Greek Statues & Iconography and the Tarot Images


I don't dispute, that "doves" were heraldic birds for the Visconti, I point out, that the description of the Michelino deck speaks of the Phoenix as a suit symbol, and, as Doves and Eagle (the other suit symbols) already are recognized as "heraldic birds", I suggest, that the Phoenix likely had similar function, at least for the time of ca. 1425 (Michelino deck).

For the point "Uberto had every opportunity to know Petrarch personally" ... likely not, he was too young. The birth year of Uberto is in doubt, but he's estimated to be born 1350 - 1370. Even in the case that 1350 is the right early date Uberto would have been about 25 years old at the death of Petrarca and a too intensive living contact shouldn't be imagined between a 70 years old famous poet and a young nobody, especially if the poet spend of his late years only few time in Milan (left the region around 1362, definitely at Padova since 1368), and Uberto, as far I know, was not installed at the court before ca. 1390. There are generations between the both strings of life. Uberto has a late son in 1415 ... if we imagine him then as "65", it's not impossible, but not necessarily likely.

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

... :) ... I can't help it, this sounds, as if Filippo didn't know, that his phoenix was only a dove ... :) ... perhaps it has to be interpreted in the manner, that Decembrio gave the advice to Filippo, that in the current times of 1430 Petrarca had become a famous man, and that it might be good public advertising for Milanese culture, that "Petrarca developed the Visconti device", and good to remember, that Petrarca had spend 8 years in Milan.

... and if Decembrio had already had 1430 this opinion, why should he have another in 1447.
But it seems not likely, that Pier Candid Decembrio was at the Visconti court of importance already in 1425. Likely this developed after the death of his father Uberto.
... well, we ourselves are too young to ask Francesco Novati about it.
More to the Decembrio family


That's a great change of title, Beanu! And I appreciate the bringing in of heraldry into the discussion of the bird on the Star card. It shows how important identifying the species could be when one saw a picture of a bird in a symbolic context.

It would be of interest to know just when the bird first appeared on the Star card. The first one I am aware of is the "Chosson," 1672. (As Ross has I think shown, the designer was probably not a Chosson, as the family wasn't in the business then, but the person whose initials are on the Chariot card. See Do we know of any earlier? In any event, heraldry was still important in 1672.

A while back I watched a series of lectures on DVD about 17th century Dutch art. The lecturer showed how every particular kind of vegetable, fruit, nut, and meat in a still life had a specific allegorical meaning, so that the painting was not just a masterfully done representation of some food on a counter, but a moral allegory. Understanding the painting required knowing the symbolism of each species of thing on the table, and also its placement in relation to other things. That’s when I started attending to specific details in 17th century tarot cards, such as the species of tree or bird.

I am still mulling over Rocco/Dr. Arcana’s suggestion that I am taking small details too literally, not allowing for the skill level of the woodcut maker, and that the bird is just there because it is close to dawn, as indicated by the Morning Star.

Could generic birds represent the dawn, as Rocco suggests? The problem, it seems to me, is that birds in a tree at night can represent all sorts of times, depending on the species. A rooster or a lark means dawn (“It was the lark,” says Romeo). A nightingale means night (“It was the nightingale,” says Juliet). An owl means dusk or night (“The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk,” says the proverb, meaning you get wisdom only at the end of the day). Here the species matters. Otherwise we know the time of day from other clues, and the bird does not contribute anything of its own.

But couldn’t generic birds represent something else? Well, I’ve been looking. In Bosch’s “Earthly Paradise” in the “Afterlife” series, then as now in the Doge’s Palace in Venice, generic birds are at the top of the painting, clearly representing souls about to enter Heaven. Here is the whole painting, and under it a detail of the birds.



Since Earthly Paradise is exactly where Dante’s two streams are located, it is a possibility for the tarot card, too (and one of my theories about the card is reinforced). The bird, above the lake or stream of Memory, is in this interpretation a soul about to enter Heaven.That idea is supported by the Conver card, where the bird is not only at the top of something (the tree), but flapping its wings.

The bird on the Dodal has a large head. That might mean an unskillful woodcut artist, or it might suggest that the bird represents the soul (as I think J-M David suggested), assuming a large head is the sign of an intelligent soul, as in some religious and alchemical art. It is a soul that has the possibility of flying up to heaven. But is it the soul of a human or of a god? And what does ithe image mean, just sitting there? There should be more: otherwise nothing much is communicated.

To sum up: I now have one more interpretation of the bird, as a soul about to enter Heaven, or, in Greco-Roman times the realm of the gods and heroes. But this does not detract from the other interpretations, as phoenix or Cartari's Osiris bird/sparrow hawk.

"Dove" is a long shot, since the bird doesn't look much like a dove. But it would certainly fit allegorically if the central figure were the Virgin Mary--or John the Baptist, if he were younger than usually represented. Or a Sforza or Visconti: people getting possession of rich cities tend to start preaching peace, as well as, sometimes, a re-emergence from the ashes (well, the figure doesn't look much like Francesco, either; perhaps it's Bianca).


MikeH said:
"Dove" is a long shot, since the bird doesn't look much like a dove.

The Phoenix suit in the Michelino deck tells, that ...

Ross translated Martiano:
"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."

??????? ... and that's strange in the Michelino deck, the Phoinix stands for "riches"


The Phoenix indeed mostly not looks like a dove, however, in the not really contemporary, but perhaps near enough Mantegna Tarocchi it looks ...


... a little bit like a dove. It accompanies "Hope" or "Spes" and this seems to be an old story, in which Spes or Elpis again stands for virginity.


"Aeternitas" (eternity) with Phoenix as another representation of Spes (according the opinion of the following author):

"Spes is the Roman equivalent of the Greek Elpis, a minor goddess of Hope (and possibly of Expectation). She has a pleasant image of an adolescent girl walking to the left, holding out a flower, and with her other hand holding up the hem of her skirt. But the image originated centuries earlier, from Greek statues called korai. These showed young girls of 14 or so, wearing adult dress for the first time, hitching the skirt to keep it from dragging, and holding a flower or a bird to emphasise the fresh hope of spring and new growth.

Elpis (from Wikipedia)
"In Greek mythology, Elpis was the personification of hope, perhaps a child of Nyx and mother of Pheme, the goddess of fame, renown and rumor. She was depicted as a young woman, usually carrying flowers or cornucopia in her hands. In Hesiod's Works and Days, Elpis was the last item in Pandora's box (or jar). Based on Hesiod's description, the debate is still alive to determine if Elpis was only hope, or more generally expectation. Her Roman equivalent was Spes."
(It's interesting, that we meet here Fama and Eternity - both allegories in Petrarca's Trionfi scheme - at one place.)

Well, Spes is a virgin. Looking at Caritas, we see often (for instance in Cary-Yale) a woman with child or children (so presenting motherhood).

Fides might have been associated to the "state of wedding" (?). The three theological virtues altogether stand possibly in a vague correspondence to the threefold goddess with her three basic states "young women", "married woman" and "old woman" (as the Trio Hebe-Hera-Hekate .. for instance).

In this context it's interesting to observe, that in the Michelino deck the 16 trumps are led by Jupiter (naturally, highest trump of 16) followed then by the trio of 3 goddesses (Juno (15) - Minerva (14) - Venus (13)) ... btw. the same 3 goddesses, which are judged by Paris with the apple (an apple sponsored by Eris at the marriage of Zeus and Hera).

But Spes is a Virgin and in the Michelino deck there is a row of Virginity - the virgin goddesses Pallas, Diana, Vesta and the "virgin-till-death" Daphne (became a tree about it), but the Phoenix is NOT given to the row of virgins, but to the row of RICHES - and there are viral figures like Hera, Neptun, Mars and Aeolus.

So it seems, that we can see here a difference of the opinions about the phoenix of the commissioner of Mantegna Tarocchi and of Martiano da Tortona (or Filippo Maria as the commissioner).


Well, I don't know, how the real Phoenix looked like, but I would assume, the others (painters included) also didn't. Occasionally it might have had similarities to doves and occasionally not.

In China we have 4 (very old) mythical animals presenting the 4 seasons ...

Green Dragon - Spring
Red Fire-Bird - Summer = Phoenix (Chinese)
White Tiger Woman - Autumn
Dark Warrior (Tortoise) - Winter

The association Red Fire-Bird to summer should turn clear, that this Chinese Phoenix associates the sun.



Thanks for the "Mantegna" image, Huck. I had forgotten completely about that card. In an earlier post in this thread about Spes, on Spes as the central figure of the Star card, I observed that the "Hope" card in the Cary-Yale and Minchiate was essentially the same as the "Star" card in the PMB. So as far as I am concerned, this "Mantegna" image establishes very nicely that the phoenix, at least a dovelike phoenix, was part of the iconography of the Star card even in the 15th century. I hadn't thought of that card--but ask, and it looks like you receive.

Once I have submitted this post, I will be making a correction to an earlier post, the one quoting Cartari in Latin and Italian. I had forgotten that the Imagini[/] was originally written in Italian (1556, even though I was using the 1647 edition, which has a supplement and new illustrations), and the Latin was a translation (1581). I had it backwards in the post. But since we don't know which edition the ur-Chosson or ur-Dodal designer used, I left the Latin in as still relevant. There was a French edition in 1627, but I haven't tried to access that one. Let me add, considering the topic of this thread, that I have read a lot of Cartari's book and checked a lot of his references. I have yet to find one that was not Greco-Roman. So it is probable that his reference to Osiris and the Sparrow-hawk is from a Greco-Roman source.


MikeH said:
Thanks for the "Mantegna" image, Huck. I had forgotten completely about that card. In an earlier post in this thread about Spes, on Spes as the central figure of the Star card, I observed that the "Hope" card in the Cary-Yale and Minchiate was essentially the same as the "Star" card in the PMB. So as far as I am concerned, this "Mantegna" image establishes very nicely that the phoenix, at least a dovelike phoenix, was part of the iconography of the Star card even in the 15th century. I hadn't thought of that card--but ask, and it looks like you receive.

It's a more or less "common" (perhaps not very "common" ?) theory that the 3 theological virtues in the Cary-Yale were replaced by Sun-Moon-Star.

This discussion of the "5x14-theory and the 3 luminaries" continues here;

Moderator:- Historical Research, Marseilles & Other Early Decks.


Le Toule and The Spring

I want to get back to Greek mythology. One of my interpretations of the card earlier had to do with two springs with two waters, Lethe and Mnemosyne, and two sets of guardians. In the card, I suggested, the two guardians were combined into one guardian with two jugs. In this context I want to revisit the old "LETOILLE"/"LE TOULE" controversy, which you may have hoped was put to rest.

One side of the controversy says that the letters on the Conver card were purposefully altered so as to read "LE TOULE," meaning "the spring" or “the well” in the dialect spoken in southern France. The other side says that the title of the card is clearly "LETOILLE," meaning "the star," the title the card had had for centuries, ever since names of cards were written (first in lists and then on the cards), and that the apparent "LE TOULE" is just an accidental defect in the woodcut.

Here are three versions of the card, all apparently printed in Marseille. First is the so-called "Chosson" of 1672 (as Ross Caldwell has argued, probably not designed by Chosson: Second is Conver's 1760 version, which is very close to the "Chosson." ( Third is Conver's 1761 edition, which colors the card slightly differently (Heron, taken from the Bibliotheque Nationale's original).


Now let's look closely at the lettering:


As you can see, in the Chosson, the "I" adjoins the first "L" at the top and bottom. Then in the Conver 1760, the top connection has been removed but not the bottom one. Not only that, but the right-hand side of the L has a scratch almost obliterating its bottom horizontal line. And third, there is a slightly larger space between "LE" and the rest, suggesting that "LE" is the definite article.

Now what it reads could be "LE TOULE" or "LE TOILE" as well as "LETOILLE." The meaning of "Toule" I get from J.-C. Flornoy ( At the bottom of his web page on the subject is an English translation of his main point, both what "Le Toule" means and why, in his opinion, this information is of no significance:

"In the dialect of southwestern France, LE TOULE means a well or spring. Questions about this arise regularly. The two cards accessible by the enclosed link are at the source of the problem: Conver 1760 and 1890. The same woodcuts were used 130 years later (and surely many many times in between), and the block has of course deteriorated. As the raised edge of the woodcut is worn down, the line thickens and is less clear - by examining the earlier print with a magnifying glass, there is no doubt that Conver wrote LE TOILLE."

My first comment: To be sure, Conver wrote "LE TOILLE" (or LETOILLE, although for some reason Flornoy does not mention this). But it might also be that he wanted to suggest "LE TOULE" as well. In other words, he might be engaging in a kind of visual pun or double entendre. It would not be the first ambiguous image in his cards.

Flornoy has drawn a different conclusion, that only "LE TOILLE" is indicated. Here are his pictures of the two cards, "1890" on the left and "1760" on the right:


And now the relevant details blown up. First, "1760":


And then "1890":


My second comment: It looks to me that what Flornoy calls the "1760" is really the 1761 (as specified in the Heron brochure). And it looks much more worn than the one he calls the "1890." The one that Camoin calls "1760" also looks more worn than the 1890. If the 1760 edition was replaced by the 1761, how many times was the 1760 actually printed? I would guess not many in the space of one year. And how does a plate get in better shape by repeated use between 1761 and 1890?

I wondered whether Flornoy inadvertently labeled the cards wrong (not only on the web page, but also on the titles of the jpg files). I went to Camoin again. He reproduces all the trumps of what he calls "1880" on his website ( He puts all the trumps in one image, at very low resolution, with his electronic stamp over the images. When I single out the Star card and blow it up, it doesn't look very clear. Here is the best I can do, darkening it somewhat to bring out everything black.


The colors match the card that Flornoy calls "1890." Camoin explains that for the machine-produced edition of 1880, his ancestor reduced the colors to four, omitting for example the light blue. Camoin adds that there is also a "scant amount of green." I suspect that it was created by superimposing blue onto yellow. Camoin's 1880 card does indeed look pretty worn (as they all do from that year)! It looks more worn than Flornoy's 1890 card. It looks like "LE TOILLE" worn down so that it looks lijke "LE TOULE." I don't know what happened between 1880 and 1890. Did they clean the plates, or use different ones?

In any case, the 1760, the 1761, the 1880,and the 1890 all have two areas that are white where the Chosson has black: on the top, between the "I" and the "L" and at the bottom, on the right side of the "L." The effect is the most noticeable in the 1760 (in that only the one L is affected) and the least in the 1890.

It still looks to me like that in preparing the 1760, someone scratched out part of the right side of the L, and also kept the bottom of the "I" and "L" joined but not the top. The result suggests a double meaning, perhaps to give a clue to the card's meaning. These anomalies remain unchanged in the 1761 and 1880 editions. In 1890 the effect is less noticeable but still there.

And there remains another issue. Even Flornoy says that the card reads "LE TOILLE." Why is there the separation between "LE" and "TOILLE," as opposed to writing the one word "LETOILLE"?

This separation is even clearer in some earlier Marseille-style cards. For example, Dodal has a dot in the middle of the line, separating "LE" and "TOILLE." He does that in other cards to indicate a separation between two words. Is there another double entendre? I will talk about that issue in another post, in relation to Greek sacred ritual as suggested in The Odyssey.


Le Toille, Odysseus, and Circe

This post has two parts. For me, the first led to thinking about the second. But each stands or falls on its own merits. Part One is about the printed title of the Dodal Star card, c. 1701. It leads to Part Two, where I bring in Greek mythology. That part also brings in two other early versions of the card (15th or 16th century, according to Kaplan), ones not often discussed on Aeclectic.


Here is the Dodal Star card:


In the lettering at the bottom, there is a little dot between the first "E" and the "T"; in other cards in the series, a dot means a separation into two words. (Look at the ones immediately following and after at

This "LE TOILLE" has had some discussion on Aeclectic. "Toille" is a perfectly good English word, often with the word "French" before it (do a Google search: French Toille). There is no such word in modern French. But it did exist in the 17th century, according to the Dictionnaire Historique de L'Ancien Langage Francois...Jusqu'au Siecle de Louis XIV (Paris 1882, Vol 10 p. 51). It was an alternate spelling of "Toile," meaning "cloth." Similarly one will see both "ETOILE" and "ETOILLE" (as well as ones that put in an S as the second letter). It was a feminine noun, which would have had "La" in front of it.

A small piece of "toile" is a "toilette"; the word also means "washroom," "washing," etc. (Grand Robert 1985. A note about this source: it is a well-established reference dictionary, in many volumes. It is the same source that derives the word "tarot" from an Arabic word with the same meaning as the French word "deduction," as I believe J. Karlin pointed out.) These various meanings of "toilette" do have some bearing on the card, since it features water. There is also the English "towel," from the Old French "toialle," and the Old High German "dwahan," meaning "to wash" (Webster's New World Dictionary, 1967).

Fresh from "LE TOULE," we might look for a pun, one that hints at the meaning of the card. Here is one possibility. In French, "faire la toilette" means "to do one's ablutions" (Grand Robert). It is the same in Spanish, "hacer la toilette" (Oxford Spanish Dictionary). "Ablution," according to my Webster's, means "a washing of the body, especially as a religious ceremony." So perhaps the lady on the card is a bathing attendant, or more mysteriously, a priestess engaged in giving a sacred bath. For example, Dante, at the end of the Purgatorio ,is in effect bathed in the water of Lethe, when Matilda dunks him.

But let us be cautious. If we look at the other Dodal titles beginning with "LE" or "LA," we find one other card in which the dot is in the wrong place. "L'Amoureux," the Lover, is written "LA" dot "MOVREV," i.e. "La Moureu" in today's orthography. One explanation for both "LA MOUREV" AND "LE TOILLE" might be that the woodcut artisan was in the habit of putting a dot or space after "LE' or "LA" (as in "LA LVNE" or "LE SOLIEL") and just forgot not to do that in these two cases, exceptions to the rule. He also forgot the “X” at the end.


But there are two arguments against this account. First, later versions of the card continue showing "LE TOILLE" but change "LA MOVREV" to "LAMOUREUX." (I suspect that leaving the "x" off was an old variant spelling, but I am not so obsessive as to check.) Why didn't they change "LE TOILLE" as well? Here is one of two Heri decks in Kaplan, this one dated only as first quarter of the 18th century:


The other is Schaer, 1784:


Another argument against "LA MOVREV" being a slip is again that it might be a pun. Marco has pursued some associations at He starts from the Italian "Morron," a family name meaning "dark-skinned." I will start from the French. I find no such French word as "Moureu" or "Moureux." The closest is "Moreau," a nickname for a dark-skinned man. ( We are back to Marco.

But what I find on the last-named website is a derivation from the French "Maure" or "More," Italian "Moro," meaning "Moor." So what might "More" or "Moro" have to do with the Lover card? Marco suggests "Morosa," Venetian dialect for "lover" or "mistress."

Here are two other possibilities, from "Moro" as "Moor." “Moureu,” or "L'Amore," as the card was known in Italy, could be a pun on the name of the last independent Sforza Duke of Milan, Ludovico "Il Moro," so-called because of either his hair or his complexion. He was the father of the only Sforza Empress (her mother would be on the left on the card) and also had a beautiful mistress, by repute the one who sat for Leonardo's "Lady with an Ermine" ( He died in a French prison. One view is that when the French occupied Milan, they also discovered tarot and brought it back with them. In any event, the Milan-style decks are thought to be a main source of the "Marseille" style cards.

Another possibility is that "Moureu," is a punning memory from the 16th century decks that had scenes from Ariosto's Orlando romances. Kaplan suggests that the Lover card in one deck may illustrate "the wedding feast of Rogero, a Saracen knight who converts to Christianity, and Bradamant, the maiden warrior" (Encyclopedia Vol. 2, p. 287). "Saracen" and "Moor" are interchangeable in such romances. Here is the card, from the Museo della Arti delle Tradizioni Populari in Rome (Kaplan p. 286):


The two lower figures are musicians. We will meet this deck again in Part Two.

So we are left with a possible pun connecting "LE TOILLE" with washing. Lacking knowledge of non-standard French/Italian words in 15th-17th century dialects, and obscure French and Italian romances about Moors, I reach a dead end. Perhaps mythology and literature can help.


Vol. 2, Chapter 14, of Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot offers at least two relevant versions of the Star card. One appears on various uncut sheets that have been in Budapest museums for a long time. Kaplan says that they are Italian, late 15th century or more likely early 16th century. I don't know that the sheet I want to focus on has a name, other than Budapest Museum, Group One, Sheet One. The figure repeats on Sheet Two and also a sheet held by the Metropolitan in NY. But this Sheet One shows the most. A young man stands before us, apparently nude, although the bottom of the card, starting just below the navel, is cut off. There are no jugs in his hands, and no water visible, either.


The man seems to be grasping for the one star in the sky. As such, he is reminiscent of the PMB Star card, 15th century Milan.


On the card with the man, there is one big, leafy tree on the left, and a bush on the right. There may or may not be a bird in the tree; that part of the card is indistinct. I will assume that there is not. The man's navel and surrounding area are reminiscent of the eye or mouth in the abdomen of the Dodal.

Could this handsome young man be just emerging from a ritual bath?

Here are some passages from the Odyssey:

"The upper servant Eurynome washed and anointed Ulysses in his own house and gave him a shirt and cloak, while Minerva made him look taller and stronger than before; she also made the hair grow thick on the top of his head, and flow down in curls like hyacinth blossoms; she glorified him about the head and shoulders just as a skilful workman who has studied art of all kinds under Vulcan or Minerva--and his work is full of beauty--enriches a piece of silver plate by gilding it. He came from the bath looking like one of the immortals, and sat down opposite his wife on the seat he had left." (Book 23, Samuel Butler translation, .

Athena (Minerva), in beautifying Odysseus (Ulysses), is a goddess helping her hero to look like one of the immortals. Odysseus's wife Penelope, to his surprise, tells him to go sleep in the hall. But she is merely testing him.

Another example, expressed in virtually identical terms (most of which I won’t repeat), is when Odysseus, his ship and men all lost, meets the young Phaeacian Princess Nausicaa soon after he is washed ashore. She gives him some clothes her sevants have just washed. Odysseus washes and oils himself, and again Athena helps. When he emerges from behind the bushes, clothed, Nausicaa tells her tittering handmaidens:

"Hush, my dears, for I want to say something. I believe the gods who live in heaven have sent this man to the Phaeacians. When I first saw him I thought him plain, but now his appearance is like that of the gods who dwell in heaven." (Odyssey Book VI, at

Back home in Ithaca, the magic also works for Odysseus's son Telemachus:

"Meanwhile lovely Polycaste, Nestor's youngest daughter, washed Telemachus. When she had washed him and anointed him with oil, she brought him a fair mantle and shirt, and he looked like a god as he came from the bath and took his seat by the side of Nestor." (Odyssey Book III, at

Besides the Odyssey, there is also Pausanias's description of the preparations taken the night before the person at the oracle drinks the waters of forgetting and remembering:

"The procedure of the descent is this. First, during the night he is taken to the river Herkyna by two boys of the citizens about thirteen years old, named Hermai, who after taking him there anoint him with oil and wash him. It is these who wash the descender, and do all the other necessary services as his attendant boys." (

There are doubtless other such accounts in classical Greek and Roman literature.

I do not propose that 16th century card players would associate the figure on the card to Odysseus or Telemachus coming from their baths, transformed into godlike beings. The practice of ritual bathing and anointing would have been familiar from another source: the Bible, where the figure would have a different but parallel association. We are in the world of Renaissance syncretism. Where the common people would have seen only Biblical images, Renaissance freethinkers would have seen Greek ones as well.

Here is one Biblical example. In a diatribe chastising Israel as a harlot, Ezekiel (16:9) counts being washed and anointed as one of the blessings that God has given his ungrateful people. Ezeikiel has God say: "And I washed thee with water, and cleansed away thy blood from thee and I anointed thee with oil." (Et lavi te aqua et emundavi sanguinem tuum ex te et unxi te oleo; at

Similarly, Moses has Aaron and his sons washed, and then Aaron, as high priest, anointed (Lev. 8:6-12). In the New Testament, John the Baptist washes Jesus in the Jordan, while the Holy Spirit anoints him (Acts 10:38). Then at the end of Jesus's life, Mary Magdalene washes his feet with her tears and anoints them with oil (John 13:2).

My guess is that the meaning is that washing purified one, while anointing made one holy. It is thus like the two steams in Dante: There, in drinking the one, one forgets one's sins. Drinking the other, one remembers one's good deeds and so prepares for Paradise. Here one is cleansed by the water and made a man of God by the other.

Then there is King David. Upon hearing of the death of his newborn son, he first washes and then anoints himself, and finally breaks the fast he had been on in hopes of winning God's pardon (II Sam. 12:20). His first sin had been to have sex with Bathsheba and beget a child. His second was to have her husband killed in battle, along with a few of his men, so that David could marry the widow and claim the child. Appropriately, the figure on the Budapest card looks down as though contrite. After the bath and anointing, David is apparently a new man, cleansed of guilt, because the next thing we hear is that Bathsheba is pregnant again, this time with Solomon (II Sam. 12:24).

On the card, there seems to be a six-pointed star on top of the tree. During the 15th-16th centuries such a star was known as the "shield of David" ( a symbol of Christ's reputed ancestor. David, of course, is the prototypical "anointed one," (Psalm 89:20), the meaning of "Christos" in Greek.

Perhaps our 16th century card player, in seeing the naked man on the card and the six-pointed star, would have thought, explicitly or not, of a statue just completed in Florence and very popular. The subject was Biblical, but the style was akin to classical Greece.


On the card we may or may not have David facing Goliath, The Bible makes no mention of a ritual bath and anointing beforehand. He had been anointed by Samuel, but that was long before (I Sam 16). Perhaps we are to think of David's other time of trial. That is just what is happening at this point in the tarot sequence. After the Devil's chains and God's wrath at the Tower, one needs the purifying bath and holy anointing if one is to get to the World of the New Jerusalem.

Another deck, from around the same time as the Budapest, is the deck held by the Museo della Arte delle Tradizioni Populari. I have already mentioned its Lover card, in Part One of this post. Kaplan tentatively identifies the card as the Star.


Although not immediately obvious, it has much the same theme as Michelangelo’s David. Kaplan says:

"The scene on card XVI is of a the fight between Orlando and Rodomond, a pagan. Orlando, in a state of madness, has thrown away his armor and is naked. They wrestle on a bridge that Rodomond built in remorse for killing his beloved, Isabella. Rodomond challenges all knights to combat on this bridge, in honor of Isabella. The bridge is situated near Isabella's tomb, probably shown as a mausoleum on the right of the card's picture. Orlando overcomes Rodomond in the struggle when they both fall in the water and Rodomond is too encumbered by his armor." (Vol. 2 p. 287)

Rodomond is a Goliath-type and Orlando a David-type, in ritual combat. Here it is the other figure, rather than the David-type, who is stricken with remorse. The combat concludes with the ritual bath, from which only the David-type, champion of the true God, emerges triumphant.

Similarly, in the Odyssey it is Odysseus who triumphs against the suitors, after the ritual bath and heiros gamos with Penelope. She, as E.A.S. Butterworth persuasively argued, must in earlier versions of the tale been a priestess with transformative powers (]Some Traces of the Pre-Olympian World in Greek Literature and Myth, pp. 97-100). The idea comes from comparing the Odyssey with Apollodurus's account in his poem Telegony. In the 17th century, this poem was well known, even forming the basis for an opera ( Here is Apollodorus:

[E.7.36] When Telegonus learned from Circe that he was a son of Ulysses, he sailed in search of him. And having come to the island of Ithaca, he drove away some of the cattle, and when Ulysses defended them, Telegonus wounded him with the spear he had in his hands, which was barbed with the spine of a sting-ray, and Ulysses died of the wound.
[E.7.37] But when Telegonus recognized him, he bitterly lamented, and conveyed the corpse and Penelope to Circe, and there he married Penelope. And Circe sent them both away to the Islands of the Blest. (

I am not entirely clear who the “both” are in the last sentence. It would appear to be Penelope and Telegonus. Is, then, sending them to the “Islands of the Blest” an obscure way of saying she killed them and then did a ritual, or does it just mean that Circe did a ritual that made them immortal? Butterworth (p. 99) says that what Circe did was to wash and anoint Odysseus’s body, so that he would go to the Islands of the Blessed. He draws on the Odyssey descriptions of washing and anointing for the details of the ritual.

Another point of view is offered by the 5th century philosopher Proclus, in his summary of the Telegony:

“Telegonus, on learning his mistake, transports his father's body with Penelope and Telemachus to his mother's island, where Circe makes them immortal, and Telegonus marries Penelope, and Telemachus Circe.” (

In this version, Circe makes “them” immortal before rather than after the marriages—a happier ending than the one I was imagining, and one the 17th century would have preferred. Certainly double weddings make a better ending for an opera than two gratuitous deaths! “Them” presumably refers to all four: Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachus, and Telegonus. That such immortalization involved washing and anointing is a good guess, given the Odyssey.

Perhaps, then, the lady pouring out the two jugs in the "Marseille" cards is either offering or disposing of the water and oil of purification and sanctification, to someone either alive or dead, either literally or metaphorically. "Ablution," or some such, makes sense as a secondary meaning of the card. "Saturday Night Bath" might be another translation--one does not want to take communion on Sunday carrying the world's grime.

The woman with the jugs thus has two more titles: priestess and bathing attendant. Her mask-like face suggests a priestess.


Another title, from Christianity, might be "Mary Magdalene." She was typically represented as naked and covered only with her long red hair, as in Titian's painting and Donatello's sculpture.



Of course thus attired she also reflects the Church's other view of her, as the whore from whom Jesus cast out the devils.

Compare Mary here with the Cary Sheet figure, not only for the nakedness and the flowing hair, but for its act of giving the two liquids to the fish, now not only Pisces but a symbol of Christ (


I have not mentioned Mary's other anointing of Jesus (Mark 16:1), where she and two other women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body and learn that he is not there. For them to have been allowed there, such anointing must have been standard practice. Perhaps one reason was to aid the deceased in attaining the next world. I seem to recall that it was the family of the deceased that did that; but maybe I read that in The Da Vinci Code, where I will leave it. Perhaps, in those Greco-Judaic times, women of the temple also participated, whom pagans would have called priestesses.


Of the various complementary interpretations of the Star card that I have been giving in this thread in terms of Greek imagery, my favorite is the one that sees the central figure as offering the water of Lethe on one side and Mnemosyne in the other. In both Dante and Pausanias, we are invited to distance ourselves from our worldly preoccupations and sins so as to enter another world lacking such preoccupations and knowing only good. In this context, I would like to give a secular application of the two waters, forgetting and remembering, although one cannot remain in the secular for long.

The mythic narrative of the two waters, however it came about, became part of the Orphic "mysteries," with Dionysus as savior-god. Dionysus was the god of wine. Wine, like the water of Lethe for Dante, helps one to forget one's misdeeds. It also helps us to distance ourselves from life's ordinary stresses, which may be amplified by more traumatic events in one's past coming back to haunt one, consciously or unconsciously. Wine also, by stimulating eloquence, poetry, and dancing, put one in a state beyond that of the everyday.

In the tarot sequence, after the traumas of cards 12 and 13 come the comforts of card 14, the moderate wine of salvation. But such comforts can become immoderate, leading in one form another to abuse and dependency (as defined in the psychiatric diagnostic manual DSM-IV, replacing the more familiar term “addiction”: see numerous websites). We see this in card 15. That enslavement is followed by the lightning-bolt of calamity, in one form or another. Such calamity can also lead to purification--hence the water on the bottom of the Noblet Maison-Dieu card. What follows, for the substance abuser in recovery, is the recognition of one's personal helplessness, the surrender to God as one knows him (or her or it), a rigorous inventory-taking, a replacement of blissful forgetting with painful remembering, and the making of amends to the people we have wronged.

So first we forget our troubles through wine and other substances (and perhaps various so-called “addictive” activities), and then we remember the harm we caused.

But remembering wrongs and making amends is not the end. There are major changes to be made in the personality. One must learn to erase, i.e. forget, old behavior patterns, old unconscious beliefs, and old defenses. One must learn to remember new behavior patterns, new beliefs, and new defenses. One must learn them so well that one follows them without thinking, as part of one's being. This process is another forgetting/remembering.

And that is still not all. There needs to be a new or revived connection to spirit, in place of the old harmful pseudo-connection, so that there is nothing to be missed in abandoning the old ways, because what one sought earlier is truly found. Such connection can be achieved in a multitude of ways, without alcohol or whatever tripped one up before: there is religion on a new basis, but also art, poetry, dance, even historical research. Thus we have another forgetting/remembering, a return to the old need for escape but in a higher form.

Of course there is the real possibility that such new activity will become addictive in a form similar to substance abuse. So the process continues, recirculating one's alchemical fluids so as to balance genuine compassion in the real world with the escape from that world into spirit. Both are essential for a genuine connection to spirit. What applies to the substance-abuser applies in some measure to all of us. The card is not about all of this, but it does indicate the direction.


More birds

I forgot one good source for possibilities for the bird on the Marseille-style Star cards. That is the so-called "Bembine Tablet," which became famous after Cardinal Bembo purchased it from someone who aquired it during the Sack of Rome in 1527 (see Wikipedia). Many regarded it as the Rosetta Stone of Egyptian hieroglyphics, so to speak. It wasn't. The style is Greek, as one can see by comparing the sphinxes on it with Greek vs. Egyptian sphinxes. But the designer, 4th or 5th century Rome, did know a thing or two about Egypt. Here are three details:


Here what is of interest is first, the phoenix (right side, about 3/4 the way up, a sure sign that we are dealing at least in part with the Greek Egypt). Then notice the birds in the lower section, including the Ibis-headed god (would they have known it was Thoth?), the "ba" bird with the human head, and the kite/vulture, perhaps meant as a symbol of Isis or Nepthys (described in Plutarch as taking the form of a kite).

Notice also the ram and the birds with horizontal horns, reminiscent of the Bateleur's hat. The ram is the "ram of Mendes" as it was actually portrayed in Egyptian glyphs, also Ammon and Khnum. Khnum is the god whose daughter is pouring the two jugs at Dendera. I haven't checked to see how he, or Aries, is portrayed there--have a look, on one of my earlier posts


Here I have simply given the Ibis-god and the kite-vulture more fully, along with assorted other things.


This one is perhaps the most interesting, for the small bird at the hawk-god's feet (would they have thought it was Osiris or--as it is--Horus?). It sits above an assortment of disconnected vertebrae-like things. It perhaps would have been identified as a Djed Pillar, a symbol of Osiris's backbone known by de Gebelin (who associated it with the Pope's staff). So we might have the Osiris-bird I was looking for, moved to the tree of the Star card.

Not an exact fit, but closer than what I have found before.


the early star seems to have been a light (as seen in the additional 6 cards in the PBM). The d'Este cards (a little later) have astronomical associations (they have astronomical associations for Star and Moon, but for thesun they use Diogenes).
It's the Cary Sheet, which starts with a woman (is it really a woman ? Or might it be a male with long hair ?) and flowing water ... or do I overlook something?

The thread search doesn't find "milky" ... so I assume, you didn't reflect "Milky way". Well, let's reflect a little bit ...

Somehow there is legend, that the sign Aquarius was connected to the Nile, and his fountains (? correct word), well, I mean its source.

Around 1470-1480 star lore became popular and led to publications, naturally with star picture iconography of the ancients catalogs (Hyginus ca. 1480). The whole development was initiated by Peurbach (who taught around 1448-1450 in Ferrara) and his pupil Regiomontanus, who was invited to Italy in 1461 and stayed a longer time. Both worked in Vinna originally and the whole gets a face, when we know, that long reigning Emperor Fredrick was very fond of astrology (and probably also astronomy).
Fredrick was German emperor, however, about something like 27 years he hadn't been inside Germany (should have been the period ca. 1450 - 1475 ... I'm to lazy to look for precise dates) ... his major focus was Austria, so at least partly Vienna and its university.

One markant sign of the new love to the stars is the work at Palazzo Schifanoia, strongly influenced by a Ferrarese astrolog, who got his teachings from Peurbach.

Well, and there is another lore about the Aquarius, that of Ganymed - with him is connected the Greek love to young men. And homosexuality (then called sodomy) reached some new interest in the 1460's and 1470's in Italy - well, it had to hide "officially". So about the "girl" at the star card in the Cary-Sheet one might discuss a little bit.
A relative of Ganymed is Joseph, who loved to dress like a woman, fled from the female danger called "Potifah's wife" and had a truthsaying talent. In one of his dreams he saw, that sun and moon and the stars bent their heads towards him, and when he told this to his father Jacob, Jacob replied "how could you demand, that me and your mother and your brothers serve you" or similar, I don't remember.
In other words, Joseph was Aquarius, one of the 12, and Joseph was the 11th son, younger was only Benjamin. And to make it completely apparent even for stupid myth analyzers, the brothers threw him in a "well" and he had to interprete the oracle to a "Mundschenk" (well, these guys, which care for wine and other drinks - the job of Ganymed). Ganymed was then brought to heaven and to Zeus, but Joseph became very close with the Pharao - which in myth should be rather similar.

Another sign of "very old astrology/astronomy" in the Cary-Sheet is the cancer at the moon card, which, as we know, immediately followed the star card in the Tarot sequence.

But "milky way" should naturally connect to the whole idea, so immediately the story comes to mind, when Hera gave some milk to Herakles and then ...
well, Herakles was the astronom and he reached heaven and Olymp ... as Ganymed did, though with totally different methods.