Parcae, the Three Fates

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The Parcae (plural, Parca) were the feminine personifications of fate who oversaw the lives (and deaths) of both mortals and gods in ancient Roman religion and myth.

The Greek term for them was Moirai, and they were known as the Fates in English. Except for when a person is born, when they die, and how much suffering they endure, they have no influence over what a person does.

From conception until death, the Parcae were in charge of the metaphorical thread that connected every mortal and immortal. According to other legends, Jupiter was also under their sway, and even the gods dreaded them. Morta was in charge of supervising death, while Nona and Decima were in charge of birth.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

The three Parcae are known as:

  • Nona (the Greek name Clotho), who spun the thread of life from her distaff to her spindle,
  • Decima (Lachesis in Greek), who used her rod to measure the thread of life
  • Morta (Atropos in Greek), who severed the thread of life and determined how a person would die.

On the dies lustricus, or the day the child’s name was selected, which happened on the ninth day after birth for a male and the eighth day for a girl, Nona was meant to calculate a person’s lifetime. Morta was believed to preside over infants who died.

Some treatments claim that the Parcae are more potent than most gods—possibly even all of them.

The Three Fates by Pierre Milan after Rosso Fiorentino, 1538-40, engraving, private collection
The Three Fates by Pierre Milan after Rosso Fiorentino, 1538-40, engraving, private collection (source)

Featured image: The Three Fates Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, Artists: Giorgio Ghisi (1520-1582); Giulio Romano (1499-1546)



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