Greek Statues & Iconography and the Tarot Images


Of course, we must consider that the concept of death and rebirth is associated with the phoenix and the dying god, the sun god, as has been mentioned.

Mike, does this relate to your two streams, Lethe and Mnemosyne?
If rebirth is to forget the past life, and begin to recognize the new life, then both the two jugs and the phoenix may be seen as symbols or re-incarnation.
But what of this relates to Venus? Her usual personality is of temptress, rather than as mother. Given the tastes of the ancients, it seems more likely that she would be a maiden.


Star = Nuit?

I'd like to re-raise my theory also that the Star card represents the Star Goddess - Nuit. This is based mainly on Crowleys first hymn to Nuit, in which he says "I am the Mother of all living: and my love is poured out upon the earth... and the Mystery of the Waters... I am the soul of nature who giveth life to the Universe.
The question is "where does Crowley get his influences from, that lead top this poem?"
One of the interesting aspects of the Star card is that there is nothing whatsoever artificial in the scene, except the jugs.
Some old images indicate that the "jugs" might originally have been breasts, which would eliminate all artificiality.

Also, we see a similar black headed bird, with tuft, representing the process of circulation, which may be likened to the water pouring in the temperance card, and hence in some way to the water pouring in the star card.

As the fire renews the Phoenix, so the Sun renews the night.
INRI also can be considered to mean "Ignis Natura Renovatur Integra, which is Latin. When translated it means “the fire renews nature incessantly,” .
It is an alchemical latin phrase, strongly related to the phoenix. (I wonder it if is coincidence that it also refers to other words that describe Jesus, who died and was reborn).

I know I'm rambling, but my subconcious is ringing its little bell to tell me there is something significant here. I thin the ringing started with the relationship between the Phoenix/Bennu and the Morning Star. I see that as something that shines all night, but is renewed during the day in the fire of the sun.
Thus the Bennu would be a creature of night, as is the Star Goddess. A flimsy concept, but niggling.

As usual, all of my sources are relatively recent, and I must rely on Mike and others to track the origins.


Hi Beanu,

Although your thoughts are very interesting, I think Mike is following a line of thought concerning a possible Greek connection with tarot images in accordance with the thread topic, not egyptian.

If there isn't an existing thread for an egyptian connection with the trumps, you can start one :)

Bee :)

EDIT: Here are some which might provide further information for you. There are also others you can search for.

The Egyptian Theory of Origin

Cards as "hieroglyphs"

'Egyptian' roots of the Tarot

Horapollo- some thoughts


MikeH said:
All the same, it would be helpful if we knew of some 15th-17th century mythologist who actually did make the connection between Venus and a bird, the Phoenix or any other. I will look in Italian and French sources. And if you know of any, even about generic birds associated with Venus, let us know. It is too large to be a dove, one of the birds associated with Venus, and too dark to be a swan or a goose; moreover, I know of no death-rebirth myth in a tree about any of these, known in 16th-17th century Italy or France.

Hello Mike,
I don't think I can help much with your research.
The only thing that comes to my mind is that in the Pervigilium Veneris there are a few references to birds (generic birds, swans and the famous swallow quoted by T.S.Eliot "quando fiam uti chelidon").

My impression is that you take too literally the details in the cards. Those cards are rough wood engravings, and the size of the details cannot always be taken to be accurate from a naturalistic point of view. The stars are too large to be stars, but they are obviously stars. Size is decided also on the basis of importance and readability.

It is perfectly OK to play with the images, looking into them for something we like, Greek gods, Egyptian gods, whatever. But I think one must be careful to distinguish such games from proving anything about the meaning intended by the original author.


Beanu: I was assuming that by "Venus" Rocco was referring to the planet Venus, not the goddess, and specifically to its manifestation as the Morning Star as referred to in Rev. 22, "the bright morning star," Christ as the herald of the New Jerusalem. In that regard, the Phoenix is the same, making way for the light "brighter than any day," as I think Revelation says.

The way the goddess Venus relates to the two jars, forgetting and remembering, is by her two aspects, Venus Urania and Venus Pandemos, in Plato's Symposium, the Celestial Venus of the water of Mnemosyne and heaven, and the Common Venus of Lethe and a return to earth in a new incarnation. Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" is of Venus Urania, daughter of Gaia and Uranos; "Primavera" is of Venus Pandemos (Pandemos = of all the people), daughter of Jupiter and some nymph, I forget who. Both refer to Venus as the Evening Star. Venus Urania's birth is about the fall of spirit into matter, for Plato the darkness of this world. Venus Pandemos is about fertility, sexual love, and the cydle of death and regeneration in this world.
Another painting, this time in the 16th century by Titian, is the one that in the 18th century got the title "Sacred and Profane Love." The title isn't accurate, but it captures the importance that people gave to the two Venuses.

The process of "forgetting and remembering" introduced by Pausanias and Dante is more complex in practice than I have so far presented. I am working on a post explaining it more fully.

I have been looking at images and texts about the Phoenix. A really good site is There are 24 manuscript images of the Phoenix(counting one double image, the phoenix at different times, as 2) , plus lengthy historical quotes. 9 of them don't show the phoenix anywhere near any flames. If there are any tufts I can't see them; and they aren't very colorful, not much like peacocks.

I think now that rather than Pliny, I should have quoted Isidore of SevileL who gives fewer details than Pliny:

"Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:22): "The phoenix is a bird of Arabia, which gets its name from its purple (phoeniceus) color; or because it is singular and unique in the world and the Arabs call singular and unique phoenix. It lives for 500 years or more. When it sees that it has grown old it builds a pyre for itself from spices and twigs, and facing the rays of the rising sun ignites a fire and fans it with its wings, and rises again from its own ashes." (

As far as phoenix vs. eagle. There is a myth about the eagle that fits: the eagle takes Ganymede to Olympus so he can be the cup-bearer, i.e. Aquarius. But I don't think the central figure on the card is going anywhere, she's doing her job where she is. Also, I think a dry and hot bird is more appropriate than a wet and cold one. Wet and cold, earth and water, are well represented in the bottom half of the card already, as for example in the Noblet. Nothing more is needed. What the Dodal etc. do is draw a connection between the hot and dry top half and the bottom half, and at the same time suggesting what the future has in store for someone who driniks of the streams. So now I am looking at medieval-Renaissance depictions of other solar birds as well as the phoenix. I have found one interesting one in Cartari, which I would love to hear people's take on. I will put it up later, in a separate post, once I have scanned it and translated the Italian text (to the best of my meager ability).

Bea and Beanu: Egyptian-derived images are fine with me as long as they are Greek-Roman-medieval-Renaissance (any of those) in form and use images, language, and conceptions known in the 17th century, as opposed to terms known only after hierolyphics were understood correctly or images buried in tombs or volcanic ash.

Rocco: It seems to me that what is relevant is not the "intentions of the artist" nor how later, differently informed times would have seen the images, but rather how educated people of the time would have responded to the image. My sense is that there were two main uses of the cards. First, to play a trick-taking game, and second, educational. In trick-taking games, the way to win is to remember what cards have been played: deduction, in other words. (the "Grand Robert" French dictionary, 1985, says that the word "tarot" derives from an Arab word meaning deduction (in French, meaning deduction or inference. I don't know where that comes form, but I like it.) The "art of memory" was to construct memorable narratives that would bring to mind the cards so encoded. Later this art got transferred to fortune-telling. The more associations one had, the better one's memory.n And in divination, the more associatons, the more open one's intuition to various symbolic possibilities as they relate to the other cards and the person in front of one. Little details become important here (see for example Jodorosky's La Via del Tarot, as it is called in my Spanish translation).

The second purpose was educational, as seen in the "Tarot of Mantegna" and the "Labyrinth" game (and also the bird decks). Primary would be instruction in the Christian faith: hence wew have encoded Christian images and a sequence suggesting the road to Christian salvation. For more educated people, it would also serve to teach Greco-Roman mythology as precursors to Christianity, including Egyptian and other myths known at the time. A parent or governess could play the game with his or her child and give instruction at the same time, or test the child on his or her knowledge. That is where things like size and shape come in, and the habits of various birds, as they relate to the overall meaning of the card. Or so I like to think. I certainly use the cards that way!


more birds

I have been investigating other candidates for the bird in the Dodal etc. Star card, in the context of Greco-Roman symbolism enjoyed during the 15th-17th century. I may have found a lead.

There is an interesting sentence in Cartari's Images of the gods of the ancients. In the Latin translation of 1581, Lyon, we have:

Aegyptij sum accipitris symbolo Osirim, qui apud eos est Sol, intelligebant; cum quod haec avis acutissima est oculum acie; tum quod citissime volat. (1581, p. 43)

In the Italian edition of 1647 Venice this sentence appears as:

Et in Egitto sotto la imagine dello Sparviero intendevano spesso Osiri, cioè il Sole, si perche è di acutissimo vedere questo uccello, si anco perche nel volare è velocissimo. (1647, p. 33)

The Imagini[/] was originally written in Italian. Presumably the 1647 text here is the same as in the original, and only the illustrations were added. Here is my attempt at a translation (using a translation engine and cleaning it up):

"And in Egypt by the image of the Sparrow hawk Osiris was often intended, that is the Sun, because of this bird's acute sight and because it flies the fastest."

The bird even appears in an illustration, I think the upper left-hand bird. Here is the one in the 1581 edition, p. 36 (; notice also p. 38, Hebe, Goddess of Youth, holding two cups, one up and one down, as in the Temperance card, an image I had been searching for earlier):


It does look rather like a sparrow hawk:


But the neck is not quite as long as the one in the Cartari illustration, which is closer to that of the bird on the Star card.

I also detect a resemblance between the bird in the illustration and medieval/Renaissance depictions of the phoenix, which has the appropriately long neck. Here are two from First


I picked this one because it is held by the Municipality of Lyon, where the 1581 Cartari was published.

So what we might have on the Dodal star card is something in between the phoenix and the sparrow hawk, but very much like the Cartari illustration.

Cartari does not mention the phoenix. And the 1647 Italian edition makes it clear that the bird associated with Osiris is not the phoenix, because it has a vignette of its own. The Osiris-bird is now on the right.


You will notice that the Osiris-bird's neck has been shortened, and the two birds are closer in size. In addition, the other animals sacred to the sun god are more realistically drawn (to talk about them would take as too far afield).

But what, in both versions, is the bird facing the Osiris-bird? The only mention of another bird, other than the swan and the rooster, that I find in Cartari's text is of a dove that gets torn apart by a sparrow hawk. The quote is just before the one I quoted earlier:

"Homerus eidem Apollini accipitrem dicatum vult, quem volocem Apollinis nuncium appelat, cum narrat, Telemachum, dum Ithacam reverteret, accipitrem vidisse, qui columbam dilaniaret; ex quo saustum omen suspcepit, se domum a procis brevi liberaturum. (1543, p. 43)

Et Homero fa che lo Sparviere gli sia parimente consecrato, e lo chiama veloce nuncio di Apollo, quando scrive che Telemaco ritornato à casa in Itaca vide uno Sparviero in aria squarciare una colomba: onde egli prese buono augurio di dovere liberare la casa sua da gl'innamorati di sua madre. (1647, p. 33)

And Homer makes the Sparrow-hawk primarily consecrated to him, and he calls it the fast messenger of Apollo, when he writes that Telemachus returning home to Ithaca saw a Sparrow hawk in the air tearing up a dove: whence he took it as a good omen for freeing the house of his mother's suitors."

Until someone has a better suggestion, I will call it that dove.

What Cartari says immediately after the quote I started with is also interesting:

"Eum Aegypttij divinis honoribus prosequebantur (quemadmodum Diodorus Siculus refert, cum balluas, quas Aegyptij numinum loco haberent, recenset) cum alias ob caussas, tum praecipue, quod priscis temporibus accipiter ex ignotis regionibus, Thebas (quae erat Aegypti primaria urbs) ad sacerdotes librum rubris literis conscriptum attulit, in quo sacrorum ritus continenbatur. Hinc factum est, ut sacrarum rerum scriptores apod eos pileum rubrum una cum accipitris ala gestarent. (1581, p. 43)

E lo adoravano gli Egittij, come scrive Diodoro, raccontando delle bestie, che da quelli erano come Dei guardate, oltre alle altre cagioni, per questa anchora, che già ne primi tempi venendo uno Sparviere, ne si seppe d'onde, portò in Thebe Città dello Egitto alli Sacerdoti un libro scritto à lettere rosse, nel quale era, come, e con quale riverenza si doveva adorare gli Dei. Da che nacque che gli scrittori delle sacre cose quivi portarono sempre un capello rosso in capo con una ala di Sparviere. Scrivendo. (1647, p. 33)

And the Egyptians adored it, as Diodorus writes, telling of some animals whose shapes were taken by gods, for this reason among others, that already in the earliest time it was known that a Sparrow-hawk brought to the priests of Thebes, a city in Egypt, a book written in red letters, in which was described with what reverence the gods were to be adored [were described sacred rites, the Latin seems to say]. From that it transpired that the writers of sacred things always wore a red hat on their head with a wing of the Sparrow-hawk."

What is interesting about the anecdote is that Thoth/Theuth is the god usually credited with not only providing sacred texts (usually under the name Hermes) but also inventing writing and giving his invention to the Egyptians at Thebes (see Plato Phaedrus selection at Plato says that the Ibis was sacred to him. Of course Cartari gets the bird wrong. But in the real Egypt (as opposed to the Greeks' imagined one) Thoth actually was represented by the same bird as Osiris. For both it was a Bennu, pictured as a gray heron, according to 20th century finds. I am surprised that Cartari was so close to the mark. It was probably a lucky confusion.

There is another interesting bird in Cartari's illustration, in both versions. That is the rooster. Here is what he says:

"Pausanias scribit, Graecos gallum veneratos esse, ut Apollini sacrum; is enim cantu mane solis adventum annunciat. (1581, p. 43)

Pausania scrive, che in Grecia riverivano il Gallo come uccello di Apollo, perche cantando annuncia la mattina il ritorno del Sole: e forse anco perche indivinavano spesso gli antichi dalla sua voce le cose o buone, o rie che dovevano venire, secondo che egli cantava in tempo, o fuori di tempo (1647, p. 33)

Pausanias writes that the Greeks revered the Rooster as the bird of Apollo because his singing announces the morning, the return of the Sun: and perhaps also because the ancients divined from ihis voice the things of good or ill that were to come, according to whether he sang in time or out of time."

The rooster is interesting because of hymns, known to all in the 17th century, by the 4th century Christian writer Prudentius. In verse 2 of of one of them he compares Christ to a rooster, and in verse 3 to the Morning Star (pasted from

Præco diéi iam sonat,
The herald of the day (the rooster) sends forth his cry
noctis profúndæ pérvigil,
always watchful through the depths of night
noctúrna lux viántibus
a nocturnal light to wayfarers,
a nocte noctem ségregans.
separating watch from watch

2. Now the shrill cock proclaims the day,
and calls the sun's awakening ray,
the wandering pilgrim' guiding light,
that marks the watches night by night.

3. Hoc excitátus lúcifer
While he sings, the awakened morning star
solvit polum calígine,
scatters the darkness of the heavens
hoc omnis errónum chorus
all the multitude of vagabonds
vias nocéndi déserit.
abandon their deeds of violence.

3. Roused at the note, the morning star
heav'n's dusky veil uplifts afar:
night's vagrant bands no longer roam,
but from their dark ways hie them home.

Of course the bird on the Noblet and most of the other Marseille-style cards is not a rooster. I say "most" because one deck actually puts a rooster there on the card (with other birds, I think). It was done in the 18th or 19th century (the dating is uncertain, per Kaplan Vol. 2 p. 320) by someone named F.F. Solesio in Genoa:


It seems to me likely that Solesio and maybe others before him saw the type of bird as important because of its identification with Christ and the Morning Star. But he was not interested in analogies between Christianity and paganism, hence the rooster.

In conclusion, I am modifying my earlier claim that the phoenix is the only candidate for this card's bird. The sparrow hawk, as depicted in 1581 Cartari as an image of Osiris, is another such candidate. We might even say that it is the phoenix as Osiris, because Osiris, like Christ, was a dying and resurrected god, as Plutarch among others relates (Isis and Osiris XIX, XXXV). In that well-known Greek text, he also rules over the dead and is a classic example of a god who became mortal and then immortal again (Isis and Osiris XXVII, XII, XXX). Like the phoenix, he is a pagan precursor to Christ.

But let me emphasize that it was not part of the phoenix myth as inherited from the Middle Ages that the bird represent Christ as the phoenix and Osiris. Such triple vision would be a Renaissance-style syncretic extension of the myth, a doubling back to classical pagan syncretism while retaining the medieval Christian meaning as well.

I would like to know of a reference (known at the time of the card) to this Osiris-bird specifically on a tree. Of course sparrow-hawks do sit in trees; but what would be interesting is the symbolism attached to that behavior in the 16th-17th centuries.


I don't know, if this was mentioned before.
The Visconti had as heraldic device a bird with a sun (so bird with fire) ... somehow this might be interpreted as phoenix, though I don't know, if they prefered to call it a dove (holy spirit).
Also we have birds in the Michelino-deck ... as it is only extant as description, we can't see it and the birds are called eagles, doves, turtle-doves, phoenix.

Ross translated Martiano's description:
"Indeed the first order, of virtues, is certain: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury and Hercules. The second of riches, Juno, Neptune, Mars and Aeolus. The third of virginity or continence: from Pallas, Diana, Vesta and Daphne. The fourth however is of pleasure: Venus, Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid. And subordinated to these are four kinds of birds, being suited by similarity. Thus to the rank of virtues, the Eagle; of riches, the Phoenix; of continence, the Turtledove; of pleasure, the Dove."

Kaplan Encyclopedia 1, p. 60, speaks of "possibly a dove" about the "bird with sun or fire" ... but it seems that it is the phoenix.

Birds are not rare at playing card decks ... for instance the "Meister of the Spielkarten" used them, but also others.


Visconti's dove and sun con l'impresa della colomba1.jpg

In his "Vita di Filippo Maria Visconti", the XV century historian Pietro Candido Decembrio writes that the "white dove with the sun" emblem was created by Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) for Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1347-1402). The emblem was associated to the motto "a bon droit". Decembrio describes the emblem as "colomba in un nimbo di sole" (a dove in a cloud of sun) and says that Filippo Maria used to display such device during battles. Filippo Maria was one of the sons of Gian Galeazzo.

The emblem was later adopted by the Sforza family.

The white dove possibly is a reference to Bianca di Savoia (Gian Galeazzo's mother) that gave him the feud of San Colombano ("colomba" is Italian for dove, "bianca" is Italian for "white"). Others see it simply as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The motto "a bon droit" (rightfully) is also appropriate for the dove, that is a symbol of innocence....but of course it is also connected to Venus and to pleasure :)

The heraldic sun used by the Visconti is also known as "raza" (I would say, Milanese dialect for "raying").



DoctorArcanus said: con l'impresa della colomba1.jpg

In his "Vita di Filippo Maria Visconti", the XV century historian Pietro Candido Decembrio writes that the "white dove with the sun" emblem was created by Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) for Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1347-1402). The emblem was associated to the motto "a bon droit". Decembrio describes the emblem as "colomba in un nimbo di sole" (a dove in a cloud of sun) and says that Filippo Maria used to display such device during battles. Filippo Maria was one of the sons of Gian Galeazzo.

The emblem was later adopted by the Sforza family.

The white dove possibly is a reference to Bianca di Savoia (Gian Galeazzo's mother) that gave him the feud of San Colombano ("colomba" is Italian for dove, "bianca" is Italian for "white"). Others see it simply as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. The motto "a bon droit" (rightfully) is also appropriate for the dove, that is a symbol of innocence....but of course it is also connected to Venus and to pleasure :)

The heraldic sun used by the Visconti is also known as "raza" (I would say, Milanese dialect for "raying").


Thanks, that's very interesting.

However ... that's Decembrio's explanation and probably also his opinion. I'm not sure, if Decembrio was personally so near to Visconti that we can trust any information from him - generally Filippo Maria Visconti kept in his later life people on distance. And perhaps Decembrio was too young.

Martiano da Tortano was older, teacher of Filippo Maria and likely closer to the "secret ideas" of Filippo. He speaks of doves, turtle doves and the phoenix and additionally of the eagle, cause the eagle was in Filippo's heraldic device cause the duke title had come from the emperor. So we have to assume that all used birds in the Michelino deck had heraldic function - at least in ca. 1425.

Generally it's said about the use of Phoenix in heraldic, that it's prefered by cities which saw a big destruction and regained their power later. Milan was such a city (conquered and much destroyed by Fredrick Barbarossa) ... it regained power in the long run through the centuries with the Visconti family.
Filippo Maria himself had seen a downfall of the Milanese duchy in his own life and under his own regentship 1412 - 1425 Milan had recovered much, Filippo was on the way to become a great man - it was not clear, that the following wars with Venice would last until his own end.

Enough reason to play (in 1425) with the idea of the Phoenix as a heraldic device. If others (for instance his soldiers) interpreted it as a dove ... who cares, Filippo Maria in his lonesome life probably not.

Ross G Caldwell

Huck said:
Enough reason to play (in 1425) with the idea of the Phoenix as a heraldic device. If others (for instance his soldiers) interpreted it as a dove ... who cares, Filippo Maria in his lonesome life probably not.

"Probable" is a pretty strong word for such wild speculation - I will go with Decembrio's account.

Francesco Novati wrote about Petrarch's relationship with the Visconti in a 1904 book
- he discusses the attribution of the device to Petrarch on pp. 54-58.

He notes, among other things, that Pier Candido's father Uberto was a likely source for the information, and Uberto had every opportunity to know Petrarch personally.

He also notes that Pier wrote a letter to Visconti (he quotes it) in 1430 where he asserts that Petrarch invented it.

Novati then goes on to quote the poet Francesco Vannozzo, who wrote a "Canzone morale fatta per la divisa del Conte del Virtù" (Moral canzone for the device of the Count of Virtu" (Gian Galeazzo of course), at the end of the 14th century (he died in 1389, but it seems probable he wrote it before Gian Galeazzo took over Milan in 1385. I don't know enough about him to say if or how well he knew Petrarch).

Vannozzo describes it as:
nel sole e l'azur fino
che tengono in sua branca
quella occelletta bianca
qual à bon droit nel dolce becco tiene...

"occelletta bianca" = "little white bird", holding in his beak the "à bon droit" banner.

Whether Petrarch invented it or not, it surely is a dove.