“The Accidental…the Inevitable…the Fateful Tendencies Each One of Us Brings Into the World.”

“The names of the three spinners have been interpreted significantly…Lachesis, the name of the second, seems to mean ‘the accidental within the decrees of destiny’ while Atopos means ‘the inevitable’ and for Clotho ‘the fateful tendencies each one of us brings into the world.'”

— Sigmund Freud, “The Theme of the Three Caskets,” The Freud Reader

I read this passage in college, and ever since, I’ve been haunted by the question: What are my fateful tendencies? I have no power over the accidental, or the inevitable, but I do have some power over my fateful tendencies. Or do I?

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  • Probably not, but you may as well live as if you do since the possiblities are so many. Have you read Quirk by Hannah Holmes? It will go a long way toward answering that question. Thanks for the thought-provoking post on a splendid Saturday morning!!!

  • peninith1

    This is one of those literary / mythic statements that intrigues me to no end. I’d say that all hangs on what we mean by that term ‘fateful tendencies.’

    If, like me, you choose is the ‘character is destiny’ or ‘hubris’ definition, I would say you can work with your character and basic personality, to try to moderate it, but that underlying feature of character is not ever really going to go away. Are you the person who pushes through for just another five minutes after you’re really too tired? Do you tend to have a hair-trigger tendency to speak before you think about the consequences? No matter how conscious you try to become, those fateful tendencies are likely to cause you problems from time to time anyway. Think about all the political careers we have seen shredded just within the past few years because of ‘fateful tendencies’ to engage in illicit behavior and combine that behavior with technology!

    I believe I have every responsibility to recognize and try to manage my ‘fateful tendencies’ even knowing that these knots in my psyche or flaws in my character will probably continue to come up as obstacles and / or pitfalls for me all my life, and may play a role in anything destructive that happens to me. I may not be able to avoid all the opportunities to trip over my fateful tendencies, but it would be reckless and wrong of me not to try.

    Do I KNOW what those tendencies are? Well, I keep learning about more as I get older! Seems to me that gaining understanding of the faults and flaws (or even virtues, which can have some sneaky downsides!) we are blind to is a lifelong process. Sometimes we have to benefit from Lachesis ‘chance’ so truths can be revealed.

  • Sophie

    Hi Gretchen – really interesting little post. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days – and these are my thoughts thus far (Disclaimer: I’m an MA Lit student…so I know a few interesting things but I haven’t read or thought about this Freud quote before):

    ‘Fateful tendencies’? I guess you could call them that – and yes I think we can overcome them (just add a few kilos of self-control and discipline and positive attitude scattered over a number of years). I’ve been trying to think of examples and this is what I came up with…

    Samson (I was trying to think of something more ‘fateful’ from Homer etc but Samson is a good start). Samson’s birth and destiny was foretold by an angel – that he would deliver the nation and that he had to be pure. Problem: it turned out Samson couldn’t keep his eyes off women (especially the enemy’s women) and as a result he got his in-laws and wife murdered etc even before the infamous Delilah comes on the scene. Ultimately he does deliver the nation – but he does so having been enslaved and tortured and at the cost of his own life too. I suspect the angel didn’t want that to happen.

    I realise that’s an example of fateful tendencies running havoc…but I guess I’m staring at one of my own ‘fateful tendencies’ now and knowing that I do not have to let it take over my life. I guess I think that people are generally speaking resourceful and capable and can make something very beautiful out of their lives – so I can too. Happily we have a whole wealth of accumulated experiences in books etc etc so that if we’re living intelligently we don’t have to keep making the same mistakes that others have cowed under.

    In real life…it’s hard. Nevertheless I agree with Peninith – we have a responsibility (to ourselves and to our loved ones and debatably to the angel or nation) to *try* to be the best we can be.