Tuesday, May 17, 2016


O Fortuna

Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Greeks 1.4.51 (tr. G.W. Butterworth):
The Romans, although they ascribe their greatest successes to Fortuna, and believe her to be the greatest deity, carry her statue to the privy and erect it there, thus assigning to her a fit temple.

Ῥωμαῖοι δὲ τὰ μέγιστα κατορθώματα τῇ Τύχῃ ἀνατιθέντες καὶ ταύτην μεγίστην οἰόμενοι θεόν, φέροντες εἰς τὸν κοπρῶνα ἀνέθηκαν αὐτήν, ἄξιον νεὼν τὸν ἀφεδρῶνα νείμαντες τῇ θεῷ.
A more literal translation:
The Romans, ascribing their greatest successes to Fortuna and believing her to be the greatest deity, carried (her statue) to the shithole and set it up there, assigning to the goddess a worthy temple—the privy.
ἀφεδρών literally = "seat apart." Cf. ἕδρα = sitting-place, but also abode of a god, sanctuary, temple.

Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, The Archaeology of Sanitation in Roman Italy: Toilets, Sewers, and Water Systems (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015), pp. 113-114 (footnotes omitted):
A difficult bowel movement was directly perceived as a source of danger (malum) to one's general state of health, a fact well established by Celsus in the first century A.D. It was clearly a more effective health measure for the goddess Fortuna to stand by and help out in this most natural of activities than it was to have some untrustworthy doctor attending to an eventual illness. Put more simply, good health and freedom from the evil that brings on illness relate directly to achievement of a successful bowel movement.

Fortuna seems to be a fairly well-established presence in the milieu of toilets. Representations of her (without her suppliant cacator) are found in the bath toilet of the Praedia of Julia Felix at Pompeii (II.4.3; fig. 81), in the public toilet of the Suburban Baths at Pompeii, in at least two private toilets in Pompeii (in the House of the Greek Epigrams, V.1.18, and in a very humble house toilet in V.4.9), and in a one-seat toilet in the so-called House of Domitia Lucilia in Rome.

In the toilet of the Suburban Baths, the nail holes in the plaster are visible on each side of the painted garland. Very likely, real flowers were at least occasionally hung there there both to honor the goddess and perhaps also to diminish the powerful smells from the toilet drains. Fortuna is not only in the central position of the toilet decoration (as she is in others), but in the toilet of the Suburban Baths she looks directly at the toilet users, as they must have looked at her, and it appears she was actually worshipped in these settings. An altar is present, if only painted; there are garlands (painted but there is evidence of fresh garlands, with the nail holes); and a sacrificial fire is represented in the paintings as well. Perhaps toilet users could ask Fortuna for divine favors—the favor of good health, the favor of a satisfactory bowel movement, the favor of finding no blood in one's stool, the favor of escaping the toilet unharmed.

As we saw in the archaeological evidence presented in chapter 1, Fortuna was also known in Ostia in connection with the latrine in the Barracks of the Firemen, where there is a shrine to her just opposite the toilet seats (fig. 51). The tympanon (triangular space above an architrave) of the small aedicula on the wall bears the inscription Fortunae sanct(um), "[This aedicula is] sacred to Fortuna." In the middle of the room was a fairly large freestanding altar dedicated to Fortuna with the inscription C(aius) Valerius / Myron b(ene) f(iciarius) pr(aefecti) / coh(ortis) IIII vig(ilum) / Fortunae / sanctae / v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) a(nimo), "Gaius Valerius Myron, beneficiary of the prefect of the fifth [sic, read fourth] cohort of the night watch, has gladly paid his vow to sacred Fortuna." C. Valerius Myron was grateful to Fortuna for something, and vowed to honor her well, which he did, so this dedication is another attestation to the fact that Fortuna was perceived to be protecting toilet users, perhaps at the same time as she was warning them to use the facilities wisely. The possibility of explosions inside the sewer and rats and other vermin coming out of toilets from the sewers certainly posed very real and serious threats to the exposed bottoms of toilet users.
Id., p. 185, figure 82:


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