Some time ago Huck asked for a translation of Franco's note "Secolo XVI: Firenze – Il nome dei germini", at http://www.naibi.net/A/332-GERMINI-Z.pdf
. I have finally gotten to it. I wasn't sure where to post it. It did not seem appropriate to give it a thread of its own, since there are already threads discussing the topic. I put it here because this particular thread has recently been active and seems to be intended as a place to put things about Germini/Minchiate. Shortly before Franco's note there was an extended (and separate) discussion on THF of similar issues. I will give the link in a separate post.
In this translation, words in brackets are mine. Where Franco himself used brackets, I have changed them to parentheses so as to avoid confusion with mine. The notes are at the end.
16th Century Florence - the name of germini
Franco Pratesi – 06.09.2014
The name [nome] of germini is applied to a particular pack of Florentine cards, and card game historians agree to recognize in the cards indicated with this name the same pack of 97 cards that was later commonly referred to as minchiate in Tuscany, while in other regions it could be described as ganellini or gallerini.
The earliest citation of the name of germini applied to playing cards was recently found by Lothar Teikemeier in relation to facts of 1517, (1) while an important association of the word germini with that of the major triumphs had previously been found in an unpublished statute in Montecatini Val di Cecina, dated 1529. (2)
We must now discuss the meaning of germini, a noun [nome, also meaning name] that comes into Italian, without significant changes of meaning, directly from the Latin germen
, with a derivation suggested by the verb gignere
and corresponding Greek words related to generation.
Now, it is not the same if we only study the issue with regard to playing cards or more generally. Historians of playing cards agree to accept the interpretation of the plural term germini as a corruption of gemini [Latin, twins] or gemelli [Italian, twins]. However, the noun germine also exists in Italian without any reference to playing cards.
One will then have to check first if the usual meaning of germini is also applicable to the cards. On the other hand, it will be useful for a confirmation to be able to find as many attestations as possible of the word germini interpretable as gemini in cases other than playing cards.
The name germini (equal to gemini) for playing cards
The starting point is that card game historians usually read germini as a corruption of gemini or genelli (twins). Indeed, that the word gemini could be written in some text as germini cannot be surprising: considering the wide freedom of spelling that was granted to everyone writing in those times, finding such a "mistake" is more than normal and we cannot find ourselves faced with daring hypotheses.
So we just have to see if the term gemini or gemelli has some connection with the game. The answer from this point of view is also very positive. In fact it was precisely on the basis of a link of the kind that the explanation of that source of the name was proposed. As is well known, the regular tarot deck, rarely documented in Florence, contains 78 cards, composed of 56 that are those of the four suits, each of ten numeral cards and four figures, plus a sequence peculiar to this deck consisting of 22 figures, which function in the game as trumps. In the corresponding Florentine pack the 56 suit cards remain, with only a few peculiarities in the drawing of the figures, but the sequence becomes 40 cards, 41 considering the Fool, thus bringing the total number to 97.
What are the gemini? In fact, the twelve zodiacal signs are included in the additional cards of the Florentine sequence, and among them the card with the Gemini occupies the highest position, so that it can indeed justify the fact that this was the starting point for giving that name to the whole deck and game.
Such a justification was made in black and white by Paolo Minucci in his Note al Malmantile
, present from the 1688 edition after being compiled around 1675 at the request of Cardinal Leopoldo dei Medici: "
Germini forse da Gemini, segno celeste, che è fra i Tarocchi col numero è il maggiore
[Germini perhaps from Gemini, a celestial sign which among the Tarocchi with number is the greatest.] (3)
The greatest and most trusted historian of playing cards comports himself in this regard as one could foresee a philosopher who has devoted his most famous work to logic: it is useless to raise doubts where it is not necessary, and much less in such a case as this, where the explanation is obvious.
Germini is obviously a corruption of Gemini (The Twins), which represents the subject of trump XXXV in the Minchiate pack, the highest of those showing signs of the Zodiac. (4)
But if the thing is obvious to a Dummett, it becomes difficult for us to raise some doubts.
In conclusion, as long as one moves within playing cards and their history, it would be quite true that all that was to be said has already been said and approved. Indeed, it is currently going further: concerning the basis of the Gemelli, so important for these cards, various historical references to events of the early sixteenth century, often involving the Medici family, are being widely discussed. To get an idea, just look for the word germini in the websites dedicated to tarot history. (5)
As is often the case, however, we are dealing with an explanation originally suggested more than a century and a half after the actual introduction of the term; then, with the passage of time, what had been proposed as a possible interpretation is gradually transformed into a certain interpretation.
We call attention to the temporal distance between the first use of the term and the original proposal of its interpretation, currently accepted, because it tends to overestimate the fact that that interpretation comes from the Florentine environment, going back several centuries, which gives it an antique patina to support its reliability. It is a fact that nobody proposed such an interpretation in the sixteenth century, when the proposal would really eliminate any doubt about its truthfulness. Therefore, some verification seems useful, including whether the use of the word germini as a corruption of gemini is also evidenced in cases other than playing cards.
The name germini in general
It was seen that germini could be a rather incorrect word, but with the meaning of gemini or gemelli. It goes without saying that besides this "hypothetical" word there is also the same word germini as the plural of germine, with its own meaning. It does not happen that the noun germini does not exist in Italian except as playing cards; It also exists as a correct form, and has its own meaning.
The noun germini is closely linked to another, germe [seed]. It may be that in the sixteenth century the two terms were entirely interchangeable. If they were, one could say that only germe is then left in common use and germine has become obsolete. One can cite a very similar example with vermine next to verme [worm]; I have not looked for others.
Perhaps, to better understand how things are, I would need to ask some old Tuscan farmer, rather than dictionaries; in the popular language there are often more nuances than in the written language. I find myself having an ear that has been taught in the popular language for many decades and I try to use it, recognizing, however, that in order to arrive at the beginning of the sixteenth century from decades I would still miss some.
Obviously I want to check out what the major dictionaries of the Italian language say, but before even consulting them I would like to take on my responsibility as an old Florentine, familiar with our popular language of the city and countryside. Personally, I notice a difference between germe and germine, such that, for example, only the first one can be used in a figurative sense.
I do not use the word germine, because I would have few occasions to use it; but I have well in mind what it is intended to mean. In my opinion, a familiar object that renders the idea of what is intended by germine is a soybean sprout [germoglio di soia] (Fig. 1), from those that have entered into the diets of today considered more healthful. If I mean germine as sprout, I do not mean that these two terms are synonymous, with the same meaning.
Figure 1 – Soybean sprouts.
The name of sprout [germoglio] can be used in a broader sense, up to attributing it to a new seedling [piantina], or a new branch [ramo] just grown. Instead, the germine is a little more than a seed and is distinguished from a seed pure and simple just by the fact that it precisely is starting to sprout. (I have, however, since seen that the major dictionaries also include some literary examples of germine as a synonym of seedling [pianticella].)
A sprouting seed [seme che germoglia] is a rapidly growing object and its volume grows almost visibly to the eye, until it is double what it was at the start and goes further. If one thinks about these germini and their possible applications, one’s thought goes to a seedbed [semenzaio], in which they are formed before developing again and being transplanted.
In Fig. 2, the intermediate germine is present, as the seed is clearly present at the beginning and the sprout at the end. (The figure chosen is also significant because according to the larger dictionaries the term germine would be associable with any element of the figure itself.)
The name germini (other than for twins) for playing cards
Now we have a difficult task. One should try to understand why the noun germini - now supposedly completely independent of gemini o gemelli [twins]! - has been assigned, too, to a particular type of playing cards. Of course, once soybean sprouts have been recalled, I recognize that associating that vision with playing cards is not immediate. My personal interpretation is that those particular cards have been called thus because they grew to the eye; There was a pack of normal cards, and then one with cards that ... were germinating, which had grown and greatly increased in volume; or thickness, speaking of the corresponding deck. Figure 3 might render the idea of this "germination".
Figure 2 - Successive stages of a germination.
Despite my familiarity with Florentine tradition, I have no difficulty admitting that I was not present when that name of the cards was used the first time and that my reconstruction is far away, in fact, in terms of time, from the real facts.
In short, even if I can convince myself of the plausibility of such an idea, I do not have the slightest claim to convince others: anyone can safely have a different idea; we are far from the scientific environment here!
The name germini for other twins
This is the last point in the discussion and may be the decisive one. The task is now "only" to check whether the word germini as gemini is also present in other cases, as well as in playing cards. In my opinion, if it is true that you can easily write germini meaning gemini, one must also find cases where the same accepted meaning is confirmed, also outside our specific specific sector of playing cards.
Figure 3 – Minchiate “germinating”.
(Cards printed by Vito Arienti, 1980)
Obviously, if in the Italian literature there are various cases where germini is written by gemini, then the interpretation occuring also among card players acquires a lot of plausibility. Conversely, if there is no such attestation, one should draw the conclusion that it is a forced and unconvincing interpretative hypothesis for the cards.
Well, I did this research in major dictionaries for references to germini as gemini, besides that possibly of playing cards, and I did not find even one. In short, there is no support whatever for that interpretation
The name germine in the dictionaries
In any case, for germine and germini, we are dealing with uncommon words; for example, in a good school dictionary (6) the term germine is found, but only with immediate return of germe [seed], an easy solution. It is necessary to use the major dictionaries of the Italian language, the ones in multiple volumes. In part it is not enough: thus the admittedly valid Treccani dictionary, (7) also present online, does not contain germini or germine, even if describing the sprout [germinello]. As for the singular noun germine, all the other major dictionaries report it, but do not agree on its exact definition. In particular, only in some is the noun immediately indicated as a synonym for seed [germe].
The Vocabulario degli Academicci della Crusca
(8) begins clearly, "the same as Germe, Germoglio [Seed, Sprout [Germe, Germoglio]"; but continuing, it has "and also as Pianticella [young plant]". Tommaseo-Bellini (9) begins similarly with "germe [seed], germoglio [sprout]". The Battaglia (10) does not even indicate germe [seed], but only germoglio [sprout], and by extension the plant. The Grande dizionario Italiano dell'uso
(11) confirms "germe, germoglio [seed, sprout]".
In short, in order to understand what is meant by germini, it is enough to recall its Latin origin and admit some elasticity over the centuries, even greater than that allowed by my ear. When I inserted Fig. 2 it was my intention that the germine seen be understood; if one accepts the extensions of the major dictionaries, all of the elements of the figure become acceptable, and indeed they could be pushed further beyond its growth, always remaining in the definition.
The name germini in the dictionaries
After all, it was the plural of the noun we were most interested in. Well, all these dictionaries report the word germini and refer only to the cards. Even the quotes from Italian literature are mostly the same, well known to historians of playing cards.
Here we find another result, negative but clear: in none of the words and their extensions, and in none of the examples reproduced in the literature, is a word used in place of gemini, besides the unique quotation from Note al Malmantile
that has given rise to all the disinformation in this regard. For me, one can forget about that forced interpretation and stay even in the environment of playing cards with germini, without resorting to gemini and Gemelli [twins].
So is my idea as mentioned above confirmed? Not at all. After examining the major dictionaries, other roads, which might be even more convincing, have to be examined. In fact, we find other potentially definitive indications, although they are rather ambiguous, at least at first sight.
What I knew before examining the dictionaries was that there was a pack of cards called germini and a card game with the same name. Recalling the difficult priority between the egg and the chicken, I did not mind if it was the deck naming the game or vice versa, if the game had named the deck. Such a problem I put once for the lady [?], but that was in quite another game.
Our dictionaries, unexpectedly for me, if they put that question, also give an answer. We can start, logically, from the Academy of the Crusca, which is not the last entry [arrivata], even figuratively.
In the Vocabulario
it is explicitly written that there was a subsequent passage of meanings:
“Germini. Nome che propriamente si dette alle Carte figurate, e aventi un valore, delle Minchiate
o Tarocchi, e che poi si estese a tutto quanto il Mazzo di esse, figurate e non figurate.
[Germini. A name that properly referred to the figure cards, having a value, of the Minchiate or Tarocchi, and which then extended to the whole pack, figure and non-figure.
Then, as successive words, are listed the game of germini, the 28 of germini, and the 11 of germini, which does not bring us anything we did not know.
In short, not only was the deck of germini to give the name to the game, and not vice versa, but in turn the deck would have taken that name of germini, originally intended only as the major cards of the deck itself. In this the Vocabulario
agrees with the Note al Malmantile
already mentioned, in which Paolo Minucci states regarding the the major cards:
Le 40. si dicono Germini o Tarocchi.”
[The 40 are called Germini or Tarocchi.]
The Tramater edition with "Additions and Corrections" (12) is less compromised and says what I could say too:
Sorta di giuoco che dicesi anche delle minchiate e Le carte stesse con che si giuoca
[Kind of game also known as minchiate, and the cards themselves with which it is played]
but adds in brackets: Onde Tarocchi e Germini diconsi quelle 40 carte in cui sono effigiati diversi geroglifici e segni celesti, ecc. [Such in Tarot and Germini are called those 40 cards in which different hieroglyphs and celestial signs are portrayed, etc.]
The Tommaseo-Bellini opens another road:
Germini, minchiate, sorta di giuoco; e Le carte stesse con che si giuoca; come Semi
[Germini, minchiate, kinds of games; and the cards themselves with which they are played, as Suits.
It would appear that the difference from the previous ones is not great, but in fact it is. Nobody has ever talked about suits [semi, also meaning seeds] before!
That semi [seeds, suits] have something to do with germini is also seen in Figure 2 and the thing cannot be new. On the other hand semi [seeds, suits] have something to do with playing cards, as everyone knows, if semi are meant as cups, coins, batons, swords and, if desired, the extra seme [suit] of the major cards. Up to now I did not think that the two types of semi had anything in common, besides the name, but now the same match is found - unexpectedly, at least for me - just for the term germini of our interest.
The Battaglia ends by complicating the interpretation. So far we have found two different ones, the major figures of Crusca (and Minucci) and the semi [suits, seeds] of Tommaseo-Bellini. Well, the Battaglia puts them together on the same plate.
Nel gioco delle carte, le figure dei tarocchi o delle minchiate (cioè ‘i semi’); e per estensione: le carte da gioco stesse; il gioco delle minchiate.
[In the deck of cards, the figures of tarocchi or minchiate (i.e. 'the suits'); And by extension: the playing cards themselves; the game of minchiate.]
Up to the parenthesis it limited itself to the oldest signification indicated by the Crusca, which was, admittedly, only one and the most uncertain of the three meanings (the two simpler accepted meanings of germini are obviously those of the pack and the game). The addition of the suits in parentheses confuses me completely, because in this way the two "novelties" coming out of the dictionary, germini as major figures in the game and germini as suits of cards, are combined in a manner incomprehensible to me.
Finally, the most recent Grande dizionario dell’uso
considers germini as
i semi dei tarocchi e delle minchiate; per estensione, le carte da gioco stesse, il gioco delle minchiate.
[the suits of the tarocchi and minchiate; by extension, the playing cards themselves, the game of minchiate.
It might be said that the last definition can contain everything, depending on how the term semi is read: if they are germini-figures, we return to the vision of the Crusca; If they are the germini-suits of the cards, we return to Tommaseo-Bellini.
We can then summarize the situation: from the examination of the dictionaries we sought a link between germini-sprouts [germini-germogli] and germini-cards, and possibly a link between the increase of the common deck and germination. For the second question there is no confirmation; For the first, in compensation, instead of one link we find two: a first link is with the germini intended, at least initally, as the cards added to the normal deck; a second is with germini intended as suits [semi] and "so" as possible suits [semi] of the playing cards themselves.
I have no idea how long the suits of playing cards have been indicated thus, but I would not be too surprised if there were several other terms used in different times and places, even earlier. For now, at least, I do not want to go deeper, because we are already mixed up enough.
I just need to add one comment on so many dictionaries, a kind of instruction for use: unfortunately, when several different dictionaries have very similar or identical definitions, it is often not that one confirms the others independently: often this happens "dependently”, errors included.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century a card game with the new name of germini is documented in Florence. Playing card historians hold that it was the same as that later known as minchiate, and that it used the same Florentine deck of 97 cards. For sure, if the two games, and their related decks, were not exactly the same, they had to at least have been very similar.
I have suggested that the term germini for the playing cards could be derived from the considerable increase from the deck of common cards, comparable to what happens in germination processes.
After examining major dictionaries of the Italian language, there are still two possible interpretations, one that would initially limit the name of germini only to the figures outside the common pack; the other would have the same name as that for seeds [semi], meant by extension as suits [semi] of playing cards.
Discussion about the meaning of the name can be extended to the reconstruction of the priority with which it was attributed to the deck of cards and to the game using it; from what the dictionaries tell us, we could conclude that it was the deck giving the name to the game.
Finally, one thing seems to be excluded with certainty: the recurring interpretation of the name of germini as a word corrupted from gemini, with reference to the Gemini card, the highest among the cards with the signs of the zodiac present in this Florentine pack; there is no valid argument in support of such an interpretation.
2. The Playing-Card
, Vol. 40, No. 3 (2012) 179-197. http://naibi.net/A/72-PRIFI-Z.pdf
3. Malmantile racquistato. Poema di Perlone Zipoli con le note di Puccio Lamoni
. Firenze 1688, p. 408. [For the whole passage, the Italian is quoted by Andrea Vitali at http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page.aspx?id=215
, with a translation into English at http://www.associazioneletarot.it/page. ... 15&lng=ENG
. Vitali's quotation does not contain the first "è" of the sentence as given by Franco.]
4. M. Dummett, The Game of Tarot
. London 1980, p. 339.
5 In particular: http:/forum.tarothistory.com .
6. Nuovo Zingarelli, Bologna 1986.
7. Edition consulted: Third edition, Roma 2008.
8. Edition consulted: Fifth Impression. Firenze 1893.
9. Edition consulted: Torino-Napoli 1869.
10. Edition consulted: Torino 1970.
11. Edizione consultata: Torino 2000.
12. Edition consulted: Mantova 1849.