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The Three Fates

During ancient Greek days, your good luck or misfortunes were believed to have been the doing of the Three Fates (also referred to as the Moirai). The goddesses were sisters associated with destiny and were thought in control of the goodness, bad luck, prosperity, and suffering that could touch someone’s life. In this article, you will learn more about the Three Fates and how they figured into different myths.

Because the Three Fates were significant in the lives of ancient people, they figured into many aspects of their beliefs. Sometimes they were seen as goddesses of childbirth. However, the Fates played an important role in the disappointments in people’s lives. The sisters were often viewed as jealous and with bad intentions.

Hesiod’s Interpretation of the Fates

Hesiod was a Greek poet that lived around 800 BC. He wrote the well-known Theogony, which highlighted the sisters. His depiction moved away from the belief that Fate was a singular concept. The youngest of the sisters was named Clotho, who was nicknamed the “spinner.” It is she who is responsible for forming the child in the womb. She spins out the thread of life associated with the newborn.

Lachesis is “the measurer” and indicates how long the thread of life should be spun by Clotho. She is in charge of assigning the destiny of the newborn. The oldest of the sisters is named Atropos, who is called “she who cannot be avoided.” In her hands, Atropos holds the scissors that cuts the thread of life at the point that Lachesis indicates.

The Origin of the Fates

Hesiod states that it was Zeus who fathered the Fates on Themis, the goddess of justice and right. However, other poets have placed the Fates as the daughters of Erebus (Hell) and Nyx (Night). Some have connected the sisters to the goddess Ananke (Necessity).

Norse mythology sees the Fates as the Norns (Urth, Verthandi, and Skuld). They represent the past, present, and future. Myths tell of the women haunting the cradles of newborn babies. It is believed that Shakespeare also used the concept of the Norns to describe his witches (or “Weird Sisters”) in the play ‘Macbeth.’

The Power of the Fates

The Fates may have been connected to Zeus, but according to Aeschylus, he was not powerful enough to bypass what the Fates had to say. He said that “For he, too, cannot escape what is fated.” Some poets believed that Zeus still have the power to veto what the Fates foretold. Some felt that it was actually possible to lengthen Lachesis’s thread by acting in a more sensible manner. There was one tale that involved the god Apollo, who wished to save his doomed friend Admetus. He got the Fates drunk in an attempt to save his life, but when they came to their senses, they told Admetus that he could live if he was able to find someone to take his place. His young wife Alcetis agreed to die in his place. However, Euripedes illustrates in his play that Heracles brings the heroic woman back to life after traveling to the underworld.