Mythology and Destiny
Let’s talk about destiny in Greece, Rome, and Northern Europe. Woven into the Illiad and countless mythical tales were stories of the unbending forces of destiny and her agents – pretty much everything from birth through life and death was dictated by it, and even the so-called lesser gods were but loyal subjects to its power and workings. Destiny outshone the will of man (and gods) regardless of the prevailing circumstance, it orchestrated the grand scheme of things; despite the often strengthened revolt against its benevolence. And as many would come to realize it was final, bending neither to the will of man nor to the powers of the lesser gods themselves.
Among gods, perhaps the first and arguably one of the most iconic manifestations of destiny was in the life of Cronus, son of Uranus and Gaea (mother earth). Cronus a Titan was destined to fall by his blood. Having learned of his pitiable destiny, Cronus sought to manipulate it. He reasoned that if none of his offspring lived, there would be no one to turn his sad fate into reality. The Titan then turned cannibalistic consuming his children live as they were born. This went on for a while, until his wife and sister Rhea, disgruntled by her husband’s insensitive acts, ferried her last child to a faraway island. To satisfy her husband’s appetite for children, she packed a stone in linen before presenting it to Cronus who wasted no time swallowing the supposed child. Rhea’s actions were fired by a mother’s love for her children. Unknown to her, she had effectively set in motion the mechanism that would lead to the fulfillment of Cronus’s destined fall. The child Rhea hid grew up to become Zeus who in the company of his rescued siblings executed the Titanomachy against Cronus and all of his kind. In the end, Cronus was banished into Tartarus.
The Fate Sisters
Zeus did not share the same fate as his father. The victorious god destined for greater things would go on to become sovereign ruler of Olympus and master of the earth. For a fact, in classical Roman Mythology, Fate; the destiny of an individual was Fatum – the spoken word of Jupiter (Zeus) king of Olympus and ruler of the earth, mortals and gods alike. However, as a mechanism that controlled how events played out in the world, three entities, the sisters of fate, conduct or in better terms assigned the roles of every individual in the grand scheme of events.
The three sisters or Moriae (Parcae in Roman), Clotho – the spinner, Lachesis the allotter and Atropos – the one that cannot be turned were in fact destiny personified. Together they were in charge of the mother thread of life that dictated the destiny of mortals and gods alike. Although these beings had affiliations with Zeus, they were for the most part independent. Clotho gave life by spinning the thread of life onto her spindle, Lachesis determined which thread was allotted to each person, and Atropos snipped the thread of life with her shear to bring about death at the designated time. The fates, depicted in Greek mythology as old wretched, fearless and emotionless beings were revered by men and gods. They controlled the destiny of humanity by spinning individual threads representative of the singular destinies of every being on earth. As soon as a child was born, a sister of the fates appears to assign its lot or fate. And for one king, his destiny was to kill his father and marry his mother.
The Tale of Oedipus
When King Laius and Queen Jacosta, heard that their newly conceived son Oedipus, would kill his father and marry his mother, their first instinct was to do away with the infant. They handed him over to a shepherd, tasked with the job of dropping him off at the peak of the mountains where he was to be devoured by beasts. Destiny was however not to be violated, the shepherd in a display of mercy refrains from abandoning the child and instead hands him over to a shepherd from another region – thus setting in motion the chain of events that would eventually lead to the fulfillment of Oedipus’s destiny.
Oedipus was shown to the king of the Shepherds home country, and as fate would have it, the king who had no children d of his own jumped at the opportunity of fathering this young infant. He was accepted into the royal family and grew up as the son of King Polybus and Queen Merope. As time went on, he was approached by a man who claimed he wasn’t the real son of the King, and although Oedipus dismissed the comment, it lingered on in the back of his mind. His quest to confirm the veracity of the claim led him to seek counsel from the Oracle, who disregarded his question but revealed to him that he was destined to murder his father and marry his mother. To avert this less than pleasant fate, Oedipus, oblivious of his true lineage, decided to flee his hometown, away from the people he thought were his birth parents – he instead went back to his birthplace Thebes.
While fleeing Corinth on his way to Thebes, Oedipus came across the chariot of no other person than King Laius, his father. Oedipus is oblivious of this, and as the chariot passes, they enter a heated argument on who had the right of way. This eventually escalated to a fight and in the end, Oedipus kills both the charioteer and his biological father, King Laius. The incident is reported as a robbery and Oedipus escapes scot-free while fulfilling the first part of his destiny – murdering his father.
Subsequently, Oedipus came across a Sphinx, who had for a long time plagued the kingdom of Thebes. The sphinx who was in the habit of wreaking Havoc killed any traveler who failed to answer its riddles; and as Oedipus came across it, the same puzzle was thrown at him. Unlike the travelers before him, however, Oedipus scaled the riddle, and in a fury, the Sphinx committed suicide. The people of Thebes warmly welcomed Oedipus. In fulfillment of his promise of the throne to anyone who defeated the Sphinx, Creon queen Jocasta’s brother crowned Oedipus king of Thebes. Oedipus then married the sitting queen, Queen Jocasta – fulfilling the second part of his destiny.
The gripping story of Oedipus is peculiar in the sense that it aptly demonstrates one of the fundamental tenets of destiny in the mythological universe – Destiny manifests by the deeds of men, it doesn’t just come to be, it is the culmination of the action and inactions of mortals, whether intentional or otherwise. For Oedipus and his parents, their deliberate measures to change the course of the child’s fate ultimately led to its course. In an attempt to flee from his fate, Oedipus instead approached it with arms wide open.
One mythical hero who accepted his Destiny was Hercules.
Hercules (Heracles) was an illegitimate son of Zeus borne by Alcmene. His birth and childhood were laced with difficulties as Hera, wife of Zeus sought every means to end his life. The young Hercules survived every onslaught. In one particular incident where Hera sent a serpent to vanquish both him and his Twin Iphicles, Hercules stood up to the serpent and strangles it. Marvelled by the display of courage and valor by an infant, his earthly father Amphitryon called on to his seer Tiresias who immediately declared that Hercules was destined to slay numerous monsters; and monsters did he slay.
After Hercules had run mad, under the influence of Hera, he murdered his wife and children. He after that sought retribution and was directed by the Oracle of Delphi (who unknown to him was under the control of Hera) to serve his rival Eurystheus. Fulfilling his destiny of slaying beasts, Hercules was ordered by Eurytheus to complete ten different tasks most of were centered on fulfilling his violent destiny of slaying monsters. The labors of Hercules as they (the tasks) were later called, mandated him to:
Kill the Nemean Lion
Kill the Lernaean Hydra
Kill the Stymphalian birds
Hercules was known far and wide for his prowess at disposing of beasts. He accepted any feat wholeheartedly. Unlike Oedipus, Hercules never fought against his violent nature. Instead, he embraced it, and as a result, it manifested in his day to day life. Beasts were not the only ones falling to the might of Hercules, humans, other gods and any other being deemed rival enough was subject to his might.
The stories of Oedipus and Hercules have one thing in common; destiny prevails whether or not the subject opposes it. Oedipus rebelled against it and still, through what might be described as an elongated means, fulfilled his destiny – Hercules accepted it and like Oedipus also fulfilled it.