The Three Fates: 3 Goddesses from Greek Mythology Who Control All Mortal Life

If you remember Disney’s 1997 animated film  Hercules  , you probably remember the Fates, three elderly women who determined how long a person lived by unwinding a rope and then cutting it. While many of the  Hercules characters  were Disney inventions, others were based on Greek mythology, including the Fates. Cartoon depictions aside, the Three Fates offered a unique lens through which the people of Ancient Greece understood death, longevity, and fate.

Who were the three destinies?

The Fates, also called Moirai, were three figures in Greek mythology who represented  one half of the six children of Zeus  by Themis, the goddess of justice. (The other three were known collectively as the Horai, or Hours.) Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, and like their Disney counterparts, they were responsible for human destiny via  balls of thread  that determined how long a human would last to live. Clotho’s task was to weave the thread, determining who would be born and when; Lachesis measured the thread according to how long that new person would live; and Atropos, the eldest, was responsible for cutting it when the time came. She also chose the way in which the person died.

The origins of the three destinies

Figures similar to the Fates, particularly Atropos, can be found in cultures predating Ancient Greece, specifically the   Mycenaean people  of Bronze Age Greece. In Mycenaean stories, a spirit or demon named Moira, associated with the unpredictable nature of death, appeared when a person died, and her name became a common term for a person’s share in something. For example, after a hunt or battle, each team member would receive their  meat moira  or loot, based on their individual contributions. The Mycenaean people also believed that each person had a  lifetime  given to them at birth, and when their time was up, their time was up.

It is likely that the ancient Greeks encountered stories of Moira, as many aspects of Mycenaean religion persisted into the classical age, and indeed  Homer  ‘s  Iliad  alludes to this belief when Apollo repeatedly tries to stop Patrocius from attacking the  city of Troy  , warning -o that he would be “upon his portion.” Her  Odyssey  marks the first time Moira gets friends, two anonymous helpers who weave the threads of life. From there, the Greeks adopted the  moira concept  , which became the Moirai, or Fates, depicted as three individual sisters.

The Graeae

Disney often takes  creative liberties  with its movies, and  Hercules  is no exception. He portrays the Fates as three old witches who share one eye with each other, but while the Fates of Greek Mythology lack this strange trait, another mythical trio does. The Graeae, or “grey ones”, were a trio of sisters and elderly witches named Enyo, Deino and Pemphredo who not only shared a single eye, but also a single tooth. Fortunately, frying had not yet been  invented . , or they would be seriously missing out. This is most relevant in the Medusa myth, in which Perseus steals Graeae’s collective eye to force them to reveal the information he needs to kill Medusa. Greek heroes could get away with being inconceivably rude.