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What do John Wick's tattoos mean?

Benjamin G. Griffin, amatuer translator of Classical Latin poetry

FORTIS FORTUNA ADIUVIO should never be translated as “Fortune Favours the Bold”; nor is this a motto of
the marine corps. (who use, ‘fortES fortuna IUVIO’); and no one seems to have caught anything about the
crosses, or that revenge (and crime) are not Christian.

The latin here is older, darker, and very pagan in spirit. Moreover, it is this very pagan-ness that is critical to
understanding the latin in the context of this Anti-Hero’s christian tattoos.

With this spelling in particular, the Latin recalls a much older variant of a proverb than the Marine Corps
uses— one that was considered very old even in the pre-christian times of Caesar.*

You can skip my notes straight to my translation, but you shouldn’t.

Fortis = “(The) Strong (ones)”, is a plural noun — it means specific people here, not an abstract like
‘Strength’, nor the intention or attitude of ‘boldness’, and definitely nothing modern from the US Marine Corps
(who use fortES in any case)

Fortuna = is a Roman Goddess, the personification of Luck, and a spiritual force that could be just as bad as
good. N.B. She is placed at the centre of the phrase and, if you look closely, slightly capitalised in John’s
caligraphy. It is NOT mere ‘good fortune’, in the sense of good luck, nor of ‘a fortune’ in the sense of money.

Adiuvio = AD ‘to/toward’ + IUVO ‘help/aid/save’ — particularly of a goddess, ‘comes to save’/’comes to the

aid of’ is best here. Not ‘favours’ as is the lazy way that gives the ‘F-F’ alliteration in English.

Knowing these things you can render it into modern english, and english word order, and catch the sentiment
better like this:

“It is only The Strong that Fortuna (The Goddess) comes to save.”

Now, understand that John Wick is a really dark figure. and that this is a revenge film.

That the cross tattoo on his shoulder is struck through (cancelled?) with a red scar, and that this pretty dark,
absolutely unchristian sentiment is placed above, (i.e. superior**), to the praying hands on his back. Note also
that the latin words themselves are the exact opposite of ‘the meek will inherit the earth’, and written with the
particular Latin spelling of precisely those Romans that threw Christians to their lions.

This tattoo speaks to the grim, cursed, broken faith of a man who believes in Luck, but only when his strength
fails and this is what his tattoos mean, when taken together.

This is why, at the end of the film, he chooses a Pit Bull for his dog.

*C.f. ‘Usage notes’ in fortis Fortuna adiuvat

**Superior is latin for above- and in christian heraldry, placing things symbolically above meant ‘more
important’ or ‘stronger’. Here, we also have the word ‘strong’ placed in this strong position.
Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat


Literally "(the) strong (ones), Fortune helps." From Terence's comedy play Phormio, line 203. Cited by Cicero in the

1st century BCE as a vetus prōverbium (“old proverb”).


 (Classical) IPA(key): /ˈfor.tiːs forˈtuː.na ˈad.ju.wat/, [ˈfɔr.tiːs fɔrˈtuː.na ˈad.jʊ.wat]

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