Play your game, with the “Libro delle Sorti”

The Libro delle Sorti is one of the most fascinating divination games of the Renaissance.
This exciting “board game” – we even roll the dice, so it is hard not to call it that –  was ideated and created by the Perugian poet Lorenzo Gualtieri (1426-1496), known for his free and audacious personality, which earned him the nickname “Spirito”. His book became a real international “best seller” and one of the most popular and widespread forms of entertainment in European courts of the 16th century.

But what is it about? The manuscript is based on a system of questions and answers related to the main aspects of life: happiness, marriage, success in business, the birth of a child, health, illness. The person who plays interrogates the manuscript by choosing among twenty questions: for example, they can ask if his love is returned. This driving playful mechanism, passing through the roll of the dice and a series of references from one prophetic section to another, will lead them to a final prophecy, performed by a suggestive vulgar triplet. Here are some examples:

Is my love returned?
I guess your wife will be good
And not much time will pass that sure
She will make you a good jockey

Am I right to get married?
Do not doubt that if you take a wife
From peace into war you will fall soon
and you will know how labour pains feel

Will I get out of this trouble?
This trouble will last many months
Then, through the intercession of a true friend
You will be out of it on a clear and overt path

The manuscript was completed by Lorenzo Spirito at the beginning of 1482, but it was decorated with a splendid set of illuminations only in the early 16th century, by some Umbrian artists from Pietro Perugino's workshop. After being "played" for a long time (as the wear reveals, especially in the first pages), the code was forgotten in the library of its owners, the Braccio da Montone family. The vicissitudes of the book in the following centuries are shrouded in mystery: it is during this period that the code was ripped apart and then reassembled without respecting the right succession of its pages, thus compromising its "playability". We find news of the volume again in 1793, when Count Tommaso Giuseppe Farsetti donated the book to the Marciana Library in Venice, where it is still preserved today.

Today we can find a faithful facsimile edition of the Libro delle Sorti, published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore: this work, produced in a limited edition of 980 copies, has the merit of recomposing the cards of the codex according to their original sequence, as it was before it was torn out and then reassembled in its current state: a detail that brings back the Libro delle Sorti to its ancient splendor.

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