ISIS FORTUNA - The Union of Two Goddesses

 

ISIS

Two diverse goddesses—one from the west, the other from the east— entirely at contrast, yet fused into one powerful deity: Isis-Fortuna. Worshippers called on her for succour to tame elusive luck. That there were many followers in present day Istria is evidenced by the finds of several monuments and artefacts dedicated to her, including this small bronze sculpture. By dint of luck and fate, in the true spirit of this goddess, the sculpture was discovered near Savudrija in 1929 as a chance find. Only nine centimetres in height, it is dated to the period from the first to third century. This depiction of the goddess Isis-Fortuna is rich in symbols of her monumentality.

Isis was a potent oriental deity in her ancient homeland in Egypt. Her modest beginnings gave little hint of the great power and eminence she would come to see, not only in Egypt but also across all of the Greco-Roman world. Her name is derived from I-set, the Egyptian word for throne, and in this context denotes the personification of the literal pharaonic seat of power. She was a deity of the second order in the Old and Middle Kingdom periods, and only saw her ascent in the New Kingdom period to the status of a universal and omnipotent goddess.

 

The myth

Four children were born from the union of Geb, god of the earth, and Nut, goddess of the sky—Osiris and Seth, and their sisters and consorts Isis and Nephthys. According to the myth the love between Isis and Osiris begins in the womb of their mother, and their inviolable love led to a number of events. Osiris inherited his father’s throne and ruled wisely with Isis, bringing prosperity to Egypt.

To supplant him and assume the throne Seth kills Osiris, placing him in a chest and taking the body to the Nile delta. Isis searches for Osiris across the land and finally finds him in Byblos and returns him to Egypt. She hid the chest containing Osiris in the delta, but it was discovered by Seth who this time cut Osiris into fourteen pieces, scattering them across all of Egypt.

Isis once again sets out in search of her beloved Osiris and succeeds in joining all of his parts and then, using her potent magical powers, revives him. They then conceived their son Horus, the true heir to the throne of Osiris. In order to preserve the body of her husband, Isis wrapped him in linen and performed the ritual ceremony, applying her skills as a magician. His wonderfully preserved body ensured Osiris life after death.

 

After secretively giving birth to Horus Isis turned her powers and potency to protecting him from Seth, who wished to kill him. As a nurturing mother she cared for him through to maturity when he could finally avenge his father’s murder, assume the throne of Egypt and once again bring order and peace to the land.

 

 

Isis has numerous attributes and powers; she embodies all aspects of life and, as such, appears under various names and in various roles. She brings order and governance to the world, with one of her fundamental roles being that of lawmaker. As the celestial goddess she has a cosmic role—separating earth from sky, determining the course of the sun and moon in the sky, for which reason she is also revered as the master of navigation routes.

Egypt is considered one of the great ancient civilisations, and it was Isis who is held to have revealed to the Egyptian people the art of writing, the profane and holy, religion and the foundation of cities. As a fertility deity she introduces people to agriculture and is equated with the Egyptian goddess Sothis (Sopdet) who causes the annual flooding of the Nile, which is closely associated with the fertility both of the land and its people.

She was revered by physicians, who invoked her name in their prayers, for her magical powers in finding and mummifying the body of Osiris. With Osiris assuming the role of ruler of the underworld following his mummification, Isis, as his consort, became queen of the dead.

She is often identified with other goddesses and, in the Hellenistic and Roman world, is equated with Demeter. In Greece she is also fused with the identities of Hera, Aphrodite, Hestia and Re. The Thracians referred to her as the Mother of the Gods, the Lycians called her Leto, and the Syrians knew her as Astarte Artemis Nanaia. Because she was depicted in Egypt in the form of a cow it is difficult or almost impossible to distinguish her from Hathor, and she has been at times depicted as the celestial cow from which all gods issued (the Mother of the Gods).

Isis owes her great popularity to the fact that she is most often depicted anthropomorphically. The Greeks and Romans, namely, were not inclined to the Egyptian zoomorphic deities, which did not find a foothold outside of Egypt. Isis, on the other hand, found such excellent purchase abroad and such a multitude of appellations that she also acquired the epithet polynymos or myrionymos, meaning the many- or myriad-named one.

 

 

FORTUNA

Fortuna comes from the west as the Roman goddess of luck, and is both capricious and arbitrary. The Romans revered a number of deities with which they endeavoured to encapsulate the nature of luck—Fatum was harsh and immutable destiny, while Fors was unforeseeable chance, and was often worshipped jointly with Fortuna as Fors Fortuna. Both Fors and Fortuna find their roots in the Latin word ferre, meaning to bear, bring or endure/suffer (destiny).

The cult is introduced to Rome by Servius Tullius, the last of the Etruscan kings to rule Rome. Legend has it that Servius Tullius and Fortuna were lovers. To meet with him in secret Fortuna would flee through a window and he, to symbolise his love and gratitude, erected a temple in her honour on the banks of the Tiber.

Fortuna too had many names, including Caelestis, Grata and Regina. She was also known as Fortuna Brevis, denoting fleeting luck, or Primigenia, meaning first born or original, that which comes before all others. Certainly the most significant in the eyes of the Romans was Fortuna Bona, the bringer of good luck, often equated with Bonus Eventus. He was revered at the time when Rome was still a primarily agrarian state and is, as such, associated with agriculture and it was only in later Roman phases that his activity is broadened to encompass circumstances in general and to become the divinity associated with a “Good Outcome”. In her beginnings Fortuna Bona was also an agrarian goddess, responsible for the fertility of the land and good harvests. The origins of this goddess, however, are unknown.

Although her origins are uncertain, it does appear that Fortuna walked a long path from the primordial deity of earthly fertility to goddess of luck and fate, along the way absorbing imported cults, including that of the Egyptian Isis.

 

Syncretism

Syncretism is a concept derived from the Greek notion of συγκρητισμός (synkretismos), meaning amalgamation or union, and is formed from the words σύν (sin): together and Κρής σσσσ(Kres): Cretan or from its plural form Κρῆτες (Kretes): Cretans. Plutarch first expressed the idea in the first century in describing the coalition of all Cretans, joining forces in spite of internal squabbles and divisions in the face of a shared external enemy. The word is now used in philosophy, linguistics and, above all, in the history of religion to denote the fusion and union of diverse cults and religious concepts.

Syncretic religions are most frequent in Hellenism, between the fourth and second centuries BCE, when oriental deities are introduced into the body of Greek and Roman religion. As the Roman Empire grew, new syncretic deities emerged from the fusion of indigenous and Roman gods. In Istria, besides Isis-Fortuna, we have the well-attested cult of Jupiter Ammon, the depiction of which clearly shows both Roman and oriental iconographic attributes.

The syncretic form of Isis merged with Roman Fortuna was exceedingly popular and widespread. Isis-Fortuna is an excellent example of religious syncretism, with the melding not only of iconographic characteristics but also of the powers attributed to the two deities. The question that stands out, however, is the motivation to fuse two or more deities into one entity.

Given that Fortuna is both pure elusive luck and destiny, this merger of deities helps tame her nature, introducing order into chaos. For the worshippers this was the motivation for the syncretism of these deities—to enhance their attributed powers by the merger of their various characteristics. Thus they invoked not only blind luck, but appealed also to the wisdom of Isis, who assured followers a surer destiny.

This is why the goddess holds the gubernaculum (rudder) in her right hand, with which she guides luck and fate. The rudder also denotes her role as protector goddess of navigation and mariners, a role held both by Isis and Fortuna. The prosperity and wealth brought by Fortuna is symbolised in her imagery by the cornucopia, the horn of plenty she holds in her left hand.

The goddess wears the chiton, a sleeveless and open-sided shirt with folds reaching to the ground. Over the left shoulder she wears the himation, a mantle tied under the breast in the typical tyet or Knot of Isis, representing a plexus of mystic energies. The beautiful and sophisticated face is framed with hair set in the style of Isis, parted at the middle and gathered in a chignon above the nape.

She wears a complex crown depicting her numerous attributes and imparting a magnificent appearance. The Isis crown consists of the lotus flower, the solar disc divided into four fields, and the horns of a cow, which are at times interpreted as the crescent moon. At the back we see the modius, a recipient and measure of grain that, like the horn of plenty, symbolises Fortuna—the bearer of good gifts and abundance.

This depiction of Isis-Fortuna had a number of variants that differ only by the workshop in which they were crafted, the moulds used and the quality of workmanship. The symbols of Isis and Fortuna were fused into a single iconography, creating a syncretic goddess that achieved great popularity and was widespread throughout the Empire.

 

 FERRUCCIO BLASOVICH - Story about finding sculpture of Isis Fortuna

It appears that Isis-Fortuna has once again taken a hand in the matter and, after 89 years, once again revealed herself. By somewhat mysterious but happy circumstances Mr Ferruccio Blasovich was on hand for a presentation staged in Trieste by the Archaeological Museum of Istria.

Watching the photographs at the presentation he recognised the house in Zambratija in which he was born and from which he moved to Trieste in 1957, which turned the pages back into his own history. The story of his turbulent life, with its military service across the former Yugoslavia and his work as a postman in his native Zambratija and Savudrija, also saw the discovery of the sculpture of Isis-Fortuna.

Eighty-one years are reflected in his gracious countenance, with his tearyeyes speaking volumes of the love he felt for his native land and his father Antonio, who found the sculpture of the goddess. It was back in 1929 when Antonio Blasovich and his neighbours, while digging near his house, came across this fascinating bronze artefact—Isis-Fortuna. Since then, destiny of the small sculpture is well known; it was brought to the Archaeological Museum of Istria where it is still kept.

 

 Catalogue

1. Inv. no. A – 4620 Bronze statuette of Isis-Fortuna wearing the chiton; with the cornucopia in her left hand and a ship’s rudder in her right hand. She wears the headdress of Isis consisting of the crescent moon, a tall lotus flower and the solar disc divided into four fields, with the modius visible on the back. The lower section of the statuette is hollow.

Material(s)/technique: bronze, cast

Dimensions: height 9 cm, width 3.8 cm, length 3 cm; weight 109.79 g

Site: Savudrija, 1929; chance find

Location (collection): Temple of Augustus, Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula Date: 1st – 3rd century

 

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Notiziario archeologico, AMSI 41, 397-405

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Fortuna, u: Ausführliches Lexicon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie, W. H. Roscher, Leipzig, 1503-1557

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www.enciklopedija.hr/natuknica.aspx 27.11.2017. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tyche 27.11.2017.

 

 

  Isis Fortuna: The Union of Two Goddesses

 Exhibition

Carrarina ul. 4, Pula

 Window to the Past 27.3. – 28.5.2018.

 Exhibition and text author by: Aneta Vežnaver

 Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

 Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Studio NA BROJU 8 d.o.o.

 Photographers: Tanja Draškić Savić, Alfio Klarić

 Videographer: Studio NA BROJU 8 d.o.o. ; Alice Lorenzon

Technical set up of the exhibition: Monika Petrović

 Italian translation: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

English translation: Neven Ferenčić

Counsellor for greek language: dr. sc. Milena Joksimović

 Proofs: Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

 Print: MPS Pula

 Print run: 700

Pula, 2018.

 

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.