Tyche (Fortune)


1 Introduction

Tyche (gr. Τύχη Týkhē) or Fortune (lat. Fortūna) stands in an unusual position among the gods. She ranked as one of the most widely worshipped deities for many centuries, central to civic cults, and had an established iconography known to everyone – yet she was all but absent from the poetry of the archaic and classical periods (8th–4th cents. BCE), and there were virtually no myths attached to her. In consequence, modern commentators have often seen in her a kind of break with the “traditional gods”, as a deity that smacked less of unbelievable myths, and was more relevant to the vicissitudes of the post-classical (so-called Hellenistic) period.

This does not hold water. For one thing, the classical period did not see fewer vicissitudes than later times; nor did people of the Hellenistic period away from the gods of earlier times. It is true that the attitude to mythology had become more complex and sceptical, but this did not entail a rejection of the mythical. Tyche was represented in anthropomorphic manner, just as the so-called “traditional gods”, and she appeared as such in some Aesopic fables. Her hymns too reflect a no more and no less anthropomorphic image of the goddess. In short, Tyche is different among the gods, not from the gods.

The absence of an easy developmental explanation makes the rise of Tyche to cultic importance all the more interesting. There was also a fascinating debate about whether fortune could be considered divine, and reflections on the history of her worship, in the works of ancient polytheists. So, let us turn to these.

[Plutarch, Simplicius, DL 10.133]