"Fortune Favors the Brave" - Or Bold? Meaning and History

Updated March 3, 2023

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘fortune favors the brave’? How about ‘fortune favors the bold’? Where does this quote come from, and what does it mean?

The short answer is that this saying is a translation of an old Latin proverb that dates back to the time of ancient Rome. It’s often used to encourage people to take risks to carry out their plans and means that luck is on the side of people that act boldly, decisively, and with bravery.

The Meaning of “Fortune Favors the Brave”

“Fortune favors the brave” and “fortune favors the bold” are two common translations of an old Latin saying– Forfortis Fortūna adiuvat or Audentis Fortuna iuvat.

Other versions you may have come across include the following:

  • Fortune favors the strong
  • Fortune favors the foolish
  • Fortune favors the daring

The meaning of this proverb is that luck is on the side of people that take risks and chances– that people who act decisively make their own fate.

This proverb encourages you to push against the boundaries of what you consider to be achievable. It expresses that one will be rewarded for being bold during troubled or difficult times. You’ll often hear it used to help encourage people to be courageous in their efforts to carry out their plans.

seneca image and quote about fortune favors the brave

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

– Seneca the Younger

While the modern definition of ‘fortune’ is “luck or chance as an arbitrary, external force affecting human affairs,” it’s worth noting that, back in the day, ‘Fortuna’ was the goddess of fortune in the religion of ancient Rome. She remained a popular figure throughout the Middle Ages and until the Renaissance. The goddess Fortuna is still a big part of Italy’s contemporary culture.

Fortuna was at times represented standing on a ball to depict the uncertainty of fortune, and at others with a cornucopia and a rudder (to symbolize her ability to give abundance and control destinies.)

Regardless of whether you feel drawn toward personifying fortune as a deity, the Latin phrase in question gives us a lot to think about. It’s easy to think that our goal in life should be to avoid trouble and danger– that we should always be mitigating our risks and acting in ways that help us preserve our health, safety, and comfort.

The truth is, though, courage is necessary in order to reach your full potential as a person. If you don’t ever take risks, you won’t accomplish nearly as much as you could. To get where you are trying to go in life, you have to be willing to be bold sometimes.

There is a quote that is often misattributed to Albert Einstein but appears actually to be the words of an author named John A. Shedd that helps to illustrate this idea:

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

– John. A Shedd

Sure, you might be safest if you never take any risks in life. But is that really what you are here for? To stay safe?

Or are you here to fulfill a purpose?

If you feel compelled toward the latter, then ‘fortune favors the bold’ is something that you’ll really want to think about. Maybe you’re afraid of what your family will say when you take a big risk, or maybe you’re terrified of failure.

We all have fears. A useful quote to remember when we are overcome by fear comes in the form of these words by Seneca the Younger:

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

– Seneca the Younger

The History of “Fortune Favors the Brave”

The Latin proverb Forfortis Fortūna adiuvat and close variations were first recorded during Roman times. It has been attributed to a number of Roman writers, including Ennius, Terence, Virgil, and Pliny the Elder.


Quintus Ennius (c. 239 - c. 169 BC) lived during the Roman Republic and is frequently referred to as the father of Roman poetry. He had a significant influence on Latin literature even though, unfortunately, only fragments of his writing have survived.

In his Annals, we find the phrase:

Fortibus est fortuna viris data

(Good fortune has been given to bold men)


Publius Terentius Afer (c. 195/185 - c. 159 BC) was a Roman playwright that lived during the Roman Republic. Better known these days as Terence, the proverb can be found in his play Phormio in the form of fortes Fortuna adiuvat, which translates to “fortune helps the brave.”


Publius Vergilius Maro (70 - 19 BC) was a Roman poet of the Augustan period that is better known as Virgil. Three of the most famous poems in Latin literature were composed by him– the Aeneid, the Georgics, and the Eclogues.

The work of Virgil has been tremendously influential on the literature of the Western world. The Roman poet even appears in Dante’s Divine Comedy, where he guides Dante through the levels of Hell and Purgatory.

In the Aeneid, we find the Latin phrase Audentis Fortuna iuvat. This translates to “fortune favors the bold.”

Pliny the Elder

Gaius Plinius Secundus (23/24 - 79 AD)– better known as Pliny the Elder– was a Roman writer, natural philosopher, and naturalist. His encyclopedic work Natural History was used as an authority on scientific matters until the Middle Ages, and the full magnitude of his influence is difficult to describe.

Unlike the other Roman authors on this list, we don’t find the use of “fortune favors the bold” in Pliny the Elder’s writing. Instead, we find the phrase in his nephew’s retelling of his courageous final act in life.

Vespasian, the emperor of Rome from 69-79 AD, appointed Pliny praefectus classis in the Roman navy, who was then stationed at Misenum with the fleet. When one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in all of European history occurred– the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD– Pliny the Elder was less than twenty miles away as the crow flies.

seneca image and quote about Fortune Favors the Brave

“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.”

– Seneca the Younger

When he learned that his friend had been left stranded in Stabiae, he organized and led a rescue mission and headed across the Gulf of Naples on one of the many galleys tasked with rescuing people trapped by the eruption.

When his boat got near the shore, pumice and cinders began to rain from the sky. When the helmsman suggested that they turn around and go home, Pliny famously said:

"Fortune favors the bold; steer to where Pomponiaus is.”

They found Senator Pomponiaus when they arrived in Stabiae and ate and rested for the night. When he awoke in the morning, he found that the entire place was littered with ashes and fallen stones. Holding pillows on their heads to shield themselves from the cinders and calcinated stones raining down, they fled to the fields and then to the sea. When they arrived, they found that the waves were wild and high.

The group was then engulfed by a plume of hot toxic gases and fled, but Pliny was left behind and died– some say from asphyxiation or an asthmatic attack, and others say from heart disease or apoplexy. They found him a few days later when they returned.

This account was provided by Pliny the Younger, who himself received the story from the survivors of Stabiae.

epictetus image and quote about Fortune Favors the Brave

“Give me courage to meet hardships; make me calm in the face of the unavoidable.”

– Epictetus

Though some might argue that the fact that Pliny the Elder died as a part of his rescue excursion to a town ravaged by the eruption discounts the validity of the statement “fortune favors the bold,” it’s worth understanding just how heroic his acts were.

Despite the fact that the rescue mission ended poorly for Pliny the Elder, it is said that the arsenal of galleys he brought might have saved nearly 2,000 people from the fallout of the eruption. Even though Pliny did not make it through the mission, it does appear that fortune did, in fact, favor his decisive and brave actions.

Usage of ‘Fortune Favors the Brave’ and ‘Fortune Favors the Bold’ Since the 1800s

When we use the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that ‘fortune favors the brave’ has historically been a more popular phrase than ‘fortune favors the bold.’ However, around 2008 ‘fortune favors the bold’ took the top spot and has continued to increase at a more rapid rate than ‘fortune favors the brave.’

It appears that ‘fortune favors the brave’ peaked in usage between 1840 and 1880. ‘Fortune favors the bold,’ on the other hand, has never been as widely used in published texts since 1800 as it is in the present day.

Historical and Real World Examples of Fortune Favoring the Brave

So, does fortune really favor the brave and the bold? Or is this just a silly saying that convinces people to do dangerous things when their chances of success are slim?

seneca image and quote about Fortune Favors the Brave

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

– Seneca the Younger

While it would be difficult, if not impossible, to study this claim scientifically, we can look to history for events when individuals or groups took incredibly bold steps and were rewarded by fortune.

“Great men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.”

– Seneca the Younger

This is not an exhaustive list, and it certainly isn’t meant to serve as conclusive proof that fortune always favors the brave. What it can do, though, is remind you of some of the truly remarkable risks that people have courageously taken in history.

  • The Battle of River Maritsa: A battle that took place in the early days of the Ottoman Empire, where a few hundred Ottomans attacked a camp of more than 15,000 Serbs at night. Unprepared for the ambush, the Serbs panicked and fled.
  • The Battle of Suomussalmi: 11,000 Finnish men on skis annihilated two mechanized Soviet divisions composed of 45,000 men during World War II.
  • The Battle of Marathon: In 490 BC, 600 Persian ships carrying more than 20,000 soldiers surprised the Greeks with an invasion. Though the Greeks were outnumbered two-to-one, they lost only 192 warriors, while 6,400 Persian troops were lost. The rest of the Persian soldiers retreated.
  • The Battle of Margarten: A trained Austrian army of at least 3,000 was defeated by a group of 1,000 Swiss farmers. This battle was one of the key moments that led to the formation of the Swiss state.

These are only a handful of examples of times when the odds were stacked against a group in a military conflict that ended up being victorious thanks to their willingness to take risks and show courage in the face of an impossible circumstance.

“Go on and increase in valor, O boy! this is the path to immortality.”

– Seneca the Younger

Of course, fortune doesn’t just favor the brave and bold during times of war. There are also remarkable stories of people taking risks in contexts as seemingly innocuous as the business world.

One classic example is the story behind FedEx, now a multinational company. Back in the day, though, the company needed to take out a business loan in order to stay afloat– they had a gas bill to pay. The founder, Fred Smith, was waiting for his flight back to Memphis from Chicago, where he had been denied that much-needed loan, when he impulsively decided to fly to Las Vegas.

That’s right– he took the company’s last $5,000 and gambled it in Las Vegas. If things went the way that one would assume they would, FedEx wouldn’t be the name we know today. However, Smith managed to win $27,000 and keep the company going.

One might argue that this is an example of a variation of the phrase– “fortune favors the foolish.” And perhaps they would be right. Regardless, it really is a remarkable tale.

“Fortune Favors the Brave” and The Stoic Virtue of Courage

There are four Stoic virtueswisdom, justice, temperance, and courage. Some have argued that courage is the most important of all of these virtues, as courage is what you need in order to face adversity virtuously. Otherwise, you will cower, hide, and find somewhere comfortable to pass the time.

“Wisdom is knowledge of good and bad; courage is knowledge of what to fear and what not to fear; moderation is knowledge of what to pursue and what to avoid; justice is knowledge of what to give or what not to give others.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

Though it’s tempting to coast through life without dealing with anything unpleasant, the truth is that difficult situations are typically what allows us to grow and develop as people. The more we stay at home and never face the dragon, the less capable we will be in our lives.

In life, we must display courage in the face of fear, misfortune, and death. We must have the courage to do what we know to be right, even when we know it will be hard. We have to have the courage to stand by our values even when we could easily profit from abandoning them.

“What principles? Those to do with good and evil, indeed in the belief that there is no good for a human being except what creates justice, self-control, courage and freedom, and nothing evil except what destroys these things.”

– Marcus Aurelius

We must have the courage to seek the truth even when it is inconvenient or unpleasant. We have to have the courage to speak our minds.

Being courageous doesn’t just mean running into a burning building to save a child or charging forward on the battlefield. We are offered the opportunity to be courageous over and over again in our daily lives if only we will look for them.

Adversity Makes Us Stronger

As you’re reading this article, you might be thinking to yourself, “well, I did something brave, and fortune certainly didn’t favor me.”

Are you so sure, though?

Did you learn anything from the experience? Did it change you as a person? Have you grown?

"Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it—turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself—so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal." 

– Marcus Aurelius

Even if taking a bold and courageous action didn’t result in you winning the lottery or the heart of your dream girl, if you look hard enough, you might actually see that you got more out of the situation than you initially thought.

"A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it." 

– Marcus Aurelius

If you act boldly and you don’t receive the outcome you’re looking for, you might think that being decisive is the wrong choice. However, it’s worth stepping back and identifying what you learned about yourself and reality during the experience. You might find that fortune favored you after all, just not in the way you were expecting.

We Should Live Nobly When We Have the Chance

As humans, we seem to be remarkably skilled at believing we will live forever, despite the overwhelming evidence that we’re going to die just like everyone else. On top of that, there’s absolutely no certainty that any of us will live a long, healthy life– one where we can wait until we’re sixty-two to start really living and spend the next four decades pursuing our purposes in life.

A piano could fall on your head tomorrow, for all you know. If you knew that was the case, what would you do differently today? Is there a courageous action you would take that you’ve been avoiding?

seneca image and quote about Fortune Favors the Brave

“It is within the power of every man to live his life nobly, but of no man to live forever. Yet so many of us hope that life will go on forever, and so few aspire to live nobly.”

– Seneca the Younger

This quote is something that is worth hanging on our walls or perhaps tattooing on our foreheads. How long we live is not in our control. Living nobly, though, is in our control.

While we are alive, why not try to do it bravely? Who knows, you might even find that the old saying is true and that fortune really will reward you for your courage.

We Have a Duty to Do What’s Right

A person who is highly fixated on a purely rational worldview might think that the saying “fortune favors the brave” is foolish. Sure, they might say, sometimes people are successful when they take risks. Sometimes, though, they fall flat on their face.

Maybe that is the case. But then what happens? What happens after that person falls– do they get back up again? What do they do after that?

Our lives are a string of days– a string of moments– each of which compounds the previous moments to make up who we are. In countless instances, we are faced with the decision between what we believe is right and what seems easier.

Marcus Aurelius keeps it short and sweet for us when he says:

Just that you do the right thing, the rest doesn't matter. Cold or warm. Tired or well-rested. Despised or honored.”

– Marcus Aurelius

If that isn’t clear enough, here’s another zinger:

“If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s good to think through what could happen if you were to take a certain bold action, but it’s also important to stick with what you know to be right. If you’re wrong, you’ll learn a truly priceless lesson that will be invaluable going forward in your life.

If you’re right? Well, in that case, fortune might just favor you.

We Have Nothing to Lose

I know what you’re thinking. But I do have things to lose. I have a family, a house, a job, and a life.

That may be the case, and that is all wonderful. These are all things for which it is worth taking some time daily to appreciate and feel deep gratitude.

The reality is, though, that everything is temporary. Nothing in this life will last forever– “the universe is change,” as Marcus Aurelius says.

This is not a way of advocating that you should blow up your own life. This isn’t saying that you should act recklessly because of the impermanent nature of reality.

Not at all.

But at the same time, it’s important not to cling to the things in life with the expectation that if we hold on hard enough, they will actually become immortal and permanent.

If you know in your heart that there’s something you must do, but it could put your career at risk, you’ll want to think long and hard about whether you should really keep your mouth shut so that you stay on the payroll. What are you giving up by compromising your virtues? What if fortune actually favored you, after all, when you acted with boldness and bravery?

“We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise, courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.”

– Seneca the Younger

It's important to remember that everything in this life is temporary. If we are clinging too much to our current circumstances, we're holding on to something that is already falling out of our grip at the expense of our true potential.

“Bear in mind that everything that exists is already fraying at the edges, and in transition, subject to fragmentation and to rot.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s Not What Happens to Us; It’s How We React

There is a sentiment that is incredibly dominant in our current culture– making excuses for where one is in life by blaming a litany of external forces– whether that be the economy, the greedy nature of man, or maybe even the weather.

Epictetus was born a slave, so we can rest assured that the following advice he gives us isn’t coming from a place of ignorant privilege:

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

– Epictetus

In life, there are opportunities all around us. We might not have burst into this world rich and beautiful, and we might not have been born with a silver spoon in our mouths, but that doesn’t mean we are doomed for failure and a life of pure suffering.

If you are faced with a challenging situation, you have the option of forging forward courageously. You have the option of considering your options and being wise about your choices. You have the option to choose the right thing over the easy thing and the option to trust in the nature of reality that all will be well if you act virtuously.

“Endeavor to have power of myself, and in nothing to be carried about; to be cheerful and courageous in all sudden chances and accidents, as in sicknesses: to love mildness, and moderation, and gravity: and to do my business, whatsoever it be, thoroughly, and without querulousness.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

It might seem impossible right now, but it really is within your power to see every little thing that happens to you as a necessary and good experience. This can be the case for even the most painful struggles.

“True good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

While ‘fortune favors the brave’ is a beautiful quote to remember, it’s helpful to contrast it with the Marcus Aurelius quote above. He posits that you can make your own good fortune by being good in your character, intentions, and actions. While the quote claims that the external force of fortune will reward you for your bravery and righteousness, Aurelius takes power out of fortune's hands and squarely into your own.

“Finally, in every event which leads you to sorrow, remember to use this principle: that this is not a misfortune, but that to bear it like a brave man is good fortune.” 

– Marcus Aurelius

Is it possible for us to adopt this truly noble sentiment put forth by Marcus Aurelius? Are we capable of looking at every painful event in our lives as ‘good fortune’ because we have the opportunity to bear it bravely?

Well, I guess we won’t know until we try. It certainly sounds worth a shot, though, doesn’t it?

Will Fortune Favor You?

Whether you choose to hang a sign in your office that says ‘fortune favors the brave’ or ‘fortune favors the bold,’ this is a sentiment that you can use to encourage yourself to take the risks you need to take in life in order to get where you are trying to go.

This doesn’t mean that you should act without thinking or that you should be reckless in your actions, but it does mean that you sometimes need to take bold, decisive leaps in life in order to carry out your higher purposes.

You can live out your life hiding from danger and anything that carries the slightest risk, but this means you won’t be fulfilling your true potential. This idea has been communicated by many great minds throughout history, including our very own Musonius Rufus:

“Since every man dies, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.”

– Musonius Rufus

Ralph Waldo Emerson conveys a similar message in this lovely quote:

“A life lived in depth, is a life lived wide open. A life lived with all of your heart is a life that gives love freely. The length of life isn't always a choice, but the depth of how you live life is up to each of us.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you decided to work on yourself and make yourself the best person you can possibly be? If so, be sure to check out our Stoic Quotes blog for tons of useful information and inspirational quotes from the wisest minds in history.

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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