Tyche: Greek Goddess of Fortune and Good Luck
Going by titles such as “Goddess of Chance” and the “Blind Mistress of Fortune”, ancient Greek goddess Tyche was a very beloved god due to the immense benefits that could accrue to those that faithfully worshiped her. On the flip side, she was also in charge of dishing out bad luck to people that wronged her or the other Greek gods and goddesses. She thus had a number of both good and bad qualities.
Believed to be the daughter of the Titan Oceanus and the sea Titaness Tethys, the Greek goddess Tyche was commonly worshiped in places such as Thebes and Argos. She was depicted in classical Greek mythology as a winged goddess with symbols such as the wheel or the rudders of a ship.
Fast Facts about Tyche goddess
Goddess of: Fortune, destiny, good luck, wealth, prosperity, and in some cases bad luck as well
Association: Nemesis, Agathos Daimon
Worship Places: Itanos, Crete; Athens, Thebes, Argos, Alexandria
Symbols: Wheel, rudders, horn (cornucopia – the horn of plenty)
Other names: Tykhe, Eutychia, Eutiykhia
Epithets: “Patroness of Prosperity”, “The Blind Mistress of Fortune”
Roman equivalent: Fortuna
Birth Story and Family
According to accounts from Classical Greek mythology, the goddess Tyche was the offspring of Aphrodite and Hermes. Other accounts portray her as the daughter of the king of the Greek gods Zeus and Aphrodite.
A different account from the famous Greek poet describes Tyche as the daughter of the Titans Oceanus and Tethys. Both parents of Tyche were regarded as the parents of all river gods and the Oceanids. As Titans, they were members of the first generation of Titans birthed by the primordial earth goddess Gaea and the sky god Uranus.
Being the daughter of two deities that are connected to the sea, Tyche was seen as a member of the Oceanids, the famous three thousand daughters of Oceanus and Tethys.
It was believed that the goddess Tyche had the power to reward people with extreme amounts of wealth and riches beyond comprehension.
The ancient Greeks believed that whenever Tyche was seen with a horn, then she was ready to hand some pretty good blessings. On the contrary, it was a sign of bad luck or misfortune when she was seen balancing on a ball.
Ancient Greeks believed that the ball that she balanced on could move in either directions – the path of riches and wealth or the path of misery and bad luck. In the same vein, fear, uncertainty and dread griped her worshipers when the goddess was seen blindfolded. In such cases she was described as the “Blind Mistress of Fortune”.
She was the goddess that caused people’s fortune or fate to take an unpredictable turn.
Why was Tyche extremely important during the Hellenistic Period?
Ancient Greeks were quick to attribute an unexplained source of wealth to the benevolent nature of the goddess Tyche. They reasoned that Tyche was the only possible reason for someone having so much wealth without putting in the effort. This belief was also held by Polybius, the famous Greek historian of the Greco-Roman era.
Beginning around the Hellenistic era (323 BC – 31 BC), astrologers had a strong reverence for the goddess Tyche. Additionally every city during this period had some version of their own versions of Tyche. Historians reason that this belief perpetuated right up to the Christian era (around the later parts of the 4th century BC).
According to ancient historians, one of the most glorious places in all of the Hellenistic era was the Greek temple of Tyche (the Tychaeon) which was in the famous city of Alexandria.
Tyche’s importance in the Hellenistic period was pronounced due to all the wanton and indiscriminate violence that took place. It was absolutely crucial that the inhabitants of that era had someone like Tyche who could help them navigate through that chaos unscathed.
Her popularity in the Hellenistic era made her feature in extensively in plots of numerous romantic stories and poetries, including the likes of Daphnis and Chloe (written by Longus) and The Adventures Leucippe and Clitophon (written by the Greco-Roman writer Achilles Tatius).
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Considering the fact that ancient Greeks believed in Tyche was in charge of luck, it came as no surprise that her worship places was found all across ancient Greece. It was not uncommon for young men and women seeking future partners to beseech Tyche. Similarly, women that were in dire need to conceive also sought out her blessings. Before going into the battlefields, Greek generals would call on her to shine good luck on their paths.
Of all the places in ancient Greece, the city-state of Athens was perhaps the most famous of worship places for Tyche. The city’s inhabitants held the belief that the goddess of fortune and prosperity had a particular liking for them. Athenians attributed their successes and battle wins to the goddess Tyche.
Argos and Thebes were the other Greek cities that had considerable cult following and worship places of the goddess Tyche. Similarly, the goddess had a significant number of worship places and temples in Itanos, a vital port city on the east coast of Crete. In Itanos, she was famously associated with the eldest daughter of Erechtheus, the archaic king of Athens.
Depictions, Symbols and Epithets
Tyche was depicted by the ancient Greeks in a number of ways. The first and commonest depiction of Tyche showed her as a winged goddess with a mural crown atop her head. Often times she held a regal staff, a depiction of her power over the wheel of fortune. Her wings symbolically represent the notion that fortune is an ever moving phenomenon that could land on the doorstep of any of her worshipers.
Other important symbols of the goddess Tyche are the wheel and rudders. To ancient Greeks, the wheel as a symbol of Tyche was a way of showing that she remained firmly in control of the outcome of events.
Whenever she was perceived as a kind goddess, she was given the name Eutiykhia or Eutychia, the “Patroness of Prosperity”.
Significance of Tyche
Tyche was a very important to many ancient Greek city states. It was believed that she was in charge of the city’s prosperity and destiny. Without her kindness, cities could crumble or be humiliated in battles. This explains why she sometimes wore the mural crown, which represented the city walls or towers.
The goddess was the tutelary deity that could cast blessings in the way the of any city’s inhabitants. And whenever she was offended by the city, she was the one that could rain down misery upon the city. Thus she could send waves of floods to the city, wreaking havoc and suffering. Tyche could also send droughts and famine to cities that failed to properly honor her or other Greek gods.
Other interesting Greek Myths about Tyche
To the ancient Romans, the goddess Tyche was called Fortuna. Compared to the Greeks, the Romans had a much stronger reverence for Tyche. They preferred seeing the goddess as primarily a benevolent deity.
Due to her association with fortune, it comes as no surprise that she featured prominently on many coins during the Hellenistic period (323 B.C. to 31 B.C.).
On so many occasions, the Greek goddess Tyche was associated with Nemesis, the goddess of retribution or justice, and Agathos Daimon, the noble spirit of good luck, wisdom and health. Tyche has also been associated with Greek deities like Astraea (the virgin goddess of justice, precision and purity) and Demeter (the goddess of agriculture and the harvest).
Like many other ancient Greek deities, Tyche’s worship ended during the reign of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), the Roman emperor who made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire.
Some ancient Greeks and Romans associated Tyche to the constellation of Virgo.
The horn that she wore was known as cornucopia, the horn of plenty. The word “cornucopia” comes from the Latin cornu (horn) and copiae (great quantity). Tyche’s horn of plenty symbolized not just abundance but also nourishment and growth. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that the horn stored unimaginable riches.