To the ancient Greeks, the Fates were a group of three powerful goddesses as well as the concept of destiny* itself. In his works, the poet Homer sometimes made the Fates obey the will of Zeus, and at other times he made all the gods obey the Fates. Usually, however, destiny was viewed as the natural order of things that no one—human or divine—could change. The order as established by destiny was a fundamental principle of Greek civilization, extending from the movements of the cosmos* down to the everyday occurrences of life on earth. The Greek words for fate mean “share” and most commonly refer to one’s share of life, or the number of days on earth that each human being is given.

* destiny fate; the force that is believed to determine the course of events

* cosmos the universe, especially as a harmonious and orderly system

Traditionally, the three Fates (called Moirai in Greek and Parcae in Latin) were the daughters of Zeus and Themis (the goddess of righteousness), although Plato thought of them as the daughters of Ananke (Necessity). The three Fates literally held the world in their hands. They were depicted as sitting at a spinning wheel, spinning out the threads of people’s lives. Clotho spun out the thread, Lachesis measured it to the appropriate length, and Atropos (“she who could not be turned aside”) cut it at the instant of death.

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