Moira (Μοῖρα, a share), the classical personification of that mysterious yet irresistible power whose invisible sceptre controls and directs human events, and assigns to each individual his fate or share. Homer, with a single exception (b. 24:29), speaks of but one Moira, a personification of fate, whom he represents as spinning the thread of each man's life, and though counselling with the other gods, yet as having supreme authority in directing and controlling the fate of each individual, and yielding obeisance only to Zeus. Hesiod living a little later, distinguishes three Moirae, and names them as Clotho, or the spinning fate; Lachesis, or the one who assigns man his fate; and Atropos, or the fate that cannot be avoided. These he calls the daughters of Zeus and Thermis, a genealogy from which late; writers differ. Other mythographers picture Clotho as holding the distaff, and ever furnishing the present; Lachesis, twirling the spindle, lays out the future; and Atropos severs the past by cutting the thread with her fatal. scissors. The representations of the character and nature of the Moirae, as varied as they are numerous, may, for our purpose, be classed in two divisions: 1st, those in which the Moirae are but allegorical representations of the duration of human life; 2d, those in which the Moirae are considered strictly as divinities of fate. As used in the first sense, it is supposed the Greeks originally conceived of but one Moira, but on further consideration of her nature and attributes adopted the idea of two, representing life's two boundaries of birth and death. Ultimately the number became three, and personified past, present, and future. Considering the Moirae as strictly divinities of fate, they are viewed as independent, meting out individual destinies in accordance with eternal laws which know, no variations or exceptions. The gods as well as mortals are subject to their authority, and even Zeus is sometimes represented as powerless to annul their decrees. Oftener, however, Zeus is pictured as in the background, weighing out power to them, and interfering with their decrees when disposed to save his favorites or destroy those with whom he is angry. This twofold view of the Moirae, considering them sometimes as possessed of supreme power, and issuing irrevocable decrees, and at other times as interfered with and overruled by Zeus, is easily accounted for in the vain attempts of uninspired man to harmonize the seemingly inconsistent meting out of fate. By this means the ancients were enabled to interpret, satisfactorily to themselves, the varying freaks of fickle fortune, and account for apparent favoritism and injustice. It proved a magic key to open the mysteries of the dealings of Providence, and shifted the burden of human complaints from the shoulders of their beloved Zeus to those of the hated Moirse, while all the praise for sudden prosperity or escape from danger and death was givens to Zeus for his kindly interference with the will of the fates. Without the aid of this double view of the relationship existing between Zeus and the Moirae, the Greeks could see in the strange events of national and personal history naught but the workings of an imperfect divinity; but with this explanatory means they were enabled to clothe Zeus with a robe interwoven with threads both of justice and mercy. For the sake of conceiving a blameless divinity, they were willing even to admit the occasional absence of supreme authority. Like the Erinyes, with whom they are often confounded, the Moirae differ singularly from all the other gods in that they have no sympathy whatever for man, their iron sceptres never being wielded by the hands of mercy. Yet they were worshipped in many parts of Greece, and had sanctuaries at Corinth, Sparta, Olympia, and Thebes. The ancient artists and poets give us many fanciful pictures of the Moire. The earliest of the former represent them as goddesses holding staffs or sceptres in their hands as emblematic of their dominion. In later works of art they form a triplet of grave though beautiful maidens: Clotho holding a spindle or a roll (the book of fate); Lachesis pointing with her staff to the globe; while Atropos holds a pair of scales, a sun-dial, or some cutting instrument. By the poets they are sometimes pictured as aged and decrepit women, typical of the slow and often sorrowful march of fated events, and the various epithets applied to them are not so much the outburstings of human hate as poetical pencillings of the severity, inflexibility, and sternness of fate. See Vollmer, Mythol. Worterbuch, s.v.; Smith, Dict. Greek and Roman Biog. and Mythol. s.v.; Dwight, Classical Mythol. s.v.; Grote, Hist. of Greece, 4:197 sq. (H.W.T.)

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