Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Reading another thread, I came across a post by Kwaw on Aeclectic (SteveM here} with a quote that illustrates some understanding of Neopythagoreanism applied to gaming. in the 13th century. It is from the Revue Archeologique Vol X, Part 2, p. 652f. Kwaw includes a Google translation:
Un poète lyrique allemand du XIIIe siècle, Reinmar von Zweter, nous donne même l'explication des points que le diable grava sur le dé : l'as signifie Dieu tout-puissant qui tient dans sa main le ciel et la terre exprimés par le nombre deux; le trois représente les trois noms de la Divinité; le quatre, les quatre évangélistes ; le cinq, les cinq sens de l'homme; le six, les six semaines de carême pendant lesquelles le diable gagne tant d'âmes par le jeu (voy. von der Hagen, minnes., I, 656). 11 y a plus : le dé a été personnifié et est devenu un démon sous le nom de Decivs.

A German poet of the thirteenth century, Reinmar von Zweter even gives us an explanation of the points that the devil engraved on the die: the ace Mean God Almighty who holds in his hand the heavens and the earth expressed by the number two; the three represents the three names of Divinity, and the four, the four Evangelists; the five, the five senses of Man; the six, the six weeks of Lent, during which the devil wins many souls by the game (see von der Hagen, minnes., I, 656). There is more: the die has been personified and became a demon by the name of Decivs.
Kwaw's post is at ... stcount=24. The article he is quoting is at

Like von Zweter. I have been seeing One as God Almighty, Three as the Trinity, and four as the Evangelists, who comprise the whole of the gospels, and hence, as Irenaeus reasoned, there couldn't be more than four). Five as the five senses is in the Theology of Arithmetic, to which I saw an application to sensual love. The Two as the division between heaven and earth is the Biblical version of the separation of matter from God. Six as the six weeks of Lent is not in the Theology, of course, but is a Christian extension of its principles. Six is described there as a perfect number; six is the number of weeks to perfect oneself for Holy Week. Six is also the number of Hecate and witches.

The Flying Creatures on the Two of Swords

In an earlier post, viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530#p7916, I discussed the SB Two of Swords rather briefly. I want now to expand on those remarks, focusing on the flying creatures on the right of the card, and looking at what they might represent in various context of the times. I have been assuming they are birds, and that their own migration sets him an example to depart, to separate from the One, in this Neopythagorean perspective; yet he hesitates in trepidation. His companion's forelock, signifying opportunity suggests that the time is now. But perhaps more can be said.


Di Vicenza (Sola-Busca Tarot p. 123) says that the creatures are swallows. She suggests various interpretations of what they represent: the changing of the seasons, fertilization of the soil, guide to celestial regions, tradition, nature. But these do not correspond to any of the various moralizing sayings about swallows that were given during the Renaissance; nor does she include any of her meanings in her summary of the card: they seem like throw-aways. Historically, there was a famous saying by Pythagoras, “Don’t keep swallows under your own roof.” It had different interpretations: "Don’t treat strangers like family" (Alberti,“Veiled sayings,” Dinner pieces, trans. Marsh, p. 155), or “Remove garrulous or talkative people from your house” (Beroaldo Sr., “On the Symbola of Pythagoras,” Bologna 1503, in Joost-Gaughier, Pythagoras and Renaissance Europe, p. 260f). How these interpretations relate to the scene on the card is not clear. If he's around talkative people, or strangers, who know he is leaving, perhaps he will be in danger from others seeking to take advantage of him on the road. But how is he to remove birds flying high in the sky. I do not even see a roof from which they cuold be chased away.

But birds flying as a flock would be high in the sky and thus, as depicted on the card, too big to be swallows. The only other birds with conventional meanings that I can find are hawks (mentioned by Horapollo), falcons (another way of translating Horapollo into English), and eagles. But these birds do not fly in flocks. One possibility that occurs to me is geese; as such, Di Vicenza’s “changing of the seasons” might fit the card. Flying geese are a natural indicator of the change of seasons, either the end of the warm part of the year or its beginning. It is also a meaningful complement to the forelock of the old man. If it represents opportunity, then so does the change of seasons: act now while it is the right season. In Italy at this time, warfare customarily halted in the winter. Any conquests had to be accomplished before the weather turned bad. I would expect there was a season for traveling, too.

Another possibility is that the flying creatures are not birds at all, but flies or wasps. Alberti, in “Rings,” a short work circulating in manuscript at this time in Northern Italy, describes his 12th ring as follows: “Behold a helmet and mask engraved in emerald, and see the swarm of flies which surrounds them!” (Dinner-pieces, trans. Marsh, p. 213). Interpretation: “Like flies, some men are born only to bite and buzz. We must shield ourselves against such men, and must assume either a mask of severity to drive them away, or a mask of indifference to ignore them. Human follies must be swallowed whole.” (Marsh, p. 217).

There is also Alciato, in his Emblematum Liber, which appeared in numerous widely varying editions starting in 1531. In a 1540 Spanish/Latin editionm Emblem 51, "Maledentia," Slander, offers a similar interpretation of a swarm of insects as in Alberti's "Rings"; this time they are wasps. The verse reads
Archilochi tumulo insculptas de marmore vespas
Esse ferunt, linguae certa sigilla malae.

On the tomb of Archilochus wasps had been sculpted in marble; these, as it is said, provide dependable symbols for evil tongues.
(Alciato, A Book of Emblems: The Emblematum Liber in Latin and English, trans. John F. Moffitt, p. 70).

Alciato's original edition had no pictures. But after an unauthorized set of illustrations in 1532 Augsburg, all subsequent editions did so, some even approved by the author. The picture accompanying the Spanish 1540 text shows the wasps in a similar manner to the flying creatures on the SB card. (Presumably this illustration is one of the original unauthorized ones, as it doesn't follow the description in the verse. Other editions actually show sculpted wasps; see But I was interested in flying insects.)


In the context of the SB image, the flying creatures, as flying insects, thus could represent the slanderous biting and buzzing of evil or "waspish" tongues, hindering one from doing what needs doing. The young man must ignore them and seize opportunity by the forelock. This interpretation has the advantage of not simply repeating what is already implied in the forelock.

Hieroglyphs in the SB Ace of Batons

In an early post on this thread (viewtopic.php?f=12&t=530&start=0#p7340), I analyzed the SB Ace of Batons in terms of what I saw in the Theology of Arithmetic and the Timaeus, deciding that it represented the "union of sames" and also, since the two cherubs were mirror images of each other, a sameness in difference, i.e. a harmony. I wrote of both Batons and Swords
Thus each Ace is in microcosm a philosophical image of one aspect of God, as that in which all opposites and sames are combined harmoniously.

It seems to me now that there is another way of interpreting this card, namely, as an arrangement of hieroglyphs, in the Renaissance understanding of the term. It is emblamatura, "mosaic work", a term first used in this context by the Hypnerotomachia (cited in Manning, The Emblem, p. 69). We need to look at the cuirass, helmet, and shield.

I will start with the Hypnerotomoachia. Although it had not been published yet, many people think that some version existed in manuscript since 1469, and especially the hieroglyphs in it. Both Colonna, the reputed author, and Aldus, the publisher, were in Venice or surrounding area. The book interprets the cuirass, as depicted in two illustrations (pp. 327-329 of Godwin's translation), as “trophy,” specifically a trophy of war. Here is the first of three, which has its interpretation right below it (p. 245 of Godwin translation.)


The original reads:


I reproduce here what would seem to be a lack of separation between words, e.g. DIVI and IVLII.

Then later, as part of a procession of persons holding banners, we see two more.


The accompanying text says
First of all came the hunting pastophores, pyrgophores and the jubilant preluders, with trophies of military decorations mounted on sharp golden lances. There was the cuirass of furious Mars, with the other arms taken in victory: a bow hung sideways, holding up the cuirass, with a quiver of arrows tied to one end and a battle-axe to the others...A second nymph carried another trophy...Another nymph bore a trophy of a helmet surmounted by an ox-skull, and beneath that an antique cuirass with two shields tied on by the arm-holes.Two bands hung down from this, one on each side, holding the lion-skin with the knobbed and knotted club...
The club and lion-skin would seem to be a reference to Hercules.

So what is the relationship to God and the Monad, which I have suggested is the theme of the Aces? The armor of dead heroes, notably that of Ajax and Achilles, was a hotly contested souvenir, according to Alciato in 1531 (emblems 28, 48). From this perspective the cuirass, helmet, and shield would symbolize victory through heroic sacrifice in battle, perhaps achieved by a weapon of war, such as the club that the cherubs raise high (as in the club of Hercules). Or in Christian terms, they might suggest that Christian salvation, God’s cause, is built on sacrifice, such as that of the martyrs who have fought and died in its name, who now live in eternal glory. This interpretation now fits my Neopythagorean interpretation of the card as representing the Monad and God.

A variation on this theme, which perhaps offers a better fit to the card in a Neopythagorean framework, is offered by Wittkower in “Transformations of Minerva in Renaissance Imagery” (pp. 130ff in his Allegory and the Migration of Symbols): the cuirass represents virtue, and the helmet is victory. “Virtue” is less martial-sounding than “sacrifice,” and also more basic, as what sacrifice is an example of; thus it perhaps more suitable for card-players. But what is the justification for such an interpretation?

Wittkower begins by citing Valeriano 1556, who identified the cuirass with virtue in his Hieroglyphica. That identification is also exemplified in several works of art that Wittkower presents. Most convincing is a tapestry (at right) completed by 1491 showing a cuirass and helmet on top of the “tree of grace,” with Minerva’s aegis, the Medusa-shield, on the “tree of death” on the other side. Minerva stands between them, holding a helmet on the side of grace. On the left below is a drawing by Botticelli, identified as Minerva, thought to be the model for the central figure in the tapestry.


The cuirass is virtue and the helmet is victory, Moreover, Minerva is the virgin goddess (as she is also characterized in the Theology of Arithmetic) and so the symbol of chastity. Wittkower says:
Pallas is not only the goddess of Victory, and the furtherer of peace and learning, she is also the maiden against whom the arrows of Cupid are ineffective—she is the symbol of Chastity.(p. 136).
Wittkower also offers an antique image of Thetis holding her son Achilles’ cuirass and helmet (not reproduced in this post), a Marc Antonio Raimondi drawing of the reconciliation of Minerva and Cupid (at left below), and a c.1470 Marco Zoppo drawing of Venus holding a helmet with a cuirass on the ground next to her (at right below).


The Marc Antonio engraving, Wittkower observes, is a “Minerva Pudica”; it assimilates Minerva to “Venus Pudica,” modest Venus, by the gesture of her left hand. The Zoppo is an example of “Venus Victrix,” labeled as such on numerous Roman coins, yet with Minerva's cuirass and helmet. (Victorious Venus equals Minerva Pacifica, I would add, because Venus and Mars were opposites, peace vs. war. Venus likes peace because then Mars can spend time with her instead of out fighting; this is clearest in “Mars and Venus” by Botticelli.) The Zoppo helmet and putti are quite close in bizarreness to that of the SB card, in my view, suggesting some sort of lineal descent from the one to the other. (The cuirasses are virtually identical, but not so bizarrely.) Zoppo was in Bologna or Venice when he did the drawing, 1465-1470.


Wittkower goes on to show us another early 16th century painting, this one by Titian, Alexander VI presenting Jacopo Pesaro to St. Peter (above image taken from ... 0092df.jpg). Here the cuirass is on a relief that forms part of the painting, next to a real helmet. Pesaro had helped win a sea-battle for the Pope, so again the helmet signifies victory. One side of the relief represents virtue, the other vice. On the relief, Cupid is shooting his arrow to the side of virtue, at his mother, the nude Venus. The idea is that Minerva has elevated Cupid to the cause of the desire for the divine,"Platonic Eros" (Wittkower p. 138), as expressed in the Marc Antonio and also in a quite similar early 16th century painting by the school of Dosso Dossi. In the Titian, it seems to me that Venus, on the virtue side, has been raised to the status of the chaste celestial Venus of the Symposium and thus assimilated to Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Wittkower observes that the assimilation of deities was quite common in the Renaissance; it is a continuation of "the identification of Minerva and Mary which was familiar to the Middle Ages and which can also be found in the Renaissance" (p. 141).


So on the card, the helmet represents victory and the cuirass represents virtue. There is now no implication of martyrdom. Through virtue one achieves the victory of Christian salvation. The shield is Minerva's traditional attribute, especially if it has the Medusa on it, to ward off evil. On the card, there is something there, but I cannot make it out. Perhaps it is a face, such as that of the Medusa, or perhaps not. Perhaps it was always unclear, or perhaps it is the effect of five centuries.



Reading Wind (Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance p. 91), I see that he has an interpretation of the Zoppo drawing in opposition to Wittkower's. While I think it is a bit extreme, it does shed additional light on the meaning of the cuirass and helmet. He says
Dressed in armor, the Venus victrix or Venus armata signifies the warfare of love; she is a compound of attraction and rejection, fostering her gracious aims by cruel methods.
Then he has a footnote attacking Wittkower that concludes with a comment on the Zoppo:
The cuirass place at the feet of Venus in a drawing ascribed to Marco Zoppo (our fig. 73) again far from representing 'the corselet of Minerva' (Wittkower, loc. cit.), belongs to the martial equipment of the Venus victrix, on whose armour, employed in the warfare of love, see Anthologia Graeca XVI, 173.
(I omit the title of the XVI, 173 verse, which he gives in Greek letters.)

What I don't like about Wind's analysis is that Venus does not have the armor on. She's won in her fashion, not Mars', and the armor is her trophy, more something to play with than to use. She's Venus vixtrix but not Venus armata. What is helpful about Wind, however, is his identification of the armor as Mars'. It is a further elucidation of the cuirass and helmet as trophy as expounded in the Hypnerotomachia, now applied to the Zoppo as well. Wind does not mention the other examples I gave from Wittkower.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips


hm ... the trivial looks round the corner ...

Interestingly the signs at the end of the word "Archilochi" look like a smiley. I don't know, if any other smiley was found in its time, likely one should assume, that it is modern invention.
Archilochi sounds rather similar like the German "Arschloch" (englisch "asshole") ... I don't know, if this was already a common slang expression in this time.

Alciato might have known a little German and perhaps also the way, how German would naturally react and laugh about this name.

If I take your translation as correct ... "On the tomb of Archilochus wasps had been sculpted in marble; these, as it is said, provide dependable symbols for evil tongues." ... I think, I know, what Alciato wishes to express.

The flying insects were in the past already discussed in context of the fool of the Leber Tarocchi.


Also they appeared at Fool pictures (engravings) of Beham.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

mikeh wrote:
Un poète lyrique allemand du XIIIe siècle, Reinmar von Zweter, nous donne même l'explication des points que le diable grava sur le dé : l'as signifie Dieu tout-puissant qui tient dans sa main le ciel et la terre exprimés par le nombre deux; le trois représente les trois noms de la Divinité; le quatre, les quatre évangélistes ; le cinq, les cinq sens de l'homme; le six, les six semaines de carême pendant lesquelles le diable gagne tant d'âmes par le jeu (voy. von der Hagen, minnes., I, 656). 11 y a plus : le dé a été personnifié et est devenu un démon sous le nom de Decivs.

A German poet of the thirteenth century, Reinmar von Zweter even gives us an explanation of the points that the devil engraved on the die: the ace Mean God Almighty who holds in his hand the heavens and the earth expressed by the number two; the three represents the three names of Divinity, and the four, the four Evangelists; the five, the five senses of Man; the six, the six weeks of Lent, during which the devil wins many souls by the game (see von der Hagen, minnes., I, 656). There is more: the die has been personified and became a demon by the name of Decivs.

Thanks Steve and Mike. This Reinmar von Zweter is an excellent addition to the literature on the moralizations of dice. "Decius, Gott des Würfels". I've heard of the invention of dice by Decius (I'll update this when I remember the exact source), but never the die as either a god nor a personification (a demon, I guess) of it.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

The ox-skull appears in three places in the SB pips: in the Four of Swords, the Ace of Coins, and the Three of Coins.


I have discussed each occurrence, but mostly in terms of the Neopythagorean Theology of Arithmetic and the Etteilla word-lists. Now I want to look at the image again, from a hieroglyphic perspective: that is, as a meaningful sign in the systems of image-interpretation prevalent in 1490s Italy. The result, just to let you know in advance, will be much the same as Tarotpedia's interpretation of the image, but using sources probably extant in Northeastern Italy during the time immediately preceding the earliest estimated date of the Sola-Busca, 1491, as opposed to Tarotpedia's reference to an image of 1574.

In relation to the ox-skull in the Four of Swords, I referred to Tarotpedia (, which shows us a 1574 medallion of an wreathed ox-skull with the motto "VICTORIA EX LABORE HONESTA, ET UTILIS": The Victory you gain by your work is honest and useful. The same meaning, I suggested, might attach to the Four of Swords, which has a similar skull and wreath.

First I will look at the meaning of the ox-skull in the Hypnerotomachia. It was published in 1499 Venice, but many people think that an early version of the manuscript was done by 1467; and some think that the illustrations preceded the final manuscript. Here the ox-skull had two meanings: "labore" (labor, in Godwin translation, p. 41, the same in Curran, The Egyptian Renaissance: The Afterlife of Ancient Egypt in Early Modern Italy, p. 138) and "patientia" (patience, in Godwin, p. 69; endurance, in Curran, p. 139). We can see these in the scans below, from the Godwin translation. First:


Or in the original
And second:



In a second source, Horapollo's Hieroglyphica, the meaning is also "labor." "A bull's horn means work," reads Boas's translation (p. 75, in Google Books: the word for "horn" might also mean "skull.") Probably the Hypnerotomachia got its interpretation of the ox-skull from this source. The Horapollo was circulating in Greek manuscript since the 1420s and in abridged Latin translation at least by the 1480s if not by the 1430s, according to Curran.

A third source is Alberti's On the Art of Building, published 1485 with an earlier version available in manuscript since 1452. He said that the ox--not the skull this time--meant peace (Curran, p. 74), an interpretation probably derived, Curran thinks, from Diodorus's description of the Apis bull "as a symbol of the peaceful arts of agriculture instituted by Osiris."

Within the context of the Neopythagorean Fours, i.e. material life in society at its fullest, the ox-head could mean any or all of these things. Labors, i.e. good works, are in different senses the material condition both for happiness in this world and for salvation in the next. So is patience, among the pains and sufferings of this world. And the result from toils and patience--again in this world--is peace, the peace of Egypt when ruled by Osiris or those like him, and the peace after death. The wreath still means victory. The fruit of labor and patience is the victory of peace, happiness, and salvation, in other words. In the context of the Neopythagorean Tetrad, the material part of this message receives emphasis: activities in the world showing patience and good works.

In the Ace of Coins (middle, at top of this post), a wreathed ox-skull appears above the shield that the middle cherub is holding. Again, Tarotpedia interprets the ox-skull as connoting hard, persistent work, thus relating to the motto on that part of the card, "Servir. Chi persevera infin otiene"--"To serve. If you persist you obtain [your goal] in the end." Again, all the additional sources do is to confirm Tarotpedia, although I think a reference to Christ's death on the cross is also appropriate.

In the Three of Coins (right, at top of this post), we see a child carrying a heavy load. Again the ox, from a hieroglyphic perspective, represents hard work and the fruits thereof. Again the hieroglyphic meaning fits, although again I think that it as a skull it suggests also the sacrifice of life and the crucifixion at Golgotha, the place of the skull.

So what this post has done is to give much the same interpretation of the ox-skull as Tarotpedia, but using sources closer in time to the 1491 Sola-Busca: Horapollo (in Greek and abridged Latin translation in the 1480s), Alberti (published 1485, manuscript since 1452), and the Hypnerotomachia (published 1499 but these passages and illustrations probably in one or a few manuscripts during the 1480s).

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips


Pythagorean Palaces: Magic and Architecture in the Italian Renaissance, by G.L. Hersey (1976), p. 37
A general Neopythagorean observation is that the odd numbers were male and the even numbers were female. The Monad was an exception, and in some texts the Dyad as well. Ficino sexualized this distinction..
Even numbers are female because when halved there is 0 at their center. Odd numbers are male because under the same circumstances the cubic (and phallic) 1 remains on axis (Ficino Opera omnia, Basel 1476. Facsimile Turin 1959, Vol. 2, part 1, 1421), as what Martianus Capella calls the “sole procreator” (7.731).
We can see this point visually in the Italian suited Swords. The odd numbered cards all have a sword vertically in the middle, within an almond, visually similar to a vagina. The even-numbered cards merely have a flower or other design, surrounded by an equal number of curved swords on either side forming the almond. Here are some examples, from Conver 1761 as reproduced by Heron:



The only exceptions are the Ace and the Ten. The Ace has a Sword entering into a round crown at the top, thus combining the symbolism of both sexes. The Ten has two straight swords pointing obliquely toward the almond but not in its center. Both cards seem to me to be androgynous.

Later Hersey adds (pp. 38f):
The unions between Ficino’s numberforms are promiscuous, brief, multiple, and polysexual. They are orchestrated so as to temper all oddities and excesses in the ultimate progeny:
Many brides, with as many husbands, are made to copulate in public ceremonies. Strong passions are mixed with softer ones, and the rich mate with the poor, so that the whole city is made even-numbered after being odd-numbered, as wine is mixed with water to make a temperate drink (vol. 2 part 1, 1424).
The unions not only take place between odd and even, however, with all that entails, but can be happy or unhappy, plane or solid, consonant or dissonant, harmonic, geometrical, or arithmetical. They take place between couples or trios, or even among larger groups. The best sort of union, Says Ficino, is one that reveals unsuspected similarities between the partners: this is generally the harmonic series (which of course requires a minimum of three partners).
So the next time you play a trick-taking game with Italian suited cards, bear Ficino in mind. I would not be surprised if the erudite Renaissance Italian and French did so as well.

I even wonder whether the almond-shaped curve of the Swords survived, as opposed to other shapes, precisely because of this association. The PMB had straight swords; in the 16th century Italian cards in the Budapest and New York, they are curved in the reversed way. Yet the old fashioned Brera-Brambilla way won out.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Huck wrote,
If I take your translation as correct ... "On the tomb of Archilochus wasps had been sculpted in marble; these, as it is said, provide dependable symbols for evil tongues." ... I think, I know, what Alciato wishes to express.

The flying insects were in the past already discussed in context of the fool of the Leber Tarocchi.
I don't see how the situation of the Leber Fool is comparable to that of the SB Two of Swords. As you say on the other thread, he is the proverbial fool stung by bees after trying to get the honey. In the same spirit, there is a pair of humorous paintings by Piero di Cosimo representing Silenus stung by Wasps as a sequel to Bacchus's Discovery of Honey, from a tale by Ovid, Fasti, as the erudite Edgar Wind informs us (Pagan Mysteries of the Renaissance p. 91). (The bees have become wasps, because the painting was done for a Vespucci.) It's also the situation of Emblem 112 in Alciato (, given by Wind, who is usually not wrong, as 89); there it is Cupid who is stung. I can accept that interpretation for the Leber Fool. But that's not the situation in the Two of Swords.

Wind gives a different interpretation of wasps that might fit the Two of Swords as well as the one I found in Alciato 51. Wind points out that in Botticelli's Mars and Venus,, c. 1485, there are wasps buzzing around Mars' head as he sleeps, or tries to. (They don't show up in many reproductions, but they do in
Wind says (p. 90f)
Only the wasps that buzz round the head of the sleeper are a reminder of his pugnacious spirit: 'quod per vespam...pugnacitatem et infestum adversos hostes ingenium ostendebant". (Footnote: Valeriano, Hieroglyphica fol. 31v, s.v. 'pugnacitas'; also fol. 189v: 'De vespa', with illustration inscribed pugnacitas.)
In that sense, the insects are the young man's own pugnacious, martial spirit, trying to arouse him to action.

The Latin above the translation I quoted is as follows:
Archilochi tumulo insculpas de marmore vespas
Esse ferunt, linguae certa sigilla malae.
The Latin on the Alciato web-page is the same. The English translation there is
They say that on the tomb of Archilochus wasps were carved with marble, sure signs of an evil tongue.

Pretty much the same as the one I used.

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

hm ...

I didn't comment on the Sola-Busca card. I only think, that the archilochi picture might have a hidden meaning, which is easily lost.

I see a connected person "Archilochi"...

... which wikipedia describes as a hardcore-satirist at least at one opportunity:
Another reason for leaving his native place was personal disappointment and indignation at the treatment he had received from Lycambes, a citizen of Paros, who had promised him his daughter Neobule in marriage but had afterwards withdrawn his consent. Archilochus, taking advantage of the license allowed at the feasts of Demeter, poured out his wounded feelings in unmerciful satire. He accused Lycambes of perjury and recited such verses against his daughters that Lycambes and his daughters are said to have hanged themselves.
... so possibly a person with "evil tongue" himself in the analysis of Alciato. Then the "marmore vespas" would present something, which directly refers to the work of Archilochus.
But Archilochus seems to be not only a satirist.

Another possibility might be that Alciato had something like a Pasquino-Figure in mind, a place, where one could leave anonymous controversial poems or other writings (the "evil tongue" again). Alciato didn't live in Rome, where one has located 5 Pasquino-like figures, but somewhere I've read, that also Milan had one or two places (?), but I don't find the passage.

And the third might be, that it's so, as I already described (Archilochi = German association of asshole, which also would explain the attraction of wasps or insects). Anyway, it's not so important, it just jumped into my mind.

I don't know, if the honey explanation would satisfy all attacks of flying aggressive insects in art. I would think, that the public often reacted with more than one "explanation" to the art of their time ... and not always the artist felt understood ... .-)

Re: Deciphering the Sola-Busca Pips

Yes, thanks, Huck.

Now I have another correction to something I wrote earlier, which I discovered reading Cusanus. I hope it is not too obscure. The result, fortunately, strengthens my position that the Sola-Busca has a Neopythagorean basis.

What I wrote, at was
The SB Ace of Cups and Coins, I think, also relate to the Monad as God. But here Christianity shows its influence, as it does in the "Etteilla" Swords. Specifically, I think that both cards depict the Christian Trinity, as opposed to the philosophical God of the SB Swords and Batons.
There was a tradition, perhaps going back at least to John of Salisbury and the Chartres school, of attributing the doctrine of the Trinity to Pythagoras. Therefore I was in error in supposing that the designer of the SB meant to be going outside of Neopythagoreanism when he put the Trinity in the Aces of Coins and Cups. In fact he was seeing the two as saying the same thing. He might have gotten this perspective from Cusa, in his famous work of 1440,De Docta Ingnorantia. The discussion is at 1.7-1.9 (p. 12ff of Hopkins translation, at

Cusa says:
We find that Marcus Varro, in his book Antiquities noted that the Sissennii worshipped Oneness as the Maximum. But Pythagoras, a very famous man of undeniable authority in his own time, added that Oneness is trine. [Translator's footnote: John of Salisbury, De Septem Septenis VII (PL 199:961C).]
Cusa then argues that oneness, equality, and union are all eternal and therefore one. Since oneness is the beginning, it is called, by analogy, the Father; since equality is generated from the beginning, it is called, by analogy, the Son; and union, as the love between father and son, is called Love or Holy Spirit:
As for our most holy teachers, having called Oneness Father, Equality Son, and Union Holy Spirit, they have done so because of a certain likeness to these transient things [trans. Note: i.e., to human fathers, sons, and "spirits"]. For in a father and a son there is a common nature which is one, so that with regard to this nature the son is equal to the father; for humanity is not present more greatly or less greatly in the son than in the father. And between a father and a son there is a certain union. For a natural love unites the one with the other, and does so because of the similarity of the same nature which is in them and which passes down from the father to the son. Wherefore, a father loves his son more than [he loves] someone else who agrees with him in humanity. Because of such a likeness--though it is a very remote likeness--Oneness is called Father, Equality is called Son, and Union is called Love or Holy Spirit. [Yet they are given these names] only in relation to creatures, as I shall show more clearly hereafter, when the time comes. And, in my judgment, this is a very clear investigation (in accord with the Pythagorean investigation) of the ever adorable Trinity in oneness and Oneness in Trinity. (p. 16)
Hopkins' footnote to John of Salisbury suggests an earlier tradition, which Cusa is incorporating. And Cusa himself refers to "our holy teachers," as though he were following a tradition.

In Cusa's own argument, there is a certain affinity to the argument of the Neopythagorean Theology of Arithmetic. The Theology, like Cusa, affirms that the Monad is the beginning. Also, the Dyad comes from the Monad. Similarly, Cusa says
When we pay attention to what generation is, we view clearly the generation of equality from oneness. For generation is the repetition of oneness or the multiplication of the same nature as it proceeds from a father to a son. (p. 14f)

In addition, the Dyad is declared by the Theologyto be what is equal:
And we say that the mean between what is greater and what is smaller is what is equal. Therefore equality lies in this number alone. (p. 44)
Cusa uses similar terms to show the priority of equality over inequality:
For every inequality is analyzable into an equality. For the equal is between the greater and the lesser. So if you remove that [portion] which is greater, there will be an equal. But if there is a lesser, remove from the other that [portion]which is greater, and an equal will result.

However there are many other aspects of the Pythagorean Dyad that are not shared by the Equal: the Neopythagorean Dyad, but not Cusa's Equality, is separation and otherness (and also inequality, despite its being called equality earlier). Otherness, the negation of unity, is associated with inequality. Cusa says
Wherever there is inequality there is, necessarily, otherness--and conversely. (Hopkins p. 13)
separation and otherness are by nature concomitant. (p. 14)

So Cusa's Equality is not the Dyad, although it is generated from the Monad in the same way as the Dyad.

Similarly, Union "processes" from the One and the Equal in a similar way as the Triad comes from the Monad and the Dyad. In the Theology, it is through the affinity of matter (the Dyad) and form (the Monad), that enformed matter is produced. It is also through the addition of the Dyad and the Monad, 2 + 1. It is through union that the Triad is produced; hence the Triad, the Theology says, is called "marriage.” A similar affinity is what Cusa calls Union, in this case the union of 1 (Unity) and 1x1=1 (Equality). Moreover, union, for Cusa, is prior to separation in the same way that equality is prior to inequality and unity prior to otherness.

Admittedly Cusa's arguments are unclear and seem to rely on truisms that prove nothing—especially in the summary form I have presented them. The equal as the mean between greater and lesser is perhaps a such a truism. Yet that Cusa and the Theology both cite the same truism is to me surprising. To see the affinity between Cusa and the Theology it is not necessary to follow the argument (assuming that he is presenting one). It is only necessary to see the affinity in terminology and methodology between Cusa and the Neopythagorean text. That is what makes it plausible to attribute the doctrine of the Trinity, the identity of the three "persons" in one, to Pythagoras, “the first philosopher and the glory of Italy and Greece,” as Cusa calls him--suggesting also the unity between the two Churches that Cusa was seeking to attain. And if he or his predecessor, John of Salisbury, did not have the Theology of Arithmetic beside them as stimulation, they had something similar.

I have no evidence, outside the similarity of the two texts that I have just mentioned, that Cusa ever saw the Theology of Arithmetic. However, Cusa was collecting Greek texts on his 1437 trip to Constantinople, 3 years before the publication of De Docta Ignorantia. Even if he didn’t find the Theology, he could have talked with someone who had a copy, such as Bessarion, Pletho, or one of their followers. He said he got the idea for his book on the return voyage. While the passages I have quoted are hardly central to the theme of the book, it remains possible that one of the Greeks, who brought important texts with them, allowed him to make a copy of the Theology, from which he borrows phrases here. As I say, I have no evidence that this text was even in Italy in the time in question. Nor do I have any for the time of the Sola-Busca, other than the fit it makes with the pip cards.

I have even less evidence that John of Salisbury ever saw the Theology, in that I don’t even have text from him. I will have to dig further.

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