September 6, 2015

The Fates are the three mythological deities who determined human life and destiny. The Fates are known as Moirai. (plural of Moira) in Greek and Parcae (plural of Parca) or Fata (plural of Fatum) in Latin. The Fates have been drawn in literature different ways by different authors. The most authentic description of the Fates has been passed out by the attic poets Homer and Hesiod.

The Three Fates (1558) by Giorgio Ghisi (1520–1582) Italian

Homeric Portraiture

In The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer relates of Fate (Moira) rather than Fates (Moirai). In his view, the Fate is a single impersonal power which is basically concerned with the cessation of life. Surprisingly, in The Iliad, Homer also mentioned it in plural form, albeit only for once. In Homeric description, the Fate acted independently from the gods and Zeus (Roman equivalent: Jupiter, also called: Jove) was the sole god who could control it. Zeus used to weigh human fates in his measuring scale, and when someone’s lot weighed down, he died according to the Fate. Moreover, Zeus had the authority to save the would-be victims from their imminent fate. Therefore, in Homeric description, Zeus appears as the guider and the apportioner of destiny. Still from another angle, this impersonal force could be interpreted simply as the will of the gods. In this way, Zeus is somewhat the personification of this abstract power. However, many scholars held that the Homeric portrayal of the Fate is incomplete since it lacked personification, attribution or parentage.

Hesiodic Portraiture

With a sharp contrast to Homer, Hesiod provides a much complete picture of the Fates with compelling details on their appearance, attribution, and parentage. He even named the trio individually. In his Theogony, Hesiod initially writes that the Fates are the daughters of Erebus, the god of the darkness and Nyx, the goddess of the night. However, later in the same poem he tells that they are the daughters of Zeus and Themis (Roman equivalent: Lustitia), the Titan goddess of law and divine order. Hesiod personified the Fates by portraying them as three old weavers spinning the threads of human destiny from birth to death. He further conceived that one of these threads was allocated to every person, and that each goddess played her role in controlling this thread:
  • Clotho (Roman equivalent:: Nona): She was the youngest amongst the three Fates. Her role was that of a spinner who spun the thread of lifefrom her distaff onto her spindle. Clotho used to decide when gods and mortals were to born and when they were to be saved or allocated to death.
  • Lachesis (Roman equivalent: Decima): She was the second of the three sister deities. Lachesis was the drawer of lots of death. With her measuring rod she used to measure the thread of life, which spun on Clotho's spindle. The length of the string determined the life span of a certain individual. As per mythological accounts, she appeared with her sisters within three days of a baby's birth to decide its fate.
  • Atropos (also called Aisa; Roman equivalent: Morta): She was the eldest of all sisters. Atropos was the cutter of the life-thread. She used to decide how an individual’s life will end. When a person’s life-thread reached the designated length, she cut it with her shears.
In Hesiod's view, the Fates are independent and their decisions could not be altered. Zeus, as well as the other gods and mortals had to submit to them. They carefully observed that the Fate assigned to every individual might finish its course without hindrance.

Dispute over Parentage

The origin or the parentage of the Fates is still a matter of great dispute. For instance, in the tenth book of The Republic (c. 380 B.C.), Plato has pointed out that the Fates are the daughters of Anake, the primeval goddess of inevitability, compulsion and necessity. Again, some sources speculate that the Fates were born to Zeus and Anake. In Roman mythology they have been identified as the daughters of Uranus, the primeval god of the sky and Gaia, the primal goddess of the Earth. Still another claim asserts that they are the daughters of Chaos (also called Chaos, Haos, Khaos, Arche), the primordial void, out of which everything was created, including the universe and the gods.

Debate over Nature of Power

Although several mythographers have insisted that the decision passed by the Fates were irreversible and that neither god nor mortal could modify them, one myth, however, indicates that the Fates could even be persuaded to withdraw rigidity. As per this myth, Apollo adopted a clever ruse against the Fates to prolong the life of his friend Admetus, the king of Pherae. Having inebriated the Fates, Apollo convinced them to spare the king’s life if he could persuade someone else from his family to die in place of him. Accordingly, Admetus could able to escape death when his beloved wife Alcestis voluntarily accepted to die.

Reference in Literature

As a relatively common subject, fate greatly influenced the writings of all ages. In Greek literature fate has been manifested in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex (c.430 B.C.), Homer’s The Iliad (c.750 B.C.), and The Odyssey (c.800 B.C.), and Hesiod's Theogony (c. 700 B.C.). In English literature the presence of fate is apparent in Shakespeare's Macbeth (1606), Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Samuel Beckett's Endgame (1957). In German literature this concept has been employed by Hermann Hesse in Siddharta (1922), and Das Glasperlenspiel (1943).

The Fates by Friedrich Paul Thumann (1834–1908) German
The Fates Gathering in the Stars ( 1887) by Elihu Vedder ( 1836-1923) American
The Three Fates (1525) by Il Sodoma (1477–1549) Italian
The Three Fates by Godfrey Sykes (1855) British
The Three Fates (1985) by Jacob Matham (1571–1631) Flemish


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 Khan, Farhad. An Encyclopedia of Classical Literature. Dhaka: Protik, 1996.

 “Moirai.” Wikipedia. 2015. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 15 Oct 2015

 “Moirai.” Theoi. 2015. Theoi. 15 Oct 2015 <>.

“The Fates” Microsoft Encarta. DVD-ROM. Redmond: Microsoft, 2005.

NB: This article was last modified on January, 13, 2018.

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