- Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic & Republican Italy by D. Miano
In the post-war period, a group of French scholars of Roman religion dedicated themselves to the production of a line of monographic studies of individual Roman deities, which were often published by the École Française de Rome. The quality of these books varied, but they tended to offer the same basic formula: a history of the deity concerned (whether Apollo or Mercury or Ops) from Archaic origins through waves of Republican temple building and Hellenisation to an Early Imperial ‘settlement’. As Daniele Miano observes in the introduction of his own monograph on an individual deity (p. 12), this habit died out in the 1990s and 2000s. The problem with the French books on Roman deities, though, had been clear already for some time. As Mary Beard put it in 1983 in a JRS review of two examples, ‘our understanding of Roman religion will not advance far, so long as specialists concentrate on monographs of ill-documented, individual gods and goddesses . . . we ought to think in broader terms about its characteristics [End Page 215] as a system, not about its individual symbolic figures’ (p. 216). The central failing was essentialism: the authors tried to pin down the basic character or function of a deity, not infrequently on grounds of Latin etymology, and then explained the often slim evidence in light of that alleged essence.
But the field might be witnessing a reemergence of the single-deity monograph. Alongside the book under review on Fortuna, Harriet Flower published a monumental study of the Lares in 2017 (The Dancing Lares and the Serpent in the Garden, Princeton) and it is easy to imagine that we will see more of them in the coming years. Miano himself has published several article-length studies of other deities.3 This renaissance of the genre can be related to a general ‘theological turn’ in the study of Roman religion, as scholars have become increasingly aware of ancient discourses on the nature and identity of the recipients of cult as fully part of Roman religious life.4 In other words, the gods mattered to the Romans. In this light, it is certainly justified to return our attention to the deities themselves. Significantly, however, both Flower and Miano avoid the mistakes of their predecessors by avoiding essentialism, and focus instead on the variety of social and historical contexts in which the Lares or Fortuna were present and meaningful. This picks up a second trend in the study of Roman religious life: an interest, pursued recently particularly by the research group led by Jörg Rüpke at Erfurt, on the discrepant experiences of historical actors in relation to the divine.
At the outset of the book, Miano signals this focus: ‘the aim of this book is to study the ways in which individuals, groups, and communities interacted with Fortuna and ascribed different meanings to her during the Roman Republican period’ (p. 2). In the compact seven chapters that follow, he traces the evidence for Fortuna at Praeneste, elsewhere in Italy, and at Rome, while also taking into account change over time in the various geographic contexts. The later chapters treat the translation of Fortuna into Greek as Tychē, and Tychē as Fortuna, with particular attention to the southern Italian ‘contact zone’, and discussion of literary passages, from both dramatic [End Page 216] and philosophical texts in the second and first centuries, where the status of Fortuna as a deity is deprecated. The author concedes that this organisation ‘may look excessively fragmented’ (p. 14), but this is, of course the point: it is this fragmentation that he has set out to map.
In practice, the chapters are composed of discussions that concentrate on the individual pieces of evidence and their interpretation. To pick some personal favourites, Miano’s discussion of the fourth-or third-century inscribed lot that is kept in the museum at Fiesole and might allude to the story of Servius Tullius is an excellent exposition of...