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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
as the Norns were influenced by the
Fates from Greek myth, Norse society as
a whole had a very strong concept of
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.
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!
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.
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.)