Greek mythology: The Moirai

In Classical Greek mythology the description of the Moirai differs from age to age and also with location. They vary in number from one to four. This discussion is based on the account of the Greek poet, Hesiod who was believed to have lived in the eighth century BC.

It was the task of the Moirai to shadow human beings from birth to death throughout their mortal, physical life on earth. They take the form of three old women spinning out the threads of each person’s life on earth.

Fates_tapestry

Their names were: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos and when death approaches, it is their task is to ensure that and the natural order is preserved and a person’s fate is meted out accordingly. They are believed to sing in harmony with the Sirens when death approaches and were also known as the Fates.

Clotho represents the thread of life that begins at the birth of a mortal and is the spinner of that thread and sings of those things that are.

Lachesis was the dealer of lots. Through her people were given their chances in life and it was up to them to make the best of it. It was she who measured the thread of life. She sings of the things that were.

Atropos is the smallest and most fearsome of the three and represented the irrevocable fate that awaits a person and in the end there can be no appeal. It was she who cut the thread of life at a mortal’s death. She sings of the things that will be.

The lives of all living things were presided over by the Moirai. They apportioned everyone their share of good and evil at birth. The manner in which they conducted their lives could change the allotted portions of good and evil.

Not even the gods could change fate and if Zeus alone had such power he was reluctant to use it to disturb the natural order of the world.

The only time the Moirai were foiled in their task was by the physician, Asclepius, the son of Apollo, who revived a man, bringing him back from death. The Moirai then persuaded Zeus to kill Asclepius with a thunderbolt.

Just as the Moirai were the delegates of Zeus to ensure the natural order was carried out the Keres task was to carry out the decrees of the Moirai, and were sometimes confused with them. It was the Keres who appeared at the final hour of a mortal’s life to ensure death.

It was believed that during battles they could be seen hovering over the doomed mortal ready to ensure his fate was complete. They killed the wounded and drank their blood and were also known as the dogs of Hades.

In Greek, the word moira means a part, or portion, and it was the Moirai who decided a mortal’s portion in life at their birth and followed their life to ensure destiny was fulfilled. The Moirai also had the gift of prophecy and were honoured among the gods sitting in their assemblies and giving advice on the destinies of mortals.

Their myth is perhaps best seen as a way to describe the fate of mortal human beings and to try and make some sense out of the human cycle of life and the ultimate destiny of death.

Copyright July 7, 2009 zteve t evans

References and Attributions

Copyright July 7, 2009 zteve t evans

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10 thoughts on “Greek mythology: The Moirai

  1. The Moirai, as you tell in your post, are believed to control everyone’s fate by giving to each one “what it is deserved”, even the god of the gods Zeus cannot avoid their will! But what about Eros? He is also the ruler of the world! Thanks to him all things exist! (Gea and Uranos got attracted to each and thus created all the natural phaenomena because of him! Lucretius also attributes to the goddess Venus the birth of all things, for instance). So, who rules over all existing things? there has always been controversy on this point, and I don’t think we are going to be able to solve it now, but I just wanted to add this point of view to your post!

  2. The Fates and the concept(s) of them have always fascinated me. Love the overview, Zteve! Theoi.com is also a fantastic bibliographical resource; I recently wrote a fiction story (keep your fingers crossed; I’m hoping it will be picked up for an anthology) involving Aidoneus (basically Pluto/Hades) and relied heavily on Theoi.com, which quotes from the panoply of classical writers, from Hesiod to Homer to Ovid to Aristophanes to Cicero to Pausanias to Virgil (and many more!).

  3. Great post. I think I’ve just solved the problem in my current work in progress… “It was believed that during battles they could be seen hovering over the doomed mortal ready to ensure his fate was complete. They killed the wounded and drank their blood and were also known as the dogs of Hades.” I can totally see this working to up the stakes for my main character. Now to re-plot my story…

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