The Wheel Of Fortune (Ruota della Fortuna) and Four Classical Authors in Siena

The Late Medieval Duomo of Siena (Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta) is a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles–it has an impressive façade and is full (inside and out) of impressive artwork including sculptures by Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini.


One of the floor mosaics that caught my attention as a classicist is the Ruota della Fortuna (“The Wheel of Fortune”) which communicates the mutability of fortune and is aimed at encouraging its viewers to turn to faith and work rather than relying on chance.

Wheel of Destiny

What is striking is that in the four corners of the mosaic are classical authors with short Latin quotations on the nature of fortune. The lines themselves are less interesting to me than the four authors who make the cut–none Christian, two Greek: Euripides, Seneca, Aristotle and Epictetus. Starting in the lower right-hand corner (if facing the altar), we find Euripides with a quote from the Elektra in Latin: Tibi dixi O Filii ut fortunam laboribus indages (“I have told you, son, to hunt fortune through labors”).

Euripides Duomo

Across from Euripides on the left, our old friend Seneca, Magna servitus est magna fortuna (“Great fortune is a great slavery”):

Seneca Duoma

On the top right, Aristotle is positioned above Euripides with a quote from the Politics (also in Latin) Fortuna prospera petulantes magis facit (“Good luck makes men more petulant”):

Aristotle Duomo

And facing Aristotle on the left is Epictetus whose quote is Non fortunae muneribus, sed animi bonis gloriandum (“We must glory not in the gifts of fortune but in the goods of the soul”):

Epictetus Duomo

The images and quotations themselves are interesting, but I am also intrigued by how these authors and their lines were selected to adorn this cathedral. Was there a collection of quotations about fortune? Were the artists educated in these classical authors? What would have Medieval viewers thought?

3 thoughts on “The Wheel Of Fortune (Ruota della Fortuna) and Four Classical Authors in Siena

  1. I’ve visited the Duomo in Siena several times and never noticed these mosaics so thank you for sharing your pics and the explanation – fascinating!

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