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. (https://www.ewtn.com/library/SOURCES/MIRROR.TXT
(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, https://archive.org/details/speculumbeataem00brungoog
(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 https://archive.org/details/St.Bonavent ... 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 http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast78.htm
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 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File ... 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 http://lartte.sns.it/ripa/edizioni/ardiremagnanimo.php
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.