Fates and their Decisions

(The Greek goddesses of destiny)

A translation of an old Greek story which illustrates that destiny is determined by the Fates

The fates spinning and determining the length of human lives.

In Greek mythology, the three goddesses, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, often depicted as women of advanced years spinning, were believed to decree the events in and duration of someone’s life. The Greeks believed that Clotho spun the thread that represented a person’s life, Lachesis decided the extent (or length) of it, and Atropos was the one who cut it at the determined span of time.

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Once there was a very wealthy man who had houses, furniture, sheep, goats, and . . . was there anything which he didn't have? He had all that is good in the world; "in his house even the cocks laid eggs", as the saying goes. Yet, in spite of all his wealth, he was a miser and as selfish as any man could be.

This man chanced to visit a big city, say Salonica; but he refrained from putting up at an inn, because that would involve spending money. Nor would he go to some great man’s palace, lest he should incur an obligation which he might one day be called upon to reciprocate. Instead, he stopped at a poor man’s cottage. The house was only one big room and a hall, and they put him up in a corner of the room. His servant had to make do in the yard with the horses.

Now, the poor man’s wife had just delivered a boy who was three days old when this wealthy man arrived. So they lay down to sleep in the evening, the guest in one corner of the room and the woman in the child-bed with her husband in the other. They went to sleep almost immediately, and were sleeping soundly.

The wealthy man; however, could not go to sleep. He turned now on this side, now on the other, thinking and calculating how to augment his wealth.

Enter the Fates

While he was thinking, all of a sudden he saw the door thrown open, and in came three women clad in white. They were the three Fates, who allot a child's destiny on the third day after birth. They entered the room and stood where the little boy lay sleeping. The greatest of the Fates touched him with her finger and asked: "What kind of destiny shall we allot him?"

One of the others answered, "Let's make him heir to the wealthy man who is lying over there in the corner."

"Agreed," they said in unison.

Thus they decreed and vanished.

The wealthy man heard these words and was considerably disturbed by what he heard, and now could not sleep because of his utter anger. He got up and began to pace up and down in the room until daybreak.

The wealthy guest has a plan to change destiny

With the first light of the day, when the poor man rose from his bed, the visitor said to him: "I am going home today. I have no children of my own. If you will give me your baby, my wife and I will bring him up just as if he were our own flesh and blood. You are young and, please God, you can have more children."

Thereupon the poor man called to his wife to see what she had to say, and she at first would not consent, because where is the mother who will give up her child? Finally, lest they should spoil the child’s chance of good fortune, she answered, "Very well," and consented to give the baby to the man, although she loved him as a mother should.

She suckled the boy well until he had enough milk, then she dressed him in the best clothes she had, and kissed him crosswise on the forehead. The wealthy man took the child, saddled his horse, was bidden "God speed" and went away with his servant and the child.

When they were outside the city and had reached a lonely place in the midst of a standing field of corn, because it was summer, the rich man reined in his mare and said to his servant:

"Take this baby and kill it with a stone."

The servant at first would not agree to do it, for he was a God-fearing man; but finally, he pretended to obey his master. He took the baby and walked into the rows of corn, but instead of striking the child, he struck the earth with a stone, so that his master thought he heard the child being struck in the head. Then the servant suddenly acted as though he saw someone approaching from a distance and he ran to his horse, pretended to be frightened, and made off as speedily as he could. So, he left the little one alive and sleeping in the corn field.

The baby boy is found and gets a new life

Let's leave the wealthy man and focus on the child. Those fields happened to belong to a rich farmer who had no children of his own, and both he and his wife had frequently prayed to God that He might give them one. Then, despairing of that, they had wished to adopt a child.

On that evening, the farmer happened to be strolling in the fields and heard the child crying. He stopped short and said to himself:

"What can this be? It isn't a jackal, nor is it a dog. I'll take a look."

He walked towards the voice, and fairly soon, he found the little one. As the baby was pretty, clean, and plump; he took a fancy to it and carried it to his wife.

"Look what I found in the fields, wife," said he. "We wished for a child and God has sent one to us."

His wife was doubtful. "Who knows who the child’s mother is?" she said. "Oh, never mind. Let's keep him."

So, they decided to keep the baby and hired a nurse to suckle him, and when he grew up, they sent him to school. The boy, being of a good nature, made progress and he was very fond of them, and they in their turn were fond of him, and they called him Naïdis, which meant "Foundling".

Years later, the rich man re-appears

Now back to the wealthy man. Time went by, and Naïdis was seventeen years old. Then, one day the wicked man of great wealth, who had tried to kill him when he was a baby, chanced to visit the very house where Naïdis lived. The man heard the people call the boy Naïdis, and he was surprised to hear such a strange name.

He asked his hostess why they had given the boy such an unusual name.

"We gave him that name because he is not our own son," she explained. "My husband found him some seventeen years ago in our corn field. We had no children, so we cared for him, and we love him as our own, and he loves us very much, too."

The wealthy man on hearing this was grieved at heart, for he understood that it was the child he had ordered his servant to kill. Now, he wondered what he could do about this situation. He thought about it over and over again. At last, he had a plan.

He told the parents that he had a letter to send home and that he wanted someone who could be trusted to carry it.

"Why, we will send Naïdis," they answered. They prepared a cake and other food for Naïdis, and he saddled his horse. The wealthy man gave him a letter for his wife, in which he told her to send the bearer up to the mountain pastures where his flocks were grazing, and to instruct the shepherds there to cut him in pieces and fling his body into a well

Naïdis took the letter without any suspicion, mounted his horse, and set out. Before he left, his mother advised him to take care and not to drink water while he was tired; then she kissed him and bade him Goodbye.

The destiny of the Fates is still in process

On the way, he reached a spring under a tree, and got off his horse so he could rest awhile and then drink, according to his mother’s advice, because he was very thirsty. As he was sitting there under the shadow of the tree, an old man with a long white beard came by and greeted him, and asked him where he was going.

The young man responded by telling him his destination and his mission.

"Give me that letter that I may see it; for I think I know the man."

The boy gave him the letter, and the old man passed his hand over it, returned it, and then went on his way.

Naïdis arrived at the wealthy man’s house towards evening. As he was dismounting, he looked up and saw a beautiful young woman standing at the window. In the twinkling of an eye, he fell in love with her. She was the wealthy man’s daughter; which means he had lied when he said that he had no children. In fact, he had a daughter and a son.

Naïdis entered the house, and the wealthy man’s wife greeted him warmly. He delivered the letter to her. She opened it, and read the following: "Take this youth and our daughter, summon a priest and see that they are married immediately. I am coming home eight days hence, and I want to find the marriage accomplished."

Having read the letter, the wife did as she thought her husband had ordered. She called in a priest and without delay they were married. They celebrated their wedding with much jollity and music until daybreak.

A rude awakening was waiting for the wealthy man's arrival

Eight days later, the wealthy man returned, and, as he dismounted from his horse at the gate, he looked up and saw his own daughter standing beside Naïdis on the balcony. Then he was seized with giddiness—like a fit of apoplexy—and passed out on the ground.

They ran and summoned the doctors, and after a great deal of trouble, they managed to get him back on his feet. When he had recovered, he said: "It was nothing. I was just very weary from the journey, and the sun struck me; but why didn't you do as I instructed you in my letter?"

"I certainly did as you wrote," his wife replied. "Here's your letter. Look and see what you wrote."

He took the letter and read it. He thought that he was dreaming. He rubbed his eyes again and again, but could not make out how it had happened; for it was written clearly in his own hand.

Then he said, "Very well, it does not matter. Tomorrow you must call Naïdis at dawn and send him up to the flocks with a letter which I will give you." He sat down and wrote another letter to his shepherds instructing them to do the same thing as he did before.

The next morning, very early, his wife got up and went to call Naïdis, but when she entered the bedroom room and saw him sleeping sweetly in her daughter’s arms, she was reluctant to wake him, and let him sleep on.

Instead, she went to her own son and said: "Are you still asleep son?"

"No, mother," he replied. "Get your horse and take this letter from your father to the shepherds who tend the flocks," she said.

The boy got up, mounted his horse, took the letter, and set out.

After a while her husband also got up and asked her: "Have you sent him?"

"I was reluctant to wake Naïdis," she answered, "but it does not matter, my husband, I sent your letter with our son."

"What have you done, woman?", he cried, and he rushed out like someone possessed of the Devil to overtake his son.

Alarmed, his wife rushed after him because she thought he was about to have another stroke as he did the day before.

When the rich man reached his shepherds, he discovered that they had already slain his son, and thrown his body down into a deep well.

Mad with grief and remorse, he threw himself into the well and died there. His wife arrived just behind him, and seeing her husband throw himself into the well, she lost her senses and threw herself into it as well, and also died.

So, Naïdis became the heir of the rich man just as the Fates had decreed.

This story is supposed to demonstrate that a man or woman can not escape his or her Fate.

—From a very old Greek translation of a Macedonian Folklore book.
No dates or other sources of information are available.

The Norns or Nordic Fates

The Fates or Norns determining the destinies of humans and gods.

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The Norse also had Fates called Norns who were originally from the land of the Giants. Their names are Urd or Urdi ("Fate", or "That Which Was", the Norn of the Past), Verdandi or Verthandi (Present or "That Which is Becoming") and Skuld (Shall-be, or "She Who wil Becoming"). They represent inexorable Fate; men and gods alike are bound by their pronouncements.

It is said that the two elder Norns set happy fortunes for people, while Skuld, the youngest, often changed their decrees to more tragic outcomes. Skuld, as the last of the three, was the Norn who fixed the length of the thread of life, or, by some accounts, unraveled or tore apart into shreds, what her sisters had made.

As personifications of time, the Norns were represented as sisters of different ages and characters

Urd appeared to be very old and decrepit, as she seemed to be continually absorbed in contemplating past events and people.

Verdandi, the second sister, was middle aged, active and fearless, appeared to be looking straight ahead.

The third and youngest sister was Skuld, who represented a future that indicated uncertainty and personified that which could be violent and destructive.

—Compiled from information located in the following sources:

"Fates"; Crowell's Handbook of Classical Mythology by Edward Tripp;
Thomas Y. Crowell Company; New York; 1979; pages 246-247.

"The Fates"; Mythology by Edith Hamilton; The New American Library;
New York; page 43.

"Fates"; Funk & Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend;
Vol. 1, A-1; Funk & Wagnalls Company; New York; 1949; page 371.

"Fate"; Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols;
by Gertrude Jobes, Part 1; The Scarecrow Press, Inc.; New York; 1962; page 557.

"The Titans"; Words from the Myths by Isaac Asimov;
Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston, Massachusetts; 1961, page 42.

Sorcery and related words. Related destiny words are at this sorcery page.

Cross references of word families that are related directly, or indirectly, to: "divination, diviner; seer, soothsayer, prophecy, prophesy, prophet": augur-; auspic-; futur-; -mancy; omen; -phemia; sorc-, sorcery; vati-.

You may return to this fab-, fabul- unit or specifically to fate if you came here from there.