Among the Romanes a Poet was called Vates, which is as much as a diviner, foreseer, or Prophet, as by his conjoyned words Vaticinium, and Vaticinari, is manifest, so heavenly a title did that excellent people bestowe uppon this hart-ravishing knowledge, and so farre were they carried into the admiration thereof, that they thought in the chanceable hitting uppon any of such verses, great foretokens of their following fortunes, were placed. Whereupon grew the word of Sortes Vergilianae, when by suddaine opening Virgils Booke, they lighted uppon some verse of his, as it is reported by many, whereof the Histories of the Emperours lives are full.
– Sir Philip Sidney,
Defence of Poetry
Sometimes I like to start my mornings by playing sortes Vergilianae — which is not, in my arrogant opinion, very different from reading one’s horoscope or doing the crossword. My question is usually something along the lines of ‘what should I do today’. I play this little game not, incidentally, because I like Vergil. I loathe Vergil. But I like my allusive actions to be apt in their aping of the antique.
This morning’s result was the following:
At Venus aetherios inter dea candida nimbos
And meanwhile Venus, goddess radiant amid the aery clouds…
– Aeneid 8.608
This could have several meanings, I think:
- My mother’s going to come visit, bringing gifts intended for my protection;
- My mother wit, shining bright amidst turbulent troubles, will bear the gift that will protect me;
- I’m going to receive a shiny new toy;
- Egged on by desire and familial pressure, I shall pursue my (new-found) destiny, slogging through turmoil and several thousand lines of Latin hexameter, ultimately revealing my brutality in my desire for revenge;
- On some cloudy day, Venus like a bolt of lightning is going to strike me.
I don’t like any of these options; so here’s a bibliography of Vergilian influences — may it protect you therefrom.