The Three Fates are the tertiary antagonists in Hercules. These three sisters share one eye, which they use to see the future. They are wise and also determine the deaths of mortals, cutting a mortal’s Thread of Life to send them to the Well of Souls in the Underworld. They know everything that has happened and will happen, and are an authority above the gods in this respect though they cannot kill a god.
Appearance and Personality
The Fates resemble demonic hags and are dressed in simple black cloaks. They seem rather proud that they ‘know everything’, and never hesitate to emphasise this claim. This is only challenged at one point in Hercules, perhaps for the purposes of dramatic effect (see paragraph below).
They appear to relish ending mortal’s lives, each looking on with glee as Atropos cuts each thread (though they will only cut at each designated time and will not kill a mortal prematurely). They are not allied with Hades, and are not denizens of the Underworld; however, they seem to prefer Hades to the gods on Mount Olympus, at one point referring to Hercules as a ‘bouncing baby brat’.
The three sisters bicker among themselves, perhaps the inevitable result of spending an eternity together; they often snatch their single eye from one another quite aggressively, and do not always agree on matters.
Lachesis is the tallest of the three, with blue skin and a long nose. She can tell the past. Her role is to measure out a mortal’s Thread of Life. She appears to have a spider living in her nose; at one point, it makes a bid for freedom, but she sends it back up her nostril with a sniff. She seems to be the grumpiest and most disapproving of the three.
Clotho is green-skinned, with a large chin and worm-like hair. She can tell the present. Her role is to spin the Thread of Life. She is the most friendly of the three with Hades, and her readiness to provide him with information is frowned upon by Lachesis and Atropos.
Atropos is short and stout, with purple skin and a single eye socket. She can tell the future. Her role is to cut the Thread of Life, perhaps making her the most powerful and deadly of the three. She is the most intelligent of the three.
Role in Hercules
Following the celebration of the god Hercules’ birth, Hades calls the Fates to the Underworld, where he asks them whether Hercules will interfere with his plan to take over Mount Olympus. They reveal some of the future to him (reluctantly, on the part of Lachesis and Atropos). Clotho reveals that, in eighteen years, the planets will align; Lachesis reveals that Hades will then release the Titans from their prison. Clotho says that Hades will overthrow Zeus, but, as Atropos reveals, only if Hercules does not interfere.
Their role in Hercules is perhaps similar to that of the Witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth; not only do they resemble hags, but they also reveal the events of the future in verse (much to Hades’ annoyance), and do not reveal all of the truth (they do not say whether or not Hercules will fight or not, making it unclear whether Hades will succeed or fail).
Cutting the Thread
They are later shown cutting Megara’s Thread of Life, a while after she, in saving Hercules, is crushed by a pillar. After Hercules defeats the Titans at Olympus, Hades angrily returns to the Underworld; Hercules, after witnessing Megara’s death, goes to Hades to plead for Megara’s soul. Hades lets him dive into the Well of Souls to recover Meg’s soul, knowing that a mortal will die quickly in the vortex. While Hercules swims after Meg’ soul, the Fates prepare to cut his Thread of Life. However, Atropos is unable to cut the thread, indicating Hercules' transformation from a mortal to a god. That the Fates do not realize this at first suggests either that they do not in fact know everything, or that they are sometimes forgetful.
Behind the Scenes
Lachesis was voiced by Carole Shelley, Clotho by Amanda Plummer and Atropos by Paddi Edwards. The Fates were animated by Nancy Beiman.
Like all characters in Hercules, the Fates were designed by Gerald Scarfe who, known for his drawings of the deformed and grotesque, enjoyed designing characters such as the Fates and Hades more than ‘beautiful’ characters such as Hercules and Meg. One of Scarfe’s early drawings for the Fates depicted Clotho wearing a cowl, which was at such an angle, that one of her eye sockets was covered. Beiman took this to mean that Clotho had only one eye socket; ultimately, it is Atropos (perhaps the most 'mysterious' Fate who appears with a single eye socket in the film.
As design progressed, the Fates’ bodies became less and less human, with little suggestion of any form under their clothes. Scarfe initially did not like this idea and drew the Fates in the nude as a key for Beiman to follow, but ultimately Ron Clements and John Musker approved of the ‘non human’ nature of these bizarre, deformed characters, and they appear accordingly in the film - Beiman commented that the Fates have no feet.
Deviations from Source Material
The Fates in the film are a combination of the Fates of Greek Mythology (also known as the Moirae) and the Graeae(or gray sisters), three hag-like creatures featured in the story of Perseus. The Graeae share one eye, which Perseus steals as one sister is passing the eye to another. He blackmails them into providing information that will help him on his quest to defeat Medusa, to whom the Graeae are related. While the Fates in the film bear a physical similarity to the Graeae, their role as weavers of fate is faithful to the Moirae. However, the Moirae do not appear in the original Hercules myth.
In 18 years precisely
The planets will align ever so nicely
The time to act will be at hand
Unleash the Titans, your monstrous band
Then the once-proud Zeus will finally fall,
And you, Hades, will rule all!
A word of caution to this tale,
Should Hercules fight, you will fail.
- The Fates make a small cameo appearance on one of the menus in the Hercules Playstation Game, with a Fate standing underneath each menu category. The highlighted category causes the Fate underneath to snatch the eye from the Fate next to her.
- Gerald Scarfe, Drawing Blood, 2005