November 20, 2013 by NowhereButPop
For some people, the notion of fate or destiny is a very comforting concept because it provides for a kind of inevitable plan that people can defer all control to. To other people however, destiny and fate are eternally frightful concepts because by deferring to a higher form of control, or a predetermined placement of things, it takes all semblance of power and control over our very lives away from us.
Despite the debate over the existence of fate, it’s a concept that has been a part of humanity for thousands of years. The mythologies of many ancient civilizations were heavily rooted in the idea of fate and a predisposed life. Greek myths in general, placed an enormous emphasis on fate, and the overall authority that it had over existence. Usually taking the guise of prophecy, fate, and an unavoidable one at that played a great role in the myths of Oedipus, Cronus, Narcissus, and the Moirai (the sisters of fate). According to mythology, the fates controlled how long a person lived, when they would be born, and when they would die.
There’s one myth that stands out in particular as having beaten fate, and that is the myth of Zeus and Metis. It was foretold that Zeus would lay with the Titaness Metis two times. From those two encounters Metis would bear two children, the first would be Athena, one of Zeus’ most favored children, and the second would have been a son more powerful than Zeus who was destined to overthrow him, as Zeus had overthrown his own father. Now, in Greek mythology, when something was foretold, it would happen, there was no way around it. After all what’s the point of prophesying if you’re not going to be right? But in the case of Zeus and Metis, the prophecy failed, and it failed because Zeus prevented it from happening. Unlike the myth of Oedipus, where his father, who in trying to stop the prophecy from taking place, actually facilitated its fulfillment.
After realizing that Metis was pregnant with his child, Zeus did exactly what Cronus, his father, did; he ate her and their unborn child to prevent the prophecy from taking place. This plan didn’t work however because Metis had already conceived, and by the time Athena was to be born, she erupted from his forehead in full battle armor. Realizing that he was too late to prevent the prophecy he released Metis from his bowels and sent her away so that he would not be overcome by the desire to lay with her again. Because of this, Metis never bore Zeus the son who was destined to overthrow him and the prophecy never came to pass.
Zeus escaped fate by not doing what he was foretold to do. And he did this by exercising self control. By overcoming his own desires and lusts, which in Greek mythology were pretty much unconquerable and unquenchable, he avoided the prophecy and saved his own life. Instead of being complicit in the machinations of fate, Zeus refrained from actively participating in his own demise. It’s interesting to note that Zeus, who was one of the more amorous of gods, restrained himself so much for fear of the prophecy. For Zeus, the fear of an impending doom, and the inevitability of fate was able to triumph over an uncontrollable lust that had pretty much become Zeus modus operandi. This is the one instance where Zeus was able to curtail himself, and it came from fear of fate, fear of the inevitable and uncontrollable.
For all their vaunted power and might, even the gods were helpless in the face of fate. In Greek mythology, if something was said to happen in the future, it was going to happen, best effort to prevent it be damned. Even in mythologies from other civilizations, fate played an important part in storytelling. Take Norse mythology or example, where they had an entire ending for their deities in Ragnarok. Ragnarok is the final tale of the Norse gods, the destruction of Asgard, Midgard (Earth) and the subsequent re-genesis of the cosmos. It was a prophesy of what would happen, explicitly detailing the fate of each mythological character, and there was nothing that anyone could do to prevent it. Ragnarok was going to happen regardless of anyone trying to prevent it.
Contrast this to Greek mythology where Cronus, Laius, and even Zeus actively tried to prevent a prophesy from occurring, and beat fate. Cronus and Laius failed, and by even attempting to stymie fate, actually ignited the inciting action of their downfall. But Zeus succeeded in preventing destiny from occurring. What makes the tale of Zeus and Metis so gripping is that it deviates from typical myths regarding prophesy in that in trying to prevent it from happening, the prophesy is actually set in motion because of someone trying to prevent it from occurring. Zeus tried to prevent his predetermined fate of destruction, and actually won out because he had the foresight to not partake in his own demise, even though he really wanted to sleep with Metis again. He never did though, because he knew of the dire consequences, and by having knowledge of his fate, he was able to then create his own, in spite of fate and destiny. If the myth of Zeus and Metis tells us something, it’s that even fate isn’t 100% accurate all the time.