Moakley's Research Notes

Dummett, Decker, Depaulis, Kaplan; here we document the people, places, and events that shaped Tarot History. (Credentials not required; but references, citations, and substantiating evidence may be requested at the door.)

Moakley's Research Notes

Postby mjhurst on 27 Mar 2008, 16:18

I posted a note to Aeclectic this morning with some biographical info on Gertrude Moakley.

Gertrude Moakley
http://www.tarotforum.net/showpost.php? ... ostcount=1

I noted that she entrusted both the copyright for her Tarot book and her research files to Stuart Kaplan of U.S. Games. Ross replied regarding the possibility of encouraging Uncle Stu to make her work available, and I thought it might be helpful to post some old alt.tarot comments here. Back in 1999 a guy was making photocopies of Moakley available, and that started a thread with (jk) claiming that anyone involved with such (perfectly legal) research copies was a moral degenerate. Along the way Bob O'Neill reported on a discussion he'd had with Kaplan, and (jk) reported on his own discussions with Kaplan's company, U.S. Games.

August 31, 1999 post to alt.tarot
Bob O'Neill

We spoke about interest in the book, but it was largely within the context of research. Moakley had donated the material to him with the primary purpose of preserving it - and we discussed it in the context of his plans to set up his collections and library as a "study" museum where serious students could come and get access to all of the material. I asked him if he was interested in re-publishing the book -and he responded that he didn't see it as commercially viable.

In the course of a conversation, I asked if he intended to republish and he answered that it wasn't commercially viable. But the context of the conversation was his current activities and his plans to make his collection/library available. His current activities involve finishing a novel he is writing and finishing Volume 4 of the Encyclopedia. So his answer may be influenced by his own priorities. Also, I don't think he sees himself as the person best qualified to do the updating and modifications in the book that would be needed. So i think his emphasis is more on making the material accessible to scholars who would do the work and republish the material.

August 24, 1999 post to alt.tarot
J. Karlin

Moakley left both the copyright to the book, but also her research notes and CORRECTIONS to the original text to Stuart Kaplan. This means, once this material is properly sifted through and the corrections added, this new text will be an UPDATED book, not merely a reprinting of the old text. This fact alone is one of the more important and exciting bits of news that came out in my discussions with U. S. Games, and as I pointed out certainly argues for the liklihood that many people, including those who already possess copies of the older text, will be interested in buying the new printing.

Stuart Kaplan would probably be involved in this editing process and though I've suggested others would be pleased to assist in this effort, the details of this will likely not get worked out for a while. But this is another key point. Kaplan was not much interested in devoting part of his printing budget, and also his personal research time, to republishing what he initially imagined would be a poor-selling item.

At this time, Kaplan is reviewing the prospective printing costs of the project and hopes to be able to get me a good estimate on the price of the book (the suggested retail) perhaps this week. Initially, the ballpark was the book would be a paperback, probably costing somewhere around $19.

The full thread is very long and tedious, but available via Google Groups.
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby robert on 28 Mar 2008, 06:23

Wow Michael,

Thanks for posting this.

What a shame that Kaplan has control of these documents, yet keeps them unavailable. I've never read the original book, and would be interested in reading it, even more so with the updated notes. I can only imagine that we could all learn something from this material.

Here's a toast to Ms. Moakley, and a big thank you to her for her major contribution to Tarot History.

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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby jmd on 06 Apr 2008, 10:36

It would be great to have Moakley's little book republished - with that I entirely agree.

I wonder, however, how much of the relevant information is not already included in the other two more 'recent' (by reference to Moakley's) books on the Visconti: that by Dummett (from the mid-1980s) and the one accompanying the deck printed by LS (c. 2002)?

I realise that neither of these covers the ground-breaking work of Moakley, but also wonder if any of her corrections (which I have not seen) have not in some manner been incorporated into either of their work or within Kaplan's Encyclopedia.
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby mjhurst on 06 Apr 2008, 15:12

Hi, Jean-Michel,

Moakley's book was both historical and iconographic. Her historical research included a lot of "breaking news" at the time, and that area has continued to be researched by others, most notably Dummett. However, it doesn't appear that anyone has followed up on her iconographic hypotheses... except Moakley herself. You seem to suggest that Berti's Lo Scarabeo book, like Dummett's book, does not present or develop her parody-of-Petrarch interpretation.

Das Visconti-Tarot: das älteste Tarot der Welt (1999)
Visconti Tarot (Lo Scarabeo, in Italian, 2002)
Visconti-Tarot : vom Ursprung der Tarot-Karten in der Renaissancezeit (2002)
all by Giordano Berti & Tiberio Gonard

That iconographic analysis, of course, is the part of her work which continues to be cited by historians as the meaning of the Tarot trumps. Her interpretation still stands as the only published, detailed account of the Tarot trumps iconographic program which is not ludicrous. Consider that for a moment, and consider the counter examples you might offer. Which one is both detailed and not laughable? Out of the hundreds of books which get published on Tarot, by self-satisfied bullshit artists selling "the meaning of Tarot", which one is not historically silly?

Moakley is important because she is unique.

If she advanced her interpretation, updated or corrected or further substantiated it, then a revised edition would constitute the second most important English-language book on pre-Gebelin Tarot history. As it stands, her book is an essential supplement to The Game of Tarot, providing the one thing which Sir Michael did not attempt -- a rational assessment of Tarot's meaning.

In 2000-2002 I developed an iconographic analysis of Tarot as a Triumph of Death, which owes a debt to Moakley in at least one very important respect. Also, in a vague sense, my analysis parallels Petrarch's Trionfi, but in a very different way than her hypothesis did. Currently Ross is developing an iconographic analysis which also owes a debt, but perhaps even less of one, to Moakley. If either of these were published then Moakley would, IMO, no longer stand alone, but I think that we are the first to actually continue on the path she started. She stands as the best existing study of the meaning of Tarot symbolism, and yet no one else has bothered to follow up on what she began.

So in terms of the purely historical material, you are probably correct, that we are missing little if anything by not having access to her subsequent studies. (Even that, however, is an open question until someone reports on what is in her research files.) However, in terms of her more interesting study of what Tarot meant, why those subjects were selected and what the arrangement was intended to convey, I think that a revised Moakley would be a uniquely valuable work... more so than anything else on anyone's Tarot publishing schedule.

Best regards,
Michael
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby robert on 07 Apr 2008, 01:45

Hi Michael,
You sound frustrated that more people don't "know" Moakley. I'm ashamed to say I've never read her, and I think of myself as being pretty damned interested in Tarot History. I have to think that most people haven't read her because the book is not widely available.

Now granted, I tend to agree with you that many people who are "into tarot" enjoy fantasizing about unusual and interesting origins and reasons for the selection of the iconography.

And while I don't know that you've ever made a point of it, I also suspect you believe that many of us would rather NOT know the truth, if the truth turned out to be as "boring and mundane" as "The tarot is a game based on public triumph parades of the Italian 15th Century".

Personally, I'd love it if Kaplan released the book; and damn it, if there are no sales for it, then offer it as a PDF download for $20 or something. Christ, when will these publishers get with the 21st century???

In the meantime, it would be really nice if "someone" who actually knew what she said and understood and appreciated her standpoint would actually write a synopsis of her ideas and present them so that those of us without the means or access to this "knowledge" could benefit.
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby jmd on 07 Apr 2008, 04:42

I wrote my previous post after (literally) just coming off more than 30 hours of flight, so if I sounded more dismissive of Moakley than warranted, it was certainly not intended. I merely wondered if, as Michael also mentions in his last post, there are in Moakley's own research files much more than may already have been consulted and included by the more recent books by Dummett and by Berti &al.

It's been some time since I read her book - and though indeed groundbreaking and something that I am pleased that especially yourself and Ross have in parallel manner worked with - I have personally found somewhat wanting.

I probably should wait until no longer jet-legged and my own body clock re-adjusted to a 10-hour decalage before posting, but my fingers seem to be over-riding my head in this instance.

Part of my own dissatisfaction with Moakley's analysis is precisely the manner in which, in the end, the trump set is too closely linked to Petrach: certainly the set of trumps appears to have parallels that are in part mirrored in works such as Dante or Petrach, and such uncovering is Moakley's strength and grace for further research. What she does not do (nor claim, from memory of what is now some years), is to state a direct parallel.

Personally, I do not think that anymore has been shown than similar or common social iconographic impulses worked themselves through both Petrach and what came to develop into tarot. This does not in any manner diminish the importance of her (or Michael's own, for that matter - one of the most important on the web as far as I'm concerned) work.

I suppose that from Michael's previous reply it is not in any manner clear whether Moakley's folder-notes have been consulted by either Dummett, Berti or Gonard... it would be interesting to check what Kaplan mentions in his Encyclopedias in relation to this. I'll check this in a couple of days if no-one else does before I have a chance.
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby mjhurst on 07 Apr 2008, 15:07

Hi, Robert,

le pendu wrote:You sound frustrated that more people don't "know" Moakley.

Not really. But I do think that if people are going to spend a significant part of their adult life talking about something, they might want to read a book or two. Most Tarot enthusiasts seem to believe that their opinions, however uninformed and even perverse, are somehow significant. Presumably this idiotic approach comes from an unconscious understanding that most of what passes for knowledge in the world of Tarot is bullshit anyway, so why not just make up your own?

I'm a big fan of progress. Tarot history studies don't make much.

Despite Huck and Lothar's claims that the old guys didn't know much and were hopelessly biased, and that a "new generation" of "researchers" has made great progress, I think he's completely full of himself. As far as I can tell, almost all of the large-scale progress in both Tarot history and iconography has come from a very few scholars. These people, most notably Dummett, studied those who had gone before, collated and examined previous findings and conclusions critically, did original research, and were carefully analytical and responsibly conservative (staying close to the factual evidence) in terms of forming their own conclusions. That creates a base from which subsequent work can be done.

The two key elements of a research project are the literature review and some original thinking. You need to know something about the field, and you need to have findings and/or a defensible insight of your own. Tarot's general lack of progress (outside of journal articles and rather rare books -- either in Italian or with Dummett's name in the byline or both) continues despite hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts and the fact that people love talking about Tarot history.

So the question is, why do some fields of research make progress and others languish? Two things which Tarot enthusiasts seem to hate are learning about the old guys and critical thinking, that is, comparing alternatives. Traditionally, Tarot books are colportage, devotional works written only to be sold. Naturally they don't research or document the drivel they put in them.

The first time I tried posting to Aeclectic, I was chased off the forum for having the audacity to cite and quote Dummett and make a detailed argument. I said, okay -- if that's bad form, I have other things to do. Finding out what's gone down before is fundamental, as is critical thinking. Moakley is one of the handful of significant books on the subject. Right now I need to answer a post from Kwaw on Aeclectic. It is, in general terms, an old story in which he claims to agree with something (unspecified) about my position, whereas in fact he disagrees completely with my views but is too sloppy about both his views and mine to notice. I'll attempt to illustrate this in a reply, but here it is just an example of what is the norm rather than an exception.

I find both the casual disregard of the "literature" and the complete inability to compare and contrast differing conclusions to be at the heart of Tarot's being such a stagnant pool of unproductive ideas. In terms of my personal emotional response, frustration is a part of it, (along with occasional amazement, disappointment, contempt, admiration, excitement, etc.) but sadness is a more common feeling. It is unfortunate that those few people who might want to actually learn something about Tarot history and turn to this magnificent new invention, the Google-driven Internet, find mostly such dreck.

le pendu wrote:I'm ashamed to say I've never read her, and I think of myself as being pretty damned interested in Tarot History. I have to think that most people haven't read her because the book is not widely available.

I disagree. Many people spend a great deal of time and money on Tarot, over a period of many years, while at this moment, Moakley is a few mouse clicks and $30-45 away (plus shipping, which can be a bitch). However, it depends upon one's interests, as well as availability of a good library (mine is a 60-mile round trip), one's goals and, of course, personal resources.

le pendu wrote:Now granted, I tend to agree with you that many people who are "into tarot" enjoy fantasizing about unusual and interesting origins and reasons for the selection of the iconography. And while I don't know that you've ever made a point of it, I also suspect you believe that many of us would rather NOT know the truth, if the truth turned out to be as "boring and mundane" as "The tarot is a game based on public triumph parades of the Italian 15th Century".

If by "us" you mean the larger Tarot community, there is no doubt that the only reason the vast majority of people are involved is because of the post-Gebelin accretions of fortune-telling and esoteric interpretation. I've never had a problem with that part of it, although I have a special contempt for (and perverse enjoyment of) the poseurs, the Holy Blood, Holy Grail type hoaxers who twist history to confuse the unwary and defend the old legends. At that point I think that there is a moral aspect involved, but I tend to feel that way about religion in general, and Tarotism is a relatively harmless one.

le pendu wrote:Personally, I'd love it if Kaplan released the book; and damn it, if there are no sales for it, then offer it as a PDF download for $20 or something. Christ, when will these publishers get with the 21st century???

Indeed. I have no idea what considerations prevent that.

le pendu wrote:In the meantime, it would be really nice if "someone" who actually knew what she said and understood and appreciated her standpoint would actually write a synopsis of her ideas and present them so that those of us without the means or access to this "knowledge" could benefit.

Well, let's see what's online.

Moakley 101: Prelude
http://www.tarothermit.com/moakley1.htm

Moakley 101: Triumphs and the Game of Triumphs
http://www.tarothermit.com/moakley2.htm

Moakley Book Review
http://www.geocities.com/cartedatrionfi ... akley.html

June 22, 2009 P.S
The Four Virtues, and Moakley's allegorical interpretation of the Tarot Deck (Jan 3, 2005)
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TarotL/message/43601

There used to be a page by George Leake online, but it seems to have vanished.
This seems to be it, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind being remembered.

Tarot Origins: Sorting Out History and Myth

As we head into a new century, there finally seems to be some reasonable theories of Tarot origins. A number of books have systematically debunked every fantastic legend created in the Romantic era, from the gypsies bringing tarot cards into Europe, to Templar and Albigensian fancies worthy of consideration in the latest sequel to _Holy Blood, Holy Grail_. Not only has the post World War II era seen specialty scholarly works on tarot history by the likes of Moakley, Kaplan and Dummett, but mainstream how-to books written for the general public from Giles to Greer now acknowledge historical veracities.

However, there are still some problems. One of them is something pointed out in A Wicked Pack of Cards, that is confusion between Myth and History. To avoid such confusion, let me state clearly here that this essay is an effort to piece together History, and that nothing here should threaten people's beliefs in Myth. You should use whatever works for you when it comes to Tarot, especially in divinitory, cartomantic or fortune-telling modes.

Personally, I think that watered-down Jungian philosophy has exacerbated this problem, leading to generalizations and assumptions about symbolism that muddies up the water quite a bit. There's also a lot of romanticization of the past, much of it Rousseauist in flavor. What we have to do is try to think in terms of cultural assumptions of the past as much as possible. Therefore, I think one can see why applying 20th century pseudo-Jungian notions of Collective Unconscious might be unhelpful in understanding a pre-Reformation ur-Renaissance Northern Italy. Thankfully, the worst excesses of Marxist filtering of history is long since passe; let's hope that's not replaced by assumptions based on either Crowley's "New Aeon" or Merlin Stone's When God Was A Woman (though these are frequent assumed hegemonies often applied to tarot).

Ironically, one of the more acute statements on this confusion I've seen is from a prominent Jungian, Mircea Eliade, in his Foreword to Eros and Magic In the Renaissance by Ioan P. Couliano:

...shortly after Giordano Bruno's death, the Reformation and the Counterreformation successfully imposed total censorship over expression of the imaginitive faculty. The reason, of course, was religious: phantasms were idols conceived by "the inner sense"...And, to be sure, censorship succeeded in wiping out the "sciences" based on the strength of the imagination, especially fanciful eroticism, the art of Memory, and magic. Moreover, according to the author, it was the Reformation's victorious offensive against the imagination that culminated in the destruction of Renaissance culture. That censorship over the imagination which motivated the Churches of the West might be compared to the Iconoclasts' attack on the Eastern Church in the eighth and ninth centuries. The theological argument was the same: the idolatry inherent in the glorification of images. (p. xii, Couliano)

While we should remember this quote later because of the relevance to the Art for the Ruling Class section (the Reformation was decidedly not an effort spearheaded by the Status Quo), the relevance here is to grasp how much culture has changed due to the Reformation, and that it takes serious study to understand cultures in their own context.

The Trionfi Paradigm

The obvious place for us to start is with Gertrude Moakley's book The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza Family. Moakley is the first to present the generally accepted theory of a connection between early Tarot cards (Cartes di Trionfi) and the paradigm of the triumph in Petrarch's epic poem I Trionfi. Right away some people are cast with doubt, why emphasize this little known work and not, say, Petrarch's famous sonnets about Laura in his Canzoniere? This should demonstrate, quite uncontroversally, the danger of our 20th century mindsets, as not only was I Trionfi Petrarch's most popular work in the 14th & 15th centuries, it remained so well into the 16th century, even at the court of early Tudor England where the sonnet form was being experimented with by the likes of Wyatt and Surrey. Why else would Lord Morley translate it?

Moakley describes the trionfi paradigm in both Petrarch and his many iconographic emulators: Love triumphs over Man, Chastity over Love, in turn conquered by Death, Fame, Time and ultimately Eternity. Many of the figures in earliest tarots are present in the iconography surrounding/influenced by Petrarch's I Trionfi.

There are a number of places to look for iconography influenced by I Trionfi. D.D. Carnicelli's Lord Morley's Tryumphes of Fraunces Petrarcke; the first English translation of the Trionfi. (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1971.); ISBN: 0674539168 represents the most concise source. The art of Andrea Mantegna can be found in many places, but the source I use is Paintings in the Louvre , Lawrence Gowing ; introduction by Michel Laclotte (New York : Stewart, Tabori & Chang : Distributed by Workmanub., c1987); ISBN:1556700075, though there are also various versions of the so-called Mantegna Tarot deck as well, I use Suite d'estampes de la Renaissance italienne dite tarots de Mantegna, ou, Jeu du gouvernement du monde au quattrocento, vers 1465 / postface aux estampes, Laure Beaumont-Maillet ; presentation d'histoire de l'art, Gisele Lambert. (Garches, France : Editions A. Seydoux, c1985.); ISBN: 2905429011 (v. 1), 2905429038 (v. 2).

Finally, I've found yet another incredible source, in French, by Victor Massena Essling, Petrarque : ses etudes d'art, son influence sur les artistes, ses portraits et ceux de Laure, l'illustration de ses ecrits/Prince d'Essling & Eugene Muntz ; ouvrage accompagnee de vingt-et-une planches tirees a part et de cent quatre vingt onze gravures dans le texte, (Paris : Gazette des beaux-arts, 1902); OCLC NUMBER: 7078048. There are a number of other possible sources of medieval art, as my discovery of a number of Triumphal images in Paintings in the Louvre confirmed. Long before I was aware of a Tarot connection (though I was quite aware of tarot cards), as a student of Renaissance culture, I was quite aware of the Trionfi Paradigm. Its really as common a theme in the art of the period as the Dance of Death (I suggest the two overlap somewhat). But do realize that these things aren't really static--you're not going to find the Ark of the Covenant, or some other magickal panacea or jagged last piece of the puzzle.

On the Original Name For Tarot Cards

Michael Dummett addresses this concisely in Game of Tarot:

Although the Tarot pack originated in the fifteenth century, it did not originally bear that name. The word 'Tarot' has become more or less naturalised as an English word; it is in fact the French adaptation of the Italian name of these cards--tarocchi or, in the singular, tarocco. (p. 80)

Also, from the same source:

...the first use of the word tarocchi known to me dates from 1516, once again from an account-book of the Ferrara court. Throughout the 15th century, the word used was always trionfi, or in Latin, triumphi--'triumphs': this name was still in use in 1500. The word trionfi, strictly speaking, refers only to what we have been calling the triumph cards, sometimes taken as including the Fool, sometimes not. By transferance, it was used to apply also to the game played with the Tarot pack, and sometimes to the pack itself, including the suit cards; but the more correct way of referring to the cards of the Tarot pack, taken together, was as carte da trionfi. (pp. 80-81)

Psychomachia: An Element in Early Tarots Largely Unheralded?

What Moakley and most other early tarot theorists have missed (excepting Brian Williams, who demonstrates some knowledge of this in his Renaissance Tarot; despite the fact this is a speculative work, much of Williams' historical scholarship is supported with independently verifiable evidence, a rare feat even in contemporary occult works) is something here beyond imitation of Petrarch. I have coopted the term "Psychomachia" (wars of the soul) to describe what I call, in simpler terms, personification of psychological states. Psychomachia, mainly referring to the warring Seven Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins, which represent probably the most well-known examples I speak of.

Petrarch is hardly the first or last to personify psychological states. One common example is the "Seven Ages of Man" conceit, which we find in Shakespeare's As You Like It (the references to psychomachia in Shakespeare are too numerous to list here), and the Pagaents of Thomas More--these comprise a series of roles one adopts, but not just simply a job like a postman, baker, lawyer, etc., but actually psychological ones. More's Pagaents are excerpted in a number of places, including many extant volumes of Early Tudor Poetry--here though is one example of his complete works: More, Thomas, Sir, Saint, 1478-1535 ; The complete works of St. Thomas More. (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1963- ); ISBN: 0300062311.

I have found similar personifications within the Romance of the Rose (the Charles Dahlberg translation of Guillaume de Lorris & Jean de Meun's epic poem cycle, Le Roman de la rose). In the midst of the Discourse of Reason, we have some bits typical from the period about Fortune or Wheel of Fortune:

...one may find it written, that perverse, contrary Fortune is worth more and profits men more than does pleasant and agreeable Fortune. If this seems doubtful to you, it still can be proved by reasoning. Pleasant, agreeable Fortune lies to men, tricks them, and makes fools of them...She gives them the appearance of being loyal when she distributes among them her delights--riches and honor, dignities and authority--and promises them stability in a condition of mutability...(pp.102-3)

A little later, Reason is talking about the deception of Riches. He is talking about a merchant despite having much, is contantly worrying and "as a result he will never have enough." In this section where the merchant is imagining all sorts of misfortunes, there's an interesting (to me at least) line "Or again, he reflects that he will be carried off to the Hotel-Dieu, where he will be well taken care of." (p.105)

The Tower card used to be called the House of God. Another irony is that the Church was the bank in Ancient Rome, and here we've got a discourse on wealth.Not exactly a smoking gun, but certainly more evidence of some connections than I've seen with the Albigensian theories. Oh and later on, the merchant imagines himself going to paradise, perhaps a Last Judgment/Angel reference?

On the same page, Reason is drawing a sharp contrast with the merchant to those who enjoy life. Let's see if anyone recognizes this figure:

Again, if such a man knows how to keep himself on his income and doesn't covet the goods of another, he will not think himself a victim of poverty; for, as your masters say, no man is a victim who doesn't think himself one, whether he is king, knight, or knave. Many carefree roustabouts, carrying sacks of charcoal in La Greve, have hearts so light that difficulties don't bother them. They work in patience, dancing, skipping, and go to S.Marcel for tripe. (p.105)

Reason continues the diatribe against Fraud and Avarice on succeeding pages, but finally we are presented this image, reminiscent of one in the Rider-Waite deck:

"But riches, which, according to their natural destiny, should be led, revenge themselves honorably on their hosts, for they drag them ignominiously behind, they rend them and stab them repeatedly. They pierce their hearts with three blades." (pp107-8)

Critics of Moakley have frequently pointed out that the sequence of trumps do not match up to Petrarch. Moakley begins her work with a fictional recreation of a Saturnalia procession before the Duke of Milan, which I admit doesn't feel quite right--though much more sensible than most alternative tarot origin speculation. But as to the gaps in the sequencing, one must assume that there was one single established ordering of the trumps--quite an assumption these days given the extensive documentation from Dummett & Kaplan to the mainstream Giles--clearly the ordering of the trumps varied quite a bit during the 15th century, and the sense that there is a set order is clearly more due to modern mindsets, especially in English speaking countries where Tarot is a new fad compared to, say, Italy. But this is quite common in Art--examine representations of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ in the Middle Ages. Representations of the Triumphs of Petrarch varied quite a bit, and few followed the storyline of the book itself, rendering absurd the arguments that Moakley's theory is flawed because the earliest trumps do not follow Petrarch exactly.

One great example of the Psychomachia in this period from a non Petrarch source is the Dance of Death Paradigm. Petrarch of course personifies Death (common enough); considering how widely spread representations of Death are, it seems that this would have to have been known to the first creators of trump cards.

Of course, the use of the trumps in the games provides a good clue here, we are looking for things that are of an increasing power or value--which is what makes Moakley's theory much more sensible than some of the vague blatherings about Neo-Platonism so absurd. Much richer indeed would be investigations into cultural predecessors of the Triumph itself. Most know this hearkens back to the Roman practice of a conquering general entering Rome in triumph. Yet few realize the triumph's ultimate source might indeed go back to Egypt.

Can you imagine what Court de Gebelin would have made of this, if he had been born after Champollion translated the Rosetta Stone? In our modern era, we've hosted more than our fair share of Egyptomanic theories, and one of the most compelling ones might be one of the most disturbing ones to those of our contemporaries who would prefer to romanticize the past.

Depicted on stone walls in a number of sites (Karnak is an example, I believe) one can find cartouches with representations of the Pharaoh of said period in triumph over conquered tribes. David Rohl pointed out such a cartouche in his series Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblical Quest, to support a theory of his that it was Ramses II, and not Shoshenk, who conquered Israel. Typically x Pharaoh is holding a rod or scourage over lined up processions of his enemies, and where is he seated? In a chariot.

Art By and For and About The Ruling Class: Too Much For Some To Swallow?

The important ramification here is that the Trionfi Paradigm has as its common element iconographic representations of the Conquering/Ruling entity in glory, whether we speak of a temporal ruler or a moral principle. Playing cards probably came to Europe at the same time Paper did via the Spice Trade through the Levant to Northern Italy. The Mamluk decks (c.v. Kaplan) provide a good representation of these first decks--no trumps, the suits were swords, polo sticks, cups and coins, and the courts were kings, knights, and pages. All symbols of the social order. And, all extant evidence of the earliest tarots point towards a theory that the trumps were created by and for the ruling class, and made popular by the middle and lower classes, attempting to imitate the rich and powerful.

So besides, a series of images representing the interests of the ruling class, do we have as strong evidence? How about my "gruel" theory? "Gruel" and similar foods ("beer soup" in England) was the usual fare for the commons during the late middle ages, although I should in all honesty point out that one of the direct results of the Black Plague was that the working classes finally were able to eventually achieve some measure of economic stability. Dwindled numbers across Europe meant education of the poor was more common, and anyone could buy their way (assuming one had the gold to do so) into a Guild during this period (about 1400 CE).

But back to standards of living and food for a moment. One of the best books I have found on the conditions of the working class this period is Robert C. Davis, Shipbuilders of the Venetian Arsenal:

To what extent should the worker community around the Arsenal be considered ne of the "poor" parts of the city? Many artisans were of course impoverished, even in a wealthy city such as Venice...Judging by the few goods they had piled up over the years, most of these workers had passed their lives on the edge of subsistence: their small dwellings typically yielded for the notary's record little more than a few rickety pieces of furniture, battered pots, and old pine trunks with their collection of rans and old clothes of dubious value-- "strazze da niente," according to one inventory. (p. 99)

Davis does go on to note that there were exceptions, of course, people who were able to provide modest doweries, and so on. But, here, look at some of the numbers. Davis cites that the daily wage of average artisans in the Arsenale was 24 soldi a day (until the 1580s) while the average price for a kilo of beef was 18 soldi, capons 30, and of course more precious fare was surely reserved for the tables of the Palace of the Doge and Ca D'Oro. The point is average artisans subsisted on polenta, onions, olives, and preserved fish (sardines were a delicacy at 8 soldi per serving).

There are also some interesting books on the business of Venetian publisher Aldus Manutius (either the Lowry or Barker bio will do) describing the prohibitive cost of paper and running a business (albeit towards the end of the 15th century). My point here is that even in a prosperous city, if not the most prosperous city in all of Western Europe, skilled artisans barely eeked out a living. The only way I can imagine anything resembling a working class effort to print up playing cards would be through a guild and using woodcuts (since the earliest tarots do come from ca. 1425).

There's no direct evidence whatsoever supporting such a theory, and not only is there plenty of evidence that the earliest tarots were painted and paid for by the Ruling Class, the other evidence, i.e. the images themselves, and the impecuniousness of the workers, only strengthens such a theory. But, I guess for some people, romantic Myths are just much stronger than History.
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mjhurst
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Re: Moakley's Research Notes

Postby mjhurst on 07 Apr 2008, 15:39

Hi, Jean-Michel,

jmd wrote:Part of my own dissatisfaction with Moakley's analysis is precisely the manner in which, in the end, the trump set is too closely linked to Petrach: certainly the set of trumps appears to have parallels that are in part mirrored in works such as Dante or Petrach, and such uncovering is Moakley's strength and grace for further research. What she does not do (nor claim, from memory of what is now some years), is to state a direct parallel.

Exactly. Bob O'Neill identified the weakness of her hypothesis in Tarot Symbolism:

O'Neill wrote:The explanation is that the Tarot is not only a simplification of Petrarch’s scheme, but also a spoof, a ribald take-off on the solemnity of the original story in the spirit of the Carnival parade. This explanation is not acceptable simply because it allows too much freedom. Any lack of correspondence can be passed off as part of the joke. Therefore, if the cards match it is taken as positive evidence for the theory, while any discrepancy is dismissed offhand. This is too simplistic.

His own views were, however, much freer and thus far less explanatory than Moakley's. Criticism must always include a comparison with available alternatives.

jmd wrote:Personally, I do not think that any more has been shown than similar or common social iconographic impulses worked themselves through both Petrach and what came to develop into tarot.

She took Tarot as a reflection of another work, one that was extremely influential at the time and place of Tarot's invention and one which has parallels with the trump cycle in both overall design and in many details. That, IMO, remains far and away the best thing anyone's yet published on the question.

Best regards,
Michael
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