Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#1
"Arabic" (really, by origin Indian) numerals get introduced in Europe and promoted by Fibonacci in the 1200s, but don't become widespread until the 1400s (in fact, in 1299 in Florence Arabic numerals were outlawed - ostensibly because they enabled easy forgeries). The introduction of the zero as part of this number system is a huge and tumultuous advance for Europe, enabling such diverse phenomena as the vanishing point in perspectival painting, double-entry bookkeeping, and the rise of modern science....

For this reason, I'm completely blown away by the appearance of a zero in the Sola Busca... and struck by the facts that (a) the other trumps are enumerated with Roman numerals; and (b) that (apparently?) no one else uses the zero for numbering the Fool until 1781 and de Gébelin, who glosses the card in fairly savvy mathematical terms:

Quant à cet Atout, nous l'appellons Zero, quoiqu'on le place dans le jeu après le XXI, parce qu'il ne compte point quand il est seul, & qu'il n'a de valeur que celle qu'il donne aux autres, précisément comme notre zero: montrant ainsi que rien n'existe sans sa folie.
[As for this Atout, we call it Zero, although it is placed in the game after XXI, because it does not count when it is alone, and has only that value which it gives to others-- just like our zero: thus showing that nothing exists without its folly.]

This is precisely the sort of insight expressed by the Fool in Lear, talking about the King's relationship to his newly emboldened daughters:
"Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no need to care for her frowning; now thou art an O without a figure: I am better than thou art now; I am a fool,
thou art nothing."

Has anyone worked on this topic - or can anyone point me in a good research direction here? I guess I'm wondering, in general, about the history of the Fool being numbered as Zero, and the ways that may or may not relate to some of the major and cataclysmic intellectual innovations of the early modern period....

I'm new to this Forum, and relatively new to tarot history (although I am an academic, and an early modern comparatist who has been thinking about the history of allegory, and a bit about the history of the zero, for a couple of decades) ... so I am deeply appreciative of the assembled expertise of these pages, and send my apologies if I'm missing out on obvious connections, research, resources... etc.

Many thanks -
Lisa

ETA I do understand that Il Matto and Le Fou have quite different connotations. When Shakespeare is talking about Folly, he's thinking about a classical tradition that I imagine is not at all represented by the Sola Busca Matto...

Re: Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#2
The fool is also enumerated with a Zero (0) in the Steele sermon (c1500), and termed "Nulla" -

The Swiss Tarot de Marseille style Schar tarot, 1750 (prior to Gebelin), has the Fool with a zero

Although Fibbanacci was the first to successfully popularize the use of Hindu/Arabic numbers in the west they were known about before him. A 10th century pope first tried to implement the use of them, he had some limited success in Spain for a while but in the end they failed to take off. They were widely known about within the Jewish communities within Europe, Jewish texts from the 11th century describe their use and application, the zero being called Galgal (meaning circle or wheel).

The words zero and cipher both derive from the word zefiroth, rooted in the Arabic a'sfr. It was shortened in Venetian dialect to zero from whence it came into English. Along another route it changed to cipher (from whence came the French chiffre), which originally refered to zero came to be used of all 10 digits. The Jewish practice of using 'ciphers' to encode messages lead to its usage as referring to secret codes.

The Arabic a'sfr is also the root of the Hebrew 'sephiroth' which is translated as 'ciphers' by some scholars (eg, Baeck).

In 14th century arithematic textbooks the ten ciphers are usually ordered 1-0 (ie, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0), so 0 may have been viewed by some at this time as the 10th digit, not the first. This might relate to the thread on ATF on the 'fool' as X? Interesting in this respect that the word for zero in Jewish texts on numbers at the time, Galgal, also means 'wheel'.

The first known use of the circle as a symbol for the 'empty place' in place notation is actually Greek, not Hindu. When transcribing Babylonian astrological tables the Greek astrologers used the letter omicron 'o' as a symbol for the empty place. In some medieval astronomical and calendrical latin texts "N' (nulla) was used -

Despite some early concerns about, for example, ease of forgery, led to bans such as you note for commecial and banking notations, there early use was still generally maintained in other areas such as astronomical tables and astrologers would have been readily familiar with them -
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#3
SteveM wrote:
27 Jul 2017, 06:08
The fool is also enumerated with a Zero (0) in the Steele sermon (c1500), and termed "Nulla" -

The Swiss Tarot de Marseille style Schar tarot, 1750 (prior to Gebelin), has the Fool with a zero

Although Fibbanacci was the first to successfully popularize the use of Hindu/Arabic numbers in the west they were known about before him. A 10th century pope first tried to implement the use of them, he had some limited success in Spain for a while but in the end they failed to take off. They were widely known about within the Jewish communities within Europe, Jewish texts from the 11th century describe their use and application, the zero being called Galgal (meaning circle or wheel).

The words zero and cipher both derive from the word zefiroth, rooted in the Arabic a'sfr. It was shortened in Venetian dialect to zero from whence it came into English. Along another route it changed to cipher (from whence came the French chiffre), which originally refered to zero came to be used of all 10 digits. The Jewish practice of using 'ciphers' to encode messages lead to its usage as referring to secret codes.

The Arabic a'sfr is also the root of the Hebrew 'sephiroth' which is translated as 'ciphers' by some scholars (eg, Baeck).

In 14th century arithematic textbooks the ten ciphers are usually ordered 1-0 (ie, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0), so 0 may have been viewed by some at this time as the 10th digit, not the first. This might relate to the thread on ATF on the 'fool' as X? Interesting in this respect that the word for zero in Jewish texts on numbers at the time, Galgal, also means 'wheel'.

The first known use of the circle as a symbol for the 'empty place' in place notation is actually Greek, not Hindu. When transcribing Babylonian astrological tables the Greek astrologers used the letter omicron 'o' as a symbol for the empty place. In some medieval astronomical and calendrical latin texts "N' (nulla) was used -

Despite some early concerns about, for example, ease of forgery, led to bans such as you note for commecial and banking notations, there early use was still generally maintained in other areas such as astronomical tables and astrologers would have been readily familiar with them -
Thanks so much for this post; I hadn't remembered about the Nulla in the Steele sermon - that's fabulous. I was aware of the origin of the term zero in Arabic, the connection to the notion of cypher (and in the early modern English, "cipher" and "zero" are definitely used as synonyms), but I did not know the root's link to sephir. Wow - okay - that's something I need to think through. I'd love to know about reference sources for that etymology! Thank you, too, so much for the reference to the Schar.

I'm also eager to know more about the Hebrew use of the term "galgal" - or "galgal qatan" (little wheel); a quick Google books search suggests to me that this term was used to translate the Indian notion of zero, as it appeared in the Arabic works that introduced the decimal system to medieval Europe (see Abraham ibn Ezra and the Rise of Medieval Hebrew Science by Shlomo Sela, p.21)... How widespread was that translation? - And are you thinking it links to imagery of the wheel in tarot?

As for the Greek use of the circle for empty place - it's not so much the origin of the circle image, or of the placeholder concept that fascinates me. It's the emergence of the broadest understanding of the mathematical concept, tied to the concept of the void and the classical Indian concept of shunyata. And, from my reading, I think there's also some question about the impact of the use of omicron on later developments of the concept (cf. Charles Seife; Amir Aczel. Seife specifically argues that omicron did not influence later history). Aczel argues pretty convincingly that the origin of the modern zero, both in its form and content, derives from Indian sources.

I'll check out that ATF thread, if it's still available...

Do you know anyone who is specifically working on these issues of numbering in tarot? I'm equally interested in the play between Arabic and Greek numerals; something we've inherited in many modern decks as well...

thanks again -
Lisa

Edited to correct typo

Re: Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#4
SteveM wrote:
27 Jul 2017, 06:08
The fool is also enumerated with a Zero (0) in the Steele sermon (c1500), and termed "Nulla" -
Quick follow-up question, having now had a chance to go to your translation of the Steele and then also having checked out the Latin... Do you know for certain that il Matto is identified with a zero? I'm seeing images of the manuscript page that cut off at il Mondo...? - thanks! - Lisa

Re: Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#5
Mindful Tarot wrote:
27 Jul 2017, 22:56
SteveM wrote:
27 Jul 2017, 06:08
The fool is also enumerated with a Zero (0) in the Steele sermon (c1500), and termed "Nulla" -
Quick follow-up question, having now had a chance to go to your translation of the Steele and then also having checked out the Latin... Do you know for certain that il Matto is identified with a zero? I'm seeing images of the manuscript page that cut off at il Mondo...? - thanks! - Lisa
I can't find a link at the moment, but yes the Matto has a zero before it in the sermon

Note too that the arithmetical zero/cipher/nought early on took on a figurative sense for a worthless fellow, a fool - in 13th century France a worthless fellow was called a cipher, an arithmetical nothing (cifre en algorisme, as Ilfrah reports it), in Italy a zero - and the fool/madman of the tarot is a worthless fellow, a cipher or zero, that is 'without worth' - zephira = to be empty, like the empty headed fool
I'm equally interested in the play between Arabic and Greek numerals; something we've inherited in many modern decks as well...
I presume you mean Arabic/Roman numerals?
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Zero and the Sola Busca Fool

#6
SteveM wrote:
28 Jul 2017, 07:26
I can't find a link at the moment, but yes the Matto has a zero before it in the sermon

thanks!

SteveM wrote:
28 Jul 2017, 07:26
Note too that the arithmetical zero/cipher/nought early on took on a figurative sense for a worthless fellow, a fool - in 13th century France a worthless fellow was called a cipher, an arithmetical nothing (cifre en algorisme, as Ilfrah reports it), in Italy a zero - and the fool/madman of the tarot is a worthless fellow, a cipher or zero, that is 'without worth' - zephira = to be empty, like the empty headed fool

Fantastic! Certainly that's 16th century English usage; did not know it goes back as early as 13th c French! Wonderful! I'll look into llfrah's notes on this. [/quote]

SteveM wrote:
28 Jul 2017, 07:26
I presume you mean Arabic/Roman numerals?

Ha! yes! Oops!!

thanks, Steve - Lisa

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