In Greek mythology, the Moirae are the three goddesses of fate. Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. The three sisters weave the fate of humans and gods alike. Neither human nor God has the power to influence or question their judgment and actions! Clotho, the youngest one, spins the thread of life; she is the very origin, the creation of life itself and her thread is spun upon the birth of a person!
Lachesis, the second sister, is the one that allocates the fate of people during life. The name comes from the Greek word ‘λαγχάνω’ which means to obtain from lots. In that sense, one can understand that their destiny is chosen out of a myriad of possibilities. It is said that Lachesis measures the thread of life with her rod, determining its length and nature. The last sister of fate is Atropos, the unturning. Atropos is the cutter of the thread of life and with her shears she determines how someone will die.
As the daughters of the Night, the Fates ruled the dark destinies of humankind. A golden thread represented each person’s life and destiny that the Fates spun on their spinning wheel. Once a person’s life ended, the sisters cut the thread. Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis (the allotter of time) measured it, and Atropos cut it when it was time for someone to die. The gods themselves dared not to interfere with the Fates once they had decided a person’s fate, meaning that they were unable to save their mortal children’s lives or the lives of their favourite mortals.
The Three Fates developed from one singular Moira (Fate or Destiny), who was mentioned in Homer’s (c. 750 BCE) Iliad as spinning the thread for Hector, prince of Troy. Although the Fates are not featured prominently in any myth, they play a small yet crucial role in various stories. They interacted with multiple gods, including Hermes, who was said to have assisted the Fates in creating the alphabet. They were also present at the birth of various gods and mortals. They only took action in myths when they needed to intervene with a person’s fate.
A relief depicting Atropos, one of the Fates of Greek mythology, cutting the thread of life. / Photo by Tom Oates, Wikimedia Commons
In art, the Fates were originally portrayed as attractive women. However, in later forms of art, they started to be shown as older women with a serious demeanour and holding a spindle or the dice of fate, or sometimes writing down the fate of humans. In literature, they tended to be depicted as older women.