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 destiny.

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 received 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 remained 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 him 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.

Disney often takes creative liberties with its movies, and  Hercules  is no exception. It depicts the destinies of mythology as three strange eyes that look like an eye to each other, while the destinies of Greek mythology do not display this strange strangeness, another mythical trio does. The Graeae, or “grey” ones, were a trio of sisters and house witches named Enyo, Deino, and Pemphredo who not only shared a single eye, but also a single tooth. It hadn’t been yet, they had been forgotten yet. This is most relevant in the Medusa myth, in which Perseus steals Grae’s collective eye to force them to reveal it as information he needs to kill Medusa. Greek heroes could get away with being inconceivably rude.