The Rise of the Roman Empire

Polybius on tyche

Tyche, which means fate or fortune, plays an integral role in Polybius’ understanding of history and he is useful for gaining an understanding of the concept in the Hellenistic period. Tyche, to Polybius, takes on something of a double meaning in his work. It is first of all understood as a force by which things come about, or happenstance, luck if you will. There is, however, the element of Tyche as a goddess, which was a Hellenistic convention. This personification of Tyche is particularly important because at times Polybius uses her, that is Tyche, to justify seemingly sensible events rather than see them as an accumulation of rightful judgments by the persons involved in any circumstance. Thus Tyche is both an elemental force that is a way of understanding acts of God and at the same time it is a goddess capricious in nature and finally can be seen as a goddess who doles out retribution for wrongdoing or foolishness perpetrated by leaders. The exploration of Tyche is also the impetus for Polybius beginning his work, it is in exploring the fortunate events that lead to Rome’s domination of the inhabited world that cause Polybius to begin on his history and is an integral part of his understanding that history. Due to this fact it becomes necessary for Polybius to discuss history in a universal manner, that is to say, to address history not as the events that take place in one region or the other but to analyze events with an eye for the big picture. This is the primary attribute of Polybius’ pride in his history, its universal nature in attempting to explain the coming to power of Rome.

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