Fortuna – The Roman Goddess of Fortune and Personification of Luck
Presented by Twinty Karat
Fortuna (equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche) was the Roman goddess of fortune and personification of luck in the Roman religion. She might bring good luck or bad: she could be represented as veiled and blind, as in modern depictions of Justice, and came to represent life’s capriciousness.
Fortuna was also a goddess of fate; as Atrox Fortuna, she claimed the young lives of the princeps Augustus’ grandsons Gaius and Lucius, prospective heirs to the Empire.
Her father was said to be Jupiter and like him, she could also be bountiful. As Annonaria she protected grain supplies. June 11 was sacred to her. On June 24 she was given cult at the festival of Fors Fortuna.
Fortuna’s Roman cult was variously attributed to Servius Tullius – whose exceptional good fortune suggested their sexual intimacy – and to Ancus Marcius. She had a temple at the Forum Boarium and a sacred precinct on the Quirinalis as Fortuna Populi Romani (the Fortune of the Roman people). Her identity as personification of chance events was closely tied to strength of character. Public officials who lacked virtues invited ill-fortune on themselves and Rome.
An oracle at the Temple of Fortuna Primigena in Praeneste used a form of divination in which a small boy picked out one of various futures that were written on oak rods. Cults to Fortuna in her many forms are attested throughout the Roman world. Dedications have been found to Fortuna Dubia (doubtful fortune), Fortuna Brevis (fickle or wayward fortune) and Fortuna Mala (bad fortune).
Her name seems to derive from Vortumna (she who revolves the year); the earliest reference to the Wheel of Fortune, symbolizing of the endless changes in life between prosperity and disaster, is 55 BCE.
In the 6th century, the Consolation of Philosophy, by statesman and philosopher Boethius, written while he faced execution, reflected the Christian theology of casus, that the apparently random and often ruinous turns of Fortune’s Wheel are in fact both inevitable and providential, that even the most coincidental events are part of God’s hidden plan which one should not resist or try to change. Fortuna, then, was a servant of God, and events, individual decisions, the influence of the stars were all merely vehicles of Divine Will. In succeeding generations Boethius’ Consolation was required reading for scholars and students.
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