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In Greek mythology, the white-robed Moirae or Moerae were the personifications of destiny (Roman equivalent: Parcae, "sparing ones", or Fata; also equivalent to the Germanic Norns).

Aka: The Daughters of Necessity, the Moires, the Parques. The Fates are mentioned in The Odyssey as the heavy Spinners.

The three Moirae , part of A Golden Thread, John Strudwick , 1885.



The Greek word moira (μοῖρα) literally means a part or portion, and by extension one's portion in life or destiny and as a personification "the deity who assigns to every man his fate or his share," or the Fates. (in Ancient Greek Μοῖραι — the "apportioners", often called the Fates)


The poets sometimes describe them as aged and hideous women, and even as lame, to indicate the slow march of fate (Catull. 64, 306; Ov. Met. xv. 781; Tzetz. ad Lyc. 584) ; but in works of art they are represented as grave maidens, with staffs or sceptres, the symbol of dominion; and Plato (De Re Pub. p. 617) even mentions their crowns. (Mus. Pio-Clem. tom. vi. tab. B.); Clotho mentions a spindle or a roll (the book of fate); Lachesis points with a staff to the horoscope on the globe ; and Atropos with a pair of scales, or a sun-dial, or a cutting instrument.

It is worthy of remark that the Muse Urania was sometimes represented with the same attributes as Lachesis, and that Aphrodite Urania at Athens, according to an inscription on a Hermes-pillar, was called the oldest of the Moirae. (Paus. i. 19. § 2; comp. Welcker, Zeitschrift für alt. Kunst, p. 197, &c.; Blüner, Ueber die Idee des Schicksals, p. 115, &c.; flirt. Mytholog. Bilderh. p. 200.)


The Moirae existed on the deepest European mythological level. It is difficult to separate them from the Norns, the similar age-old fates, older than the gods, of a separate Indo-European tradition. Zeus and The Goddess of Necessity, Themis, brought forth three lovely daughters, known as The Fates. Their names are: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Clotho is a maiden, Lachesis a matron, and Atropos a crone. In other stories, their father was the dark element of Tartarus, named Erebus and their mother was Night.

The three Moirae were:

  • Clotho ('kləʊθəʊ, Greek Κλωθώ — "spinner") spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle. Her Roman equivalent was Nona, (the 'Ninth'), who was originally a goddess called upon in the ninth month of pregnancy.
  • Lachesis ('lækəsɪs, Greek Λάχεσις — "allotter" or drawer of lots) measured the thread of life with her rod. Her Roman equivalent was Decima (the 'Tenth').
  • Atropos (['ætrəpɒs, Greek Ἄτροπος — "inexorable" or "inevitable", sometimes called Aisa) was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of a person's death. When she cut the thread with "her abhorrèd shears", someone on Earth died. Her Roman equivalent was Mors ('Death').

In earlier times, the Moirae were represented as only a few - perhaps only one - individual goddess. Homer's Iliad speaks generally 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. But the personification of his Moira is not complete, for he mentions no particular appearance of the goddess, no attributes, and no parentage; and his Moira is therefore quite synonymous with Aisa. (II. xx. 127, xxiv. 209.)

As man's fate terminates at his death, the goddess of fate at the close of life becomes the goddess of death, moira Danatoio (Od. xxiv. 29, ii. 100, iii. 238), and is mentioned along with death itself, and with Apollo, the bringer of death. (Il. iii. 101, v. 83, xvi. 434, 853, xx. 477, xxi. 101, xxiv. 132.) 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 to Pausanias Pausanias (x.24.4).

From this circumstance we may perhaps infer that originally the Greeks conceived of only one Moira, and the subsequently consideration of her nature and attributes led to the belief in two, and ultimately in three Moirae; though a distribution of the functions among the three was not strictly observed, for in Ovid, for example (ad Liv. 239), and Tibullus (i. 8. 1.), all three are described as spinning, although this should be the function of Clotho alone, who is, in fact, often mentioned alone as the representative of all. (Pind. 01. i. 40; Ov. ad Liv. 164, Fast. vi. 757, Ex Pont. iv. 15. 36.)

Hesiod (Theog. 217, &c., 904; comp. Apollod. i 3. § 1) has the personification of the Moirae complete; for he calls them, together with the Keres, daughters of Night; and distinguishes three, viz. Clotho, or the spinning fate; Lachesis, or the one who assigns to man his fate; and Atropos, or the fate that cannot be avoided. According to this genealogy, the Moirae must be considered as in a state of dependence upon their father, and as agreeing with his counsels. Hence he is called Moiragetês, i.e. the guide or leader of the Moirae (Paus. v. 15. § 4), and hence also they were represented along with their father in temples and works of art, as at Megara (Paus. i. 40. § 3), in the temple of Despoena in Arcadia (viii. 37. § 1), and at Delphi (x. 24. § 4; comp. viii. 42. § 2). They are further described as engraving on indestructible tables the decrees of their father Zeus. (Claudian, xv. 202; comp. Ov. Met. xv. 808, &c.) Later writers differ in their genealogy of the Moirae from that of Hesiod; thus they are called children of Erebus and Night (Cic. De Aat. Deor. iii. 17), of Cronos and Night (Tzetz. ad Lyc. 406), of Ge and Oceanus (Athenag. 15; Lycoph. 144), or lastly of Ananke or Necessity. (Plat. De Re Publ. p. 617, d.)



The Fates have the subtle but, awesome power of controlling the destinies of all mortal mankind from birth to death. Each of the three sisters was given a task that represented the lives of men and women, spinning a thread of gold, silver, or wool; now tightening, now slacking and at last cutting it off. Clotho, the spinner and the youngest, put the wool around the spindleand spun the thread of life. This determined a person's life.

The second sister, named Lachesis, the measurer, measured the thread once it was spun. She determined how long a person should live.

The third sister, Atropos, she who can not be turn, cut the thread that decide the time of death. It is not entirely clear how far their power extends. It is possible that they determine the fate of the gods as well. In any case, not even the most powerful is willing to trifle with them. They laugh at our feeble attempts to cheat them because they always prevail.


The Moirai assigned to each man at birth his allotted portion of life. When the portion expired they cut the thread of life. As such they were sometimes described as goddesses of death, attendant upon the throne of Haides. Zeus himself may be subject to their power, as the Pythian priestess at Delphi once admitted.

The Moirai were sometimes regarded as goddesses of prophecy. This role, however, was usually assigned to Apollon

"The Moirai (Fates), daughters of Ananke, clad in white vestments with filleted heads, Lakhesis, and Klotho, and Atropos, who sang in unison with the music of the Seirenes, Lakhesis singing the things that were, Klotho the things that are, and Atropos the things that are to be. And Klotho with the touch of her right hand helped to turn the outer circumference of the spindle, pausing from time to time. Atropos with her left hand in like manner helped to turn the inner circles, and Lakhesis alternately with either hand lent a hand to each." - Plato, Republic 617C

The Moirae were supposed to appear three nights after a child's birth to determine the course of its life.

"Klotho, Lakhesis, and Atropos, who at their birth bestow upon mortals their portion of good and evil." - Hesiod, Theogony 218

"The Moirai, to whom Zeus of the counsels gave the highest position: they are Klotho, Lakhesis, and Atropos: they distribute to mortal people what people have, for good and for evil." - Hesiod, Theogony 904

"Okeanides: And whose hand controls necessity (ananke)? Prometheus: The three Moirai; and the Erinyes, who forget nothing. Okeanides: Has Zeus less power than they? Prometheus: He cannot fly from Fate. Okenaides: What fate is given to Zeus, but everlasting power? Prometheus: This is a thing you may not know; so do not ask." - Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound 515


They had sanctuaries in many parts of Greece, such as Corinth, Sparta, Olympia (v. 15. § 4), Thebes, and elsewhere.


As goddesses of death, they appear together with the Keres (Hes. Scut. Herc. 258) and the infernal Erinnyes, with whom they are even confounded, and in the neighbourhood of Sicyon the annual sacrifices offered to them were the same as those offered to the Erinnyes.

As goddesses of birth, who spill the thread of beginning life, and even prophesy the fate of the newly born, they are mentioned along with Eileithyia, who is called their companion and paredros (Paus. viii. 21. § 2; Plat. Sympos. p. 206, d.; Pind. Ol. vi. 70, Nem. vii. 1; Anton. Lib. 29; comp. Eurip. Iphig. Taur. 207.) as well as Prometheus, the creator of the human race in general. (Hygin. Poet. Astr. ii. 15.)



The Moirae can be compared with the three spinners of Destiny in northern Europe, the Norns or the Baltic goddess Laima and her two sisters, also spinning goddesses. Despite their forbidding reputation, Moirae could be worshipped as goddesses. Brides in Athens offered them locks of hair and women swore by them. They may have originated as birth-goddesses and only later acquired their reputation as the agents of destiny.

It cannot be surprising to find that the character and nature of the Moirae were conceived differently at different times and by different authors. Sometimes they appear as divinities of fate in the strict sense of the term, and sometimes only as allegorical divinities of the duration of human life. In the former character they are independent, at the helm of necessity, direct fate, and watch that the fate assigned to every being by eternal laws may take its course without obstruction (Aeschyl. Prom. 511, 515); and Zeus, as well as the other gods and men, must submit to them. (Herod. i. 91; Lactant. Institute. i. 11, 13; Stob. Eclog. i. pp. 152, 170.)


The Fates were assisted by the god Hermes in the creation of the Pelasgian alphabet. They also helped the Olympian Gods on more than one occasion. They supported Zeus in his battle against Typhon by giving the monster poisoned fruits to eat. However, they were willing to help Hades when he protested to Zeus that Asclepius had revived a dead Hippolytus, hence negating the powers of both the Underworld and the Fates.

The Birth of Herakles

Eileithyia and the Moirai obstructed the birth of Herakles until they were distracted by Alkmene's handmaiden Galinthias. "At Thebes Proitos had a daughter Galinthias. This maiden was playmate and companion of Alkmene, daughter of Elektryon. As the birth throes for Herakles were pressing on Alkmene, the Moirai (Fates) and Eileithyia (Birth-Goddess), as a favour to Hera, kept Alkmene in continuous birth pangs.

They remained seated, each keeping their arms crossed. Galinthias, fearing that the pains of her labour would drive Alkmene mad, ran to the Moirai and Eleithyia and announced that by desire of Zeus a boy had been born to Alkmene and that their prerogatives had been abolished. At all this, consternation of course overcame the Moirai and they immediately let go their arms. Alkmene’s pangs ceased at once and Herakles was born. The Moirai were aggrieved at this and took away the womanly parts of Galinthias since, being but a mortal, she had deceived the gods. They turned her into a deceitful weasel, making her live in crannies and gave her a grotesque way of mating. She is mounted through the ears and gives birth by bringing forth her young through the throat. Hekate felt sorry for this transformation of her appearance and appointed her a sacred servant of herself." - Antoninus Liberalis, Metamorphoses 29

Art / Fiction

Popular culture

The Fates (Parcae or Moirae) make regular appearances in popular culture, produced to appeal to a mass market. The presence of the Fates lends an atmosphere of depth and universality to some productions of market-driven contemporary culture. Alternatively, they may be introduced with a mock-heroic sense of parody.

  • Xena:Warrior Princess has a recurring trio known as The Fates, comprising the Maiden, Mother and Crone, who weave the threads of life (Article at Whoosh).
  • In Disney's Hercules, when Hades wishes to know the future, he consults the Fates, who share a single eye between them, a feature of the Graeae of Greek mythology.
  • In the popular cult comic book series "The Sandman (DC Comics/Vertigo)", by Neil Gaiman, the Fates are also the Furies and Hyppolita Hall is their descendant, which allows her to assume these roles.
  • The three witches encountered by Macbeth on the heath, or even Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett's Discworld are loosely based on the Moirae.
  • The Moirae are depicted in the beginning of the Korean manhwa series Ragnarök.
  • In Stephen King's 1994 Insomnia, the Moirae are depicted in the form of three doctors who visit people at the end of their life to cut their thread. Atropos is depicted as a creature of Random while the other two are workers of Fate.
  • In Nagano Mamoru's Five Star Stories (a space opera manga), the master fatima meight Dr Chrome Ballanche named his last three masterpiece fatimas after the Greek Fates, Atropos, Lachesis, and Clotho.
  • The Fates are depicted in the Incarnations of Immortality novels, and are the focus of With a Tangled Skein.
  • In the computer game God of War 2, Kratos fights against the Moirae so he can go back in time to when the gods first betray him.
  • The Moirae are the antagonists in David Brin's novella, "The Loom of Thessaly".



Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.

50x From, the largest medium about monsters.
  • Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898. [1]
  • Robert Graves, Greek Myths
  • Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion 1903. Chapter VI, "The Maiden-Trinities"
  • Herbert Jennings Rose, Handbook of Greek Mythology, 1928.
  • Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth, 1994.
  • William Smith (lexicographer)|William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870, article on Moira, [2]

See also

Keres Erinnyes Norns

External links

Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.