Fate Ms WLZ
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  • 1. It is in the Stars: Fate
  • 2. It is ALL Ordained     Most religions/cultures have a concept of fate and predestiny. In some, the inevitability of fate was so strong that it was impossible to circumvent that which is/was to be. We have seen this in the case of Oedipus; when his parents sent him to die on the mountain, they started their machinations put their and his fate into motion. It seems that Jocasta and Laius were fated to try to avoid their fate. Modern readers would ask what would have happened if they had accepted the prophecy, but ancient audiences understood that was not possible. In earlier mythoi, “fate” still existed, but perhaps not as stringent as it is in later myths. Gilgamesh is fated to die, but so all are humans. In Egypt, the pharaoh, was god, so his decisions were the “fate” of those whose lives he influenced.
  • 3.     This concept carries well over into modern times, and the saying “what is to be, will be” exemplifies that the idea of fate still exists. Like the Greeks and the Norse (whom we will examine), Christianity ideology also embraces fate: there will be a final battle between good and evil. The concept of the elect (those chosen to enter heaven) was stronger in early Christianity, but some modern denominations still adhere to this principle. Yahweh, as an omnipotent deity, knows history from beginning to end: all is laid out. This idea begs the question of freewill, but John Milton’s Yahweh says that just because he knows the future, he did not shape it: humans did/do so by their decisions.
  • 4. Greeks    We have examined Oedipus ad nauseum, so I will try to ONLY mention him in passing! On to other Greek concepts . . . In Greek myth, a person’s life is predestined and neither humans nor gods can escape what is prescribed for them. This is clearly seen when Cronos kills Uranus, then Zeus kills Cronos. Cronos tries to thwart fate by swallowing his children, but the plan is doomed to fail.
  • 5.   Zeus manages to escape the same end as his father and grandfather because his fortune says “if” Metis bears another child. Three sisters called “The Fates” ( or Moerae) determine lives for all; Clotho who spins the threads of a person’s life; Lachesis who measures the thread, and Atropos who snips the thread. They are the daughters of Erebus and Night and predate the Titans and the Olympians.
  • 6. Atropos Clotho Lachesis
  • 7.    Robert Graves says that it is possible that Zeus can intervene with the Fates, but that is a later idea. Like Cronos swallowing his children, most people who try to escape negative prophecies actually cause the action to happen. Priam sent Paris away from Troy when it was prophesied that the boy would cause the city’s downfall: the action led to the Trojan War and the fall of Troy. Likewise, Laius and Jocasta send Oedipus away, but it does not keep the prophesy from coming to pass.
  • 8. Norse    Like the Greeks, the Norse had a strong belief in fate. This concept was often referred to as the “wyrd.” The Norse also had the Norns, the equivalent of the Greek Fates. Most often, there are three Norns but in variant myths, their number is higher. In MacBeth, the three “weird” sisters (witches) who determined the fate of the characters were not “weird” as in “strange,” but were representations of the Norns.
  • 9. The Norns The spring by the Asgard root of Yggdrasil was cared for by these three Norns, goddesses of fate:  Urdur (the past)  Verdandi (the present)  Skuld (the future)  In Greek myth, Hekate, though not a Fate, has three faces that allows her to see into the past, the present and the future. 
  • 10.    Like the Moerae, the Norns were spinners. Spinning was a predominantly female task. The importance of females as the “givers” of fate is most likely reminiscent of a time when women had more influence in certain cultures. Women brought you into life and they often took you out—this is exemplified by the number of underworlds ruled by goddesses. Before there was a Hades or Olympian gods, Hekate and Persephone ruled the underworld —but that is a very convoluted myth and too complicated to explain here!
  • 11.  Just as the Norns were influenced by the Fates from Greek myth, Norse society as a whole had a very strong concept of predestination.  Beowulf (bee-wolf=bear), an Anglo Saxon poem that was no doubt Norse in origin and passed down orally before committed to paper, demonstrates this concept.
  • 12.    Beowulf was slated to kill the monster Grendel and his mother, and he was also destined to die childless. The inability to escape fate is perhaps most strongly shown in the Norse myth of Ragnarok which is best translated at “destruction or doom of the gods.” Ragnarok is also termed “Gotterdammerung.” Ragnarok is discussed elsewhere, but I do want to mention that the Norse’s attitude toward fate differs from the Greeks’ attitude. While Jocasta and Laius, et al, try to avoid their fates, the Norse are much more accepting of what was to come. They did not try to prevent Ragnarok, but lived life to the fullest while they could!
  • 13. Accoutrements!    Despite the strong element of fate that has existed for a very long time, people have also tried to foretell the future. While this might seem to contradict the concept of preordination, it does and it does not—it depends upon the question. For example, Croesus asked the Delphic oracle if he should go to war against the Persians. The reply was that a great kingdom would fall if the war was fought. Croesus took this as a promise he would win; unfortunately, the great kingdom that fell was Croesus’s. Being forewarned might have been used as a way to avoid fate, but it was also a way to just find out one’s fate. Divination was forbidden to the Jews because wanting to know the future was not trusting in Yahweh. Not knowing the future also meant that mortals such as Priam would not try to change the preordained future—but, of course, the Greeks had no such prohibition of divination.
  • 14. Today   Centuries of believing in fate cannot be eradicated—or have not been eradicated as yet. As I mentioned earlier, many people say “What will be will be” or “Things will turn out the way that they are supposed to turn out.” These aphorisms still have the age-old influence of fate/destiny. People still consult tarot cards, psychics, and horoscopes to find out what the future will bring. May you be fated to do well on the final of this class, and good luck, too. (And in lieu of both of those, study hard.)