Goddess of Chance, Luck and Fate
The Goddess Fortuna was the goddess of luck, good and bad in Ancient Rome. She was an extremely popular goddess in Ancient times. Fortuna was the first born child of Jupiter.
Goddess Fortuna is often seen carrying a cornucopia, also called Horn Of Plenty. Unlimited amounts of riches pour out of the cornucopia.
Goddess Fortuna was known to help pregnant women. She was also known as “Fortuna Primigenia”, meaning “the first mother”.
The Wheel of Fortune
The goddess Fortuna ruled the wheel of fortune.
When Fortuna spun the wheel no one knew ahead of time where they would “drop”.
Their luck could change for the better or worse.
Fortune herself is seated behind the Wheel
“Wheel of Fortune” (c.1455-1462), British Library
The wheel of fortune started with the goddess Fortuna a couple thousand years ago.
It has been a part of our lives since Ancient Rome.
We will forever be fascinated by the spinning fortune wheel with hopeful anticipation that the wheel will stop just in time to bring us a bit of good luck.
We often find them at fairs and amusement parks.
Roman Fortuna Temple
Just outside South-East of Rome at Palestrina, there was a large temple dedicated to the goddess Fortuna. It was one of the largest in Ancient Rome. This temple housed an oracle.
“Temple of Fortuna – Palladio – Elevation” by Andrea Palladio – Royal Institute of British Architects
The Goddess Tyche
In Ancient Greece the goddess Tyche was the ruler of luck. Tyche simply means “luck”.
The goddess Fortuna is the Roman counterpart of Tyche. She was the daughter of Zeus.
There were many temples in her honor. The temple Tychaeon in Alexandria was told to be one of the most spectacular in the Hellenistic world.
It was believed that when no rational explanation of a happening could be found, it was the goddess Tyche who was responsible.
Tyche could take away goods or hand out good fortune.
Any person who did not appreciate the gifts from Tyche would find himself in deep trouble.
It was expected that a person showed gratitude and sacrificed some of his newly gained riches to the gods.
It was also expected that he should spend some of the money to help less fortunate citizens.
Any who spent his time boasting about his abundance and not willing to share, would soon have an unpleasant meeting with Nemesis.
Nemesis was the daughter of Oceanus. She was sent by Tyche to humiliate all ungrateful and selfish receivers of riches. Soon they would find their lives in a sorry state. The riches were destined to disappear.
Machiavelli on Goddess Fortuna
Chapter 25 in the book “The Prince” by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469 –1527) is devoted to Fortuna.
He argues that Fortuna only controls half of the fate of a human being.
The other half is the result of a person’s actions.
“Fortune may be the arbiter of one half of our actions, but she still leaves us the other half, or perhaps a little less, to our free will.” Machiavelli
In Sonnet 29 William Shakespeare refers to the goddess Fortuna:
When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d,
Desiring this man’s art, and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least.
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
O Fortuna Poem from the 13th Century
O Fortuna, like the moon you are changeable,
ever waxing and waning;
hateful life first oppresses and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
poverty and Power it melts them like ice.
Fate – monstrous and empty,
you whirling wheel, you are malevolent,
well-being is vain and always fades to nothing,
shadowed and veiled you plague me too;
now through the game I bring my bare back to your villainy.
Fate is against me in health and virtue,
driven on and weighted down, always enslaved.
So at this hour without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate strikes down the strong man,
everyone weep with me!