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Fortuna est rotunda

Original post date: Monday, February 12, 2007

In English: Fortune is round.

Carrying on with the theme of proverbs about Fortune, today we learn that Fortuna is round - in Latin, rotunda. This does not mean that Fortune is "rotund" in the English sense of being fat! Instead, it helps to think about the etymology of the Latin word for "round," because the word rotundus is related to the word for that very round thing, a "wheel," rota.

So, when you translate this into English, it might be more accurate to say "Fortune goes around," in the sense of being round in the way that a wheel is round, going up and down. It is the going up and down of Fortune that is the dominant idea here, which is expressed visually in the icon of the "Wheel of Fortune." As the wheel goes up, your fortunes rise... but what goes up, must come down, and so as Fortune's wheel rises for some, it is at the same time going down for others, plunging them into the depths of misfortune.

While looking up the wikipedia article on the history of the "Wheel of Fortune," I found this lovely piece of a poem from the medieval Carmina Burana (notice the wonderful medieval rhyme scheme):
Fortunae rota volvitur;
descendo minoratus;
alter in altum tollitur;
nimis exaltatus
rex sedet in vertice
caveat ruinam!
nam sub axe legimus
Hecubam reginam.

The wheel of Fortune turns; I go down, diminished; another is raised on high; raised up far too high, the king sits at the top: let him beware of ruin! for at the bottom axis of the wheel we read "Queen Hecuba"
Queen Hecuba of Troy is that great emblem of the reversal of fortune, watching the utter destruction of her royal family and the devastation of her city at the end of the Trojan War.

So, hoping that the wheel of your Fortune is not spinning too terribly fast, here is today's proverb read out loud:

3. Fortuna est rotunda.

The number here is the number for this proverb in Latin Via Proverbs: 4000 Proverbs, Mottoes and Sayings for Students of Latin.

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