June 24 is the feast of Fors Fortuna, the goddess of good luck, divine blessings and fate. Celebration of this festival had the character of a spirited pilgrimage. Devotees came by foot and by boat. It was a day of playfulness, joy and drinking on the Tiber in Rome.
Time slips by and we age silently with the years, /There’s no bridle to curb the flying days. / How swiftly the festival of Fors Fortuna’s arrived! (Tempora labuntur, tacitisque senescimus annis, / et fugiunt freno non remorante dies. / quam cito venerunt Fortunae Fortis honores! / post septem luces Iunius actus erit.)Ovid – Fasti
Ovid’s poem Fasti contains a description of the calendar of Roman religious festivals and dramatic narrative depictions of Roman mythology. In this work, Ovid presents himself as a bard writing by divine inspiration, “there is a divine power within me, and when it stirs I’m afire with inspiration,” (est deus in nobis, agitante calescimus illo). He dedicated one book to each month of the year. Despite his claims to have completed the entire calendar year, the extant poem consists of books for the first sixth months of the year (January to June), and no quotation of the presumed remainder of the other six book-months is found in the work of other authors.
The Romans dedicated several temples to Fors Fortuna, all of them on the banks of the Tiber. Servius Tullius, king of Rome from 575–535 BC, is said to have founded one of these temples. A second temple was founded by a certain Cervalius in 293 BC from the spoils of war. Both of these were built on via Portuensis, the road that ran from the city to the coast. According to legend, the founders were of humble background and had ancestors born as slaves.
Quirites, come celebrate the goddess Fors, with joy: /She has her royal show on Tiber’s banks. /Hurry on foot, and others in swift boats: /It’s no shame to return home tipsy. /Garlanded barges, carry your bands of youths, / Let them drink deep of the wine, mid-stream. (ite, deam laeti Fortem celebrate, Quirites: / in Tiberis ripa munera regis habet. / pars pede, pars etiam celeri decurrite cumba, / nec pudeat potos inde redire domum. / ferte coronatae iuvenum convivia, lintres, / multaque per medias vina bibantur aquas.)Ovid – Fasti
The most famous of these temples was in Trastevere, where it was built in gardens that Julius Caesar bequeathed to the Roman people for public use. At one time, the gardens hosted Cleopatra during her sojourn in Rome. Cicero complains about her presence there. The poet Ovid, whose verse from the Fasti is featured here, did not known this temple, since he had been in exile from Rome for a number of years by the time this temple was dedicated in 17 AD.
The people worship her, because they say the founder / Of her shrine was one of them, and rose from humble rank, / To the throne, and her worship suits slaves, because Servius / Was slave-born, who built the nearby shrines of the fatal goddess. (plebs colit hanc, quia qui posuit de plebe fuisse / fertur, et ex humili sceptra tulisse loco. / convenit et servis, serva quia Tullius ortus / constituit dubiae templa propinqua deae.)
Ovid – Fasti
Today Renaissance Villa Farnesina occupies this site. This villa was developed by the banker Agostino Chigi, who commissioned Raphael other artists to embellish the building.
Ovid began to compose Fasti in Rome presumably in hopes of in gaining the favor of Augustus (an avid reformer of Roman religious life) and other members of imperial family. He continued to write and to revise the poem after his banishment from Rome in 8 A.D to gain recall to Rome. Famously, Ovid attributed his exile to “a poem and mistake.” Whatever the official distaste for his early erotic poetry, his friendship with subversive members of the imperial family caused his final disgrace. From exile, Ovid dedicated Fasti to Germanicus, the ill-fated heir of the emperor Tiberius, and one of the most influential members of the imperial dynasty throughout his brief life. The appeal failed, and Ovid died in exile after 10 years of pining for return.