Fortuna governs the circle of the four stages of life, the Wheel of Fortune, in a manuscript of Carmina Burana
In Roman mythology, Fortuna (equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche) was the personification of luck, hopefully of good luck, but she could be represented veiled and blind, as modern depictions of Justice are seen, and came to represent the capriciousness of life.
Fortuna had a retinue that included Copia among her blessings. Under the name Annonaria she protected grain supplies. In the Roman calendar, June 11 was sacred to Fortuna, with a greater festival to Fors Fortuna on the 24th .
Fortuna was propitiated by mothers. Traditionally her cult was introduced to Rome by Servius Tullius. Fortuna had a temple in the Forum Boarium, a public sanctuary on the Quirinalis, as the tutelary genius of Roma herself, Fortuna Populi Romani, the "Fortune of the Roman people", and an oracle in Praeneste where the future was chosen by a small boy choosing oak rods with possible futures written on them.
All over the Roman world, Fortuna was worshipped at a great number of shrines under various titles that were applied to her according to the various circumstances of life in which her influence was hoped to have a positive effect. Fortuna was not always positive: she was doubtful (Fortuna Dubia); she could be "fickle fortune" (Fortuna Brevis), or downright evil luck (Fortuna Mala).
Her name seems to derive from the Italic goddess Vortumna, "she who revolves the year".
Fortuna did not disappear from the popular imagination with the triumph of Christianity by any means (illustration, left). 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. Events, individual decisions, the influence of the stars were all merely vehicles of Divine Will. However, perhaps because scripture could not explain all of the questions of life, Fortune crept back in to popular acceptance. In succeeding generations Consolation was required reading for scholars and students.
The ubiquitous image of 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, such as at Amiens. Lady Fortune is usually represented as larger than life to underscore her importance. The wheel characteristically has four shelves, or stages of life, with four human figures, usually labeled on the left regnabo (I shall reign), on the top regno (I reign) and is usually crowned, descending on the right regnavi (I have reigned) and the lowly figure on the bottom is marked sum sine regno (I have no kingdom). 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. Occasionally her vivid clothing and bold demeanor suggest the prostitute. She was associated with the cornucopia, ship's rudder, the ball and the wheel.
Fortune would have many influences in cultural works throughout the Middle Ages. In Le Roman de la Rose, Fortune frustrates the hopes of a lover who has been helped by a personified character "Reason". In Dante's Inferno, in the seventh canto, Virgil explains the nature of Fortune. Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium ("The Fortunes of Famous Men"), used by John Lydgate to compose his Fall of Princes, tells of many where the turn of Fortune's wheel brought those most high to disaster. Fortune makes her appearance in Carmina Burana (see image). Lady Fortune appears 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 favours a strong, or even violent hand, and the she favours 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
Aspects of Fortuna
Carmina Burana (opening theme: O Fortuna)
Michael Best, "Medieval tragedy"
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