Fortuna – The Roman Goddess of Fortune and Personification of Luck /2
Presented by Twinty Karat
Fortuna did not disappear from the popular imagination with the ascendancy of Christianity. Lady Fortune was the Middle Ages idea of the original goddess of fortune, Fortuna. The omnipresent image of the Wheel of Fortune found throughout the Middle Ages and beyond was a direct legacy of the second book of Boethius’s Consolation. The Wheel appears in many renditions from tiny miniatures in manuscripts to huge stained glass windows in cathedrals.
The Wheel of Fortune, or Rota Fortunae, was a concept in medieval and ancient philosophy referring to the capricious nature of Fate. The wheel belongs to the goddess Fortuna, who spins it at random, changing the positions of those on the wheel – some suffer great misfortune, others gain windfalls.
Lady Fortune is usually represented as larger than life to underscore her importance. Medieval representations of Fortune emphasize her duality and instability, such as two faces side by side like Janus; one face smiling the other frowning; half the face white the other black; she may be blindfolded but without scales, blind to justice.
She was associated with the cornucopia, ship’s rudder, the ball and the wheel. The cornucopia is where plenty flows from, the Helmsman’s rudder steers fate, the globe symbolizes chance (who gets good or bad luck), and the wheel symbolizes that luck, good or bad, never lasts.
Fortune would have many influences in cultural works throughout the Middle Ages. The Christianized Lady Fortune appeared different ways, among them in chapter 25 of Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which he says Fortune only rules one half of men’s fate, the other half being of their own will. Machiavelli reminds the reader that Fortune is a woman, that she favors a strong or even violent hand, and that she favors the more aggressive and bold young man than a timid elder.
Even Shakespeare was no stranger to Lady Fortune:
When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state … — Sonnet 29
Under the title Dame Fortune, Fortuna never lost Her power as an allegorical figure; She makes an appearance on card 10 of the Tarot Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune, and She is still to some extent honored today, for She features in gamblers’ prayers to “Lady Luck“.
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