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Huck  Huck is offline
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Originally Posted by kwaw
Hi Huck, can you explain a little on the meaning of solichen Gezeugs? It would seem that as a memorial to the peasants, it is somewhat derogatory of the winners of the unclaimed prize portrayed.
It's a sort of "trash"-expression, probably similar to Engish "such stuff". Duerer had various commissions for "triumphal pictures" in his life, regarding this project it seems as if he has been not very interested.
The engraving is - judging Duerer's general ability - very crude and he didn't spend much time on it. As he was dependant on commissions, he expressed his political critique of the project "triumphal column" in a subtil way - so I would interprete the situation.
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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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Location: Oregon USA
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Thanks, Bernice. One picture I forgot to mention, for a Christian version of a winged individual with two cups, is Durer's "Christ on the Cross with Three Angels," on many websites.

And Huck, I would rather you posted something in German than not at all. I know the basic grammar, and I can run it through a translation machine. Any Germanic or Romance language is fine, and even Slavic, although I would have to enlist my wife's help there.
Top   #32
Huck  Huck is offline
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Originally Posted by MikeH
And Huck, I would rather you posted something in German than not at all. I know the basic grammar, and I can run it through a translation machine. Any Germanic or Romance language is fine, and even Slavic, although I would have to enlist my wife's help there.
Well, the first problem of a quote in foreign language is, that any translation forges the original. There are always passages which can't be translated 1:1 ... so in responsibility for the right of the author to be not presented wrong or with misunderstandings, it's better to leave it in the original.

The second problem is, that my time is not endless. I'm not interested to work unpaid, if I quote something. In the case, that I quote, I do this, cause I observe, that in German language a specific information is given, which in a discussed topic is missing and could be useful there.
I usually comment the information, making it understandable, why I post the information, but naturally not in full length - cause usually a lot of the given information is not essential to the discussed topic, but I quote it, cause it's possibly interesting enough for a reader with specific interests and the ability to proceed on his own feet - with some understanding of the used language or the help of a translation machine.

I guess, that's a common way and many texts in historic science use it this way. We have the practical problem in the world, that many languages were used in the past and still nowadays ... this problem changes only with the personal attempt to learn some more languages.
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Bernice  Bernice is offline
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Huck: Well, the first problem of a quote in foreign language is, that any translation forges the original. There are always passages which can't be translated 1:1 ... so in responsibility for the right of the author to be not presented wrong or with misunderstandings, it's better to leave it in the original.
Entirely agree. Extracts of early historical texts in foriegn languages will be open to a possible variety of translations, depending on individual knowlege. But it is encumberant upon the poster to provide an english summary, as opposed to a few words of comment.

Huck: We have the practical problem in the world, that many languages were used in the past and still nowadays ... this problem changes only with the personal attempt to learn some more languages.
Your closing sentence has no validity in this forum, which belongs to Solandia. We are all entiltled to a personal opinion, but we all must abide by the Forum Rules which I pointed out in my previous post.

Top   #34
MikeH  MikeH is offline
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Hi all. I'm working on posting some imagery from Greek sources relating to the 15th-16th century Marseille-style Star card, with my comments. I couldn't find many of these images on the Web, but I did get them onto a friend's website. I should be posting by next Monday, Sept. 7.

I will not post the originals for my quotations from Greek, German, and Italian sources, as the professional translations seem adequate. But I will have the originals for the Spanish and hopefully the French, for which no professional translations exist that I know of. I will do my best to translate. Unfortunately I have not found a lot of good, current historical material originally in English about Greco-Roman based imagery that relates to this card. (For example, the sources on the "Pythagorean Tarot" web page on this card are mostly either outdated, unsubstantiated, or don't say anything relevant.) Perhaps others can advise me. And don't be afraid to be hard on me. I will be testing some perhaps wild ideas. They will be documented; but I, too, may be using unreliable sources, or drawing untenable comparisons.
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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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I take back what I said about English-language sources. There seem to be as many good sources in English as in other major languages, maybe more. I just haven't gotten to them yet.
Top   #36
MikeH  MikeH is offline
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Star card: Venus, Isis, Sothis

Now that some of my images are on a friend's website, I will try putting them here, with commentary. The Star card has been brought up already, so I will do that one. And let me say at the start that there is an excellent old thread on this card, at Much of what I am doing here is simply documenting and illustrating points made there. However I have also stumbled on some new information. And I am concerned to present only what was, or likely was, available material at the time the various cards were made.

The earliest "Marseille" style card known is the Cary Sheet, c. 1500, probably in Milan. I see various possibilities for the central figure, there and later. In this post, I will discuss three. Two of them, Venus and Sothis, are pictured below. The third one is Isis. I hope I may be forgiven extending the discussion to include the Greek versions of Egyptian deities, after the Greek and then Roman occupation of that country. I cannot see any other way of proceeding. I am only concerned with Egypt as it existed in the Greco-Roman imagination, not Egyptian culture in itself. If my discussion seems irrelevant, skip to my next post; repeat once if needed.


This identification is based mainly on the star on the figure's shoulder, but also on the feminine appearance, its nudity, and the two fishes. There is also a vague resemblance between that image and the central figure of the "Tarot of Mantegna" Venus card (nude, long hair, only hints of breasts, water). It is at The image below is of card 43, in the E-Series, c. 1475.

In the Cary Sheet image, there are four small stars overhead and one on the figure's shoulder. The best-known group of five stars is the five star-like planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. The figure on the card, male or female, is hardly one of the other four. (Another group of stars sometimes reckoned as five is the constellation Hyades, which I will discuss later.)

Andrea Vitale ( has proposed that the star on the figure's shoulder is similar to the eight-sided star sometimes put on the shoulder of the Virgin Mary, meaning the "fullness of life" of the eighth day of creation. He does not say how this association relates to the meaning of the card: perhaps she is offering the water of life. But the figure is prima facie not the Virgin Mary.

Two fish are discernible in the water, a big one on the right and a small one on our left, both tail uppermost. Perhaps they have just jumped in. In relation to Venus, I correlate them with the myth of Venus and Cupid's escape from Typhon by jumping in the Tigris and turning into fish., as reported in pseudo-Hyginus and Ovid (

As Venus, she offers the viewers two aspects (see Wikipedia on Aphrodite), the common (Aphrodite Pandemos, in Plato's Symposium181e) and the divine (Aphrodite Urania), represented by the water in the two jugs. Drink from whichever you want.

Against this interpretation, Venus is usually represented as older. And never doing manual labor. But statues of her often did (as fountains).


These are Egyptian goddesses whom Plutarch often characterizes together He says, describing the Egyptian religion:

"XXI.... their [the gods'] souls shine in heaven as stars; and that of Isis so called by the Greeks the Dog-star, but by the Egyptians Sothis; that of Horus, Orion, that of Typhon, the Bear..."

"XXII. ... and it [the constellation Argo] moves along at no great distance from Orion and the Dog-star, of which the Egyptians hold the one to be sacred to Horus, the other to Isis..."

"XXXVIII. Of the stars, they hold Sirius to be Isis' Water-carrier..." (All from Isis and Osiris, at [url]http:/[/img].)

My summary: Sothis is the star, also called Sirius or the Dog Star, also the soul of Isis, sacred to Isis, and Isis' water-carrier.

It is this last appellation, water-carrier, that would have meant the most to the Renaissance. They could depict Sothis as a female Aquarius, below the star associated with her. The card designer might even have seen images of Sothis copied from the Roman-era reliefs, showing what appeared to be a star above her. And from Plutarch's other remarks, one could also identify the figure on the card with one aspect of Isis herself, that associated with the Dog Star.

In any case, according to Plutarch, the goddess and the star herald the coming Nile flood, which will regenerate the parched land of Egypt. After being out of sight for months, Sirius's appearance on the eastern horizon at dawn at about the summer solstice signaled the beginning of the annual Nile flood. According to Plutarch, for the Egyptians the flood had something to do with her. Her servant Sothis, "Isis' water carrier," does the work. I have not found any visual representations of Sothis with water jugs, but the Renaissance would not have known there weren't any. They would be going by Plutarch.

Another way Isis caused the flood was by her tears. They are not depicted in the Star card: you have to go to the Moon card for that, where Isis is the Moon, again following Plutarch, same work:

"LII. ...There are some that assert point-blank that Osiris is the Sun, and is named Sirius by the Greeks (for amongst the Egyptians the prefixing of the article has caused the name to be mistaken), and make out Isis to be no other than the Moon..."

The Renaissance would have known about Isis's tears from Pausanias:

[10.32.18] "I have heard a similar story from a man of Phoenicia, that the Egyptians hold the feast for Isis at a time when they say she is mourning for Osiris. At this time the Nile begins to rise, and it is a saying among many of the natives that what makes the river rise and water their fields is the tears of Isis." (

De Gebelin, 1781, referred to this passage in his discussion of the Moon card ( For him it was evidence of the card's Egyptian origin, when in fact all it suggests is that the card-designers knew their Pausanias and wanted to put his reference to Isis in the card.

As for why the "water-carrier" on the card has two jars, see the next section.

Isis was usually represented as older than the figure on the card. She did do manual labor, and also would have had servants.
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MikeH  MikeH is offline
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Star card: Aquarius


Aquarius is a Greek pourer of liquids, usually represented only pouring out of a container and not into a second artificial container (as opposed to a body of water or the ground). As such, the figure in the Cary Sheet qualifies. Another point in its favor is the two fishes; the sign of Pisces is next to Aquarius.

However the word "Aquarius" is masculine. In the Renaissance, there were lots of images of men, even naked ones, as Aquarius, pouring from two pots. Some are even effeminate looking. One example is Aquarius in the Bedford Book of Hours, c. 1420. I owe this reference to J.-M. David's on-line course on the Noblet; this image comes from the Portland Examiner on-line edition. I think the two-faced individual on the left is Janus, looking back on the old year and forward to the new.

Here is another, on the right below, from an Italian book of hours, properly clothed. On the left is an 18th century Minchiate card, perhaps a copy of a 17th century original, representing the sign of Aquarius. The Minchiate is a kind of expanded tarot deck, with more trump cards but substituting an effeminate "Grand-Duke" for the Pope and Popess.

I sometimes wonder if the effeminate looking Aquariuses were made that way because the artist didn't really know what gender to make the figure. Was it Ganymede or Ganymeda (one name for Hebe)?

Both earlier and later, the images are clearly masculine. For example, this one is at Chartres Cathedral, c. 1220

And here is a later one, 1661:

The text below the image is from pseudo-Hyginus. You may have noticed that Aquarius was associated with many mythological figures in addition to Ganymede. Deucalion is associated with the primeval Flood, a kind of Greek Noah. Aristaeus taught the Greeks of Cous how to defend against the pestilence that occurred during the rising of the Dog Star: it was necessary to sacrifice to it as well as to "rain-making Zeus." (According to Kerenyi, cited in Wikipedia, the priests burned a certain plant, and the people breathed its fumes.) Cecops was a man above the waist and a serpent below: he really belongs with Capricorn. The other terms just mean "water-man" or "bucket." None is a young woman.

Where did the two jars come from, just during the Renaissance? And what are the chances of a female Aquarius at that time? I offer the following zodiac, 1496: (from Ernst and Johanna Lehner, Astrology and Astronomy):

Although the body is masculine, I see two little dots on the Aquarius-figure's chest, suggesting breasts. This zodiac is also noteworthy for its male/female Gemini, corresponding to some early Sun cards.

Here is my hypothesis for the two jars and the feminine appearance. Owing to greater stability, trade through and with Egypt increased during the 15th century. By the late 15th century, Egyptomania in Italy was raging, according to Erik Hornung in The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West (a translation of his 1999 Esoterische Agypten), Italians who were both classicists and traders visited Egypt with their Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus at hand. Trade increased in the 16th century: mummies were imported into Europe in bulk, ground up, and used in the treatment of syphilis. Egyptomania spread to France.

The Ptolemaic-Roman temple of Dendera, built like a fortress, was right on the Nile. People would have gone there just to see the likeness of Cleopatra on the outside. Dendera was also the terminus of an overland route from the Red Sea (I assume that that road shown on modern maps follows a caravan route).

I can imagine enterprising Egyptians hawking pictures of the Dendera zodiacs, which would have been of interest to astrologically minded Europeans. These were amalgams of Egyptian and Greek conceptions, the Greek zodiac adapted to Egyptian conditions. The circular zodiac is best known, but there were also linear ones.

Here is a detail from one of the horizontal zodiacs with two jugs, water pouring from both. (This is from a photo I took at the site. To see the visual context, see someone else's photo at

The famous circular zodiac has a similar figure, also close to the cow, but there is no water visible.

To find it, notice the decans, the figures that go around the circumference inside the circle. Find the lowest decan-figure; he has what appears to be a nail about to be driven into his head. Then count five plain standing figures to the left. Then go up (toward the center of the circle) one level. There she is.

In case you couldn't find them, here is a colored drawing. The decans are yellow, and the signs of the zodiac are orange. The woman with the jugs is in brown:

Now go back to the figure with the nail above him. To his left is a sitting cow with a star between its horns (in red): the cow is Sothis. To its left is a woman archer (red), and to its left the woman with two jugs (brown).

Directly opposite the woman with the jugs, on the other side of the circle, is another figure with jugs (orange), and here water is flowing from them. That figure, between two fish and a ram, is an obvious Aquarius. But perhaps the female one opposite him is one as well. Aquarius at the rising of Sothis was on the western horizon.

Who is this woman with the jugs, with water coming out on the rectangular zodiac? It doesn't matter. Italians seeing the image so close to Sothis would have associated her with Sothis, and because of the water, Aquarius as well. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt discusses the Greco-Egyptian Aquarius in her book Le Fabuleux Heritage de l'Egypte, p. 311. She presents three versions, all from the tomb of Soter, the first Greek pharaoh, also called Ptolemy I. Obviously the Renaissance wouldn't have seen these particular images: I reproduce them to show the similarity to the images at Dendera).

Here is what Desroches-Noblecourt says:

"Le Verseau: Le crue se prepare; les deux sources mythiques du Nil (a l'origine peut-etre celle du Nil blanc et celle de l'Atbara ethiopien) vont se manifeter."

My translation: "Aquarius [from verser, to pour]: The rising is prepared; the two mythic sources of the Nile (perhaps in origin that of the White Nile and the Ethiopian Atbara) are going to manifest themselves."

Let me elaborate. The Blue Nile ran clear and deep after the summer rains in Ethiopia, giving it a dark blue appearance. Its torrents then caused the annual flood. (Plutarch attributes the Nile flood to these rains in Isis and Osiris XXXIX.) The White Nile was about the same volume year round. It ran more slowly and picked up clay from the land it went through, giving it a whitish appearance. (See Wikipedia articles on White Nile and Blue Nile.)

So the Renaissance might have speculated, not inappropriately, that the two jars represented the two branches of the Nile that joined at Khartoum, the Blue Nile and the White Nile. These two origins for the Nile, mountain and plain, might be suggested by the two terrains on right and left of the Cary Sheet card, mountain vs. hill.

Both streams were necessary for the revitalization of the Egyptian fields: the White Nile for nutrients and the Blue Nile to spread the nutrients on the fields and then retreat. This phenomenon suggests a couple of possible morals relating to the jars: one, that both physical well-being and spiritual well-being are necessary to a balanced life; another, more ascetically oriented, that one must choose between spirit and matter, in Greece expressed by the two Venuses.

We still don't know the identities of the figures on Soter's tomb, or the lady on the horizontal zodiac. From Soter's tomb, the one in the center is the same as Aquarius in the circular zodiac. The ones on the right and left might be the Hapi, two fertility gods of the Nile with plants on their heads, papyrus for Lower Egypt and lotus for Upper Egypt. They had breasts, masculine bodies, and swollen bellies (Wikipedia). Or one of the figures in the tomb could be the same figure as in the color photo of the rectangular zodiac.

I have not yet found a discussion of the figures shown in the photo. But it seems to me that the one with the water jugs is most likely one of the consorts of Khnum at Elephantine Island, his daughter or his wife ( Elephantine is just above the first cataract of the Nile, below which the Nile Valley proper, with its summer floods, starts. Khnum and his family were gatekeepers to the Nile, controlling its volume. In the circular zodiac, the figure with a child in its lap may be Khnum his in his role as creator-god.

Curiously, Camoin and Jodorowsky, in their 1999 "restoration" of the Marseille, made one stream muddy and the other dark blue. I put "restoration" in quotes because I have yet to find a historical card with this idea.

I was hoping that Jodorowsky would explain the historical reference in his book about that deck, but he doesn't. He says (I quote from the Spanish translation, which in the US is cheaper and easier to get than the French original; Jodo, after all, is Chilean):

"La Estrella es un ser totalmente unido al mundo. Una de sus jarras parace soldada a su cuerpo, sellada en su pelvis, y la otra se prolonga en el paisaje. Se puede ver en ello la imagien del aqua espiritual (amarilla) y de un agua sexual o instintiva (azul oscuro) que nutren juntas el conjunto del entorno. Es posible que una de esas jarras sea receptiva y capte la energia del rio azul, y la otra vierta una luz estelar." (La Via del Tarot, p. 254)

"The Star is a being totally united with the world. One of her jars appears to be welded to her body, stamped onto her body, and the other extends into the countryside. We can see in the one the image of spiritual water (yellow) and the other, sexual or instinctual water (dark blue) that joins one to the eternal. It is possible that one of these jars is receptive and captures the energy of the blue river, and the other pours (from verter, to pour) from a stellar light."

For Jodorowsky the dark blue (azul oscuro) stream represents sexuality or instinct, while the yellow (amarilla) one represents spirituality. That is the reverse of my reading, of course, but the point is similar. On the Cary Sheet, the one jar is at the level of the intellect and the other at the level of the heart--corresponding to the celestial Venus, known by intellect, and the vulgar Venus, human love from the heart.

While these 17th century-style cards are in the vicinity, I want to discuss something else, namely, the star on the belly in the Noblet figure (c.1650) and the curious design, like a mouth or eye, on the belly of the Dodal (c. 1700). Neither is apparent in Conver's 18th century version.

The Noblet's star reflects the star above the figure, and so means that she is the star, or that she is pregnant with the star. (Notice also that while there are clearly breasts, the body is masculine, like the Hapi and the 1496 Zodiac.)The Dodal's eye-like design resembles well-known Egyptian hieroglyphs--on the obelisks of Rome, or on the so-called "Bembine Tablet" that attracted much attention in the 16th century (see Wikipedia articles). There was also the "eye of Horus" that Seth struck out, swallowed, and gave to the Sun, as related in Isis and Osiris LV. And finally, the picture of an eye was part of the name for Osiris (Isis and Osiris LII). If it was meant to represent Horus, the design would suggest that she is Isis pregnant with the savior Horus, just as Mary was pregnant with Jesus. Some other early versions of the card had one, two, or three wise men looking up at a star, a clear reference to the Star of Bethlehem.

Finally, you will notice that there are seven small stars around the one big star. In reference to Egypt, this number might reflect the seven good years and seven bad years of the Nile flood cycle, as reflected in the "Pharaoh's Dream" story in the Hebrew Bible. In this case, Joseph, as a precursor to Christ, could be for the 17th century the star in the center.


Let me continue this last discussion with one more Greek immortal female, Semele, and a male immortal, Hylas. Semele was the mother of another savior god, Dionysus, and moreover she was young when she became pregnant and entered Hades (until Dionysus resecued her): Dionysus was not even born yet. Hylas is one version of Aquarius.

There are four small stars and one big one above the main figure, changed to seven and one by the time of Noblet. Tarot enthusiasts sometimes identify the seven stars as the seven planets; another candidate is the Pleiades, a constellation with seven stars.

But two of the seven "planets" do not look like stars and have their own cards.
And why the Pleiades, other than it has seven stars? One reason might be that it is one of a very few constellations mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Job 9:9, Job 38:31, Amos 5:8). Moreover, Job 38:31 suggests a symbolic meaning relevant to the meaning of the card. "Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" asks God in the King James Version. By "sweet influences" astrological influences might be meant; then the seven stars would be Fate, and the one big star Christ, who offers the transcendence of Fate. Such a suggestion is in keeping with the Egyptian meaning of the Pleiades, for whom the seven stars were the "Seven Hathors" who determined a person's fate at birth (

But that is not what 15th and 16th century Catholics would have read in their Bible. Their Bible was the Vulgate, which did not speak of "influences" at all:

"numquid coniungere valebis micantes stellas Pliadis aut gyrum Arcturi poteris dissipare"

("Shalt thou be able to join together the shining stars the Pleiades, or canst thou stop the turning about of Arcturus?") (

And the other Bible references were not to the Pleiades at all. First, here are the verses in the King James Version. Job 9:9 is one of a long list of reminders of God's power:

"Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south."

And Amos 5:8

"Seek him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning, and maketh the day dark with night: that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The LORD is his name:"

In contrast, here is Job 9:9 in the Vulgate:

"qui facit Arcturum et Oriona et Hyadas et interiora austri"

("Who maketh Arcturus, and Orion, and Hyades, and the inner parts of the south.") (

And Amos 5:8:

"facientem Arcturum et Orionem et convertentem in mane tenebras et diem nocte mutantem qui vocat aquas maris et effundit eas super faciem terrae Dominus nomen eius"

("Seek him that maketh Arcturus, and Orion, and that turneth darkness into morning, and that changeth day into night: that calleth the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: The Lord is his name."

Arcturus, of course, is a star, not a constellation. But the name means "protector of Arcas," the hunter who Zeus turned into a bear (Wikipedia). Both Ursa Major and Ursa Minor have seven main stars. So Arcturus could be the big star, and the seven being the protected.

Hyades is a constellation with 4 fairly bright stars and 1 very bright one, Aldeberan ( Greek writers number them anywhere from two to seven, with seven as the most common number. Together they make up the head of Taurus, the Bull, an animal identified with Dionysus. In another myth, their brother was Hylas, considered Aquarius, and the sisters wept after his death. "Hyades" probably means "the rainy ones" (

Both the Hyades and their half-sisters the Pleiades (also in the constellation of Taurus) were accounted nurses to the young Dionysus (Wikipedia). Dionysus himself was called Tauros and Taurokephalos, Bull's Head ( So 4 or 7 stars, the nurses, surround the one big star, Dionysus, who will be the savior, like Jesus, transcending fate.
Top   #38
MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
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Posts: 443
Star card: nymphs


Andrea Vitale ( has observed a detail at the bottom right of Guilio Romano's large fresco in the "Hall of Psyche," Palacio Te, Mantua, c. 1528. The picture on Trionfi is not very clear, so here is another (from The Tale of Cupid and Psyche, by Sonia Caviccioli, translated from the Italian):

Vitale interprets the scene in terms of Porphyry's essay "On the cave of the nymphs," a Neoplatonic exposition of a passage in Homer's Odyssey; Vitale says that the essay had been recently translated into Latin. (On Aeclectic, on the thread I cited two posts back, Venicebard also drew attention to this passage in Homer in relation to the Star card.)

The Odyssey, Book 13, says:

"At the head of the harbor is a long-leafed olive tree, and near it a pleasant, shadowy cave sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads. Therein are mixing bowls and jars of stone, and there too the bees store honey. And in the cave are long looms of stone, at which the nymphs weave webs of purple dye, a wonder to behold; and therein are also ever-flowing springs. Two doors there are to the cave, one toward the North Wind, by which men go down, but that toward the South Wind is sacred, nor do men enter thereby; it is the way of the immortals." (trans. A.T. Murray, at

It is possible that Romano's fresco illustrates this scene, if instead of "doors" we read "gates" (as some translators do) and we assume that the water from the springs run down one side into the ground and down the other side to the lake in the distance. But it is a stretch: each leaves out numerous details that are in the other. In Romano, there is only one Naiad; the other, the old man, might even be a primeval Aquarius, dumping his nectar into the lake.

Nor does Porphyry add any of these details ( The water does not even flow out of the cave, for all Porphyry says. It is the cold water inside the cave that attracts souls there, to be born in the cave of this world. The cave is then a place of purification, in which the souls that hear the nymphs become bees. Romano has no bees. One would think he would at least have an olive tree, as in Homer's first sentence. Romano's tree has needles.

Porphyry does add a characteristically Neoplatonic touch: when Homer says of the southern gate, "nor do men enter thereby; it is the way of the immortals," he does not mean, says Porphyry, that the gate is for the gods alone: "...the southern gates are not the avenues of the Gods, but of souls ascending to the Gods" (Sec. 11). Men, or at least their souls, do not enter by this gate; they enter as men by the other gate, and leave by there as well, for a new incarnation, except for those lucky enough to have heard the nymphs, who represent intellect. Then like bees they fly to heaven.

I am not saying that Porphyry's "cave of the nymphs" is irrelevant to our card. But there are some gaps to be filled. So let us look elsewhere. There are other magical springs in the writings of antiquity. Daimonax, quotes Pausanias's account of a place in Greece where people journeyed so to be put in a trance and enabled to see into the future (before there was tarot, of course). Here is the passage:

"...Then he is led by the priests, not at once to the oracle, but to certain springs. Here he must drink what is called the water of forgetfulness, in order that he forget everything he has hitherto thought of. Then he drinks from another water, the water of Memory, that he may remember what he sees below.... After his ascent from [the oracle of] Trophonios the inquirer is again taken in hand by the priests, who set him upon a chair called the chair of Mnemosyne (Memory), which stands not far from the shrine, and they ask of him, when seated there, all he has seen or learned. After gaining this information they then entrust him to his relatives. These lift him, paralysed with terror and unconscious both of himself and of his surroundings, and carry him to the building where he lodged before with Tykhe (Fortune) and the Daimon Agathon (Good Spirit). Afterwards, however, he will recover all his faculties, and the power to laugh will return to him." (Pausanias, Description of Greece, Frazier trans., at Google Books, p. 494f)

The waters are forgetting and remembering, Lethe and Mnemosyne. Lethe, we know from Plato's Myth of Er (Republic 621), was the water drunk by those who were about to return to the world of mortals for another incarnation. Mnemosyne, or perhaps the two together, puts one beyond this world. In the Orphic Hymns, beloved to Ficino and Pico, the ancient poet prays to Mnemosyne:

"Come, blessed power, thy mystic's mem'ry wake
To holy rites, and Lethe's fetters break."

Mnemosyne, in the proper context, allows one to break the fetters that return one to our world; in other words, it makes it possible to enter the world of the immortals. Plato does not mention this goddess in his myth, but in one sense she the whole basis for his philosophy: to recover the memory of truths known before birth. And we must not forget Freud, who spoke of the recovery of repressed memories, from before one had language; or Jung, recovering the "collective unconscious"; or Flornoy, describing this card in terms of recovering "la memoire du monde"--the memory of the world (Pelerinage des Bateleurs, p. 190).

Jane Harrison argued (in Prolegomena to Greek Religion, at Google Books, p. 579ff) that the rite that Pausanias describes was an Orphic initiation, by which one may hope to escape the great Orphic wheel (the "Wheel of Fortune") of human incarnations. I would imagine that esoteric circles in the 15th-16th centuries might have seen the Romano fresco in just such terms, and likewise for the Cary Sheet Star card, which may have been one source for the fresco image.

For the Orphic, the two waters make explicit what Vitale assumes for "Cave of the Nymphs," one spring for mortals and one for immortals. Pausanias mentions no nymphs, the Neoplatonic symbols of intellect; for him, anyone upright and brave enough can drink the waters of forgetting and remembering. Pausanias experienced it himself, he says.

We can even identify which spring is which in Romano's fresco: the one in front is the source of the River Lethe, drunk by souls destined to return for another incarnation, and the other the source of the Lake of Mnemosyne (for the "pool of Mnemosyne" in a classical source, see

Lethe, in fact, was a naiad as well as a river, and Mnemosyne a Titan as well as a lake or pool (Wikipedia). So perhaps the lady in the fresco is Lethe, standing guard over the spring that feeds the river. And the other spring, with the Aquarius-like old man, feeds the lake sacred to Mnemosyne.

In the Cary Sheet, however, the two beings seem merged into one, with one jug for each spring: she is neither Lethe nor Mnemosyne, but both at once. Since this point is not generally accepted, I will elaborate. Harrison relates Pausanias and the two waters to a scene at the end of Dante's Purgatorio, one that seems to have escaped the attention of tarot historians. Dante's 14th century work, then still at the height of its fame, was far closer in time to Romano and the Cary Sheet than Porphyry or Pausanias. At the very highest part of Purgatory, Dante sees two streams next to each other. He asks a woman who is picking flowers about them. She explains:

L'acqua che vedi non surge di vena
che ristori vapor che gel converta,
come fiume ch'acquista e perde lena;

ma esce di fontana salda e certa,
che tanto dal voler di Dio riprende,
quant' ella versa da due parti aperta.

Da questa parte con virt discende
che toglie altrui memoria del peccato;
da l'altra d'ogne ben fatto la rende.

Quinci Let; cos da l'altro lato (130)
Eno si chiama, e non adopra
se quinci e quindi pria non gustato:

a tutti altri sapori esto di sopra.
Quelli ch'anticamente poetaro
l'et de l'oro e suo stato felice, (140)
forse in Parnaso esto loco sognaro.

Qui fu innocente l'umana radice;
qui primavera sempre e ogne frutto;
nettare questo di che ciascun dice."

(The water which thou seest springs not from vein
Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
Like to a stream that gains or loses breath;

But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
Which by the will of God as much regains
As it discharges, open on two sides.

Upon this side with virtue it descends,
Which takes away all memory of sin;
On that, of every good deed done restores it.

Here Lethe, as upon the other side (line 130)
Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
If first on either side it be not tasted.

This every other savour doth transcend;
Those who in ancient times have feigned in song
The Age of Gold and its felicity, [line 140]
Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.

Here was the human race in innocence;
Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;
This is the nectar of which each one speaks.")

(Purgatorio XXVIII, 121ff. At

Here, in this Earthly Paradise, the object is to drink from Lethe to forget your sins, and the horrors of Hell and Purgatory, and then from the water of the other stream, which she calls "the nectar of which each one speaks" (meaning, "of which all speak," I think-i.e. the nectar of the gods), to remember your good deeds. Drinking both constitutes a purification of the mind before entering Paradise.

After drinking from Lethe, Dante does not even recognize Beatrice, because of his past sins toward her. To remember her, he has to drink from the second stream, revealed as the water of Remembering, but Dante calls the stream by the strange name Eunoe. There are two little dots over the last e in Eunoe, indicating that it is a separate syllable. Dante did not make up the word: Eunoe is the name of a nymph, allegedly the mother of Hecuba, the queen of Troy at the time of the Trojan War. The word is compounded of "eu," good, and "nous," mind: awareness of good, in other words. It fits the context. (ë).

One might wonder whether the nymph Eunoe might be the personification of the second stream, just as Lethe was for the first; but Dante does not engage in such classical devices here.

The flower-picking lady appears in the stream called Lethe and draws him into the water. Then:

La bella donna ne le braccia aprissi;100
abbracciommi la testa e mi sommerse
ove convenne ch'io l'acqua inghiottissi.

Indi mi tolse, e bagnato m'offerse
dentro a la danza de le quattro belle;
e ciascuna del braccio mi coperse.

Noi siam qui ninfe e nel ciel siamo stelle;
pria che Beatrice discendesse al mondo,
fummo ordinate a lei per sue ancelle.

Merrenti a li occhi suoi; ma nel giocondo
lume ch' dentro aguzzeranno i tuoi110
le tre di l, che miran pi profondo.

(The beautiful lady opened wide her arms, [line 100]
Embraced my head, and plunged me underneath,
Where I was forced to swallow of the water.

Then forth she drew me, and all dripping brought
Into the dance of the four beautiful,
And each one with her arm did cover me.

'We here are Nymphs, and in the Heaven are stars;
Ere Beatrice descended to the world,
We as her handmaids were appointed her.

We'll lead thee to her eyes; but for the pleasant
Light that within them is, shall sharpen thine [line 110]
The three beyond, who more profoundly look.'

(Canto XXXI, 100f, at

Dante gives us a picture of water-nymphs who are also stars, four in this stream of Lethe and three more in the other stream, Eunoe. And there is the flower-picking lady herself, later referred to as Matilda, who may also be a nymph, initiating Dante at this spring with two streams of Forgetting and Remembering. Our Star card is simply a Renaissance version of this same vision, dressed (or undressed) in the classical style of Botticelli.

Romano's fresco imagery draws from the ancient manner of depicting naiads, but also keeps with the tradition of two springs. Romano's nymph, or naiad, is Lethe, guarding the source of the river named after her. I do not know the name of the old man guarding the other spring, unless it is Aquarius, but his stream flows into the lake sacred to Mnemosyne. And just as the fresco has one stream on land and the other merging with a lake, so do the 17th century versions of the card. With Romano's additions, we are already halfway to the 17th century cards.

Some people (e.g. the "Pythagorean Tarot" website) have invoked for the Star card the so-called "Gold Tablets" found in ancient Greek and Italian graves, having on them instructions not to drink from one spring but only from another. Unlike Pausanias and Dante, there the initiate is expected to drink from only one spring, and to know which one it is. The tablets refer to a closer one and one further away, and to trees next to one or the other.

On the Cary Sheet, one might relate the instructions to the plants next to the jars, one closer and one further away. On the 17th century versions of the card, there are more clues: different trees, a bird on one, and land or water underneath the jars. I will discuss these details in a later post. In the meantime, one major objection to invoking the tablets is the lack of evidence that any were known before the late 18th century; in fact, few people knew what they said until the mid-19th (see Wikipedia). Ah, one might object, there might have been some before, but not made public and later lost. Yes, that is possible, but it is not evidence. I think there is some evidence, and I will provide it in a future post. (I also give it in the post that Beanu cited at the beginning of this thread.)

And there is one more detail, which appears starting in the 17th century, that I want to talk about, namely, another suggestion in the cards of Dante's spring, the source of the two streams. But here I am not sure I understand properly what others have said on the subject, so I will put my thoughts in another post later.
Top   #39
MikeH  MikeH is offline
Join Date: 03 Nov 2007
Location: Oregon USA
Posts: 443
Star card: Spes


When Pandora opened her famous box, according to Hesiod, all the evils that were bottled up there flew out to plague humanity. According to Theognis, the box contained all the good gods, all but one of whom flew off to Olympus when she opened it. In any case, only Hope remained (

In Minchiate, the card after the Tower is actually called Hope (numbered XVI because the Grand Duke replaced both the Pope and the Popess), while the Star card reflects another pattern, that of the Star of Bethlehem.

The Minchiate Hope card resembles the Star card of the PMB deck of the 3rd quarter of the 15th century, Milan. A similar card (usually called Hope) is in the Cary-Yale, of the same city a bit earlier. As others have observed, the Cary-Yale and PMB resemble Giotto's famous portrayal of Spes in 1302 Padua.

If the Star-maiden has hope of immortality or reincarnation in her jars, or the savior in her belly-- reflected in what some have identified as the "Bright Morning Star" of Rev. 22 above her--then she does indeed embody Hope.

Here is another Renaissance version of Hope, again similar to the PMB Star and Minchiate Hope. Behind Spes is a man sitting in the stocks. It is by Sebald Beham, German, c. 1540:

But Spes so far is not depicted in her ancient manner. Wikipedia says, "In art, Spes was depicted hitching her skirt while holding a cornucopia and flowers." Her Greek equivalent, Elpis, "was depicted as a young woman, usually carrying flowers or cornucopia in her hands."

During the Renaissance, images of Spes would have been known from old Roman coins. They don't resemble the post-Giotto images; all the ones pictured on the Web show a young woman holding her up dress with one hand and a flower with the other, e.g. (at

You will notice the suggestion of a flower on her head. One coin shows her quite clearly with a plant-like headdress, as though she were one of the Egyptian personifications of the Nile. It is at, at the bottom of the page; the author shows how similar the headdress is to Isis's headdress on other coins of the same era (Emperor Claudius II). It is an example of syncretism in late Roman art, unifying different things.

I can imagine her, syncretically, as Dante's Matilda, offering Dante a flower she has just picked. But there is nothing in the cards' imagery to suggest this goddess, other than her youth, her revealing figure, and her holding things in her hands (all of which would apply to many mythological figures). What justifies the identification is Giotto's Christian revisioning of the goddess, the general meaning of the card, and its placement in the deck (after Devil and Tower). The coins may have influenced the decision to switch from the pious post-Giotto figure to the sexier Cary Sheet one.

In conclusion, I will take the easy way out and say that the figure on the Star card is a syncretic synthesis. She is above all Dante's Matilda in Renaissance undress, but with many elements from Greek culture: the female water-pourer of Dendera, the naiad Lethe, the Titan Mnemosyne, Hylas and the Hyades, the unnamed nymphs of Porphyry's cave, the common and celestial Venus, Semele, Spes, and the Hellenized Isis and Sothis. In general, one jar contains the water of heaven, the other that of earth. The four or seven small stars are four planets, the four or seven Hyades, the seven Pleiades, or the seven stars of each of the Bears; and the large star (perhaps in some cases duplicated in the main figure) is Sothis, Hylas, Horus, Arcturus, or Dionysus, as well as Christ.

I will talk about other mythological details in the 17th century cards, and the "gold tablets," in another post.
Top   #40



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