The earliest extant tarot deck, the CY, is lacking a Justice card. The other virtue cards stick to the medieval imagery associated with them: fortitude with its woman holding the jaws of a lion, faith with its cross and cup, charity with its suckling infant, hope with its star. Perhaps there was a Justice had a woman with a scales in one hand and a sword in the other, as in the Charles VI and other early decks.
In the PMB, there is a change. Besides the woman with scales and sword, there is behind her a young knight on a horse. He is the white knight whose mission is to realize justice in the world and bring evil-doers to her. With Justice as a maternal figure and the knight as a 10-12 year old boy, it is a not too subtle message to act on one’s mother’s sense of justice, addressed by Bianca to her sons, especially her first-born Galeazzo. It is also a very simple pair of hieroglyphs: a hieroglyph for justice, sitting with her scales and sword, plus a hieroglyph for her agent in the world, like Parsifal defeating miscreants and sending his conquests back to Arthur for judgment. This is not a very cryptic message: but the cards are addressed to children.
There is an odd similarity between the PMB Justice card and the depiction of the sign of Libra at the Roman-Egyptian temple of Dendera. (I take these images from Desroches-Noblecourt: Le Fabuleux Heritage de L'Egypte.
) The figure on top of the scales is Isis’s son Carpocrates or Horus, typically represented as a child with his finger in his mouth, or else as a hawk. I cannot imagine that Milan had images of the Dendera zodiac in the middle of the 15th century, but it is possible that enterprising Egyptians sold them to Italian traveler/merchants, such as Cyrianio in 1435. It is also possible that such images, when known in the 17th century, affected how cards like the PMB were seen then.
On many versions of the card we just see a woman holding a scales, the conventional image of Justice. Specifically, the scale means equality, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” etc.; punishment must fit the crime, to all alike. In the right hand of justice is a sword, to administer that punishment. The scale balances deeds with punishments or rewards. There is one in heaven as well as on earth; so even if good deeds are not rewarded on earth, and bad deeds punished, they will be in Heaven. Indeed, in many early orderings this card was put second to the end, between Judgment and World/Fama (Kaplan vol. 2 p. 186f, in 4 out of 6 orderings before 1550).
Again, this is not a very cryptic message. We might perhaps say that “human justice” is the surface interpretation, and “divine justice” the deeper meaning, but both are rather conventional and obvious. Any preacher could give the “deeper” meaning. No special learning is required. I am looking for a subtler meaning to the card, that would require the presence of a humanist at court to interpret properly: the card as a hieroglyph, known later as the picture and title parts of an “emblem” (the Church frowned on hieroglyphs as associated with a paganism).
The Marseille version, I think, is an improvement over the earlier versions (from left to right above: Noblet c. 1650, Chosson 1672, Conver 1761). Noblet gave his Justice wings and a flesh-colored blouse. What could this mean? These might be Egyptianate touches. There were winged goddesses in the Roman quasi-Egyptian Bembine Tablet, looking like protectors (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bembine_Tablet
), with their breasts exposed (detail below). The Noblet’s flesh-colored blouse (without nipples) suggests such breasts. These winged goddesses (second row of tablet) also wear necklaces similar to the one in the Noblet. The Bembine Tablet, then in a Mantua museum, was reproduced in engravings by the time of the Noblet. Since they flank both sides of the scene, they were probably scene as goddesses of protection and hence justice.
The Chosson and Conver drop the wings and the blouse, but add a handband with a jewel in the middle. I will look at the jewel later.
What I want to look at now is an odd feature shared by all three, which is not on any of the earlier cards that I can make out: parts of her body possibly leaning against the scales. Jodorowsky says
If we study the movement of the scales, we can see that Justice is influencing it with her right elbow and her left knee. This “trickery” can be interpreted on several levels.(Way of Tarot p. 168)
Justice’s “trickery” is not as clear-cut as Jodorowky makes it. One could also see the elbow and knee as behind the scales, not touching it. (It’s her left elbow and right knee, I think, perhaps a translation error.) The image lets you take your choice. It is more cryptic if one sees it the way Jodorowsky does. Assuming that the cards were meant as hieroglyphs, and hence more cryptic than not, I will go with Jodorowsky.
How are we to interpret the “trickery”? Jodorowky’s comments are not from a historical perspective, but perhaps they will work historically, too. First,
Of course, it can be given the negative sense of injustice, of false perfection, and of ruse that will be justified in certain readings.(pp. 159-170)
Historically, there is the sense of human justice as a perversion of justice. This was a common theme in satirical art of all kinds. An example is King Lear (c. 1606) on the heath, when he rails, in one of his “mad” scenes,
...The usurer hangs the cozener [thief].
Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr'd gowns hide all. Plate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks:
Arm it in rags, a pigmy's straw does pierce it. (King Lear4.6)
Human justice isn’t always just. In being lenient, it leans on the side of the rich and powerful; in severity, it leans on the side of the poor. It is hypocritical, in other words.
It is also conceivable that Justice is inviting us to avoid perfectionism; the requirement for perfection is inhuman inasmuch as what is perfect is set and unsurpassable, therefore dead. She would be inviting us then to substitute for it the sacred ruse, the notion of excellence, the notion of excellence that permits action to be dynamic and perfectible. (p. 170)
In the 17th century, it is true, “virtue” and “excellence” were in one sense synonyms, as also in the 15th century. There was an ideal to which one’s virtue or lack of it was compared, but without the expectation of perfection. Jodorowsky probably has in mind the debate between virtue-ethics and rule-ethics in academic philosophy. For a rule, whether it is one of the ten commandments, Kant’s categorical imperative, or a traffic regulation, either you follow it or you don’t. You break the law whether you drive with a blood alcohol level of .01% or 0.1%. When Justice leans, she goes against that “yes or no” principle. To me this point is a modern one. I don’t see it in the sensibility of the 16th-17th century. And in any case, rules are fine-tuned to allow for first-time offenses, and deviations more or less, thus permitting action to be “dynamic and perfectible.”
Finally, it is plausible that the uneven nature of the plates of this scale displays the intractability that is proper to Nature, and that she is giving it support inspired by divine mercy.
There are two opposite ideas here. One is that of the figure as Nature, Natura, who is intractable and unforgiving. To that extent, she doesn’t lean on the scales, presumably. But then she does her little trick, the little divine intervention: “It was a miracle I survived,” we say. Also, she tips the scales in our favor at Judgment Day, if we are committed enough; God is merciful.
Human judges, too, were urged to temper justice with mercy. Portia tries to get Shylock to accept something other than his “pound of flesh” in The Merchant of Venice
...earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice...(4.1)
That was supposedly one difference between Christianity and Judaism: the element of mercy (a difference not borne out by scripture, if one reads past the law of Moses). In Catholicism, one prayed to Mary to intercede with her Son, to put in a good word for one at the Judgment. Mary’s sympathy then corresponds to Justice’s leaning on one side of the scales, toward leniency. On this interpretation she could also be an angel of mercy, for whom wings would be appropriate.
In classical thought, the goddess of wise judges would have been Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Only she can tell a judge when to be merciful and when not. An illustration of Justice as Wisdom is one done for Louise de Savoye in the court of Francis I of France, c. 1515. (I get this illustration from Daniel Russell, “Emblems and Hieroglyphics: Some Observations on the Beginnings and the Nature of Emblematic Forms,” Emblematica
2:1 (1986), pp. 227-243. The page is identified as “B.N. ms. fr. 12, 247, fol. 4r.”)
She is Prudence, i.e. prudentia, practical wisdom. Yet the medallion she holds in one hand has a scales on it. This medallion, as Russell points out, is actually a reproduction of a hieroglyph in the Hypnerotomachia
, for which the interpretation is: LAWFUL JUSTICE, UNSHEATHED AND FREE FROM LOVE AND HATE, AND WELL-CONSIDERED LIBERALITY, FIRMLY PRESERVE THE KINGDOM. (p. 243, Godwin translation); in other words, justice combined with liberality (the Latin “liberalitas”), i.e. mercy. Prudentia has the means for strict justice, as in the “measure for measure” compass in her right hand, and in the scales in her left hand. But behind the scales is a circle with a pattern in it. It is like another circle in another illustration, which the Hypnerotomachia
(Godwin translation p. 41) identifies as a bowl meaning liberality (Wittkower, “Hieroglyphs in the Early Renaissance,” p. 118: “the bowl, liberality”; the Latin there is “liberaliter”).
This liberality is not unqualified; it has to be “well considered.” Mercy is not always justified; there is a when, where, why, and how. (Presumably “who” is not a consideration: even mercy treats equal people equally.) On the left side of the illustration, besides the strict measure of the compass, there is the crucified Christ, symbol of grace. I am not sure what the deer means; perhaps it is another symbol of Christ.
It seems to me possible that when the card got to France, they had a better idea than the Hypnerotomachia’s
complicated hieroglyph. They would simply have Justice’s elbow lean against the scales.
Then there is the band above Justice’s head, with its gem in the middle. Jodorowsky says, referring not to the historical Conver but to his own more colorful version:
Her flesh-colored hair and her robe burying itself in the ground connect her to the terrestrial plane. But she is also a point at which the human and the Divine meet. The white band above the forehead represents her contact with divine purity, and the yellow red-rimmed circle (see p. 95 for more on the colors) placed on her crown like a third eye indicates that her actions are guided by a superior way of looking at things, an intelligence received from the universe. (p. 170)
By the time of the Chosson, 1672, did educated Europeans know about the “third eye” in Hindu thought? I don’t know; but another association would be the cobra headbands on the Egyptian priestesses or goddesses on the Bembine Tablet. Since the head is the seat of the reasoning power, it would indicate wisdom. It might also, as Jodorowsky says, be the transmission point of knowledge from beyond into human consciousness: Prudentia in the most inspired sense, as in the judgments of Solomon or the divinely inspired book of Proverbs.
Prudentia or Wisdom also fits the Egyptian interpretation: Plutarch said that Isis was “Justice-Wisdom,” and that the Minerva at Sais was “the same with Isis” (Isis and Osiris
III and X, at http://thriceholy.net/Texts/Isis.html
). She was a lawgiver who also taught the people how to administer these laws, Diodorus said, and Boccaccio after him (On Famous Women
, p. 22, in Google Books), who wrote, “...having given them laws, she showed them how to live together as civilized men.”
There are other possibilities for the leaning elbow besides the ones Jodorowsky mentions, other deities to be seen there. Daimonax, in his Dionysian interpretation (http://www.bacchos.org/tarothtm/10et13r ... emort.html
), makes much of the fact that at Pompeii the winged goddess with the whip was winged, and hence Nemesis rather than Dike. Nemesis, the goddess of divine wrath, operates differently than Dike, goddess of ordinary justice. Nemesis is the goddess who brings down the mighty in Greek tragedies, in a theater sacred to Dionysus. She often doesn’t care much about how well the penalty fits the crime; she can also get rather personal, indifferent to treating everyone in the same circumstances in the same way.
Daimonax’s appeal to Pompeii is rather unfortunate, because it then requires a complex and dubious account of how the memory of Nemesis as winged agent of justice was preserved for all that time prior to the discovery of Pompeii. Fortunately, no such appeal is required: the Renaissance knew that Nemesis was winged and Dike wasn’t. We see it in Cartari, 1647 Italian edition. First, here is Dike. I do not know whether she is both of the ladies below, or just one; in any case, there are no wings.
On the other hand, Cartari’s Nemesis clearly does have wings.
I suspect that already in the 16th century they knew of small Roman statues such as the one at left above. In Cartari, she is talking with Fortuna, identifiable by her wheel. In the statue, she has a wheel of her own. Nemesis acts by controlling the fortunes of those she acts toward.
So how does Nemesis work? First, we have to understand something about “eye for an eye” justice. if someone steals a thousand ducats, justice isn’t served simply by returning the ducats. There has to be a disincentive for stealing, or else people will steal on the expectation that some of the time they won’t be caught. There is the return of the money plus some jail time. Or there is a fine on top of the money’s return. So in one way of looking at Justice, she leans on the scales to provide the disincentive.
In Greek tragedy (and also modern, as King Lear was to discover), divine wrath came down heard on noble, powerful men—perhaps because their corruption infects the whole society and not just a few. Oedipus’s marriage to his mother causes a plague to be inflicted upon Thebes, for example, and his punishment is extreme—his wife/mother kills herself, while he sacrifices his eyes and leaves the city, to wander in exile the rest of his days.
In this sense, Justice is Nemesis, the wrath of the gods as exhibited in classical tragedy. So that’s who we have in the Noblet Justice card, on one interpretation. It’s given in the wings. In that sense, she is also the Christian angel of God’s wrath and an angel of death (in addition to her other duty as angel of mercy).
Oedipus also raises another issue. If a person commits a crime unknowingly, doesn’t that mitigate his offense? Oedipus didn’t know he was marrying his mother, for example. The degree of mitigation depends on how much he should be held responsible for his own ignorance. In his case, an oracle had predicted he would marry his mother and kill his father. Perhaps he should have asked himself some hard questions before marrying a woman old enough to be his mother, after her husband had been killed on a road just at the time he had killed a man on the road who was old enough to be his father. Only Oedipus’s own pride, thinking that he’d left his mother and father in the town where he grew up, stood in his way. On the one hand, intent, and ignorance of the facts, enter into the determination of the judgment, mitigating it, a kind of leaning on the scales. On the other hand, ignorance is not always a good excuse.
We’re not in the area of divine wrath now, but in the area of human-administered law. Many of the humanists got their education in law, to satisfy their fathers, and then shifted to more interesting careers after that. The details I have been discussing would have been a standard part of the curriculum (I hope). Knowing about these complications is also part of the education of a prince. They are things that a person of learning, and not the common person, can bring out of the card, drawing attention to the leaning arm of Justice.
So we have a complex of associations in this card: Dike, Isis, Minerva, Nemesis, angel of mercy, angel of wrath and death, even Injustice. And so she sits, staring at us with unblinking eyes. Just the thing to contemplate on a rainy afternoon, playing cards.