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Fortune, Occasion, Nemesis

"If a man look sharpley and attentively, he shall see Fortune"

Crispijn van de Passe. "Fortuna," from Stirpium, insignium nobilitatis. Basel, 1602?

Despite the insistence of Christianity and, no doubt, widespread belief in the idea of an unknowable Providence, the everyday experience of Fortune's power was unchanged.Perhaps as a direct consequence, Fortune gradually took on the attributes of two other goddesses, Occasion and Nemesis. Even here she seems to dominate.


Aside from this irony, however, the real significance of this change in the iconography of Fortune is hat it implies that men can control her by being ready to take advantage of opportunity, and by not reaching too high. This conflation quite explicitly reflects the attempt of Christian Humanism to resolve the battle between freedom and necessity by showing how the individual who is in control of himself can control his fortune.


This conflation of Nemesis and Occasion with Fortune shows Fortune on a sphere, naked except for a veil, tossing away material goods, but also with the bridle associated with Nemesis and the forelock of Occasion. By the height of the Renaissance in England and northern Europe, Fortune had become a symbolic figure rather than a powerful goddess influencing men's lives.

George Wither. A collection of emblemes, ancient and moderne. London, 1635 (Detail)

Additional Information

By the seventeenth century, Fortune had become more an emblematic encapsulation of certain ideas about fate and chance than a goddess having influence on the world.


In his emblem book, George Wither offers a summary of conventions already long associated with the figure and provides an explicit moral reading that emphasizes Puritan values.


The linking of Fortune with the moon goes back to classical times: Fortune is like the moon in being always and quickly moving, and she is the goddess who reigns in the sublunar realm, the world of change.

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