Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sortes Virgilianae for the 21st Century

"Sortes Virgilianae" (Virgilian lots) is an ancient method of bibliomancy — opening up a book to a random passage, and taking it as your fortune — using The Aeneid for its text. I think I first heard about it via one of Lauren Cerand's tweets; she's also written about it in a blog post here. As with most things Lauren Cerand writes about, it struck me as highly sophisticated and a very good idea, and I filed it away for future reference.

I was feeling a little blue the other night, and decided that perhaps some sortes virgilianae was in order, to reveal my fate and perhaps perk me up. But my copy of The Aeneid is packed away in a box in Oregon, and my classics-major boyfriend is out of town, so I can't ask to borrow his copy. Moreover, though I love books and refuse to own an e-reader, I wondered if the act of opening a physical book can ever be perfectly random. Aren't most books bound so that they fall open to certain pages more easily than to others? Also, how does language and translation come into it? If I performed this trick with an English-language copy of The Aeneid, could I truly be said to be doing "sortes Virgilianae"? If my translation were corrupt, would my fortune be corrupt too?

Fortunately, we live in a fascinating era, and so, herewith, I provide six easy steps for doing Sortes Virgilianae in the 21st century, using only your computer and an Internet connection:
  1. Go to the Random Number Generator ( and generate a random number between 1 and 12.
  2. This is the book of The Aeneid where your fortune will be found. Go to the Latin Library's Virgil page and click on the designated book.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see how many total lines (t) are in this book.
  4. Use the Random Number Generator again, to generate a random number between 1 and t.
  5. Scroll up till you find the line that the Random Number Generator has designated. Highlight and copy the line.
  6. Paste the text into Google Translate (yes, it can handle Latin), and read your fortune.
When I tried this on Tuesday night, the Random Number Generator directed me to Book 10, line 770: "Obuius ire parat. Manet imperterritus ille." Translation, courtesy of Google: "Prepares to meet. Undaunted he abides."

I think this is why The Aeneid is so popular with practitioners of bibliomancy: it is an epic poem full of people doing noble and heroic deeds, and therefore, full of inspiring lines like "Undaunted, he abides." At any rate, receiving this line as my sortes virgilianae on Tuesday night did much to boost my spirits and buck me up.

There ought to be a sortes virgilianae app that automatically performs the 6 steps above, but this procedure will do for now.


anonmom said...

"he the city again and I'm covered in glittering arms."

Marissa Skudlarek said...

That sounds like a good omen!

Dennis said...

oh not good.

V, 734. Tartara habent, tristes umbrae, sed amoena piorum

Tartarus, with its gloomy shades, but the godly are pleasant

Marissa Skudlarek said...

Oh dear! At least "the godly are pleasant" is somewhat positive?