If “The Fates” predate the Greek Gods and seemingly have control over their destinies in addition to those of humankind, then why are they not glorified figures in Greek mythology? Greek mythology is centered upon the various Gods and their contributions to every aspect of human life. The people of Ancient Greece worshipped Zeus and his contemporaries and exalted them in several mythological works. In the eyes of the people, the Gods controlled every sector of Greek society. The Moirai, or “Fates”, however, who existed even before the Gods made their mark on the Greek world, determined the fate of humans and deities alike.
This consequently raises the question of why the Fates were not portrayed as glorified figures in the stories of Greek mythology since they had even more power than the Gods themselves. A possible resolution to this question is that more often than not, the prophecy foreseen by the Fates consisted of a negative outcome for the God or human receiving it. As a result, the characters that predicted a doomed future for the Greeks and their beloved Gods were painted as ugly, haggard, witch-like figures in mythological tales.
A classic instance where the Fates exercised their power over the Greek people is in the story of Oedipus. In Oedipus the King, Sophocles recounts that Oedipus “was fated to lie with my mother… and I was doomed to be murdered of the father that begot me. ”1 Although Laius, Oedipus’s father, took all measures possible to try and prevent this doomed fortune from materializing, he ultimately had no control over the word of the Fates. This poor circumstance in which Oedipus found himself reflects the reasoning for the ugly portrayal of the Fates.
Since the predictions of Oedipus’s future were so unfortunate, the Greeks, in a sense, punished the Fates by drawing them as blind, wrinkly women. The paradigmatic case of a God’s doomed destiny prophesied by the Fates is the story of Cronus. In Hesiod’s Theogony, Cronus “learned…that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, strong though he was. ”2 In order to escape this abysmal fortune, “Cronus swallowed as each came forth from the womb to his mother’s knees with this intent, that no other of the proud sons…should hold the kingly office amongst the deathless gods.
”3 The Athenian people and divinities alike admired Cronus and benefitted greatly during his reign of Mount Olympus. In fact, “the deathless gods who dwell on Olympus made a golden race of mortal men who lived in the time of Cronus when he was reigning in heaven. And they lived like gods without sorrow of heart, remote and free from toil and grief: miserable age rested not on them. ”4 To express their gratitude to Cronus, the Greeks dedicated a harvest festival in his name which was subsequently celebrated every year.
5 This deep fondness for Cronus illustrates why the Greeks would disapprove of anyone who might cause him to fail, namely, the Fates. This reasoning further supports why the Fates were drawn as decrepit, ugly figures. The three Fates of Greek Mythology, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos assigned destinies both to the Greek people and to the Greek divinities. They spun the thread of life at the moment of birth, decided how long each thread should be (namely, how long one should live) and cut the thread at the moment of death.
Due to the Fates’ omnipotence, one would think that they should be depicted in Greek mythology as beautiful, respected personas. However, in almost every account of the Fates, their auguries entail an ill-fated result for the human or deity receiving it. For example, Oedipus was destined to murder his father and marry his mother, and Cronus was destined to have his kingdom overthrown by one of his own children. Therefore, despite their extraordinary power, the Fates are represented as three blind, ugly, old, witch-like characters. This unfavorable portrayal of the Fates represents the aspect of protection in Ancient Greek society.
The Greeks cared so deeply about protecting the Gods’ and each other’s images and reputations, that they painted the Fates in a negative light just because they distributed the predestined doomed futures of the Gods and the people. Regardless of the fact that the Fates themselves did not truly choose these destinies, the Greek people punished them by drawing them as decrepit characters. Works Cited Sophocles. Oedipus the King. 922-925 Hesiod. Theogony. 460,464. Hesiod. Works and Days. Versnel, H. S.. Inconsistencies in Greek and Roman Religion: Transition and Reversal in Myth and Ritual. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993. Print.
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