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Classical Origins

"By the grumbling of men Fortune is made a goddess."

The word fortuna is from the Latin fors, or luck, derived from the root of the verb ferre (to bring), so that the meaning is that which is brought and Fortuna is the one who brings it. The figure depicted in Roman art is Fortuna Gubernans, the helmsman, or Fortuna Stabilis, with the appropriate attributes of rudder or wheel shown at rest. The Roman goddess brought bona fortuna , external goods such as wealth, health, power, progeny, and physical beauty, all things that are vulnerable to good and bad fortune.


This is Fortune as the Romans imagined her. The medals at the top of the image depict the goddess in various classical manifestations. But of course Fortuna is not easily controlled. Hence the position of the Stoics that the way to endure life's ups and downs is simply to accept them by realizing that although we cannot control our fortune, we can control our response to it.


One response, which fed directly into Christianity, was that of contemptu mundi (contempt of the world), based on the view that life in the world of time is only a temporary condition and that the eternal afterlife is what really matters. The most famous and influential exponent of this idea was Boethius who, in his Consolation of Philosophy , summarized the Christian belief that human life is ruled not by Fortune but by Providence.

Francois Antoine Pomey. Pantheum Mythicum. Utrecht, 1697.

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