I want to follow up on one "crackpot theory" mentioned in this thread, Daimonax's (see viewtopic.php?f=12&t=216&start=40#p4295
.) I'd like to generate more discussion of some of it. Not much happened on the "Greek gods" thread on Aeclectic that Robert mentioned. So I've tried again, in shorter presentations than I did there on the Star, this time on the Fool (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&start=20#p6495
) and the Magician (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=384&start=20#p6461
). I want to talk in more general terms here.
I don't think we should completely disregard what Daimonax says. (There is also the "Pythagorean Tarot" website; but it isn't referring directly to the Marseille or making historical claims, so I will will disregard it.) I think Daimonax's Dionysian-Mysteries approach to the trumps can be partially rehabilitated. The main problem is that it assumes a continuous transmission, via theatarical troupes, from ancient times to the Renaissance of numerous images (much of it unknown in the 15th-17th centuries), which then got transferred, along with an understanding of that imagery, into the tarot. All that is not only implausible but totally unnecessary.
The tarot changed its look over time. The earliest surviving cards reflect the art and life of 15th century Christian Italy; the cards then probably were seen as portraying the stages of life and the afterlife, in the manner of Petrarch's Trionfi
. But there was more to the world-view of the Renaissance; it didn't stop there. Pico and Ficino drew parallels among Christianity, the Orphic Hymns, Hermes Trismegistus, Kabbalah, Egyptian religion, etc, including various "mysteries" that they imagined accompanied them. Ficino sang "Orphic" melodies; Poliziano and others wrote poems to Bacchus. In the same era artists were getting inspiration from Dionysian sarcophagi that were already known. Over the next century, emblem books were published in numerous editions most prominently Cartari, with extended imagery about the pagan gods, all based on standard Greco-Roman classics, These influences, which included the Dionysian-Orphic, might well have affected certain details inserted into the tarot as it was continually redrawn.
Many of Daimonax's interpretations are based on sarcophagi and reliefs that were known and in the 15th-16th centuries. Others are based on well-known classical sources that were cited in the mythology books. When Daimonax gives sources from post-1750 archeological digs, e.g. in Greece or Pompeii, he is off-base. But much of what he says does not require such appeal. The sarcophagi in the Naples Museum are not from Pompeii; Giulio Romano's 16th century erotic drawings draw on them. Another sarcophagus was in Lorenzo de' Medici's villa; Mantegna did engravings based on it. If you avoid information uncovered post-1700 and just look at what was educated people people before then considered their classical heritage, you will find even more to corroborate his overall ideas.
This parallel imagery does not, for tarot research, have the same status as, say, Mesopotamian reliefs unearthed in the 20th century (as was argued a few years ago on Aeclectic); it was known and reflected on during the time the Marseille tarot was being formed. The same classical heritage, I believe, shaped the "secret societies" that sprang up in the Renaissance and after.
It seems to me likely that details from classical mythology, and especially the "Dionysian mysteries," were inserted so as to give people who knew their significance a way of remembering what cards had been played in the game. They became parts of stories they constructed in their minds, or modifications in stories they already knew, so that remembering the story would bring to mind the cards. The more associations they had, the easier the task was. (I may have this part not quite right. I don't fully understand how the "memory theatre" worked.)
There is much in Daimonax I do not understand or accept. But I find his work stimulating, and especially the imagery he applies to the Marseille--although, yes, he should have used its publicly documented historical examples, as opposed to Marteau and Camoin-Jodorosky.
I have tried myself to reconstruct how a 16th-17th century educated European might add details to the existing 15th century tarot, and how others would receive these details, based on the cultural milieu of the time. In that vein I have posted examples here in "Bianca's Garden," for the Fool and the Magician (also, much longer, the Star in "Greek Gods" on Aeclectic, where indeed I want to acknowledge people's responses, as indeed I did not have to go into such detail). I posted the two in "Bianca's Garden because I want to be sure that my methodology is historically sound (and thanks for your encouragement, mmfelisi). If anyone doesn't think it is, please explain. I don't know whether silence means people don't want to beat a dead horse, or it means people can't think of anything prima facie wrong-headed in these posts. Well, I think the horse can be revived. I am not appealing to Pompeii or what "must have happened." It's just that looking at everything else from the 16th-17th centuries--art, emblems, poems, etc.--it doesn't seem plausible that educated Europeans then were the narrow-minded Christians that people sometimes assume. And otherwise I am happy staying in the 15th century.