Sui Libri di Fortuna: un incunabolo di Spirito e due manoscritti - dal BLOG PrPh

On Fortune-Telling Books: A Spirito Incunable and Two Later Manuscripts

Fortune-telling books (also called books of fate, lottery books, or divination books) flourished in the Medieval and early modern periods. Generally beginning with a set of pressing questions, these “game” books revolved around oracles—derived from either antiquity or from more contemporary sources—which the reader-player followed to discover “answers” and reveal their fate. The books worked on chance and often required the use of dice or other moving parts such as volvelles. As such, they were extremely interactive objects, and provide fascinating insight into an “everyday” form of engagement with chance, ritual, and fate during this period.

The historical practice of bibliomancy—divination by way of books—is one of the main precursors of fortune-telling books. In Roman antiquity, Sortes Homericae, Sortes Virgilianae, and Sortes Sanctorum were among the most popular forms of sortilegium or sortes, (i.e., sortilege—divination by drawing lots), with one's fortune being told through randomly chosen passages in the works by Homer, Virgil, and in the Bible, respectively. Socrates is even said to have performed such sortes when he predicted his own death via a passage in the Iliad.

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