Saturday, May 18, 2024

April 4, 2024: Playing cards defended in academy and church

 Here are another couple of finds by Franco, still rummaging through the Biblioteca Moreniani. The first is an erudite mock defense of playing cards, "Carte da gioco difese in accademia e in chiesa," The author would seem to be a high-ranking member of an "academy," more like a social club, in Florence, a "Very Reverend" ecclesiastic, no less. In fact, as I discovered trying to identify the sources of some of his Latin quotations, it is taken almost wholly from a book of such academy speeches authored by one Gian Francesco Loredano (or Loredan) published in Venice in 1638, the Bizzarie academiche di Gio. Francesco Loredano, ... &q&f=false. English Wikipedia has a long article on Loredan. Also, Andrea Vitali has quoted a few paragraphs from this very speech,  as found in Loredano's book He is not mentioned in the Florentine account, that Franco can find. It is entertaining nonetheless.

The second find is even less original than the first, in that it tells a story that can be found in numerous sources, some of which Franco mentions. The story is that of the poor soldier whose deck of cards serves as his Bible. Franco notes the few bits that might be original, as well as running down some of its history.

Comments in brackets are mine. Numbers in the left margin are the page numbers of Franco's pdf. The translations of the quotations are standard ones; but in a few cases Franco has corrected them, or we worked out a compromise or bridge between the literal meaning and what is given. The quotations were the hardest part of this translation, especially the Martial, figuring out how they (the authors of the translation I found on the Web) got that from that (the Latin words on the page). But it was also fun - Google is such a great tool for finding arcane stuff.

Playing cards defended in academy and church

Franco Pratesi

1. Introduction

This study examines two handwritten documents on playing cards preserved in Florence in the Moreniana Library. [note 1] In both cases these are attempts to show that something favorable can be discovered in playing cards, in contrast with all the opinions of wise men and legislators, not to mention clerics, who have always seen in these objects essentially a dangerous or diabolical instrument.

2. Setting of the academic Discourse

The first document is an academic Discourse. Before transcribing it in full, I think it is useful to provide some data on the context of the academy and the author of the speech.

The academy in question is that of the Immutables, established in Florence in January 1805. This date is evidently not recent, dating back more than two centuries, but at the same time it can be considered considerably late compared to the typical origins of Florentine academies. A register with the initial composition of the members is kept in the Moreniana Library. [note 2] To render an account of the literary production of this academy, two enormous manuscript collections present in the same Library are sufficient, containing poems and other literary compositions. [note 3] The Discourse in question is found at ff. 592-594 of Vol. I.Image

To get an idea of these 47 academy members, it may be useful to examine the list copied into the inventory from the 1805 manuscript cited; [note 4] among these, we note the presence of two categories of people who were much less present in older academies: women and clerics. I reproduce below, directly from the source, the initial part of the list.
1. ;
2. Biblioteca Moreniana, Palagi, No. 203.
3. Biblioteca Moreniana, Bigazzi, No. 2, Vol. I and Vol. II.
4. I manoscritti della biblioteca moreniana, Vol. 1, Fasc. 11. Florence, pp. 321-322. [ ... frontcover]

Finding something like four ladies and twenty clerics out of forty-seven academy members corresponds to a truly unusual percentage. [In the first twelve, number 3 is a lady, and 4-8 are clerics. The complete list can be found in the Catalog of note 4.] It must also be remembered that in that period, clerics had begun to lose part of their prestige and heritage, so much so that, regardless of their intentions, to us an academy with that composition practically appears like a closed fortress in defense of the past, "immutable" precisely. Even the author of the Discourse in question, Giuseppe Falchini “Il Faceto” [the Witty], is a cleric, or rather perhaps one should say a prelate, given that he is indicated not only with Rev. but with Very Rev. Even his position among those at the beginning of the list [number 5], with the position of Deputy Censor, demonstrates his importance among the members.

Searching for information on this personage in the bibliographical repertoires, one finds with his name only the author of a book on bee breeding, printed in Florence in 1747: [note 5] The date seems too early, and above all the profession of beekeeper does not fit perfectly with a religious career, for which one would conclude that it is only a namesake.

However, here we meet a Very Reverend of the active ones, a poet, a man of letters, an orator, and who knows what else. As a poet, in the previously mentioned Vol. 1, can be read more than fifty of his sonnets and also other poems. As a speaker, you can get an idea from the titles of other speeches he delivered in the same academy: Dissertation in honor of study; Heraclitus cried, Democritus laughed; there is no greater unhappiness than being loved; whether it requires more strength to fall in love with a beautiful crying face, or a beautiful singing face.

Ultimately, it won't be too surprising if, in the Academy, he even defends playing cards, as we will see.

3. The text of the academic Discourse.

/f. 592r/

What morality can be drawn from playing cards.

The kindness and goodness of God is so full of inexhaustible mercies that in the most terrible evils invented, whether produced by the malignity of nature or by the malice of our Genius, he wants man to try remedies for his Health and Relief for his affliction, whereby he allows that at the same time they offend, they are beneficial, similar to the little worms of the fig, which have the poison in their belly and the antidote in their wings. Those plants which are very bitter in their leaves, have sweetness in their fruit.
5. G. Falchini, Nuova e vaga istruzione per lo governo, ed accrescimento delle api da miele. Florence 1747.

Scorpions and Vipers bring with them death and life. The Sun attracts vapors and dries them up. The Earth, which is the cradle, is also the tomb of monsters, and it produces them and buries them.
There is no evil more pernicious than the game of cards, in which anger, deceit, blasphemies, and all the vices are included and united, so blamed by the Scholars that Seneca pretends that Emperor Claudius, for being addicted to playing cards, was condemned by Aeacus as Judge of Hell to a punishment similar to that of Sisyphus: that as Sisyphus perpetually turns over a large stone /f. 592v/, so Claudius perpetually handled the cards. And Dante makes that Gambler from Navarre respond to Virgil in this way.
Io fui del regno di Navarra nato:
Poi fui famiglio del buon Re Tebaldo:
Quivi mi misi a far baratteria,
Di che i rendo ragione in questo caldo.

[I in the kingdom of Navarre was born . . .
Then I domestic was of good King Thibault;
I set me there to practice barratry {i.e. abuse of public office for personal gain}
For which I pay the reckoning in this heat. {Inferno 22:48, 52-54, trans. H. W. Longfellow.}]
It is so harmful that it is prohibited by civil laws, which in order to extinguish it completely do not allow any action against anyone who was deceived or beaten in the game. Cicero, wanting to put in his epilogue all the faults of Antony, called him Gambler.
O hominem nequam, qui non dubitaret alea ludere.
O worthless man, who does not hesitate to gamble. {Philippica 2, 56 (XXIII)}.]
Finally, Martial [Epigrammata XIV.18].
Alea parva nuces, et non damnosa videtur
Saepe tamen pueris abstulit illa nates.

[Gambling with nuts {often used as dice} is thought to be a harmless game,
But it has often damaged boys’ buttocks {and so produced welts similar to the outer shells of nuts}.]
Despite all this, so abhorred by the learned, so pernicious to customs, so abominated by the Laws, it nevertheless contains within itself so many allegorical meanings, so many moralities, which equal, if not exceed, the evils that are caused by it.
/f. 593r/ The cards themselves teach the players not to touch them, and whoever first gave them the name of cards, perhaps had this thought, almost as if they were cards full of warnings, which teach us to avoid the dangers of the self-same cards. What else do those coins mean, if not those which are thrown away, which are lost, which are dissipated in gambling? One who gambles often remaining poor and naked.
Nudaque per lusis pectora nostra patent.
[Through games our hearts are exposed naked. {Ovid, Artis Amatoriae III.372}]
What else do those Cups show us, other than that the Players lose their intellect and reason, like drunks? What else do the sticks and swords warn us about, if not the constant brawls, the disdain, and the implacable enmities, which often cause death to the Players? Listen to Horace [1 Epist. 19, 48-49].
Ludus enim genuit trepidum certamen, et iram; Ira trues inimicitias, et funebre bellum.
[A game may beget dreadful strife and wrath; wrath, savage enmities and murderous war.]
Lovers draw warnings from the game of cards. Whoever wants to win at cards should strive to have more points than others. The Lover, who craves possession of his beloved, will achieve victory if he has more points, i.e. more money than the others. Duro certandum [I continue steadfast: Plutarch, Moralia, “De Garrulitate” 8], said that good female [Laeana, who, loyal to her lover, did not reveal secrets under torture]. There is a game called who makes the most loses. The same is experienced in things of love. The grasses, once they sow the seed, dry up, said Seneca. Soldiers and War Captains learn from playing cards to win, and enjoy earning /f. 593v/ victory while still playing. There were those who said of Augustus:
Postquam, bis classe victus, naves perdidit Aliquando, ut vincat lusit assidue aleam.
[Having lost twice with {his} fleet, to win at last, he gambled assiduously.] [Seutonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars, LXX, 124.]
Clerics learn temperance, poverty, and patience from the game of cards, since it is not necessary for an excellent cleric to desire other wine, desire other money, use other weapons, or use other sticks than those which are pretended in the cards.
Playing cards teach politicians, because they show them what they must teach in peace and in war. Sought in war to repress the violence of the enemy, weapons and Soldiers are symbolized in Swords and Coins. In peace, they want Justice and abundance; and these are expressed in Cups full of wine, and the stick, symbol of Justice: for this purpose, the Romans brought their branches before Caesar, and the scepter of Kings is nothing other than a stick.
The game of cards teaches Princes not to be so proud of their greatness, because finally what happens to the court figures in the cards happens to them: when played they also mix with those of the most minimal
points. Once the game is over, the cards are all placed back in the deck without any ranking. Death makes everyone equal, nor do the bones of a King have greater veneration than those of a simple private individual. The wind thus scatters the ashes of Irus, like that of Agamemnon. Listen to Horace: [Odes I, 4]. /f. 594r/
Pallida mors quo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas Regumque turres
[Pale Death whose foot kicks in the huts of paupers and the towers of Kings.]
With the game of cards all men are finally made to consider their miseries, that to be happy, they also need the favors of something as vile as cards. How truly sad is the condition of that Man, who has to sigh for the encounters of good fortune in a most vile card.
The cards of the game, depicted with coins, cups, swords, and sticks, symbolize that the acquisition of riches, goods, scepters, and armies are jokes and mockeries of fortune, of which, as things of little moment, we should not become proud.
It can be said that the four seasons of the year are understood in the game of cards. The swords indicate the spring, in which all princes take up arms. The coins represent the summer, in which the grains are harvested, and the income. Cups filled with wine signify autumn. The sticks are a symbol of winter because the trees in winter are naked like sticks; especially since in winter sticks are needed to keep warm. I could say that in the game of cards there are the four main virtues. In coins we mean justice, which suum unicuique tribuit [confers to each what he deserves]. Temperance in the cups. In the sticks prudence, which, however, was imagined by the Egyptians with one eye on a rod; and in the swords fortitude.
But let their kindness excuse me, if I have too boldly abused the excesses of their kindness, which with such grateful silence have pitied and honored my imperfections.
3. Commentary on the discourse

The first comment that comes to mind concerns the title of the academic discourse: the problem lies in the adjective. Maybe I'm wrong, but to my ears the term “academic” sounds in two very different ways, perhaps linked to the eras. If I hear about an article or an academic monograph of today, I believe a priori that they deserve all my respect because the author's university level guarantees me a minimum of professional seriousness and rigor, as does not often happen with an amateur author. But there is a different meaning of academic, as opposed to practical, constructive, scientific: that is, something written, or uttered, to show one’s ability to discuss any topic, even a far-fetched one, in a purely rhetorical manner, without any practical use, without a real problem, without progress in knowledge. My impression is then that, in this case, the academic is precisely of the second type.

Examining the text, it is quite surprising to find recurring quotes in Latin on the subject. On the one hand, we could expect them from a Very Reverend, whose education had certainly had a good foundation in Latin language and literature. The problem, however, is that the Latin classics, even if they discussed some games, certainly could not talk about playing cards, which, for them, were still in the distant future. In short, our lecturer considers valid what he finds in the classics regarding games and transfers it to the cards.

However, it is not surprising that in this Discourse, already in the nineteenth century, there is no trace of the use of cards to predict the future, and in particular of the recent French "discoveries" about the tarot. The Immutables did not follow trends, by definition. Instead, our “Faceto” does not hesitate to take inspiration from similar old treatises on the game of chess, in which the association of the game pieces with corresponding categories of men is commonly found: precisely in these cases we read, for example, of kings and pawns who are placed in the same box after the game.

With all his efforts, the Very Reverend only fails to praise playing cards to the full extent that they can be useful to the Catholic religion; he limits himself only to the four virtues. The soldier in the following document will take care to broaden the picture.

4. The text of the soldier's defense

Still in the Moreniana Library, we find in a large manuscript (Palagi, No. 357, and Fasc. 28 inside it) a single sheet written on both sides with the following text.
Reply from a Regimental Soldier Over a Deck of Picchetto Cards

Being in church one Sunday with the rest of the Company to hear Mass, instead of taking a Book of Devotion, he took a Deck of Cards out of his bag, and frankly spread them out in front of the Sergeant, who was near him, as if he had had a Book of Prayers. Having viewed similar impropriety, said Sergeant ordered him to put the cards in his pocket, pointing out the scandal and indecency of such a thing. Receiving the Sergeant's advice, the Soldier listened without saying a word, and continued with the same seriousness to hold the cards in his hands.
Once the Mass was over, the Sergeant ordered him to be conducted before the Major and made an exact explanation of the impertinence committed by the Soldier, who was seriously reprimanded by the Major himself.
And he replied thus.
I am a poor Soldier who has only five Baiocchi a day, which, not being sufficient for the necessary sustenance, Your Illustrious Excellency must not be surprised that I don't have that with which to buy an Office, or another Book of piety.
And taking the Cards out of his pocket, thus he spoke.
When I see an ace it represents to me the one God of all Things.
When I see a two I am reminded of the two Thieves, who were crucified together with NSGC [Our Lord Jesus Christ] [note 6]
In the three I contemplate the Holy Trinity.
The four reminds me of the 4 Evangelists.
6. Among the subjects associated with 2 in the different versions, thieves are rare (the two natures of Christ are more common). The 1778 text offers four different attributions for the 2 of the four suits; none of them coincide with this one.

The Five reminds me of the five Wise Virgins whose Lamps were lit and deserved to enter the Hall where the groom was (Psalm of David).
I see the 6 and remember that God created the World in six days.
Seven teaches me that he rested, and that we too, in imitation, must rest to pray to him and adore him.
The eight shows me the eight righteous People, who were saved from the Flood, that is, Noah, his wife, and his three children with their wives.
The Nine reminds me of the nine ungrateful lepers who did not thank God for the grace they received.
The ten reminds me of God's Ten Commandments.
If I take the Lady [Queen] in my hand, I remember the Queen of Sheba, who came from the ends of the Earth to meet the Wisdom of Solomon.
The King reminds me that I must obey and be faithful to my Sovereign. [note 7]
And the Jack represents to me this B.F. [note 8] of a Sergeant who came to accuse me.
If I then count the points of the Cards I find that they are 365, which were the Number of days of the Year.
Likewise, I find 52 Cards that form the Number of 52 Weeks, so a deck of Cards serves as a Bible, an almanac, a book, a meditation, and a game, when I like.
Surprised by the spirit of the soldier, the Major gave him a Coin, saying that many people who have spent their lives with cards in their hands have never been able to find such a beautiful and witty explanation.
7 Another unusual association, present in English versions of the mid-nineteenth century, but also as the fourth king in office, together with Clovis, Charlemagne, and Saint Louis, already in one of the attributions of 1778.
8. I'm surprised not to find a convincing choice of insults with these two initials.

5. Comments on the soldier's defense

The document in question is a brief defense of a soldier awaiting punishment for having used a deck of playing cards during mass as if it were a prayer book. While I had never found information about the previous document, I am certain that I have read a printed version of this one: however, I am uncertain whether what I read on these two pages of a manuscript sheet corresponds exactly to what I read many years ago.

Two versions printed in French, in Brussels in 1778 and in Paris in 1815 (after a broadsheet of 1809 also cited for Paris), were recently presented, with the relevant references, in Tarot History Forum. [note 9] This is a large version, already with many details. It's not easy to trace the source of its history, which could even be from the previous century, as D'Allemagne would propose in his great work [note 10]; however, historians who have studied the question agree with 1778 as the date of origin.

In particular, a Parisian edition of 1811 compiled by Hadin was widely distributed, with an example also present in the library of Stuart R. Kaplan. [note 11] Among other things, it appears that this French variant of the story immediately enjoyed considerable popularity, with presentation and discussion also in the periodical press. [note 12]

The soldier protagonist is identified as Louis Bras-de-fer in Brussels, Grenadier Richard in Paris, Richard Middleton in England, and usually becomes a Prussian soldier in Italy. On the various editions that appeared in many European states, a very old article by Johannes Bolte is still fundamental, [note 13] which reviews around thirty variants in various languages, printed and handwritten; for Italy, he reports, with transcription, only a loose sheet from the Salani Printing House in Florence, published around 1866.

However, as regards the manuscript sheet in question here, it is unfortunately impossible to date it with precision. The other manuscripts preserved in the same archival unit are disparate and of such different ages that they cover at least three centuries. The most plausible hypothesis is that a version arrived in Italy, and Florence in particular, from France; one can naturally think of those years when in Tuscany the French government took place instead of the grand ducal government. The most direct route would seem to be through the newspapers that summarized and commented on the Paris edition of 1811, but the associations of the characters with the card numbers are not identical.

If this manuscript copy is different from those printed in Italian (and it certainly is, compared to the Florentine ones from the Salani Printing House in which the Prussian soldier appears), it would be a useful contribution. If it is just a copy of an Italian version already printed that I don't know, the importance would be less, but it would retain a minimum of importance as evidence of the diffusion of this defense of the soldier.

However, it is not clear whether the drafting, here schematic at best, corresponds to a very reduced copy or to a simpler and older drafting. However old one can imagine it, I do not believe, also due to the handwriting, that this document could be prior to 1778, and therefore I have transcribed the entire handwritten text, with the intention only of adding an element to the known series.

6. Conclusion

In the literature, it is easy to encounter discussions and sermons contrary to playing cards in a absolute manner. Even legislators in much of the world have been engaged for centuries in the difficult task of separating permitted games from prohibited games, sometimes resorting to the only easy way to resolve the alternative, which is to prohibit any use of playing cards. In this abundance of negative approaches, it is rare to meet someone who discovers useful elements in playing cards. In Florence
9. viewtopic.php?t=2735&p=26491#p26491.
10. H.-R. d'Allemagne, Les cartes à jouer Tome I, Paris 1906, on pp. 486-488.
11. S. R. Kaplan, The Encyclopedia of Tarot. New York 1978, on p. 359.
12. For example, Journal de l'Empire, Vendredi 15 Mars 1811, in several pages.
13. J. Bolte, "Eine geistliche Auslegung des Kartenspiels." In: Zeitschrift des Vereins für Volkskunde. Vol. 11, 1901, pp. 376-406.

there were those who praised the first naibi for their educational role towards children, [note 14] but even that positive opinion was short-lived.

Therefore it is worth pointing out cases such as the two presented here, in which cards are considered objects capable of also teaching us something. Nowadays, however, I think that we have reached the opposite extreme, given that many are even looking to playing cards for the solution to serious life problems, and in tarot cards in particular, starting with an overall easy reading of the future. It turns out that the most difficult thing, also with playing cards and their meaning, is, as always, finding the right balance.

Florence, 04.04.2024
14. Istoria fiorentina di Ricordano Malespini coll’aggiunta di Giachetto Malespini e la Cronica di Giovanni Morelli. Florence 1718, on p. 270.

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