This essay explores the early modern reemergence of the sortes Virgilianae, a practice that involves opening a bound copy of Virgil (often with a pin) and finding prophecy in the verse upon which the seeker lands. Examining the accounts of the sortes in antiquity and in the Renaissance, as well as Renaissance writings that explicitly propose the sortes as a mode of reading, this essay argues that the practice, while oracular and prophetic, is linked to a mode of Renaissance pragmatic reading, which is concerned with (figurative) cutting, excerpting, and reaffixing textual fragments in new contexts. The practice presents a tension between assigning the prophetic book agency over the fate of the reader and the reader actively mining (and interpreting) the text for knowledge to be extracted and applied to life. The sortes Virgilianae thus involves both phronetic reading and a prophetic book that directs its own cutting.
Penelope Meyers Usher; “Pricking in Virgil”: Early Modern Prophetic Phronesis and the Sortes Virgilianae. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 September 2015; 45 (3): 557–571. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-3149167
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