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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Parcae

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(from the root pars, "a part"), the name given by the Romans to the powerful female divinities who presided over the birth and the life of mankind; they are called the goddesses of Fate, from the fact that they assigned to every one his "part" or lot. The Greek name, Moirae, has the same meaning (from μέρος, a share). They were three in number, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, daughters of Nox and Erebus, according to Hesiod, or of Jupiter and Themis, according to the same poet in another poem. Some make them daughters of the sea. Clotho, the youngest of the sisters, presided over the moment in which we are born, and held a distaff in her hand; Lachesis spun out all the events and actions of our life; and Atropos, the eldest of the three, cut the thread of human life with a pair of scissors. Their different functions are well expressed in this ancient verse:

"Clotho colum retinet,

Lachesis net,

et Atropos occat."

The name of the Parcae, according to Varro, is derived a partu or parturiendo, because they presided over the birth of men, and, by corruption, the word parca is formed from parta or partus; but, according to Servius, they are called so by antiphrasis, quod nemini parcant. The power of the Parcae was great and extensive. Some suppose that they were subject to none of the gods but Jupiter; while others suppose that even Jupiter himself was obedient to their commands; and indeed we see the father of the gods, in Homer's Iliad, unwilling to see Patroclus perish, yet obliged, by the superior power of the Fates, to abandon him to his destiny. According to the more received opinion, they were the arbiters of the life and death of mankind, and whatever good or evil befalls us in the world immediately proceeds from the Fates or Parcae. Some make them ministers of the king of hell, and represent them as sitting at the foot of his throne; others represent them as placed on radiant thrones, amid the celestial spheres, clothed in robes spangled with stars, and wearing crowns on their heads. According to Pausanias, the names of the Parcae were different from those already mentioned. The most ancient of all, as the geographer observes, was Venus Urania, who presided over the birth of men; the second was Fortune; Ilythia was the third. To these some add a fourth, Proserpina, who often disputes with Atropos the right of cutting the thread of human life. The worship of the Parcae was well established in some cities of Greece, and though mankind were well convinced that they were inexorable; and that it was impossible to mitigate them, yet they were eager to show a proper respect to their divinity by raising them temples and statues. They received the same worship as the Furies, and their votaries yearly sacrificed to them black sheep, during which solemnity the priests were obliged to wear garlands of flowers. The Parcae were generally represented as three old women with chaplets made of wool, and interwoven with the flowers of the narcissus. They were covered with a white robe, and fillets of the same color, bound with chaplets. One of them held a distaff, another the spindle, and the third was armed with scissors, with which she cut the thread which her sisters had spun. Their dress is differently represented by some authors. Clotho appears in a variegated robe, and on her head is a crown of seven stars. She holds a distaff in her hand reaching from heaven to earth. The robe which Lachesis wore was variegated with a great number of stars, and near her were placed a variety of spindles. Atropos was clothed in black; she held scissors in her hand, with clews of thread of different sizes, according to the length or shortness of the lives whose destinies they seemed to contain. Hyginus attributed to them the invention of these Greek letters, α, β, η, τ, υ, and others called them the secretaries of heaven, and the keeping of the archives of eternity. The Parcae had places consecrated to then throughout all Greece, at Corinth, Sparta, Thebes, Olympia, etc. See Hesiod, Theog. et scut. Her.; Pausan. 1. 1, c. 40: 1. 3, c. 11; 1. 5, c. 15; Homer, II. 24:49; Callimach. in Dian.; A Elian, Animn. 10; Pindar, Olymp. 10; Nem. 7; Eurip. in Iphiq.; Plutarch, De faltcie in orbe Lunce; Hygin. inz proe fab. 277; Orph Hymnn. 58; Apolloil. 1, etc.; Claudian, De rapt. Pros.; Horace, Od. 6, etc.; Ovid, Met. v.' 533; Lucan, 3; Virgil, AEn. 1:22, etc.; Senec. in Herc. Fur.; Stat Theb. 6


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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Parcae'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/p/parcae.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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