Destiny concerns the fixed natural order of the universe. It is the invincible necessity to which even the gods must accede, as the Sibyl of Delphi confessed. Destiny is fate, personified in Greek culture by the three Moirae (called the Parcae by the Romans), with a Nordic counterpart in the three Norns. The "doom of the powers" in Norse mythology is Ragnarok the battle which even Odin must inevitably face, at the end of the world.
Destiny is the irresistible power or agency that is conceived of as determining the future, whether in general or of an individual. The remorseless goddess Nemesis for early Greeks like Homer personified the pitiless distribution of fortune, neither good nor bad, simply in due proportion to each according to his deserts. In the time of the Hellenistic monarchies, after the death of Alexander the Great, the image of Tyche, crowned with a mural crown of city walls, embodied the fortunes of a city, which struggled to keep afloat in the chaotic violence among the Successors, as Alexander's heirs were called.
On an individual or even a national level, destiny is a predetermined state or condition foreordained by the Divine (see Predestination) or by human will (for example, in Manifest Destiny). Destiny is the human lot in life. It has taken the function of its Old English counterpart "doom", as in the Domesday Book that took a census of England for the Normans in 1086, "doom" having taken on foreboding ominous connotations of the universal cataclysm at the end of time (see Doomsday, Doomsday machine).
Destiny is a source of irony in Greek tragedy, as it is in the Schiller play that Verdi transformed into La Forza del Destino ("The Force of Destiny") or Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, or in MacBeth's knowledge of his own destiny, which does not preclude a horrible fate. The common theme is: try as the protagonists might to change the patterns, they cannot escape a destiny if their fate has been sealed.
A sense of destiny in its oldest human sense is in the soldier's fatalistic image of the "bullet that has your name on it" or the moment when your number "comes up." The human sense that there must be a hidden purpose in the random lottery governs the selection of Theseus to be among the youths to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. Many Greek legends and tales teach the futility of trying to outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted.
Reading the inscrutable Will of Destiny is the job of the shaman, the prophet, the sibyl and the seer. In Shang dynasty China, turtle bones were thrown ages before the I Ching was codified. Arrows were tossed to read Destiny, from Thrace to pagan Mecca.
Last updated: 10-29-2005 02:13:46