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"No one is free except Zeus." (Cratos to Hephaestus. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 50).

"A free man?—There is no such thing! All men are slaves; some, slaves of money; some, of chance; others are forced, either by mass opinion, or the threatening law, to act against their nature." (Hecabe 1 to Agamemnon. Euripides, Hecabe 864).

"We men are in prison all that time which we choose to call life. For this soul of ours, being bound and fettered in a perishable body, has to endure many things, and be the slave of all the affections which visit humanity." (Flavius Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 7.26).

There is a law of stern Necessity,
The immemorial ordinance of the gods
Made fast for ever, bravely sworn and sealed:
Should any Spirit, born to enduring life,
Be fouled with sin of slaughter, or transgress
By disputation, perjured and forsworn,
Three times ten thousand years that soul shall wander
An outcast from Felicity, condemned
To mortal being, and in diverse shapes
With interchange of hardship go his ways.
The Heavens force him headlong to the Sea;
And vomited from the Sea, dry land receives him,
But flings unwanted to the burning Sun;
From there, to the heavenly vortex backward thrown,
He makes from host to host, by all abhorred.

(Empedocles, c. 493 - c. 433 BC).

Faces of Necessity

as responsibility 

as moral choice 

as disobedience

 as obedience

Ananke is Necessity, a great goddess with a stern law ("unbearable," some think).

Goddess of Bonds

Ananke is the powerful deity that rules compulsion, constraint, restraint, or coercion, and presides over all forms of slavery and bonds, starting with the basic necessities of life. Consequently, when someone is cast into prison, or fastened by chains, her name is evoked. For she is behind all bonds, and has a share even in the ties of kinship, friendship and love. She is called Necessity, since once the attachment is established there cannot but follow what necessarily is derived from it, her might allowing no resistance. Ananke's dominion is experienced mainly in the physical world, and therefore she has been held responsible for the ugliness of all violent dealings deriving from her compelling power. Accordingly, her rule is, not seldom, fought against violently by ignorance. And when this occurs new necessary bonds may appear as a result.

Double-edged bond

When it comes to the bonds of prisons and chains there is at times little difference between prisoner and warden, or between slave and master, since Ananke's bond appears to tie them both. This is why Hephaestus, while chaining Prometheus 1, complained before Cratos (Power):

Hephaestus: Oh handicraft that I hate so much!
Cratos: Why hate it? Since in truth your craft is in no way to blame for these present troubles.
Hephaestus: Nevertheless, I wish it had fallen to another's lot!
Cratos: Every job is troublesome except to be the commander of gods; no one is free except Zeus.
Hephaestus: I know it by this task; I cannot deny it. (Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 45ff.).

Consequently, those who love freedom above all consistently avoid the tasks that threaten to put yet a chain round their neck, knowing that such tasks would teach them, regardless of their role—either master or slave—that they are not free.

Ananke's kingdom

Some have suggested that Ananke's kingdom is primarily that of the physical world, since in it no real freedom can be perceived. What is necessary, specially the bare necessities of life, is under her dominion; and in that sphere, no one can choose to act according to his own view, but instead must follow Necessity's dictates. This is why some have regarded the body as "the prison of the soul," seeing that it is fettered to its own functions and needs, which inevitably lead to want and later to death. On account of this inevitability, Necessity has been called the mother of the MOERAE (in whose hands fate rests); and those who call her otherwise have anyway said that she is steered by both the MOERAE (for necessary is also what must be, which is fate—particularly death) and the ERINYES (for these punish those who violently break the bonds of blood).

All must obey

Since little choice is possible, and since there is no escape for the body from the stern law of Necessity, no one loves this goddess and everybody ignores her cult. Yet her compelling power—with or without cult—remains unsurpassed in all circumstances. And given that she must be obeyed unto the most minute detail, this counsel has been given so that man might be reconciled with his condition:

"If a man endeavours to ... persuade himself to accept of his own accord what needs must befall him, he will have a very reasonable and harmonious life." (Arrian's discourses of Epictetus, Fragment 8).

A similar thought occurred to rebellious Prometheus 1 when he was chained in Caucasus:

"I must bear my allotted doom as lightly as I can, knowing that the might of Necessity permits no resistance." (Prometheus 1. Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 104).

Compulsion in choice

But not only the purely physical is affected by Ananke. For when someone feels forced either to perform an evil act, or else to perform another evil act, then he might as well evoke the goddess, as when Agamemnon had to choose either to suffer the consequences of disappointing the army by not attacking Troy, or else sacrifice his daughter, the sweet flower Iphigenia. And although the king felt that both courses of action were evil, still he must choose. That is why he complains, feeling that the nature of his choice too well matched the dire straits of Aulis:

"Ah, woe is me! unhappy wretch, what can I say? where shall I begin? To what cruel straits have I been plunged! A god has outwitted me, proving far cleverer than any cunning of mine." (Agamemnon in Euripides' Iphigenia in Aulis 444).

Necessity and the soldier

Others are forced to choose the only thing they themselves will deem possible, as when Nestor arrayed his forces in such a way that cowards, due to their position in the ranks, would have to fight as brave men:

"Nestor put his charioteers with their horses and cars in the front; and at the back a mass of first-rate infantry to serve as rearguard. In between he stationed his inferior troops, so that even shirkers would be forced to fight." (Homer, Iliad 4.300).

This is the kind of compulsion that Ananke makes possible. And when a man is just a citizen, he is only the subject of his ruler, or is bound only by law. These bonds are indeed steered by Necessity. But when a man, besides being a citizen, is a soldier as well, he is not only bound to the laws of his country, but also to the army regulations, to his commander in chief, and to the officer immediately above him. And if the army is at war, then the bonds of Necessity increase even more, since the enemy will force him to act, not as he would like, but as he will need to if he wishes to remain alive or avoid becoming a prisoner of war. Even so the outcome will not be in his hands. On the other hand, when the war is over, the bonds of Necessity decrease, and when he leaves the army and becomes a civilian again, he sees them decrease even more, being no longer subject to his superiors.

Extra bonds

Similarly, while a man is healthy, he is subject mainly to the bare necessities of life, naturally ruled by Ananke. But if he falls sick, he will be, in addition to those natural rules, under the load of his sickness and the ordinances of his physician, also ruled by Ananke indeed, since each sickness has its necessary prescription, and no one dreams of curing a serious disease by administering sweet cookies (unless one wishes to see the patient's condition get worse). And again, while a man is taken to be a good citizen, he may be called "free", or subject only to the set of basic compulsions dictated by Ananke. But the day he is believed to be a criminal, new bonds appear to fetter him under the form of law suits, persecution, or prison. And once convicted, he will groan, not only under Ananke's basic set of obligations, but also under those established by his reclusion (ruled by Ananke as well—a relentless goddess no doubt), since no one thinks of hosting prisoners having in mind how they could best enjoy themselves while in detention.

Circumventing through reduction

So in addition to the primary necessities of life, many other bonds might be added or taken away by Necessity, and they may go under a variety of names, such as "duty", "responsibility", "pledge", "contract", "punishment", "sickness", etc. By these words (and others like them) is sometimes meant the yoke of slavery and the weight of fetters. Yet this goddess has also been regarded as having a share in all kinds of bonds, included those presided by Love, Friendship, and moral or civil obligation. Since the fate of mortals is death, also this one has been called necessary, being represented by Ananke and her children, the MOERAE. While Death delays, however, other things (also necessary) must arrive, such as Old Age. But before the arrival of the latter, mortals must still submit—because of their fragile physical body—to the necessities of life, enjoying no other freedom than that represented by the provisional gifts they might have received from fate and other powers. Yet again, seeing that these gifts also tend to become necessities in the mind of man, fettering him in new ways, some advise to have them, as far as possible, reduced or removed, suggesting that real freedom can only be conquered within:

"For what purpose, then, did I receive these gifts?"
"To use them."
"How long?"
"For as long as He who lent them to you wills."
"But what if they are necessary to me?"
"Do not set your heart upon them, and they will not be necessary to you. Do not say to yourself that they are necessary, and they will not be."
(Epictetus 4.1.110).

But this reduction or removal cannot cancel the dominion of the goddess, and is regarded just as a way of honouring her by circumventing, through the reduction of bonds, a power that can neither be opposed nor avoided. It is as if they prayed: "Deny me your gifts, goddess!" For these seem to them to be those of bondage. And they, loving freedom, cling to serene simplicity which knows few bonds.







Related sections



Aes.Aga.217; Aes.Pro.515, 1052; AO.879; Cal.Del.122; Nonn.2.678, 10.90; Pau.2.4.6; Pla.Rep. 617c; Pla.Sym.197b; Empedocles translated by T. F. Higham (1938).
Further reading: Heinz Schreckenberg: Ananke, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte des Wortgebrauchs (C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, München 1964).