O Fortuna – Lyrics and meaning

O Fortuna
Oh! Fortuna!

velut luna
like the moon

statu variabilis,
your state varies,

semper crescis
always either in ascendancy

aut decrescis;
or in descendancy;

vita detestabilis
detestable life

nunc obdurat
now hard

et tunc curat
and then providing

ludo mentis aciem,
with sharpness of mind in its game,



dissolvit ut glaciem.
dissolved like melting ice.


Sors immanis
Fate – monstrous

et inanis,
and empty,

rota tu volubilis,
you ever turning wheel,

status malus,
evil state,

vana salus
empty salutation

semper dissolubilis,
amounting to nothing,

in shadow

et velata
and in veil

michi quoque niteris;
you likewise advance upon me;

nunc per ludum
now with your games

dorsum nudum
bare-backed am I

fero tui sceleris.
by your wickedness.


Sors salutis
Fate, in health

et virtutis
and in virtue,

michi nunc contraria,
is against me,

est affectus
driven on

et defectus
and weighted down,

semper in angaria.
always enslaved.

Hac in hora
So at this hour

sine mora
without delay

corde pulsum tangite;
pluck the vibrating string;

quod per sortem
since Fate

sternit fortem,
strikes down the strong man,

mecum omnes plangite!
everyone weep with me!


From David Parlett’s translation of Carmina Burana


O how Fortune, inopportune,
apes the moon’s inconstancy:
waxing, waning, losing, gaining,
life treats us detestably:
first oppressing then caressing
shifts us like pawns in its play:
destitution, restitution,
melting them like ice away.

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.

Noble actions, fair transactions,
no longer fall to my lot:
powers that make me only to break me
all play their parts in your plot:
now it’s your time – waste no more time,
pluck these poor strings and let go:
since the strongest fall the longest
may the world share in my woe!

In medio stat virtus : Virtue stands in the middle

In medio stat virtus : Virtue stands in the middle.

Virtue is in the moderate, not the extreme position. – Horace

Voltaire said : The better is the enemy of the good.

Variant translations:
The perfect is the enemy of the good.
The best is the enemy of the good.

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defined a virtue as a balance point between a deficiency and an excess of a trait. The point of greatest virtue lies not in the exact middle, but at a golden mean sometimes closer to one extreme than the other.

For example:

Generosity lies in between miserliness and extravagance.

Courage lies in between cowardice and foolhardiness.

Confidence lies in between self-deprecation and vanity.

Virtue, by definition, is a characteristic that promotes individual and collective well being. A vice, on the other hand, does not promote well being. What is surprising to me is that a virtue stands between two vices.

Now, this is something to think about. The present day paradigm is being the best. We all are told that we have to be the best at what we do. And we even strive for it.

We give up things just to be the best in what we do. We encourage children to be first in class. In fact our lives are so competitive that we call it a rat race. We drive ourselves hard and get burnt out.

No wonder this puts things out of perspective. We feel miserable when we cant be the best. We don’t forgive our own mistakes.

Pushing to extreme cant be a balanced way of life, even if the extreme is perfection. Being the best may be good for business, but it may not be good for the spirit.