From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In Roman mythology, Fortuna (equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche) goddess of fortune, 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. She is also a goddess of fate. Her father was Jupiter, and she had no lovers or children.
Fortuna did not disappear from the popular imagination with the ascendancy of Christianity by any means. Saint Augustine took a stand against her continuing presence, in the City of God: "How, therefore, is she good, who without discernment comes to both the good and to the bad? ...It profits one nothing to worship her if she is truly fortune... let the bad worship her...this supposed deity". 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. Fortune crept back in to popular acceptance, with a new iconographic trait, "two-faced Fortune", Fortuna bifrons; such depictions continue into the 15th century.
The ubiquitous 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, 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. 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. 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 (vii.67-96) Virgil explains the nature of Fortune, both a devil and a ministring angel, subservient bto God. 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, and Boccaccio essay De remedii dell'una e dell'altra Fortuna, depends upon Boethius for the double nature of Fortuna. Fortune makes her appearance in Carmina Burana (see image). The Christianized Lady Fortune is not autonomous: illustrations for Boccaccio's Remedii show Fortuna enthroned in a triumphal car with reins that lead to heaven, and 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 that 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
- The Wheel of Fortune
- Fortune favours the bold
- Carmina Burana (Orff) (opening theme: O Fortuna)
- Goth's Column