Re: Strength

Dear Marco,

Thank you for the link to the Temple of Wisdom string. This gives me much to investigate.

Just a few comments . . .

In referring to Goffen’s proposed arrangement of the panels [exclusive of her interpretations of each panel], Michael J. Hurst wrote:

“The idea that both vertical and horizontal pairing should be meaningful is key. This compositional arrangement provides additional information, beyond what is in the images individually.” ... -of-3.html

This observation is most certainly true. However, I would submit that a diagonal X-wise pairing is also key to understanding the program as a whole; further, that the male face reflected in the “Prudence” panel has reference to the protagonist of the so-called “Lust” or “Perseverance” panel.

Additionally, you no doubt noted the fortress in the last, “shell” panel. But did you notice the fortress situated in the far distance of “Lust/Perseverance”? In contrast, the “Prudence” panel is noteworthy in placing us within an interior space or, conceivably, within the fortress itself.

Lastly, I find it peculiar that of the many art commentators whom Michael J. Hurst cited, none remarked on the possible symbolic significance of using these panels as a surround for a mirror.

Again, thank you for the references.


Re: Strength

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: (
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): ... _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. ... 033801.jpg ... 937fd8.jpg (from, said to be at Chartres Cathedral, 12th-13th century)

including in tarot cards. ... 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. ... 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. ... 20ce07.jpg ... 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. ... Giotto.jpg

Re: Strength

mikeh wrote: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",
More accurately, in modern English it is no longer equivalent (in terms of its semantic range); although now archaic usage, fortitude was used to mean physical as well as moral (mental, emotional or as in the modern americanisms intestinal) strength. Examples of such usage you can find for example in Shakespeare (e.g., Othello, Act 1, scene 3).

It shouldn't really be a problem in translation, taking in context of the virtues then fortitude is appropriate. In terms of symbolism also it's quite reasonable I think to take take a representation of physical strength as a visual analogy for inner strength. As you point out in terms of the lady with lion it is not a representation of physical strength anyway, but of strength of will or reason over the spirited part of the soul (whose role is "to obey the directions of the logical or reasoning part of the sould while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder.."). I'm not inclined to follow your identification of the Lion as a symbol of the spirited soul to an identification of it with Christ (as the Lion of Judah). Symbols are multivalent, but nonetheless delimited by context; failure to take context into account when interpreting symbols will take you down an endless road of possible associations. Context delimits the interpretation of the Lion in the representation of Fortitude in a different manner to that of the Lion in the World card.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Strength

What is the context of the Fortitude/Strength card, such that the Lion of Judah and Christ is excluded? This particular card is one of three virtue cards, moral virtues to be precise, defined by Aquinas, Plato, and Aristotle in terms of specifically moral strength, of whom in Christianity the supreme examples were Christ on the cross and the Christian martyrs. Christian courage was in part a gift from God.

Andrea in his essay has a nice paragraph on this:
La Fortezza del Cristo si riverbera su tutti i Cristiani che nella Prima Lettera di Giovanni vengono chiamati “ischyroi” (forti), perché in grado di resistere alle tentazioni del Maligno e al peccato per mezzo della parola di Dio che abita in loro. Sant’Agostino aggiungerà che la Fortezza consiste nella “fermezza d’animo” (firmitas animi), cioè nella capacità di sopportare i mali e le avversità della vita presente in vista del godimento dei beni supremi” (De Civitate Dei, XIX, c. 4).

(The Fortitude/Strength of Christ reverberates on all Christians, who are called, in the First Letter of John [2:14], to be “ischyroi” (strong), because they are able to hold out against the temptations of the Evil One and sin, thanks to the word of God that lives in them. Saint Augustine adds that Fortitude/Strength consists of “steadiness of mind” (firmitas animi), which is the ability to endure evils and the adversities of the present life in view of the enjoyment of the supreme good” (City of God, XIX, c. 4).)
It seems to me that the contest between the lady and the lion is a two-way street; the lion gives her strength as much as her strength opposes his. In the interaction the divine power symbolized by the lion enfuses and ennobles her. This is especially clear in the Cary-Yale.

You speak of the lady with the lion as representing the "strength of will or reason over the spirited part of the soul (whose role is "to obey the directions of the logical or reasoning part of the soul while ferociously defending the whole from external invasion and internal disorder..")." That is only part of the Christian concept of fortitude. It is not simply the power of reason to direct the soul. It is also the power of God within the soul, a concept that Christianity took over from Judaism. The lion symbolizes what the lady has within her.

I do not see how this opens up an "endless road of possible associations". It simply adds the specifically Christian component of the virtue of fortitude and identifies it with the lion. It stays within the context of the virtue.

Thanks for clarifying the history of the term "fortitude" in English. The translation problem is that Italian and the other Romance languages have not similarly narrowed the meaning (which in English originally came from Norman French), as you can see if you try to translate Andrea's essay using the word "fortitude". That may be because of the Germanic basis of English; I might be wrong, but I don't think that German behaves in quite the same way as Italian. German doesn't even have a term derived from the Latin "fortitudo", there's just (apart from the loan-word "courage"), "mut" , plus "kraft", power, which can be of the mind/soul/spirit (the same word "geist", or the "will" (wille, willenskraft) or the body. So can that lion. Hebrew, from what I can gather from the concordances and transliterations online, is similar.

On the other hand, when Aquinas speaks of "fortitudo", after first clarifying that he means moral strength, he then speaks of the virtue in precisely the way modern English uses the term "fortitude". So is the translation there properly "fortitude" or "strength"? Modern translations of Aquinas invariably have "fortitude". As a term for a moral virtue, "strength" by itself seems inaccurate. It is perhaps also the influence of such Christian sources that has contributed to narrowing the meaning of the English term "fortitude".

What is in the back of my mind is that after the Cary-Yale, what we see, both in the tarot and in art, until the Marseille tarot, are perversions of the idea of fortitude. Before, as in many of the images of the person with the lion shown earlier on this thread, are not contests of physical strength at all, as opposed to play of a kind that requires strength of soul. Then in the tarot we start seeing broken columns, reminders of Samson's great physical strength, and also Hercules with his lion, another strongman. And Durer's Samson gets into a real tussle with the lion. To be sure, great physical strength can be an image of great moral strength, but these images go overboard, focusing physical prowess and obscuring the moral dimension (what the OED calls with some exaggeration "the passive sense", ... titude#eid) exemplified by Christ at the crucifixion, the martyrs who followed, and the Christian soldier of ordinary physical strength usually portrayed as standing rather than attacking.

I looked in one book and two articles about how the virtue of fortitude was portrayed before the middle of the 15th century (Katzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices; Tuve, Notes on the Virtues and Vices"). It is mostly either an armed person, sometimes with a shield, sometimes with a lion on the shield, or it is a person with his or her, usually her, fingers in a lion's mouth. Some illuminations have ladies holding miniature towers, i.e. defensive structures, but that is a play on another meaning of "fortezza" (fortress) to show a particular part of the virtue, steadfastness and preparation. But no broken pillars, no pictures of people exhibiting what is clearly unusual physical strength. The inclusiveness of the Italian "fortezza" and the Latin "fortitudo" (like the English "strength") makes the switch to pillars and pummeling easy. But what results is only indirectly a moral virtue.

What it leads to for me is an argument for how the fortitude card, as part of a deck with personified moral virtues, didn't start in a place that used the broken pillar, or another image of physical strength such as Hercules or Samson with their lions, as its image, as opposed to a place that had the moral virtue uppermost in mind, and then the place that took it over--Florence, specifically--debased it into a kind of Renaissance version of Superman. It is not a strong argument, just one among others.

Re: Strength

mikeh wrote: What is in the back of my mind is that after the Cary-Yale, what we see, both in the tarot and in art, until the Marseille tarot, are perversions of the idea of fortitude. Before, as in many of the images of the person with the lion shown earlier on this thread, are not contests of physical strength at all, as opposed to play of a kind that requires strength of soul. Then in the tarot we start seeing broken columns, reminders of Samson's great physical strength, and also Hercules with his lion, another strongman.
Neither Samson nor Hercules are 'merely' exemplars of physical strength, but rather of divinely empowered strength.

28 Then he called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. 30 And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.

Ii don't see that signs of physical strength, as symbols of moral strength, are in any way perversions of the idea of fortitude; but rather emblems or hieroglyphs through both a literal and an analogical sense the idea of both physical and moral strength.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Strength

I have been doing more investigation on the issues of (a) an understanding of the card as Moral fortitude degenerating into an understanding of it as Physical Fortitude; and (b) the lion as God, trying to answer Steve in the previous post (a year and a half ago, but who's counting?). In this post I want to pursue the first issue.

First, there is the evidence of the two tarot essays of around 1565. For Piscina, it is the card after the Popes and Princes, Justice and the Chariot. The presence of Strength in this position shows, in part "that these great princes are Stronger than other men" ( che questi Gran Prencipi stano piu forti di tutti gli altri huomini", Caldwell, Depaulis and Ponzi, Explaining the Tarot, 2010, p. 19) . In addition, that it comes after Justice shows that Justice is in need of Force in order to carry out its determinations: “la Giustitia, da se stessa essere debile, ch’abbi bisogno di Fortezza ad esser secondo le leggi e constitutione governata” (“Justice, being weak on its own, needs Strength to be ruled according to laws and constitutions”, Ibid). The morality attaching to the card is from the preceding card, and has none of its own. Fortitude, however, has its own excess, deficiency, and mean. As St. Thomas says, "fortitude is about fear and daring, as curbing fear and moderating daring" (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 124, a. 3). That characterizes the morality intrinsic to that virtue, which Piscina says nothing about. In itself, the card for him relates only to physical force plus justice.

Piscina is like Albericus in the Libellus about Hercules, as part of the moralizing of Greek myth: "Hercules is virtue; it destroys evil." That is not Fortitude, i.e. not the curbing of fear in the right amount. It is virtue conceived as a force, like a very powerful army in an epic battle that will achieve justice. There is no mention of Hercules or Virtue, or Christ at the 2nd coming, as dealing with fear. If Aquinas counts as an authority, he is quite specific that fearlessness is not fortitude: "It is therefore evident that fearlessness is a vice, whether it result from lack of love [for one's soul], pride of soul, or dullness of understanding: yet the latter is excused from sin if it be invincible" (II-II, q. 126, a. 1).

Even divinely inspired Strength is not Fortitude in the moral sense. It is merely physical power received from a divine source, for the recipient to use either in accord with morality or against it.

The 1565 Anonymous essay says that after the temporal and ecclesiastical powers, “Prudence follows, then Strength” (Caldwell et al, p. 55). Presumably the titles are not yet on the cards, and he has mistaken the Temperance card for Prudence, since he never mentions one named Temperance. He continues: “The first is a virtue of the soul, the second of the body, and they are much desired by many.” Some want perfect prudence, i.e. knowledge of the future as well as the past and present. “Others desire extreme strength of body, an immense valour, being invincible, the only ones who can tear lions to pieces, kill snakes, defeat armies, conquer kingdoms and to be admired, feared, and respected by all the trembling others” (Ibid). There is nothing here of the cardinal virtue Fortitude, just the squalid vainglory of force.

This is precisely what one would conclude from seeing pictures of Hercules or Samson overwhelming their lions, that it is about a god-given use of force. perhaps for a just purpose, as Piscina says, perhaps independently of justice, as Anonymous says. But that is not the cardinal virtue of Fortitude. Where is the curbing of fear and the moderation of daring? A weak woman putting her hands on or in a lion's mouth, however, is something else. It could be compared to the act of the slave Androcles in removing a burr from a lion's paw, or the same act by the monk Jerome, acting prudently, perhaps even with divinely inspired prudence, out of concern for another's suffering, curbing fear and at the same time not attacking without examining the situation, and so moderating daring..

If Samson were shown differently, facing the lion but not knowing if he has the divinely inspired physical force or not, that might be better. One at least must be in a position of vulnerability. It may be that he is, because after all it is one thing to have invincible strength and another to know how to use it, but if so that vulnerability isn't shown.

This straying from the cardinal virtue in the tarot is repeated later on, by Etteilla and his followers, and later the French occultist Paul Christian.

At the end of the 3rd Cahier Etteilla characterizes Strength [La Force] as "submitting to the truth of Divine and Human Laws" (, which isn't bad, but he never talks about "curbing fear and moderating daring". Then in his discussion of the card's use in divination, it is all about who vanquishes who, depending on where the cards lie on the table: "Let it be C.B.A. : A, the consultant; B, Strength; C, a rival of the consultant; the latter will be vanquished. Let it be B.C.A.: against the danger of A, ... C is going to seek Strength B, & vanquish A" ( ... ation.html). That is no longer about fortitude.

Then there is "Julia Orsini" (the publisher Simon Blocquel), in Le Grand Etteilla, ou l’Art de Tirer les Cartes, 1838. He illustrates the predictive power of the card by repeating a rumor that Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz had been predicted by way of precisely this card in a reading for Empress Josephine (“Napoléon en fit l'épreuve à la bataille d'Austerlitz, qu'il gagna, ainsi que la lui avait prédit limpératrice Joséphine, avant qu'il partis pour l'armée”, p. 66). It is again about who vanquishes whom.

Perhaps the worst offender is Paul Christian in l'Homme des Tuileries, 1863, and L'Histoire de la Magie in 1870. He calls it "The Muzzled Lion”, ruled by Mars and the archangel Samael, and declares of it: “A girl closing with her hands, without effort, the mouth of a lion. It is the emblem of the force that gives faith in oneself. If this card appears in your horoscope, advance with faith: all obstacles are phantoms. To be able, one must believe that one is able. In order to become strong, silence must be imposed on the repugnances of the mind, the weaknesses of the heart; you must study duty, which is the rule of right, and practice justice as if you loved it” (L’Homme Rouge des Tuileries, Paris, 1863, p. 96 of 1977 reprint, my translation). There is nothing here about curbing daring; it does address curbing fear, but just to the extent of assuring the person that there is nothing to fear except lack of self-confidence.

I say Christian is perhaps the worst, because it is possible that Christian's book actually influenced history, although, to be sure, "the number of fools is infinite" and Christian was merely reflecting his time. His book contains several flattering remarks about Napoleon III and reminds his audience of the successful predictions Christian once made about the Emperor's personal fortunes, predicting both a happy (for him) outcome of the Crimean War and that his wife would give birth to an heir. One of the extra cards in the 1966 Tarot Belline (obviously not of 19th century origin, however) tells us, and it might be true, that the "Mage Edmond" who used this hand-made deck based on Christian was actually invited to bring his cards to the Tuileries Palace to give the Emperor a reading (see viewtopic.php?f=14&t=1215#p19720). If the "Force" card as interpreted by Christian figured at all in the Emperor's decisions, it was a recipe for disaster, not merely for him personally, but for Europe. He confidently declared war against Bismarck, a move Bismarck seems to have encouraged; the result was a slaughter and a humiliating peace that led the French to desire revenge at the next opportunity. That of course produced more slaughter, more desire for revenge (on the German side), and again more slaughter, each time increasing exponentially, all in the name, of course, of justice.

It is to Christian's credit, I suppose, that in his account of the Justice card, he emphasizes the necessity of the victor to act justly toward the vanquished, correcting imbalances so as to prevent future strife ("the Will must foresee the onslaught of contrary forces in time to lessen or check it", History of Magic p. 104, L'Homme Rouge p. 94). That of course was out of Napoleon III's hands.

To sum up: Regarding the cardinal virtue, which the card originally sure surely was about, Samson's fight with the lion and Hercules' with his are not only irrelevant but, in their effects, pernicious, because they do not address what the virtue is about, namely, "curbing fear and moderating daring."

I do not include Samson's bringing down the temple in that category. Even if his strength is unlimited, his capacities to use it are then quite impaired, enough so that he is an easy target for his enemies no matter what he does, except for what he does against them first, before they realize his strength. To bring down the temple is a rational move by a person with such limitations. He has assessed the risks and takes action accordingly. It is the same for Hercules in the last act of his life, that of dragging himself to his funeral pyre. This is fortitude, again because of his limited ability for action. St. Thomas says, "The virtue of the soul is perfected, not in the infirmity of the soul, but in the infirmity of the body" (II-II, q. 123, a. 3 reply 1).

That is part of why the virtue is best portrayed by a woman, it seems to me. It is not just that the word has a feminine ending, because actually, it was portrayed by a woman even in an era when all writing was in Latin, in which Fortitudo is masculine. Her gender precisely differentiates her from Hercules and Samson, because of her limited strength.

I think there is another reason, too, but that will involve the second thesis I want to defend, that the lion, in the medieval mind, is God as well as other things. So I will wait with that.

Re: Strength

De Gebelin had little to say about the "Force" card (which, like “Fortezza”, can mean either moral or physical strength), other than it is one of the four cardinal virtues, and that “it is a woman who has made herself mistress of a lion, opening its mouth with as much facility as she would that of her little spaniel.”

That same quality not only fits the Tarot of Marseille, but also the Cary-Yale and the few examples I have found of a woman holding a lion's mouth earlier. Actually, it is of some interest to notice how the relationship of the woman to the lion changes over time. Below are Bamburg Cathedral, 11th century tomb of Clement II; Chartres Cathedral, 14th century (per JMD at , although I have not found verification yet); Cary-Yale, c. 1442; Bellini c. 1475; Noblet (restored Flornoy) c. 1660; Conver 1761, reproduced by Heron:
[Added March 7: I found out where on Chartres Cathedral the picture of the "woman" and the lion is: it is on the north side, right portal, part of the story of Samson. Since it is the lowest of three, it must be the beginning scene, where Samson kills the lion (Adolph Katzenellenbogen, The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral; Chrsit, Mary, Ecclesia, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1959, p. 70 and figure 60). It is the overcomng of evil, Katzenellenbogen says. He cites the Glossa ordinaria, in iudices, XIV, 5, P.L. CXIII, col 531: "Samson...leonem occidit; it Christus Ecclesium vocaturus de gentibus diobolum vicit", which means something like "Samson ... killed the lion; and Christ's call will win the gentiles from the devil. "]
You will have noticed that the lion's mouth changes over time, so that she goes from looking into the mouth, as though either facing her fear head-on or looking for something inside (like a burr), to simply holding the jaws apart and not looking. The woman in Conver is more like Samson than the CY and earlier. That is not a bad thing, as ambiguity is good, it packs more meaning into a card. The problem is unpacking it.

Of all these images we can still ask, why is it a woman, and why does she have such an easy time with the lion?
There is a specifically feminine context in medieval thought for confronting a lion and rendering it harmless with no physical force. What comes to my mind is the "unicorn tapestries" in the Cluny Museum of Paris, done in the late 15th century apparently on a French commission. In its final scene a lion stands on one side and a unicorn on the other, both adoring the lady in the center. So now the question is, where do unicorns and lions appear together in the Bible, at least the Bible of those days?

Psalm 21:22 says, “Save me from the lion's mouth; and my lowness from the horns of the unicorns” (salva me ex ore leonis et de cornibus unicornium exaudi me). This is in the same psalm as “They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots”, verse 18. Lions and unicorns seem to be a metaphor for those who would imprison or kill the psalmist. Besides humans, symbolically that could be God, in wrath, or the Devil, in triumph.

Isadore of Seville says that The “unicorn” is the rhinoceros, the most unstoppable of beasts, yet if a virgin should open its lap to it, it would meekly put its head there and lose its ferocity (Etymologies XII, 12-13, accessible online). This would seem to be a Christian allegory with erotic elements. In that sense, the psalmist would be praying to God’s mercy to save him from God’s wrath. Somehow the lady, even in giving birth to a god of mercy, transforms the god of wrath.

A 14th century monk named Conrad of Saxony gives part of an explanation, in a text mistakenly attributed to St. Bonaventura and thus probably widely read. WorldCat says it was first printed in 1476. Conrad argues that David placated by Abigail is the equivalent of God placated by Mary.

The Story in I Samuel Ch. 25 is that David, in the hills with 400 followers, had sent messengers to Abigail’s husband Nabal asking for provisions for his men, since he had protected Nabal and his flocks from raiders during the winter. Nabal not only refused but derogated David as a person of no significance (which at that time he was, having been expelled from Saul's court). Abigail intervened by going to David with even more provisions than he expected and asking forgiveness for Nabal’s behavior. Here is Conrad:
...I say that Mary is blessed because by her, God was induced to be favorable to man, as is signified in the example of Abigail, of whom we read, that when David, being angry, wanted to kill the fool Nabal, Abigail, meeting him half-way, appeased him; who being appeased, said: "Blessed be thy speech, and blessed be thou, who hast kept me to-day from coming to blood, and revenging me with my own hand" (I Kings XXV, 32 f.) The fool Nabal signifies the sinner; for every sinner is a fool. But, alas, as it is said in Ecclesiasticus: "The number of fools is infinite" (I, 15). Abigail signifies Mary, for the name is interpreted, "joy of the father." Oh, how great was the joy of the heavenly Father in Mary, and that of Mary in the heavenly Father, when she herself said: "My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior." As Abigail typifies Our Lady, so David typifies Our Lord. For David was offended by the fool Nabal, when the Lord was offended by guilty man. David was appeased by the fool Nabal, when the Lord was appeased and reconciled to guilty man by Mary. Abigail appeased David by words and gifts; Mary appeased the Lord by her prayers and merits. Abigail turned away temporal vengeance, but Mary turned away that which was eternal; the former averted the sword of man, the latter, that of God. (

(Maria benedicta est, quia per eam Deus homini placabilis est, sicut signatum est in Abigail, de qua legitur primi Eegum vigesimo quinto, quod cum David offensus occidere vellet Nabal stultum, Abigail occurrens offenso placavit eum. Qui placatus dixit: Benedictum eloquium tuum, et benedicta tu, quae prohibuisti me hodie, ne irem ad sanguinem et ulciscerer me manu mea. Nabal stultus signat peccatorem; omnis enim peccator stultus est. Sed heu! sicut dicitur Ecclesiastae primo: Stultorum infinitus est numerus. Abigail Mariam signat, interpretatur enim patris mei exsultor tio. quanta Patris caelestis in Maria et Mariae in Patre caelesti fuit exsnltatioj cum ipsa dixit (4) : Exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo! Sicut antem Abigail dominam nostram, sic David Dominum nostrum signat. David antem offensns est Nabal stulto, quando Dominus offensns est homini impio. David Nabal stulto per Abigail placatur, quando Dominus impio per Mariam reconciliatnr. Abigail placavit David verbis et muneribus, Maria placat Dominum precibus et meritis. Abigail ultionem temporalem, Maria vero aeternalem convertit, dum illa humanum, ista vero divinum gladium avertit.) (Speculum Beatae Mariae Virginis, Ad Claras Aquas (Quaracchi) prope Florentiam, ex typographia Collegii S. Bonaventurae (Rome), 1904, Cap. XV, p. 203,,

(Curiously enough, there are two versions of this particular passage, each with a Latin version and an English one. I have quoted the one that corresponds to the Latin of what seems to be recognized as the official Latin text of 1904. It also corresponds to an Italian translation I found online. Another English version, which is at ... VirginMary, uses somewhat different language, emphasizing Mary's "meekness" as what transformed God, whereas the text above says "prayers and merits". I have not found a comparable Italian translation, nor a full Latin text. However part of the Latin is quoted in Jung's Psychology and Alchemy (p. 443), citing "Mundus Symbolicus, I, 419 b" . The last part of the passage above, starting "David typifies our Lord" appears in this version as "David signifies Christ, who by Mary's meekness is soothed and placated, lest He should take vengeance on the sinner by eternal death”, in Latin: "David Christum signat, qui per mansuetissimam Mariam mansuescit et placatur, ne se de peccatore per mortem aeternam ulciscatur." I do not know why there are two versions. The second is shorter, but otherwise amounts to much the same, except for the difference mentioned. )

Because of Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler in 1938, the word “appeased”—in Latin, placavit, placated--has gotten a bad name, as a sign of weakness. However for Conrad, Arigail's action is not surrendering to unjust demands, but rather honoring what should be honored, while appealing to the other’s charitableness for past errors. Also, it seems to me, correcting her husband's error is in itself an act of courage, as David was already in a rage and bent on slaughter; moreover, since she had opposed her husband, she might be in for considerable punishment at home. Likewise Mary prays for humanity's forgiveness, perhaps even in heaven before her immaculate conception, which after all means that she is from before original sin.

So this brings me to my second thesis articulated in my previous post, that the lion of the Strength card is, among other things, God. If a raging David is Christ, then so can a fearsome lion. Here is what Guillaume Le Clerc wrote in his Bestiaire of 1210 about the lion, which I precede with an image from a manuscript of that text:
IT is proper that we should first speak of the nature of the lion, which is a fierce and proud beast and very bold. It has three especially peculiar characteristics. In the first place it always dwells upon a high mountain. From afar off it can scent the hunter who is pursuing it. And in order that the latter may not follow it to its lair it covers over its tracks by means of its tail. Another wonderful peculiarity of the lion is that when it sleeps its eyes are wide open, and clear and bright. The third characteristic is likewise very strange. For when the lioness brings forth her young, it falls to the ground, and gives no sign of life until the third day, when the lion breathes upon it and in this way brings it back to life again.
The meaning of all this is very clear. When God, our Sovereign father, who is the Spiritual lion, came for our salvation here upon earth, so skillfully did he cover his tracks that never did the hunter know that this was our Savior, and nature marveled how he came among us. By the hunter you must understand him who made man to go astray and seeks after him to devour him. This is the Devil, who desires only evil.
When this lion was laid upon the Cross by the Jews, his enemies, who judged him wrongfully, his human nature suffered death. When he gave up the spirit from his body, he fell asleep upon the holy cross. Then his divine nature awoke. This must you believe if you wish to live again.
When God was placed in the tomb, he was there only three days, and on the third day the Father breathed upon him and brought him to life again, just as the lion did to its young.
(trans. L. Oscar Kuhns, ed. Charles Dudley Warner, Library Of The World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern, Vol 4, International Society, New York, 1896. ).
This is a free translation, we are told, to avoid the many repetitions. The original is written in Norman-French. I have found the first part online, in modern French, and I think in the original. The points are obvious enough, and these three traits of the lion are also in Isadore, Etymologies, Book 12, 2:3-6, thus probably are in many such works. Isadore adds "They spare anyone who prostrates himself and allow captives to return home," which could also be said of God. (These are all at and the links there.)

It seems to me it couldn't be plainer. I surmise that the lion's symbolizing God is partly why so many nobles and royals adopted it as their heraldic. Of course there was also the other part, God's physical power, that they wanted to associate with. But the bestiary shows quite clearly the other aspect of the lion, the identification between him and the physical Christ who hides from the hunter (the devil, etc.), never relaxes his vigilance, and dies on the cross. It is this God who has gone through this experience of being human who understands Mary's pleas and is transformed by them, in which the act of entering her womb is a part.

I see the same idea in some of Shakespeare. The closest I can think of is the wrathful Lear who experiences privation and vulnerability for the first time, remembers his daughter Cordelia's courageous words of rebuke, and is in the process of transforming--not completely to a king of mercy, but on that road, and at least a king of humility. There is also Corialanus arrogantly fights his native city Rome because of perceived slights but realizes his error upon hearing the pleas of his mother and wife. There is the "bed trick" in All's Well That Ends Well which somehow transforms the arrogant Bertrand into seeing the commoner he was forced to marry without his prejudices. There are probably other examples.. Perhaps these are secular versions of mystery plays. And of course there is "Beauty and the Beast", where a young woman’s gentle ways tame a beast of a man who is eventually transformed by her love to what he really is.

The emblem books of the 16th and 17th centuries repeat much of this material about lions.. Alciato has the lion sleeping with its eyes open (in the lines for vigilance, emblem XV); he also has the lion for rage (LXIII) . Ripa has a lion to represent clemency (because it won't attack a man who is down), generosity (to small animals), magnanimity (illustrated in 1643 Paris edition) reason of state (an old lion), valor, vigilance (sleeping with its eyes open), virility.

Ripa also gives the unreformed aspects: severity, terror (but for rage, ira, he has the rhinoceros). Below are the French magnanimity and the Italian 1611 severity. It is probably significant that one is sitting and the other standing. Sitting suggests dominance over, e.g. Aristotle and Phyllis etc.
There is also a bridled lion, with reins held by a woman: in the emblems for ethics (below left), reason, and force used with reason. The bridle is held by a man for self-mastery (below right). The bridled lion is God only ambiguously; the bridle might refer us to Plato's Charioteer myth, where it is used to tame the ignoble, lustful horse, but there is also the virtue of Temperance, which in moderating rage could apply to God. For strength itself, as Pen gave us earlier in this thread, Ripa has just a lady with a shield, on which there is a lion attacking a bear ( ... 35736).jpg).
Ripa does have one emblem, called "magnanimous and generous ardor" (below), that seems close to that of the lady holding the jaws of the lion. Of it Ripa says,
“A young man of sturdy stature and proud in his face will move with his right arm, which he forcibly hurls strongly at the tongue of a great lion, which is on its knees. ... This alludes to the generous courage of Lysimachus, son of Agatocle, nobleman of Macedonia, and one of the successors of Alexander the Great, who gave poison to his Master Callisthenes the philosopher, bidding him to rise from the misery of imprisonment, to which he had been confined by Alexander; he was thus given to be devoured by a lion, but with genius he passed the lion and, confident in his strength, he put his right arm, which he had secretly armed, into the lion's mouth, and from its throat forcibly pulled its tongue, leaving the lion suddenly dead. For which he was later numbered one of the dearest friends of King Alexander, and thus was exalted to rise to the government of states and the eternity of glory. If one wants to represent this on horseback in some masquerade or another, one will put a tongue in his hand and the dead lion on his crest.” (Iconologia, Padua, 1611, pp. 26-27, my translation from
How does this story illustrate “ardor of magnanimity and generosity”? It is evidently the man’s attitude toward the philosopher Callisthenes, offering him poison as relief from suffering against Alexander’s wishes. Ripa's image in the Italian edition of 1603 is below left, curiously not looking into the lion's mouth, but finding the tongue by feel.
Attributed to a Roman historian then known only as “Justin” and sometimes confused with Justin Martyr, this account was well known in the Middle Ages. But there is an obvious difference from the Tarot de Marseille, CY, and the tomb of Clement II. Those ladies are not reaching for the lion’s tongue' nor is she armed. In fact, when Ripa's book was published in French, where tarot was played with the tarot of Marseille (unlike Rome, which had the lady with the column, as probably did northeastern Italy), the artist made the contrast even more obvious (above middle), with the man's hands deep inside and showing his knife. The lady on the card (1761 Conver on left) is no Lysimachus.

Well, I hope I have dealt with the topic sufficiently. If not I hope people will let me know. I am not denying that the lion is other things besides God: nature, instincts, the Devil, etc., just that God would be a major association, consistent with the cardinal virtue, and especially with a woman.

Re: Strength

(For the entire portal, see ... e-001b.jpg.

An unresolved issue in my previous post was that of the context of the image said to be from Chartres, of what appears to be lady looking down and holding the mouth of a lion. I did find it and added the result to my previous post. However more needs to be said. I'll start by repeating what I recently added to my previous post:
I found out where on Chartres Cathedral the picture of the "woman" and the lion is: it is on the north side, right portal, part of the story of Samson. Since it is the lowest of three, it must be the beginning scene, where Samson kills the lion (Adolph Katzenellenbogen, The Sculptural Programs of Chartres Cathedral; Christ, Mary, Ecclesia, John Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1959, p. 70 and figure 60). It is the overcoming of evil, Katzenellenbogen says. He cites the Glossa ordinaria, in iudices, XIV, 5, P.L. CXIII, col 531: "Samson...leonem occidit; it Christus Ecclesium vocaturus de gentibus diobolum vicit", which means something like "Samson ... killed the lion; and Christ's call will win the gentiles from the devil. "]
Above the image in question we see Samson getting the honey from the carcass and, above that, Samson carrying the gate of Gaza, Katzenellenbogen, which he picked up and moved, so as to intimidate his enemies who were waiting there for him. The interpretation of the lion as the devil, as part of the plan of the portal, is confirmed by the parallel story of Gideon featured on the other side of the portal. Gideon, paralleling Samson's killing of the lion, makes an offering on the former altar of the Canaanite God Baal. "Both overcome evil in this way," Katzenellenbogen says (p. 70). The other two in each also correspond. Also, Baal is featured on the bottom of the Gideon series, just as the lion is featured in the same place at the bottom of the Samson series.

Such interpretation of course flies in the face of my proposed alternative, that the lion is God. However we must remember that the Glossa ordinaria, while authoritative and based on the Fathers of the Church, does not preclude other interpretations even then. The Glossa was compiled by Anselm of Laon, who is also known for expelling Peter Abelard from his teaching staff. Abelard's dialectical approach to scripture, in terms of "Yes/No", was popular and by the 13th century became dominant.

There are several problems with interpreting the lion only as the devil. For one, the lion is a solar animal, and the sun was a symbol for God. For another, Samson later extracts honey from the carcass, which is interpreted as the sweetness of heaven: Christ fights the devil and provides the sweetness of salvation. Yet the legend has the honey coming from the lion, while Christ's sweetness does not come from the carcass of the devil. Its source is in a different direction. There is also the non-aggressiveness of the person in the sculpture, compared to most depictions of Samson and the lion.

It did not take a Blake to realize that "He who made the lamb made thee [Blake's Tyger]". The lion, a solar animal, is God's creature sent by God, symbolically in tradition the sun, to test Samson, in the way that the sun' heat tests the farmer and the traveler, and also to reveal to him God's gift to him. Otherwise he might have gone a long time without knowing of his superhuman strength. From passing the trial, facing his fear, and its object, directly instead of running away, he has earned the right to the sweetness that is contained in the object of that fear. Both are from the same source, God.

Conrad of Saxony develops this point further. To defuse the anger of God in favor of his sweetness, one does not kill the devil, but rather one prays to God and keeps his commandments as best one can. Samson is replaced by Mary and Abigail (and Androcles and St. Jerome), and God is the one wounded at Golgotha. Withstanding fear is not the same as killing the object of one's fear, as in fact St. Thomas makes us aware in saying that the principal aspect of fortitude is not attack but endurance. Whether to attack or endure is then a matter of what is prudent in the situation.

Re: Strength

Yes, I've seen those, but it was good looking at them again.

As I said, I do not disagree that the source of the Cary-Yale image is Samson. In fact the closest to the card is the image I posted from Chartres Cathedral. But the question still remains, what does this image mean in the context of the tarot? Here it is one of the cardinal virtues, a moral virtue, not a physical virtue. So the image has moral allegorical point, which still needs to be said.

What all the images have in common is that a person is putting his or her hands on the jaws of a lion. Samson, we are told, killed the attacking young lion as easily as if it were a kid. So Samson is often not portrayed as being in a life and death struggle, but in fact having an easy time of it. It is a struggle which we would think a priori the lion would win. On the other hand, he has an easy time, thanks to "he Spirit of the Lord" that "came upon Samson" (Judges 14:16). To emphasize the contrast --fierce lion, easy to deal with - many of the artists make ita mature lion and not a young one. Another way of representing courage would be to make the person a young and not very muscular lady who subdues the lion. But that is not Samson any longer. But what is it? That's the problem I wanted to address.

One answer might be that it represents Fortitude, by means of the analogy between moral fortitude and physical fortitude. Yes, but what does that come to?

Besides the answers I have already given, I have one more, which may be more to the point. Courage is different from the performance of a task, such as taking down an enemy (which might be done with little personal danger, for example by slipping someone a poison in the preparation of their food) in that "grave danger" has to be involved (according to Aquinas), including the danger of death. By making it a young and presumably non-muscular girl, facing a lion instead of, say, a little dog or baby goat, with her bare hands instead of a spear or bow and arrow, which must be grasped by those hands in its most dangerous part, the jaws, the image emphasizes that there is a serious danger here, with the risk of death. That is the essence of Fortitude.

We also have to realize that Samson was not the typical exemplar of the cardinal virtue of Fortitude. By far the most common, e.g. In Giotto's seven virtues, was of a soldier with a shield and a sword or lance. But we don't even see the danger, which presumably is one or more other soldiers similarly equipped. There is no courage in just standing there, although admittedly he will not just stand there, if the occasion arises. However the image of the girl with the lion, putting her hands in the lion's most dangerous part, makes the idea of courage all the more vivid.

Then there is the problem of whether it is courage that is being represented, or recklessness, foolhardiness, rashness, which for Aquinas was a vice and not a virtue. There is another idea, that God has given an extra dose of energy to Samson: the spirit of God entered him, the scripture says. Likewise many of the Christian martyrs crucified by Rome could have saved themselves by making a show of worshiping the Emperor. But their refusal to do so is not foolhardy; it is for the general good., by serving as an example to others of the strength of their belief, so strong that perhaps indeed it is from God. It seems to me that that idea is also in the image - not of martyrdom, but of a strength from God.

I think that Filippo Maria Visconti probably chose that image over the tamer ones he could have used, precisely to show both the grave danger and the exceptional response. It is probably how he saw himself, taking great risks in order to win back the territory his brother lost before him. (I suspect it was he who had his brother assassinated, for example.) And he wanted his condottieri to inspire their men to keep fighting against all odds, too, using their wits and skill.

In relation to Filippo, I am now less inclined to say he was thinking in terms of Jerome or Androcles and their lions. Faced with a potential danger, Filippo was not one to take risks to see what he could do to work with the danger so as to win it to his side. However that interpretation does make sense in 17th-18th century France, as a kind of passive protest against the rise of absolutist monrarchy there.

Another root of a few of the depictions of Samson comes in those cases (a surprising number, at ... n/?lp=true) where Samson rides the lion. That references the image of Phyllis riding Aristotle, illustrating how the wisest man in classical antiquity allowed himself to be the victim of Cupid's darts. That indignity was sometimes included in the illustrations of Petrarch's Triumph of Love. The Anonymous Discourse has something similar,pertaining to the tarot Love card, but with Solomon as the one ridden. In the case of Aristotle, it is Aristotle's love for Phyllis that renders him meek - just as, in Conrad of Saxony's view, Christ's love for the Virgin Mary made him subject to her and so full of the mercy of her intercessions. That is how the lady tames the lion, his love for her courage makes him meek.

A similar image is Dionysus riding a lion; the allegory here is that a little wine - not too much -can make men amiable and blunt their defensiveness and anger. Whether these examples are too far from what is on the card I do not know. But Dionysus, like Apollo, was frequently presented as a youth with girlish curls.

There is one more interpretation that relates particularly to Filippo Maria Visconti. There is a certain similarity of the lady and lion ( ... rength.jpg) to the red man with the viper in the Visconti heraldic with the Viper ( ... n-2007.jpg). The legend, repeated by Tasso, was that Otho Visconti acquired the heraldic in the Holy Land defeating a Saracen giant who had that image on his shield ( ... ields.html. If so, it would mean the defeat of one's enemies, of which the heraldic is a nice reminder. Allegorically, one's enemies are always demonized (even if they are the same people who worked for you last week!). So it shows the helplessness of the enemy (the red man) against the fearsome Visconti (the crowned serpent). The girl, however, blocks the lion's jaws. In that case the girl is the good guy and the lion the evil one. Either that, or she is a force of mercy and conciliation; but I don't know whether Filippo would want to have conveyed that message, even if it is part of the iconography of the time.

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