http://books.google.com/books?id=uEgGAA ... &q&f=false
A modern verse translation by Jacques Chormarat was pubished in 1996, reviewed at http://www.ehess.fr/grihl/CR_Grihl/CRCavail022.htm. According to Chormarat, the poem was originally published in 1535 Venice.
The earlier French translator says that Palingenio apparently came from the Duchy of Ferrara, because the last name of his pseudonym is probably taken from the name of his hometown, Stellada (p. xxi). He concludes that Palingenio was probably a priest (p. xxv). But one report has him as a physician to Ercole II, Duke of Ferrara. Against this, the translator says that there is no record of him in a list that was compiled in France of Italian physician-poets. He surely would have been included, because the poem was much discussed by French men of letters (the translator gives numerous citations by French literati, p. xviii). Also there is no mention of Ercole in the work, as would have been customary.
This refutation is not convincing as it stands: under what name was he looking? “Palingenio” is likely a pseudonym. The word "Palingenesis" means "rebirth"; it was used by the Pythagoreans for their doctrine of reincarnation, and by the Stoics for their doctrine of the continual recreation of the Universe by the Demiurge. It could also be applied to Christian rebirth at baptism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palingenesis).
Also, according to Italian Wikipedia ((http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcello_P ... o_Stellato), the introduction to the 3rd edition testified as to the poem's extensive medical knowledge. Furthermore, the opening words of the first 29 lines of the poem are in fact a dedication to Ercole II, Italian Wikipedia says. It adds (from what source?) that the dedication was at the suggestion of Ercole II's chief physician. Given the vituperation against the clergy in the poem, such discretion would have been advisable. The duchy was part of the Papal States, and popes throughout the 16th century wanted to oust its ruling family and get the duchy for themselves.
Three years after his death, the 1731 translator says, the Inquisition had his body dug up, burned, and his ashes scattered to the winds, as that of a Magician. The 1996 translator says the same. Italian Wikipedia dates the exhumation at 1551. It is a fact that the Estensi had unconventional physicians: Ercole I died the morning after drinking a solution containing gold (I think I read this in Humfrey and Lucco, Dosso Dossi; I’ll check next time I’m at the library). The gold wouldn’t have hurt him; but whatever acids put it in solution might have.
Finally, for what it's worth, the Calvinist historian Scultetus Abraham stated that the poet was a courtier to Ercole II, and the name "Palingenio" was in honor of the Duchess. It is well known that she was convert to Calvinism.
Although the poem's plot is reminiscent of that of Folengo's Triperuno, Mantua 1528, there are no Tarocchi sonnets in it, and no one even took the trouble to divide it into 22 parts. It has 12 books, each named after a sign of the zodiac. There may be some connection between the theme of each book and that of the corresponding sign, and thus some sense that the "ladder of virtue" passes through each sign, starting in Aries and ending in Pisces; but there is no sense that anyone's life is dominated by any sign at any time.
The online reviewer did a Herculean job summarizing the Zodiacus Vita’s “pilgrim’s progress”; to me the summary reads as a kind of perverse echo of the tarot trump sequence. At the same time its cosmology and attitude to the powers of this world is strikingly like that of the Catharism that thrived in Northern Italy three centuries earlier. Here is my translation (correcting Google) from the online review's French:
In Chomarat’s presentation, the Zodiac of Life is "a moral treatise, describing an intellectual progression, walking through the steps of a route leading from the lowest to highest, the dirt of the ground to the ethereal sky and beyond, to the infinite light" (p. 9). The lowest, the coarsest is the love of wealth (Book II), more vile than the pursuit of pleasure and carnal greed (Book III: "The world is a stage of fools and a shop of errors," ca. 70, and lib. IV). Particularly scathing is the satire of the clergy: "there is no plague more monstrous / they are the dregs of mankind, the source of folly, the sink of evil, / wolves in sheepskin, making a cult of God for greed" (V, 589-591), "they run the world and focus on the disgusting "(IV, 291). One then rises to goods that can bring relative happiness (friendship, marriage, health ...), then to wisdom (lib. IV and V). The acquisition of wisdom implies contempt of death (Book VI). Book VII opens to the supersensible world: the immortal soul appears to him. The next book deals with the issue of freedom and hence the origin of evil. God is not responsible for evil, but Sarcothée (or Pluto), the ruler of this lower world. Here the doctrine of Palingène cannot be further from Christian theology, in adherence to a doctrine of Plotinian emanationist inspiration, but to which the poet gives strong Gnostic accents: "If the demon who commands earth is mistaken / or evil, it is because it is the last cause, at a great distance from the first" (VIII, 669-670); “the demon who presides over the terrestrial/ globe is wicked and rejoices in his cruel tyranny" (VIII, 690-691). There is then no place, in this thought of corruption away from the first principle, for the dogma of original sin; for, according to the formula of Book X: "In all things nature has poured poison" (713). If the human world is the theatre of evil, the wise man is free, however, in that he alone follows reason. Books VIII, IX and X deliver guidance for the acquisition of wisdom: to follow the virtues and avoid the vices. The poet then explains his cosmology: already, in Book VII, stating that man is "a foolish and wicked animal" (315), the poet declared that it is absurd to think that "Jupiter", whose power is infinite, has not produced better beings and worlds better than this one (309 ff). In fact, the stars and sky are inhabited, and the world has no bounds or end beyond the ether; it is infinitely filled with light (lib. XI and XII). The argument ("the science of God is not confined by any terminus / and divine power knows no limits", XII, 29-30) suggests Bruno, who cites and comments on him at length in De immenso. This light, beyond the sunlight of which it is only a reflection, is none other than the divine itself, and in this life, by dint of purification and of love, it is possible to "see" the "gods", and enjoy their support.
As in the poem, in the tarot we start, on this “stage of fools”, with the scum of the earth, namely its temporal rulers, the church, and the Pope, all of whom the tarot puts scarcely higher than a street conjurer in its hierarchy. We progress to relative happiness in marriage, success, and the practice of the virtues. But in this unstable world, apparently ruled by Fortune (p. 309 of 1731 translation), such goods are nothing compared to wisdom (the Hermit). Against Death, in virtue and wisdom we know the immortality of the soul (Temperance, as the pouring of the nectar of the gods), and realize that the ruler of this world is the Devil, whose minister is the Pope (thus the Devil card has a similar composition to the Pope card). Regardless of disasters, we rise up toward the light, avoiding the demons (which lurk between the earth and the moon), knowing that the sun is only the image of the greater light, until, by slow progress, we may hopr to arrive at the divine.
Such at least is the message of the poem. But could it have influenced the interpretation of the tarot sequence? Clearly the poem had some influence with someone, even in Italy. How could a poor priest not only have financed the printing of a 500 page poem but got it past the Venetian censor with no apparent repercussions for either printer or writer, a writer living in the Papal States? (Even having one's ashes scattered is no repercussion for someone who doesn't believe in the resurrection of the physical body.) Outside of Italy, especially in France, its popularity was wide. According to Italian Wikipedia, the book went through 60 printings between the 16th and 18th century, all of course outside of Italy, where it was on the Index.
The 1731 French translation was dedicated to, hence probably financed by, an English lord, Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. I expect that the main reason for the translation was the book’s attack on the Roman Catholic clergy, from top to bottom, by one of its own, and as such useful propaganda for Protestants. Yet the book’s doctrine of the ignorant or evil world-ruler—for which the author, p. 310, carefully cites Christ and St. Paul on the “prince of this world”--is seen by the reviewer as a Gnostic “accent”, as characterized for example by Irenaeus in Against All Heresies--a work that went through several editions in the 16th century, first by Erasmus, an author known to be popular with the Estensi at that time (Humfrey and Lucco, Dosso Dossi p. 222).
Such is part of the milieu of the 16th-18th century tarot.