I have recently been reviewing the translation of some of Andrea Vitali's iconological essays, and I came across a problem I hadn't been fully aware of before, namely, how the Italian "fortezza" and the Latin "fortitudo" is not really equivalent to the English "fortitude", and how, perhaps due to the greater inclusiveness of the former, moral virtue fortitude, as opposed to the terms "fortezza" and "fortitudo", is not really exemplified by someone either breaking a pillar or forcing open (or shut) a lion's mouth.
St. Thomas Aquinas had probably the most influential treatment of the virtue at the time of the early cards, in the Summa Theologica
. He distinguishes between the moral virtue of fortitudo
, "fortitude" in English, from physical strength, strength of body, by calling the former "fortitudo mentis" or "fortitudo animae", and the latter "fortitudo corporalis". The virtue of fortitudo
pertains to the moral virtue: (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3123.htm
Now the human will is hindered ... through the will being disinclined to follow that which is in accordance with reason, on account of some difficulty that presents itself. On order to remove this obstacle fortitude of the mind [fortitudo mentis] is requisite, whereby to resist the aforesaid difficulty even as a man, by fortitude of body [fortitudinem corporalem], overcomes and removes bodily obstacles.
Now it belongs to fortitude of the mind [fortitudinem mentis] to bear bravely with infirmities of the flesh, and this belongs to the virtue of patience or fortitude...
The fortitude of the soul [fortitudo animae] which is reckoned a virtue, as explained in the Reply to the First Objection, is so called from its likeness to fortitude of the body [corporalis fortitudinis]
This perspective derives in part from Aristotle, for whom fortitude was a mean between cowardice and rashness. These extremes, cowardice and rashness, are unambiguously moral vices, not physical deficiencies.
It is the same for Plato, for whom the virtues of temperance, fortitude, wisdom, and justice were attributes of the soul and not the body.
If so, Samson's and Hercules' victories over their lions, while showing fortitude, also depend on their great physical strength. Their victories do not separate the virtue of the soul from that of the body and in fact, by depending on exceptional physical strength, emphasize the latter.
Likewise Samson's destruction of the temple columns is a matter of physical strength accompanied by the moral strength of overcoming his fear of death.
On the other hand, in the case of a figure holding a shield and a spear, as in Giotto's allegorical figure, no outstanding physical strength is indicated, just the commendable virtue of courage in battle.
When a lady is shown merely holding a column, broken or not, there is no question of her dying as a result. In that case, apart from referring to Samson, it is not appropriate to illustrate fortitude, almost as inappropriate, for example, as a fortress, which would illustrate another meaning of the Italian word "fortezza". Its only justification is that the illustration of one kind of "fortezza" might bring to mind another.
The problem is that the Latin word "fortitudo", along with its later derivatives in Latin-based languages, fortezza (Italian), forza (Italian), fuerza (Spanish), force (French), etc., cover both moral and physical virtue, or excellence (which the Latin "virtu" means), as can be verified by looking up these words in an online dictionary, e.g. WordRefrence or Wiktionary. Given that the other two virtue cards in the tarot are of moral virtues, temperance and justice, the third without doubt must also refer to a moral virtue. The cardinal virtues included three moral virtues and one intellectual virtue, but no virtues - excellences - of the body. In English, "fortitude" is clearly the moral virtue, whereas "strength" is not. But that is not true of the Latin "fortitudo", nor its Italian derivative, which indeed are better translated as "strength" than "fortitude".
The medieval designers of didactic images seem to have been aware of the problem of the over-inclusiveness of the term "fortitudo". That is why they used a woman with a lion to illustrate the virtue; it is not merely because the virtues were illustrated with women, because fortitude was often illustrated with a man, Samson or Hercules, even on some tarot cards. But women were considered physically weaker; they were not trained in body-building and martial arts at that time. However they were not considered uncourageous, as numerous Christian martyrs and a few Jewish heroines showed. It did not take exceptional physical strength to kill a sleeping man; but it did take courage, because there was the danger of his awakening and preventing his death; that is why Judith was an exemplar of the virtue (below, two representations of fortitudo side by side in the Song of the Virtues and Liberal Arts
done in the 14th century for Luciano Visconti):http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-UKG9oCix0kA/U ... _0463a.jpg
There was also the idea of walking into the lion's den (Daniel), or taking a thorn from a lion's paw (St. Mark), which a woman could do as well as a man. Putting one's fingers in the lion's mouth would also, for a woman, therefore be an act of courage rather than force. The lion refrains from biting off her fingers because it is intimidated by her courage or charmed by her purity and grace that conveys the opposite of harm. In the latter case, it is similar to the notion of the unicorn tamed by a virgin. Normally fierce and uncapturable, a unicorn can only be caught if a virgin is brave enough to let it come near her, in which case it puts its head in her lap.
There are numerous illustrations of the virtue that suggest the lion's compliance rather than being overpowered.http://www.getty.edu/art/collections/im ... 033801.jpghttps://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/23 ... 937fd8.jpghttp://fourhares.com/images/XI-Chartres.jpg
, said to be at Chartres Cathedral, 12th-13th century)
including in tarot cards.http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-uVR_ZikFUQ8/T ... CShNob.jpg
Even its being pushed down by the woman's hand is not by force, but by the imposition of the lady's will. In this case, the lion might represent instinct, but not instinct in general but rather that of either fear for one's life or tehe heedless desire for victory, submitting instead to will guided by reason. http://www.associazioneletarot.it/cgi-b ... to%204.jpg
And perhaps it is to illustrate the point that often the lion is shown next to the lady, as a creature she is not afraid to have near her, rather than suggesting that she is overpowering it by force.https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/73 ... 20ce07.jpghttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ ... orteza.jpg
So if the card indeed represents a moral virtue, then what is depicted is not a lady overcoming a lion by force, but rather one who vanquishes fear by an act of will. There might also be the suggestion that courage is rewarded by the lion's desire not to see her come to harm. The lion is a symbol of God as well as instinct. There may be the message that if one is justifiably (i.e. with justice, for the virtues do not exist in separation from one another) courageous in the face of danger and possible death, God, the "lion of Judah", will reward one, either in this life or the next.http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-17R8pFMKSAI/V ... Giotto.jpg