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The Moirae or Moerae (in Greek Μοῖραι – the "apportioners", often called the The Fates), in Greek mythology, were the white-robed personifications of destiny (Roman equivalent: Parcae, euphemistically the "sparing ones", or Fata; also equivalent to the Germanic Norns). Their number became fixed at three.

The Greek word moira (μοῖρα) literally means a part or portion, and by extension one's portion in life or destiny. They controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal from birth to death (and beyond).


Zeus and the Moirae

Even the gods feared the Moirae. Zeus also was subject to their power, the Pythian priestess at Delphi once admitted. Hesiod referred to "the Moirai to whom wise Zeus gave the greatest honor",[1] though no classic writing clarifies as to what exact extent the lives of immortals were impacted by the whims of the Fates themselves, and it is to be expected that the relationship of Zeus and the Moirae was not immutable over the centuries.

A supposed epithet Zeus Moiragetes, meaning "Zeus Leader of the Moirae" was inferred by Pausanias from an inscription he saw in the second century AD at Olympia: "As you go to the starting-point for the chariot-race there is an altar with an inscription to the Bringer of Fate.[2] This is plainly a surname of Zeus, who knows the affairs of men, all that the Fates give them, and all that is not destined for them."[3] At the Temple of Zeus at Megara, Pausanias inferred from the relief sculptures he saw "Above the head of Zeus are the Horai and Moirae, and all may see that he is the only god obeyed by Moira." Pausanias' inferred assertion is unsupported in cult practice, though he noted a sanctuary of the Moirae there at Olympia (v.15.4), and also at Corinth (ii.4.7) and Sparta (iii.11.8), and adjoining the sanctuary of Themis outside a city gate of Thebes[4]

H. J. Rose writes that Nyx ("Night") was also the mother of the Moirae[5] as she was of the Erinyes, in the Orphic tradition.

When they were three,[6] the three Moirae were:

  • Clotho (English pronunciation: /ˈkloʊθoʊ/, Greek Κλωθώ [klɔːˈtʰɔː] – "spinner") spun the thread of life from her distaff onto her spindle. Her Roman equivalent was Nona, (the 'Ninth'), who was originally a goddess called upon in the ninth month of pregnancy.
  • Lachesis (/ˈlækɨsɪs/, Greek Λάχεσις [ˈlakʰesis] – "allotter" or drawer of lots) measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod. Her Roman equivalent was Decima (the 'Tenth').
  • Atropos (/ˈætrəpɒs/, Greek Ἄτροπος [ˈatropos] – "inexorable" or "inevitable", literally "unturning",[7] sometimes called Aisa) was the cutter of the thread of life. She chose the manner of each person's death; and when their time was come, she cut their life-thread with "her abhorred shears"[8]. Her Roman equivalent was Morta ('Death').


The Moirae were supposed to appear three nights after a child's birth to determine the course of its life. The Greeks variously claimed that they were the daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis (the "Institutor") or of primordial beings like Nyx, the Night, Chaos or Ananke, Necessity.

The Moirae, as depicted in a 16th century tapestry

In earlier times they were represented as only a few – perhaps only one – individual goddess. Homer's Iliad speaks generally of the Moera, who spins the thread of life for men at their birth (xxiv.209), Moera Krataia "powerful Moira" (xvi.334) or of several Moerae (xxiv.49). In the Odyssey (vii.197) there is a reference to the Klôthes, or Spinners. At Delphi, only the Fates of Birth and Death were revered.[9] In Athens, Aphrodite, who had an earlier, pre-Olympic existence, was called Aphrodite Urania the 'eldest of the Fates' according to Pausanias (x.24.4).

A bilingual Eteocretan text[10] has the Greek translation Ομοσαι δαπερ Ενορκίοισι (Omosai d-haper Enorkioisi, "But may he swear [these] very things to the Oath-Keepers"). In Eteocretan this is rendered —S|TUPRMĒRIĒIA, in which MĒRIĒIA may refer to the divinities the Hellenes knew as the Moirae.

Versions of the Moirae also existed on the deepest European mythological level. It is difficult to separate them from the other Indo-European spinning fate goddesses known as the Norns in Norse mythology and the Baltic goddess Laima and her two sisters. Some Greek mythographers went so far as to claim that the Moirae were the daughters of Zeus— paired with either Ananke ("Necessity") or, as Hesiod had it in one passage,[11] Themis ("Fundament") or Nyx ("Night"). Whether or not providing a father even for the Moirae was a symptom of how far Greek mythographers were willing to go, in order to modify the old myths to suit the patrilineal Olympic order, the claim was certainly not acceptable to Aeschylus, Herodotus, or Plato.

The Moirae were usually described as cold, remorseless and unfeeling, and depicted as old crones or hags. The independent spinster has inspired fear rather than matrimony. "This sinister connotation we inherit from the spinning goddess," write Ruck and Staples. See weaving (mythology).

Despite their forbidding reputation, Moirae could be worshipped as goddesses. Brides in Athens offered them locks of hair and women swore by them. They may have originated as birth-goddesses and only later acquired their reputation as the agents of destiny.

They likewise have forbidding appearances (beards), and appear to determine the fates of all individuals.

Compare the Graeae, another set of three old sisters in Greek mythology.


External links


  1. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 901.
  2. ^ The Greek is Moiragetes (Pausanias, 5.15.5).
  3. ^ Pausanias, v.15.5.
  4. ^ "There is a sanctuary of Themis, with an image of white marble; adjoining it is a sanctuary of the Fates, while the third is of Zeus of the Market. Zeus is made of stone; the Fates have no images." (Pausanias, ix.25.4).
  5. ^ H.J. Rose, Handbook of Greek Mythology, p.24
  6. ^ The expectation that there would be three was strong by the second century CE: when Pausanias visited the temple of Apollo at Delphi, with Apollo and Zeus each accompanied by a Fate, he remarked "There are also images of two Moirai; but in place of the third Moira there stand by their side Zeus Moiragetes and Apollon Moiragetes."
  7. ^ Compare the ancient goddess Adrasteia, the "inescapable".
  8. ^ "Comes the blind Fury with th'abhorred shears, / And slits the thin spun life." John Milton, Lycidas, l. 75.
  9. ^ Kerenyi 1951:32.
  10. ^ The inscription, from the Delphinion in Dreros, was published by Henri van Effenterre in Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique 70 (1946:602f); the original inscription has disappeared: on-line text.
  11. ^ Hesiod, Theogony, 904.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Plural form of moira from the Greek meaning "fate", from moros, (fate, destiny, doom, lot) from meiresthai, (to receive one's share).

Proper noun


  1. (Greek mythology) The Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, the goddesses, who controlled the destiny of everyone, by weaving with the thread of life.

See also

Simple English

File:The Triumph of Death, or The Three
The three fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, represent Death here as they stand over the body of Chastity.

The Moirae(The Fates) were the three goddesses of destiny in Greek mythology. They were Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos(Greek: Άτροπος).

They controlled the life and destiny of everyone. Klotho spins the thread of life (begins a person's or creature's life), Lachesis measures it (looks at the how long it currently is), and Atropos cuts the thread. When the thread is cut the person dies. The Moirae are incapable of killing an immortal.

The decisions of the Moriae about a person's life cannot be changed. Even Zeus is powerless to change their will.1

The parents of the Moirae are not surely known. Some said they were the daughters of Zeus and the Titaness Themis, or of primordial beings like Nyx, Chaos or Ananke.

Their Roman equivalent were the Parcae.

Sources: D'Aulaire's book of Greek Myths

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