(properly “lots”). Small tablets used for augury in different parts of
Italy, especially in the temple of Fortuna at Praenesté (Cicero, De
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.
; Lamprid. Elagab.
The name sortes
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
2), and alluded to by Lampridius (Alex. Severus
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