Andrea Vitali has posted two new essays pertaining to cartomancy in the 16th-17th centuries, now duly translated into English: “Il Torracchione Desolato
: A card-reading sorceress in a poem of the XVIIth century” (http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page. ... 49&lng=ENG
) and “An enigma in Orlando Furioso
: From a verse in a poem, an hypothesis on the existence of cartomancy in the XVth century” (http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=451
). I would like to summarize their main points and give some reflections. However I urge people to read Andrea's essays for themselves, as he presents them in greater detail and with his own perspective on them, more than I can summarize here.
In the poem of the first essay, a particular sorceress is described:
Magica era eccellente e la serena
Aria oscurava a un sol voltar di carte,
E per via di figure e note inferne,
Facea parer le lucciole lanterne.
(...who in the magic arts excelled, and the serene
Air darkened with one turn of the cards,
And by means of symbols and infernal words
Made the false appear true.)
The phrase “lucciole lanterne”-- “the lantern’s light”--is an Italian expression for the creation of illusions, Andrea says. The image is of a woman turning the cards one by one, as though they were laid out in a series.
Later in the poem she lays out a magic circle on the ground:
Ivi giunta, fa un cerchio e note orrende
Su vi sussurra: d’ossa d’impiccati
Ridotte in polve lo cosparge e poi
Tra l’erbe il cela, e torna agli orti suoi.
(she comes here and makes a circle
and over it recites horrendous words:
she rubs it with the bones of hanged ones reduced to ash
and then hides all in the grass and goes back to her gardens.)
There is no mention of cards here, but for Andrea it is reminiscent of “a verse of the poem Storied Spain
, a chivalric romance composed in the fourteenth century but only printed in Milan in 1519”. Andrea continues:
“Fe’ un cerchio e poscia vi gittò le carte” ["He made a circle and afterwards threw the cards"], which means, as Lozzi pointedly suggests in his article of 1899, that "he threw the cards as is done in a game, or in the throwing of dice, but threw them within the circle, to discover from their arrangement, as determined by magic power (sortilege) who were the enemies of the Emperor and where they were to be found" (9).
This would seem to be “an intuitive observation of the overall design” he says, similar to that of the casting of knucklebones, of the pattern made by the carte
in the circle, Andrea says. Here we do have the word carte,
apparently meaning cards. I do not know whether the word "carte" is a quote from a Milan edition in Italian or a translation of something before then, 1519, in Spanish.
In the second article Andrea focuses on two lines in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso
. They are preceded by the description, in the same Canto VII, of a queen, Alcina, with whom, because of her beauty and grace, a Saracen knight named Ruggioro falls in love, followed by his disenchantment, literally, by means of a magic ring he is persuaded to wear. Alcina is a sorceress, and all her beauty is an illusion created to entrap him, when in fact she is an ugly old hag. The ring has two powers, to render its owner invisible (to hide the truth) when put in the mouth, and to neutalize all spells (and so to reveal the truth) when worn on a finger. The lines of interest, in Octave 74, have to do with the latter use, Ariosto’s characterization of the revelatory power of the ring:
“Ma l’anel venne à interpretar le carte
Che già molti anni havean celato il vero...”
(But the ring came to interpret the carte
Which already for many years had hidden the truth)
The question is how to understand “interpretar le carte”—whether it is “interpretation” as one would figure out the meaning of pages in a book—“carte” in the sense of “pages”--or as interpreting a series of playing-cards—“carte” in a relatively new sense, to designate what had previously been called “naibi” and “triumphi”. In the context of the poem, one or the other is a metaphor for how the ring reveals the sorceress’s true appearance.
In Ariosto’s day, as now, “carte” meant both “pages”--an established meaning--and “cards”—the new meaning. The metaphor of “interpretar le carte” could mean that the ring interprets the images of beauty that the sorceress has created by analogy to the way, for example, that Christian writers interpreted pagan writers on the gods to show their literal falsity, or that the birth of Christ interpreted the pages of the Old Testament. This last, as Andrea points out, is the same sense of “carte” as in Petrarch’s sonnet IV of Rime Sparse
(translation from p. 38 of Petrarch's Lyric Poems: The Rime Sparse and Other Lyrics
. Robert M. Durling, ed. and trans., http://books.google.com/books?id=5iOL0H ... 22&f=false
Que' ch'infinita providentia et arte
mostro nel suo mirabil magistero,
che crio questo et quell'altro hemispero,
et mansueto piu Giove che Marte,
vegnendo in terra a 'lluminar le carte
ch'avean molt'anni gia celato il vero
tolse Giovanni da la rete et Piero,...
(He who showed infinite providence and art
in his marvelous workmanship,
who created this and the other hemisphere
and Jove more gentle than Mars,
who, coming to earth to illuminate the pages [carte]
that for many years had hidden the truth
took John from the nets and Peter..,)
Alternatively, “interpretar le carte” could mean that the ring interprets the images the sorceress created by analogy to the way in which a card-interpreter interprets playing cards, seeing behind the images on them to a hidden truth, different than what is literally depicted. And not just one card, but a series of them, as it is “le carte”. Such metaphors with playing-cards were and are common in everyday speech, both in Italian and in English, e.g. “he laid his cards on the table” meaning “he disclosed his ideas and plans”; or “he played his cards close to the chest”, meaning “he kept his plans and ideas to himself”.
With “interpretar”, either pages or cards could be meant, depending on the context. Which is it here?
It is not just the context within the poem, which as far as I can tell does not choose between the two. We can also look to the context of the writer and his audience at the time and place in question.
We learn some of the circumstances of this composition from Alberto Cassadei (“The History of the Furioso
”, pp. 55-70 of Ariosto Today
, Toronto 2003, p. 57):
In all probability Ariosto began working on the Furioso around 1504-5. It is commonly accepted that he narrated a fair bit of the poem to Isabella d’Este, wife of Francesco Gonzaga, during the first part of 1507. It is noted that on 3 February of that year Isabella wrote from Mantua to her brother Ippolito, to whom Ariosto had dedicated the poem, to let him know that the narration of the new episodes of Orlando and the Paladins had given her great pleasure.
And in 1509, Duke Alfonso, writing to Cardinal Ippolito, is quoted as follows (Ariosto Today
p. 33, in an essay by Antonio Franceschetti)
”We would like you to send us that addition which messer Lucovico Ariosto made to the Orlando inamorato”.
Of the three, according to Gioergio Masi (Ariosto Today
p. 75) “the only one to demonstrate genuine attention and, dare I say, passion for Ariosto’s origins ... was certainly Isabella.”
I would expect that this appreciation, expressed first and then consistently thereafter by Isabella, would have had its effect on what the poet wrote. I think there is abundant evidence of that in the poem, especially in the first third or so. Here is one example (out of many), from Canto I, that seems to be written with Isabella in mind. A knight, in this case Muslim, spying a lady alone in the forest, thinks that one way or another this is his chance to enjoy her charms. But just then another knight comes by, with his helmet closed, and the first knight cannot resist challenging him. The result is that the first knight's horse is killed colliding with the second knight's horse, and the second knight and horse resume their journey without a word. The lady tells the knight, pinned beneath his dead horse, that he was surely the winner, since the other would not stay; then she pulls him out from under his horse. At that point a messenger comes by, and the knight learns that the one who sent him to the ground was a Christian lady. He is so embarrassed that he gives up on his plan and simply helps the lady, riding with her on her horse.
We don’t, of course, know what changes in the Furioso
Ariosto made from 1507 to 1509, or even up to 1516, when it was first published, in 40 cantos. After that, Cassadei says, the revisions were mainly toward the end.
What was Isabella's attitude toward cartomancy? She was reported by her contemporary Paolo Giovio, Bishop of Nocera, as having “Lotto cards with the mystic number XXVII” (Julia Cartwright, Isabella d’Este, Marchionesse of Mantua, 1474-1539
(http://www.archive.org/stream/isabellad ... j_djvu.txt
; this book also has numerous references to the Estense passion for card-playing). “Lotto”, like “lot” in English, means “lot”, ambiguous between “chance” and “fate”, as in the “lot-books” of the day. A bundle of such cards or papers was a favorite device of Isabella’s, meaning “the vicissitudes of fortune” (see my essay at http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page. ... 17&lng=ENG
There is something else that seems to me relevant. In 1508 there occurred the murder in Ferrara of a minor poet just one year older than Ariosto, who served as the courier of secret letters between Ippolito’s brother Alfonso’s wife, Lucrezia Borgia, and Isabella’s husband, Francesco Gonzaga. The victim was Ercole Strozzi, son of Tito Vespasiano Strozzi; the elder Strozzi was author of the epic Borsiade
and a first cousin of Matteo Boiardo; Ariosto’s mistress(or secret wife) was of the same family (all Wikipedia). Ercole Strozzi was found dead in the street one morning with his hair pulled out and 22 stab wounds in his body, about which there is no dispute. In her biography of Lucrezia Borgia, Sarah Bradford says that Ercole had been charmed by Lucrezia into this dangerous mission (somewhat like Ruggiero in Ariosto’s story!). Bradford says that the murder was not even investigated, arguing that it was likely committed by a certain thug employed by “the senior Este brothers”. The hair was a trademark of his; just the year before, he had grabbed one of Ippolito’s chamberlains by the hair while arresting him (see my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=503&p=13864&hilit=wounds#p13887
). Historians do not speculate on the significance of the number 22 here; but to me the murder would seem to have been in the nature of a prediction of the fate to befall the pair—Lucrezia and Francesco, one or both--if they persisted in pursuing their passion. The body is like a tarot spread, which it doesn't take much to interpret. Francesco scrupulously avoided any compromising situation, secret or not, from then on. Pope Julius II later reached a similar conclusion, accusing “those brothers-in-law of his” of wanting to kill Francesco, as Bradford documents.
Ariosto, it seems to me, was writing for Ippolito, Isabella, posterity, and himself, in roughly reverse order. Considering these audiences, it seems to me that Ariosto probably intended an ambiguous reading for “interpretar le carte”, using “Aesopian language” and the principle of deniability. By that last I mean that he could deny any knowledge of cartomancy if questioned: “I only meant ‘pages’”, he could tell an Inquisitor if needed. To an educated priest, accustomed to interpreting texts for others, the word “carte” in fact would likely simply mean “pages”, and the passage would be understood as a clever reference to Petrarch and perhaps a playful analogy with the magical birth of Christ in Petrarch's poem. But for the Estense and their ilk, familiar with card-playing and sortilege (literally, the “reading of fate”), it would also mean “cards”, interpreted by some mysterious means, in a way that the person concerned can feel to be true more powerfully and immediately than with mere logic. Such, precisely, is the effect of the ring. He was told it was a magic ring and was given it by an avowed enchantress; so he could just as well have decided that the ring, in order to make him fall under some other woman's spell, makes a genuinely beautiful and good woman appear ugly and malicious. But that is not what happens. Octave 65 tells the story from inside Ruggioero's head:
Ruggier si stava vergognoso e muto
mirando in terra, e mal sapea che dire;
a cui la maga nel dito minuto
pose l'annello, e lo fe' risentire.
Come Ruggiero in se fu rivenuto,
di tanto scorno si vide assalire,
ch'esser vorria sotterra mille braccia,
ch'alcun veder non lo potesse in faccia.
(Ruggiero stood shamefaced and mute,
Looking at the ground, not knowing what to say;
The ring the enchantress had put
On his finger made him feel again [or, return to his senses].
As Ruggiero felt himself again
He assailed himself with so much scorn,
He wished he was a thousand feet below [ground],
So that no one could see his face.
The ring frees him from passion-engendered illusion and restores him to "himself". It is like what Folengo's sonnets are intended to do with the people who have drawn the cards they did.
Wikipedia defines “Aesopian language” as “communications that convey an innocent meaning to outsiders but hold a concealed meaning to informed members of a conspiracy or underground movement.” This style of writing (which must be distinguished from the use of euphemisms, which Wikipedia's article falls into) is a common one. The most familiar example is rock song lyrics' allusions to drug-induced states. It doesn't take a signed statement by the author of the song to know what “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” means, in its less obvious implicit sense.People qho gre up in Poland tell me that in the 1980s there, rock song lyrics had political double meanings, related to the underground Solidarity movement. Films under Communism frequently had double meanings, too; the authorities either didn’t know the subculture meanings or countered them with more acceptable interpretations (example: Feliks Falk’s satirical “Hero of the Year”, which won prizes in 1987 Moscow: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feliks_Falk
). If questioned, the people involved could say that nothing of the sort had occurred to them. The same would have been true in Ariosto’s day, but with different dominant culture and subcultures. The dominant culture was that of the Church, and the subcultures were those of card-playing and card-interpreting.
Just what this card-interpreting claimed to do is unclear. In the poem, the ring does not make any predictions; it just restores the person to "himself". I suspect that among a certain elite that was the purpose of "interpreting the cards": to tell people what they knew, or could easily find out, but also in some way did not want to know. Whether that was true about "interpreting the cards" in general at that time is another matter. The throwing cards into a ring of the 14th century poem also makes no predictions, if it simply tells one where the enemy troops are. But that is a bit more magical and mysterious; it is the foundation for advice from premises which the person advised does not know to be true. From therapy to advice to prediction, in a culture where fortune-telling was rampant, is not a big couple of steps.