Saturday 31 March 2012

Today In Tarot History: Birthday of Bianca Maria Visconti

"Do I have to?"

Age 16, marriage to Francesco Sforza, Cremona, 25 October, 1441.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Michael Anthony Eardley Dummett, 1925-2011

Michael Dummett has gone to his reward.

He would be the first to admit that his work on the game of Tarot was not the most important work he did in his life. But it certainly is the most important work ever done on the subject of the game of Tarot. He would also admit - in fact, he would insist - that his greatest work in this field was not merely his, but a collaboration with Miss Sylvia Mann (1924-1994). It is due, then, to both of them that the scientific study of Tarot - in the taxonomic, historical and methodological aspects - was given the deep and abiding foundation of The Game of Tarot (1980; see pp. xxii-xxiii for his description of Sylvia Mann's contributions to the work).

Regretfully, I never met Michael Dummett. Like with a few other of my heroes, I came too late to the scene. On account of his health, he was already restricting his travel by the time I joined the International Playing Card Society in 2003 and began attending the annual conferences. Like most would-be historians of playing cards, then, I only know him through his writings and those who knew him. Perhaps, however, I can take some small pride in the fact that the last piece of writing he published on the subject of Tarot, as far as I know, was a review of the little book of which I am a co-author, Explaining the Tarot (in The Playing Card, 39, no. 2 (Oct. - Dec. 2010), pp. 86-87).

Obituaries and appreciations:

From Adrian William Moore at The Guardian, 28 December 2011.

From The Telegraph, 28 December 2011.

From Alasdair Steven at, 30 December 2011.

From John Schwenkler at Commonweal, December 30 2011.

From John Haldane at, 1 January 2012.

Funeral to be held in Oxford, Tuesday, 17 January 2012.

"DUMMETT Professor Sir Michael Funeral details: Noon on Tuesday 17th January, Oxford Oratory, 25 Woodstock Road [St Aloysius Church], followed by tea at New College."

Requiescat in pace

Friday 28 May 2010

New book - "Explaining the Tarot"

Explaining the Tarot: Two Italian Renaissance Essays on the Meaning of the Tarot Pack

edited, translated and commented by
Ross Sinclair Caldwell, Thierry Depaulis, Marco Ponzi

The symbolism of Tarot cards has intrigued people for five centuries. In this volume, two Italian authors of the 16th century, one known, the other anonymous, interpret the meaning of the Tarot trumps and the suit cards from a variety of interesting perspectives. Drawing from philosophy, religion, poetry, contemporary science, and the rules of the game itself, while at the same time offering examples from history and current events, the authors describe a series of images that for them is more than a game. They find that the symbolism of the cards, and their order, offer moral lessons and a wholesome guide to the ultimate purpose of life, which is to seek God. Their two discourses on the symbolism of the Tarot cards, here edited and translated into English for the first time, are the earliest ever written, and offer a rare glimpse into the other side of the game of Tarot in its first centuries – the meanings people saw in the pictures on the cards.

ISBN 978-0-9562370-1-9
72pp paperback
Price £7.00

I hope everyone will find something of interest in these two fascinating texts, which we have commented upon to the best of our ability.


Monday 31 August 2009

Popess in the Triumph of Love

In his 1985 book The Tarot Trumps, John Shephard reproduces a 1488 Venetian engraving of the Triumph of Love from Petrarch's Trionfi.

In the bottom left there is what appears to be a Popess. Shephard identifies her as such: "In the foreground is The Popess with her book". (p. 39)

The figure does appear to be more female than male, given the wimple around the face. Although not mentioned in Petrarch's poem, Pope Joan would be suitable for the Triumph of Love because of the love child that ultimately gave her away.

The inspiration for including Pope Joan in the Trionfo d'Amore must have been Boccaccio's De Mulieribus claris (Famous Women). Boccaccio attributes her career (the cause of both her rise and downfall) to Love and Learning (Venus and Minerva) -

According to some, while a young girl she was beloved by a certain young student, whom she also loved; and so ardently, that disregarding the fact that she was a maid, putting aside all feminine timidity, she secretly left the home of her father and followed her lover all the way to England, having changed her clothing and her name; and there, in his company, she studied letters, being supposed by everyone to be a (male) student, while nevertheless at the same time being given as much to the studies of Venus as to those of Minerva. Afterwards, the young man being dead, when she had come to know how intelligent she was, attracted by the pleasure of learning, and remaining in the same manner of dress, she wanted no more to be somebody's companion, nor to be known as a woman but instead she continued assiduously at her studies, and had profited so much by study of the liberal arts, and at the study of holy letters, that she was reputed to be more excellent than all the other students....

(after going to Rome and becoming Pope, she gives birth after three years...)

... by this means the fraud became clearly apparent, for how long she had deceived every other man, except for her lover.

Many such engravings were based on manuscript illuminations, and it would be interesting to see if there is an earlier painted manuscript with this figure in it.


I found a possible painted precursor to the 1488 image. Unfortunately I have only a black-and-white image which can't resolve much detail.

(Triumph of Love from a Venetian printed edition of 1478, with painted illustrations from c. 1480 (taken from J.B. Trapp, "Illustrations of Petrarch's "Trionfi" from Manuscript to Print and Print to Manuscript" (1999) reprinted in Studies of Petrarch and His Influence (Pindar Press, 2003) fig. 10.)

This is apparently the first printed edition of the Trionfi, with the second known one being the 1488 edition noted in the first post on this thread. The 1488 edition also includes the first engraved images of the Trionfi.

You can see the cardinal(s ?) and bishop behind the Popess, all figures also included in the 1488 edition. It's not as clear the figure is a Popess as it is in the 1488 version.

Sorry I can't do better at the moment. This image is not published in color or high quality anywhere I can find yet.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Date of Invention

I’ve been considering my plotting of the earliest evidence for tarot some more. Here are some conclusions.

The first consideration is the period between 1420 and 1460. All of the evidence is concentrated between 1442 and 1460. There is none between 1420 and 1442. Since, as far as I know, the total of all possible data is stable with regards to historical accident in the entire period 1420-1460 (i.e. it is not affected by a major change that guarantees a greater chance of survival, like the printing press) – that is, there was no greater loss, or gain, of writing or art, which has survived due to the vagaries of history, in the period 1442-1460 than in the period 1420-1442 – then the absence of evidence in the period 1420-1442 can be taken as evidence of absence.

In other words, if tarot cards and references to them had been made between 1420 and 1442, they are just as likely to have survived as those made between 1442 and 1460. There was no “great flood” which washed away all kinds of different potential sources prior to 1442, and no great invention which increased their chance of survival in the period after 1442. The data gives such a coherent picture that even if one whole data set were taken out – for example all the packs, or the iconography of players (all but one are uncertain) – or one whole city – for example, Ferrara – the overall pattern would remain undisturbed, and the same conclusion about diffusion and the inclusive range of absence of evidence would remain the same.

How long an absence? Can the absence be measured and the margin of error for the invention guessed at? I think so. From the half of this time that contains evidence, no datum is more than 3 years separated from another on the chart. For example, the earliest Ferrarese references, in 1442, are contemporaneous with the Brambilla and Cary Yale packs (1443-1445), and the Palazzo Borromeo fresco (circa 1445); at the other end, Bologna’s 1459 reference is contemporary to Ferrara’s 1457-1461 references, and Padua’s 1455 and c. 1460 reference. In a straight line therefore, taken as a whole, all data points from contemporary sources are within 3 to 5 years of one another in the first 18 years of tarot’s attested existence. Since the chance of preservation by historical accident remains constant in the whole 40 years 1420-1460, I think this observation of proximity gives us a control or statistical margin of error over the time prior to 1442 when we can expect tarot to have been invented – within 3 to 5 years of 1442, or between 1437/39 and 1442.

The chart also can be used to show that the place of the invention *cannot* be deduced solely by appeal to the chronological and geographical arrangement of the surviving data. The two closest towns on the chart are Bologna and Ferrara, with a mere 48 km between them. Yet the earliest references in these cities are separated by 17 years – the greatest distance in time between any first evidence in any two places in these 18 years. One of the longest distances between two towns is Ferrara and Milan (250 km), yet tarot appears practically simultaneously in both places. A final point to note is that tarot is recorded 9 years earlier in Florence than Bologna, when, any direct journey between Ferrara and Florence must pass through, or at least by, Bologna. Therefore the absence of any earlier record in Bologna must be an historical accident, and is not evidence of absence. Since the data cannot be relied upon for a period of at least 17 years, theoretically any place noted in the first 18 years after 1442 on this chart could be the birthplace of tarot.

In other words, if the chart is arranged by geographical proximity starting from any presumed diffusionary center, then the two closest towns are separated by the longest gap, of 17 years, while all the other more distant cities fill up the space with their own data, separated by no more than a few years each, which is counterintuitive for a diffusionary model (especially since the second earliest reference in Ferrara, also from 1442, is found in the hands of a Bolognese merchant, Marchione Burdochio.). This “margin of simultaneity” is therefore possible to within 250 km, which is essentially all of the cities noted in the first 18 years (definitely so if the distance is lengthened to 300 km). Thus it is impossible to use the chart to determine which is the most likely place of invention among Ferrara, Milan, Florence or Bologna.

However, historical and art-historical considerations make some places more likely than others, and other models (like a diffusionary model) might help make a decision easier. However, like the unlikelihood of deriving an accurate diffusionary model from the evidence, it is difficult, although perhaps easier, to trace iconographical developments and draw a genealogical tree. The great difficulty arises from the tendency of artists and patrons to invent, which means that trying to associate chronological and iconographical relationships among the earliest A, B and C families will still rest on no absolutely firm basis. In other words, if we limit ourselves to the fifteenth century, which includes documentary evidence as well as cards, it is still hard to make convincing arguments about some kind of relationship or evolution. The very earliest cards, like the Cary Yale, can be taken as the prototype of later standards - or an invented variation. The fragments as they are can be interpreted with equal parsimony in both ways.

I should note, finally, that this evidence is consistent with a scenario in which the 1440s were merely the time in which the wealthy became interested in tarot. The evidence of a popular game in this decade can be inferred from the Ferrarese note of the merchant Marchione Burdochio having a relatively cheap pack of carta da trionfi on hand to sell in July of 1442, as well as Marcello’s account of being given, probably in late 1448, a pack “not worthy” of being given to a Queen. But the range of the silence or negative evidence of this popular kind of tarot is harder to guess at than the evidence for a game played by the privileged. Personally I take Bernardino of Siena’s silence on these cards in his writings and sermons between 1424 and 1436, while mentioning and describing regular cards several times, to be evidence of absence; but as a solitary voice, however well-travelled and trenchant an observer of popular culture and sacrilege he may have been, his lack of testimony is admittedly thin evidence. Considering the absolute silence prior to 1442, the “courtly invention” scenario is therefore the most plausible, keeping in mind that, whether it went from artisan’s workshop to the streets and then to the courts, or from the courts to the streets, if we judge by the evidence both positive and negative that we have, the transfer must have been quick – in the range of about 2 years.


1442 – two records of payment for packs of carte da trionfi.
1450 – payments for carte da trionfi
1450-1455 – Chariot card, Issy-les-Moulineaux, school of Ferrara (other cards from this pack are in the Warsaw museum)
1451 – payment for a pack of triumph cards
1454 – payments for various packs of triumphs
1456 – Ugo Trotti recommends triumphs as a very good game
1457 – payments for packs of triumphs
1459 – printing block for triumph cards noted
1460 – payments for various packs of triumphs
1461 – payment for triumphs
1463 – payment for triumphs
1473 – earliest possible date for Ercole d’Este tarot

Cremona/Milan/Pavia/Masnago –
1443-1445 – approximate dates of Brambilla and Cary Yale tarots
1440s – dates of frescoes of wealthy card-players, traditionally considered tarocchi, in Palazzo Borromeo in Milan, and the Sala dei Svaghi of the castle in Masnago.
1448 – Marcello receives a standard tarot pack as a present while in the environs of Milan
1450 – Sforza writes a letter asking for his secretary to buy some packs of triumphs, which he appears to have received two days later
1452 – Sigismondo Malatesta writes the Duchess, Bianca Maria Visconti-Sforza, to commission for him some packs of triumphs
1455 – plausible date for the Visconti-Sforza pack (Dummett has recently argued for a date in the early 1460s)
1460s – fresco of card game between two players (male and female) in Roccabianca (now housed in Castello Sforzesco, Milan)
1468 – Galeazzo Maria Sforza commissions Bonifacio Bembo to paint a cycle of frescoes in the castle in Pavia, including one of “Ladies Bona and Isabeta (…) and her maids playing triumphs in the garden” (the explicit mention of “triumphs” gives weight to the impression that other contemporary “games frescoes” in Borromeo, Masnago and perhaps the Roccabianca card-scene are also intended to represent the playing of triumphs, although no tarot trumps can be seen in them).
1474 – two letters of GM Sforza requesting packs of triumphs

Florence –
1450 – permission of four card games, including triumphum
1450s – painted cards including “Charles VI”, Catania (Castello Ursino), Rothschild (attribution to Florence for these cards is a recent theory)
1463 – repetition of law permitting triumph to be played (with two additional games)
1466 – Minchiate is mentioned, presumably a card game (but there is no way to determine, and no consensus, that this is the same as the card pack and game that would be later known as Minchiate and Germini)
1471 – playing minchiate mentioned in Cortono (a city belonging to Florence)
1474-1478 – Florentine cards imported in Rome
1477 – Minchiate appears in a list of permitted games (but I cannot determine if trionfi is also listed, which might indicate that Minchiate was a distinct pack as well as game)

Siena –
1452 – record of importation of triumph cards from Florence (reported by Zdekauer, without transcription of original (hence the description “unconfirmed”))

Padua –
1455 – sermon of Roberto da Lecce Caracciolo, mentions triumph cards with popes and cardinals
1460 – approximate time Valerio Marcello is recorded to have played triumphs with his father’s friends in Monselice (he lived from 1452-1461, so I place it towards the end of his short life)

Bologna –
1459 – a stolen pack of triumphs is recovered
1477 – a Riminese man commissions a Bolognese cardmaker for several hundred packs of cards, including an unspecified number of triumph packs

Thursday 30 April 2009

Juego de naipes update

Thanks to my good friend Robert, I was able to get a copy of Nancy Marino’s article Fernando de la Torre’s “Juego de naipes”, A Game of Love (La Corónica 35.1 (Fall 2006): 209-47), mentioned in the last post.

Her paper has answered a good number of the questions that I had, as well as providing a bibliography to follow up on. Unfortunately she didn’t provide any translations, but her descriptions – along with a sincere attempt at understanding the original language on the reader’s part - are more than adequate to get a sense of the passages she quotes.

Some important points for me –

1. The name of the “Countess of Castañeda” to whom the game-poem was dedicated – “Mencía Enríquez de Mendoza, a noblewoman of the Castilian Court.” (p. 209)

2. A terminus a quo for the composition – the poem alludes to an event which took place in 1448, and the composition of the book in which it was included was sent before the end of the 1450s, so it was written sometime in that ten-year period (pp. 209 and 230).

3. A hint at the biography of Fernando de la Torre, which is contained in two books, neither of which is available for sale at a reasonable price nor in libraries accessible to me – Marino at least indicates that he “studied in Florence and attended the Council of Basel” (p. 210), and was later involved in diplomatic missions to France and activity around the border with France, indicating his wide travels.

4. “[T]he object of the game was to trump the other competitor’s cards, suggested in the ‘Juego’ by the supremacy of the Emperor card” (pp. 239-240).

5. The descriptions of the court cards are missing in the version that I transcribed. It is not contained in the manuscript of the Cancionero de Stúñiga, but only in a manuscript at the University of Salamanca, (Ms. 2763), which Marino says is unedited (unpublished in full), but which at least appears in some form in her preferred source for the poem, María Jesús Díez Garretas, La obra literaria de Fernando de la Torre (Valladolid, U de Valladolid, 1983) (p. 236).

6. The Emperor card represented the Countess of Castañeda herself, and does indeed win over all the other cards (pp. 215-216).

7. The court cards were contemporary or legendary figures, as follows:

Swords :
King – Abbess of the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas
Knight – King of Castilla
Knave – a procession of gentlemen and ladies in pairs

Clubs (Bastones):
King – Pantasilea, Queen of the Amazons
Knight – Judith
Knave – Dido

King – Lucretia
Knight – Don Fernán Alonso (infamous for killing his adulterous wife and four others in 1448)
Knave – (Marino neglects to mention who it is)

King – The Lady of the Lake
Knight – Ghismonda
Knave – Vidus (legendary character)

These are described and their significance explored on pages 217-233.

8. The games “Trintin” and “Perseguera” seem to be unmentioned anywhere but here (p. 239).

9. The phrase “es major el carnero que la gallina” does appear to be proverbial, as Eugim in a comment to the previous post notes. “This expression seems to be proverbial, but has not been documented in any of the collections of refranes. In Calderón de la Barca’s El Alcalda de Zalamea the soldiers sing a jacara which contains the lines ‘Huéspeda, mátame una gallina, / que el carnero me hace mal’ (Acto I, vv. 111-12). Beyond the issue of indigestion caused by the tough meat lies the sexual pun of wanting to avoid being cuckolded. Fernando de la Torre turns this saying around, apparently to allow the possibility of engaging in love affairs with married women” (p. 230).

10. Marino takes the injunction “y demás, puédense conoscer quáles son mejores amores, sin aver respecto a lo que puede contescer (proverb about carnero and gallina), y puédense echar suertes en ellos a quien más ama cada uno, e a quien quiere más… “ to be “an unmistakable allusion to the use of playing cards for fortune-telling, perhaps the earliest such reference in Spain” (p. 240). She does not provide a translation, so here is my most diplomatic attempt: “and otherwise, so that the best kinds of loves can be known, without concern for the consequences (proverb about carnero and gallina), then they can cast sorts in them for whom anyone most loves, and for whom they most desire…” If this is accurate, then it appears to counsel drawing a card and reading the inscription to know about the suitability or potential ("without regard for the consequences") of a love interest.

11. Marino devotes a paragraph to the comparison begging to be made with Matteo Maria Boiardo's Cinque Capituli (p. 240).

Overall this is a very interesting text that is both much in need of a translation as well as an analysis from a playing-card history perspective. Nancy Marino's paper is an excellent place to begin.

Monday 16 March 2009

Spanish "Single Trump" Game

Fernando de la Torre (1416-c. 1475), Juego de Naypes, c. 1450. This is a poetic interpretation of the Spanish (Castillian) 48 card pack, dedicated to the Countess of Castañeda. What makes it appropriate here is that the author adds an extra card, the Emperador, which "wins over all the other cards" (Emperador que gane a todas las otras cartas.) This Emperor thus has the role of trump in the game de la Torre devised.

This is a work of interest to historians of playing cards, and although it was first edited in 1872 (with further editions in 1907 and 1983) I have not seen it noted anywhere in the standard literature (e.g. Schreiber, Hoffmann, Kaplan, Dummett, Depaulis, Berti and Vitali, Denning). I came across the references to it in Jean-Pierre Etienvre's works. Besides its early date and unique "Triumph", it has the distinction of being the earliest witness to the Spanish 48 card pack, as well as being an early fantasy use of cards - each suit is the "love" of a certain category of woman, with allusions to history, literature or mythology, and each is associated with a color.

This is as following:

Espadas - Nuns - Red
Bastones - Widows - Black
Copas - Wives - Blue
Oros - Maidens - Green

Etienvre has noted that this color scheme reflects perfectly the contemporary heraldic symbolism given in the Blason des couleurs of Jacques d'Enghien (known as "Sicile" (or Sicille)), written in 1435 (see particularly pp. 77-89 and 101-125). As for the attribution of the suits, Etienvre admits he does not understand the logic (Figures du jeu, pp. 327-328).

The verses were to be written out on the cards, and each verse contains the number of lines of the card's numerical value, i.e. Kings have 12 lines, Knights 11, Jacks 10, 9s 9, 8s 8 lines, etc. The Emperor's poem has 20 lines (shown in the image above, second half of the first column - how to cram all that onto a card?). The Emperor card's verses are to be written in "letras moradas" - purple letters.

Etienvre writes in 1987 that "For the moment, I tend to regard this text as unique - there exists nothing like it that I know, in all of European litterature." Yet for us, the comparison with the Trionfi poem of Boiardo instantly leaps to mind.

Nancy F. Marino of the University of Michigan has recently written an article on this text which I haven't seen - Fernando de la Torre's "Juego de naipes" a Game of Love (La Corónica: A Journal of Medieval Spanish Language and Literature, vol. 35, no. 1, 2006, pp. 209-248).

Here is the text as I have transcribed it from its first edition in Cancionero de Lope de Stúñiga, códice del siglo XV (Madrid, 1872), pp. 273-293.)



El emboltorio de los naypes ha de ser en esta
manera. Una piel de pargamino del gran-
dor de un pliego de papel en el qual uaya
escripto lo seguiente, é las espaldas del
dicho emboltorio de la color de las
espaldas de los dichos naypes.


Non creo nuevo será á vuestra sennoría haberme mandado que con alguna lectura vos syrviesse: y como vuestro mandado non podiese negar, pensélo poner por obra; mas como la escriptura non fuese breve nin tiempos asy quietos como quisiera, la conclusion ó medio de aquélla está por faser. Asy que para esperar la tal cena magnificencia y virtud, acordé de enbiar á vuestra noblesa una colaciónó passatiempo de la manera que baxa se fará relacion. Non dubde vuestra sennoría yo non entienda ser el presente baxo y non conviniente para tan gran excellencia, como la vuestra segund la calidat. Mas como quiera que esto de la una parte me físiesse temer, de la otra lo seguiente me dió osadía. Ca á las grandes mares tan bien los arroyos , como los gruesos rios occorren y caben, non se me olvidando vuestra noble et palenciana condicion, la qual allende de comportar las mis faltas et osadía, favorescerá lo
bueno de la obra, et lo defectuoso dissimulará ó emendará con singular et verdadera discrecion, como aquella que prinçesa de las Espannas se puede ó debe llamar. Et yo temiendo la reprehension de la obra, bien quisiera que fuera callado nombre del actor, salvo que por la obra se conosce el maestro, la cual lieva la marca de mi simplesa, et va firmada de la firma de mi poco saber, et cerrada et sellada con las armas de mi grossero sentido, et pendiente en filos de grand osadía, lo qual todo ha ciegado la afection et mysterio de las cosas ya dichas. — El humile et devoto siervo de vuestra merçed, Ferrando de la Torre.


Primeramente un Emperador que gane á todas las otras cartas , et éste tiene dos coplas et un fin de letras moradas en esta guisa. Han de ser quatro iuegos apropiados á quatro estados de amores en esta manera. El primero de religiosas á las espadas, apropiado por las coplas segund la calidat de la casa. E han de ser doce naypes en este iuego, et en cada uno una
copla, et ha de haber tres figuras, la primera del rey, copla de dose piés; la segunda del caballero de onse; la sota de diez, et dende ayuso diminuyendo fasta llegar á un pié, y por conseguiente todos los otros estados, assí como el de biudas apropiado á bastones y de casadas á copas y el de donçellas á oros, por tal que sean quarenta et ocho cartas et coplas
syn las del prólogo ó Emperador. E pueden iugar con ellos perseguera ó tríntin assy como en otros naypes, y de más pueden se conosçer quáles son meiores amores sin haber respecto á lo que puede contesçer. Porque á las veces es meior el carnero que la gallina, et pueden conosçer su calidat, y puédense echar suertes en ellos á quién más ama cada uno, e á quién quiere más, et por otras muchas et diversas maneras.

El Emperador de letras moradas ha de ser en esta guisa un naype en que se contengan estas coplas seguientes:

Magnificencia y virtud,
Gratia, beldat y nobleça,
Perla de la ioventud.
Seso de la senectud ,
Caudillo de la destreça,
Reyna de la castidat.
Princesa de corteledat.
Duquesa de honestidat.
Marquesa de la verdat.
Condesa de Castanneda.

Á vos á quien recorrer
Deben las obras ayna,
Por lindo reprehender
Como fuente de saber,
Ó por saber y doctrina ,
Á vos mucho humilmente
Como de syervo menor.
Se presenta tal presente.
Manifiesto ynsuficiente.
Pediendo enmienda y favor.


Es de la obra el grandor,
Con metros desordenados.
De quatro estados de amor.
Unos naypes desdonados
Para desechar cuydados.

apropiado á los amores de religiosas, todo de letras


Al tiempo del pelear,
Si se caen las espadas
De manos mal apretadas.
He visto quistionear
Disiendo, segund oy,
Por achaque ó por glosa,
Amores de religiosa
Andouieron por aquí,
Mas yo les respondo asy,
Por sententia y conclusion,
Ques una grande abusion
Que en los cobardes sentí.


Nin por esto non se entienda
Que yo apruebo tal cosa,
Sólo por desir esposa
De quien non quiero contienda,
Es verdat, si fuese bella
Y noble de condicion,
Yo siempre sería della
Syn temer la perdicion,
Mas tengo por opinion,
Quien amare lo contrario,
Que será del adversario.


La serví en tal lugar
Syn rescebir galardon,
Y puedo muy bien iurar
Con verdat, y con rason,
Que iamas un tal proçesso
Tan dulce non fué fallado.
Por donde qualquier excesso
Deviera ser perdonado,
Asy que tengo afirmado.
Este ser gracioso estado.


Pero hay diversidat
En este estado que digo,
Que segund la calidat
De personas acata,.
Tal debe ser el castigo,
Mas en todas fallo un danno,
El qual callar non me dexa,
Que un grado muy extranno,
Memoria dellas se quexa.


Pues do non fasen memoria
La fírmeça no es presente,
Nin ménos do quitan gloria
La pena non queda absente,
Absente fui de plaser,
Presente de grand pesar,
Ninguno al favoresçer,
Mal alguno al desdennar.


Aquí se puede arguyr
Que por mí no es de iusgar,
Ca unos van con reyr
É otros van con llorar,
Mas segund comuna regla,
Aunque viven por antoio
Á muchos quitan enoio.


Porque su trato es fermoso,
Honesto, muy entendido,
Non quieren al mal gracioso
Nin aman al mal sentido,
Y con grand desden y gesto
Al tal despiden con esto.


Pues que son á tantas partes
Vestras rasones comunes,
Usando grosseras artes,
Yd allá tener el mártes,
Donde tovistes el lúnes.


Á esto suelen desir,
Con gesto muy sosegado,
Nin por más me despedir,
Porfía mata venado.


Vos, que tanto porfiays
Y de seso me sacays,
Veamos por qué faseys.


Porque mientras viviré
Non de vos renunciaré.


Y á mi rey qué desis.

apropiado al amor de las viudas, todo de letras


Renunciar de los bastones
Ha contescido al iugar,
Mas de viuda renunciar
Non lo sufren las rasones,
Quanto más si es fermosa
Y rica con moçedad,
Quien dexáre la tal cosa
Usaría de nesçedad,
Amores son en verdat,
Aunque non mucho pomposos,
De mucha seguridat
Y muy poco peligrosos.


Debaxo de negro manto
Ya blancuras se fallaron,
Donde fisieron grand llanto
Otras vegadas cantaron
Entended bien la rason,
Amadores de notar,
Que si mueren con sason
Amores son de caçar,
Ca segund es el lugar
De campinna, ó de labrada,
Es la caça saçonada.


Es verdat ques grand enoio
Una rason que se pone
Por refran, ó por antoio,
Fulano, que Dios perdone,
Por cierto sería excusada
Si olvidar se podiese
Que tal materia cantada
Nin reçada se dixesse,
Mas, ¿cómo puede excusar
El sochantre de cantar?


Como yo non he passado
En mi vida por tal regla,
Non es grand yerro lo trovado
Sy demás de mal rimado
El efecto va sin regla,
Ca segund la presuncion,
Aunque non digo de quién,
Á este caso fas bien
Esta copla de cancion.


El clamor ques en tal grado,
Ciertamente deve ser
De dama de grand estado
Ó de gentil paresçer,
Que lo al non se requier
Nin se debe aprobar,
Salvo sy fuere en lugar
Que la falta lo fisier.


Muchas veses acaesçe
Contra voluntat tratar,
Porquel tiempo lo ofresce,
El qual lo fase dexar,
Así que debe mirar
La que fuere requestada,
Cómo non quede burlada.


Porque se suele faser
Al tiempo que las reclaman,
Quando se dan á creer,
Que muy de véras las aman,
Mas despues de bien burladas
Disen estas palabras.


En nuestra vida un remedio
Sólo fallo que habemos,
Que segund Dios puso medio,
Que lloredes, et lloremos,
Que farto con que tenemos.


Mas disen en mi escuela
Desta tal lection ó thema,
Que con esto se consuela
Quien las sus madexas quema.


Es plaser lo que proponen,
Que mal fabla les disen,
Tal coraçon les ponen.


Y despues de bien pensado
Disen á su signo y fado.


Nin por más cuytas me dar.

apropiado á los amores de las casadas, todo de letras


Sabe el vino á las vegadas,
En copa muy desygual,
Mas amar á las casadas
Á las veses sabe mal,
Y bien por este tal iuego
Do se paga grand portadgo
Renuncien todos de luégo,
Que yo non ménos lo fago,
Mas disen los de Cartago,
Segund pone la escriptura,
Que nunca pesca en gran lago
Quien iamas se aventura.


Renegad vos de posada
Donde mora hombre varon,
Donde cortan con espada
É fieren con el bullon,
Por ende, quien me creyere,
Mire bien tales baratos,
É sy en Córdoba se viere
Sobresuele sus çapatos,
Asy que los tales tractos,
El que los quiere seguir,
Bien se debe aperçebir.


Lo que tiene otro sobrado
Á mí poco me aprovecha,
Manto de otro sudado
Mi voluntat lo desecha,
Con todo, tal puede ser
En color y en fechura,
Que vieio puede valer
Más que nuevo syn costura,
Y por tal desenvultura
Muchas veses vi folgura.


Mas aquesta tal iornada
De contino non se pruebe
Cabeça descobiiada,
En sameiante enbaiada
Muchas vegadas se llueve,
De tal querer me despido.
Perdóneme toda sennora,
Yo quiero ser su vençido
Y que quede vençedora.


Y que quede á su placer
Por guerrera conoscida,
Aunque non es mucho vençer
La cosa que está vençida,
Esto, porque combatido
Yo me fallo toda hora,
Asy que quedo vençido,
Ella que grand vençedora.


Mas sy ama y es amado
En qualque grand perfecion,
Non tema la perdicion,
Afirmando ser osado,
Porque el hombre es obligado
Ántes por una morir,
Que non por otra vivir.


Pues amar es cosa humana,
Non se debe de iusgar,
Que lo tal es cosa vana,
De desir nin de pensar,
Sy non ved lo que yo fundo,
Sy es passado por el mundo.


Lo que syempre fué y es
Es fuerça que syempre sea,
Mas de fas que tiene enves,
Nin de ropa del reves
Ningund hombre se provea.


Que quando quise non quiso,
Agora ménos yo quiero,
En pensar lo postrimero
Non quiero morir de riso.


Esto digo, non afirmando
Lo que se debe faser,
Cada qual sepa escoger.


Que yo syn más difinir
Non quiero más escrebir.


De mi secreto y firmesa.

apropiado á los amores de donçellas,
de letras verdes.


Non ménos que fino oro
Es rason de desear
Una donsella que adoro,
Para la querer et amar,
Porque si todos colores
Este buen metal excede,
Non ménos estos amores
Á todos otros precede,
Á quien en tales antecede
Habiendo qualque victoria,
Para siempre le subcede
Rica corona de gloría.


Éstos son á quien yguales
Todo hombre debe servir,
Y por quien bienes y males
Todo se debe sofrir,
Éstos son por quien la vida
Se meresce de poner,
Éstos son por quien non olvida
La gala de se exercer,
Éstos que fasen faser
Lindas iustas et invenciones,
Éstos doblan coraçones.


Éstos son los palancianos,
Éstos son los más polidos,
Éstos de quien los humanos
Se deben fallar guarnidos,
Éstos son limpios y bellos
Syn algund impedimento,
Éstos quien há parte en ellos
Vive alegre et muy contento,
Éstos son por quien absentó,
Mis trabaios son por ellos.


Éstos en extremo grado
Por su gran valer me plasen,
Éstos me tienen ganado
Y con ellos soy pagado
Aunque non me satisfasen,
Dígolo porquen verdat
En gracias de como quiero,
Asy siento exquividat
Como se fuese extranjero.


Mas esta tamanna quexa,
Que desta dama yo siento,
Nin la dexo nin se dexa
De buscar mi perdimiento,
Asy que en tal mansilla
Non sé cuál deba seguir,
Sy me vaya de Castilla
Ó muera por la servir.


Mas al fin fago esta cuenta
Por sumas syn cantador,
Que quiero más su tormenta
Que de otra grand favor,
Sy tengo rason ó non,
Segund uso de firmesa,
Alegre con ello soy.


Aquesta en verdat nasció
Con extrema fermosura.
Tal, que persona non vió
Ygualdad en su fechura,
Á la qual falta non vi.
Salvo ser cruel á mí.


Es cruel á mí vivir.
Mucho más á mi servicio,
Mas io syn me despedir,
Nunca dexo de dexir
Este sancto sacreficio.


Aunque en vos iamas non siento.
Nin sentí punto de amor,
Partirme non lo consiento
De ser vuestro servidor.


Ca espero en su bondat,
Que usará de piedat
Syn querer syempre mi danno.


Donsella, vuestra beldad
Cativó mi libertad.


Servir á vos es reynar.

(Transcription of Fernando de la Torre, Iuego de naypes, (c. 1449), first published in Cancionero de Lope de Stúñiga, códice del siglo XV (Madrid, 1872), pp. 273-293.)

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Van Rijnberk's Mysterious Papesse

I recently got a copy of a mid-20th century French Tarot classic, Gérard van Rijnberk's Le Tarot: Histoire, Iconographie, Esotérisme.

He includes a plate of four images of "La Papesse", the Popess (not the trump, but Pope Joan).

Numbers 2 and 3 are familiar enough to people who have looked for images of Pope Joan, and according to van Rijnberk number 4 comes from a Chronicle of Cologne of the late 15th century.

But what interests me is number 1. Van Rijnberk attributes it to a different edition of the source of number 2, namely Jacopo Filippo Foresti's De claris sceletisque mulieribus (Ferrara, 1497). More precisely, in his caption for the figure he writes:
X. La Papesse. 1. Dans le livre de Forestus Bergomensis "De claris mulieribus, 1497. 2. Dans une autre édition du même livre que Von Spanheim a eue entre les mains.

His bibliography lists two editions of Frédéric de Spanheim, Histoire de la Papesse Jeanne, fidélement tirée de la dissertation latine, both printed in La Haye, in 1720 and 1736 respectively.

Google Books has 3 editions of this book - the first, in 1694 in one volume, is not illustrated. The second is Van Rijnberk's 1720 edition, in two volumes, and includes this illustration in vol. I between pages 194 and 195:
There are no illustrations in volume II, and there is nothing corresponding to Van Rijnberk's image 1.

Google Books doesn't have the edition of 1736, but it does have another from 1758, also printed in La Haye. The corresponding image in volume I here is the same composition, but redrawn (Schedel's Popess with Baby is looking to the left instead of right, for instance):
Again, in this edition, nothing corresponding to Van Rijnberk's first Papesse.

What about J.-F. Foresti (Bergamensis)' book? Maybe in another edition of that?

As far as I can tell, the first edition of that book was 1497, and the only woodcut I've ever seen from there is Van Rijnberk's number 2. Both Von Spanheim's and Van Rijnberk's are recreations (and Von Spanheim's is more elegant than the original, in my opinion) of the original, which has been reproduced by Andrea Vitali et al. in several publications:

It seems that Van Rijnberk misremembered (as I have found he sometimes does) the source of his Papesse number 1.

Where did she come from? I don't know.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Update on the Turfan Card

Thierry Depaulis responded to my post on the Turfan Card with an article he wrote in 2004 for the bulletin L'As de Trèfle (n° 18, juil.-août 2004, pp. 4-6): La carte de Tourfan: la plus ancienne carte à jouer du monde?.

In addition to information on the professional relationships between Albert von Le Coq and Stewart Culin, and Le Coq and Thomas F. Carter (author of The Invention of Printing in China and its Spread Westward (New York, 1925 (2nd ed. 1955), which contains a discussion of the card with Carter's unexplained dating "about 1400" in chapter XIX), Depaulis' article provides further details on the fate of the card and another that was apparently found with it, as well as good reasons for not dating it earlier than 1500.

First, the card is lost.

Depaulis notes that the Polish Turkologue Edward Tryjarski tried to find the card in the early 1970s, and in a 1976 article says that he was informed by the Museum für Indische Kunst that it seemed to have been lost at the fall of Berlin in 1945.

Second, Le Coq found two cards.

Tryjarski noted that it was in New Delhi, and that Dr. Emel Esin (then teaching at Istanbul; Esin collaborated with Michael Dummett on the Mamluk cards) had promised to publish it. This has never appeared, and the card has not yet been published.

However, John Gosling informed Depaulis that Andrew Lo had described the card in his article "The Game of Leaves: An Inquiry into the Origin of Chinese Playing Cards" ( Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 63, Pt. 3, 2000, pp. 389-406). According to Lo's description the card shows a man holding a baby in his arms, which would make him a representation of the hero Zhu Tong in The Water Margin. He is found on the 8 of Tens of Myriads suit.

Finally, there is no reason to believe that the Turfan Card(s) were made before 1500.

Depaulis cites the article "The Late Ming Game of Ma Diao" by Andrew Low (same as Andrew Lo?) in The Playing Card, vol. XXIX, n° 3, Nov.-Dec. 2000, pp. 115-136. Low notes that the "Red Flower" card, known as "Zero (of) Sapeque" (Sapeque/Sapek being a cheap denomination of coin), was not yet present in the game of 38 cards described by the author Lu Rong (14365-1494) in his Shuyuan zaji. However, it is present in the description of the same game in 1600, by Pan Zhiheng in Yezipu (Manual of Playing Cards), but is now described with 40 cards. The two supplemental cards were Wang Ying (Zero Sapeque) and a Half Sapeque.

Low is clear that this Ming game described by Pan Zhiheng is the same as that described over a century earlier by Lu Rong, but with two supplemental cards.

Therefore the evidence suggests that this card dates at the earliest to sometime in the 16th century.

(with thanks to Thierry for his article and comments)

Sunday 8 March 2009

Tarot and Minchiate in Spain, 16th Century

Having been under the impression that the only references to Tarot in Spain were late and uninformative (for example see Dummett Game of Tarot p. xxiv), I was pleased to recently find some earlier and more substantial references in a work published over 20 years ago.

Jean-Pierre Etienvre, in Figures du jeu: études Lexico-Semantiques Sur Le Jeu De Cartes En Espagne (XVIe-XVIII siècle) (Casa de Velazquez, 1987), found several references to Tarot being used in southern and central Spain in the 16th century. Here are some excerpts from pages 293-294. I can’t do a very good job at translating the Spanish, but I’ll summarize my best understanding.

1528, Diego del Castillo, Tratado muy util y provechoso en reprobacion de los juegos, mentions a shortened pack of 67 cards, and apparently the Minchiate, of 96 cards.

E donde pensé diminuyr los naypes en solo copas y espadas, mostrome vn cauallero vn juego de naypes de ytalia de sesenta i siete cartas, entre los quales esta figurado vn angel y el cielo, el sol i la luna, ciertas estrellas, el mundo i fortuna, el padre sancto con las llaues del cielo, la muerte y la vida, el infierno i demonio, y dende los emperadores, reyes i reynas y grandes señores con mas numero de puntos que jeugan con ellos.

Yo ando por quitar el juego, otros por augmentarlo ; de quarenta y ocho cartas las hizieron sesenta y siete ; mas valiera hazerlas noventa y seys y dobarlas, porque se doblara la pena a quien las hizo.

(Ross’ note – interesting to note that in the first game, of 67 cards, the moralist didn’t notice a Popess, but he does note “Emperors”. Perhaps the pack did have two Emperors and Pope. He also recognizes “Death and Life”, and “Hell and the Devil” – “Hell" may well be “Fire” or the Tower, but what is “Life”? In any case, it represents an otherwise unknown kind of Tarot pack.)

Forty years later, in July 1568, some suspicious cards were seized by the Inquisition in Cuenca (a town and region south-east of Madrid). Here is what is said about them, in the first report to the Supreme Council:

A este Sancto Offiçio se an traido unos naypes hecho en aquellas partes de marca grande en q ay figuras del papa y otra de una mujer con las mesmas ynsignias del papa y una figura de un angel con una trompeta como forma de llamar al juiçio y otras figuras. Paresçe manera de yrrision de las cosas de ntra Religion christiana. La persona q los truxo dize q los hubo en Alicante, q se los dieron unos marineros de la nao llamada Rehusera y q en valencia ha visto dellos e jugar con naypes semejantes a algs ginoveses. En esta çiudad no entendemos q se vendan ni se an visto otros.

(Here the description includes a “Pope and another figure of a woman with the same insignia as the Pope and a figure of an angel with a trumpet in the style of the call to judgment and other figures.” I think he goes on to say that this derides the entire Christian religion. He says there are reports from Alicante that some mariners play them and in Valencia they play with cards similar to “some Genovese” game (or "those of some Genovese"). I think the last line means that "In this city we have not heard who sells them nor have we seen others.”

For the Inquisition, these images were sacreligious. The power of the Inquisition in Spain may help account for the fact that Tarot never became naturalized in that country.)

One month later they report the public sale of these cards in Valencia, and they are called in Italian “Tarroqui” and in Spanish “Taroques”:

[…] annos auisado q en Valençia se venden publicamente y que en esa corte los ay entre los estrangeros y que juegan con ellos. Llamanse en ytaliano tarroqui y en español taroques

(Bold added)

In 1588, the Inquisitor of Mallorca denounced the introduction of cards “printed in France”, in which were represented a Pope with a tiara, a Popess, the Angel of the Last Judgment, Death, Cupid, the four Evangelists, the Moon, the stars, etc.

(Ross’ note – from a purely chronological point of view, what is striking about this description is “the four Evangelists.” This must refer to the typical design of the World card in the “Tarot de Marseille”, which therefore already existed by the 1580s in France. This is not really surprising, since the Castello Sforzesco “World” probably dates to circa 1600, but a dated attestation of the style is a comforting find.)

There are other interesting things in Etienvre which deserve another post.

Friday 13 February 2009

Number 13 and the Death card

Number 13, Friday the 13th and the number 17

The Death card is so firmly associated with the number 13 in the Tarot that most people simply assume that the superstition that “13 means death” was well established in medieval Italy. Surprisingly however, no literary documentation of this association has been found dating from this era or before, and not until the 19th century in Italy. The Tarot is itself the earliest evidence for it.

All writers on Tarot, who have taken notice of it, have taken the association of 13 with misfortune, and by extension death, for granted - except for Etteilla, who explicitly rejects it, for dogmatic reasons that may be connected to the number 17 (see below):

"The false savants have said that the number or sign of death was 13, and in consequence they assigned Death 13. But this Book takes man in his creation, and it is recognized that Adam was in no way subject to death at the number 13 but at that of 17."

(from the Deuxième Cahier, quoted by Jacques Halbronn in "Etteilla: L'astrologie du livre de Thot (1785), suivie de Recherches sur l'histoire de l'astrologie et du Tarot", p. 31)

But in not a single case have any, whether esoteric moralizers or scientific historians, offered evidence external to the Tarot from the early 15th century or earlier for it. This could be because there is none to be found. Some have added ad hoc explanations or evidence, while others have simply stated it without corroboration. In the following quotes, note the use of terms like “always”, “universally”, or “traditionally” – a rhetorical hand-wave in the direction of the reader’s prejudice, which in reality misdirects, away from the true obscurity of the “traditional” association. Everybody points to the traditional and well-known superstition, but nobody provides any evidence of it from the time and place of Tarot’s origin.

Antoine Court de Gébelin (1781, p. 375), on number XIII, Death: “It is hardly surprising that it should be placed under this number; the number thirteen was always regarded as unfortunate. It must be that long ago some great misfortune happened on such a day, and that the memory of it had influence on all the ancient Nations. Might it be as a result of this memory that the thirteen Tribes of the Hebrews were never counted as other than twelve?”

Comte de Mellet (1781, p. 398): “Thirteenth; this number, always unfortunate, is dedicated to Death, who is shown mowing down heads both crowned and common.”

John Shephard (1985, p. 105): “The number thirteen, following the perfection of twelve, has always been associated with death. It was a reminder of the Last Supper of Christ with his twelve apostles.”

Robert V. O’Neill (1986, p. 314): “The number thirteen is universally the number of death and disaster. Many large hotels have no thirteenth floor because the prejudice against thirteen is so common even in our society.”

Alessandra Uguccioni (writing in “L’iconografia degli arcani maggiori”, in Berti, G. And A. Vitali, eds., 1987, p. 175): “In the most recent examples a similar iconography is preserved, and the numeration also remains constant, being always the number 13, or the unlucky number.”

Paul Huson (2004, pp. 118-119): “... many decks designed specifically for cartomancy have kept this card in the traditionally unlucky thirteenth position in the trump sequence...”

Robert M. Place (2005, p. 150): “In all the known early orders of the trumps Death is always number thirteen. As thirteen is a number associated with bad luck and death, this suggests that Death was given this number for symbolic reasons.”

In books treating the symbolism of numbers through history, we do not in fact find that 13 was always, traditionally, or much less “universally”, considered unlucky. In fact the earliest symbolism gives it a positive connotation. Epiphany is the 13th day after Christ’s birth, the Golden Legend notes (“Epiphany”). Two particularly important discussions of the earliest evidence for the superstition are Hopper’s “Medieval Number Symbolism” (pp. 130ff.) and Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition (pp. 42-43). Lachenmeyer, writing in 2004, seems unaware of Hopper as a source, but like Hopper 80 years earlier, concludes that the superstition had its origins in the belief that Judas or Jesus was the 13th at the table in the Last Supper.

The earliest reference to a superstition about “13 at a table” yet known was found by Hopper 80 years ago, in the Essais of Montaigne (Bk. III, c. viii; ca. 1585). Montaigne writes:

“It seems to me excusable if I prefer the odd to the even number, a Thursday to a Friday, if I like more the twelfth or fourteenth than a thirteenth at the table...”

Hopper finds the first negative connotations of the number given by Pietro Bongo in “Mysticae Numerorum” (editions of 1584 and following years):

Petrus Bungus is the first arithmologist to recognize any evil inherent in the number. He records that the Jews murmured 13 times against God in the exodus from Egypt, that the thirteenth psalm concerns wickedness and corruption, that the circumcision of Israel occurred in the thirteenth year, thus not reaching the satisfaction of the Law and the Evangelists, which are figured by 10 and 4. As 11 is a number of transgression, because it goes beyond the 10 Commandments, so 13 goes beyond the 12 Apostles. Therefore, hic numerous Judaeorum taxat impietatem. The previous absence of any such explanation in the arithmologies gives the impression that popular belief had forced upon the priest this painful and rather unconvincing interpretation of the Commandments and the Trinity. Montaigne’s intimation that the superstition was widely in vogue would tend to push its origin back at least to the Middle Ages.”

Montaigne’s allusion to it, among a list of other superstitions, implies, as Hopper notes, that it was a popular belief (as opposed to a forced and learned speculation), which would be very difficult to trace in written literature. The Tarot therefore seems to be the earliest witness that a baneful association with the number existed at all.

The relevant passages from Hopper and Lachenmeyer follow.

Vincent Foster Hopper, “Medieval Number Symbolism” (1938; various reprints) pp. 130ff.:

“The famous ‘unlucky 13’ and especially the ’13 at table’ is, I believe, somehow connected with this tradition [of 12 previously discussed]. Böklen [Die unglückszabl Dreizebn und ihre mythische Bedeutung] has attempted to prove the prevalence of the superstition as early as Homeric times, but his evidence is drawn from his own discovery of instances where a misfortune is said to have occurred to one of 13 individuals. I cannot believe this type of evidence to be valid, since the number is never asserted to be the cause of the misfortune nor is it ever directly labeled as ‘unlucky’ in any discussion of significant numbers or elsewhere. The first specific mention of the unlucky 13 which I have been able to find occurs in Montaigne: ‘And me seemeth I may well be excused if I rather except an odd number than an even... If I had rather make a twelfth or fourteenth at a table, then a thirteenth... All such fond conceits, now in credit about us, deserve at least to be listened unto.’ [Essais, Bk. III, Essay VIII, ‘Of the Art of Conferring’ (Florio translation)].

The fact that the number was associated with Epiphany by the Church, and appears not have been considered other than holy by any of the medieval number theorists leads to the inference that the unlucky 13 was a popular superstition entirely disconnected from the ‘science of numbers.’ Petrus Bungus is the first arithmologist to recognize any evil inherent in the number. He records that the Jews murmured 13 times against God in the exodus from Egypt, that the thirteenth psalm concerns wickedness and corruption, that the circumcision of Israel occurred in the thirteenth year, thus not reaching the satisfaction of the Law and the Evangelists, which are figured by 10 and 4. As 11 is a number of transgression, because it goes beyond the 10 Commandments, so 13 goes beyond the 12 Apostles. Therefore, hic numerous Judaeorum taxat impietatem. The previous absence of any such explanation in the arithmologies gives the impression that popular belief had forced upon the priest this painful and rather unconvincing interpretation of the Commandments and the Trinity. Montaigne’s intimation that the superstition was widely in vogue would tend to push its origin back at least to the Middle Ages. To find a 13 which might popularly achieve baleful connotations is so easy that I should rather assign the superstition to a confluence of factors, rather than to a single source.

“With nearly every traditional 12, a 13 is somehow associated. Earliest in time is the intercalated thirteenth month, which Böklen asserts was regarded as discordant and unlucky [Op. cit. pp. 8-9]. Webster agrees that such was sometimes the case [Rest Days, p. 276]. There is a slender chance that a tradition, even as uncertain as this, might have been orally transmitted to the Middle Ages. There is a much better chance that the omnipresent 13 of the lunar and menstruation cycle made the number fearsome, or at least unpopular.

“At the same time, the number may have become popularly associated with the diabolical arts. In Faust’s Miraculous Art and Book of Marvels, or the Black Raven, 13 are said to compose the Infernal Hierarchy [Conway, Demonology, p. 229]. This must be the same astrological 13, since the Raven is the thirteenth symbol in the intercalary month year, as well as the effigy for the moon [Böklen, op. cit., pp. 8-9]. Simultaneously, cabalistic lore may have introduced the 13 Conformations of the Holy Beard, also astrological in origin and magical in common belief. In Britain, 13 became associated with witchcraft. Whether for the same reason or because the inclusion of a leader with any group of 12 makes a thirteenth, as seems to have been the case in Druidic ceremony, a witches’ koven was ordinarily composed of 13, or a multiple [Murray, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe, pp. 16, 50, 191].

“It will be noted, however, that the specific superstition mentioned by Montaigne is that of 13 at table. Here the connection is indisputably with the Last Supper. One wonders how much the legend fo the Siege Perilous had to do with drawing attention to the thirteenth unlucky chair. True enough, the Siege Perilous was sanctified, but it was also Perilous and distinctly unlucky for the wrong person – ‘wherein never knight sat that he met not death thereby.’ [Le livre de Lancelot del Lac, XXXIX] This is something more than a guess, because, although the thirteenth chair is ordinarily reserved for the leader – Charlemagne in the Pelerinage [line 118]and the All-Father in the temple of the Gods at Gladsheim [MacCulloch, Mythology of All Races, III, 327] – Boron’s Joseph assigns the vacant seat to Judas, and the Modena Perceval to ‘Nostre Sire’ in one place but to Judas in another [Weston, The Legend of Sir Perceval, II, 132]. It is also possible that ‘Nostre Sire’ might have been the author’s intention but that the copyist and public opinion altered it to Judas.”

From Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, “13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition” (Running Press, 2004) pp. 42-43:

“In lists of lucky and unlucky days prior to the nineteenth century, there is no pattern of Friday the 13th or the 13th day of the month being viewed as significant. In fact, I was unable to turn up a single nineteenth-century reference to Friday the 13th, which is consistent with the idea that the superstition did not emerge until the twentieth century. As for the general belief that 13 was an unlucky number, an extensive search of Western writing turned up no consistent references to unlucky 13 prior to the seventeenth century, when the earliest references to 13 at a table appear. Even in book about superstition, 13 is conspicuously absent. Reginald Scot’s The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), for example, lists more than thirty contemporary superstitions like spilling salt, putting a shirt on inside out, stumbling, and a cat crossing one’s path. Yet there is no mention of 13 being unlucky. What significant references there are before then to 13 – e.g. the 13th man in Beowulf , and the 13 seats Merlin constructed for King Arthur’s Round Table – do not constitute superstitions, and, furthermore, seem, like 13 at a table, to be evocations of the Last Supper.

“There is, however, one possible precursor to unlucky 13 at a table that does not have any obvious connection to the Last Supper: since its invention in Italy in the fifteenth century, the Death card in Tarot has consistently been the 13th card. According to Sir Michael Dummett, one of the preeminent philosophers of the twentieth century and an authority on the history of Tarot, the association of 13 with Death ‘occurs more frequently than the association of a particular number with any other card... It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the cardmakers, or those for whose tastes they were catering, regarded this association as particularly appropriate, and strove to arrange it.’ This implies that there may have been a symbolic link between 13 and death in fifteenth-century Italy (which may or may not have also been inspired by the events of the Last Supper). However, an association is not the same thing as a superstition, and in the absence of any evidence that an unlucky 13 superstition existed in Western Europe prior to the seventeenth century, independent of its association with the Last Supper, it is safe to conclude that 13 at a table was the original 13 superstition.”

On the other hand, it seems that the number 17 is the unlucky number, explicitly the number of death, in Italy. It seems that 17 has a long history of being associated directly with death, because according to Bongo

"in the dream books (Oneirocritica), if you hear seventeen, or see it written, in numbers it is XVII, which for us (i.e. Italians) can signify nothing else but VIXI ("I have lived"=I am dead), and therefore the presence of the number means death."

Simply typing "vixi", "xvii", and "la morte" or "death" into Google will bring up hundreds of pages showing how prevalent this still is in Italian culture. E.g. from wikipedia -

"In Italian culture, the number 17 is considered unlucky. When viewed as the Roman numeral, XVII, it is then changed anagramtically to VIXI, which in the Latin language it translates to "I have lived", the perfect tense implying "My life is over." (c.f. "Vixerunt", Cicero's famous announcement of an execution.) The Italian airline carrier, Alitalia, does not have a seat 17. Renault sold its "R17" model in Italy as "R177."

Another -

The trouble with numbers

Until quite recently, 13 was considered a lucky number in Italy—or was thought to be as harmless as other digits. According to Catholic tradition, however, there were 13 people at the table during the Last Supper, and Jesus was crucified on Friday the 13th. Thus, Italy has adopted the popular European belief that 13 invites as much misfortune as the country’s traditionally unlucky number—17. The reasoning behind 17’s stigma is twofold. If you re-arrange the Roman numeral XVII, it spells the Latin word vixi, a phrase often inscribed on tombs and gravestones. It translates as ‘he lived’ and is considered a sure-fire way to tempt death to come to your doorstep. The digits 1 and 7 also evoke fatal imagery—the one represents a hanged man, while the seven recalls the gallows.

Given its prominence in Italy, it would seem that if the Tarot designer wanted to have a card associated with death, it should have been at 17.

Yet even for the number 17, I cannot find a source that goes back beyond Pietro Bongo in 1584 which gives the "xvii=vixi" forumula, or considers XVII unlucky. I am not sure which "Onirocritas" he is referring to either. But like Montaigne's allusion to the 13-at-a-table superstition, Bongo's usage implies that an older popular tradition existed.

All of this raises an interesting question though. Is it possible that the Tarot itself is the origin of the superstition? Here is a scenario:

When people began numbering the trumps, they saw the Death card predictably as the most unsavoury subject, unlucky. Although the explicit notion of 13=death did not yet exist, the idea of it being unlucky to have thirteen at table did – this was already an indirect reading of some of the symbolism of the Last Supper and the mythology of the Siege Perilous, and that pushed the numberers to make Death number 13. Thus the Tarot became the standard-bearer for this link. Tarot was immensely popular in Italy and France for much of the sixteenth century, and into the seventeenth. It is from the later 16th century that we get the first indications of unease with the number 13, both in France (Montaigne, directly) and in Italy (Bongo, indirectly). The popularity of Tarot, with millions of players during that time, could easily have been the source of what became an easily-accommodated superstition, which, detached from its source, required ad hoc explanations on the part of people like Pietro Bongo. The popularity of the superstition on the Continent, developing in the course of the 16th century, gives plenty of time for it to be adopted in England, where we find it in sources from the 17th century.

The ease with which people have adopted the “Friday the 13th” superstition, although it was invented almost within living memory, is an example of how insidiously easy some superstitions can be.

(Filippo Maria Visconti (1392-1447) was also extremely superstitious about Friday, the Dies Infaustus (unlucky day); “And for him it was considered an impiety on Fridays, to meet someone who were shaved, or captured flying birds by hand, especially quail, in the field...”

Cfr. also the account of the composer Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868): “Rossini’s superstition caused him to dread Fridays and the number thirteen. He died on Friday, the thirteenth day of November, 1868!” (Nathan Haskell Dole, Famous Composers (1891) p. 258).

Again, Henry Sutherland Edwards, The Life of Rossini, 1869, p. 340: “[Rossini] was surrounded to the last by admiring and affectionate friends; and if it be true that, like so many other Italians, he regarded Friday as an unlucky day, and thirteen as an unlucky number, it is remarkable that on Friday, the 13th of November, he died.”)

Tuesday 3 February 2009

The Goldschmidt Sun

This card is one from a set of nine in the Deutsches Spielkarten Museum in Leinfelden, Germany. It is anybody's guess whether these cards are even Tarot cards, although some of them are suggestive of standard Tarot subjects. This card in particular could be the Sun.

There has not been much research, nor even speculation, about this card. The most recent author to discuss it is Giordano Berti, in his "Storia dei Tarocchi" (2007):
The Sun is represented differently than normal, that is, above three hills on a black and white checkerboard pavement. These mountains are probably an emblem of the Christian faith, given for a reminder of the three crosses of Golgotha. On these latter it is possible to read the letters MAC, for which no explanation has yet been offered. We can suggest a possible reference to the principles of the beatitudes given by Jesus to his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, that is to say M(ites) (meekness), A(gritudo) (sic. should be "aegritudo"(?) affliction), C(haritats), or C(astitas),...

Berti draws attention to two remarkable features of the card - the objects that look like mountains, and the letters on the mountains. But there is a more obvious interpretation than his rather fantastic analysis, which is that the card represents a heraldic device. Both Michael Dummett and Detlef Hoffmann made this observation:

Another [card] shows a sun, with rays and a face, very like that of the Guildhall Ace of Swords, above a chequered floor on which stand three metallic objects bearing respectively the letters a, m, c (perhaps heraldically conventionalised mountains, or perhaps something quite different).

The Game of Tarot (London, 1980), p. 73.

As for the sun above three stylized hills, this might be able to identify it as a Tarot (but perhaps it is also an example of heraldry.)

D. Hoffmann, in T. Depaulis, ed. Tarot: jeu et magie (Paris, 1984, cat. number 6, pp. 39-40)

Beyond these offhand suggestions, nobody to my knowledge has seriously looked for heraldic insignia corresponding to the card. So, when I first visited Rome and Siena, I was happy to see some heraldry that at least resembled the card.

From the Piccolomini library, Duomo of Siena Despite the poor quality of my photograph, the name Savini can be seen, and the mountains are definitely the same stylized mountains of the card. This Savini appears to have been Choirmaster at the Duomo in the mid-15th century, and looking on the web for further images of the arms brings up a few, like this one.

It's obvious, however, that this is not identical to the Goldschmidt Sun card - first of all, there's no sun - the shining object is a star, not the Sun. Secondly, there's no cross, and lastly, there are no letters on the mountains.

Continuing the search with terms like "tre monti", I found this one from the Bertoldi or Bertoldo family, prominent in Venice and Padua. The description of the arms reads "Arma: d’azzurro a tre monti accostati di verde; ad un sole nel punto dal capo figurato d’oro."
(on blue with three verdant mountains; a sun at the top point in gold)
From: the "Sustinenza" webpage.

Finally, there was a Sun - but still no letters or cross. Nevertheless, it began to look like heraldry would provide the answer. In the meantime, Michael Hurst also found a device from the family of Sonnenberg (appropriately), which had three mountains surmounted by a blazing sun.

We seemed to be getting warm. I also managed to find two shields that had three mountains surmounted by a cross.

However, at the end of the day, neither of us could find one that matched exactly the Goldschmidt card. But the hunch of a heraldically inspired design seems to be the best way to interpret it, rather than obscure allegory.

The stylized mountains are common in heraldry. One very prominent example is the Chigi-Saracini family's arms, in Siena, with six mountains surmounted by a shining star.

In this case, a motto is given as well - "Micat in vertice", which means "It shines at the summit". This example made me wonder whether the letters on the Goldschmidt card could be an abbreviation for a motto.

The letters can be read "a.m.c." or "m.a.c.", and so far I have not been able to find a corresponding Latin motto that convinces me. One possibility is the Latin term "ad medium caeli" (or "celi" or "coeli"), which is an astronomical-astrological term meaning "at the center of the heavens". It is abbreviated MC in astrological charts. It seems appropriate for a blazing - noonday like - sun, and that the letter "m" for "medium" would be on the middle hill, but so far I have not found anybody who has taken it as their motto.

Monday 26 January 2009

The Turfan Card

I really like this Chinese card found at Turfan in 1905, by Albert von Le Coq, head of the German archeological expedition there in the early part of the last century. It is probably the oldest surviving playing card. It is probable that there is a common ancestor to the Persian and Indian Ganjifah, and Mamluk packs (also called Ganjifah), and that that is the Chinese “Money Pack”. This card resembles the figure called "Red Flower" in the Money Pack.

I agree with the consensus opinion of Carter, Bernhardi, and Dummett against that of von Le Coq and Culin, that the card dates to the 13th or 14th centuries (von Le Coq thought it was from the eleventh century). I follow Michael Dummett’s reasoning in “The Game of Tarot” (pp. 38-39, and 38 note 15) –

The Chinese money pack cannot have been the immediate progenitor of the European pack; but that does not rule out its having been its remote ancestor, through various intervening intermediate forms. Whether this is a real possibility depends upon the antiquity of the money cards. A single Chinese playing card was found in 1905 by von Le Coq at Turfan. He tentatively dated it to the eleventh century. It shows a human figure, which strongly resembles that which depicts Wang Ying, one of the Shui hu chuan [Story of the Water Margin] characters, and appears, in a number of money packs, on one of three extra cards, inscribed simply ‘Wang Ying.’ The Turfan card has an inscription at the top, in a tilted rectangle, which, unfortunately, is hard to read, at least in the illustrations, because it is overprinted by a seal. If it does represent Wang Ying, the card cannot possibly be as early as the eleventh century; Carter assigned it to the fourteenth. [(Dummett’s note to this): T.F. Carter, op. cit. [The Invention of Printing in China and its Spread Westwards, New York, 1925], 1925 and 1931 editions, plate opposite p. 142, and 1955 edition, plate opposite p. 184. Carter states that there were two Chinese playing cards found at Turfan, but I do not know any confirmation of this; I have also been told that there is an early Chinese playing card in a museum in Bombay, but do not know if this true. The Turfan card is also illustrated in C.P. Hargrave, A History of Playing Cards, New York, 1930, 1966, p. 7, and in A. Bernhardi, ‘Vier Könige’, Baessler-Archiv, vol. XXIX, 1936, pp. 148-80, plate 9a. Bernhardi also gives it as his opinion (p. 164) that the card is to be dated to about 1400.]
Both the sixteenth-century Yeh tzu p’u and, according to Prunner, the fifteenth-century Shu yüan tsa chi of Li Jung describe the lower two suits as having suit-signs and the upper two as showing Shui hu chuan figures; if we assume that the association with these figures was a feature of the pack from its first invention, then this association sets a bound to its antiquity. The Shui hu chuan is the outcome of numerous legendary accretions that have attached to a historical nucleus, the exploits of a Robin Hood-like band of robbers in the early years of the twelfth century. The version that is now read dates from the seventeenth century, but has been expanded from earlier versions, the first of which,, the Hsüan-ho i-shih, dates from the early Yüan (Mongol) dynasty; plays based on the story were performed at the same period, and portraits of and poems about ‘Sung Chiang and his Thirty-six’ dating from the later Southern Sung period (1127-1279) are well attested. Given our hypothesis that the association with the Shui hu chuan characters is an original feature of the money pack, that pack can in no case be earlier than the twelfth century, and can hardly be later than the fourteenth: its most probable date of origin lies in the late Southern Sung, that is, in the thirteenth century.
Albert von Le Coq at Turfan

About the "Water Margin", which has been made into TV series in China and Hong Kong (before the reunification), and also dubbed and shown on UK television, see wikipedia - here

For Wang Ying, the wikipedia article is here. Wang Ying's character is rough, greedy, lustful, skilled in martial arts and very strong. Why he (and the other characters chosen out of dozens from the story) was chosen to be a card in the pack I don't know.

The card was first published, to the best of my knowledge, by Stuart Culin in 1924 (just a year before Carter’s work cited by Dummett).

From “The Game of Ma-Jong”

By Stuart Culin, Brooklyn Museum Quarterly, Volume XI, October 1924, pages 153-168.
(article from the University of Waterloo’s “Elliott Avedon Museum & Archive of Games” - Game of Ma-Jong )

(10. Dr. Le Coq, to whose courtesy I am indebted for this illustration, informs me that this card was found by him in 1905 while digging in the loess and debris from the mountain side, deposited on the N. terrace of Temple No. 10 in the glen of Sangim Aghyz between Murtuq and Qara Khoja near Turfan. "Unfortunately I am not sure that this locality, which is close to a road has not been invaded by treasure seekers. Still the objects found with it, a pen and ink case and some fragments of Uigur mss. belong without any doubt to the Uigur period." From these indications it would appear to he at least of the 11th Century.)

“Found in 1905 by Dr. A. von Le Coq with fragments of manuscripts of the Uigur period in the glen of Sangim near Turfan, Chinese Turkestan. This card, which corresponds with the red flower of the present Chinese pack (Plate 1), presumably is not later than the 11th century AD, and probably is the oldest known playing card.

The seal over the man's head contains a denomination of money, three fan, and the characters at the top and bottom give the maker's name.

The form and general appearance of these cards suggests a high antiquity. A presumably old card (Plate 2)10 in the Museum of Ethnology, Berlin, found by Dr. A. von Le Coq among the Uigur ruins in the oasis of Turfan in Chinese Turkestan, which must have belonged to a similar money-derived pack, varies but little from cards now current.”

Andy gives a colour image of the Turfan Card that shows the Chinese characters more clearly than most published versions; as Dummett laments, the seal over the figure's head is still difficult to make out, although Culin/von Le Coq explain it as "Three fan", a denomination of money (the cost of the pack?) -

As Andy notes at his page on Chinese cards
Uyghur was never (that we know) written in Chinese characters – unless there were a local manufacture of Chinese cards (not likely), it must have been imported. The Mongols swept in in the the middle of the 13th century, and I would be inclined to date it to the Mongol period. But le Coq found the card amongst Uyghur documents and artifacts near Turfan, which according to him contain Manichean and Buddhist writings. The Manichean writings date to the 10th and 11th centuries, while the Buddhist date from the 10th to the 14th. Since I can’t find out which texts he found with the card (Culin gives the precise location from le Coq, so it should be able to be found with enough research), I can’t make a guess on the date – if Buddhist, and the card dates from the time of the texts (not certain at all), then it could be as late as late as 14th century. Until I find out more, I’ll have to go with Dummett's argument about the Shui hu chuan limiting the date to around 1300 at the earliest, give or take a few decades.

A comparison of the "Red Flower" cards in (a) a pack published by Breitkopf, "Versuch, den Ursprung der Spielkarten" (1784), plate VI; (b) the Turfan Card; (c) a modern Red Flower, "Double Elephant" brand

For much more information than you probably want to know about the discoveries in Turfan and the region, see the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften website –