Decker on Trump One

In an earlier post in this thread (viewtopic.php?f=11&t=937&start=30#p13784), I defended a positive perspective on trump one, the Bagatella, as well as a negative one. A book came out recently by Ron Decker (The Esoteric Tarot: Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala, 2013) from which I get unexpected support. My focus will be on two frontispieces he reproduces, one from 1523 in Basel and another in 1526 or 1527 in Venice. The second one is also discussed by Robert Place and in addition a couple of scholarly articles. In this post I will only be concerned with the first frontispiece.

Here is one paragraph from my earlier post, to which I want to relate Decker's observations. I had previously suggested that the four suit-objects on the Bagatella's table could be related to the four elements.
From this perspective, this trickster could be a symbol of the creator, creating out of the elements what appears to be a random world of good and evil all mixed together, but which nonetheless contains a divine plan. Like the dealer in a card game, he deals everyone the cards they are born with, some with good hands and others not, but all lead to God, if the players know and follow the sequence. The world is like that created by the Bagatella, sometimes entertaining, sometimes a temptation, sometimes evil, but always a challenge that strengthens one's character, and to that extent positive.
Decker begins, in his Introduction, by explaining what a Renaissance hieroglyph is--not something Egyptian, but an image that shows one thing but means other things, to those qualified to interpret. If their meaning had been obvious, e.g. based on Petrarch or the Apocalypse, so many literate people wouldn't have complained that they were such a mishmash, he says.

For example, Decker says, the first trump, "the Juggler", is really the Agathodaemon, or "good demon", the helpful spirit, in Christianity known as a good or guardian angel. Among other things, Decker says,
The spirit, as a personal companion, also dispensed lots (in Latin: sortes, which relates directly to "sortilege" and "sorcery"). Agathodemon's lot indicated the kind of life chosen by the prenatal soul. The physical lot was a small token, usually a short strip of wood, papyrus, or parchment.
Decker has no references by which one could check this assertion about the guardian spirit's method of relating to the prenatal soul, much less verification that it was known in the Renaissance. Apuleius's Latin "On the God of Socrates" has much to say about good geniuses, including their giving people information about the future (Apuleius Rhetorical Works, ed. Stephen Harrison, pp. 207-209), but nothing about prenatal lots or prenatal advice at all. Likewise for the Greek tractates of the Corpus Hermeticum, the Latin Asclepius, and Plutarch's "The Face in the Orb of the Moon" and Martinus Capella's "Marriage of Mercury and Philology", that I can find.

Decker then shows us a woodcut by Hans Holbein the younger, the frontispiece to what he says is a 1525 Basel edition of the Tabula Cebitis, an ancient Greek allegory. Here it is:
Decker says:
The "tablet" is described as an extensive mural or frieze. It probably never existed physically but was the author's literary invention to support a homily. It charts the soul's progress through the precinct of Life.
The figure of immediate interest is at the bottom in the center, below "GEMIUS". Decker says:
Holbein shows unborn souls as naked babies. Each takes it turn consulting a bearded man labeled "Genius." (In the text the figure is called a daimon and a daimonium.) Holbein represents the Genius as bestowing a lot, shown as an open scroll of small size (figure 0.2). He admits souls into a landscape full of allegorical beings. They are comparable to some Tarot inhabitants: lovers, Virtues, hermits. The Genius is the only figure here who carries a wand and wears a broad-brimmed hat. He thus resembles the Juggler.
Moreover, wide brimmed-hats are "artificial signs of exotic dignitaries, such as biblical prophets, ancient magi, Christian apostles, Arthurian knights, Trojan heroes (footnote: Saxl, A Heritage of Images, 60). Decker argues:
The Juggler's hat likewise identifies him as a native of a remote region, which, in this context, I take to be the abode of souls before birth. I would judge that the Juggler, as the first trump, stands in the same position as Holbein's Genius, at the beginning of a soul's journey through mortal life.

In the Tarot de Marseille, the Juggler's outstretched hands usually hold a wand and a circular object. The implements impress me as divinatory lots. At the ancient temple of Fortune at Antium, priests scattered small sticks and balls on an altar. The resulting patterns were interpreted to reveal the future. The Juggler, as Agathodemon, presumably casts lots and informs the soul of its mission in life.
Well, that conclusion is a little like what I said (ignoring for now the problem of prenatal lots), except that what I had in mind was the casting of one's lot in life in the sense of one's given condition in life, independently of one's own choices, like the hand that one is dealt in a card game, in which there is a way of winning if one has a good memory.

But Decker seems to be thinking of the Juggler more as a tarot reader, either predicting the soul's future or recommending a life plan to it. Later in the chapter he gives Folengo's tarot sonnets in Triperuno (incorporating five cards each for sonnets directed at each of four people) as an example of that kind of reading. But this woodcut has a genius, i.e. daimon, engaging in some kind of activity with unborn souls.

To help clarify things, I wanted to check Decker's reading of the woodcut and its associated text. Looking through 10 pages on WorldCat, I saw nothing for Basel earlier than 1436 (p. 13, #128, on what shows up on my computer). Going to the library, I saw one book, Cebes' Tablet, ed .Sandra Sider, mentioning (p. 2) that Holbein's woodcut was done first for an edition of Erasmus:
Hans Holbein drew upon the Tablet in several borders for title pages, the most elegant of which appeared in Erasmus' Latin translation of the New Testament (Frobenius, 1523). Holbein interpreted the text as a Christian allegory that pictures Happiness wearing a shining halo with Heavenly Jerusalem behind her.
Frobenius of course is the publisher friend of Erasmus in Basel, who commissioned many book illustrations from Holbein (

Sider says that the Tablet was first published in Bologna, 1497 (p. 3 n. 20), in a Latin translation "written by Ludovicus Odaxius (teacher of Bembo and Castiglione) and edited by Filippo Beroaldo" (p. 3). WorldCat confirms (although not mentioning Odaxius); the entry may be of interest because of the other works in that anthology: ... dblist=638). Beroaldo, a friend of Pico and Poliziano, was professor of Rhetoric and Poetry at the University; I know him for his work on Apuleius ( ... 53-1505%29). I have no information on the availability of the Greek manuscript before 1497. If the text is the only document suggesting geniuses' prenatal activity, this question is of some importance.

I found another book, Cebes in England, ed. Stephen Orgel, that has a reproduction of the same woodcut as in Decker except that the center part, blank in Decker's book, is filled in with the title of a book by Strabo, and the date 1523. Here it is: ... Strabo.JPG

This edition of Strabo is indeed listed in WorldCat. Despite the title, once one looks at the allegorical figures and compares it with the text of the book it is clear that Holbein is illustrating the Tabula Cebetis although dividing into two paths what in the book is just one. Here is the Genius again. Holbein can spell after all.

I looked at several English translations of the text; I could find no modern ones. None makes reference to lots. The "genius" is instructing the souls as to the meaning of the scene they are about to tread, and what plan they should follow if they are to attain Felicity. A 1616 translation describes how the narrator, walking through a Temple of Saturn, chances upon a picture "hung up before the door of the Oratory" (p. 105 of EPICTITUS Manual. CEBES Table. THEOPHRASTUS Characters, by Io. Healey, London 1618, reproduced in Sider and also in Cebes in England with introductory notes by Stephen Orgel, 1980). Here I modernize the spelling and punctuation; also, I checked it against a 1557 translation and in one instance put in brackets the different, but insignificant, translation.

Our narrator, still inside the Temple of Saturn, sees a great enclosure, with a gate (Healey pp. 106-107):
In the entrance, there stood the picture of a grave aged man, who seemed to give some directions to the persons as they entered; talk had we about the signification of the portraiture, but none could conceive truly what it should intend. At last, as we were in this doubt, an ancient man that stood by stepped unto us, and told us: Strangers (quoth he) it is no wonder if this picture trouble you to understand the true meaning thereof; for there are but few of our own Citizens that can give the true interpretation hereof, as he that offered it intended.
The artist had been a stranger to the city and a follower of Pythagoras and Parmenides. Fortunately, the man saying all this had been his pupil and could explain the picture. Of course he is begged to do so (Healey pp 112-113):
So the old man lifting up his staff [1557: rod] & pointing to the picture: See this enclosure, quoth he? Yes, very well. Why then, mark me: This is called LIFE: and the great multitude you see flock about the gate, are such as are to enter into the course of this life. And that old man which see with a paper in one hand, & seeming to point out something therein [1557: as it were showing somewhat] with the other, is called Life's GENIUS [1557: Genius]. He instructeth those that enter, what method to observe in their course of life, and layeth them down what they must follow upon peril of their own destructions.
As we see, there is no mention of the man in the picture having a wand or even a stick. Holbein has given him one, but since the other old man is lifting his staff, presumably the one in the picture, too, is a staff. There is no mention of the hat either; Holbein gives him one, but the brim is not exactly wide like the Bagatella's.

I can't identify passages in the Greek text, but I did check the 1498 Paris Latin edition (identical in wording to the Bologna, Sider says). Here is the sentence, with a little before and after:

It is something like "Senex aute ille superio (qui manu altera pagina quandatenet: altera nescio quid demostrat) Genius appelat". which I assume means something like, the old man who has a page in one hand and points with the other is called Genius. Whether the text has him pointing to the paper is not clear to me. If he is, it is likely merely a copy of the picture, to illustrate the lecture he gives to all the new souls, for them to imprint in their hearts before they take the drink of what Plato called Lethe, forgetfulness, but here is called Error and Ignorance, which is in the cup of the first woman they see (on the left in the Holbein). One rather free translation of 1759 (The Tablet of Cebes, or a picture of Human Life, A poem copied from the Greek of Cebes the Theban, by "a gentleman of Oxford"; I found it in a database the library subscribes to) actually says as much, about those souls who fail to follow the plan:
Each to the ruling Passion doom'd a slave
Mourns the loft[y] plan his Guardian Genius gave. (ll. 306-7).
And it concludes:
Such is the Plan of Life our Artist drew,
Observe the outlines, and his Plan pursue... (ll. 429-430)
In Sider there are other translations with other pictures. Here are a couple from a French version of 1541. First, of the first old man pointing to the picture in the Temple of Saturn. You see his cane:
And then of the Genius:

Here he's pointing and holding with the same hand!

And second, the relevant part of a 1531 German version of the Tablet by Erhard Schoen, famous for his "Schoen Horoscope" (see the thread viewtopic.php?f=14&t=942) that shows figures very much like tarot trumps in the zodiacal houses (and I think someone Huck found him listed as a cardmaker).

You see no wide-brimmed hat and no cane or wand on either of these last two. I don't think holding a sign saying who he is will work as the paper he is supposed to be holding. But Schoen does a good job showing people drinking the cup of Error and Ignorance.

Yet it is still possible that the old man in the picture is in the same position in the allegory as the Bagatella in the tarot sequence, introducing the game as an allegory for life. It is also possible that Holbein wanted to allude to the tarot card in his particular way of drawing the Genius. As applied to the Bagatella, the Genius's Plan is the Tarot Sequence, the 22 cards. If you keep them in mind, you'll reach Felicity, no matter what cards you are actually dealt. In a card game, whether you win or lose depends on what the other players do. But if you keep the 22 fully in mind, you will have more chance of winning. Sider notes (p. 2):
Genius cautions the pilgrims that merely listening to his exegesis will prove useless, and even dangerous, unless they understand his words and fix them in their memories. The Tablet could thus be viewed as a miniature memory theatre.
The same has been said about the tarot sequence (see e.g. Andrea Vitali's "Giordiano Bruno and the Tarot", ... 23&lng=ENG).

If so, the Bagatella is in this way like a Platonic Jesus, now seen as teaching us his plan before we are born, before we forgot it and need the Gospel writers, who wrote it down when Jesus came in the flesh.

The Bagatella's hat, in relation to present life, may still be a symbol--not of far-away places, but rather of a far-away time, before we were born. Large hats in fact then were associated with earlier times, when people dressed more gaudily, as well as with exotic people, such as famous condottiere.

The Tabula Cebetis gets us part of the way to the Bagatella. It shows one way of being at the beginning. But it would help to be able to fit the Bagatella's wand and hat into other similar settings a little better.


Later in his book, Decker says more about the "Juggler" and the hat. On his Juggler, he says that in Horapollo's Hieroglyphica, an ancient text purpoting to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics, the picture of a hand meant "one who enjoys building." Decker reasons that the hands are the most important thing about the Juggler. I agree--not because he juggles, but because in Italian a common word for the profession depicted on the card was "prestigiatore", literally "quick player"--quick, specifically, with the hands, as in the English word "prestidigitator". Decker adds:
I think that we can extend this hieroglyph to mean "a spirit who enjoys creating."
I would go one step further and say such a spirit is also the demiurge of Plato's Timaeus, who creates out of the four elements--and the Logos by whom all things were made. I will try to argue the point by way of Decker.

In the next chapter of the book, where Decker sees the sequence in terms of Pythagorean arithmology, he oddly seems to go out of his way to avoid saying what his sources say about the number One. In discussing the Juggler in terms of Macrobius on the Monad, Decker says nothing at all except to repeat that he is the guardian spirit (p. 115f) and "One is not a number" (p. 120). Macrobius in fact says (Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, VI.8, Stahl translation p.100f):
This Monad, the beginning and ending of all things, yet itself not knowing a beginning or ending, refers to the Supreme God...It is also that Mind, sprung from the Supreme God, which, unaware of the changes of time, is always in one time, the present.
And Martinus Capella, another Latin author well known in the Middle Ages and after, in (Marriage of Philology and Mercury 731; Stahl & Johnson translation p. 277), says :
Some have called the monad Concord, others Piety or Friendship, because it is so compact that it is not cut into parts. But more properly it is called Jupiter, because it is the head and father of the gods.
There is nothing about "guardian spirit". Only at the very end of this part of the book does Decker finally get around to something bigger than this "guardian spirit (p. 165):
Juggler. In Egypt, the Good Demon was associated with several gods but especially with a creator god, Khnum or Kneph. This association could have been known to the Renaissance through Philo of Byblos (fl. AD 60), quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea (ca. 260-ca.340), a Christian apologist (footnote: Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel I, 10, 48). I elsewhere related Khnum to one of the earliest versions of the Juggler (footnote: Ronald O. Decker, "The Tarot: An Inquiry into Origins," Gnosis Magazine,, no. 46 (winter 1998): 16-24). Khnum appears in Egyptian art as a ram-headed craftsman seated at a potter's wheel on which he forms children representative of the human race. This is somewhat reminiscent of both the Juggler, who sits or stands at a table, and of the Genius in figure 0.2, who greets numerous babies (prenatal souls). Some Juggler trumps include two or more children. Here we have allegories about human beings as expressions of the Supreme Being, the Neoplatonist "One."
I like the last sentence. But could the Renaissance have known about this ram-headed potter from Eusebius? Here are the relevant part of Eusebius's excerpts from Philo of Byblos ( ... _book1.htm); I put in bold the key parts:
.Tauthus, whom the Egyptians call Thoyth, excelled in wisdom among the Phoenicians, and was the first to rescue the worship of the gods from the ignorance of the vulgar, and arrange it in the order of intelligent experience. Many generations after him a god Sourmoubelos and Thuro, whose name was changed to Eusarthis, brought to light the theology of Tauthus which had been hidden and overshadowed, by allegories.'
The nature then of the dragon and of serpents Tauthus himself regarded as divine, and so again after him did the Phoenicians and Egyptians: for this animal was declared by him to be of all reptiles most full of breath, and fiery. In consequence of which it also exerts an unsurpassable swiftness by means of its breath, without feet and hands or any other of the external members by which the other animals make their movements. It also exhibits forms of various shapes, and in its progress makes spiral leaps as swift as it chooses. It is also most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin, and so not only to grow young again, but also to assume a larger growth; and after it has fulfilled its appointed measure of age, it is self-consumed, in like manner as Tauthus himself has set down in his sacred books: for which reason this animal has also been adopted in temples and in mystic rites.
We have spoken more fully about it in the memoirs entitled Ethothiae, in which we prove that it is immortal, and is self-consumed, as is stated before: for this animal does not die by a natural death, but only if struck by a violent blow. The Phoenicians call it "Good Daemon": in like manner the Egyptians also surname it Cneph; and they add to it the head of a hawk because of the hawk's activity.
It's not a creator god. In any case, as a combination snake and hawk, there is no way one could get to a god creating humans on his potter's wheel from this.

But what Decker says does have some similarity with what I said in this thread at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=937&start=30#p13790. I proposed that the designer of the PMB might have known about a ram-headed god with wide horns, Khnum or Ammon, from Cyriaco of Ancona, who had voluminous notebooks of drawings and inscriptions he wrote down visiting Egypt. He spent his last years 1450-1452, in Cremona. The year before, he had visited Duke Leonello of Ferrara at Belfiore, we know from Adolfo Venturi, North Italian painting of the Quattrocento: Emilia, 1931, p. 29. In that year he also visited Sigismondo Malatesta (Woodhouse, Gemistos Plethon, p. 161), the man for whom the first recorded tarot was made. (When considering the meaning of the tarot, it is worth recalling Malatesta's taste in religion, as reflected in the Templo Malatesto.) Alternatively, the PMB designer might have seen reproductions of a ram-headed god with horizontal horns on Roman-era Italian tablets with Egyptian-looking images such as the "Bembine Tablet", which per Wikipedia he acquired just after the Sack of Rome, 1527 ( Either way, the significance is given by Herodotus ( ... dtbk2.html, ch. 42), who describes as ram-headed the Egyptian creator god Ammon, as Milan humanists would have known, especially a Greek scholar such as Filelfo.

After reading the part about Khnum in Decker's book, I managed to get a copy of his 1998 article in Gnosis Magazine. There he repeats his idea that the Agathodemon is involved with prenatal lots, still without references (p. 19). Then he talks about the Agathademon as a figure in the Corpus Hermeticum. After introducing us to Hermes Trismegistus, the sage whose teachings the Corpus is purported to be, he says:
Hermes is presented as a teacher, but he himself is provided an instructor, his father, named Agathodaimon or Agathos Daimon (footnote 12: Agathodaimon is conveniently indexed in Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica (Cambridge University Press 1992). In Hermetic lore, this Good Daimon is ambiguous. He is sometimes Hermes' father and sometimes Hermes' personal daimon. Further confirmation is invited by the availability of a good daimon for various locations, communities, and astrological functions.
I looked up all of the references to Agathodemon in Copenhaver's index. None have him involved with prenatal activity, except in one place being responsible for the physical body of the newborn (I'll quote it later). "Father" (which Copenhaver says comes from Augustine) seems like an honorific.

Then, still in the Gnosis article, comes Decker's account of Khnum.
The early Hermetists identified their Agathodaimon with Khnum, an Egyptian creator god (footnote 13: Ibid., pp. 141, 153, 164 et passim). In ancient depictions, Khnum is a ram-headed craftsman seated at a potter's wheel or workbench on which he fashions human beings (figure 3). I view this divine potter as an ancestor of the Bagatella, and we can now suspect that the white mass on his table in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot is a lump of clay. The Bagatella is indeed emerging as an exotic figure par excellence.
His figure 3 is a drawing from Wallis Budge (1904) of a ram-headed god with horizontal horns; I cannot imagine that it was known in the Renaissance. I looked again at Decker's page references, including the et passim. These are all to Copenhaver's notes to the Corpus, not to the text itself. Modern scholars have noted similarities between the language of the Corpus, especially about the god who is "father of all", and a Hymn to Khnum found in Egyptian papyrus texts translated after Champollion. The Hermetic texts themselves do not mention Khnum or even a potter-god. The Greek ones credit the Good Demon as being the first-born (p. 44) and the mind, nous, that pervades all things. Tractate V, 6-7, surveys the lineaments of the human newborn:
Who traced the line round the eyes? Who pierced the holes for nostrils and ears? [and so on] ...What sort of mother or what sort of father if not the invisible god, who crafted them all by his own will? great is the father of all.
All of this (in a text unknown in the West until 1460, immediately given to Ficino to translate, and unpublished until 1471) is like the "Hymn to Khnum", but Khnum is never mentioned. The tractate ends (no doubt borrowing from some other liturgy)
You are the mind who understands, the father who makes his craftwork, the god who acts, and the good who makes all things.
We are told nothing about how this god can be identified pictorially. In search of clues, I also looked in Copenhaver's index under "lots", "divination", "foreknowledge", etc. Lower-level spirits are indeed described as doing divination with lots, for example in Asclepius 38 (p. 90f; this Hermetic text, in Latin, was readily accessible in the West during the Middle Ages) :
Heavenly gods inhabit heaven's heights, each one heading up the order assigned to him and watching over it. But here below our gods render aid to humans as if through loving kinship, looking after some things individually, foretelling some things through lots and divination, and planning ahead to give help by other means, each in his own way.
But none of this is before birth.

What connects the Bagatella to the ram-headed creator god is the horizontal horns, which convert to the funny hat. Without this connection, all we have is the arithmological interpretation of the Monad as the Supreme God and Horapollo's "one who enjoys building" for "hand", The hat makes the visual connection that, independently of all the other cards or their order, suggests an Egyptian intention on the part of the tarot designer.

I looked to see if Decker mentioned these horizontal horns in relation to the hat. He does not. Although Khnum is an Egyptian god that fits the arithmological account of the Monad, and Decker's attempt to give a textual basis in Hermetism for the Bagatella as Khnum points in a good direction, all he has is an observation from modern scholarship. For something the Renaissance is likely to have known, it is the horns that are key, which the designer might have got from Cyriaco or a tablet with Egyptian-looking inscriptions.

I kept looking in Decker's sources for other references to spirits in relation to prenatal lots. I didn't find anything, but I did find something else, relating to the hat and the staff I didn't find in the Tabula Cebitis. In Martinus Capella's The Marriage of Mercury and Philology (II, 174; Stahl & Johnson translation, p. 56), I found this, describing a guest at the wedding. I put the most relevant parts in bold:
There came also a girl of beauty and of extreme modesty, the guardian and protector of the Cyllenian's home, by name Themis or Astraea or Erigone [translator's note: This figure is identified by Hyginus (Astronomica 1.25) with the zodiacal sign Virgo]; she carried in her hand stalks of grain and an ebony tablet engraved with this image: In the middle of it was that bird of Egypt which the Egyptians call an ibis. It was wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and it had a most beautiful head and mouth, which was caressed by a pair of serpents entwined; under them was a gleaming staff, gold-headed, gray in the middle and black at the foot; under the ibis' right foot was a tortoise and a threatening scorpion and on its left a goat. The goat was driving a rooster into a contest to find out which of the birds of divination was the gentler. The ibis wore on its front the name of a Memphitic month.
This tablet is of course a present for the bride, Philology. The "Cyllenian" of line 2 is Mercury as guide of the dead, identified as such in the last book of the Odyssey (Copenhaver p. 94). The Capella translator says in a footnote that "for the connection of the Ibis and the Egyptian Thouth or Mercury, see Plato Phaedrus 274c-d and Hyginus Astronomica 2.28." Hyginus gives the correlation of Greek gods to Egyptian creatures, by way of explaining how the gods hid from the monster Typhon: "Mercury became an ibis..."; and a a result the Egyptians considered such creatures the representatives of those gods. Plato speaks of "the god to whom the bird called Ibis is sacred, his own name being Theuth". Given those texts, readily accessible by the time of the PMB Bagatella, it would not be hard for a humanist to connect a young (hence perhaps unaging) figure with a broad-brimmed hat and a staff to Thoth/Hermes in his human form. No speculation about access to Egyptian images is required.

So which is it, a humanized ram-headed god or fortune-telling bird? It depends on what the designer happens to have had access to. It doesn't really matter; they are much the same, both Egyptian creator gods. In fact, one of the interlocutors in the Hermetic texts is named Ammon (p. 58) or Hammon (p. 67, in the Latin Asclepius).

So now we have an important addition to what we could safely glean from the Tabula Cebetis. We have the hat and the staff. The Bagatella is not only an instructor of souls at the beginning of an allegory about life, but he is Thoth, the Good Genius as creator-god, creator of newborns and everything else in the cosmos. He is also like the Logos of Gospel of John 1:3 "All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made" (Douhy-Rheims translation). Whether the metaphor of different lots, with different destinies, for different people, applies is not clear, although Thoth is to be sure a divination-master par excellence.


At the time of the earliest Bagatella card i.e. before 1452, the earliest date for the PMB, the hermetic texts talking about the Good Genius by that name were not available. But the Latin Asclepius is enough. Asclepius 8 starts (p. 71):
Listen, then, Asclepius. When the master and shaper of all things, whom rightly we call god, made a god next after himself who can be seen and senses (I call this second god sensible not because he senses but because he impinges on the senses of those who see him; at another time we shall discuss whether he senses or not), then having made this god as his first production and second after himself, it seemed beautiful to him since it was entirely full of the goodness of everything, and he loved as the progeny of his own divinity.
Copenhaver comments on this sentence:
Lactantius, calling his source the logos teleios, cited this long sentence in Greek in Divine Institutes 4.6.4 to prove that Hermes agreed with the prophets and Sibyls that the supreme God had a son.
It is Hermes Trismegistus that is being referred to, the Egyptian sage thought to have written the Hermetica. You can read Lactantius at, Chapter 6.

In the late 15th century this sentence from the Asclepius was even put in stone in a church . Copenhaver mentions that Scott, an earlier translator of the Hermetica,
...notes its [the sentence's] appearance in the famous pavement relief of the Cathedral of Siena (1488) where Hermes appears among the seven sibyls.
On the pavement ( the words are in Latin, so I don't know if they are from that sentence or not.

The "son" in the Aslepius sentence turns out to be the cosmos itself as a living being; but the language is reminiscent not only of the Stoic Logos but also of the Fourth Gospel. At Asclepius 14 (p. 75) we read:
There was god and hule (which we take as the Greek for 'matter'), and attending matter was spirit, or rather spirit was in matter, but it was not in matter as it was in god nor as the things from which the world came were in god.
And Copenhaver (p. 227),
Here and at many other points, Braun hears echoes in the Asclepius of John's language and ideas, concluding that "the author of the Hermetic treatises knew the Gospel's doctrine and set forth his own in order to show what Hermetism offered as equivalent or to oppose it to what he found absurd in the ... Evangelist."
Copenhaver lists 11 additional parallels that Braun (Jean pp. 291-295) sees between the Asclepius and the Fourth Gospel. This is a complicated subject, but Greek-reading Renaissance humanists who knew Lactantius and the Asclepius would not have been insensitive to such echoes, given that the Church Fathers had held the Hermetica to be pre-Mosaic precursors of Christianity. And once they had the rest of the tractates, talking about the Agothos Demon, it would have been even clearer. Dodd, in his book The Fourth Gospel also relates the Gospel to the Hermetica, but more to the Greek texts than to the Asclepius, Copenhaver says.

Decker has more to say about the Holbein woodcut, but it pertains to the World card. I will post something about it on the "World" thread. In a later chapter he speaks of another frontispiece done around the same time; he does not relate it to the Bagatella, but he refers us to Robert Place's analysis, who does. The book it is a frontispiece for a lot-book; so we might look for something there about the Bagatella and lots. After I have finished discussing Decker on the World card (going over concepts needed in what comes later), I will get to that frontispiece.

And of course if someone has criticisms of what I've said so far, voicing them might save me some errors later.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

Hello Mike,
thank you for sharing yours and Decker's considerations about the Tabula Cebetis. Pictures of it were sent to me a while ago by Michael Hurst. Those images have in common with the trump cycle the fact that they represent an allegory of the whole of human life: the tabula must be a very interesting text!

A similar story, that possibly was known before 1490, is the Myth of Er in Plato's Republic.

Personally, I think that the Cebetis Genius, being an old man without a desk, is visually very different from the Bagat, and the shape of the Bagat's hat was common in Bembo images. I think a good analogue for the bagat is the Lunatic from De Predis' De Sphaera we have discussed many times: a street entertainer whose goal is "sollazzare che ad altri piaccia" (entertaining other people in an enjoyable way), as the manuscript says.
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mikeh wrote: I had previously suggested that the four suit-objects on the Bagatella's table could be related to the four elements.
This is Waite's interpretation of the card (possibly found in other occultists, I don't know). He writes:
On the table in front of the Magician are the symbols of the four Tarot suits, signifying the elements of natural life, which lie like counters before the adept, and he adapts them as he wills.
Indeed, on the desk of the Magician by Waite-Smith there are the symbols of the four suits. But which ancient Bagat card presents those four symbols?

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

marco wrote:
mikeh wrote: I had previously suggested that the four suit-objects on the Bagatella's table could be related to the four elements.
This is Waite's interpretation of the card (possibly found in other occultists, I don't know). He writes:
On the table in front of the Magician are the symbols of the four Tarot suits, signifying the elements of natural life, which lie like counters before the adept, and he adapts them as he wills.
Indeed, on the desk of the Magician by Waite-Smith there are the symbols of the four suits. But which ancient Bagat card presents those four symbols?
A Wicked Pack of Cards (I'm not sure whether a standard abbreviation has arisen; I have used variously "DDD" (Decker, Depaulis, Dummett) and "WPC") asserts that Eliphas Levi invented this doctrine (p. 188) -

"Levi [added] supporting details [to his Kabbalistic theory of the Tarot], the Juggler's 'first matter' (the elemental suit-signs on his table)... Many other details of the designs of particular cards suggested by him have persisted as standard features of the occultist and cartomantic Tarot packs [such as] the suit-signs lying on the Juggler's table."

I am not intimately familiar with Levi's work. The first thing I find that resembles this statement is in Dogma et rituel de la haute magie (1855-56), translated by A. E. Waite (1896) -

"A la première page du livre d'Hermès, l'adepte est représenté couvert d'un vaste chapeau qui, en se rabattant, peut lui cacher toute la tête. Il tient une main élevée vers le ciel, auquel il semble commander avec sa baguette, et l'autre main sur sa poitrine ; il a devant lui les principaux symboles ou instruments de la science, et il en cache d'autres dans une gibecière d'escamoteur. Son corps et ses bras forment la lettre Aleph, la première de l'alphabet, que les Hébreux ont empruntée aux Egyptiens; mais nous aurons lieu plus tard de revenir sur ce symbole." (1861 ed., p. 109)

On the first page of the Book of Hermes the adept is depicted with a large hat, which, if turned down, would conceal his entire head. One hand is raised towards heaven, which he seems to command with his wand, while the other is placed upon his breast; before him are the chief symbols30 or instruments of science, and he has others hidden in a juggler's wallet. His body and arms form the letter ALEPH, the first of that alphabet which the Jews borrowed from the Egyptians: to this symbol we shall have occasion to recur later on.
(from Waite's translation at ... ental5.htm )

Oswald Wirth's, I believe, was the first published Tarot (trumps only) which reified this doctrine, in 1889 - ... 49d5f8.jpg

He has grossly enlarged the magician's coins (for tricks) into magical pantacles, and also changed the small knives (again for tricks of cutting things and making them reappear whole) into a large magical sword.

You can tell by its popularity that this interpretation of the objects on the table is insidiously seductive for occultists and latter-day believers in the Prisca Theologia.

Making sense of the Bagatto

Hi, Marco,

Just a few words to endorse what you and Ross have said.
marco wrote:Personally, I think that the Cebetis Genius, being an old man without a desk, is visually very different from the Bagat, and the shape of the Bagat's hat was common in Bembo images. I think a good analogue for the bagat is the Lunatic from De Predis' De Sphaera we have discussed many times: a street entertainer whose goal is "sollazzare che ad altri piaccia" (entertaining other people in an enjoyable way), as the manuscript says.
Yes, that's the obvious explanation. Tarot enthusiasts routinely ignore, marginalize, or deny the obvious and impose something less plausible, or even perverse. This is what "occult" or hidden meaning is all about -- rejecting the obvious in favor of the mysterious.

Tarot's trump subjects and sequence can be explained without doing great violence to their obvious meanings and ordering. For example, the lowest-ranking trump might have been intended to represent something lowly. Thus the trump cycle and the game play would be meaningfully related. That would explain his name, some forms of which are synonymous with trivia even in modern English. (Bagatelle, n., a thing of little importance.) Perhaps the figure depicted as a Magician was, as you suggest, intended to be a magician. Maybe the proper context for interpreting the card is the overall hierarchy of trumps, those subjects and that sequence, rather than some other work. The great thing about Vitali's recent essay is that it offers not just any interpretation of the Bagatto, but an interpretation which makes sense of the subject matter and the sequence.

The occultist tendency among Tarot enthusiasts is overwhelming. Whether they are offering alchemy or astrology, Egyptian initiations or Albigensian heresy, nothing is ever what it appears. This is why the well-known subject matter of the Bagatto -- a street performer -- is ignored. Instead, relatively inconsequential details, (like the specific items on his table), are taken out of context and used as the basis for elaborate fantasy. However, anything which can be perversely interpreted can also be more plausibly interpreted. Ross does this with the knife, reading it as a magician's prop sitting on a magician's table, rather than an esoteric symbol.

Likewise, a big floppy hat can be interpreted in context, as you do, so as to be consistent with the apparent subject matter of the card. You point out that Bembo liked big hats. This can be seen in various illustrations from the Lancelot manuscript.

Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Manuscripts ... index.html
Palatino 556, Lancillotto: La tavola rotonda, in volgare dialettale. ... 6/main.htm

This can also be seen on his cards, including the Visconti-Sforza Love, Page and King of Coins, Page and Knight of Swords. It would not require much imagination to make up an explanation for why these five figures are shown with flamboyant hats, some festooned with peacock feathers. Whether arching downward or upward, these hats are shown as well-defined shapes. They are an ostentatious display, conspicuous consumption.

The Magician also has a flamboyant hat, along with the most brightly colored clothes of any figure. Why, it's almost as if the street performer were a street performer, attempting to draw attention to himself and draw a crowd to his act! His large hat, however, is less well structured than those others. It is presumably made of cheaper material, and it probably wasn't always as floppy as it is shown. He is putting on a good show, as the saying goes, but his hat is a poor-man's pretense. Still, it contrasts dramatically with the simple straw hat he uses for a prop.
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"Watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!"

Best regards,
We are either dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, or we are just dwarfs.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

It seems to me that objects very like the four suit objects are in the PMB Bagatella, as I said in my earlier post, and in the Tarot de Marseille designs. The PMB has coin-like shells, a sword-like knife, a cup, and a baton-like wand. The Tarot de Marseille has the knife, the cups, some flat round things on the table, and the wand and a small round object in his hands. Other early Bagatellas have some of these things: the Rosenwald has two sticks (losing the sword) and many flat round objects (losing the cup). The d'Este has cups, the round objects that go under them, and probably a wand, obscured by a child's hand; the Catelin Geoffroy is similar, except for having adults instead of children. Most of the "children of the Moon" depictions have these same three. Only the PMB, the Cary Sheet, and the Tarot de Marseille have all four, that I can find: ... Noblet.jpg ... ywFool.jpg

There are to be sure differences between the Genius of Decker's woodcut and the tarot Bagatella--just as, for example, there are differences between Giotto's "Faith" and the PMB Popess. Decker has unduly minimized these differences. The Genius has a cane and his hat is not very wide at all. The main significance for me is that the Genius is at the beginning of the sequence of figures; I see him playing a similar role in both sequences, as introducing the sequence as a guide to life. The suit objects are not part of that analogy, since there is no table for them to be on. The cane and the paper in his two hands bear some visual relationship to the Bagatella's hands with wand and something else in them, enough to make an allusion possible in this situation of being at the beginning.

In my next post, in the World thread (which for some reason won't let me post just now, saying I have "too few characters", surely an understatement), I try to address the question of why humanists in and around the Renaissance courts (including the Medici as a court) would have gone beyond the obvious to find, and insert, things more esoteric (but not "hidden" from anyone up on their reading in certain areas). My attempt at an answer will be in the last section of that post, called "Why Egypt?". I would give a slightly different answer for each set of esoteric interpretations. I have tried to answer "Why Dionysus?" in my posts on Andrea's site (

While waiting for the Forum program to allow me to post on the "World" thread (or trying to figure out what I did wrong), I need to make a correction to my post immediately preceding on this thread. Investigating Holbein's frontispieces for the Tabula Cebetis frontispiece further, I see that the information I reported initially is out of date. Currently there is much doubt about whether most of these actually had Holbein's involvement.

The only one securely by Holbein is a metalcut, designated Holbein A, at ... ounger.jpg. It is for a De patienta, in Quintus Septimius Tertullian's Opera.

The metalcut for Erasmus's New Testament, at ... 2&partId=1, is designated there Holbein Tabula Cebetis C. Christian Ruemlin, in Hans Holbein: the Basel Years, 2006, says it is a variation on Holbein's, probably done without his participation. But since both A and C appear to be the work of the same cutter, Jacob Faber, it is possible that A and C are merely two variations based on the same Holbein drawing. In C, he had the luxury of more space to work in.

Another variation is the woodcut B, at ... ounger.jpg. It is properly attributed at that site. It is for a Latin dictionary (Cornucopia) dated 1521. Wikimedia Commons says that Hans Herman was the cutter.

There is also the woodcut Holbein D, another variant, at the British Museum, at ... 6&partId=1. It is said by both the British Museum and to be by Hans Herman, printed as the frontispiece for what is likely the same Latin dictionary (Cornucopia), but Curio is named as the printer. It was done in 1521 but printed March 1522, according to Ruemlin.

D looks to me identical to the one that Vogel prints in his book as a frontispiece for Strabo 1523, except possibly that the Strabo is a metalcut, as the lines are sharper than in D.

The British Museum site for D says that Holbein's version (A) was inspired by a woodcut from a Tabula Cebetis edition published by Singriener and Vietor in Vienna in 1519 (2nd edition).

The woodcut in Decker's book, with the apparently misspelled "GENIUS", seems to me another copy of D.

Regarding the Genius, the main differences between A and D are that in A he is on the right side of the page rather than, in D, in the middle of the page, the rather tall, bulky hat in A has no brim, and the word above him is not GENIUS but something else, on the gate. In B the word seems to be "ANIMAM".

Regarding Fortune, the main difference is that in A the wings are drawn more realistically than in D.

Going up the right side of the page, in A, "AVARITIA" is given to a couple kissing. In D, it is in the lower center and given, more appropriately, to men around a table.

Going up the left side, "FALSA DISCIPLINA", the label for 3 ladies in A, is in D given to an old hermit, unlabeled in A.

At the top, in A there are 5 ladies on the left under the label "VIRTUTES", undistinguished from one another, and another lady on the right, lower than the others (outside the enclosure, in fact), with cups labeled "FORTITUDO" and "AVDACIA" . D has the same lower lady with the same labels on the cups; the label "VIRTUTES" is on the upper right, designating three ladies and one man; these four are carrying attributes: one has a church, another a spade, I can't make out the other two. On the left are three more ladies; one of them is praying to the sky as in the Hope conventional image; another has a sword. I will discuss the significance of these "VIRTUTES" variations on the World thread.

Added later: I have done my post on the "World" thread in "Bianca's Garden", at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=404&p=14117#p14117. Added later: My posting was delayed because the Forum program had told me I had "too few characters" when what I had done wrong was writing "[/largeimg" instead of "[/largeimg]" after the link for one of my images--which I eventually figured out.

The Fanti lot-book frontispiece

This is a continuation of my previous posts, immediately above and on the "Bianca's Garden" World thread

Now I want to switch to the woodcut from 1526-1527 Venice, the frontispiece to Fanti's Triompho di Fortuna. Besides Decker's and Place's discussions, I have found two scholarly articles on it, a detailed one by Robert Eisler in the Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld and Institutes for 1947, pp. 155-159, and a note by Detlev Baron von Hadeln in the Burlington Magazine 1926, p. 301, about the drawing that preceded the woodcut.

About the drawing, it is important to realize that Fanti is "Fanti Ferrarese" (even in the words on the frontispiece) and was a citizen of Ferrara. The drawing is in the Ferrarese style, in particular that of Dosso Dossi, von Hadeln says, and Eisler doesn't disagree. The woodcut, to be sure, is in the Venetian Titianesque style. But the whole project is Ferrarese. Dossi is an enigmatic of Renaissance artists. His paintings are still a subject of dispute (e.g. the painting called "Allegory of Pan", about which one of the few things critics agree on is that the red lily in the painting is a symbol of the penis; see my discussion at ... 17&lng=ENG). Here is the frontispiece:

Eisler identifies the river as the Tiber and the city as Rome. He sees the frontispiece as a warning to Pope Clement VII that he sits precariously between good and bad fortune (p. 157):
,,,it is remarkable how daringly Sigismondo Fanti represents the insecurity of the Vicar of Christ's position at the summit or Medium Coelum of the slowly revolving sphere...
...The female figure on the left is, of course the Bona Fortuna of the system (Agatha Tyche), turning the handle of the world-axis upward, the other is the Malus Genius (malos daimon) turning the handle down and thus threatening to precipitate the Pope from his exalted position at the apex of his power into the abyss of misery he was to experience when he was besieged in the Castello S. Angelo while Rome was sacked and plundered by the soldatesca of the rival Catholic great powers.
The pope at that time was severely threatened by both the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, and in fact Rome was sacked by the soldiers of the Emperor in 1527, after the book's publication. Eisler says that such an action was not hard to foresee, "in view of the follies committed y the Pope and the cold fury of the Roman Emperor Chales V and of his Most Christian Majesty the King of France" (p. 157).

Accordingly, the muscular man with the dice is the boy (or slave, as they were called "boy") in a quote of Heraclitus in one of Lucian's stories, as Eisler relates:
...there the weeping Heraclitus is asked, "What is the Aeon?" and he replies "a boy playing drafts putting (things) together and taking (them) apart," assembling, dividing."
And the astrologer next to him is Fanti himself (p. 157).

The dedication is indeed to Clement, but I find it hard to believe that anyone in Ferrara would be that brazen as to warn the Pope about his high and mighty attitude. The Duke, Alfonso I, had enough trouble with popes as it was; he would not have liked such a drawing, even if by his favorite artist. In any case, Fanti wants people to buy his book, and the cover is most likely an advertisement for its contents.

As for the city, Eisler admits that Dossi's drawing had no Pantheon; also, if there was such a clock tower in Rome, it was not famous like the Torre dell' Orologio in the Piazza di san Marco in Venice, where the book was printed (p. 156). The boats and expanse of water better fit the Venetian lagoon then the Tiber, which had bridges.

In my view this 1526 frontispiece needs to be seen as similar in content to the 1521-23 Basel one, except for a few changes dictated by the nature of what is inside the book. That is, the city represents life in this world and the people entering the gate are souls entering life. They do so at particular times as indicated by the clock in the tower, from which the astrologer can construct a horoscope. They are faced with a choice between virtue and vice; one woman pointing down is "pleasure" and the one pointing up is "virtue". The Pope looks steadfastly at virtue, so he is a reliable guide. I agree with Decker (p. 89) that the two figures at the axle are an angel and a devil; they are in a contest to control the wheel. In the world, sometimes vice wins, sometimes virtue. I also agree that it is good vs. bad fortune; but it is not a question of good or bad in merely a material or worldly sense, such as the Sack of Rome. "Good fortune" is when virtue wins, "bad fortune" when vice wins, even if it is materially good for the person involved. So the words "virtue" and "pleasure" apply to the wheel-turners as well as the two women. This is an application of the principles of "contempt of the world" ethics, which I discussed in my previous post (in the "Bianca's Garden" World thread, at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=404&p=14117#p14117). It is a matter of what is good and bad for the soul, not the body.

What is most of interest in the picture are the two figures in the foreground, separated from the city. They are the astrologer and the dice-thrower, whose identity is yet to be determined. Place (Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, p. 118) suggests Hermes, as the "god of runners and athletes, who ruled over divination by dice and lots". Eisler (p. 158) mentions Hermes in a different context, that of Plutarch's Isis and Osiris, as the Egyptian god, also called Thoth, who gambled with the moon goddess, Selene. That seems to me at least as relevant as the boy of Heraclitus.

Decker characterizes the two figures as randomness and predestination. Place considers them to be the two ways of using the book to tell fortunes: one way is to throw two dice, and the other is to go by the hour in which the casting of the fortune is initiated. Inside the book is a series of tables, all with 21 rows; by which one works one's way toward a verse that is the fortune.

So we have a dice-thrower and an astrologer. The time of the fortune is comparable to the time of birth in a standard horoscope. It is a matter of using the regular, predictable motions of the stars to infer what their influence will be on human affairs. The procedure is like using the phases of the moon to predict the tides: from the macrocosm of things beyond us we infer the microcosm of the world in which we live.

If so, the contrast is not between randomness and predestination. It is not even between randomness and order. The Greeks in the Iliad cast lots to determine the gods' choice of who to send on a dangerous mission; they reasoned that the gods controlled who would get the shortest straw and were making their will known. Tractate XII of the Corpus Hermeticum likewise cautions that there is no such thing as chance among bodily things (Copenhaver Hermetica p. 44).
Everything is an act of fate, my child, and outside of it nothing exists among bodily entities. Neither good nor evil comes to be by chance.
Only mind, the Greek nous, is above fate (p. 45):
For if you carefully avoid contentious discourse, you will find that mind, the soul of god, truly prevails over all, over fate and law and all else. And nothing is impossible for mind, neither setting a human soul above fate nor, if it happens that a soul is careless, setting it beneath fate.
A similar doctrine is expressed in Apuleius's Metamorphoses, in which Isis is the agent of Providence. Still in the form of an ass, Lucius prays to the goddess of the moon (Lindsay translation p. 235):
About the first watch of the night I was aroused by sudden panic. Looking up I saw the full orb of the Moon shining with peculiar lustre and that very moment emerging from the waves of the sea. Then the thought came to me that this was the hour of silence and loneliness when my prayers might avail. For I knew that the Moon was the primal Goddess of supreme sway; that all human beings are the creatures of her providence, that not only cattle and wild beasts but even inorganic objects are vitalized by the divine influence of her light; that all the bodies which are on earth, or in the heavens, or in the sea, increase when she waxes and decline when she wanes. Considering this, therefore, and feeling that Fate licensed a hope of salvation, I determined to implore the august image of the risen Goddess.
The Providential moon that Lucius is praying to is revealed shortly to be really Isis, who is later (Lindsay p. 243), in a passage that Decker quotes in his Introduction (see also my post at viewtopic.php?f=23&t=404&start=140#p14117), explained by a priest of Isis to be "seeing" Fortune in contrast to "blind" Fortune. Ellen Finkelpearl, in The Apuleius Reader, comments (p. 94):
At 11.15, the providentia of Isis is contrasted with the blindness of Fortuna, activating the sense of "seeing" in providentia. The world that has hitherto seemed to be ruled by random forces is now revealed to be in the control of a rational organizing force. Providentia is an important concept in Middle Platonist thoght, often used as a counterbalance to the tyranny of Fate in Stoic thought. Middle Platonists believe that freedom of will exists along with divine Providence, while Stoics are strongly deterministic. Providence, for Middle Platonists, is superior to Fate, though it still involves the control fo guidance of the universe y a supreme being (Dillon [Middle Platonism 2nd edition] 1996, 320-26). At De Platone 1.12 (205), Apuleius contrasts providentia and fatum: Providence is the divina sententia protecting the prosperity of those it cares about, whereas Fate is a divine law, by means of which God's inevitable thoughts and plans are fulfilled.

However I think "protecting the prosperity of those it cares about" must be understood n a Platonic sense. When Plato in the Republic says that no harm can come to a just man, he means the just man's soul, and in fact the essential part of that soul. At the same time, Providence in its aspect of Wisdom is not indifferent to the soul in this world: it is in this world that the soul develops. But when Wisdom protected Odysseus in the Odyssey, it was not in the sense of bringing him material prosperity.

In the The God of Socrates (Apuleius Rhetorical Works p. 309), Apuleius relates that Socrates would consult his daemon, or "guardian genius", before he undertook anything. If it said no, he took it as a warning. The Genius could see into the future. It seems to me that a Hermetic Christian would have seen dice in the same way (regardless of the fulminations of the Franciscan and Dominican preachers) as warriors in the Iliad saw the casting of lots, or more philosophically, Socrates and the signs from his daimon, as possible means to understanding God's will and Providence, leading him upward. In a similar way, it is apparently random at what hour and day a person is born, but it is also Providence. And just as the astrologer can learn from the time of birth what is in store for the person, so can one learn from the lot-book what is in store for the person casting dice.

So I see the two figures as equivalent, both expressions of the "good genius" that we also saw in the Holbein, but in the sense of Providence. The only difference is that in the 1521-23, the plan is "one size fits all". In the 1526, it is individualized, to a particular person throwing dice or consulting the book at a particular time, with 21 possibilities. It is a true casting of lots, whereas the Holbein and the Tabule Cebetis isn't.

Now for the payout: what does all this say about the tarot? There is a Devil, a winged representative of Virtue, a Choice of Hercules with poses similar to the Tarot de Marseille, a Pope, a Wheel, and an Atlas with the sky on his shoulders, as appears on a few decks. The astrologer is like on the Ferrara Moon card; a Sun appears on the clock, which is on a Tower; and there are Stars on the globe. The Pope sits on the globe like a figure on the Florentine-style World card. That's quite a bit. So what about the guy with the dice?

I like some of what Place says, on p. 121f. He starts out:
The Tarot's Magician is not an astrologer or an athletic male, yet there is a connection between him and the two figures in Fanti's foreground--particularly to the athlete with the die. One easily recognized pair of objects found on the Magician's table in the Tarot of Marseilles is a pair of dice...

He then goes on to show us a woodcut Magician with dice in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts that probably dates from c. 1500 (the original is on p. 274 of Kaplan vol. 2). In my view it is probably from Venice (south of Budapest) around the time of the 1526 Frontispiece. But I don't think it is essential that the dice are there. There are no dice in the d'Este or the PMB cards. What works as well are the types of objects on the table, four in the PMB and in the Cary Sheet, which correspond to cards. It is the Magician as dealer-- of dice or cards, the cards we are dealt at birth and many times thereafter, which it is up to us to know how to use. Dice and cards are equivalent. Place goes on (and here I put my own additions in brackets):
As dice [and cards, I add] were used for gambling their presence could confirm that the Magician is a gambler and a rogue, but dice [and cards] were also used int he Renaissance for divination, and perhaps the magician, like Fanti's athlete, is offering us a means to obtain advice about our destiny. The Magician is the first trump, and he is introducing us to the parade of trumps just as Fanti's athlete is in the foreground. Whether his dice [or cards] are intended for divination or for gambling, there are two of them [of dice], and there are twenty-one possible combinations of the two when they are thrown. It would be easy to imagine the Magician making use of the throws of his dice [or the laying out of cards] to make connections with the twenty-one figures in the trumps. Like the figures in Fanti's foreground, it may be that the Magician is a guide offering help in finding one's way in the allegory.

I wish I knew the exact content of these lots, to be sure of what Place imagines about them. In any case, the Magician offers us our individual allotments/lots and also, given the nature of the game, tells us to pay attention to the 21 other trumps more than to the ordinary suit cards. Whether in game-playing or in divination, he is giving us a life situation together with a plan for finding our way in the game or in life. That's my integration of Decker and Place, and of the two frontispieces, 1521-23 and 1526.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

I've read about renaissance theater, that typical roles were "2 funny servants", often treacherous, or persons of the lower class with humorous aspects. I hadn't opportunity to check this thesis in detail. The Philodoxus had such figures. Naturally the concrete details of such figures varied.

In Cessolis' chess interpretation he also seems to have two funny roles, one is the innkeeper and the second is the gambler or messenger (often presented in the manner of the Fool).

Theater is older than Tarot, the Chess interpretation is older. Likely we have in the evaluation to see the general genre, without need to fix Fool and Bagatello in detail. Everybody (inclusive the commissioner of decks and the connected artist) had his own personal way to interpret the two servants.

For the "Genius" figure I think, that it has more from Father Time than from the Pagat. Birth of Jesus at the "return" of the light had been at the end of the Saturn-festivities in Rome .... I think the message is, that old year meets new year. Genius is old, and the connected human souls (all the children there, who wish to experience the world) are apparently young.

The game is clearer: 21 World, Fool and Pagat get 5 points, the same value as the 4 kings. The World and the Fool owner are sure at the begin of the game, that these 5 points belong them, the Pagat owner isn't sure (cause the Pagat is only lowest trump, but he has the chance to make the last trick and to make extra money).

Bologna had also the Angel with 5 points (so says Dummett in IPCS 33, No 3) and so 8 cards which had 5 points. Sicily had 10 for the highest card 20, Piccioti Nr. 1 and Fuggitivo, which was the Fool and 5 points each for No.s 19, 18,17,16 and the 4 kings. Miseria, the second Fool in the Sicilian Tarot, had nothing.

The Fool is luck and has luck and is lucky for the player, who has the card. The Pagat in contrast has a risky life, but chances to make a big success, mostly of higher value than the 5 points.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

mikeh wrote: There are to be sure differences between the Genius of Decker's woodcut and the tarot Bagatella--just as, for example, there are differences between Giotto's "Faith" and the PMB Popess.
My evaluation of the differences is not the same. To me it is perfectly clear at first glance that the Genius has nothing to do with the Bagat.

The Cebetis Genius illustrates a text so we know that his relevant attributes are:

1. old age (senex)
2. a paper of instructions (paginam quendam)
3. a pointing gesture (nescio quid demonstrat)

From the text, it is clear that the hat of the Genius is totally irrelevant.
The bagat can possibly partially match only the third attribute. I would say that the two images are a 25% match. The fact that the Bagat is a young man makes him immediately incomparable with the Genius.

On the other hand, Giotto's Faith main attributes are:
1. a woman
2. a mitre
3. a cross
4. a scroll

The PBM Popess is a perfect match for attributes 1 and 3 and a partial match for attributes 2 (different sacerdotal headdresses) and 4 (different support for their sacred texts). In my opinion, the two images are a 75% match. Andrea Vitali is more determinate than myself in underlining the similarity between the two images: "The only difference from the image which we find in the ancient tarots is the cartouche, which replaces the book". I also think that the most important attribute of Giotto's Faith is the cross (which the tarot card has), whereas the most important attribute of the Genius is the paper of instructions (which is not in the Bagat's hands). On the other hand, the most perspicuous attribute of the Bagat is his desk, which does not appear in the illustrations of the Tabula.

I also think that Giotto's Faith belongs to a family of sacred allegories in which attributes somehow vary. The tiara can be a simple crown or just a halo. Keys are another common attribute. The book is not always there. The same holds for tarot Popesses. What we note is not only a similarity between the PBM Popess and Giotto's Faith, but a general similarity between tarot Popesses and sacred allegories of Faith and Religion.

Also the Bagat, the Cebetis Genius and the street entertainer as a Child of the Moon actually are three families of images and we can see systematic similarities and differences between them. For instance (as noted by Michael and Ross) the Rosenwald Bagat has a fool's hat, that makes him similar to one of Baldini's Children of the Moon. But I doubt there are versions of the Cebetis Genius in which he wears a fool's hat.

Finally, the Cebetis Genius was created at least fifty years later than the Bagat, whereas Giotto's faith is more than one century older than Bembo's Popess. So Giotto's fresco represents a possible antecedent for the tarot card: it is not just the same.

To me, a more acceptable version of the above sentence would be: There are to be sure differences between the Genius of Decker's woodcut and the tarot Bagatella--just as, for example, there are differences between Ripa's "Correction" and the PMB Popess. Ripa's Correction and the Visconti-Sforza Popess only match for a single accidental attribute: the book. Unrelated images tend not to be very similar.
correttione.jpg (81.62 KiB) Viewed 12079 times

Re: Cebetis

Let me try to be clearer, Marco. I will take your last point first.
Finally, the Cebetis Genius was created at least fifty years later than the Bagat, whereas Giotto's faith is more than one century older than Bembo's Popess. So Giotto's fresco represents a possible antecedent for the tarot card: it is not just the same.
The Cebetis image, I have been hypothesizing, alludes to the Milanese Bagat, whatever it was then and there. In Basel, on the Burgundian border, in 1521 I think it looked probably somewhere between the Cary Sheet and the Tarot de Marseille. I cannot be sure that such a tarot existed in Basel then, but it is a reasonable hypothesis, given that Basel was a major publishing city on the Burgundian border and close to France.

Likewise, the PMB Papessa alludes to the Giotto. I assume this because the Giotto was well known and admired. The two cases look parallel to me.

Then we have the question, in what ways does each allude?

What is most important about the Cebetis image is that it is at the beginning of a journey through life, avoiding vices, acquiring learning, becoming friends with the virtues, ending with an attainment of the goal, Felicity. In the same way, the Bagat is at the beginning of a journey indicated by the sequence of the cards, ending in the attainment of something like the Heavenly Jeruselam, or the Kingdom of God within, etc.

In relation to the Giotto Fides, the Papessa has not at all the same relationship to the other images in the setting as the Giotto. Fides is one of seven virtues displayed there. Spatially, there is a vice counterposed to it on the opposite wall. There may be other spatial relationships that are part of the meaning of that image, I don't know. The Papessa, in contrast, is second in a sequence that started with the Bagat as 1 and ends with the World as 22. It is a totally different context.

The allusion has to do with the particular aspects of the two images taken in isolation from their contest, the aspects you mention. These gives the Papessa a sacred quality, a respect for the written word, a humility from the dress. But there is something sad about the Papessa with no key, not confident like Fides.

As an isolated image, the Cebetis relates to the Bagat in more than one way. He is offering something, a paper that will be valuable in life; likewise the Bagat has the objects on his table and the spectators somehow are invited to participate. I suggest that it, too, is offering something valuable for life, owing to the position of the figure at the beginning of the sequence.

The text is relevant only to clarify what is going on. It clarifies that the paper being offered is not a lot; it is the plan. It does not clarify whether the old man has a hat, or what it looks like. The Cebetis figure's hat is part of the allusion. There are two frontispiece versions that are important. Version A, because it is first, and by Holbein. It is this detail, in the context of the whole

And what I take to be a metalcut version of version D. It is important it makes changes which the artist thought important enough to justify departing from the Master. It is this detail, in the context of its whole.

And what the image is being put in relation to is something in the neighborhood of these: ... ywFool.jpg ... Noblet.jpg

To be sure, the Cebetis is a Saturn figure. He is an old man in a Temple of Saturn. As an old man, he relates to the PMB Bagat, who is also not young. The Cebetis figure is probably intended to be Hermes Trismegistus, an old man in the literature of the Hemetica.

Now we have the problem of the lack of a level playing field. The conventions of Fides are there for everyone to see. The Hermetic conventions are not, perhaps by their very nature as Hermetic. Hermes and his Greco-Egyptian counterpart Carpocrates was represented as a god enjoining silence. So I have to be a little speculative, although not much. The conventions are there to be found. Part of my argument is that the other frontispiece gives a siilar result, only with two figures, one young and one old. It helps define the tradition.

What are the indications of Hermes Trismegistus in the Milanese tradition of the Bagat? In the PMB there is his beard and his weariness, and also his wide-brimmed hat, which is associated with Thoth by way of Martinus Capella. The Cary Sheet Bagat has a no-brimmed hat, like the Holbein A, and an odd thing on his back, a miniature three-tiered step pyramid (of which Cyriaco would have seen a few near Cairo, at Sakkara) or perhaps a tiara, but not a papal tiara. The Matto also has it. I think it suggests Egypt and "Trismegistus", Thrice-powerful. I forgot to mention these features in my earlier post. And the Tarot de Marseille Bagat has a broad-brimmed hat. He is young, so more Thoth/Hermes than Trismegistus.The Cary Sheet Bagat is also young, but with a reference to Trismegistus on his back.

I suspect that the Tarot de Marseille's image of the young man with the broad-brimmed hat is from the first third of the 16th century. I gather that from pictures of Milanese court cards from c. 1530, for one thing (Playing Cards by Roger Tilley 1973, p. 26): ... ionP27.JPG
They look to me similar in style to the TdMI, e.g. the bare-breasted Queen of Batons. Notice also the broad-brimmed hat on the King of Coins.

On this same theme there is also an interesting study by Christophe Poncet, "Un gioco tra profezia e filosofia : i tarocchi di Marsilio" (in "Il linguaggio dei cieli, astri e simboli nel Rinascimiento", Carocci Editore 2012), comparing some of Baldini's Sibyl engravings with certain images in the TdMII, The most striking parallels are the Libyan (mirror image) with the Popess and the Delphian with the Empress; Here they are:


Poncet may also have involved two of the virtue cards, I don't remember; but the styles are similar throughout. I don't know why people like Depaulis think it's the style of the 1730s. But that is a topic for another thread; it doesn't matter here whether you agree or not, but I hope you can agree that the Tarot de Marseille Bagat is relevant.

The Bagat being alluded to 1521-1523 could be like the PMB or like the Tarot de Marseille. Probably it is between the Cary Sheet and the Tarot de Marseille. But I include the PMB because we don't know. The hat gets more of a brim in 1523, and the stick is held more like the Tarot de Marseille's, raised. The 1521 hat is more like the Cary Sheet's.

So we see that for both the Bagat and the Papessa, there are similarities and differences, especially taking into account the image's relationship to the whole of which it is a part. I hesitate to quantify it, because I don't know how much to weigh each component; that is difficult. Making them all equal would ignore that element. Personally, I think the image's relationship to the whole of which it is a part is as important as all the other aspects put together.

So we have, assuming the relationship to the whole is 50%
Bagat: relationship to whole.....40% (i.e. 80% similar, conservative)
3 out of 8 components (giving each 2 pts) of individual image:.. 19% (Hermes, offering something he thinks important; but not clear-cut what it is, not old, stick different function)
Total 49%

Papessa: relationship to whole: 20% (meaning 40% relationship, generous)
6 or so out of 12 or so components = 25% (scroll but not book, simple dress same, hat similar but not same, no key, demeanor different, staff less visible, cross invisible)
Total 45%

Have I forgotten something? Probably. But this is all a guess. And it all depends on how much you weight the position in relation to the whole. If one third, then Fides comes out higher. But that element cannot be ignored, or even made just one more thing like a key. I see not much difference in similarity. For the one, we use exoteric Christian conventions. For the other, it is Hermetic conventions. The tarot manages to accompany both. Decker probably says it more clearly, even if I object to some of what he says.

Re: The meaning of the first six trumps

mikeh wrote: So we have, assuming the relationship to the whole is 50%
Bagat: relationship to whole.....40% (i.e. 80% similar, conservative)
3 out of 8 components (giving each 2 pts) of individual image:.. 19% (Hermes, offering something he thinks important; but not clear-cut what it is, not old, stick different function)
Total 49%
Hello Mike,
it seems we basically agree on the fact that the Genius has little to do with the Bagat: we don't even get to a 50% similarity. It is visually completely different and it only has a similar position in a sequence which is a vague parallel to the trump sequence. BTW, is the 80% similarity with the respect to the whole based on the identification of a Fool in the Tabula?

We could just as well say that the Bagat is John the Evangelist, since John appears at the beginning of the Book of Revelation which also has analogies with the trump sequence. Actually, Duerer's John also has something like a desk in front of him, for his ink.

We can match anything with almost anything else with a 49% degree of success.

It is surprising to me that you cannot see the visual similarity between the Popess and Giotto's Fides, but I can only acknowledge your point of view: perception is always subjective.

I also want to mention that Giotto's allegories include another image (Stultitia / Foolishness) that some people find similar with a Visconti-Sforza trump (the Fool).
FoolGiottoPMB.jpg (48.41 KiB) Viewed 12059 times
But what about the subject of this thread and the meaning of the first six trumps?

As you know, in my view (derived from Michael Hurst's writings) these six trumps represent the tripartite ranks of men (see above and this post by Michael):
* the Fool and the Bagat represent the lowly;
* the Emperor and the Empress represent the noble;
* the Pope and the Popess represent the clergy.

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