Sortes Homericae

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The Sortes Homericae (Latin for "Homeric lots"), a type of divination by bibliomancy, involved drawing a random sentence or line from the works of Homer (usually the Iliad) to answer a question or to predict the future. In the Roman world it co-existed with the various forms of the sortes, such as the Sortes Virgilianae and their Christian successor the Sortes Sanctorum.

Socrates reportedly used this practice to determine the day of his execution.[1] Brutus also is reported to have used this practice, which informed him Pompey would lose the battle of Pharsalus (48 BCE).[2] The emperor Marcus Opellius Macrinus (r. 217–218) is also known to have used sortes Homericae,[3] learning that he would not last long on the imperial throne. However, unlike the Sortes Virgilianae, sortes Homericae did not have an established status as a concept and practice. There are only three known uses of this, separated by centuries and of doubtful authenticity, and of those, two don't involve opening the Iliad at random and randomly choosing a passage, as is established in bibliomancy, and in Sortes Virgilianae specifically. Rather, they involve the person dreaming or thinking about the passage, as occurred with Socrates and Brutus respectively.[4]


  1. ^ He dreamt of a woman quoting a slightly modified line from Achilles' speech - "In three days you would reach fertile Phthia", where Phthia (Φθίη) evokes the root of the noun φθίσις ‘decay, withering away’ and its related verb φθίω ‘decay, perish.’
  2. ^ He selected Iliad 16, 849 - "By the cruel crown of Fate I was undone / And by the rancor of Latona's son." Latona's son was Apollo, and "Apollo" was the password of Pompey's forces on the day of the battle.
  3. ^ "Old man, these tough young fighters are too strong, / And age won't let you hold on very long."
  4. ^ Ziogas, Ioannis (November 2016). "Famous Last Words: Caesar's Prophecy on the Ides of March*". Antichthon. 50: 134–153. doi:10.1017/ann.2016.9. ISSN 0066-4774.


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