In Roman mythology, Fortuna (equivalent to the Greek goddess Tyche) goddess of fortune, was the personification of luck; hopefully she brought 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. Atrox Fortuna claimed the lives of Augustus' two hopeful grandsons, educated to take up princely roles, for she was also a goddess of fate. Her father was Jupiter, and though she had no lovers or children of her own, Fortuna was propitiated by mothers.
Fortuna had a retinue that included Copia, "bounty", 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.
Roman writers disagreed whether her cult was introduced to Rome by Servius Tullius. or Ancus Marcius. Fortuna had a temple in the Forum Boarium and a public sanctuary on the Quirinalis, as the tutelary genius of Roma herself, Fortuna Populi Romani, the "Fortune of the Roman people", for Fortuna, the embodiment of the chaotic chance event as modern historians would see it, was closely tied by the Romans to virtus, strength of character; flaws in the main public actors brought on the calamities of ill fortune, as Roman historians like Sallust saw her role: "Truly, when in the place of work, idleness, in place of the spirit of measure and equity, caprice and pride invade, fortune is changed just as with morality".
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 Vortumna, "she who revolves the year", however the earliest reference to the Wheel of Fortune, emblematic of the endless changes in life between prosperity and disaster, occurs in Cicero, In Pisonem, ca. 55 BCE.
In Seneca's tragedy Agamemnon, a chorus addresses Fortuna in terms that would remain almost proverbial, and in a high heroic ranting mode that Renaissance writers would emulate:
"O Fortune, who dost bestow the throne’s high boon with mocking hand, in dangerous and doubtful state thou settest the too exalted. Never have sceptres obtained calm peace or certain tenure; care on care weighs them down, and ever do fresh storms vex their souls. ...great kingdoms sink of their own weight, and Fortune gives way ‘neath the burden of herself. Sails swollen with favouring breezes fear blasts too strongly theirs; the tower which rears its head to the very clouds is beaten by rainy Auster.... Whatever Fortune has raised on high, she lifts but to bring low. Modest estate has longer life; then happy he whoe’er, content with the common lot, with safe breeze hugs the shore, and, fearing to trust his skiff to the wider sea, with unambitious oar keeps close to land.
Fortuna did not disappear from the popular imagination with the ascendancy 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. Fortune crept back in to popular acceptance. In succeeding generations Boethius' Consolation was required reading for scholars and students.
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. Occasionally her vivid clothing and bold demeanor suggest the prostitute. 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, 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 that she favours the more aggressive and bold young man than a timid elder. Even Shakespeare was no stranger to Lady Fortune:
In Astrology the term ‘Pars Fortuna’ represents a mathematical point in the zodiac derived by the longitudinal positions of the Sun, Moon and Ascendant (Rising sign) in the birth chart of an individual. It represents an especially beneficial point in the horoscopic chart. In Arabic Astrology, this point is called Arabian Parts. The procedure followed for fixing one’s Pars Fortuna in ancient and traditional astrology depended on the time of birth, viz., during daylight or night time (whether the Sun was above or below the horizon). In modern western astrology the day time formula only was used for many years, but with more knowledge of ancient astrology,the two calculation method is now often in use.
The formula for calculating the day time Part of Fortune (PF) is (using the 360 degree positions for each point):
The formula for the night time Part of Fortune is:
PF = Ascendant + Sun - Moon
Al Biruni (973 – 1048), an 11th-century mathematician, astronomer and scholar, who was the greatest proponent of this system of prediction, listed a total of 97 Arabic Parts, which were widely used for astrological consultations. Paul Vachier has prepared an Arabic Parts Calculator for all the Arabic Parts.
Ignatius J Reilly, the protagonist in the famous John Kennedy Toole novel A Confederacy of Dunces, identifies Fortuna as the agent of change in his life. A verbose, preposterous medievalist, Ignatius is of the mindset that he does not belong in the world and that his numerous failings are the work of some higher power. He continually refers to Fortuna as having spun him downwards on her wheel of luck, as in “Oh, Fortuna, you degenerate wanton!”