Let's first touch base on the ostensible topic of this thread: comparing the themes and subjects of Petrarch's Triumphs
with those of archetypal Tarot decks, or at least decks with the standard trump subjects. (I'm assuming that decks like Sola-Busca and Boiardo-Viti are not part of the discussion.) You argue about numerology, posting things like "...the model, 32 figures... 16 gods... 48 figures... 41 figures... 22 in the Tarot... 50 figures in the Mantegna Tarocchi..." And always lurking, at least implicitly, is the phantom 5x14 Tarot deck.
I argue that the way to approach questions of subject matter, themes, and cultural sensibilities is via iconography. Panofsky defined iconography precisely as the study of subject matter in the visual arts, and iconology as the study of that subject matter's significance within the historical, cultural context. In a work like the Floreffe Bible
illustration of the children of Job, numerical correspondences play a central role. In most works, not so much.
THE NUMEROLOGY APPROACH
... I don't feel like an occultist or a numerologist, but I think it rather important, what game structure is used, and to this belongs card counting ...
You don't feel like an occultist, but let's compare. We'll start with the decks referenced. The original Tarot fabricators began with the most historically common Tarot deck. It was one of the oldest designs, and it was the most long-lived and geographically widespread. It was also one of the most typical or characteristic decks: it has the Latin suit signs, the standard 22 subjects, and the full complement of 56 suit cards.
On the other hand, you begin with the most obscure, least well-known, or even imaginary (e.g., 5x14) decks, decks which were not used to play Tarot games, and things which are not even playing cards. This means that you generate additional numbers to become obsessed with, several worlds of fantasy in addition to the traditional occultists'. Most notably, you focus on 14 and 16 as well as 22, but other numbers as well. And you refer all of this fantasy to "Tarot history".
The obscurity or, in some cases, imaginary nature of these decks is itself a problem. Manly P. Hall explained the import of obscurity in his 1978 booklet, The Tarot
, (associated with the Knapp-Hall deck). He pointed out that the less information is available upon a subject, the more likely people are to make stuff up, on the presumption that if nothing is known then anything may be true, and few will dare to contradict their tales. (The Tarot
, p.7.) That is why serious researchers follow the method of Descartes
, beginning with the easily and directly known, the most reliable knowledge available, and only proceeding carefully to more difficult questions after having established a foundation of solid fact.
As an example, many posters prefer to begin their interpretations with the most ambiguous subjects among the trumps, like the Fool, the Popess, the Chariot, the Hanged Man, the Tower, etc. These are taken as Rorschach inkblots, and some meaning is selected from the endless possibilities. Then the rest of the cycle is forced to fit that preferred subject matter. That is, occultists begin with a secret, concealed "key" (e.g., "the Fool is really the wise Fool...") that is used to "unlock" (distort) the meaning of the cycle. Conversely, rationalists begin with open keys, knowledge that was available to virtually everyone of that time and place. The rational approach is to begin with the most conventional and least ambiguous subjects, such as the commonplace Emperor-Pope pairing, allegories of Love, Virtue, Time, Fortune, Death, and Apocalyptic subjects like resurrection to a New World. The intended meaning of the work, in general terms, can be ascertained with ease and certainty
from those conventional subjects, and then the more malleable subjects can be interpreted so as to make sense within that general framework.
This methodology, working from the known to the unknown, was endorsed by art historians of the Warburg school, and has been continued by later iconographers such as Rosamond Tuve
. The underlying assumption is that allegorists intended to inform rather than to deceive or mislead, to communicate meaning rather than conceal it. The only approach worse than beginning with an obscure and ambiguous trump subject, which tells us virtually nothing about the meaning of the cycle, is to begin with the number of trumps subjects, which tells us absolutely nothing.
And again, you go even further afield than that. You take things that were not Tarot at all, (like the 16 Heroes deck), or not even playing cards, (like the E-Series model book), and twist them into the same fictional narrative. Rather than look at each work in its own right, you make a jumbled hash of everything.
The original occultists' great blunder involved the "happy coincidence" of 22 trump cards, and their relative indifference to the conventional meaning of those cards. Quoting Hall again:
Manly P. Hall wrote:The happy coincidence that the Hebrew alphabet contained 22 letters has already been mentioned. It is inevitable that this apparently supporting fact should excite a wide field of speculation, but we must not jump to conclusions. Almost any number can be fitted into some system of philosophy. Once we have addicted ourselves to a concept, it becomes our duty to protect and expand that concept in every possible way. Sometimes defense becomes a light obsession, and we begin to disregard such details of our hypotheses as fail to conform with our dominant convictions. (The Tarot, p.31-32.)
Jumping to a conclusion and becoming addicted to it; sound familiar? You talk nonsense, year after year, and never seem to seriously think about what you write. For example, your Chess obsession is self-evidently empty as an explanation for the Tarot trump cycle. Wrong number, wrong subjects, no similarities in the game. It is pure silliness unless and until
you find a medieval chess set that has a fool, emperor, and pope, along with allegorical subjects like Love, Virtue, Time, Fortune, and Death, as well as eschatological subjects like the Devil, falling towers, celestial lights and resurrection to a New World. And your only point? "Sixteen."
Riddle me this: How is 16 = 22?
Answer: Neither explains anything about Tarot.
You make a single inane assumption, and then bend the rest of the world to conform. That is empty numerology. Consider this footnote by Waite, in his translation of Transcendental Magic
. Levi stated that "without the Tarot, the Magic of the ancients is a closed book and it is impossible to penetrate any of the great mysteries of the Kabalah."
Waite wrote:There is a sense in which this statement represents the main thesis of Levi respecting the Secret Tradition in Israel. It must be taken therefore as his serious and considered view, but its sole foundation is that there are 22 Hebrew letters and 22 Tarot Trumps Major. They belong to one another as much and as little as the 22 chapters of the Apocalypse connect with either. So also the analogies instituted between the word Taro and the Monogram of Christ are referable to the world of fantasy.
It doesn't matter how many tens of thousands of words you write, or what graphics you construct, or how many years you beat this dead horse, it's still not going to get up and run. You still have only one point: "Sixteen!"
Huck wrote:So I look more on structures than on iconographic messages usually. Content can be easily changed or redefined by following artists, game structures have more stability.
Yes, you do ignore the iconography, but no, you don't pay any attention to "game structures". You ignore them too.
Fourteen isn't sixteen. Sixteen isn't twenty, or twenty-two... or twenty-one plus a Matto with special rules. The rules of the 16 Heroes game are not the rules of Tarot, nor anything like them. The rules of Chess are nothing like the rules of Tarot. The E-Series wasn't a game of any kind; they were not cards of any kind; and it therefore was nothing like a Tarot deck used to play Tarot games. These things are all different, and the 5x14 Tarot deck isn't anything real at all -- it's a figment of your imagination.
Regarding your indifference to the meaning of the Trump cycle, this is precisely my point regarding numerologists: you have nothing to say that is the least bit informative about the trumps. You can offer nothing but, "sixteen!" Your lack of interest in the meaning of Tarot is exactly the same as the traditional occultists -- you want complete freedom to make stuff up, and numerology gives you that. Iconography does not.
Huck wrote:I think, that chess took an influence. I take this mostly from the structure (16 motifs) and the iconographical study is used to judge, if this is possible or totally nonsense. I don't claim, that all Trionfi card deck ideas (which might have been very many), were obsessed by the idea of a chess allegory on cards. Some of those, which have survived, give the impression, that chess played a role.
Your sole argument is "sixteen!", and it is false. Tarot decks don't have sixteen trumps. The trumps likewise don't have the same or similar subject matter as Chess -- the suit cards do. And the games offer little if any parallel in gameplay.
THE ICONOGRAPHY APPROACH
Huck wrote:I get, that you haven't decided, which of the given orders you take as the original, which in its simplicity and real message is overlooked by (all or some ?) others, especially occultists.
No, you don't seem to get it at all. My point is that the question is not a simple matter of opinion, where one choice is as good as another, regardless of how it may have been arrived at or how it may be defended. You ask only for the conclusion rather than the means by which one may approach a reasonable conclusion. You have your conclusions, and your methods, which I characterize as numerology and blind guesswork. I was attempting -- failing as usual -- to communicate the importance of sound method over results. It's not a matter of a pet theory, but rather of pet methodology -- rational analysis of objective evidence. That means, look at the cards!
It's what Sherlock would call a three-pipe problem, something to be worked through in detail, rather than a demitasse guessing game. You say you have only a small cup for a little coffee -- so I will give you an even longer answer than before.
I came to a conclusion about that question 12 years ago, and wrote about it -- then and many times since. Since then, when new facts are discovered or made more accessible, (such as the Caldwell-Depaulis-Ponzi translation of the two 16th-century essays
, or Depaulis' finding re Giusto Giusti and Gismondo
, or Pratisi's findings about playing-cards in 15th century Florence), or when new arguments are made, (such as Ross' analysis and interpretation
of the trump cycle), then the old conclusions are reviewed to determine how well they hold up in light of new information.
There are two reasonable ways to approach the Ur Tarot question, (and indirectly, the question of parallels between Petrarch's Triumphs
and the origin of Tarot). From the perspective of historical documentation, there are positive arguments for a few decks and locales, and there are negative arguments against many old favorites. For example, there are good arguments against ancient Egypt and 14th-century France as the birthplace of Tarot. Sadly, books presenting such horseshit are still being written and published. Robert Swiryn's sad cry for help, The Secret of the Tarot: How the Story of the Cathars Was Concealed in the Tarot of Marseilles
, and Morgan DuVall's absurd Archaeology of the Tarot
, both deserve mockery precisely because historical evidence revealed them as false decades before they were written. (They should come with red-ball noses and big floppy shoes.)
Unfortunately, there is no conclusive evidence or argument by which to prefer Milan, Bologna, Ferrara, or Florence. For the last three decades, each has had historical arguments in its favor while none can be ruled out. Each locale would suggest a different type of deck as the best representative of the Ur Tarot. So the documentary approach is limited to excluding most times and places. As Dummett et al. have long concluded, Tarot was invented as a card game in Northern Italy around 1440, or shortly before.
The other approach, which I discussed in the previous post, is iconography. It terms of the Ur Tarot, our first question is whether we can find a coherent design to any of the early decks associated with those for four locales. If not, then we should acknowledge that the surviving decks do not offer any good support for a systematic design, and Tarot was always a meaningless hodge-podge of subjects. (See The 1603 Pastime of Andrea Ghisi
for some examples of games with seemingly random and eclectic images.)
What would constitute a systematic cycle of subjects? A coherent design might be something as simple as an allegorical chain or ladder, where one subject leads naturally to the next. Petrarch's 6-part cycle is itself of this nature. This is patently not the case in any existing Tarot sequence, so we need to look for something more complicated.
THREE SECTIONS and AFFINE GROUPS
The basis for a more complicated iconographic study is two-fold. The first, an absolute sine qua non
for Tarot iconography, is recognizing the division of the cycle into three sections. It is obvious that the Emperor and Pope are the highest-ranking subjects of their kind. The Pope is an absolute boundary, as any card trumping him must be of a different kind, i.e., a conventional allegory like Love, Fortune, or Death. It is almost as obvious that, iconographically, the highest-ranking trumps are also of a different kind than the middle trumps. The highest trumps, beginning with the Devil, are eschatological subjects rather than allegorical personifications. This analysis was explained by Dummett in 1980, based on his comparison of the different orderings, and clarified in 1985 in his FMR article, with reference to the subject matter as well as the orderings.
One conclusion from this is that decks with Justice promoted to the eschatological group are clearly derivative, rather than being candidates for the earliest design.
The second basis for an iconographic study is the observation of affinity groups within the trumps. These are meaningful subdivisions within each of the three sections. For example, the Emperor and Empress are clearly a pair, as are the Emperor and Pope
. (Ambiguity already!) The three Moral Virtues are a well-documented group, known to anyone familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas. The Star, Moon, and Sun group are another affine trio. And so on.
There is another structural observation Dummett noted, one based on these affinity groups. Within the middle section, the affine pair Love/Chariot almost always precedes Time/Fortune, and Traitor/Death is always the last pair. This pattern is strikingly meaningful when we consider the subject matter of the three groups. The first group shows iconic examples of good fortune; the second group shows reversals of fortune; the third group shows the ultimate bad fortune of betrayal and death. This observation is the fundamental meaning of the Tarot trump cycle -- a Wheel of Fortune or De Casibus
One conclusion from this is that decks which do not maintain this meaningful allegorical design are derivative, rather than being candidates for the earliest design.
What other patterns can we find in known decks? What should we look for?
The basic criterion for well ordered design is that the elements of each affine group are either adjacent or equally spaced. Equally spaced might be something like alternation, where each pair seems matched in some way. The sequence Empress-Popess-Emperor-Pope is an example. Another example of equally spaced elements is the virtues in the Tarot de Marseille ordering. This might be compared to a rhyme scheme
in the middle trumps, AAB-CCB-DDB, where B represents one of the three virtues.
Adjacent elements are like couplets: AABBCC. At first glance, this seems like a possibility in some decks. For example, the ordering of the Steele manuscript (and the Bertoni and Garzoni poems) begins promisingly: Matto/Bagatto, Empress/Emperor, Popess/Pope. This is clearly a well-designed pattern. However, such a simple alternating scheme fails beyond that point. Despite the fact that there are over a dozen different orderings, most of them do not yield such a systematic design.
TWO PLAUSIBLE ORDERINGS
While that simplest pattern fails, there might be some more complicated arrangement of related subjects, a kind of rhyme scheme built on related subjects. Again, this might be built on equally-spaced affine groups or adjacent ones. As an example of the former, there is the Milanese/Tarot de Marseille ordering. This structure is not perfect, but is sufficiently apparent and meaningful that it has been noted by writers including Ronald Decker and Tom Tadfor Little. Here it is, within the three sections, with the rhyme scheme spelled out.
AAB - Matto/Bagatto/Popess
CCB - Empress/Emperor/Pope
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
DDE - Love/Triumphal Chariot/Justice
FFE - Hermit/Fortune/Fortitude
GGE - Traitor/Death/Temperance
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
HHI - Devil/Tower/Star
JJI - Moon/Sun/Resurrection to Judgment
I - World
Popess/Pope are clearly an affine group, but they are not adjacent -- they are equally spaced, every third card. The three Moral Virtues are not adjacent but equally spaced, every third card. Each pair of cards preceding these "third cards" is itself an affine group, making the first two sections coherent. The structure is neat, to the point of being obvious.
However, it is far from obvious that the third section continues that rhyme scheme. To argue that the Star/Judgment/World form an affine group is, at best, not easy. To interpret it as coherent one must come up with something subtle and/or complex regarding the highest-ranking cards. Tarot de Marseille is therefore rather like an imperfectly crafted poem, where things begin well but end with forced choices. However, the analysis I would offer is not unique with me. It was sufficiently clear in the Tarot de Marseille decks that even some occultists noticed it. The designer was telling a basic eschatological story but overlaid a rather clever hierarchy of light motif. Not obvious, but present
and sufficiently explanatory to clean up the mess.
As conflated and therefore confusing as that is, however, it is still better than all-but-one of the alternative orderings. Most orderings just suck. In terms of being well designed iconographic compositions, they totally suck... all but one.
The simplest of all orderings is an example of the second possibility, where all affine groups are kept together. This is the Bolognese ordering. If we take the Rosenwald deck as our exemplar for the lowest trumps, the early Bolognese decks would show this pattern.
AA - Matto/Bagatto
BB - Popess/Empress
CC - Emperor/Pope
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
DD - Love/Triumphal Chariot
EEE - Temperance/Justice/Fortitude
FF - Time/Fortune
GG - Traitor/Death
--- --- --- --- --- --- ---
HH - Devil/Tower
III - Star/Moon/Sun
JJ - World/Angel
This is by far the easiest ordering to explain in a reasonably coherent manner. The only gross failure of this ordering is the World/Angel reversal. Resurrection to the Last Judgment properly comes before the New World. The defeat of the Devil via fire from Heaven is from the beginning of Rev. 20. The signs of the second coming (Ecc 12:1-5, Lk 21:25-28, etc. -- signa in sole et luna et stellis
) are properly next, followed by Resurrection. The New World is from Rev. 21.
So the Tarot de Marseille ordering seems clumsy and requires conflated meanings for the highest trumps, while the Bologna ordering seems clearly derivative, based on the World/Angel reversal. Nonetheless, they remain the strongest contenders for the title of most coherent extant design. In my opinion... based on the approach outlined above.
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.