Do We Have a Choice or Not? Fate in Mythology

“A man can surely do what he wills to do, but he cannot determine what we wills”Schopenhauer.

What is fate? When speaking about mythology one could be referencing the destined condition or event, fate, or one could be referencing one or all of the three Fates. In Greek mythology, Fate was personified as three sisters: Clotho, the spinner of life’s thread, Lachesis, the allotter of a person’s destiny, and Atropos, who cut the thread at death. These three are rarely mentioned by name, but their power seems to have control over even Zeus, the most powerful of the gods (In a limited amount of Greek texts). The concept of fate has been predominant in Greek/Roman myth and has been the driving force for most stories.

This predetermination of events is a familiar and common feature of Greek mythology and specifically Greek tragedies, the causes of human actions may be attributed simultaneously to fate or a deity and to a self-motivated human. These forces work generally in cooperation or at least simultaneously with harmonious purpose. Fate represents the personification of a power acting in parallel with the gods.

The Greek poets and writers found great irony in the fact that individuals might seal their fate by the very precautions they took to prevent it. We see countless characters who go to great lengths in attempts to alter fate, even if they know such an aim to be futile. Among mortals a famous example involves Oedipus and his father Laius. Laius also learns that his son will kill him, so he leaves the infant Oedipus to die – which only means that the two do not recognize each other when they battle years later, and thus fate is fulfilled and a prophecy is made true. But not only mortals are subjected to fate, even immortals have found themselves victims of it. The Titan Cronus learned that a child of his is destined to overthrow him, so he swallows all his children as soon as they are born. Gaia, his wife, hides the infant Zeus away, and later he does indeed overthrow his father. Because of stories such as these, one might come to believe that fate truly is predetermined and one has no control over it, what is to be will be.

So that brings us to the question of whether fate is truly definite or is it flexible. Do mortals and immortals have the ability to change a predetermined destiny? And something else to contemplate would be, does man truly have free will? Given the previous examples from myth, many would believe the answer to be no. One of the strongest examples is the king of Thebes, who has learned that his son, Oedipus, will one day kill him. The king takes steps to ensure Oedipus’s death but ends up ensuring only that he and Oedipus fail to recognize each other when they meet on the road many years later. This lack of recognition enables a dispute in which Oedipus slays his father without thinking twice and ends up marrying his mother just as it was professed. Although one might think that moral responsibility implies the existence of free will, the human agents of tragedy are blamed and held responsible. It is the king’s exercise of free will that ironically binds him to the thread of destiny. This mysterious, inexplicable association between will and fate is visible in many the stories of the Greeks.

An article written by J.V. Morrison discusses the concept of fate and directly references the story of Achilles in the Iliad. More specifically, Morrison quotes “Then father Zeus balanced his golden scale, and in them he set two fateful portions of woeful death, one for Achilles and one for Hector, breaker of horses. Balancing it in the middle, Zeus raised it high, and the fated day of Hector sank down: it went toward the house of Hades, and the god Apollo left him ”(Homer, The Iliad, p.274). While many see this depiction of Zeus in the story of Achilles as a god of fate some could argue that Zeus is simply just an agent of fate, not the ultimate ruler of it.

In Christianity it is believed that man has free will, God dignifies us with free will, the power to make decisions of our own rather than having God or fate predetermine what we do. Although God has the power and great influence he does not use these things to control everything. Consider what the Bible teaches and what the Greeks and Romans relayed through their myths. There are connections made between free will and fate that makes one question whether we truly have free will if our fate is predetermined. Perhaps the Gods/God know us better than we know ourselves and this is the root of it all.

Works Cited

Homer, The Odyssey

 Homer, The Iliad

Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy

James V. Morrison. “Kerostasia, The Dictates of Fate, and the Will of Zeus in the Iliad.” Arethusa 30, no. 2 (1997): 276-296. Available at: (accessed June 30, 2017).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *