The role of fate, of the destiny of mortals divinely predetermined, is an essential feature of the epic and tragic tales of classical myth and literature. In ancient Greek, there are a handful of terms to express the concept of Fate: Aisa, Heimarmene, and Moira. All three basically contain the idea of “apportionment” or “allotment.” Every mortal is assigned their proper sphere of activity in this world, much as the gods Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon each drew lots and took as their “share” of the cosmos the sky, underworld, and sea respectively. Conceiving of Fate as pertaining to physical space (and time) defined by fixed boundaries helps us understand the original sense of the term “hubris” as the violation of one’s assigned boundaries. Those who try to transcend their fate often hasten it as punishment for violating boundaries. Achilles’ beloved Patroclus, for instance, attempted to transgress his fate by attacking the walls of Troy, in defiance both of Achilles’ orders and of the warning of the god Apollo who blocked his way. Not long after this, Apollo hastened Patroclus’ death on the battlefield by knocking him out of his senses, and his armor, so as to be run through by a Trojan spear. Most mortals are ignorant of their Fate without gaining special knowledge from the gods. Achilles himself, thanks to his divine mother Thetis, knew full well that he was destined to live a short life yet gain immortal glory by fighting at Troy and slaying Hector to avenge Patroclus.
At the wedding of Achilles’ parents, Peleus and Thetis, the Fates were in attendance weaving the destiny of that marriage’s offspring. Like many abstract concepts in Greco-Roman religion and mythology, Fate is often personified. The “Moirai” or “Fata” (i.e. ‘Fates’) are depicted as three goddesses whose dispensations of destinies have so much authority that even Zeus himself cannot defy them (and instead assumes a role as guarantor of their decrees). This act of dispensation takes the form of weaving, a traditional feminine activity even for goddesses. Clotho (“Spinner”) spins the thread of a mortal’s life, Lachesis (“Apportioner”) measures out its length, and Atropos cuts the thread. This last goddess’s name means “She Who Cannot Be Averted” and her cutting symbolizing the terminal nature of mortal life.
The Greek blackened heavy metal band Agatus meditates on the Fates so conceived in the eponymous track to their 2002 album “The Weaving Fates.” The song is told from the point of view of an epic hero questioning the problem of evil, why the Fates are so cruel to weave so much suffering into one’s life. He strives to reach his goal, a crystal castle far beyond in the distance that never seems to get closer, and terrible monsters block his path. He accepts that suffering is what gives meaning to human life, as it did for Achilles. “I will surrender to the weaving fates.”
“Why are the fates so cruel and unforgiving?
Although we suffer, still,
Their weaving does go on…
Riding through the mountains of despair
Hear had embraced my body and my soul
Seeking for shelter to rest my tired bones
I came upon a rugged hill and saw the crystal castle walls
Why do they seem so far away?
It seems like endless nights I rode, before I stopped to behold!
What is this creature, one of Earth, or spawned in the deepest lakes of fire?
In fear I wonder if I dream and will it end?
I will remember, these dursed nights
I will surrender, to the weaving fates….”