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Ross G Caldwell  Ross G Caldwell is offline
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Join Date: 07 Jul 2003
Location: Béziers, France
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Ross G Caldwell 
Cards as "hieroglyphs"


I know of at least three authors now before Court de Gébelin and the Comte de Mellet, who in the years c. 1570, 1603, and 1676, used the term "hieroglyphs" to describe cards in their moralities on tarot, playing cards, and minchiate respectively.

Circa 1570, Italy (north eastern Italy or Ferrara). First is the Anonymous Discourse. After discussing the symbolism of the four suits and court cards, and their purpose, he introduces the trumps -

"... so that, everyone knowing his own passions, and his mistakes, letting go of vanity, and the most temporary and hurtful pleasures of the part outside of the mind and the contemplation of God, there is therefore added to his most beautiful game XXII hieroglyphic images, which show different things, wishing that in the game they might supply what is lacking in the four (suits), and called trionfi, being proper aspects and passions that men triumph from. Fifteen of which, with the other four professions above said, explain from the beginning to the extreme end of active life, and the other seven the contemplative, with its end, which is God."

(... accioche conoscendo ciascuno le proprie passioni, e li suoi errori, lasciandole vanità, e li brevissimi, e dannosi piaceri da parte alzi la mente, e la contemplazione di Dio, è perciò aggiunse al suo bellissimo gioco XXII figure geroglifiche, che rappresentano diversi oggetti, volendo nel gioco, che in difetto delle carte de i quattro supplissero, e chiamolle trionfi, essendo proprii aspetti, e passioni, che dell'huomini trionfano. Quindeci de quali insieme con l'altro quatrro professioni sopra detto dal principio finl all'estremo fine della vita attiva dichiarano, e gl'altre sette la contemplativa con il suo fine, che è Iddio.)

1603, Spain. Number 2 comes from Kwaw's recent post on a book I had never heard of, on this thread -
http://www.tarotforum.net/showthread.php?t=94131
(post #52)

"But I would like first to a point, on a term, a concept. Indeed, whether signs or figures, Luque Fajardo regarded these as icons of genuine hieroglyphs. The word hiroglifico appears in the title of five out of seven chapters, and its use is common in the same text, usually with the adjective or the noun moral moralidad. These hieroglyphs, which he defines as "silent figures who speak only by their appearance and represenatation", however, must be interpreted, and the author does not deprive us. Indeed, he carries a veritable interpretative debauchery of which I cannot but give a very pale idea.

“...Luque Fajardo, in fact, conceives of the hieroglyph like all men of his time. He perceives them as a mode of expression whose character is twofold. The first is the hieroglyph as both a mystery and a source of education, and the second aspect is the use of religion and morality as the mode of their exegesis. But the search for meaning is also lead by the words, not just on the pictures. Signs, says Luque Fajardo, are allegories and metaphors, but the very words which the designer has used are heavy with meaning."

1676, Florence. The latest, before de Gébelin, is from Paolo Minucci, in his commentary on the poem "Del Malmantile racquistato" by Perlone Zipoli (anagrammatic pseud. of Lorenzo Lippi) (Chapter VIII, stanza 61), explaining the mention of "minchiate" -

"The 40 are called Germini o Tarocchi: and this word Tarocchi, says Monosino, comes from the Greek hetaros: with which word, he says with Alciato, it Denotes those companions, who come together to play for nourishment. But I do not know this word, what it would be; I know well that hetairos and hetaroi means Sodales: and from this word, coming down into Latin, could be made the diminutive Hetaroculi, that is to say Little Companions. Germini comes from Gemini, a celestial sign, which has the highest number among the Tarocchi. In these Tarocchi cards are depicted different hieroglyphs and celestial signs, and each has his number, from one to 35; and the last five ending at 40 have no number, but are distinguished by the figures impressing their order of precedence, which is in this order Star, Moon, Sun, World, and Trumpet, which is the highest, and would have the number 40. The allegory is, that just as the Stars are outshone by the Moon, and the Moon by the Sun, so the World is bigger than the Sun and Fame, shown with the Trumpet, is worth more than the World: so much that when a man is gone, he continues to live through fame, when he has performed glorious acts. Likewise Petrarch made Trionfi like a game; since Love is superceded by Chastity, Chastity by Death, Death by Fame, and Fame by Divinity, which reigns eternally."

(Le 40 si dicono Germini o Tarocchi; e questa voce Tarocchi, vuole il Monosino, che venga dal Greco etaros: colla qual voce, dice egli coll'Alciato, Denotantur sodales illi, qui cibi causa ad lusum conveniunt. Ma quella voce no so, che sia; so bene, che etaipos e etaroi vuol dire Sodales: e da questa voce diminuita all'usanza Latina si puo esser fatto Hetaroculi, cioe Compagnoni. Germini forse da Gemini, segno celeste, che fra Tarocchi col numero e il maggiore. In queste carte di Tarocchi sono effigiati diversi geroglifici e segni celesti: e ciascuna ha il suo numero, da uno fino a 35 e l'ultime cinque fino a 40 non anno numero, ma si distingue dalla figura impressavi la loro maggioranza, che è in quest' ordine Stella, Luna, Sole, Mondo, e Trombe, che è la maggiore, e sarebbe il numero 40. L'allegoria è, che siccome le stelle son vinte di luce dalla Luna, e la Luna dal Sole, cosi il Mondo è maggiore del Sole, e la Fama, figurata colle Trombe, vale più che il Mondo; talmente che anche quando l'uomo n' è uscito, vive is esso per fama, quando ha fatte azioni gloriose. Il Petrarca similmente ne' Trionfi fa come un giuoco; perchè Amore è superato dalla Castità, la Castità dalla Morte, la Morte dalla Fama, e la Fama dalla Divinità, la quale eternamente regna.)

In the last, Minucci has called Gemini and the other Zodiacal signs "celestial signs", and the rest of the trumps "hieroglyphs", just like the Anonymous author.

It should be noted that, at least, the first and last authors make no claim to Egypt, although the Anonymous believes that tarot is one of the three games of the ancients. Also, deriving the name from Greek seems to imply a belief in an ancient origin (the Anonymous does as well, different from Alciato/Monosino/Minucci).

Ross
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