The problem of trump sequence and the Dante theory

Largely driven by Dummett’s own findings, many of the debates I have encountered in regard to the meanings to specific trumps usually circles back to that trump’s neighboring trumps and thus its position in the sequence. I have argued that given the oldest decks are unnumbered and that there are at least three competing sequences, that relying on sequence as the arbiter of meaning seems fraught with difficulties. Before discussing the schematic below, I’d like to ask those who have championed the sequence ueber alles approach (namely Ross and Michael Hurst) if they can clarify Dummett’s own seemingly contradictory statements on this subject (from Michael’s own tribute post upon the occasion of Dummett’s death: ... raphy.html
But the question is whether the sequence as a sequence has any special symbolic meaning. I am inclined to think that it did not (M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot, 1980: 387)
The search for a hidden meaning may be a unicorn hunt; but if there is a meaning to be found, only a correct basis of fact will lead us to it. The hidden meaning, if any, lies in the sequential arrangement of the trump cards; and therefore, if it is to be uncovered, we must know what, originally, that arrangement was. (ibid)
Dummet’s arguments are obviously much more nuanced then the excerpts suggest, but I believe that what he is suggesting is that there was not an overall pre-existing sequence, but rather that an unknown method of trump selection adhered to a meaningful sequence, the rules of which we can somewhat identify (e.g., ranks of man).

Where does the Dante Paradiso theory fit in with this? Clearly Dante explains the trump selection (no need for various ad hoc rules that explain subsets of various trumps), except for the Fool, but, equally clear, there is no 21 trump sequence because none of the triplets of trumps found in each of the seven planetary levels in the Paradiso - planet/virtue/exemplar – are explicitly privileged by Dante. At most you could have some arrangements of the “triplet” trumps X7, ascending upwards from the moon, but sequence options within each of the seven levels.

There were, accordingly, ad hoc rules in regard to sequence, by applying the “ranks of man” etc. to the given set of trumps from Dante, particularly in light of the historical circumstances that saw the creation of the 2X7 trumps (virtues/exempli) in Florence, c. 1440 and the expansion to 3X7 trumps (virtues/exempli/planets – with the Theologicals replaced) in Milan, c. 1451. The problem for the latter Milanese expansion is that a 14 trump sequence had been card-played with for at least a decade and thus somewhat “codified” if you will. Perhaps this is what Filelfo complains of when he goes to Cremona (possibly to engage with the artists who will carry out his program for the expanded trumps).

The natural solution to the problem of adding the 7 planets to an established order is to just tack them on at the end of the existing sequence. For 5 of the 7 planets, that is essentially what we find, grouped together but below Judgment and the World/Prudence. In the below schematic I have shown what I consider to be the 14 ur-tarot trumps based on Dante’s Paradiso – again, I am not proposing Dante as the sequence, but clearly the Paradiso sequence of virtues/exempli had some influence as certain trumps in the “standard” sequence are found quite close to what would be Dante’s order (of which I am not saying was the ur-order – at least Prudence/World would have been moved to the top):

I have argued in my main Dante post that the over-riding preoccupation in regard to the Virtues in Bruni’s Florence was to elevate Prudence as the highest Virtue (I failed to point out in that post however, that Bruni, et. al, would have been doing that against the canonical-like Acquinas who placed Justice as the supreme cardinal virtue in his Summa Theologiae, I-II, Questions 66, Article 4). That the Judgment trump - depicting God Himself - would be placed near the top of the sequence needs no explanation. Thus Judgment and World over the tacked on planets.

Mercury and Saturn as “children” types related to ranks of man as an artisan/conjuror type and a mendicant are naturally placed lower in the order. To quote from my main post, Christine Pizan originated the “children of trhe planets” theory and had specifically left those occupations out:
By stressing the theme of wisdom, the cycle alters the very notion that lies behind the ‘children of the planets’….the sum of the ‘children of the planets’ represents a kind of astrological macrocosm of a world in which all dispositions and occupations have a place. For Christine, who was addressing a special, limited public, only certain dispositions and occupations were relevant. When we reflect on what the patronage of the manuscripts and the meaning of the text suggest about the identity of that public – and that it was a royal one on the French court – it should come as no surprise to find that friars, farmers, joiners and cobblers are not among the ‘children’ in the Epistre..” (Sandra Hindman, Christine de Pizan's "Epistre Othéa": Painting and Politics at the Court of Charles VI, 1986: 88-89)

In 1451 Milan, having just been chaotically ruled by a proletarian faction under the Ambrosian Republic, the lower type of the artisan/conjuror (as well as the lowest class of peasants – the Fool) were beyond topical – they were cast as THE problem that Sforza swept away.

There are oddities in the sequence to which we may never have an answer, but I believe the above provides a plausible way in which sequence was developed from a given set of trump themes from Dante.


PS After posting this I realized I am somewhat in alignment with “the sequence ueber alles approach” – it just never explained the selection of the trumps (in the sense of demanding that the “Star” must be added if the Moon was present), but rather their sequence (the Star as a lesser light in the sky would be placed beneath the brighter Moon, and the Moon beneath the Sun) . It also explains one of the “oddities” I alluded to; e.g., the hanged man seems like it should be as low as the Fool but the only reason I see it being that high is to place it right beneath Death, hence neighbouring cards do matter for the sequence.

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