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Headword: Τύχη
Adler number: tau,1232
Translated headword: coincidence, reversal of fortune, unexplained or chance event, luck, fortune, chance
Vetting Status: high
[τύχη means the same as] συντυχία , in Sophocles.[1]
Polybius [writes]:[2] "If indeed one should speak of tyche in such circumstances;[3] for it is never the case that tyche gets the repute [i.e. praise or blame, according to the incident in question] unjustifiably in a situation of this kind, where the real responsibility is that of those in control of affairs, since [their] high reputation follows on from the latter.[4] But the opposite[5] does sometimes occur."[6]
And the Pisidian [writes]:[7] "You feared not ... [troubling illnesses], not the chance events we caused[8] to stand in your way -– if it is proper for me to call failures hits."[9]
Greek Original:
Τύχη: συντυχία, παρὰ Σοφοκλεῖ. Πολύβιος: εἰ χρὴ τύχην λέγειν ἐπὶ τῶν τοιούτων: μήποτε γὰρ αὕτη μὲν κενῶς κληρονομεῖ τοιαύτην φήμην, αἴτιοι δ' εἰσὶν οἱ χειρίζοντες τὰς πράξεις, τῷ ταῖς αὐταῖς ἐπιτρέχειν σεμνότητα καὶ μέγεθος, ποτὲ δὲ τοὐναντίον. καὶ Πισίδης: οὐκ ηὐλαβήθης οὐ τὰς δι' ἡμᾶς ἀντιπραττούσας τύχας: εἰ χρὴ καλεῖν με τὰς ἁμαρτίας τύχας.
[1] Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1506, with scholion; cf. sigma 1650, sigma 1638. The aged Oedipus greets the arrival of Theseus at that precise moment as a welcome coincidence. For Sophocles' use of τύχη see also tau 1233 and bibliography.
[2] Polybius fr. 83 Buettner-Wobst; cf. tau 872, tau 1234. (For ἐπὶ τῶν τοιούτων cf. 5.98.4, 9.14.3, 28.9.4, 35.17.15.) The reading μήποτε γὰρ has routinely been corrected, on the mss and by modern editors, to ποτὲ μὲν , so as to balance the later ποτὲ δὲ and avoid the logic of the original text. The resulting bland aphorism, however, does not reflect Polybius' view or match the initial "If it is correct to use tyche in such circumstances": "Sometimes fortune earns this sort of reputation unjustifiably, and the real responsibility is that of those in control of affairs, since their high reputation follows on from the latter."
F.W. Walbank, in accepting the Suda reading, provides the following parallel and observations: "There is a good parallel for the construction in the Suda text here in Polybius 4.29.4, where μήποτε is used in precisely this way. 'For it is never the case that private crimes differ from public crimes, except in the extent and quality of their results.'"
[3] "i.e. the kind just mentioned in the incident to which this passage looks back." (F.W.W.)
[4] "i.e. the affairs they control, their position in the state. I take this rather awkward clause to be an explanation of why such men take the responsibility for failure or success. The use of ἐπιτρέχειν intrans. meaning 'follow on from' is unusual; but that is how the lexikon renders it and I can see no alternative." (F.W.W.)
[5] "i.e. in their case some events are rightly (as opposed to 'unjustifiably') assigned to Tyche." (F.W.W.)
[6] This fragment, although somewhat tortuous, fits well into the admittedly evolving concept of tyche in Polybius (see Walbank, Derow and von Fritz in bibliography). It takes its place in his philosophy of what a man must learn from history if he is to become great –- how to master the blows and opportunities presented by fortune (tyche). This teaching almost certainly derives from Aristotle (on whom see Weiss's superb study), and is well exemplified by his students Alexander the Great (cf. Plutarch’s extant treatise on this subject, Moralia 326D-345B) and Demetrius of Phalerum (whose lost treatise On Tyche was used by Polybius, as von Scala has shown), not to mention by Julius Caesar (cf. Vogt-Spira 1999 in bibliography). See also Buriks, Camacho Rojo, Centrone and Vogt-Spira for the concept in other writers after Aristotle, sometimes influenced by the cult of Tyche as goddess (cf. tau 1231). F.W. Walbank observes, "Polybius certainly believes in the role of Tyche in military affairs; see for example 15.15.5 on Hannibal's failure at Zama. This would be an example of failure being rightly assigned to Tyche in the case of a great man."
[7] George of Pisidia, Heraclias (= Epic on Heraclius) 1.169-71, omitting the first object of the main verb, 'troubling illnesses', given in the quotation of the same passage at epsilon 3554. The passage refers to the obstacles in the path of Emperor Heraclius I (see Baynes in bibliography) as he undertook his successful campaign to repel the Persians. He had been ill in the summer of 626 (cf. Bellum Avaricum 258), and certain parties were intent on delaying the campaign. The poet, a major figure in the 7th. Century renaissance (see Pertusi's edition), may include himself by δι’ ἡμᾶς .
[8] The first of two paradoxes. By definition (at least Aristotelian definition) a chance event cannot have an explained cause, as it has here. The point is that the Emperor’s opponents scored 'hits, successes,' in the old-fashioned sense of the word, but that he, at the height of his powers (1.177ff.), handled them fearlessly as incidental events that the great man takes in his stride (cf. note 4).
[9] This paradox is a scholar's jest. By lexical definition, τύχη originally meant a 'hit' on a target, a 'success' (cf. tau 1234) and ἁμαρτία (by now the Christian word for 'sin') meant its opposite, a 'miss' of the target, a 'failure' (cf. eta 286). The poet asks if he may ignore their etymological history to use one for 'a chance event', the other for actions regarded by the Emperor as 'sins', for which the poet evidently now asks pardon.
Baynes, N.H., in Cambridge Medieval History 2 (Cambridge, 1913) 292ff. (cf. English Historical Review 19 (1904) 694-702, 27 (1912) 287ff.
Buriks, A.A., Περὶ Τύχης , Die ontwikkeling… (Leiden, 1948)
Camacho Rojo, J.M., 'El concepto de tyche en Diodoro de Sicilia' and 'Actitudes del hombre frente a la tyche en la Biblioteca Histórica de Diodoro de Sicilia,' in Estudios sobre Diodoro de Sicilia, ed. J. Lens (Granada, 1994) 81-96, 97-116
Centrone, B., 'Felicità e tyche nella riflessione etica dei Greci,' Elenchos 8.1 (1987) 431-37
Derow, P.S. 'Historical explanation: Polybius and his predecessors,' in Greek Historiography, ed. S. Hornblower (Oxford, 1994) 90
von Fritz, K., The Legacy of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity (New York, 1954) 388-97 ('Polybius' concept of Tyche...')
Giorgio di Pisidia, Poemi: I. Panegirici Epici, ed. A Pertusi (Stud. Patr. Byz. 7, 1960), esp. 247-48, 268-70
von Scala, R., Die Studien des Polybius (Stuttgart, 1890) 158-88 ('Demetrios von Phaleron')
Vogt-Spira, G. Dramaturgie des Zufalls: Tyche und Handeln in der Komödie Menanders (Munich, 1992)
Vogt-Spira, G., 'La Tyché de héros ou l'individu et la contingence: un concept paradoxal? L'exemple de la Fortune de César,' in Le Paradox de héros ou d'Homère à Malraux, ed. J. Dion (Paris, 1999) 95-107
Walbank, F.W., Commentary on Polybius 1 (Oxford 1957) 16-26
Weiss, Hélène, Kausalität und Zufall in der Philosophie des Aristoteles (Bern, 1942, repr. Darmstadt, 1967)
Keywords: biography; definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; ethics; historiography; history; military affairs; philosophy; poetry; religion; tragedy
Translated by: Robert Dyer on 9 May 2003@13:10:56.
Vetted by:
David Whitehead (added x-refs and keyword; cosmetics) on 11 May 2003@07:44:30.
Robert Dyer (typo) on 11 May 2003@10:33:57.
Robert Dyer (The translation of Polybius fr. 83 is now that of Prof. Frank Walbank, graciously transmitted by email on May 19, 2003. He accepts the defence of the Suda reading by the original translator, who gratefully cites from his letter.) on 19 May 2003@07:48:11.
David Whitehead (tweaking) on 16 January 2014@08:37:23.
Catharine Roth (typo) on 24 February 2014@20:12:23.
Catharine Roth (cosmeticule) on 2 November 2014@01:20:17.


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