In Greek mythology
, the white-robed Moirae
( the Three Fates
) were the personifications of destiny (Roman
equivalent: Parcae). They controlled the fate of every mortal and immortal from birth to death (and beyond
). Even the gods feared the Moirae. Zeus himself may be subject to their power, as the Pythian priestess at Delphi
The three Moirae were Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos (Nona ("ninth"), Decima, Morta in Roman mythology). They controlled the metaphorical thread of life for every person.
- Clotho ("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 ("alotter" or drawer of lots) measured the thread of life with her rod, thereby determining how long people, animals and deities existed. Her Roman equivalent was Decima (the 'Tenth').
- Atropos ("inexorable" or "inevitable") was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of a person's death. When she cut the thread with "her abhorred shears", someone on earth died. Her Roman equivalent was Morta ('Death').
In earlier times, the 'spinning-goddess' of Fate was not invariably multiplied into three. Numbers were not so rigidly fixed in the Iliad
(xxiv.209), where Homer may speak generally of the Moera, who spins the thread of life for men at their birth or, earlier in the same book (line 49), of several Moerae; and in the Odyssey
(vii.197) there is a reference to the Kl˘thes, or Spinners. At Delphi, only two Fates were revered: of Birth and Death.
The Moirae existed on the deepest European mythological level (compare Norns). When Greeks claimed that they were the daughters of Zeus— with either Ananke or, as Hesiod had it in one passage, Themis or Nyx— it was a symptom of how far Greek mythographers were willing to go, in order to modify the old myths to suit the patrilineal Olympic order. The claim was certainly not acceptable to Aeschylus, Herodotus, or Plato. In Athens, Aphrodite, who had an earlier, pre-Olympic existence, was called Aphrodite Urania the 'eldest of the Fates' according to Pausanias (x.24.4)
The Moirae were usually described as cold, remorseless and unfeeling, and depicted as old crones or hags. Hecate, the crone aspect of the Triple Goddess was the spinner. The independent spinster has inspired fear rather than matrimony. "This sinister connotation we inherit from the spinning goddess" write Ruck and Staples.
After Admetus' thread was cut, Apollo intervened with the Moirae, who agreed to let Admetus live if someone else took his place. His wife, Alcestis agreed and died but was rescued from the underworld by Heracles.
See also the Norns, the three weaving fates of northern European tradition.
- Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, 1898
- Robert Graves, Greek Myths
- Carl Ruck and Danny Staples, The World of Classical Myth,1994.