Sola Busca pips and Classical Greece

Looking again at Sola Busca cards and re-reading Zucker's description, I have decided to try some googling for the elements of one of the weirdest cards: the Five of Discs.
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The results are well summarised in this passage:
E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.


A famous oracle in Epi’ros, and the most ancient of Greece. It was dedicated to Zeus (Jupiter), and situate in the village of Dodna.
The tale is, that Jupiter presented his daughter Theb with two black pigeons which had the gift of human speech. Lemprière tells us that the Greek word peleiai (pigeons) means, in the dialect of the Eprots, old women; so that the two black doves with human voice were two black or African women. One went to Libya, in Africa, and founded the oracle of Jupiter Ammon; the other went to Eprus and founded the oracle of Dodna. We are also told that plates of brass were suspended on the oak trees of Dodona, which being struck by thongs when the wind blew, gave various sounds from which the responses were concocted. It appears that this suggested to the Greeks the phrase Kalkos Dodns (brass of Dodona), meaning a babbler, or one who talks an infinite deal of nothing.
Since ancient times, there have been doubts about whether the doves of Dodona were actual birds or women. Herodotus writes:
...the women who deliver the oracles relate the matter as follows:- "Two black doves flew away from Egyptian Thebes, and while one directed its flight to Libya, the other came to them. She alighted on an oak, and sitting there began to speak with a human voice, and told them that on the spot where she was, there should henceforth be an oracle of Jove. They understood the announcement to be from heaven, so they set to work at once and erected the shrine. The dove which flew to Libya bade the Libyans to establish there the oracle of Ammon."
The Dodonaeans called the women doves because they were foreigners, and seemed to them to make a noise like birds. After a while the dove spoke with a human voice, because the woman, whose foreign talk had previously sounded to them like the chattering of a bird, acquired the power of speaking what they could understand. For how can it be conceived possible that a dove should really speak with the voice of a man?
Frazer mentions "the bronze statuette which ... produced the sound by striking the gong with a clapper" and refers to a paper by Arthur Bernard Cook (The Gong at Dodona, 1902) that presents many ancient sources about the oracle and a reconstruction of the original device:
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Strabo, Geography 7 Fragment 3 :
"The proverbial phrase, `the copper vessel in Dodona,' originated thus : In the temple was a copper vessel with a statue of a man situated above it and holding a copper scourge, dedicated by the Korkyraians; the scourge was three-fold and wrought in chain fashion, with bones strung from it; and these bones, striking the copper vessel continuously when they were swung by the winds, would produce tones so long that anyone who measured the time from the beginning of the tone to the end could count to four hundred. Whence, also, the origin of the proverbial term, `the scourge of the Korkyraians.'”

So, in different sources, we find most of the peculiar elements that appear in the card:

* the “bird-person” that could represent the dove-priestess
* the hanging cymbals (“plates of brass were suspended on the oak trees of Dodona”)
* the hovering beaded cords (see Strabo and Cook's reconstruction)
* “striking the gong with a clapper" (Frazer)

The missing element is the “fragment of a flaming branch” (Zucker) below the left foot of the figure. A possible explanation could be a reference to this passage by Pliny the Elder:
The fountain of Jupiter in Dodona, although it is as cold as ice, and extinguishes torches that are plunged into it, yet, if they be brought near it, it kindles them again.

Re: Dodona and the Sola Busca 5 of Coins

SteveM wrote:anything there that explains the penis and ball sac on the shield?
No. I feel rather sure that the whole shield (as in the ace of Cups and ace of Coins), or at least the decoration on it (as all other shields such as Postumio, Panfilio, Mario, Bocho, Metelo etc), has been added by the painter and is likely independent from the design of the original engravings.
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Re: Dodona and the Sola Busca 5 of Coins

Olympias (Queen of Swords) was the princess of Epirus (where Dodona is).
Hyperides (In Defence of Euxenippus) describes an incident in which Olympias complained with the Athenians because they had a beautiful face constructed for the statue of goddess Dione at Dodona. Olympias's point of view was that Epirus (Molossia) and therefore the temple belonged to her and the Athenians "had no right to interfere with anything there at all".
Olympias has made complaints against you about the incident at Dodona, complaints which are unfair, as I have twice already proved in the Assembly before yourselves and the rest of Athens. I explained to her envoys that the charges she brings against the city are not justified. For Zeus of Dodona commanded you through the oracle to embellish the statue of Dione.
You made a face as beautiful as you could, together with all the other appropriate parts; and having prepared a great deal of expensive finery for the goddess and dispatched envoys with a sacrifice at great expense, you embellished the statue of Dione in a manner worthy of yourselves and of the goddess. These measures brought you the complaints of Olympias, who said in her letters that the country of Molossia, in which the temple stands, belonged to her, and that therefore we had no right to interfere with anything there at all.

Re: Dodona and the Sola Busca 5 of Coins

I'm sure the unpainted engravings must exist somewhere on trionfi, but I can't find them. Volume 11 of The Encyclopedia of Tarot has a small image of the five of discs, but it's of very poor quality. As far as I can see there's no shield at all, and the area below the left foot is obscured by ink.

I've always thought that was a sandal under the left foot, but it certainly has a flame-like shape. It could be the artist's interpretation of the small amount of detail visible on the engraving - or perhaps it's a flame in a container of some sort.

Great work, Marco... (*)

He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy...

Re: Sola Busca pips and Classical Greece

Here is a passage that could have been an excellent explanation for the flaming branch in the Five of Coins (Helen of Troy is the Queen of Coins and Ammon the Knight of Swords):

Then at the word of Helen Paris spoke,
"My tale is shorter than a summer day, -
My mother, ere I saw the light, awoke,
At dawn, in Ilios, shrieking in dismay,
Who dream'd that 'twixt her feet there fell and lay
A flaming brand,
that utterly burn'd down
To dust of crumbling ashes red and grey,
The coronal of towers and all Troy town.
"Then the interpretation of this dream
My father sought at many priestly hands,
Where the white temple doth in Pytho gleam,
And at the fane of Ammon in the sands,
And where the oak tree of Dodona stands
With boughs oracular against the sky, -
And with one voice the Gods from all the lands,
Cried out, 'The child must die, the child must die.'

However this poem was written in 1882 (by Andrew Lang) and I cannot tell whether it is based on ancient sources.

But let us assume that the hypothesis that the Five of Coins represents the Oracle of Dodona makes sense. What would be the implications?
The first one is that the pips have been produced on the basis of a detailed and learned design: they are not uniquely the result of the imagination of the Engraver.
The second implication is that, taking into account what we know from the Court Cards, we can make the hypothesis that also the other pips represent subjects related to classical Greece.

So, here are a few tentative suggestions for a few of the cards in the spirit of “classical Greece”.

Please note that the images I present are later than the deck (or are ancient works of art that likely were not known in the XV Century). I use them only as iconographic examples: they are not “models” on which the cards could have directly been based. The engravings are extracted from Il reale giardino di Boboli (1789).

Seven of Coins
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The boy could represent Ganymedes. I cannot make sense of the “perch” connected to the base of the large cup that contains the seven discs, but a naked boy with an eagle and a cup reminds me of the myth of the shepherd who was kidnapped by Zeus in the form of an eagle and made to be the “cupbearer of the gods”.
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Re: Sola Busca pips and Classical Greece

Eight of Cups
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I have found this passage about a chariot race in the Iliad (so the setting is again the war of Troy):

When they had thus raised a mound [for Patroklos], they were going away, but Achilles stayed the people and made them sit in assembly. He brought prizes from the ships - cauldrons, tripods, horses and mules, noble oxen, women with fair girdles, and swart iron.
The first prize he offered was for the chariot races - a woman skilled in all useful arts, and a three-legged cauldron that had ears for handles, and would hold twenty-two measures. This was for the man who came in first. For the second there was a six-year old mare, unbroken, and in foal to a he-ass; the third was to have a goodly cauldron that had never yet been on the fire; it was still bright as when it left the maker, and would hold four measures. The fourth prize was two talents of gold, and the fifth a two-handled urn as yet unsoiled by smoke.
There is a stump of a dead tree-oak or pine as it may be - some six feet above the ground, and not yet rotted away by rain; it stands at the fork of the road; it has two white stones set one on each side, and there is a clear course all round it. It may have been a tomb of someone who died long ago, or it may have been used as a turning-post in days gone by; now, however, it has been fixed on by Achilles as the mark round which the chariots shall turn;

We have the dead tree. The skull and bones could illustrate the fact that this is an ancient tomb. The discs in the basket could stand for the prizes that were to be awarded to the winner of the race.

Two of Batons
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This card could refer to Dionysus / Bacchus or his son Priapus. One of the names of Dionysus was "Enorches" (“he who possesses his testicles”) yet I think that this name was not correctly interpreted in ancient times. He was sometimes considered to be obese:
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PRIA′PUS (Priapos), a son of Dionysus and Aphrodite (Paus. ix. 31. § 2; Diod. iv. 6; Tibull. i. 4. 7; Schol. ad Apollon. Rhod. i. 932). Aphrodite, it is said, had yielded to the embraces of Dionysus, but during his expedition to India, she became faithless to him, and lived with Adonis. On Dionysus' return from India, she indeed went to meet him, but soon left him again, and went to Lampsacus on the Hellespont, to give birth to the child of the god. But Hera, dissatisfied with her conduct, touched her, and, by her magic power, caused Aphrodite to give birth to a child of extreme ugliness, and with unusually large genitals.

Suidas s.v. Priapos (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Priapos: was conceived from Zeus and Aphrodite; but Hera in a jealous rage laid hands by a certain trickery on the belly of Aphrodite and readied a shapeless and ugly and over-meaty babe to be born. His mother flung it onto a mountain; a shepherd raised it up. He had genitals [rising up] above his butt."

The most famous extant depiction of Priapos is the Pompeian wall-painting shown above. Here he is depicted weighing his enormous member on a set of scales against the produce of the fields. He is crowned with a peaked Phrygian cap, wears Phrygian boots, and has a Bacchic, cone-tipped thyrsus resting by his side.
The parallel with the Pompeian image is rather interesting (also note the Phrygian cap). The Batons in the card could here take the place of the thyrsi. The subject of the card also is “over-meaty”, as in Suida's definition. But of course here we are missing the most prominent attribute of Priapus (different versions of "unusually large genitals").

Nine of Batons.
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Zucker identifies the figure as “a naked youth” and notices that the image is “reminiscent of innumerable St. Christophers”. Di Vicenzo defines the subject “a naked person of undetermined sex”. I interpret the subject to be a woman. As in Leber tarot, she could be Venus rising from the sea (with the Batons replacing her arrows).
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In conclusion, the world of Greek mythology is wide and I am quite ignorant about it. Yet I think that in this context it is possible to come up with a meaningful interpretations of the pip cards.

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