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When the Odyssey opens with a meeting of the gods, Homer presents the first philosophical question of the poem. “Ah how shameless…” Zeus rails against the humans. “From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,/ but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,/ compound their pains beyond their proper share (Book 1, 37-40).” The debate between free will and fate is one of the oldest and exhausted conversations. Yet Socrates’ use of the Myth of Er to expound upon the discussion is a refreshing take on the dispute.

Er spends a total of twelve days in the underworld as an observer, and Socrates’ description of the eighth day is the most interesting. Er and group of others are presented before the spindle of Necessity and surrounding the spindle are eight whorls. The daughter’s of Necessity are before the spindle. The sisters, Lachesis (“what has been”), Clotho (“what is”), and Atropos (“what will be”) work the spindle in tandem (10.617c).

A spokesperson presents the group with “lots and patterns of lives from Lachesis’ lap” and a warning: “A demon will not select you, but you will choose a demon. Let him who gets the first lot make the first choice of life to which he will be bound by necessity. Virtue is without a master; as he honors or dishonors her, each will have more or less of her. The blame belongs to him who chooses; god is blameless (10.617d-e).”

In dissecting the warning, we are provided what appears to be a guideline for better living through free will. “A demon will not select you, but you will choose a demon”—what demons are present in life are from a person’s own action and not by some devious scheme. Secondly, “Let him who gets the first lot make the first choice of life to which he will be bound by necessity.” As we see in the man who does actually draw the first lot and chooses poorly, there are no take-backs and what’s said is said. The third warning is interesting—it almost sounds like a marriage pact. The spokesperson speaks for Lachesis, the “maiden daughter” of Necessity who counsels to stay faithful to the choice. Each person will be married to his or her choice, and depending on how that person treats the choice’s virtue, it will determine the relationship. Finally, the spokesperson returns to the most important warning: “The blame belongs to him who chooses; god is blameless.”

Sadly, the person who draws the 1st lot does not heed the warnings of Lachesis. Socrates tells Glaucon, “The man who had drawn the first lot came forward and immediately chose the greatest tyranny, and, due to folly and gluttony, chose without having considered everything adequately; and it escaped his notice that eating his own children and other evils were fated to be a part of that life (10.619b-c).” His downfall is his greed and just as predicted he blames the gods for his problems. In his anger “he didn’t blame himself for the evils but chance, demons, and anything rather than himself.” His problems are his own fault, his own choice. When Odysseus gets the last number he chooses “the life of a private man,” his choice is believed to be the best because he took care and thought into his decision.

After each person chooses their lot Lachesis sends them “with them each the demon he had chosen as a guardian of the life… [and] the demon first led the soul to Clotho… next he led it to the spinning of Atropos, thus making the threads irreversible (10.620d-e).” While Socrates says the demon leads them, it is truly the choice that men make that leads him through his life.

The lot a man is given is set in stone—pre-destined, even. Yet what he does with that lot is up to him. His own free will is what determines his future—not any god. The man with the first number did not necessarily have to pick the fate of the tyrant. He made the choice to follow down the path of greed and he suffered for it. His own personal choice, and not the decision of the gods, put him in the position he despises.

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