Wonderful, guys. I especially like that the manuscript was in the Visconti Library (with a Wheel of Fortune, no less). And your link to Celestial Hierarchy
, Marco, which I'd never looked at; also your quote from Augustine.
If the ascent through the spheres is in the course of meditation, the next question is: what would the realms before the pseudo-Dionysian angelic hierarchy be, in the spheres of the elements and planets? I looked in the early sections of "Celestial Hierarchy" in your link, Marco, and this is what I found (Ch. 2 sect. 5; my highlighting):
We shall find the Mystic Theologians enfolding these things not only around the illustrations of the Heavenly Orders, but also, sometimes, around the supremely Divine Revelations Themselves. At one time, indeed, they extol It under exalted imagery as Sun 39 of Righteousness, as Morning 40 Star rising divinely in the mind, and as Light 41 illuming without veil and for contemplation; and at other times, through things in our midst, as Fire 42, shedding its innocuous light; as Water 43, furnishing a fulness of life, and, to speak symbolically, flowing into a belly, and bubbling forth rivers flowing irresistibly; and at other times, from things most remote, as sweet-smelling ointment 44, as Head Corner-stone 45. But they also clothe It in forms of wild beasts, and attach to It identity with a Lion 46, and Panther 47, and say that it shall be a Leopard 48, and a rushing Bear 46.
It seems to me that we have here the Sun, the Star, the Fire, Temperance (Water), and Fortitude (Lion) at least. Sometimes in fact the Lion on the card looks like a bear, e.g. the Noblet. Perhaps the "Light illuming without veil" is the full moon, which otherwise appears as veiled. The related saying of the "Mystic Theologians", from Psellus' edition of the Chaldean Oracles, reads (I get this from Ruth Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles
, logion 147)
If you speak to me often, you will perceive everything in lion-form. For neither does the curved mass of heaven appear then, nor do the stars shine. The light of the moon is hidden, and the earth is not firmly secured, but everything is seen by flashes of lightning.
For the Star, Sun, and Moon cards, pseudo-Dionysus is a better match; he doesn't have the negatives that attach here to the stars and moon. It is also better for that reason than the similar statement in Revelation. But notice the more specific reference to lightning, as opposed to the more general "fire". The Angel card would relate to the angels discussed elsewhere in the chapter. Psellus' edition would have been known by Ficino at least; he translated it into Latin, if it is contained in Psellus' De daemonibus
(Sergius Kodera, "The Concept of Matter in Ficino", in Marsilio Ficino, his Theology, his Philosophy, his Legacy
, p. 302; this page not in Google Books).
As to the availability of ps.-Dionysus at our time and place, according to Lackner, "The Camaldolese Academy", on p. 21 of the same book on Ficino, this page also not in Google Books:
Between 1436 and 1437 Traversari completed his translations of Ps.-Dionysius's Mystical Theology, Divine Names, Ecclesiastical Hierarchies and Celestial Hierarchies.
He cites Stinger, Humanism and the Church Fathers
, p. 65. The autograph is Ms. Laur. Gaddiano LXXXV. Also his Epp. VIIII.36 to Niccoli: "Ego, Nicholae carissime, Dionysium in traducere instituerem plurimorum extorserunt preces."
It is clear that ps.-Dionysus is referring to the Chaldean Oracles. He uses the term "the Mystic Theologians" in the quote above and says specifically that he is citing "the Oracles" several times in the same section. Many of these Oracles were imbedded in the writings of Proclus, which were in the library of Filelfo as well as of a good many other humanists, such as Ficino and Pico. Other Oracles were in an an edition by Plethon that Ficino translated; it seems to have influenced Ficino by the time of the Commentary on the Philibus
, which Allen in the preface to his translation (p. 56) says was written in 1469. Also, John Monfasani, on p. 186 of Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy
, note 27, says,
Michael Allen suggests to me that...we might date Ficino's first serious encounter with Pletho's writings to the mid- or late 1460s.
See also Moshe Idel on p. 151 of the same book. For the details, both 186 and 151 are reproduced in Google Books: go to http://books.google.com/books?id=CX06ds ... 22&f=false
and scroll down.
I would expect that Plethon would have drawn Filelfo's attention to the Oracles while he was still alive, and maybe even sent him a copy of his edition, although none is recorded in his library at his death.
In the edition by Plethon, lines 40-42, the text of the Oracle I quoted from Psellus reads, in Woodhouse's translation (Gemistos Plethon[/i] p. 52, reproduced by me at http://tarotandchaldean.blogspot.com/20 ... rumps.html
If you speak to me often, you will see the word for ever
For then the curved mass of heaven is not visible
The stars do not shine, the light of the moon is veiled,
The earth stands not firm, all things appear as lightning.
Plethon took the Greek for "lion-formed" as the similar word for "word", Woodhouse explains in his comments on Plethon's edition. Ficino and probably others would have had Psellus' version for comparison.
As for the Death card, Death was a standard symbol for the "extinction of a passion" according to Murrin in "Renaissance Allegory from Petrarch to Spencer", (Cambridge Companion to Allegory
p. 165) for example in Petrarch's analysis of the Aeneid
. An instance is Dido's suicide: "shameful pleasure perishes by itself". Murrin continues:
Petrarch's reading of these figures is traditional. Earlier commentators had read Dido's self-cremation in similar fashion. And like his predecessors Petrarch tends to systematize these figures. Both he and Boccaccio are close to a grammar of symbols. High places signify reason: the citadal of Aeolus, Limbo in the Commedia, Reason's tower in the Romance of the Rose. Darkness indicates mental and moral ignorance, and death signifies the extinction of a passion in the soul.
"Extinction of a passion" might also have been symbolized by the Temperance card, especially if Phaeded's analysis of the Alessandro Sforza card, which I agree with, is correct (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=392&start=30#p14581
). It seems to me likely that Death could also symbolize extinction of all
the lower passions. So taking the sequence as mystical ascent, we have a good many tarot cards here.
The influence of ps.-Dionysius in the Renaissance was large. I have mentioned Traversari. I don't know if Filelfo had his works; I find nothing either way in Robin or Hankins. If someone can get me a copy of A. Calderini, "Richerche intorno alla biblioteca e cultura greca di Francesco Filelfo," in Studi italiani di filologia classica
20 (1913), Hankins' source, I'd be eternally in their debt. Hankins says that ps.-Dionysius also influenced Bessarion.
As for Ficino, in his early days he relied on Traversari's translations, Lackner says; later he wrote a commentary on ps.-Dionysius and translated two of his works. And there is my favorite quote from Ficino, from the preface to Platonic Theology
, which invokes ps.-Dionysus, as translated by Wind (Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance
p. 62; my highlighting):
The spirit of the god Dionysus,' Ficino explained, 'was believed the ancient theologians and Platonists to be the ecstasy and abandon of disencumbered minds, when partly by innate love, partly at the instigation of the god, they transgress the natural limits of intelligence and are miraculously transformed into the beloved god himself: where, inebriated by a certain new draft of nectar and by an immeasurable joy, they rage, as it were, in a bacchic frenzy (ubi novo quodam nectaris haustu, et inexistimabili gaudio velut ebrie, ut ita dixerim, debacchantur). In the drunkenness of this Dionysiac wine our Dionysius expresses his exultation. He pours forth enigmas, he sings in dithyrambs...To penetrate the profundity of his meanings...to imitate his quasi-Orphic manner of speech (quasi Orphicum dicendi characterem)..., we too require the divine fury. And by the same prayer let us implore the Trinity that the light which God infused into Dionysius, in answer to his pious wish that he might penetrate the mysteries of the prophets and the apostles, that the same may also be infused into us, who make a similar supplication.'
I like how he cites Bacchus and the Trinity in almost the same breath. As I say, Ficino also translated Plethon's edition of the Oracles, his commentaries on it, and Psellus.
As it happens, I have recently been correlating Oracles with cards, just to see if it could be done, and also checking to see if those particular Oracles were imbedded in works that were known in the 15th century. You can read my results at http://tarotandchaldean.blogspot.com/
, the first part of chapter 1 (to my prompt in bold) and all of chapter 3. The best matches are indeed for the cards I have just indicated (Fortitude, Death, Temperance, Devil, Fire, Star, Moon, Sun, Angel; interestingly, these include 5 of the 6 second artist cards of the PMB.) For the sources for the Oracles, go to the Appendix at my site; but the ones in Plethon are at the beginning of chapter 2. All of the ones I used would have been known then except perhaps the one for the Chariot card. There were other Platonic sources for that.
But as I say, the matches to pseudo-Dionysus for some of these cards are closer. A card-designer might have correlated Pseudo-Dionysius with Plethon, Psellus, and Proclus, just as I have done, and surely would have noticed the similarity to Revelation.
The rest of that paragraph that I quoted from ps.-Dionysius is also relevant to the tarot, I think. The next sentence gives what I think is a good justification for non-obvious meanings in its images.
Thus do all the godly-wise, and interpreters of the secret inspiration, separate the holy of holies 51 from the uninitiated and the unholy, to keep them undefined, and prefer the dissimilar description of holy things, so that Divine things should neither be easily reached by the profane, nor those who diligently contemplate the Divine imagery rest in the types as though they were true; and so Divine things should be honoured by the true negations, and by comparisons with the lowest things, which are diverse from their proper resemblance.
By "true negations" I don't think he just means negative theology (which could also be called the method of trumping), but also ascent by means of grasping both sides of a contradiction, Cusa's coincidentia oppositorum
. It is the mystical approach to the divine, to get beyond language. So I look for contradictory interpretations of the same image, e.g. the Bagat as one of "the lowest things" and also the highest.
Chapter 15 also has a lot of stuff relevant to the tarot, I think: more on the lion-form, and material on the eagle, the horse (of the Vieville Sun card and of course the Chariot card), chariots, wheels, and the sun-burst on the Love card (seen as early as the Rosenwald). I am certainly sold on this text as a probable source for the early tarot, at least by the time of the Cary Sheet.