Ah Lady luck… when she shines down upon you life is so easy, joyous in fact, but once she takes her gaze away the storm clouds roll in and the path before you becomes treacherous and rocky..
The Greek goddess of luck, fortune and chance is Tyche (later the Roman Fortuna). As we all know, luck comes in good, bad and every shade between. It is random and fickle, so while Tyche herself is often seen as a positive image, luck’s multi-faceted nature is demonstrated by a number of symbols associated with her to represent this. Sometimes Tyche is seen blindfolded (blind luck) and standing on a giant ball, an unsteady object that can roll in any direction just like our luck can change at a moments notice. Sometimes it is a wheel upon which she stands, but it serves the same idea. Luck is a never-ending cycle, and a fickle master; while you may be at the top at any given moment, you can easily turn back towards the bottom. Rudders were another popular object associated with Tyche. Like the rudder of a ship Tyche could steer ones life by the amount of fortune she bestowed, and for that she was often closely associated with the Fates.
Tyche was often depicted holding the cornucopia (or horn of Amalthea), the horn from which a never-ending bounty flows. This demonstrates Tyche’s ability to bestow fortune upon others in an unlimited capacity. Because of this she is often paired with another Goddess, Nemesis, whose name meant dispenser of dues. Nemesis’ role was to address the balance that Tyche’s favor could sometimes upset. If Tyche was too extravagant with her favors towards a person, especially if they were undeserving, then Nemesis’ role would be to correct this by causing the persons downfall.
Life is not all luck though, and as this Fable from Aesop reminds us, sometimes our ‘luck’ is from our own making:
“A workman had thoughtlessly fallen asleep one night next to a well. While he slept, he seemed to hear the voice of Tykhe (Tyche), the goddess of fortune, as she stood there beside him. ‘Hey you,’ the goddess said, ‘you’d better wake up! I am afraid that if you fall into the well, I will be the one that people blame, giving me a bad reputation. In general, people blame me for everything that happens to them, including the unfortunate events and tumbles for which a person really has only himself to blame’”. – Aesop, Fables.
[Image: Tyche and Nemesis from The Vase of the Heimarmene Painter, Antikensammlung Museum]