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Tyche was a goddess in Greek mythology who presided over the fortune and prosperity of cities, as well as their destinies. She was also the goddess of providence, chance and fate. Due to this, the ancient Greeks believed that she caused unexpected events, both good and evil.
Although Tyche was an important goddess of the Ancient Greek pantheon, she didn’t appear in any of her own myths. In fact, she hardly even appeared in the myths of other characters. Here’s a closer look at the goddess of fortune and the role she played in Greek mythology.
Who Was Tyche?
Tyche’s parentage differs according to various sources but she was most commonly known as one of the 3000 Oceanids, the sea nymphs, who were the daughters of the Titans Tethys and Oceanus.
Some sources mention that she was a daughter of Zeus and a woman of unknown identity, but this parentage is rarely mentioned. In some accounts Tyche’s parents were Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty.
Tyche’s name (also spelled as ‘tykhe’) is derived from the Greek word ‘taiki’ meaning luck which is fitting since she was the goddess of fortune. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Fortuna who was far more popular and important to the Romans than Tyche was to the Greeks. While the Romans believed that Fortuna brought only good fortune and blessings, the Greeks believed that Tyche brought both good and bad.
Depictions and Symbolism
The goddess of fortune was typically depicted with several symbols that are closely associated with her.
- Tyche is often pictured as a beautiful young maiden with wings, wearing a mural crown and holding on to a rudder. This image of her became famous as the deity who guided and conducted the world’s affairs.
- Sometimes, Tyche is portrayed standing on a ball which represented the unsteadiness of one’s fortune since both the ball and one’s fortune are capable of rolling about in any direction. The ball also symbolizes the wheel of fortune, suggesting that the goddess presided over the circle of fate.
- Certain sculptures of Tyche and certain works of art feature her with a blindfold covering her eyes, which represents fair distribution of fortune without any bias. She disseminated fortune among mankind and the blindfold was to ensure impartiality.
- Another symbol associated with Tyche is the cornucopia, a horn (or an ornamental container in the shape of a goat’s horn), overflowing with fruit, corn and flowers. With the cornucopia (also called the Horn of Plenty), she symbolized abundance, nourishment and gifts of fortune.
- Throughout the Hellenistic period, Tyche appeared on various coins, especially those that came from the Aegean cities.
- Later on, she became a popular subject in Greek and Roman art. In Rome, she was represented in a military outfit, while in Antioche she’s seen carrying sheaves of corn and stepping on the ship’s bow.
Tyche’s Role as the Goddess of Fortune
As the goddess of fortune, Tyche’s role in Greek mythology was to bring good and bad fortune to mortals.
If someone was successful without making any effort to work hard for it, the people believed that the person had been blessed by Tyche at birth to have such undeserved success.
If someone was struggling with bad luck even while working hard to succeed, Tyche was often held responsible.
Tyche and Nemesis
Tyche often worked with Nemesis, the goddess of retribution. Nemesis meted out the fortune that Tyche distributed to the mortals, balancing it out and ensuring that people didn’t receive undeserved good fortune or bad. Therefore, the two goddess often worked closely together and have also been depicted together in ancient Greek art.
Tyche and Persephone
Tyche was said to have been one of the many companions of Persephone, the Greek goddess of vegetation. According to various sources, Persephone was abducted by Zeus’ brother Hades, who ruled the Underworld, when she was out picking flowers.
However,Tyche had not been accompanying Persephone that day. All who were with Persephone were turned into the Sirens (half-bird half-woman creatures) by Persephone’s mother Demeter, who sent them to search for her.
Tyche as Mentioned in Aesop’s Fables
Tyche has been mentioned a number of times in Aesop’s Fables. One story speaks about a man who was slow to appreciate his good fortune but blamed Tyche for all bad fortune that came his way. In another tale, a traveler had fallen asleep near a well and Tyche woke him up because she didn’t want him to fall into the well and blame her for his misfortune.
In yet another tale ‘Fortune and the Farmer’, Tyche helps a farmer to uncover treasure in his field. However, the farmer praises Gaia for the treasure, instead of Tyche, and she admonishes him for it. She tells the farmer that he would be quick to blame her whenever he fell ill or if his treasure was stolen from him.
‘Tyche and the Two Roads’ is another famous Aesop Fable in which the supreme god Zeus asks Tyche to show man two different paths – one leading to freedom and the other to slavery. Although the road to freedom has many obstacles on it and is extremely difficult to travel on, it becomes easier and more pleasant. Although the road to slavery beings with less difficulty, it soon becomes a road that’s almost impossible to traverse on.
These stories indicate the extent to whichTyche permeated ancient culture. Although she’s not a major Greek goddess, her role as a goddess of fortune was important.
Worship and Cult of Tyche
Tyche’s cult was widespread throughout Greece and Rome and she was mostly worshipped as the guardian spirit of the good fortune of cities.
She was specially venerated as Tyche Protogeneia in Itanos, Crete and in Alexandria stands a Greek temple known as the Tychaeon, dedicated to the goddess. According to the Greco-Syrian teacher Libanius, this temple is one of the most magnificient temples in the Hellenistic world.
In Argos, another temple of Tyche stands and it was here that the Achaean hero Palamedes was said to have dedicated the very first set of dice that he invented, to the goddess of fortune.
Over many centuries, Tyche has remained a figure of intrigue and great interest. Not much is clear about her origin and who she was and although she remains one of the lesser known deities of the Greek pantheon, it’s said that she’s always invoked every time someone bids someone else ‘Good luck!’.