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The Three Fates

  • Clotho—combs the wool and spins the thread of life
  • Lachesis—determines the length of the thread and thus the period of one's life
  • Atropos—cuts the thread
In Greek mythology, the three Fates, or Moirae or Moirai, are the personification of the destiny of man. The Fates assigned each person his or her time on earth. Clotho spun the thread at the begining of one's life, Lachesis wove the thread into the fabric of one's actions, and Atropos cut the thread at the end of one's life. The process was unchangeable, and gods as well as humans had to submit to it. Despite this firmness of fate, there are a few instances in which destinies appeared to have been altered: Apollo persuaded the Fates to grant Admetus delivery from death, if at the hour of his death, his father, mother, or wife would die for him. The Fates also joined Eileithyia in trying to delay the birth of Hercules. Often described as ancient and frightening women, they were variously called daughters of Zeus, Nyx alone, Erebus and Nyx, Kronus and Nyx, Oceanus and Gæa, or Ananke (Necessity) alone. Depending on the identity of their parents, they were referred to as sisters of the Horai, the Keres, or Erinyes. As goddesses of fate, the Moirai knew the future and were regarded by the Ancient Greeks as prophetic deities. As such, the Fates had sanctuaries in many parts of Greece—Corinth, Sparta, Olympia, and Thebes.

How It's Used

"Mr. Scarfe did much of his work on 'Hercules' in his London studio, often communicating by fax with Disney animators. He likes to work on huge pieces of paper, standing at a desk and using his whole shoulder to create his long sweeping lines. Animators tend to sit, hunched over small pieces of paper. After the animators sketched out sequences with each character, Mr. Scarfe says, he would go over the drawings, 'putting right the bits I thought weren't quite in the right style or the right proportions.' Rather to his surprise, the animators didn't seem to mind. "His strongest influence was on the movie's villains, characters from the underworld such as the god Hades; his hapless assistants; the spooky three Fates; and a terrifying monster, the Hydra, that sprouts three heads for every one Hercules cuts off. 'I was always pushing the directors to go for it,' Mr. Scarfe says. 'The characters are evil, so they should look evil.'"—Peter Gumbel, "Satirist's Pen Shapes Disney's 'Hercules,'" The Wall Street Journal, June 2, 1997, p. B1.
"In an extended visual metaphor, 'The Vanishing Line' suggests our lives are ruled not by high-tech equipment but by the three Fates of Greek mythology. The first Fate spins the thread of life, the second measures its length and the third Fate severs the thread. The Fates reappear throughout the film, hovering in the shadows as if to suggest that our sense of control is only an illusion. The effect can be somewhat self-conscious, especially when the Fates in their diaphanous gowns stride through a construction site in slow motion, wearing hard hats. But they serve to remind us of the limits of human intervention, and they lend the film a dreamlike, philosphical quality."—Cecelia Goodnow, "Seattle Native's Film on Dealing with Death Has Inspiring 'P.O.V.,'" The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 21, 1998, p. D1.
"Like a character in a Greek tragedy whose thread of life was prenatally spun, measured and cut by the three Fates, the new Oldsmobile Bravada was condemned to death even before it was born. "The paint was drying on prototypes when General Motors announced in December that it would shut down its Oldsmobile Division. So the redesigned 2002 Bravada is the last all-new Olds, and here's the post-millennium twist: the final product of Olds, which has made cars almost exclusively for most of its 103 years, is a truck."—James G. Cobb, "Born Under a Bad Sign," The New York Times, June 10, 2001.
"From the stump of a dead oak tree in the Beaches, Shane Clodd has carved the thread of life. The Markham sculptor's fascination with the three Fates - the goddesses in Greek mythology who presided over the birth and life of humankind—is now on display in Kew Gardens for all to see. 'Everyone can associate with past, present and future. It doesn't matter what culture you come from, you have a past, present and future,' the 26-year-old man said. 'So I decided to do a work on the three goddesses.' "The three sisters, the daughters of Zeus and Themis, are believed to be responsible for one's lot in life. Clotho spins the thread of human destiny at life's beginning, Lachesis measures the length of the thread and Atropos snips the thread at life's end."—Nick McCabe-Lokos, "Tree of life takes root in Beaches The three Fates fulfil their destiny by finding a home in a tree stump in Kew Gardens—Sculptor fascinated with human fate Spends months on unusual project," The Toronto Star, December 27, 2002, p. E01.
"The good news from the V&A is that Arbus's photographs are strong enough to transcend the manhandling which they have suffered. Their strength inheres in their peculiar and distinctive mythical aspect, all the more impressive for having been wrung from the seedily mundane milieus of American life to which she was always drawn. Even the earliest of her portraits elevate the ordinary to the apparently supernatural. 'Three Puerto Rican Women', a photograph taken in New York City in 1963, captures the likeness of three strong-featured Latin-American women, ranging from their twenties to their forties, staring with expressions of rank distrust at the photographer as they stand together on some sidewalk next to some diner. Perhaps no one else would have seen anything special about them, but viewed through Arbus's lens they look like the Three Fates, who weave men's destinies in their hands."—Andrew Graham-Dixon, "Acts of compassion, not cruelty," The Sunday Telegraph, October 16, 2005.

Also Known As (AKA)

The Three Moirae, the Three Moirai

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One Response to “The Three Fates”

  1. Sandra says:

    Please note: there is an error in the above piece. In the first paragraph starting with “In Greek mythology…”, the duties of Lachesis and Atropos are switched around – please correct. Lachesis weaves the thread while Atropos is the one who cuts it.

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