The Fates were three female deities who shaped people's lives. In particular, they determined how long a man or woman would live. Although a number of cultures held the notion of three goddesses who influenced human destiny, the Fates were most closely identified with Greek mythology.
The Greek image of the Fates developed over time. The poet Homer* , credited with composing the Iliad and the Odyssey, spoke of Fate as a single force, perhaps simply the will of the gods. Another poet, Hesiod* , portrayed the Fates as three old women. They were called the Keres, which means "those who cut off," or the Moirai, "those who allot." They may have originated as goddesses who were present at the birth of each child to determine the course of the child's future life.
deity god or goddess destiny future or fate of an individual or thing
allot to assign a portion or share
The parentage of the Fates is something of a mystery. Hesiod described them as daughters of Nyx, or night, but he also said that they were the children of Zeus, the chief of the gods, and Themis, the goddess of justice. The Fates had power over Zeus and the gods, and many ancient authors, including the Roman poet Virgil* , stressed that even the king of the gods had to accept the decisions of the Fates. Occasionally, however, fate could be manipulated. One myth says that Apollo* tricked the Fates into letting his friend Admetus live beyond his assigned lifetime. Apollo got the Fates drunk, and they agreed to accept the death of a substitute in place of Admetus.
Hesiod called the Fates Clotho ("the spinner"), Lachesis ("the allotter"), and Atropos ("the unavoidable"). In time, the name Clotho, with its reference to spinning thread, became the basis for images of the three Fates as controlling the thread of each person's life. Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured it out, and Átropos cut it with a pair of shears to end the life span. Literary and artistic works often portray the Fates performing these tasks.
manipulate to influence or control in a clever or underhanded way
The Romans called the Fates Parcae, "those who bring forth the child." Their names were Nona, Decuma, and Morta. Nona and Decuma were originally goddesses of childbirth, but the Romans adopted the Greek concept of the three weavers of Fate and added a third goddess to complete the triad. In addition, they sometimes referred to fate or destiny as a single goddess known as Fortuna.
triad group of three
A triad of goddesses linked with human destiny appears in various forms in mythology In addition to the Moirai, the Greeks recognized a triad of goddesses called the Horae, who were associated with the goddess Aphrodite* . Their names were Eunomia (Order), Dike (Destiny), and Irene (Peace.) The Norse* called their three Fates the Norns: Urth, the past; Verthandi, the present; and Skuld, the future. Sometimes the Norns were referred to as the Weird Sisters, from the Norse word wyrd, meaning "fate." The Celts* had a triad of war goddesses, collectively known as the Morrigan, who determined the fate of soldiers in battle. The image of a triple goddess may be linked to very ancient worship of a moon goddess in three forms: a maiden (the new moon), a mature woman (the full moon), and a crone (the old moon).
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.