The phrase refers to social order which may have moral overtones, but the important thing is that orderliness is meant by fate.3 Something is fateful not because it is unexpected, irregular, random, but, on the contrary, because it is expected, normally done, regular. Ontologically, this idea of social order as expressed in the phrase kata moiran can be extended to the cosmic dimension. There is an orderliness of nature that can be seen by everyone: change of season, regular change of the duration of night and day, regular motions of celestial bodies, expected and thus regular tendency of bodies to fall or to rise, depending on their weight.4 So it may be said that a stone released from the hand was fated to fall to the ground since this is what stones normally do. By positing fate as reality higher than the reality of the gods, the reality preceding the existence of the gods, fate, that is, orderliness of cosmos, is made in one respect more divine than the gods. The gods are created beings, fate is not. Fate always existed and always will exist. It is thus characterized by full, unlimited eternity as opposed to the semi-eternity of the gods.5 If eternity is considered a primary attribute of divinity, then fate certainly is a divine entity.

Fate is an embodiment of the orderliness of the universe, an expression of natural and social order. As such, fate has an ethical component. Both immortals and mortals should act morally and justly, and rules of morality and justice are known, or felt, by all. The role of the gods is to be guardians of justice and morality (Od. 14.83–84).6 However, the gods very often, all too often, not only disappoint but also display “a comprehensive activity for the ruin of the mankind.”7 They are deceitful, touchy, unreliable, meddlesome, jealous, vengeful, and so on. Hence, there are infrequent expressions of pessimism of Homeric heroes and this pessimism deepens in later centuries in the lyric age.8 This pessimistic sentiment is strongly expressed by Mimnermus of Colophon, Semonides of Amorgos, Theognis of Megara. The traditional religion was thus profoundly unfulfilling, disappointing, almost irrelevant. One way of dealing with the disenchantment caused by popular religion is to perform an intellectual work on the concept of divinity. All in traditional religion is not to be discarded. What was positive in it and what caused disappointment? What is unacceptable, what is just imperfect in the traditional image of the gods? What are the gods, what is the divine and what should it be? With such questions a way to theology and philosophy is opened, and philosophical thought in Greece makes its arrival.


3 “Moira is not a force that is active but an order of events which is acknowledged,” Pierre Chantraine, ‘Le divin et les dieux chez Homère’, in La Notion du divin depuis Homère jusqu’à Platon (Geneva: Vandoeuvres, 1954), p. 70; fate “stands behind the gods as a shadowy reality, a fixed order rather than a power, a divine conscience, at times gathering moral grandeur, at times dreadful and oppressive to men,” William C. Greene, Moira (New York: Harper Torchbook, 1963 [1948]), pp. 13–14.

4 Cf. P. Engelbert Eberhard, Das Schicksal als poetische Idee bei Homer (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1923), pp. 73–75.

5 Cf. the statement made by H.D.F. Kitto in a discussion, La notion, 40: “if the gods are not eternal, what is? The idea of Order…: kosmos, ananke, moira.”

6 Although this is much more pronounced in the Odyssey than in the Iliad, Erland Ehnmark, TheIidea of God in Homer (Uppsala: Almquist & Wiksell, 1935), p. 99; Carl F. von Nägelsbach, Homerische Theologie (Nürnberg, 1861), p. 227; Dietrich, Death, Fate and the Gods, p. 324.

7 Svend Ranulf, The Jealousy of the Gods and Criminal Law at Athens London: William & Norgate, 1933–34; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1974), p. 87.

8 Cf. E.R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971 [1951]), p. 29; Hugh Lloyd-Jones, The Justice of Zeus (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), p. 36.