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The Fates were the personifications of destiny. In Greek mythology the white-robed Moirae. Moerae .or Moirai (Greek Μοίραι, the Apportioners), are the Roman mythology equivalent: Parcae, the sparing ones, or Fatae; also equivalent to the Germanic mythology Norns or the Baltic mythology Goddess Laima and her sisters. They controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal and immortal from birth to death (and beyond).


Description

As the personifications of destiny, Fates assigned to every person their fate or share in the scheme of things. Their name meant Parts, Shares' or Allotted Portions. Clotho, whose name meant Spinner, spinned the thread of life. Lachesis, whose name meant Apportioner of Lots - being derived from a word meaning to receive by lot -, measured the thread of life. Atropos (also known as Atropus or Aisa), whose name meant She who cannot be turned, cut the thread of life.

The 'Moirae are the three sisters, robed in white, who decide on human fate. Lachesis sings of the things that were, Clotho those that are, and Atropos the things that are to be.

Atropos is depicted as the smallest in stature, but the most terrible and feared. Even though the Fates are often depicted as old, ugly and unmerciful, they are most honoured among the gods because they distribute justly and have a share in every home. At birth, Fates give people their share of evil and good, and equally punish the transgressions of both men and Gods.

The thread of life is spun upon Clotho's spindle, measured by the rod of Lachesis and finally snipped by the shears of Atropos, the inevitable one.


Main Belief

The Greeks claimed that they were the daughters of Zeus and the Titan Themis or of primordial beings like Nyx or Ananke.

But it has also been claimed that Tyche (luck, fortune) was one of the Fates and the most powerful of the sisters because beauty and virtue and good fame are in her keeping and her pleasure is to dash immoderate hopes.

In the abode of the Fates are the records of all that happens on tablets of brass and iron, which are neither shaken by warfare in heaven, nor lightning, nor any destructive power. These archives of the Fates are eternal and secure.

The younger gods laugh at the Fates and Apollo once went so far as to make them drunk in order to save his good friend Admetus from death.

The Moirae were usually described as cold, remorseless and unfeeling, and depicted as old crones or Old Hags. The independent spinster has inspired fear rather than matrimony.

Despite their forbidding reputation, Moirae could be worshipped as goddesses. Brides in Athens offered them locks of hair and women swore by them

The Fates are said to have invented seven of the letters of the alphabet: alfa, vita, ita, taf, iota and ipsilon.


The Fates in Roman Mythology

Romans believed in fate to be fixed at birth. At first, they used to believe in the so-called Goddess of Birth, Parca. Then, they turned to three entities, the Parcae, to manage the destiny of men.

  • Clothos’ counterpart was Nona (the Ninth), originally a goddess called upon during the ninth month of pregnancy
  • Lachesis’ counterpart was Decima (theTenth).
  • Atropos’ equivalent was Morta (Death).

They were also identified with the Moon phase, such as:

  • New Moon, the Maiden-goddess of the spring, the first period of the year, when the crops appeared from the soil and wove their welcome patterns into the air
  • Full Moon, the Nymph-goddess of the summer, the second period, was the measure of the harvest
  • Old Moon, the Crone-goddess of autumn, the last period before life subsided into the winter season.


Early Belief

The Moirae used to be represented as an individual goddess.

Homer’s Iliad speaks of the Moera, who spins the thread of life for men at their birth (xxiv.209) or, earlier in the same book (line 49), of several Moerae.

In the Odyssey (vii.197) there is a reference to the Klôthes, or Spinners. At Delphi, only the Fates of Birth and Death were revered. In Athens, Aphrodite, who had an earlier, pre-Olympic existence, was called Aphrodite Urania the 'eldest of the Fates' according geographer Pausanias (x.24.4).


Modern Belief

Destiny implies control. Control over the behaviour of individuals as well as populations of individuals. The Greek's story of the Three Sisters has surprising similarities to the networks of controls that influence all living creatures.

All biologists recognize the vast network of interactions that weave plant and animal behaviour into the patterns of life. What is difficult to understand, and is not so readily accepted, is how this principle results in such fineness of detail as to enable a single human to perceive an event in the future as if it was a frame from a movie; an episode previously unimagined by the human; an episode which cannot be avoided. By definition, life is non-random but how can the Moirae weave the tapestry with such precision that I will be directed through a series of impossible coincidences in the voyage from Florida to the Solomon Islands?

The Fates’ myth originated from intuitive understanding of the process of life:

  • To B is the process of spinning the thread of awareness by Clotho
  • To Change is the process of segmenting the continuous thread by Lachesis, measuring being the essence of dividing the continuum into recognizable parts.
  • To Have Direction is the change in change, it is that which remains after Atropos cuts the thread of awareness, which we learn as individuals and we evolve into as species.
  • The Observer, the three sisters altogether, the thread of awareness in chaos.


The Fates and Myth

The Fates played a role in many myths.

During the war between the Giants and the Olympians the Fates armed themselves with clubs and fought and killed a couple of Giants. They also deluded Typhon when he came with an attitude to challenge the rule of Zeus. The Fates gave the monster Typhon to taste of the ephemeral fruits and convinced him that he would be strengthened by them. Instead the fruit weakened Typhon, helping Zeus to demolish him and establish his supremacy on Mount Olympus.

When hero Meleager was seven days old the Fates came and declared that the new baby would die when the log burning on the hearth would finally burn out. Clotho said that he would be noble and Lachesis that he would be brave, but Atropos looked at the brand burning on the hearth and said: He will live only as long as this brand remains unconsumed. On hearing this, his mother snatched up the log and hid it in a chest, carefully preserving it. But as fate foretold, Meleager eventually murdered his uncles and his mother, consumed by grief, brought out the fire brand and kindled it, killing her own son.

When Zeus fell in love with the Nereid Thetis, the Fates prophesized that the son born of any union with Thetis would grow up to become mightier than his father. Zeus, afraid that the same fate would befall him, as it had his own father Cronus, backed off and left Thetis alone. She ended up marrying the mortal Peleus and eventually gave birth to Achilles, the greatest hero of the Trojan War.

At Delphi, the seat of Apollo’s oracle, only two Fates are worshipped, those of Birth and Death; and at Athens Aphrodite Urania is called the eldest of the three.


Fates and Gods

Some say Zeus, the King of the Olympian gods, known as the Bringer of Fate and Leader of The Fates, rules over the Fates. Other version tells a different story, assuming that even the mighty Zeus is not above Destiny. If the latter is true, then the Fates would be the most powerful of all deities.

Even though the other gods were almighty, and supposedly immortal, even Hera had reason to fear them. All were subject to the whims of the Fates. Ministers of the Fates were always oracles or soothsayers (seers of the future).

Though portrayed as ugly hags, cold and unmerciful, the Fates were not always deaf to the pleading of others. When Atropos cut the thread of King Admetus, who happened to be Apollo's friend, Apollo begged the Fates to undo their work. It was not in their power to do so, but they promised that if someone took Admetus' place in the gloomy world of Hades' domain, he would live. The king's wife, Alcestis, said she would take his place. But Hercules, who happened to be Admetus' guest, rescued her from the [[Underworld, and Admetus an Alcetis were reunited.


The Fates in Fiction


References

  • Comte, Fernand The Wordsworth Dictionary of Mythology, Wordsworth [1]
  • Ely, Talfourd The Gods of Greece and Rome, Dover Publication,[2]
  • Graves, Robert Greek Myths [3]
  • Peck Harry Thurston, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898 [4]
  • Ruck, Carl & Staples, Danny The World of Classical Myth, 1994 [5]


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