Debra: In the Cary Sheet, that is possible, since the man has his cup already raised. Although they don't look much like shells. In the others, they look more like flat discs. In any case, they are coin-like. Just as knives are sword-like, and wands are baton-like. They suggest the four suit objects, even if not depicting them exactly.
I found the photo I took of the basket on the Met's sarcophagus, showing the curving snake protruding from the top. Here it is:
Dionysus is keeping the lid on with his foot. For the whole sarcophagus, see the Met's picture at http://www.metmuseum.org/works_of_art/c ... =130015320
. It was found in the early 18th century, the blurb says, which is too late to have influenced the Marseille designs. However the Met might just mean, found by the British. In any case, other Dionysian sarcophagi were already widely known in the XV-XVI centuries. Mantegna was inspired by them, also Giulio Romano.
On the legitimacy of advancing such "esoteric" interpretations, I have been reading Decker, Depaulis and Dummett's A Wicked Pack of Cards
. Here is one passage (p. 43):
In the XV and XVI centuries, the exoteric symbolism of most of the Tarot trumps would have been apparent to all educated Italians. For them, their symbolic meanings would have been as obvious as it is to us that a woman with a sword and a pair of scales represents Justice; it is these meanings that constitute the exoteric symbolism of the cards. The presence of this exoteric symbolism in no way rules out that of a deeper level of esoteric symbolism needing specialized knowledge, not possessed by all educated people of that time, to discern; a surface meaning often coexists with another buried beneath it.
They are talking about the XV and XVI centuries; however I can't see that anything much would have changed by the XVII century, except that the sophistication of Italy had spread to other countries. Educated people still knew the same symbolism, as evidenced by the art that was produced in France and elsewhere at that time, at Versailles and elsewhere. The only other consideration might be that the use of tarot cards extended more to the uneducated classes than formerly. These people would not have been as sophisticated as the educated ones, from lacking the means to read widely. Also, they probably wouldn't have had the exposure to non-Christian symbols in art that the educated Italians had. So in that way some of what had earlier been "exoteric" might now have become "esoteric," in the sense of requiring specialized knowledge--but I'm not sure where the line would have been drawn. For example, would knowledge that a naked lady holding a sail represented Fortune be esoteric or exoteric? Well, such an interpretation requires specialized knowledge. But perhaps it would be considered exoteric all the same. More needs to be said.
Then there is the question about how one would determine whether a given interpretation one might advance--astrological, say, or Kabbalist--was merely a conception in one's own time projected back onto former times, or on the contrary was a legitimate possibility or probability within that former time. Decker et al address this point on p. 33f (I have highlighted the most important part in red):
There is no questioning the symbolic character of the images on the Tarot trumps. If you represent the virtue of justice as a woman holding a sword and a pair of scales, you are making heavy use of symbolism. This is exoteric symbolism. It happens to be an instance in which the symbolism has remained familiar to us, but symbolism embodied in others of the Tarot trumps would have been equally familiar to Italians of the Renaissance. The only question open to dispute is whether there is esoteric symbolism as well: symbolism intelligible only to those instructed in astrology or other arcane subjects. It is intrinsically plausible that there should have been such symbolism in a special pack of cards invented at that time and in that milieu. People of the Renaissance reveled in hidden symbolism, and the occult sciences enjoyed greater prestige in the Christian world than at any other time before or since. Any theory to this effect must pass a severe test, however. It must depend, not on any direct evidence that can be cited, but on the intrinsic plausibility that of the particular interpretation proposed, which must draw on nothing that was not available at that time and place. But it ought not to be too plausible; it cannot be anything which, if present, would leap to the eye of a man of the Renaissance looking at the cards. The reason is that, if the trump sequence was designed in accordance with any esoteric symbolism, this fact was very quickly and generally overlooked. None of the XV and XVI-century sources so much as hints at such a thing, and the absence of such a hint from some of these sources would be very surprising if their authors had had any inkling that any such symbolism was there to be found. This applies to the sermon in which Tarot, together with other card and dice games, was denounced as an invention of the devil; the preacher would not have lost such an opportunity to reinforce his point. It applies equally to Lollio's Invettiva, in which both the game and the cards are ridiculed; the poet, likewise, would not have lost so good an opportunity to ridicule the cards still further, instead of saying somewhat lamely that their inventor must have been drunk.
I can think of other reasons why someone writing about tarot might keep quiet about an esoteric interpretation. If he was hostile to the particular esoteric context, he might not want to draw attention to it, because people might want to investigate that interpretation for themselves. If friendly to the esoteric context, he might not want to cause trouble for the cardmakers and sellers. The later 16th and most of the 17th century were repressive times, in both Catholic and Protestant countries.
Also, there is the consideration that what would have been esoteric to some, in the sense of requiring specialized knowledge to which they were not privy, might have been exoteric to others, in the sense that the specialized knowledge required was not of a suspicious and secretive kind. Groups with specialized knowledge, but not "secret" knowledge--people who knew the untranslated but freely published Greco-Roman literature about the gods, for example--might not have been considered devilish, and so not worth attacking on those grounds. Only if a critic saw the cards as themselves promoting pagan cults would he be concerned; and that indeed is not obvious.
In this regard I find it interesting that astrology, which mmfilesi considers as part of the common knowledge of the times, is by Decker et al considered "arcane" and esoteric. Perhaps they have a very narrow view of what people knew about and accepted in those days. Or perhaps they have in mind the very technical and specialized astrology that professional astrologers used, with its decanates, its exaltations, detriments, and so forth, and their claims to predict "favorable" and "unfavorable" days, etc. That is as opposed to ordinary people's rudimentary knowledge of signs of the zodiac, houses, and planets (including how planets relate to the zodiac and houses). At least that's the limit of my knowledge.
However the basic criteria that Decker et al suggest seem to me quite sound: intrinsic plausibility of the interpretation proposed, not too obviously pointing to specialized knowledge (of a strange, secret, and suspicious kind, I would add), and drawing on nothing not available at that time and place. "Direct evidence" is not required. Theirs are quite the criteria that I try to use myself, when I develop interpretations: of the trumps, in terms of Greco-Roman religion, alchemy, and Kabbalah; and of all the cards, in terms of Neoopythagoreanism. What they offer are the criteria I would want to be judged by. To some, Decker et al's criteria might seem like a reductio ad absurdum
of any pre-de Gebelin "esoteric tarot." To me they constitute a challenge to be met.