II of Swords

When I was reading through some of the older threads on this forum regarding the Sola Busca deck I noticed really just how riddled it is with Greek mythology.

I already had a sense of this slightly from some of the names mentioned on the cards, but not to the full extent. For example the queen of cups, ‘Polisena’, which would relate to Polyxena in greek mythology. She is known for her honour/virginity when she was sacrificed - a cup/goblet is mentioned in this story:
"Then Achilles’ son took a full goblet all of gold in his hands and raised on high the libation for his dead father … ‘O son of Peleus, my father, receive from me this libation which summons up the dead, and be appeased.  Come, so that you may drink a virgin’s pure dark blood which the army and I give to you' ... "

(I would add reference but this is just in my hand-written notes from ages ago! - will maybe find and attach one later)

Either way, this perspective taking into account greek mythology made me associate the two male figures on the SB two of swords with Pan (depicted as a half man - half goat, with horns), and potentially Daphnis, a shepherd who he taught to play the pan flute and fell in love with. If this is what the two figures are supposed to be, however, I am not quite sure what the implications of meaning/symbolism would be.


As you can see in the sculpture (from roughly 100 BC), the face/expression of pan resembles the horned figure in the SB pip.

I'm not too sure if this is any new information I'm contributing regarding the SB deck, but couldn't find anything similar when I searched 'Pan' on the forum so I hope that this is some new useful information to someone :)
Last edited by Mystic on 01 Oct 2023, 04:46, edited 2 times in total.

Re: II of Swords

Further, regarding the far more recent Rider Waite II of swords, you can see how drastically the symbolism has changed (not that there are many other older decks besides the SB that show heavy symbolism in the pip cards). This had me thinking what could potentially have been E. A. Waite's influences in the new design...


Here is a suggestion; Le Morte d'Arthur - a mythological story I'm sure most people are familiar with in one way or another, since it has occurred in newer forms such as tv shows and movies. The references I will mention however refer specifically back to the original story by Thomas Malory (1485). Although this would be a newer influence, it is still far before the creation of the RW so it is plausible. It is also a highly archetypal story rich in symbolism, so I would not put it past Waite to maybe draw inspiration from it, especially considering that certain images from it (e.g. 'sword in the stone') are so broadly known to the point they are almost intuitive (even today still!) - this is perfect for a deck aimed towards a broader general audience (as I assume RW deck was intended to be, and is definitely how it turned out to be). Anyway...

In this story, king Arthur receives the mythical sword Excalibur from the 'Lady of the Lake' - in this scene it emerges from a hand held above the water (reminds me a bit of the RW Ace of Swords). She gives him the sword asking of him that when the time comes, he must return a favour to her. Later on in the story, a damsel comes to Arthur and the other knights of the round table, cursed with a heavy sword on her belt, looking for a knight with a good heart to pull it out. Arthur and the other knights fail, except one, Balin, who then becomes known as the "knight with two swords"

Directly after this, the Lady of the Lake enters and asks Arthur for his favour which he promised her. What she asked was this (Chap III, Second book):
“I ask the head of the knight that hath won the sword, or else the damsel's head that brought it”
The reason I think this could potentially be related to the depiction of RW II of swords is because the generally understood meaning of the card is, of course, a dilemma of being presented with two difficult, equally weighing, choices. In Le Morte d'Arthur, the two choices asked of Arthur by the Lady of the Lake are symbolic of this (and it could maybe be her depicted, in front of a lake, on the card).

There are also some other interesting similarities between Le Morte d'Arthur and depictions in the other RW pips, however I'll save it for another time - this is just the one I have been reflecting on most lately.

Re: II of .... Mythology

Hi Nora,

playing card matters after 1850 are very rare here.

If mythology in connection to Tarot is your interest, then a very early deck (probably early 1420s) should have your favour. Filippo Maria Visconti was the commissioner, Michelino da Besozzo painted it, Martiano da Tortona wrote a description (and possibly developed the design) and it was reported in the biography of F.M.Visconti by Pier Candid Decembrio.
In modern times Franco Pratesi rediscovered it in earlier reports (1989/1990) in the IPCS-magazine (4-6 editions in a year since 1972 for members of the International Playing Card Society) .....

THE EARLIEST TAROT PACK KNOWN, by Franco Pratesi, 1989
(The Playing-Card, Vol. XVIII, No. 1 and 2, pp. 28-38) 10. Italian Cards - New Discoveries

Early internet was occasionally a little bit chaotic. There were newsgroups, not moderated, with a lot of open conflicts. Then email-lists were generated, moderated and with conflicts between moderators and members. Finally there were forums with moderators. Then forums developed, which needed not much moderation
In the still chaotic internet of 2002 the condition existed, that the content of Franco Pratesi's article was presented only in a relative short article of another author. I have written the link of this article and the name of the author somewhere, but I've lost it for this moment. It was recognizable, that this was something of importance, so the person Franco Pratesi was searched and finally found in some activities of an Italian Go-players email-list.
Franco was very friendly and gave us access of some of his articles about playing cards, with a lot of material, which was published in the IPCS material, but didn't make it in the books of Kaplan and Dummett. Franco, however, had gained the interest in the history of the Go game and had finished his playing card research then. For a period only ... luckily ,..

We could expand the work on the Michelino-Martiano-deck ...
.... especially Ross Caldwell translated some of the original texts ....
Translation of Marcello's letter ... http://trionfi.com/jacopo-marcello-letter-1449
Translastion of the Martiano report ... http://trionfi.com/martiano-da-tortona- ... -16-heroum

The work contains the description of 16 Greek-Roman gods ... between them are the 12 Olympian gods ... and the gods are the trumps in the game.

Possibly you already know about it. I just wanted to be sure.


Here is something else, also about Greek Roman gods.


The year is 1565 and it is a Trionfi wedding show in Florence. The daughter of an Austrian Roman king marries a Medici. Nobody has claimed, that this was an object realized on a playing card deck. But ...

Read Renaissance and Early Modern festival books on your desktop now
View 253 digitised Renaissance festival books (selected from over 2,000 in the British Library's collection) that describe the magnificent festivals and ceremonies that took place in Europe between 1475 and 1700 - marriages and funerals of royalty and nobility, coronations, stately entries into cities and other grand events.
Such important events might have been occasionally also connected to some sort of playing card production.

I collected some material in this theme ...

This is still in the state of "not really researched", open to good ideas.

Re: II of Swords

Mystic: In the SB courts, there is a Trojan War/Alexander the Great theme. Polisena was the youngest daughter of King Priam. See my posts starting at viewtopic.php?p=9031#p9031, but not original with me at all - I was just paraphrasing Tarotpedia, which is now on the Wayback Machine.

I liked your identification of the characters on the SB 2 of Swords very much. It fits with some of what Waite reports about the "traditional" meaning of the card: "courage, friendship, concord in a state of arms; another reading gives tenderness, affection, intimacy" (https://sacred-texts.com/tarot/pkt/pktsw02.htm). This meaning is also that of Etteilla, who gave it the keyword "amitie", friendship, apparently drawing on an unknown pre-existing system of French cartomancy. His disciples d'Odoucet and de la Sallette added "Attachment, Tenderness, Kindness, Rapport, Relationship, Identity, Intimacy, Convenience, Correspondence, Interest, Conformity, Sympathy, Affinity, Attraction." To me it, along with many other ready consonances between Etteilla and the Sola-Busca images for the number cards, suggests a tradition that may well have started with the SB itself.

Waite also has negative interpretations for all the Swords cards. According to Kaplan in vol. 1 of his Encyclopedia of Tarot, p. 272, they figure in a story that fit Pamela Smith's designs. See https://archive.org/details/encyclopedi ... 2/mode/2up.

Re: II of Swords

Lady Iron Sides on aeclectic did quite a but of research linking some of the Minchiate minors (the ones with pictographs) to Aesop's Fables. The 2 of Swords shows a stag.


She links it to the fable of the Sick Stag:

I will provide the Library of Congress website here for the story, but quote the moral: "Goodwill is worth nothing unless it is accompanied by good acts."

It certainly fits with some of the French cartomantic keywords "sympathy, kindness," etc.

Re: II of Swords

Thanks to both of you. I had found the "Laura Borealis" initiated thread, but not the other. When I click on your link, Ross, all I get is one post - on precisely the 2 of Swords. If there is more, let us know.