Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Wisdom plays

I was with him forming all things:
and was delighted every day,
Playing before him at all times;
Playing in the world:
and my delights were to be with the children of men.

cum eo eram, cuncta componens.
Et delectabar per singulos dies,
ludens coram eo omni tempore ,
ludens in orbe terrarum;
et deliciæ meæ esse cum filiis hominum.

Proverbs 8:30-31; English translation Douay Bible

One particularly stubborn little nugget of misinformation gets put forth every so often when an allusion is made to the so-called Tarot of Mantegna, more properly known as the E- (and S-) Series. This is the assertion that the Mantegna series was invented during the course of the Congress (or Council) of Mantua, which took place in 1459.

It should be pointed out that the art historian Heinrich Brockhaus (1858-1941) was the first to present this theory, in 1933, in the article "Ein edles Geduldspiel: 'Die Leitung der Welt oder die Himmelsleiter' die sogenannten Taroks Mantegnas. Vom Jahre 1459-60" (Miscellanea di Storia dell'arte in onore di Igino Benvenuto Supino, (Florence) 1933,pp 397-416)
which you can read here
(with English summaries by autorbis). He based his argument on the confluence of what he took to be the meaning of the Series, with the mystical interests of some members of the Congress, including Pope Pius II and the two Cardinals Bessarion and Nicholas of Cusa.

Repeating Brockhaus' assertion is misinformation because there is no reason to believe that the E-Series was a card game, no evidence that the Congress or any of those participants had anything to do with it, and no reason to think it existed yet by 1459. Among Brockhaus' claims for linking the Series and the Congress, is that Cusa was to write about a game he invented a few years later, in a little book titled "De Ludo Globi". This book describes a peculiar bowling game, in the form of a dialogue, on the symbolism - theological, mystical and philosophical - of playing it. Brockhaus is particularly impressed by the "globes" that many of the Series figures hold, and manages to draw comparisons with particular figures and the doctrines asserted by Cusa (and others whom contemporaries would have known).

Although popularized by Seznec, among others, Brockhaus' theory about the E-Series has not been accepted by scholars, and it is not my point to discuss it. My purpose is to clarify something about a quote attributed to Nicholas of Cusa:

"This game is played, not in a childish way, but as the Holy Wisdom played it for God at the beginning of the World."

This is given by both Brockhaus and Seznec as:

Luditur hic ludus: sed non pueriliter. At sic lusit ut orbe novo sancta sophia deo.

Now Seznec attributes this directly to Cusa, from De Ludo Globi; Brockhaus already indicated that it was in "the middle" of the book, but from another source (note 22 of his paper).

The trouble was that, in my desultory searches before, I had not been able to find anything like it in Jasper Hopkins' translation of De Ludo Globi, "The Bowling-Game",
and anytime I had looked at the Latin I had forgotten to search for this quote. So when a member of Aeclectic Tarot Forum last week brought it up again, in defense of both the link of the E-Series to Tarot, as well as Tarot to Egypt, I was determined to find the answer this time.

I had forgotten that Seznec quotes it in Latin, so I went to the Google armed with only the English. This brought out a few things, but the best was a Google Books quote from Ioan Culianu, "Eros and Magic in the Renaissance", who reports the verse was not by Cusa, and is "inserted" in the De Ludo Globi (Eros p. 38); in the note (number 35) Culianu says that Edgar Wind attributes the authorship of the verse to Cusa's "disciple", John Andreas of Bussi.

I don't have Wind (Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance) on my shelves, so I wondered who "John Andreas of Bussi" was, how he or anybody could know the verses weren't by Cusa, what Culianu meant when he said the De Ludo Globi - editio princeps, manuscript, what? (since my De Ludo Globi didn't have it), whether it was a late addition or a scribbled contemporary note, on what basis Wind made such a precise identification, etc.

So, armed with the Latin, I went looking again. This time around I gave a second look at the humble "Suche" out of the 34 responses Google throws up for "Luditur hic ludus". It leads to the "Cusanus-Portal" - his complete works, in Latin, according to their editio princeps in most cases.

This page
shows the verses, indeed "in between" books I and II of the De Ludo Globi; our verses form lines 13 and 14 of a 66 line poem.

So one question is answered - the quote comes from the editio princeps.

The poem praises the game described in the book, and recommends it to a Prince of Bavaria. So another question answered - Cusa's interlocutor and probable dedicatee is Duke Albert of Bavaria, so the poem must be contemporary with the main book.

In line 61, the author calls himself Ioannes, so another question is answered - it can't be Nicholas of Cusa.

Finally, at the end of book II, there is another, shorter poem, which calls the prince directly, "Dux Alberte", so there is no question to whom the poem is addressed.

Also, Wind's reasoning must involve the close working partnership that Ioannes Andreae (of Bussi) and Nicholas of Cusa had (something that became clear reading about the former).

So all of my questions about a pretty obscure subject were answered fairly quickly on a Google search.

What about my AT friend? Well, he had asserted that the "Luditur hic ludus" quote reminded him of Thoth:
...sounds a little bit like Scribe of the Gods, Thoth, measuring and manifesting Time & Creation as he writes

I knew already that the answer to THAT assertion was that it was simply alluding to Proverbs 8, given at the head of this post - and there it's Holy Wisdom playing, not Thoth. But it was a pleasure to be able to clarify and correct another little thing that had been bugging me, and to learn a lot in the process.



Michael J. Hurst said...

It is a charming quote by itself, even with only a vague idea of its actual origin. However, it is much more interesting when the source and context are known. Typically such things are simply repeated, along with a new layer of speculations, elaborating folklore with guesswork. The Internet is making it increasingly possible to actually research such things without making an odyssey through the stacks of a distant library. When Google Books gets the legal problems sorted out, that ability should increase dramatically.

Nice work.

Ross G.R. Caldwell said...

You wouldn't happen to have Wind on hand, to tell me what he *does* say, would you?

I do hope that Google Books gets the legal stuff settled soon. Every time I get a "snippet view" on a long out of print, let alone public domain, book, I feel like a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar.

Michael J. Hurst said...

Page 236. In the text, Wind writes that "Serio ludere was a Socratic maxim of Cusanus, Ficino, Pico, Calcagnini -- not to mention Bocchi, who introduced the very phrase into the title of his Symbolicae quaestiones: 'quas serio ludebat'." That is footnoted as follows:

1. cf. Ficino, In parmeniden (Prooemium), Oper, p. 1137: 'Pythagorae, Socratisque et Platonis mos erat, ubique divina mysteria figuris involucrisque obtegere,... iocari serio, et studiosissime ludere.' His commentary on Plato's 'nuptial number' (Republic 545D ff.) ends with the words: 'Nos autem una cum Platone musisque in re seria inextricabilique ludentibus satis confabulati sumus' (Opera, p. 1425). In Dusanus, De ludo globi, cf Opera I (1514), fol 159, the idea of serio ludere was put into verse: 'Luditur hic ludus; sed non pueriliter, at sic / Lusit ut orbe novo sancta sophia deo... / Sic omnes lusere pii: Dionysius et qui / Increpuit magno mystica verba sono', presumably not by Cusanus himself but, as Fiorentino surmises (op. cit., p. 121) by De Bussi.

Marco said...

Thank you for the links, Ross. And for the quote from Proverbs 8: I am sure it's a good explanation for the Ludus verses.

"Multa doctior arte senex". I must remember to use this as a not-so-humble signature, in a few years (I don't hope to deserve it, but I like it a lot!).

kapoore said...

Hi Ross, I am the culprit that started the rumor that Nicholas of cusa created the Tarot. I think I'm right, but it's a long story. Related to your query. I do have the Wind book and the name in the footnote is Giovanni Andrea Bussi who was Cusa secretary from 1458 to 1464 (cusa's death). Warm regards, kapoore

Anonymous said...

Hi.. I am the culprit who likes to post about Cusa, whom I believe to be the creator of the game. Govanni andrea Bussi was Cusa's secretary from 1458 to Cusa's death in 1464. warm regards...

Anonymous said...

Hi Ross,
Another thought on the Wisdom quote on Cusa's. If Bussi said it then it might well be from Nicholas of Cusa because his secretary could be quoting him. In fact, to me it sounds like Cusa's language because he had very specific meanings for "beginning" "wisdom" "play" For Cusa, the "Beginning" was infinite and ever present--as in the ever present origin. The Wisdom would relate to Genesis 1:26 "Let us make man to our image and likeness" with the "us" meaning God and Wisdom together. In Wisdom 11:21 "but thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight" This relates to the "game," which is the number (arithmetic); measure (geometry) and weight (musical ratios). The quadrivium usually also has astronomy but the game only has the first three. I read somewhere else that the "princes of the church" were dissatified with the mantegna tarot because it wasn't biblical enough. The game they preferred was filled with mathematical and biblical riddles. Paul Huson this incident on page 49 of his excellent book on Tarot origins. He relates it to sortilege where he notes that "Pius II is said to have stated that he would prefer to read socinus's work on sortilege" than his other commentaries. Also, I think you give a slanted version of the opposition to card playing, which was permitted and enjoyed by all at christmas, and even was a cottage industry along with holy cards. In fact, the miniaturists made both religious art and cards. Later, of course, things changed. Later Bruno was burned at the stake and he was a follower of Cusa and Llull. I think Huson does an excellent job as well of the "change" that came with the counter reformation and the protestant revolution. I disagree with him on some things, but isn't that the point of dialogue? Warmly..