20th Century Sisters (left); 21st Century Sisters(right)
IN THE GREEK MYTHOLOGIES, the Moirai were known as the Fates, that is to say, the personification of the inescapable destiny of man. The Moirai assigned to every person his or her share in the scheme of things. Originally, only Zeus weighed out the “fate” of individuals. As the supreme ruler of Mount Olympus and of the Pantheon of gods who resided there, he upheld law, justice and morals, and this made him the spiritual leader of both gods and men.
Later there were two Fates, one at either pole of a person’s life. Finally, the familiar trio of Fates came to be accepted, each with a specific function, although different traditions have tended to blur the talents and chores of these three fates. But for our purposes, let’s work with this synopsis:
The three Moirai were Klotho, Atropos, and Lachesis. They were variously called the daughters of Zeus, Nyx alone, Erebus and Nyx, Kronus and Nyx, Oceanus and Gaea, or Ananke (Necessity) alone. Depending on the identity of their parents, they were variously called sisters of the Horai, the Keres, or Erinyes.
They were described sometimes as aged and formidable women, often lame to indicate the slow march of fate. Klotho, the youngest of the three sisters, spun the thread at the begining of one’s life.
And Lachesis, the middle sister, snipped the thread at the conclusion of one’s life. She was the apportioner, deciding how much time for life was to be allowed for each person or being. She measured the thread of life with her rod. She is also said to choose a person’s destiny after a thread was measured.. The process was absolutely unalterable, and gods as well as men and women had to submit to it.
The oldest sister, Atropos wove the thread into the fabric of one’s actions, chose the mechanism of death and ended the life of each mortal by cutting their thread with her “abhorred shears.”
As goddesses of fate, the Moirai necessarily knew the future and therefore were regarded as prophetic deities. Thus their ministers were all the soothsayers and oracles. Then as now the concept of predestination presented the usual paradoxes, since if from one’s birth he or she was destined to commit a crime, then punishment for the crime, itself preordained, place good and evil beyond human control. Yet the Erinyes unfailingly fulfilled their function in a kind of obbligato to the inexorable hum of the spindle and thwack of the loom.
For all the claims made for the immutability of fate, there were a few questionable instances in which destinies appeared to be altered. Apollo induced the Moirai to grant Admetus delivery from death, if at the hour of his death his father, mother, or wife would die for him. Some said he made the Moirai drunk in order to accomplish this.
I have painted two versions of the Moirai. They are known to me as the Mundane Moirai who posture themselves, and merely threaten fate, but like all the Greek Gods and Goddesses have proven to be mere reflections of our own vanities, each according to his or her own works and politics where life is likewise defined in false terms. Here are the fates: an early 20th century depiction, and an early 21st century depiction. Oddly enough, there is very little difference between the two depictions, no strong old school follies to mock, no contemporary embarrassments to duck, just a hundred years, or should I say, nearly a mere 144 minutes of Godtime frittered away by the Fates. Go ahead, do the math. If a thousand years is like a single day to God, then a hundred years is 144 minutes. Hmm, where have I seen that number before?