A quick and dirty history of the wheel of fortune:

(This is by no means a comprehensive look at the topic.)


While the precursor to the Wheel of Fortune appears in Pre-Christian civilization, the concept that has been popularly perpetuated is that of 6th century Roman philosopher, Boethius in his The Consolation of Philosophy:

“I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. … Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! Dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer fortune.”

The Carmina Burana

This illustration from the Carmina Burana (c. 1230) gives a visual illustration of the wheel, showing the goddess Fortuna at the center of the wheel and depicts at the outside of the wheel, as the wheel turns clockwise, the rise and fall of a sovereign.

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Several of the poems of the Carmina Burana address the wheel of fortune, most notably for our purposes here:

The wheel of fortune spins:
One man is abased by its descent,
The other is carried aloft;
All too exalted sits the king at the top –
Let him beware ruin!
(No. 16, Fortune plango vulnera)

Fate, as vicious as capricious,
You’re a wheel whirling around:
Evil doings, worthless wooings,
Crumble away to the ground:
Darkly stealing, unrevealing,
Working against me you go;
For your measure of foul pleasure
Bare-backed i bow to your blow
(No. 17, O Fortuna)

The Medieval Wheel of Fortune is typically labelled “I shall reign” (regnabo) at the left, “I reign” (regno) at the top, “I have reigned” (regnavi) at the right and “I am without a kingdom”(sum sine regno) at the bottom.  As the wheel turns clockwise – spun at the pleasure of Fortune – man cycles through the stages of fortune from good to bad to good once again.

Dante’s Inferno

In keeping with Season 3’s theme of Dante’s Inferno, Fortune and her wheel also put in an appearance in Dante’s fourth level of Hell (reserved for the punishment of avarice – both the hoarding and over-spending of wealth). While she authors men’s fate, she remains unaffected by the task, indeed, even “rejoicing in her bliss”:

“Your wisdom cannot withstand her: she foresees, judges, and pursues her reign, as theirs the other gods. her changes know no truce. Necessity compels her to be swift, so fast do men come to their turns. This is she who is much reviled even by those who ought to praise her, but do wrongfully blame her and defame her. But she is blest and does not hear it. Happy with the other primal creatures she turns her sphere and rejoices in her bliss.“
(Inferno, VII.85-96).

The Wheel of Fortune in Contorno

We are first introduced to the image of the wheel in Antipasto while Hannibal and Dimmond are appropriately discussing “what fate befell Dr. Fell.” (35:42)  If we transmute the literal breaking wheel at the Palazzo Capponi to the metaphoric Wheel of Fortune, Hannibal and Dimmond are indeed discussing not only the literal circumstance of Dr. Fell’s demise, but also his fall from the Wheel position “I reign” to the unenviable position “I am without a kingdom” that inevitably accompanies death.  (It must be noted that the breaking wheel itself is a sort of wheel of fortune of a different ilk.)

Bringing the Wheel of Fortune closer to home, the fight scene at the end of Contorno begins with Hannibal at the top of our metaphoric Wheel, the Palazzo Capponi, looking down at Jack who is positioned at the bottom of the Wheel.  There can be no argument that in this moment, Hannibal – having successfully wounded everyone he loves and secured a life of elegance, academia and murder in Florence – reigns and that Jack – having lost everything and everyone he loves – is without a kingdom.

Immediately prior to Jack’s final blow to Hannibal, he spins the Wheel clockwise, (41:11) both acts set into motion the fall that plummets Hannibal from “I reign” to “I am without a kingdom” and the retribution that sets Jack to rights by returning him to an emotional and moral reign.  This exchange of status is symbolized by Jack’s and Hannibal’s diametrically opposed physical location from the beginning of the scene to the end of the fight.

(It is important, I think, to note that Jack is not acting as Fortune in his spinning of the Wheel as he cannot be both the source and the subject of his change in status.  Rather, Jack is giving us a visual demonstration of the capriciousness of Fortune’s Wheel.)


You are doubtless familiar with Carl Orff’s musical interpretation of the Carmina Burana.  for fun, here are links to O Fortuna and Fortune Plango Vulnera quoted above.