Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

mikeh wrote:
20 Dec 2017, 08:11
Steve: thanks for correcting me on the "scarab". Yes, too many legs to be a scarab. I thought I had read somewhere that it was a scarab, but maybe not. I also read that in Greek the same word means both "scarab" and "crab", but now I can't remember what the word is.
Several sources, from Madame Blavatsky up to now, have described it as a scarab so you're not alone - whatever, scarab or crab, here it represents cancer, not the sun
What would be of particular interest would be Aquariuses with 2 jugs in ancient times outside of Egypt, in particular in the western parts of the Roman Empire, which could serve as a model for the Western European ones with two jugs later. Also, it would be of interest to know whether there are fishes/fishtails with any of the Aquariuses.. So far all there is, is the Spanish one, with one fish in the right place to have been derived from Dendera, and the Cary Sheet's two fishtails.
There are plenty of examples, but outside of the Spanish one those I have seen have one urn, not two -
Do you happen to have a link to Yates' review of Dummett's book, I mean the whole thing and not just the first 3 pages, or a copy of the essay itself?
Sorry, no - I have read the whole thing on the internet before, so it was free at one time - unfortunately did not save it (and/or if I did, it would have been on my lost computers)

From Hindu Temple at Jaipur - not ancient however, 18th century:

While the two urn version may stem original from Babylonian, Greaco-Egyptian soures, we have western examples from 11th , 13th and 14th centuries and a seeming increase in popularity of such from the 15th and 16th centuries in the West - so our tarot card maker is drawing upon what had become an existing westernized iconographic class, no evidence of a direct, informed and intentional drawing from Egyptian sources - Gemini as couple was also common, we cannot draw a direct connection - while rarer, there are also existing western examples of aquarius as female too, no direct sourcing from Egypt required (and I am not sure but I don't think Hapi was known, only the Greek identification of Ganymede as Nile river-god) - and then there is the question of whether or not there are any fish in the CY at all, not just an illusion of such from what are actually inlets or crevices -
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

The scarab is a solar symbol, according to Horapollo, independently of whether it is also a Greco-Egyptian sign of Cancer Also, we have to remember that the Renaissance had only the Greek descriptions to go on, linking them up with whatever images from easily accessible monumens travelers brought back. At Hieroglyphica I, 10 he says there are three types of scarab (Boas uses the word "beetle" to translate the Greek "karabos"). Of the first type he says:
And there are three forms of beetle. The first, catlike, with rays coming from it, which they use as a symbol of the sun. For they say that the male cat changes its pupils with the course of the sun. For they widen out towards morning with the rising of the god. And they become round like a ball at noon, and they appear somewhat faint as the sun is about to set. Wherefore in Heliopolis the statue of the god is in the form of a cat. And every beetle has thirty claws, because of the thirty days of the month, in which the sun, as it rises, runs its course.
The other two types of beetle are described as "two horned and bull shaped" and "one horned and like an ibis". I think we can ignore those and concentrate on the first. By "cat-like" the only thing I can imagine consistent with the rest is a cat's whiskers, radiating outward from its face like the rays of the sun, and maybe its eyes. The Dendera beetle has lots of claws and is round like the sun. Close enough.

So I take back what I said earlier about its not being a scarab. I I forgot momentarily that we have to see Egypt with pre-18th century eyes, and from that perspective, the karabos of Horapollo, fits well enough. Its being Cancer, assuming they would have realized this, does not disqualify it from being solar as well. In Horapollo's account it has a lunar aspect as well: it takes 28 days to come to birth, and the day of birth "it considers this day to be the conjunction of the moon and the sun".

Wiktionary says that the same word, karabos, was used for both the scarab and "a kind of crustacean, probably a crayfish" in Greek ( ... ient_Greek). But again, in the Renaissance the word would not have been understood so precisely. Our word Scarab derives from Karabos via Latin, according to Wiktionary.

That Dendera was known by 1500 is a hypothesis to explain the surge in popularity of two urns and an androgynous figure in the 15th-16th centuries, just at a time Egypt was expanding its trade with the West. Also, the big star itself suggests Sirius, surely the most important star for the Egyptians. Also it fits with other apparent similarities between various cards of the tarot of the time (e.g. the Leber/Rouen of the Star card, but also cards of other subjects) and the site at Dendera. That's all I claim for it. "No evidence" is a relative term. The facts a hypothesis is designed to explain are the evidence for it. I admit that there isn't much evidence, and what there is, is ambiguous. Evidence gets destroyed over time, and we lose the context. For example, there was a historian in Bologna of the 16th or 17th century (I assume) who wrote a theory about the tarot's origin as a narrative about Guelfs and Guibellines. I can't even find that historian's name on the Internet, except that one citation, much less any of his writings. All I have is a series of coincidences in the tarot that seem to need explaining. Egypt is one reasonable possibility among others. For example, until I saw the fish at Dendera, my explanation for the fishtails was that they allude to what Venus and Cupid changed themselves into, in the Euphrates, in order to escape the Typhon of Greek mythology. That is still a possibility . Crevices are another, although there are usually more than two such crevices, and not nearly as long, in most depictions of crevices at the bottom of a Renaissance image. But there really aren't a lot of such hypotheses. They don't go on ad infinitum.

I hadn't seen the identification of Ganymede with the Nile in the Greek sources about Egypt that I was using. Are they definitely ones that were available by 1500? According to what I read on the Internet about the Hapi, his identification with the Nile had pretty much died out by the times the Greeks became interested, replaced by Osiris, who is surely not on the card. There was also the god Nilus, in numerous statues, none of which are a bit like the Star card. But given the urns, we are talking about the sources of the Nile, the "tears of Isis", as Pausanias had put it (another source identified by de Gebelin, although in relation to the Moon, with the droplets coming down). There is also the "grotto of the nymphs" of Porphyry, with two urns instead of two doors. That fits the scene that Andrea shows, in his essay on the Star card, from the 1520s Room of Psyche at the Palaccio Te, where--I think--one set of urns is the source of the River Lethe and the other the Lake of Mnemosyne. Still not many hypotheses. The Egyptian is one.

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

The ancient roman fragment here has 8-legged 'beetle' (of the Dodekaros) and (part of) crab: ... e=00048320


The scarab being one of the Dodekaoros -- on the 'Planisphaerium Bianchini' (or 'Tabula Bianchini') see for example: ... 11-14.html
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

Very interesting links, Steve. What I get from the long write-up in the second one is that Greco- Egyptian astrology, including its zodiac, had very little influence in Western Europe until the late Middle Ages, when Arab-Muslim astrology came into Western Europe. (This does not to deny that there was some notice of it in Italy, given the Rome 1704 discovery mentioned. But the Roman-era fragment of your first link was found in Cairo in 1904 and is presumed to be of Eastern Mediterranean provenance. ) Since alchemical texts were coming in from that same civilization around the same time and were associated with Egypt in particular (and Hermes Trismegistus even more particularly), it seems to me likely that the non-Greco-Roman zodiacal signs would have been associated with Egypt, too. But I don't know what was said, if anything. These texts would then have provided the image we start seeing in 11th century Spain. But for what they were seeing, e.g. a crab/crayfish vs. a scarab, they would look wherever they could, such as in Horapollo, providing they thought the images were of Egyptian origin.

An associated question would be whether the Renaissance saw the decans as Egyptian in origin. I don't know the answer, One clue might be to see if the texts listing the decans gave recognizably Egyptian names, e.g. Sothis as the first decan of Cancer. I know they did later, but where the later lists got those names from I don't know.

Re: Egypt: pre-1557 other cards

There are a few other pre-1557 cards I want to comment on from the Egyptian perspective.

First, why did the Hermit card discard his hourglass for a lantern? One reasonable possibility: to suggest someone with knowledge otherwise hidden as though by darkness, someone who can illuminate things, perhaps in the course of a night-time initiation. Such an implication might be inspired by a couple of comments in Apuleius. Describing the procession to the seashore by the devotees of Isis, he mentions that "The first priest held high a blazing lamp" (Lindsey trans. p. 241). The lamp is not like the one on the card,--it is a long bowl with a candle in the middle--but a lamp is a lamp; here is no attempt this early to make things look Egyptian. Also, in the initiation into the mysteries of Isis Apuleius says "At midnight I saw the Sun in all his glory" (p. 249) suggesting a nocturnal initiation.

Second, there seem to be definite allusions to Egypt in the early Death cards, allusions that did not survive the 15th century. The figure of Death is not a skeleton but has dark, fleshy matter between the ribs and elsewhere, suggesting mummified flesh. Also, the strips of white cloth blowing in the wind to one side of these figures suggests the strips of cloth with which mummies were bound. European corpses were not so wrapped; they were covered with simple garments (shrouds) or wrapped in sheets that extended the length of the body ("winding sheets"). Mummies were imported into Europe from Egypt even before the 15th century, because the embalmed bodies were thought to be of medicinal value.

Third, there is the resemblance Robert O'Neill noticed between the depiction of Isis in the Borgia apartments and the Cary Sheet Popess card (unless it is an effeminate Pope). It is not only the Popess herself that has the resemblance, but also her acolyte, who bears a distinct resemblance to the figure of Trismegistus, below Isis on our right. The effect works best when the card is reversed right to left, as I have done, corresponding to how the woodblock would have been chiseled
The man on the other side of Isis is Moses. Assuming the Cary Sheet is from Milanese, the connection between Borgia and his financial backers the Sforzas at that time is well known.

The other correspondences I want to call attention to are details that I do not propose might have been introduced to promote an Egyptian interpretation, but they do all the same fit the Greek writings and other ancient references to Egypt readily enough, for someone who wants to imagine them, or use them as reminders of the wisdom contained in Egyptian mythology.
There is the shield on the lap of the Empress, with its eagle, a constant in the Milanese-based tradition. The eagle of course represents the Holy Roman Empire and particularly the Duchy of Milan's relationship to that Empire. But the eagle in Western Europe has its corresponding bird in Egypt as the hawk. Just as the eagle has the unique ability to stare at the sun in Western Europe, so the hawk in Egypt has the ability to fly straight up--i.e., into the sun--for Horapollo. Here is Horapollo (in this context, Ares is Horus; I am not sure who Aphrodite is, perhaps Hathor or Isis:
When they wish to symbolize a god, or something sublime ..., or superiority, or victory, or Ares, or Aphrodite, they draw a hawk. A god, because the hawk is fecund or long-lived. And again, since it seems to exist as a symbol of the sun, beyond all other birds in the sharpness of its sight, because of the rays of its eyes. ...And since the sun is the lord of sight, they draw him sometimes in the shape of of a hawk. And sublime things, since the other birds, when they wish to fly upwards, proceed on a slant, it being impossible for them to rise directly. Only the hawk flies straight upwards. ...And superiority, because they seem to be superior to all the other birds. ... And victory, because this bird seems to conquer every other...
Similarly the eagle, the "bird of Jove" (Lucan and many others), is called "king of birds" (Guillaume le Clerc, 13th century). Moreover (St. Anthony of Padua, 13th century, with other quotations like it at
The eagle is so called from the acuteness of its sight, because she can behold the sun with unflinching eyes. Wherefore it is said concerning it in books of natural history, that she is of very sharp sight, and compels her young ones to look at the sun before they are fully fledged. To this end she strikes them and turns them towards the sun, and, if the eyes of any one of them water, she kills him, and pays attention to the others.

If the hawkcan fly straight up, that would suggest that it can look into the sun, the ability attributed to the eagle north of the Mediterranean. The "rays" in his eyes even make Horapollo's hawk a kind of little sun himself.

Moreover, just as the Christ Child, the future King of Kings, sits on his mother's lap in countless paintings of the 15th century, so Horus, whose bird is the hawk, or the Pharaoh sits on Isis's lap in the ancient imagery, in coins and statuettes. This association was made later by Papus, who associated the card with Horus. Given the fascination with ancient Egypt not only in Papus's day but also in mid-15th century Italy, there is no reason why this association would not have been made then as well.,
This identification of the eagle with Horus would carry over to the Emperor card, who also has an eagle on his shield, or sometimes his hat.

On the Pope card, I have already mentioned the three-tiered crown, which ieadily enough identifies him with Trismegistus. The "Charles VI" Pope has an earlier style of crown, which the artist of the pavement stone at Siena put on the Egyptian sage himself.
Next, there is the Love card. While there was no Cupid in Egypt, Horus, specifically in his child form as Harpocrates, was a hawk-god and was in Cartari 1647 depicted as winged, next to his parents Isis and Osiris.

And while the lady on the early hand-painted Chariots does not fit any episode in Isis's life, the card's masculine form, present in the Cary Sheet (below 2nd left, with the Cary-Yale far left, and the Noblet, 3rd from left) and earlier in the Charles VI (far right), does fit Osiris, returning home after his travels throughout the world with "presents from every quarter" as Diodorus related.
Diodorus's Osiris, having successfully civilized the world by means of his invention of agriculture, to the benefit and gratitude of all, enjoys a triumphant return:
On his return to Egypt he brought with him the very greatest presents from every quarter and by reason of the magnitude of his benefactions received the gift of immortality with the approval of all men and honour equal to that offered to the gods of heaven.
Unlike similar travels of Alexander, promoting Greek methods of agriculture, and Julius Caesar, promoting Roman law and technology, Diodorus does not present Osiris as embarking on conquests:
Osiris was not warlike, nor did he have to organize pitched battles or engagements, since every people received him as a god because of his benefactions.
Diodorus does, however, mention one instance of violence:
In Thrace he slew Lycurgus, the king of the barbarians, who opposed his undertaking
Osiris left one of his own men there, to supervise the agricultural innovations. Diodorus does not say whether this man also ruled over Thrace. So in some ways Osiris is the Egyptian Dionysus, whose victory hymn was the Thrambos, from which "Triumph" is derived.

That a lion should be part of the depiction of Strength (Fortitudo), as opposed to a column , or a lady holding a sword and shield, or Hercules with his lion skin but no actual lion, fits Horapollo's definition of that image.. He said (Boas trans. 56-5)
...when they wish to symbolize spiritedness, they draw a lion. For this animal has a large head. And it has fiery eyes, and its forehead is spherical, and its mane radiates from about it, in imitation of the sun.
...To indicate strength, they draw the forequarters of a lion, because these parts of his body are the strongest.
...To indicate that one is wide awake and on guard, they draw the head of a lion...
...To symbolize fear they use the same sign...
...To symbolize the rising of the Nile, ...they draw a lion ...since when the sun enters Leo, it produces a great rise in the Nile.
In the latter sense, the lady could be taming the Nile by means of artificial lakes, ponds, and canals to take the excess water.

The earliest known Hanged Man did not have notches on the poles. But the "Charles VI" did, albeit barely visible, and in the Tarot de Marseille they were even painted red. As others have noted, these can easily represent the "members of Osiris' lopped off by Seth and his co-conspirators, for those who wanted to find an association in his legend. Admittedly the numbers of pieces does not correspond to the numbers of lopped branches--the "Charles VI" seems to have 11, making the Hanged man 12, i.e. the traitor Judas, the 12th disciple--but I am not positing any causal relationship to the card as effect. I give the relevant quotes from Greek sources below the images.
There are two cards for which the links to Egypt are very meager indeed, namely the Fool and Temperance. For the Fool all there is, is the three-tiered hat or pack on his back on the Cary Sheet, which might suggest Trismegistus, and the horn-like things on his hat, which identify him as a Fool but also associate him with a bull, such as the Apis bull, an aspect of Osiris. On the Temperance card, almost invariably showing a lady or angel pouring from one vessel to another, Exce[t for the Dodal c. 1700 bare=breasted angel, I cannot associate anything in Egypt to the image, except possibly the preparation of the fluids used in embalming, thus with the meaning of conferring immortality, like the mixing of water with wine in the Eucharist. The Egyptians, and also the Greco-Egyptians, practiced embalming for that purpose, thinking the the material form is needed to retain an individual identity.. However I have not seen an embalming depiction with someone pouring from one vessel to another. Othersie, there is only the virtue itself, as an idea, which is mentioned in the Corpus Hermeticum, and perhaps is implicit in Diodorus's statement (I.14.3, at ... s/1A*.html) that
Isis also established laws, they say, in accordance with which the people regularly dispense justice to one another and are led to refrain through fear of punishment from illegal violence and insolence; ...
Violence and insolence are examples of Intemperance. In this regard it didn't help that her husband showed the people how to make wine and beer. However these inventions do break down people's rigidity, the other extreme, in moderate amounts.

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

A kind soul sent me a copy of Yates' review of Dummett's Game of Tarot, from the New York Review of Books in Feb. 1981. In essence she is saying that she finds Dummett's argument that the deck's only documented use, before de Gebelin, is as a game thereby precludes occult symbolism before him, unconvincing even though she confirms that "tarot is never mentioned in the Renaissance occult tradition". (Actually, Giordano Bruno did mention it, but only as a game; he puts into the mouth of a scoundrel that he doesn't play it because he has a rotten memory. See Andrea's essay on Bruno.) Her main argument for why Dummett is unconvincing is that the Renaissance had a fascination with what she calls "pseudo-Egyptian hieroglyphs", that is, pictures containing hidden sacred meaning hidden from the general public but recognizable by the wise. In this regard she finds de Gebelin to be in touch with that way of seeing images, and also the particular way of seeing them in terms of the prisca theologia, the universal ancient religion, and the anticipations of Christianity in paganism..

It seems to me that Dummett in 1996 modified his views somewhat from 1980, in a passage I love to quote about the Renaissance's love for secret symbolism. DDD (for Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett) say, pp. 33-4 of Wicked Pack, and here I quote the whole paragraph, omitting only the first, which is a transition from the previous paragraph, as I do not want to be accused of quoting out of context (however that context does not include what he wrote in 1980) :
There is no questioning the symbolic character of the images on the Tarot trumps. If you represent the virtue of justice as a woman holding a sword and a pair of scales, you are making heavy use of symbolism. This is exoteric symbolism. It happens to be an instance in which the symbolism has remained familiar to us, but symbolism embodied in others of the Tarot trumps would have been equally familiar to Italians of the Renaissance. The only question open to dispute is whether there is esoteric symbolism as well: symbolism intelligible only to those instructed in astrology or other arcane subjects. It is intrinsically plausible that there should have been such symbolism in a special pack of cards invented at that time and in that milieu. People of the Renaissance reveled in hidden symbolism, and the occult sciences enjoyed greater prestige in the Christian world than at any other time before or since. Any theory to this effect must pass a severe test, however. It must depend, not on any direct evidence that can be cited, but on the intrinsic plausibility that of the particular interpretation proposed, which must draw on nothing that was not available at that time and place. But it ought not to be too plausible; it cannot be anything which, if present, would leap to the eye of a man of the Renaissance looking at the cards. The reason is that, if the trump sequence was designed in accordance with any esoteric symbolism, this fact was very quickly and generally overlooked. None of the XV and XVI-century sources so much as hints at such a thing, and the absence of such a hint from some of these sources would be very surprising if their authors had had any inkling that any such symbolism was there to be found. This applies to the sermon in which Tarot, together with other card and dice games, was denounced as an invention of the devil; the preacher would not have lost such an opportunity to reinforce his point. It applies equally to Lollio's Invettiva, in which both the game and the cards are ridiculed; the poet, likewise, would not have lost so good an opportunity to ridicule the cards still further, instead of saying somewhat lamely that their inventor must have been drunk.
They are leaving the door open to interpretations that pass their test, even if they probably think (exept Decker, I'd guess) that nobody would be able to come up with such a set of interpretations, using only sources known at the time in question. This is emphasized again on p. 43, in the context of introducing their account of the exoteric meanings of the cards:
The presence of this exoteric symbolism in no way rules out that of a deeper level of esoteric symbolism needing specialized knowledge, not possessed by all educated people of that time, to discern; a surface meaning often coexists with another buried beneath it.
Being predisposed to Yates' view from my own reading on the Renaissance, I can't resist trying to meet the challenge.

The question, then, is do my references pass DDD's test (in bold above)? Well, not exactly. The test is a bit too severe. I don't say that the tarot sequence was designed with a certain set of interpretations in mind. It is rather that details were added to some of the cards, and more over time, that suggested various classical references, including ones to Egypt, plus details even in the early cards that could be seen in the light of such references, whether or not they were put in deliberately. At seems to me that the references I have cited are not such that a preacher would be likely to refer to them in his diatribes against the cards. They are indeed not obvious, and referring to them would be opening up a can of worms, as well as being rather obscure to his audience. Moreover, someone could reply that they are merely anticipations of the Christian message, which is also on the cards, and so his diatribe would be in danger of backfiring. At the same time, these details would be known by those with classical educations who were influential on governments, making them disposed to allow the game on educational grounds in addition to the grounds that skill as much as luck was required.

But DDD here have given a good reason why the references would not have been obvious on their face. They do need to be non-obvious, so as not to provide the preachers with something simple for showing that the cards are a reflection of pagan demon-worship. That is also a reason for not writing about them as referring to ancient Egypt--it is important not to give the preachers simple, direct, easy to understand ammunition. It is only with the rise of Egyptianizing French Freemasonry and the influence of its members on the monarchy (Gebelin was one of the royal censors) that it was possible to speak plainly in such terms. And of course he got it mostly wrong, thinking from what he saw that the cards must have come from Egypt, not realizing that details can be added to a series of pictures that at least originally had nothing to do with Egypt, except perhaps their mummies.

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

This 18th century Minchiate with Medici arms, has a sort of male looking sphinx looking in a mirror: ... id=3058908

[The four of cups I think would usually show a monkey looking in a mirror? Perhaps this 'sphinx' is an ill-drawn baboon!]
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

It would appear that in the 18th century both female and male sphinxes would have been associated with Egypt. It customarily appeared in the corner of a statue of the god Nilus, obviously an Egyptian deity, e.g. at Hadrian's Villa (my 2014 photo)
There are many other images on the Web of Nilus similarly accompanied, with no visible breasts and hence male,; e.g. scroll down at, for one in the Piazzetta Nilo in Naples, or ... r_Nile.jpg.

But there is also this one, in the Vatican Museum (my 2014 photo in its current situ, surrounded by other relics of Egypt or Egyptianate Rome). Presumably it is of ancient origin, probably Roman.
These made good fountain statues, apparently. Here the woman, although not Aquarius, could easily have been associated with that sign in medieval or Renaissance times, as well as with Isis.

Re: Egypt in the pre-Gebelin tarot

Since I appear to be defending Yates against Dummett, I should probably say where I don’t think Yates got it right, about the tarot as hieroglyphs. Here is what she says about the Moon card.
The image called "Luna" shows two little doglike animals gazing at the moon: below them, an object rather like a crayfish crawls out of the water. Geblin offers some explanation of this image which he says is reported by Clement of Alexandria. The two dogs are, according to the Egyptians, guardians of the tropics, placed there to prevent the stars from wandering; the crayfish is the sign of the zodiac, Cancer, and refers to the inundations of the Nile, which occur when the sun and the moon leave that sign. This is exactly the kind of abstruse information provided by the pseudo-Egyptian hieroglyph, which always has a further reference to Egyptian teachings on the divine. In the Horapollo type of Egyptian hieroglyphic, dogs are prominent, with the general meaning of "sacred letters." though 1 have not found the Tarot image of Luna either in Horapollo or in Valeriano’s Hieroglyphica, the Renaissance encyclopedia on the subject. which Gebelin mentions. However there can be no doubt that the "Luna" Tarot image is what the Renaissance called a hieroglyph, a conveyor of Egyptian wisdom.
I do not wish to defend Yates here; her account is not nuanced enough. First, in the Renaissance a hieroglyph was not necessarily “a conveyor of Egyptian wisdom”. There were probably different ideas about what a hieroglyph was. In part their conceptions came from what their classical authors said about hieroglyphs; Boas, after his translation of Horapollo, has a bunch of quotations from them. Then there were the humanists themselves. For Alberti, rather famously, it was an enigmatic image conveying by means of a picture something sacred that could not quite be fully put into words, which the wise would understand and not the common folk. It was not necessarily Egyptian, or meant to be Egyptian. People in the 15th century were not even sure if the obelisks in Rome were Egyptian; they assumed they were Roman. By the same token, people could create hieroglyphs of their own and take credit for them, e.g. Alberti in his essay “Rings”. I think Pisanello’s 1430s medallions, some of which Alberti suggested, might count as hieroglyphs. They merge with what was called "emblemata" and "impresa". I would imagine that they even considered heraldics, i.e. the Visconti viper, with its red man in its mouth, as examples of hieroglyphs. How the 15th century understood hieroglyphs is discussed in some detail on THF in the thread "The Fifteenth Century Understanding of Hieroglyphs", starting at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=603&p=8820. It was a while back, so I will try to add to it here, specifically in relation to Yates.

The Anonymous Discourse of c. 1570 speaks of the tarot as hieroglyphs but mentions Egypt only once, in an anecdote about Antony and Cleopatra in relation to the Love card; even then, it is about love, not about the card. Here footnote 25 to that essay in Explaining the Tarot, ed. by Caldwell, Depaulis, and Ponzi, is on the right track but still misleading. They write (p. 67):
25, The term hieroglifice is used here as meaning “sacred and enigmatic images”. Egyptian hieroglyphs were the object of an extreme curiosity by Renaissance humanists. Re-discovered in 1422 the 5th century treatise Hieroglphica by one “Horapollo’ (Or Horus Apollo) was first printed in 1505 and reprinted many times in the following years, including an Italian translation (Oro Apolline Niliaco, Delli signi hierogliphici, Vence, 1547). Before their deciphering by Champollion (1822), hieroglyphs were thought to be an ancient symbolic language whose moral content anticipated the Christian message.
“Sacred and enigmatic image” is good. But two misleading things follow. First, one did not have to have a copy of Horapollo’s printed text to know what a hieroglyph was. That work circulated quickly in manuscript in all the cities of the early tarot. Alberti surely had it, and Filelfo in Milan as well, because of a citation of an image in it by Filarete in his book on architecture, which he said he got from his friend Filelfo. From these humanists others would have known about the book and its contents by word of mouth. Moreover, other ancient writers talked about hieroglyphs, notably Herodotus, Plutarch and Diodorus, in the works I have been citing, and in Latin there were Apuleius, in the famous Book XI of his Metamorphoses, printed 1469, and Ammianus Marcellinus (XVII, 4, 8-11), printed 1474 (

By the 16th century, probably the most authoritative account of hieroglyphs, because of its author, was that of Plotinus (quoted in Wittkower, "Hieroglyphics in the Early Renaissance,” p. 116 of his Allegory and the Migration of Symbols.)::
The Egyptian sages...drew pictures and carved one picture for each thing in their temples, thus making manifest the description of that thing. Thus each picture was a kind of understanding and wisdom and substance and given all at once, and not discursive reasoning and deliberation.
This definition does not restrict hieroglyphs to Egypt, however.

The other misleading thing in footnote 25 is that to say something is a hieroglyph was not, in those years, to say it was an ancient symbol. If a hieroglyphs are "sacred and enigmatic images" they do not have to be ancient. However since "wisdom" and "ancient" went together--if something was wise, it was probably also ancient--people did justify the imagery they classified as "hieroglyphs" by referring to ancient sources, and not only those about Egypt but ancient sources generally. Valeriano has many examples where he doesn't use the word "Egypt" at all, as does the author of the Anonymous Discourse. And even when Valeriano does refer to Egypt, it is never to actual hieroglyphs as seen on the obelisks in Rome, but rather to images as described in words in ancient sources (none Egyptian), for which his illustrator creates pictures without any attempt to make them look like what they knew from the obelisks.

I found an edition of Valierano online, ... &q&f=false. Peruse it yourself. It is rather late, 1685, so I don't know how old the illustrations (i.e. illustrations of the "hieroglyphs") are.

But the ancient sources, when explaining what hieroglyphs were, almost invariably referred to Egypt as using them. Egypt was also considered a main source of ancient wisdom. Egypt’s endurance over the millennia testified to its wisdom. Yet a hieroglyph was not necessarily a piece of wisdom. Horapollo’s sometimes are couched in terms of wisdom and sometimes not; however they are very much associated with Egypt, by all the ancient writers who talked about them. Some people might have assumed that hieroglyphs were necessarily Egyptian, but most wouldn’t. There’s room for different ideas, no set definition of “hieroglyph”, and no set group of sources. Also, we are not just dealing with the Renaissance; as I see it imagery relating to Egypt was added to the tarot over time, all the way up to the 1760s, and more later than earlier.

Regarding the dogs on the Moon card, de Gebelin is interpreting them in terms of an ancient source about Egypt. And what he says about the dogs makes sense in relation to the other imagery on the card, in relation to the Isis legend and also the inundation of the Nile.

De Gebelin, in referring to the dogs as representing the Tropics, has not offered a piece of wisdom in the sense of something useful for life; it is merely a metaphor for an astronomical truth. Perhaps something useful could be gleaned from it. If the dogs represent the instinctual, for example, it might mean that it is OK to take risks and go into dangerous areas, if you listen to warnings from your own instincts and other signs and people. In the sky the tropics do that for the sun and moon.

Wikipedia in its article on Valeriano,, gives a dog below the moon as its main example. It is his hieroglyph for "Adoratio", which shows a dog with its forelegs raised toward the moon,
Wikipedia does not say what edition the image comes from; I cannot find it, or even a reference to dogs (cane) in the entry for "adoratio" in the edition I linked to earlier. Perhaps those who know Latin will have better luck.

[Added next day: I found it at last, in the original 1556 edition,, p. 46. It is supposed to be a Cynocephalus. Looking up that term in Wikipedia (, I see the following, besides the sense of "dog-headed man":
The Greek word (Greek: κῠνοκέφᾰλοι) "dog-head" also identified a sacred Egyptian baboon with the face of a dog.

They give no reference. Perhaps one is not needed, but how did "dog-head" become "baboon"? Looking in Horapollo, I see that he has much to say about this baboon, which Boas says in his index is his translation for the Greek "cynocephalus" In I-14 he talks about the cynocephalus as sacred to the moon and engaging in various behaviors indicative of their honor to that goddess. Then in I-15 he continues:
When they wish to signify the rising of the moon, they draw a baboon again, but in this way: standing with its hands raised to heaven and a crown on its head. This figure they mean to represent moonrise, for the baboon is represented, so to speak, as if praying to the goddess. For both share in light.
Boas in a footnote adds that the figure of a baboon in this position appears in the Bembine Tablet, and that Lorenzo Pignoria in in his 1604 book on that tablet translated that image, with Horapollo as his authority, as an Egyptian hieroglyph meaning "moon rise". Another image of a baboon he translates as "filial devotion". The illustration in Valierano, however, has no features suggestive of a baboon rather than a dog that I can see. I will discuss this further in another post, with more pictures. End of addition.]

How dogs helped Isis find the body parts of Osiris would be an example of such adoring service (even if they are not shown so on the card). Of course dogs are well known for adoring their masters, a major reason why people have them as pets today. They also are good at finding dead bodies, at least in the detective dramas on TV.

De Gebelin could have used other classical references about dogs besides that of the Tropics, but many of them don’t really fit the card. Some that do aren’t Egyptian, so I’ve ignored them. Horapollo does talk about dogs at 1-39; he says:
Again, when they wish to indicate a sacred scribe, or a prophet, or an embalmer, or the spleen, or odour, or laughter, or sneezing, or rule, or a judge, they draw a dog.
Yates says “sacred letters”; but what follows makes it clear that he means “scribe”. He goes on to explain each of these meanings. I suppose some could be dragged into service, but I didn’t find them useful. It is like with homonyms in spoken language; some meanings are excluded because they don’t fit the context.

As far as finding the tarot image of Luna in Horapollo, no, that particular image, with the dogs etc., is a product of the late 17th century. That combination is 17th century. But to get the meaning you have to understand the parts and their relationship, and the parts can be ancient. In the context of the rest of the cards, Luna as Isis is justified by the citations I gave in discussing the Popess.

Horapollo does give a meaning for a picture of the moon; in I-4 he says that it represents a month, if its horns are downward. About the full moon he says nothing. He says nothing about any crayfish. He does speak of the crab as a hieroglyph:
When they wish to indicate a father or a man careless of his welfare, but who is provided by his household, they draw an oyster and a crab. For the crab remains stuck to the shell of the oyster and is called an oyster-guard for this reason. Accordingly, the oyster opens wide in its shell when it is hungry. When it has opened up to let in a tiny fish, the oyster crab pinches the oyster with its claws, feeling which the oyster closes its shell and thus catches the little fish.
He is saying of the crab that it lives with the oyster and pinches it when the oyster has a fish in its mouth, thereby enabling the oyster to capture the fish. That would work for a crayfish as much as a crab (with certain dubious zoological assumptions). For Horapollo it is a metaphor for a foolish man (the oyster) who is cared for by his household (the crab). I cannot relate that metaphor to the card, or the zodiacal sign, and I see nothing equivalent to the oyster to which the crab might attach.

Horapollo says nothing about zodiacal signs that I can find, but the Egyptians would have been thought to have had standard astrology, and the rising of the dog-star is precisely at the beginning of the month ruled by Cancer and the moon, also the beginning of the inundation. The inundation can be frightening and one must be on guard against it, so as to reap its benefits, for example creating artificial lakes. That works nicely.

There is wisdom in hieroglyphs all over the place, if you know how to find, or imagine, it. No Rosetta stone is needed.

So while it is true that that Gebelin’s interpretations of the tarot cards as Egyptian images (even hieroglyphs, as de Mellet and calls them) are “spurious” and without any basis “at all”, as Dummett says ( ... -of-tarot/), in seeing them as hieroglyphs, in the Renaissance sense--even though it is de Mellet and not Gebelin who uses the term—Gebelin is on firmer ground. Gebelin’s interpretation of the dogs, as part of a hieroglyph in that sense, is not without any basis, because (a) there are indeed dogs on the Moon card, and (b) Clement of Alexandria did say what Gebelin says he says. As a proposed interpretation, i.e. solution to the enigma of the dogs (hieroglyphs as enigmas), within an Egyptian context, no further foundation is needed. In contrast, to say that dogs bark at the moon is not a solution at all, because it is too obvious, if hieroglyphs are enigmatic and hide their meaning from the vulgar. (It is not obvious why a dog would put its forelegs up to the moon, in Valerieno's image.) As a reasonable hypothesis—but not proof--about why the dogs were put there, what Gebelin says is enough of a foundation, since the passage in Clement was well known when the dogs were added. Yet this foundation is not evidence for what Gebelin thinks it is, that the tarot is Egyptian. He has a confused argument, based on a confused notion of what hieroglyphs were thought to be, a confusion that lingers to this day. Hieroglyphs, in the Renaissance sense, were quintessentially ancient Egyptian, but not necessarily Egyptian or even ancient.

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