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Le Mat

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Le Mat


Though discussions on XX Le Jujement is still running in this first-time through discussion, I decided to begin the thread for this card.

Generally, he remains un-numbered, and is 'traditionally' placed between cards XX and XXI (it should be noted that even Waite, who unfortunately adds a zero to the card, places it in this location in his book).

... and what shall we call him?

'Le Mat' is only one from a number of appelations, with only two others commonly used. The three common titles, each of which has much variation in spelling, are:
  • Le Fou;
  • Le Bateleur; and of course,
  • Le Mat
One very important aspect I find highly significant is his orientation. Unlike the flipped image popularised with the Waite/Colman-Smith deck, the Fool normally faces the right-hand side of the card in Marseilles decks (the Paris Tarot being one of those exceptions - but then, though wonderful, is it a Marseilles!?!).

In Marseilles depictions, there is usually also an animal whose mouth reaches his rear right upper thigh. Though it is most certainly a dog, the ambiguity - or unclarity - is worth noting.

I begin by attaching a non-Tarot depiction: the Colporteur of Rabelais, an image certainly common enough in France.
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What struck me most is the wide vaiety of depicting "Le Mat".

We know him as an elderly man with a catlike or doglike animal biting at his tight, a youth with some feathers in his hair and shabby clothing like in the Visconti-Sforza, we know him as "The Bateleur" or juggler with a table full of balls and other jugglar's trinkets in front of him or even as an Egyptian who nearly is the victim of a crocodile.
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The Fool, as Diana is fond of pointing out, has no number; there is no zero in the Roman numerical system.

By the same token, the beggar has no social standing. His fragile existence is lived out on the margins of society, outside "the system."

From time to time we might want to remind ourselves that tarocchi was a game before it was a vehicle for divination. Was it also a metaphysical statement? Let's leave that question open, and content ourselves with the observation that just as Le Fou has no number, it has no value in play, and serves only as "L'excuse," releasing the gamester who is on the spot from the obligation of playing either a card which follows suit or a trump.

I remain convinced by nothing more than internal evidence that while Le Fou has no number, he is part of the sequence, and his place is at the beginning. If we place him there, the first six cards (Fou and one through five) can be seen as representing all the stations of pre-modern society; zero and one are the commons, two and five the clergy, and three and four the aristocracy. The arrangement is echoed in the "three estates" of the Ancien Regime.

This is one case in which I find the most convincing depiction on the earliest cards. It took some time for the Fool to evolve into the effeminate youth we see in today's packs. The earliest known Mat, from the Visconti-Sforza deck ("il Matto") is an out-and-out madman. He is a mentally ill beggar who wears crumbling rags. Instead of a hat, feathers stick up out of his messy hair. His face looks disoriented and bewildered, and he is a sick person who appears to be suffering from goiter. He carries a heavy, club-like walking stick over one shoulder and may be dangerous. The image is altogether disturbing and frightening.

He is also the diametrical opposite of the Bagatto, a clever, resourceful artisan who lives by his wits, is supremely confident of his ability to persevere, and is not above running a scam if material circumstances require it. These are the two faces of the Third Estate: the helpless, suffering mendicant, at the mercy of the world, and the self-reliant peasant or worker, making his way entirely by means of his own intelligence and/or physical strength.
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Cool Question…


What is the most accurate, direct translation of “Le Mat” and “Il Matto”

The words first, then the historical concept of those words in their contextual usage.
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In terms of the meaning of 'Le Mat', I personally am not aware of its definite etymology. Also, as mentioned in an earlier thread in Talking Tarot: 'Name that card! part 1: Trump 0/22' , my personal favourite title for this card remains Le Fov (Le Fou - the 'v' being the same as a 'u' in mediaeval texts).

Nonetheless, let us play with the word 'Le Mat' a little (I thought I had written something about this many moons ago, but a search yields no results). A 'Mat' is also a mast as found upon a sailing ship. As such, it is the pillar upon which the sail, filled by the wind, moves it from place to place. Unless controlled by thought behind the rudder, the Mast is moved solely by this Spiritus.

The Fou, on the other hand, is truely crazy - though not necessarily in just its negative connotation, but in its sense of absolute self-abandonement to passion, and hence Love.

The mendicant friar (also possibly represented by VIIII - L'Ermite) is possibly also here indicated (with VIIII being possibly a truer Antonian desert Hermit representation).

Still, I think it is only in far more recent times that such a travelling Hobo isn't part of our environment. I recall as a child the semi-regular visits by raggedly dressed 'old' (I was but a child!) men - or were the visits from the same individual? - seeking merely a bite to eat, whether for breakfast or in the evening. My grandfather always seating with them, talking with sombre dignity. Such an individual would have been far more commonplace in earlier days, and their tramp-ping from village to village, for whatever reasons (whether it be as pilgrimage, seeking employment, escaping (in)justice, or simply madness) would have made them all of similar first-glance appearance.

Maybe he was of Jester representation, as they too often travelled with their stories and entertainment... If this was the case, however, then they are not merely 'madmen', but wise Fools!

Their head-dress/hats should give some indications as to their standing. Attached is the (restored) 1650 Noblet version - a peculiar representation, and I wouldn't like to be in, nor experience the pain of the claws he is about to!
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jmd:

What a great card. I've never before seen it.

But on one occasion I did see a cat do that very thing.

I think I'd rather step over a cliff.
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...ibid, though even seeing such a action would make me want to become a cat boxer !
On a more serious note, I did a little research, prompted by Diana's comment that 'Mat's etymology could be the Arabic for 'Death' - which rang bells of contradicting earlier research I seemed to recall on Chess.

According to my sources - which may be incorrect, but which includes the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - the 'Mat' of 'echec & mat' comes from the Persian shah (king) mat (helplessness/useless) - hence, 'the king is at a loss/helpless'. In this sense, the 'Mat' of the Tarot is also represented very much as a human being in either a useless or helpless state.

With the attached 1701 Dodal version, both the animal and the aim of its leap have far greater ambiguity - and the title of the card remains that joyous Folly of the Divinely inspired jester!
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Cool


My point here, it to attempt to find the roots of the word – for the original meaning of the card.

It’s inclusion, I assume was necessary in order for the deck to have an even number of cards for a 4 person trick playing game (however the entire deck could not be dealt at once as in Bridge, there are 19.5 cards per person).

As a trump, it holds no value. It is the lowest ranking card in the deck…a non-card if you will.

So is it’s meaning similar to that of a classic court jester, a simpleton, or the older and very universal figure – the trickster?

Inclusion of the dog indicates the latter. But the key may be in the words used to describe and classify it.
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It may be worth remembering that very early decks did not have titular names, so that whether this card was referred to as the Mat, the Fou or the Bateleur may have depended on the area in which the deck was used.

Personally, I also find that the claim that the deck was solely used for gaming purposes as un-historical as the claim which claims its use for any other specific purpose. It seems that Dummett & co's abhorence of anything which smacks of the esoteric or spiritual have wanted to render Tarot as 'nothing more than a game until De Gebelin made of it otherwise' just as bias and not solely sticking to the history. For Tarot, this history includes three aspects:
  • the visual extent cards - as they are, without knowing what they were actually used for;
  • textual reference or visual identity with other sources; and
  • that which some want to disregards too easily: the rich mindset of numerous people at the time of Tarot's emergence.
Even as a game, however, this card is definitely not the lowest of the lows, but one of the three top cards of the Major Arcana - namely I the Magician, the Fou, and XXI the World. Of these three, the Magician can easily be lost if a higher Trump is used, whereas XXI can never be lost, and the Fou may only be lost if played in the last hand, ie, if it is played after its natural position: before the last.

In terms of value, it shares, with the two other mentioned atous (and the four kings), the highest score value.

Here, of course, we are moving away from the cards and its symbolism. Yet, even the game itself points to the importance of both the beginning (I - the Magician) and the end (XXI - the World), as well as this so important of cards: le Fol!

-----
I suppose that, given the playfulness of the possible depiction of this very card, I may be excused for also wanting to play a little more with some of the words and images mentioned in previous posts.

The shah mat certainly, if spoken in a French speaking region, may be heard as the 'chat mat' (cat mat) - (could this be the origin of that so famous philosophical 'the cat is on the mat' phrase ) - but seriously, as a Fou, he would undoubtedly also have played with words and their homophonic meanings - especially in days in which the spoken word was deemed of such greater importance than the written one.

As I'm rambling a little, I'll stop here, and post another representation of this card: the Camoin version, which, possibly following especially the Marteau/Grimaud version, they also termed by the title of this thread: Le Mat.
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