In this post I want to repeat what I said in two posts on another thread (on Filelfo's Odes
), omitting what I said about the Odes
there so as to focus on just the part relevant to the middle section of the tarot. My texts will be primarily three short texts by Filelfo, one a letter in 1427 to Ciriaco, the second an allegedly 1438 letter to Sforza, and third a poem in Greek written to a patron in Florence c. 1460-1461. To flush out Filelfo's meaning I will also refer to the Sforziad
, a c. 1473 philosophical essay, and two earlier letters, 1426 to Ciriaco and 1428 to a Venetian monk named Francanzani whom Filelfo had known from his student days in Padua (Diana Robin, Filelfo in Milan
1991, p. 47).
Robin introduces Filelfo's 1427 letter as a reply to Ciriaco in which Filelfo, just returned from Greece and confined to his rooms in Venice due to plague, responds to
...his friend's request for a repudiation of the commentaries of the medieval schoolmen and a new interpretation of Vergil's epic
meaning the Aeneid. Ciriaco thinks Vergil didn't intend simply to "imitate Homer and praise Augustus." Filelfo doesn't disagree with that interpretation, but thinks it is more an allegory. Robin says (1991, p. 54):
Filelfo follows Servius and Fugentius in reading the first six books of the Aeneid as an allegory of the six stages in every man's journey toward the good: birth, infancy, boyhood, puberty, young adulthood, and maturity.
Aeneas never attains the good; but he shows the way. Aeneas is a "traveler moving toward truth" (1991, p. 55), and "his image grows brighter day after day". I am of course reminded of discussions on THF about the nature of the tarot sequence (search "ascent" in the Dummett and Methodology thread).
I will return to other parts of this letter. Now for the alleged 1438 letter to Francesco Sforza. I say "alleged" because these early letters may or may not be reconstructions based on memory and editorial license done in the 1450s. The tone is very similar to the Sforziad. Robin thinks that the ending, on how a ruler has to avoid even "the mere suspicion
of such a stain" as the atrocities he is protesting against, was not written for Sforza. Filelfo's "Letters" were for potential patrons elsewhere. Also, the comments about anger here differ markedly from comments that Filelfo was making as late as 1434-5 in Siena, in reference to the Aeneid on furias
: "rage suits a wise man" etc. (Kallendorf, The Other Virgil
, 2007, p. 37). That is not his position here.
in October 1438 Sforza's soldiers had laid siege to and then sacked his birthplace, Tolentino, with reports of atrocities, and Filelfo is giving Sforza a piece of advice. Here is the key part, a mixture of translation and paraphrase. After saying how Philip of Macedon, Alexander, and Scipio Africanus Maior were the greatest generals of antiquity precisely for their clemency, lenience, and charity, he adds (Robin 1991 p. 46):
For do you prefer to be feared perhaps rather than loved? It is best seen that hatred naturally follows in the footsteps of fear. But you can never be esteemed and loved unless you demonstrate that you are truly just and beneficent. Indeed, the just and beneficent man is neither one who either harms others intentionally nor is he one who either neglects or is unwilling to impose a policy of moderation concerning matters which he is responsible.
The good prince, Filelfo continues, must restrain his anger, casting away every emotion that stands in the way of reason and deliberation. For the man who cannot rule himself surely cannot rule others; moreover, the greatest victory of all is self-mastery. The rule Filelfo exhorts Sforza to follow is that of the Spartan Aristo, Socrates, and Christ, to be good to your friends, and to make friends of your enemies.
Filelfo's final argument rests on the immortality of the soul (animus
), which he contrasts to the fragility and transitory nature of the body and worldly things. "Reason," he writes, "not desire, must always be obeyed. For, reason, above all else, demonstrates how superior we are to the rest of the earth's creatures."
First, the context is that of the virtues: beneficence, justice, moderation, all except fortitude, which is assumed, in a letter to Sforza. Second, we have the soul, here declared immortal. Third, we have three components: reason (ratio), anger (ira), and desire (cupiditas). "Anger" is Filelfo's term for the middle part of the Platonic soul. We know that from a c. 1473 essay that Robin paraphrases (p. 154f), but with a footnote that the same thing was said in a letter to Ciriaco in 1426. Here it means something like "righteous indignation"--the part of the soul that is centered in the heart and rises up against wrongdoing. Filelfo no doubt knew the emotion well.
It seems to me that what Filelfo is saying is very close to what is on the Cary-Yale Chariot card, if it illustrates one part of Plato's charioteer myth in the Phaedrus. That is, Reason, i.e. Sforza, is the groom with the calm horse (the noble horse, in Plato's terms there), which Filelfo calls Anger (which Filelfo is worried Sforza lets out of control, at least in his men). The unruly horse is Desire. On the chariot is personification of the virtues, especially Chastity, also Bianca Maria. The two horses are both white because a dark horse would be unsuitable for her, as her chariot is in the archetypal world. I know this is not a very suitable combination: his noble and ignoble horses, with her pure horses, but it is what we have on the card. Similar inconsistent combinations of imagery occurred not infrequently in the Renaissance, as in e.g. the Hercules/Mithras image I showed earlier in this thread.
That Filelfo would identify Bianca Maria with the lady on the CY Chariot--and the PMB's as well--is indicated by his idealization of her in the Sforziad
, as opposed to a critical stance toward Sforza. In comparing the Sforziad
to the Aeneid
Kallendorf p. 51 observes:
For example, at a crucial point at the beginning of Aeneas's enterprise (Aen. 1.776-89), his wife Creusa encourages him and directs his attention from Troy to the new project he is to undertake. Likewise Bianca Maria (or rather, Athena in the guise of Bianca Maria) encourages Sforza to establish his kingdom on the Po, but with one key difference: Sforza had withdrawn by himself deep within his home and was in despair, thereby appearing weaker than his Virgilian counterpart.
There is also the account of how she rallied Sforza's troops at Cremona (p. 57). Bianca Maria In the Sforziad
, it seems to me, is his primary reader, along with her children, and secondarily princes everywhere. A similar idealization relative to Sforza is indicated in his Ode
to Bianca Maria Sforza (see Filelfo, Odes
, in Google Books). Also, it must be remembered that the Visconti traced their ancestry to Aeneas himself, in which Bianca Maria and her children are included but not Sforza, like Filelfo a perpetual outsider.
In his 1473 essay, Filelfo has a fourth character besides Reason, Anger, and Desire, namely, Mind. Reason is a function of Mind. Probably he also had this distinction in his 1427 letter to Ciriaco. In his 1427 letter he speaks of Wisdom (sapientia) vs. Prudence (prudentia):
In civic life, then, prudence alone is the master over all the rest of the moral virtues. Prudence alone moderates and rules these. But prudence is but a broken and weak thing--a quality without strength--unless it abides by and is obedient to wisdom alone, as though to a prince or queen.
As far as the "moral virtues", you will notice the prominence of "moderation". Later he adds, in reference to the Aeneid
Although there is much about the duty of justice and piety, still fortitude is the virtue that flourishes first and foremost.
Piety is another Platonic virtue, listed in the Gorgias
. I would guess that Wisdom is a property of Mind, and Prudence of Reason. Mind might do for the lady on top of the chariot. (And if there is any relation to the tarot, there are two missing virtues, not just Prudence.) In 1473 he applies the image of the queen to mind (p. 155):
The mind holds sway over the two inferior parts of the soul like a queen in her citadel (regina in arce).
Similarly in the 1428 letter to Francanzani he says (I have put in bold the most relevant parts):
Indeed, I think that our actions should be in such close harmony with the knowledge of the truth, that we would know that all of our actions should be judged in terms of their relation to the role of Wisdom. For like some queen or empress who is content to herself, after she has rid herself of all cards concerning migratory and fleeting matters, Wisdom alone is the one who, so that she may direct herself toward the light of the one supreme and and everlasting good and so that she may fix her gaze on it unguarded, places Prudence in charge over all the rest of the moral virtues, and she (as though she were their provider) assigns tasks to each individual virtue according to its own particular duties. Therefore we ought to subordinate all the moral virtues to Prudence. Prudence is the virtue that belongs to reason; but Wisdom, which belongs totally to the intellect, rules over Prudence. Whoever lives in this way, yet refuses to admit that he partakes of the highest pleasure and that he is clearly happy and blessed, should in my opinion be thought not only silly, but foolish and insane.
It does not follow, to be sure, that Filelfo designed the card. He was in Milan in time to do it. Or he may have added this touch to the letter later. If so, it might be his interpretation of the card. I have no idea. It is a coincidence to be noted.
The second coincidence in a text by Filelfo relates to the PMB Chariot, as well as to other cards. It is in a poem in Greek of 1460-61 to a patron in Florence. Robin calls it "Counsel to the Newlywed Donato on Virtue". Filelfo begins by talking about the highest good, which is virtue. Then he goes to the happiness of man and wife and the rivalry between virtue and pleasure. He says to choose pleasure only at night, and virtue the rest of the time (p. 32):
Now I don't advise that the Muses should bow down to Aphrodite. I'd rather see that goddess be Aonian daughters' slave; leave only the idle portion of the night to the Cyprian. The rest of your time, my friend, should be wholly given to virtue.
This is being written by a man with 27 children, his last one born, by my reckoning, at age 73. The "Cyprian" is Aphrodite.
Then (23-27) Filelfo describes the mind of man:
 ...Just as the moon sails now to the Antipodes, an then to the lofty regions of Olympus, gazing on everything intently, so the mind contemplates everything which exists throughout boundless eternity and corruptible time. Because of his mind, then, man alone is a creature worthy of praise.
 We can laugh at the extremes of fortune, for they have no strength. Fortune changes with each day, and like a trap, it causes us to founder; hope is always fruitless.
But the Muses "will make you a most favored guest of the heavenly gods" (31). And:
 Once the pure soul has gazed upon the truth of existence with its perfect reason, it longs to seize it for its own. I urge you, dear Acciaiuoli, to believe that all else vanishes. Virtue alone is the good, and virtue teaches us to revere God in heaven most highly, for God alone is virtue.
By "the truth of existence" is meant "what truly is" or "being", I think, judging from his account of being in 1473.
So the poem ends. Robin notices allusions to the Phaedrus.
The image of the mind sailing through all eternity like the moon in its nightly course (23-27) points to Filelfo's familiarity with at least two particularly graphic passages from Plato, both of which depict mind (nous) orbiting in space like a heavenly body: Phaedrus 247c-d, but still more specifically Laws 898a-b.
She then quotes the latter. Then:
Having disposed of fortune as a source of human happiness and hope, we return in lines 31-34 to Filelfo's earlier exhortation to the young follower of Plato to follow the Muses (13-16), without whom a man cannot control his self-destructive sexual urges (Laws 783a) and pure souls cannot receive divine inspiration (Phaedrus 245a). Filelfo's allusion to the Phaedrus in the previous lines leads next to a pithy condensation of Phaedrus 247d.
She then quotes Phaedrus 247d, which she has said Filelfo condenses:
The intelligence of God and of every soul is nourished by both mind and pure knowledge, insofar as intelligence is able to take for itself what is properly its own; and when it has looked with joy on reality and has gazed on the truth after a period of time, it is nourished and rejoices.
I wish to point out that this sentence in the Phaedrus, 247d, is the one immediately after, still 247d, that in which Plato describes the object of the soul's gaze, namely gods such as Justice, Temperance, Knowledge, etc., in their chariots drawn by winged horses both of which are noble; I quoted this whole passage earlier, as what I think the PMB Chariot depicts:
And while she is borne around she discerns justice, its very self, and likewise temperance and knowledge, not the knowledge that is neighbor to becoming and varies with the various objects to which we commonly ascribe being, but the veritable knowledge of being that veritably is.
The reference to Laws
783, concerning "self-destructive sexual urges" might just as well have been to the charioteer and his ignoble horse. Also, one image that Robin does not comment on is that of the soul that "longs to seize it [virtue] for its own". This is the image of the ignoble horse, Desire, which wanted to rape the image of beauty, now transmuted to celestial Desire longing to unite with God.
The poem stands as an eloquent commentary on the middle section of the PMB tarot. Filelfo, in his letter to Ciriaco, characterizes the first six books of the Aeneid as pertaining to the contemplative life and the last six to the active life (Kallendorf p. 35:"The basic principle that Landino would develop in detail several decades, that the first six books of the Aeneid
examine the contemplative life and the second half exalts the active life, appears here [Filelfo's letter to Ciriaco] as well"). Landino in 1480 actually said just the reverse (Kallendorf p. 32: "he saw Aeneas passing from the active to the contemplative one through a gradation of virtues", confirmed on p. 109 and Murrin Cambridge Companion to Allegory
p. 166). I have no opinion regarding the Aeneid
. But in the tarot, it seems to me that after childhood, a period of contemplation through study, comes the active life--the middle section of the tarot-- after which the contemplative will follow again.