The Goddess Fortune
Fortuna, Goddess of Luck, Chance and Fortune. Although not as well known as some of the more popular Gods and Goddesses of mythology, she was, nevertheless, very powerful in her own right. Visual images of Fortuna differ greatly, depending on the source.
In Roman mythology, the Goddess Fortuna was the daughter of Jupiter. She was the goddess of fate, chance, or luck. Her symbol was usually the wheel, indicating that simply turning the wheel could change a person's luck or fortune. The ancient Romans believed in her power to change their lives in this way.
During the Middle Ages, she was known as Dame Fortuna who would spin her wheel to decide who would have good luck and who would suffer misfortune. A deeper study connects Fortuna to the gods and goddesses of fertility and prosperity in Babylon.
One source describes Fortuna as a being of ‘awe-inspiring appearance with keen eyes.' She appeared to be ancient, almost ageless, yet vigorous. Sometimes she was seen in human size while other times she was so high that ‘she was lost to human sight.' She was said to wear a fair garment, dusty with neglect, and tattered by the hands of thieves who took any piece they could carry off - probably as good luck charms.
Fortuna was also the ancestor of Lady Luck. Those who worshipped her always asked for good luck and a full, rich life. Her worshippers believed she had the power to control the destiny of the world. One of the most popular goddesses, she was sometimes called ‘Primigenia' - or firstborn (of Jupiter).
A golden statuette of Fortuna was always kept in the sleeping quarters of Roman Emperors. She was a favourite with artists and statues of her were seen everywhere. Her image is seen in paintings and mosaics; engraved on gems; and stamped on coins.
The cult of Fortuna is thought to have been introduced by Servius Tullius (578-535 BC), the sixth king of Rome. Her worship started early and was widespread. People prayed to her for good luck for many different things - from sage return of a vessel to success in finding a husband. Whenever people were about to undertake a risky or uncertain venture, they prayed to Fortuna for success.
Some legends say she favoured the political career of Tullius, who was rumoured to be either her son or her lover. He built and dedicated a temple to her, located between the Forum Boarium and the Forum Romanum. It burned in 312 BC but was restored the following year.
Fortuna's temple (at Palestrina) is described as one of the most imposing temples of antiquity. Decorated with fountains and monuments, it was spread out over huge hillside terraces. A series of ramps and staircases led to the cult center at the top where her shrine was located. It was one of only two temples where priestesses had full reign in Roman times. Her temple across the Tiber from the city was one of the few that slaves could enter.
One of her temples was called Felicitas, which means ‘good fortune' or ‘good luck', while another stood on the Mars field at Rome. Her sanctuary, the Fortuna Populi Romani, stood on the Quirnal, one of the Seven Hills of Rome. Fortuna also had oracular shrines at Antrium (now Angio) and Praeneste (now Palestrina). Oracles are ancient places where gods and goddesses answered questions and foretold the future.
The Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) founded a special temple in her honour as the all-pervading power of the world. An annual offering was made to her there on New Year's Day.
June 24th (midsummer's day) was her sacred festival day. It was a lively affair, especially marked by florists and other tradespeople who brought their vegetables and flowers to market. However, it was also widely celebrated by other people, some of whom arrived in flower- decorated boats. Solemn prayers were offered in her honour. There was feasting and drinking as well as performing rituals so that she might favour the petitioners.
Fires were lit on the night before the festival. Fortuna was thought to be able to go into the Land of the Dead, together with Pamona, and bring recently departed relatives back from the spirit world to join with their living families for the Festival of Fortuna.
Very little is known about Copia, the handmaiden of the goddess Fortuna. She was the Roman goddess of wealth and plenty, a title which probably stems from her association with the cornucopia. Whether she was named for the cornucopia, or the cornucopia was named for her is not known.
In a fight with Hercules, the river god Achelous assumed the form of a bull. Hercules broke off one of the horns of Achelous. The water nymphs then filled the horn with fruit and flowers and gave it to Copia. Also known as the ‘horn of plenty', it was always filled with food and drink. Apart from her role as the keeper of the cornucopia, the goddess Copia remains somewhat of a mystery figure.