- Pronunciation: fay-tes
- Origin: Greek Mythology
- Role: Goddesses of Destiny, Past, Future, Birth, Death
- Also known as: Moiari, The Three Sisters
- Individual Names (Greek Mythology): Clotho, Lachesis, Atropos
- Individual Names (Roman Mythology): Nona, Decuma, and Morta
- Parents: Some sources say Zeus and Themis, others say they are daughters of Ananke
Who Are the Fates?
Composed of three sisters—Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos—the Fates were a trinity of goddesses. They were the personifications of man’s life and destiny. These three immortals decided man’s fate as a singular force: his life, lifespan and death. Consequently, they were in control of the past, the present and the future. They were not only feared and respected by mortals—they were also in control of the fates of the gods.
What exactly does Fate Mean?
Although the Fates were are represented as a threesome, the concept of “Fate” under which they worked is singular. Therefore, they worked collaboratively to affect the entire lives of men and gods. The Fates gave each man his own fate. Fate, in this context, refers to all events before, leading to, surrounding, and resulting in death. They represented the unavoidable fate of every living being, with no exceptions. Even though sometimes it appeared that man died before he was ready to, it is improbable that he could have lived longer than the time that the Fates decided to give him. Though the Law of Necessity, the Fates decided all life was inadequate.
The Fates are often described as being old, ugly women, who were strict, bitter and without mercy. They were often portrayed as dressed in ragged clothing, with snakes as hair, their skin blistered and eyes bloodshot.
Despite their physical descriptions, immense power, and their cold personalities, the Fates can sometimes be bargained with, so they are occasionally merciful. They are sometimes portrayed as hardworking maidens, meticulous and essential.
In Roman mythology, the Fates were named Nona, Decuma and Morta. There is a fundamental difference in the interpretation of the gods between the Romans and the Greeks. The Greeks often portrayed the three sisters as constantly busy maidens, whereas the Romans showed them as being in the way of human desires, blocking access to people’s hopes and dreams. The Greeks are evidently more accepting of the Fates, whereas the Romans lamented them.
The poet Homer speaks of the Moirai as a singular force, as a decider of the end of all life, with all gods and mortals, barring Zeus, under the control of their spinning. In Homer’s work, the Moirai acts independently from the gods. However, the poet Hesiod wrote of them in his epic Theogony as three distinct individuals who worked together. Hesiod also described them as the daughters of Nix (Night) and defined them as three hideous women. According to Hesiod, when men were born, these three women provided them with the capacity for good and evil, and they were the harbingers of justice. Not only did they punish men for evil, but they also punished the gods. The control the Three Sisters had over the Earth and celestial realms were unrivaled.
The Fates are often depicted as wearing white robes. They are often shown each holding a staff, to highlight their power and dominance. Sometimes, they are shown wearing crowns. When someone is born, they are represented as spinning, calculating and snipping the thread of life, to highlight destiny’s control over man’s mortality.
Three asteroids are named after the Fates: (97) Klotho, (120) Lachesis and (273) Atropos.
Explanation of the Myth
The Fates controlled the birth, death and lifespan of all gods and mortals. Every time a child was born, it was believed that the Fates would visit them three days after and decide whether the child should live. As soon as a child was born, the threads that the sisters used to determine life began to be spun. Each of the sisters had different roles. Clotho weaved the web of life from her distaff onto her roll, referred to as the Book of Fate. Lachesis would mature these threads to determine how long each life would last using her measuring staff. She would also point this staff at Horoscopes on the globe. Atropos decided exactly how someone was going to die using and would use shears to cut the thread when the time came. Atropos translates as “inevitable”. She was also the eldest and the wisest of the Three Sisters.
According to some sources—though still heavily disputed amongst scholars—Zeus was the only god who was not bound by the Fates. He was able to overrule any decision they wished to make on a life. Therefore, Zeus had the power to interfere and control the destiny of any man if he wished.
The Fates also knew what was going to happen during any man’s life. They knew the past, the present and the future and were interpreted as oracles. This allowed the Fates to decide what a man could or could not achieve throughout his life. Therefore, they possessed the knowledge of destiny as well as deciding it. Once the Fates had decided that it was a man’s time to die, their role would shift. They would go from the deities of fate to the goddesses of death.
The Fates worked independently from the other deities but sometimes worked with the Erinyes, a different group of three sisters who inflicted punishment when man carried out misdeeds. Together, they directed the fate of man in line with the laws of necessity.
The Fates apparently fought with bats during the war between the Titans and the Olympians. When Typhon—the youngest son of Gaia—attacked heaven, the Fates told him that he would be strengthened if he ate the fruits they possessed. After he did, he was easily defeated by Zeus and put into the dungeon, Tartarus. This gave them the reputation that they were not scared in the face of battle and that they were magnificent in the face of adversary, which showed their power off to the gods.
The Fates are also credited with inventing seven letters of the alphabet.