This image, created by an unknown artist, depicts the Fates (or Moirai) of Greek mythology. This trio of goddesses, as their name hints, oversaw the destinies of mortals. The ancient Greek poet, Hesiod (c. 8th century BCE) described their power, writing, “the Fates, to whom Zeus the resourceful gave the most privilege, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, [were those] who give mortal men both good and ill” (Theogony, approximately line 906). The 16th-century tapestry in which these goddesses made their cameo, shown above, was a visual representation of The Triumphs by the poet, Petrarch. Specifically, the scene shows the moment in the poem when Death triumphs over Chastity. Petrarch wrote:
“And a fair troop of ladies gather’d there,
Still of this earth, with grace and honour crown’d
To mark if ever Death remorseful were.
This gentle company thus throng’d around,
In her contemplating the awful end
All once must make, by law of nature bound;
Each was a neighbor, each a sorrowing friend.
Then Death stretch’d forth his hand, in that dread hour,
From her bright head a golden hair to rend,
Thus culling of this earth the fairest flower”
(Petrarch, The Triumphs, Triumph of Death, approx. line 103)
Such is the scene depicted in the tapestry. It shows the Fates (with modernized wardrobes granted them by the artist), at the death scene of Plutarch’s personification of Chastity. The fair troop of gentle ladies described in the poem, however, do not look too concerned about the death of poor Chastity within the tapestry.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Theogony and Works and Days by Hesiod, translated by M. L. West. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988, 1999, 2008.
- The Sonnets, Triumphs, and Other Poems of Petrarch, introduced by Thomas Campell. London: George Bell and Sons, 1879.