In the poem ‘O Fortuna’ (anon., 13th c., but made famous by Carl Orff’s setting), there is this verse:

Quod per sortem
sternit fortem
mecum omnes plangite!

This is typically translated as ‘since luck strikes down the strong, everyone, weep with me!’ or something to that effect. I am confused about the use of ‘per sortem’ (prep.+acc.) for what seems to be the subject of the quod-clause. At first I thought it was some form of passive voice, but sternit is conjugated in the active.

I cannot seem to find any other examples of this usage of quod per. Is it even grammatical?

2 Answers 2


The subject here is Fortuna (also called Sors) after whom the song is named. Perhaps this translation makes the passage clearer:

Quod [Fortuna] = Because [Fortuna] (implied subject)

per sortem = by lot (idiomatically this means "at random")

sternit fortem = strikes down the brave [man]

mecum omnes plangite = mourn with me, everyone!


The subject of sternit must be an unexpressed "he", perhaps meaning "God". "Since, through the workings of fate, he lays low the strong, weep with me all of you."

  • Thanks! I would assume that ‘He’ (God) is indeed the subject. Somehow all of the English translations I've seen (verse or prose) manage to miss this, and treat ‘fortune’ as the subject. Feb 22, 2019 at 16:44
  • @BrentBessemer, fdb, O Fortuna is not a religious work. I guess the elided subject could be Fortuna herself
    – Rafael
    Feb 22, 2019 at 16:52
  • 1
    @Rafael. That is possible, of course, though I do not quite understand the difference between "fortuna" and "sors" in this context.
    – fdb
    Feb 22, 2019 at 17:02

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