Momus The God of Mockery


Well over a fourteen years ago, I received a lovely edition of the Satirical works of Lucian of Samosata. At the same time I was first introduced to a myriad of Tarot cards on the internet via 'Michele's Tarot Page'. I used to look at this page everyday, in wonderment of the many decks available. I thought I recognised the dialogues of Lucian in the characters of Tarot....
Much later I was introduced to Momus and although this 'God' was mentioned in Lucian, I did not know this.....
Momus is the most ambitious literary creation of Leon Battista Alberti, the famous humanist-scientist-artist and "universal man" of the Italian Renaissance. In this dark comedy, written around 1450, Alberti charts the lively fortunes of his anti-hero Momus, the unscrupulous and vitriolic god of criticism. Alberti deploys his singular erudition and wit to satirize subjects from court life and politics to philosophy and intellectuals, from grand architectural designs to human and divine folly. The possible contemporary resonance of Alberti's satire—read variously as a humanist roman-à-clef and as a veiled mockery of the mid-Quattrocento papacy—is among its most intriguing aspects. While his more famous books on architecture, painting, and family life have long been regarded as indispensable to a study of Renaissance culture, Momus has recently attracted increasing attention from scholars as a work anticipating the realism of Machiavelli and the satiric wit of Erasmus.
(From book review on Wikipedia)

Over the years on here at AT, and other forums on Tarot, I asked
was Tarot Pagan, Christian,Comedy, Astrological, Italian culture, Sforza History, Visconti History, History of Teodolinda, Political.....Goodness the list is endless. I even travelled to Italy to follow in the steps of Francesco Sforza. Not that that was a waste lol.
Nothing totally satisfied me....I still kept thinking "Tarot pokes borax at the Church" it is not a Christian salvation sequence. I did not think it could be a depiction of Christ in the world card (tdm) Nor did I think Faith could be the Papesse. I tried nevertheless to cram Tarot into these folds, against my natural instincts.

So Huck re- introduced me to Momus, I reintroduced myself to Lucian of Samosata and his satires...... and the Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti, my hero of Tarot.

Now this Momus was recognised as Satire as you can see here...

The Court of Momus, planted with the principal crops of Mars in Europe and decorated with political emblems of the current war and embellished with elegant historical and satirical poems.
In 1708.
and again later in PLaying cards......
Except from cards for sale..
Kaart van MOMUS (uncut sheet) Dutch series satirising the Bubble schemes of 1720, Full pack 52 Cards and extra title cards.

The Bubble scheme is described here.
Bubble scheme :

All political satire.....Is this Tarot? This rascal Momus?


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One shouldn't forget this link ...
"Momus", from Alberti, translated by Sarah Knight
It's not complete, but alone the introduction with a plot of the content is rather engaging.

The figure Momus appeared in a sort of "funny triumphal march" made for Renee d'Anjou in 1462 (or was it 1461 ?) in Provence. This was a collection of different themes, I remember, partly the typical allegories, as one knows it. Of special interest is, that the ruler of Urbino, Federico Montefeltro, and his young wife, Battista Sforza (both had married not long ago), were part of the ironic celebration.
Montefeltro had been foe to Renee d'Anjou short before, in the attempt to get Naples back.

Momus became then part of French carnival for a long time, especially in France, how intensive this was, is difficult to judge. Momus had also some appearance in Flemish countries. Around 1700 there was a French Momus renaissance.

In Italy Momus occasionally appeared in art. The beggar (No. 1) in the Mantegna Tarocchi might be a direct reference to the work of Alberti, in which Momus praises the "beggar" as the best role, that one could have.
Later the beggar appeared in art with other gods, recognizable as the beggar of the Mantegna Tarocchi. Generally it seems clear, that Momus had a longer career in France than in Italy.

So far I just remember. It's wasn't easy to get much to this theme once. Possibly the web has improved meanwhile.


Well you are certainly right about the French Connection....It seems as if Monmus was still a character for Carnival cards.
Here is how this ‘God of Mockery ‘was depicted in playing cards in 1925

I am particularly interested in whom read Lucian in the early days of the Triumphs.
1425 -ish on-wards. I know a tutor or mentor in the d'Este Court translated Lucian.
I am also interested how many people were onto Alberti with his authorship of 'Monmus' under an assumed name. Was it widely believed in Italy that 'Monmus' was written by Lucian?
I still cannot see 'Mischief' depicted in Tarot, which is a stumbling block.
I think the main characters are those on thrones.
So Maybe Jupiter is the Pope?
Maybe he was the first 'Bubble scheme' originator lol.
I think people should read also The Sale of Creeds(Beliefs) by Lucian- it is really funny.
It also reminds me of myriad things right here on this forum.


It's likely a longer work to get some order in the question, how Lucian's texts spread. That's more an underground story.

And he has written a lot. Momus from Alberti didn't spread quickly, too. Likely it was recognized as a little dangerous. And Lucian's texts also.

Some will have recognized the critique and not the fun in it.


I have to read lots of Books outside of the web....but whilst I do- here is something to consider about Tarot images.

'Momus' has been considered as a*roman à clef—Jupiter*has been identified in some sources as Pope Eugenius IV and Pope Nicholas V.

Firstly, what is a Roman a Clef?
Roman à clef*or*roman à clé*(*pronunciation French for "novel with a key"), is a*novel*about real life, overlaid with a façade of*fiction.*The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the*nonfiction*and the*fiction.
The reasons an author might choose the*roman à clef*format include*satire; writing about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on*scandals*without giving rise to charges of*libel; the opportunity to turn the tale the way the author would like it to have gone; the opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject; avoiding self-incrimination or incrimination of others that could be used as evidence in civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings; and the settling of scores.
The term was not used until the 17th century- so it is describing 'Momus' with a later label.

Now if tarot is satirical what might one make of the Cary-Yale sheet? In particular the Card 1 with figure with a monkey on his back? (we take that to be now The Magician at his table)

Pope Nicholas V issued a Bull about slavery- promoting that Saracens(Muslims) could be slaves.
The Saracen looks like the chained monkey on the Cary-Yale sheet. This uncut sheet in particular this card, does not seem to have a parallel in any surviving deck/cards.
If it was popular- I doubt it would have been received well.
Edit oops I forgot the Cary-Yale Sheet bateleur.


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Reading again in Sarah Knight's "Momus" of Alberti, I detected, that Knight dated Alberti's "De Conjuratione Porcari" to 1448 ... astonishing, cause the common well-known Porcari revolution, which was finished with Porcari's death, happened in 1453. So I wondered, if Knight should have had an error about the date.

However ...
Porcari was born into a wealthy family of Rome, and received a humanist education. He became an admirer of the ancient Roman Republic. In 1427 e 1428 he was elected capitano del popolo of Florence under the protection of Pope Martin V. He then traveled to France and Germany.[1]

After his return in Italy (1430), he held several positions in Italian communes such as the podestà of Bologna (1432), Siena (1434), Orvieto (1435) and was also governor of the fortress of Trani. He came back to Rome under the rule of Pope Eugenius IV. When the latter died and before the new pope was elected, he repeatedly addressed the populace to overthrow the papal rule, and to replace them by one based on the ancient Roman republic.

The new pope, Nicholas V, pardoned him, but kept him away from Rome with several assignments.
However, his participation in other plots (including one connected with the crowning of Frederick III in Rome), led the pope to exile him at Bologna. However, in the late 1452 Porcari was able to escape and return to Rome. Here he organized an insurrection whose result would be the proclamation of the Republic and, for Porcari, the title of tribune, the same held by Cola di Rienzo in the 14th century. The action was set for 6 January 1453, and would be backed by some three hundred mercenaries.[1]

There was another earlier Porcari attempt for a Roman revolution and this fits well with Knight's dating.

Alberti wrote this - if Knight is correct - in 1448 and this is a period, in which Alberti still worked on his "Momus".
I don't find Alberti's Porcari text in the moment, but I read, that Alberti presented Porcari not without sympathy.
In other words: it might be well, that Alberti's Momus spoke (a little bit) of Porcari.

Alberti and the new pope Niccolo were regarded as good friends. That's a point, which one shouldn't overlook.

Alberti's work on Porcari seems to just a letter, not more, possibly not dated. I see more than one other writer, who assumes, that the letter was written in 1453, not before.


I have been trying to find these early works by Leon Battista Alberti written in c.1429.
They are called "Amator" "Ecatonfilea" and "Deiphera"
Apparently I will not be successful as this site offers....

Apparently this quote comes from one of the three.
"How many families, so many cities, so many provinces of Jupiter brought deadly destruction is not that he has not read Helen Lavinia girl, full of history, full of memory, full of ubiquitous private house, replete with all the calamities that are the root cause of women have suffered from"

The story of the love and jealousy of Ecatomfila reads like a lovely fragment of a lost physiological romance. It is far ahead of Boccaccio’s Fiammetta intruth and subtlety of observation, though the imitation of Boccaccio is very noticeable in it, as also in the
Deifira and the 'Epistola di un fervente amante'......
These stories talk of Love and Virtue and are for women apparently- like his offering on the Family.

If any one can direct me towards a Book? Online? In Italian would be passable, but of course English is best for me.


Don't forget the Francesi Minchiate has a card named after him--Momus :D



I find this quite interesting.
The illuminations on the edition are supposedly by Girolamo de Cremona

and another site says this
He was active in northern Italy, in*Ferrara*and*Mantua*in the 1450s to 1460s

Girolamo's fame soon spread beyond Padua and he was summoned to Ferrara to contribute miniatures (formerly assigned to Marco di Giovanni dell'Avogaro;*fl*1449-76) to the BIBLE OF BORSO D'ESTE (Modena, Bib. Estense, MS. V. G.12-13, lat. 422-3) produced between July 1455 and December 1461. During his activity in the Estense capital, Girolamo was influenced by the stage-like settings and abstracted backgrounds of Jacopo Bellini, who had been the painter favoured by Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara.
So these early works of Leon Battista Alberti must have been fairly well known.