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mjhurst  mjhurst is offline
Join Date: 24 Jul 2003
Location: California, U.S.A.
Posts: 316

Hi, Mary,

Originally Posted by Teheuti
It seems that some investigation into the actual work: "Le Roman du Roi Meliadus de Leonnoys" and its author Helie de Borron might help with the dating or the context. Doesn't this picture provide unambiguous proof and dating within a decade?
IMO? Well, I haven't read any detailed information, much less discussion, of the manuscript in question, nor have I seen the well-known (for two centuries) image referred to by any modern playing-card historian as proof that cards were present at a particular date. In areas where I'm hopelessly ignorant (which includes most of playing-card history) I tend to accept the verdict of the most sober, conservative, generally reliable and scholarly sources. Have the playing-card historians, or at least a couple of them, commented on the provenance of this image and its significance?

There are some strong pressures in the online community to accept every scrap of evidence uncritically as meaning exactly what we might hope it means. For example, any picture that can conceivably be interpreted as fortune telling is interpreted that way, even if it is much more plausibly read as a genre picture of sexual flirtation during a card game. As another example, any term that might refer to playing cards is taken as evidence of playing cards and, worse yet, then used as a basis for subsequent speculation as if it were fact. Guesses based on hunches, and so on. And having an online Tarot enthusiast merely mention second-hand such a piece of evidence is taken by casual readers as a "strong argument". There should be either a real argument made, based on some reliable and detailed information, or at least a conclusion put forth by a generally reliable scholarly source.

On the other hand, despite the overwhelming evidence that playing cards were largely unknown in Europe prior to the late 1370s, and that they spread very rapidly at that time, it is certainly plausible that isolated introductions occurred earlier. Given the apparent failure of playing cards to spread from such a hypothetical earlier introduction, it doesn't seem like the most historically significant question. However, it is certainly possible and even probable that such isolated examples were known, and also that new evidence, or a re-evaluation of existing evidence, might demonstrate that.

The single (1371) generally-agreed upon reference to playing cards before 1377, combined with the dozen references to cards between 1377 and 1380, from various areas in Europe, and the multiple references to the game having been just introduced, fixes the date of their general introduction to Europe in the mid-to-late 1370s. As Dummett put it, "The evidence thus strongly suggests that there was no long period of evolution at the end of which the playing-card pack as we know it emerged, but, on the contrary, that, a matter of at most a few years before 1377, the pack was either invented or introduced from elsewhere, in a fully developed form, and immediately spread over a wide area of Europe." Relatively isolated references from the 1360s, such as the 1365 Amsterdam and 1367 Berne mentions, are entirely consistent with this scenario. This image, assuming the circa-1360 dating, falls into that category. However, decades-earlier references such as the 1310 Barcelona and 1337 Marseilles mentions, if they were authentic references to playing cards, would require that this hypothesis be reconsidered. Likewise, if the 1429 copies of Brother Johnís Tractatus are accurate copies of a 1377 document, with no later amendments, then they strongly suggest that playing cards had been introduced years (perhaps decades) earlier, long enough to develop the variety of decks mentioned. That seems quite unlikely, so the existing copies of the Tractatus are probably elaborated in a number of ways.

Best regards,
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