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(properly “lots”). Small tablets used for augury in different parts of Italy, especially in the temple of Fortuna at Praenesté (Cicero, De Div. ii. 41, 86). They were of oak or bronze, with some saying engraved upon them, and were shuffled and drawn by a boy. Seventeen such sayings (four in the original bronze, and the rest copies) are still preserved (C. I. L. i. pp. 268-270). They are known as the Sortes Praenestīnae, but they appear to have really belonged to the oracle of Geryon at Patavium (Padua). Sortes conviviāles were sealed tablets sold at entertainments. When opened they entitled the holder to a prize of greater or less value (Sueton. Aug. 75; Lamprid. Elagab. 22).

The name sortes was given


to passages of some book used to foretell events, the method being to open the book at random, for which purpose Christians used the Bible; or


to lines of poetry, especially of Vergil, written on leaves, and drawn at haphazard. Sortes Vergiliānae are mentioned in Spartianus (Hadrian 2), and alluded to by Lampridius (Alex. Severus 14). This use of Vergil continued to modern times. An historic instance of it is found in the life of Charles I. of England, who experimented once in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and opened at the passage of the Aeneid (iv. 615-620) where Dido's imprecations against Aeneas foretold rebellion, defeat, and death. The story is told by Wellwood. See Oracula.

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