the Catholic Church, through the writings of early Church fathers like Augustine, Jerome, Tertullian, simply substituted or imposed a new model on what had already existed before. In the Renaissance, the humanists (especially Petrarch, Machiavelli, and Guicciardini) enthusiastically endorsed the idea of Fortune.
Yet for some reason modern man is uncomfortable with this idea. He likes to believe that he is in total control of his fate. He wants to believe his destiny is in his hands. More importantly, he recoils from any attempt to impose limits on his arrogance, greed, and desires. Anyone writing about the dangers of hubris today is not likely to find himself wildly popular. We live in an age of braggarts, big mouths, preening fools, and arrogant idiots; it is an age where ignorance is lauded and celebrated as wisdom, and the gutter is displayed to the public as something to be emulated. The price for all of this will inevitably be paid.
And this will be the cause of our undoing, if it has not already happened. One cannot just do whatever one wants in life. You do not make your own rules. You are not an emperor unto yourself; you are not an island of your own, isolated from the mainland of humanity. The Greeks of late antiquity had a goddess they called Nemesis, and her function was to deliver punishment to those who were guilty of hubris. She was the punisher of undeserved good fortune, and the chastiser of those who overreached themselves. Her name in Latin was Adrastia. You have probably never heard of her, and this very fact goes a long way to proving my point about the narcissistic streak of our modern culture.
The best description of Adrastia is found in the late Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus. Writing in the fourth century A.D., he interrupts his narrative to remind us who really has the final say in human affairs:
These and many other similar examples are often the operation of Adrastia, the punisher of wicked deeds and the patron of good deeds (and let us hope it is always so!). We may call Her by her secondary name, Nemesis. She is the subtle law of an inexorable higher power; as some men believe, She is located above the orbit of the Moon. Others maintain that She is a kind of general guardian over the fates of individuals. The ancient theologians have pictured Her as the daughter of Justice; and from a far-off eternity She looks down on all earthly affairs.
As the queen of causes [regina causarum] and the arbiter and decider of human affairs, She handles the urn [for choosing lots] with its probabilities and causes fortunes to change, sometimes producing for us results that were very different from what we had originally intended. Many acts She twists into something very different. Restraining the always-expanding mortal arrogance with the chains of fate, and tilting the scales of gain and loss (as she knows how to do), She undermines and lowers the haughty necks of the arrogant.
She elevates good men from the lowest rung of society to a blessed station in life. Tradition has provided Her with wings so that She might be able to visit anyone with all deliberate speed; and it gave Her a helm to grasp and a wheel under Her, so that as She runs through the elements, no one will ever forget that She commands the fate of the universe. [Res Gestae XIV.11. Translation mine.]
These are powerful words. For Ammianus, there was no doubt about who was really in charge of events. It was not man, with his pathetic, puny schemes that existed to feed his own ego. It was Adrastia, or Nemesis, who would decide who was rewarded and who was punished. Unearned good fortune would be punished; arrogance would be punished; hubris would be punished. Adrastia was the great equalizer, the dispenser of divine justice to those who would prefer to forget the laws of nature.