Valets-Slaves Reference

#1
I have come across a statement saying that the Valets in some early card decks were called ’slaves,’ but my cursory research has turned up no concrete evidence for this assertion.

Romain Merlin, in his work on the origins of playing cards, mentions a Persian card game which includes an entire suit of Slaves, as opposed to a court card of the same name. D’Allemagne says much the same thing, but of an Indian deck, citing Chatto.

In his book of talismans based on the Key of Solomon, Eliphas Levi also calls the 4 valets by the alternate title of “Slave of x,” x being variously ‘men,’ ‘women,’ ‘love,’ or ‘circles.’ (p. 45 of http://misraim3.free.fr/eliphas_levy/cl ... alomon.pdf )

That some occultists make unsubstantiated claims is unsurprising, but we find this same claim in the 1898 edition of the Nouveau Larousse, under the heading ‘Esclave’ (p. 279, vol. 4). No reference is given. https://archive.org/details/nouveaularoussei04laro

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D’Allemagne mentions an early deck in which the Valets are called ‘Ecuyers,’ but this term, no more than Knecht or the Fameio of the Mantegna deck, does not fit the bill. Perhaps someone can shed some light onto the matter?

Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#2
Very intriguing. Thanks, Ronan! (and welcome to the forum, unless you are a veteran with a new name).

My first thought would have been Levi as well, but it feels like the cartomantic tradition has seeped into it. It is obviously before "Tarot Nouveau" began in France, where the Valets are clearly labelled with a "V."

The Larousse entry on "Tarot" (volume 7 p. 927) doesn't list the court cards, but it does list the correct names for the Latin suits, not the bizarre names above. It is also credulous of esoteric claims about the Hebrew alphabet and magic.
https://archive.org/details/nouveaularo ... o/page/926

Note also on page 686 s.v. "Sicle", Shekel, it says it is one of the four figures of the Tarot ("figures" not "couleurs"), and in Sc. occ. (Occult sciences) it is "Symbolisme de quatorze arcanes de la magie, figurant le résultat matériel, la fortune."

Very bizzare. We'll have to try to find out who wrote those entries.

Maybe Vallaint on the Gypsies? I'll look around.
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Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#4
Thanks Ross. The names of the contributors are listed at the end of the set and at the end of volume 3, with an addendum in volume 4. I didn't spot any familiar names, but then I only cast a cursory glance as I said. I must take another look at the other relevant entries, I had a quick look at "Fou" and that was all.

The usage of a word like "sicle" may well prove to be the key to unravelling this particular mystery, as it would seem unlikely that a contributor to an encyclopaedia would simply pull a new and fanciful term out of thin air without some sort of precedence.

Initially, I thought I may have overlooked some historical (Italian) deck, but apparently not.

Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#6
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:
14 Nov 2019, 10:49
I just discovered that the Grand Tarot Belline uses those designations. Looking up the history of that pack should clear up the mystery.

E.g. https://thelilystonequarry.com/belline-gold/

Suits = Sicle, Coupe, Glaive, Sceptre
Court = L’Esclave, Le Combattant, La Maitresse, Le Maitre
Minors = pips + decoration / Reproduction deck
I think this must more or less solve the mystery; and now I am left wondering why that did not turn up in the search results when I searched for
'esclave', 'Tarot' and some other key words...

Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#8
One related point I found was a Shakespearean reference to "Jack-slaves," so presumably these two terms were amalgamated at some point in the 17th century, and I think it would be permissible to extend that sense to the Valet as well (certainly 'varlet' in English would bear that out.)

Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#9
Well, it would seem that there is a precedent for equating the valet or jack with the slave after all: in the Persian/Indian game mentioned earlier, Ganjifa, spelt in many ways, we find not only the suit of slaves in some variations of the game, but also the jack-slave: "In an account about gameplay in northern India (before the creation of Pakistan), Shurreef writes that the King is referred to as 'Badshah' (corresponding to the Persian term 'Padishah'), the queen as 'Bibia' (Persian term 'Bibi'), and the Jack as the 'Ghulam', meaning 'slave.'" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganjifa

Re: Valets-Slaves Reference

#10
Ronan wrote:
14 Nov 2019, 12:32
Well, it would seem that there is a precedent for equating the valet or jack with the slave after all: in the Persian/Indian game mentioned earlier, Ganjifa, spelt in many ways, we find not only the suit of slaves in some variations of the game, but also the jack-slave: "In an account about gameplay in northern India (before the creation of Pakistan), Shurreef writes that the King is referred to as 'Badshah' (corresponding to the Persian term 'Padishah'), the queen as 'Bibia' (Persian term 'Bibi'), and the Jack as the 'Ghulam', meaning 'slave.'" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ganjifa
Yes, your opening post cited Merlin on the Persian game and D'Allemagne on an "Indian" deck, which brought Ganjifah to mind, but I didn't look those up, instead trying closer to the home context first. This proved to be the right course.

A slave is certainly in the conceptual range of a page, valet, servant, etc., so it is easy to see how it emerged in some card games. Another manifestation of "ludic logic," as I like to call it, "emergent" features of games, almost folkloric, like making an intrisically weak card like a Jack the strongest or most valuable.
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