Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Farsa Satyra Morale

"Sminchiata" means stuff for fools



Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

One of the first, if not the very first, edited document in which we find Tarocchi and Minchiate together is the composition Farsa Satyra Morale (Moral Satire Farce) by Venturino Venturini of Pesaro (?-1530), printed in Milan by Johanne de Castione. The year of publication is not given, but the Braidense Library in Milan, which possesses an exemplar, dates it to c. 1510.  (That means two years after or before this date, maximum). This document is also important for the Commedia dell'Arte, in regard to the examination of the Captain's persona (its origins go back to the ancient slaves in Plautus),

The work is presented as a composition of moral character (Morality), a dramatic genre cultivated particularly in France by the Clercs de la Bazoche (1) as characterized by D'Ancona: "Those indulging the national genius, which already was much delighted by didactic poems with personifications of abstract entities, developed this genre from the customs of the curial disputes, in which ideas, notions, events, objects represented by characters, are set among  one another in dramatic conflict" (2).

In this Farce, exalting the moral aspects through symbolic figures (Voluptuousness, Virtue, Fortune, etc), the introduction of a comic element drawn from the popular theatre, in the figure of a ridiculous and worn-out Captain named Spampana, makes the work rather unusual, separating it from the French works (3). This character is of interest for our research because in a dialogue between him and the main character of the Farce, the youth Asuero, we find reference to tarocchi and minchiate, where the "galante sfogliose" (gallants to be flipped), an expression to indicate playing cards in the wary slang of the Renaissance, finds ample enunciation.

Before we quote the verses in question, we will introduce the plot of the work, which had subsequently various imitations (4), in which we find reproduced the fable of Hercules at the crossroads between Vice and Virtue. Phylarete, father of the youth Asuero, intends to teach his son how to choose, through his free will, the right path. After a long scene of warnings, assurances and intentions taking place between father and son, the son remains by himself waiting for the arrival of the two women, as announced by his father. First a female figure moves forward, whose great beauty makes Asuero believe that she could be one "di quelle del Castallio fonte" (of those of the Castalian Spring), which is to say a nymph. At the request of the young man to give her name, she doesn't answer, inviting Asuero instead to follow her. Since this youth resists her flatteries, the woman abandons him disdainfully. Immediately a second female figure "in bianca gonna" (in a white gown) introduces herself to the young man, spreading some leaves that the explanation calls "le venerande foglie de Minerva e de Apollo" (the venerable leaves of Minerva and Apollo). Also in this case Asuero does not answer the invitation, letting her go. But he suddenly regrets, deciding to wait for her return, since he has recognized in her the image of Virtue and in the other woman the figure of Voluptuousness. In the meantime, while Asuero gets ready to pick up the leaves left by Virtue, Fortune, as a two-headed monster, comes to stop him (5), as Asuero will subsequently tell an old wise friend of his father:

Un mostro strano subbito comparse
Velato, et dimostrava haver dui volti
Coperti a chiome, et lieto trastullarse
Parea del cielo e dei suoi lumi folti:
E in man tenea figurata la sphera
Che i cieli e li elementi tien racolti.

(Veiled and shown to have two faces, immediately a strange monster appeared covered with hair with which it played happily, and seemed a creature of the sky with its numerous stars. In its hands it held the sphere that keeps the skies and the elements together.)

The young man and Fortune begin to fight, but just as the first is about to win, the clash is interrupted by the entrance onto the scene of Captain Spampana, who starts an animated dialogue with Asuero. At the end of this dialogue, which contains the references of interest to us, Spampana leaves the scene, while Asuero is recognized by Astrete, a misanthropic philosopher friend of his father, who will counsel him by telling a "Fabula nova, come la voluptate nascesse!" (New fable on how voluptuousness was born), in practice a long mythical-philosophical digression to which he adds a disquisition about Virtue. And "mentre così ragionano sonno interrotti da un rumore, e vedono il bravo fuggir ferito: e qui se nota quel che se raporta da giochi, da triste compagnie, e da seguir vitii" (While they reason in this way they are interrupted by a noise, and they see wounded bold-actors ["bravo", which includes boasters, people who act cocky] running away: from this can be observed what comes from games, from sad company, and from following vices).

At the end the philosopher proposes to lead Asuero to the temple of Minerva.

After other episodes have happened on the stage, the youth, crowned with laurel, returns from the Temple accompanied by a choir of Muses, Minerva, and the philosopher who had accompanied him:


Nymphe leggiadre e belle
Qui siamo: e nel ciel stelle
Da virtù fide ancelle, ecc.

(Here on earth we are beautiful and graceful nymphs and in the sky we are stars, faithful maids of virtue).

A vagabond little boy, whose deeds have been made known during the comedy, at the sight of so much honour rendered to Asuero, at last becomes aware of the value of virtue, and regrets his transgressions. At the end a Messenger comes who, after expressing the moral of the action  presented to the spectators, says goodbye to the public:

Perho levate al ciel le aperte ciglia
Scacciando tutti volupta dal petto:
Siccome il bello exempio ve consiglia.
Per questa sera nel vostro cospetto
Altro non venira; perho che a cena
Minerva e gli altri stan col giovenetto.
E da lor parte con fronte serena
Io ve ringratio de la bona audientia
Che ci havete prestata grata e piena:
Sì che andate felice e con licentia.

(Therefore open your eyes wide toward the sky, sending all voluptuousness away from your breast: as this beautiful example counsels you [the story here narrated]. For this evening in your presence others won't come: since Minerva and the others have gone to dinner with the little boy. On their behalf, with serene aspect, I thank you for listening to us, you who have given us your gracious and full attention: so take your leave and be happy).

In what follows we report the text of the dialogue mentioned earlier between Captain Spampana and the youth Asuero. This document appears to be of extraordinary importance since it is one of the first document from the beginning of the XVI century  to cite the term sminchiata, that is the game of Minchiate, as a silly, stupid game, in line with the meaning of the word tarot, as we have highlighted in other essays (6).

We leave the Italian text for each name of a game.

Asuero hidden in a corner talks in this way:

Help me sacred celestial gods.
I'm afraid this one will eat me alive:
since it has many mean words and proud gestures
I don't have to be a fool;
but it is better to show an assured front:
for fear is something that makes a bad one bolder.
If it talks to me, I, with quick words,
will answer in a way that
will not give it reason to be angry with me.

Who's there? Good evening.
Good morning, good night.


For what reason do you welcome me?

Because you look well.

What are you talking about? You have to realize
that if you have spoken to offend me,
you won't be a man anymore.

May the sky be my judge, I  spoke to you just now
Only to give you honour and respect:
and if you want to pass, here is the way.

You are a lucky man, since I soon get calm.
Come on, what about playing for some money?
I am disposed to make friends with you.
Look at how beautiful these parangoni are. (1)
Choose what you want: dice or cards.
all games are good for the winner.

Please forgive me, but this is not my art.

It is not your art? What a fly I've caught.
You may find someone who believes you elsewhere.
Now, let's not keep this in suspense.
With dice there is dece, sanza, sozzo,
it takes a hand that is large and well extended;
minoretto, sbaraglio, urta gozzo,
trichetrac, and torna galea;
you see how I force-feed you like a pigeon.
Ah, I see what you want; I did not understand you:
here are the gallants to be flipped:
you call it: do; see what would come.
I want to satisfy you in everything;
If you want to play crichetta, or fluxata,
At rompha, fluxo, and le due nascoste,
primero, trenta, and condannata;
rauso, cresce el monte; now open your eyes:
this day will be mine or it will be yours.
We have yet to mention the game of tarocchi,
Which seems to be your meal: and yet another
foolish one [Minchion], sminchiata, which is to say of fools.
Now choose what you want, because time is fleeing.

I don't understand any game but chess.

Of that also you would know. From morning
Til evening, you tell me that you play chess?
Which is your pleasure? I don't see around you
horses, or birds, or hounds.
I ask you this to warn you:
if you don't know any games, you don't have fun:
I even don't think you love women, and that is even worse.

Everyone behaves the way he likes.
I just enjoy talking with the dead:
I like spending time with them.

What you say comforts me.
Tell me brother, are you a necromancer?
If you do this it must be that you have great powers.
If you give me a little of your power,
I'll make you a gift that will make you
sure and gallant in love,
so now you'll be worth more than a precious besant.
My name is Spampana, and I am a man
who scares people just by looking;
but those I wish I don't abandon.
No better and braver than me
can be found in the world: I want to tell you
with no reservations all my actions:
I killed a thousand in just one day.

Yes, a thousand flies, etc....

A kind of coin

Italian original text

Asuero in un cantone ascosto così dice:


Adiutatime sacri dei celesti.
Dubito che costui me mangi vivo:
Tanto ha braue parole e fieri gesti
Non mi bisogna esser de ingegno priuo;
Ma mi conuien mostrar sicura fronte:
Chel temer fa piu ardito ogni catiuo.
Segli mi parla, io con parole prompte
Responderolli de total manera
Da non darli cagion che in furia monte.

Ma chi e quel che la stasse? bona sera.
Bona dies, bona nocte.

O el ben giunto.

Da che el ben giunto?

Da una bona cera.

Qual cera e seuo parli? fa tuo cunto
Se hai parlato per dirmi villania:
Che homo non sei tu per avermi punto.

Sio thaggio punto, el ciel iudice sia
Che sol per farte honore to ho risposto:
E se tu voi passare ecco la via.

Tu hai ventura chio ritorno tosto.
Horsu voglio gioccar dieci grossoni?
Far con teco amicitia son disposto.
Guarda se belli son da parangoni.
Pigliala come voi: o a dadi o a carte.
Son tutti i giochi per chi vince boni.


Tu me perdonerai, non è mia arte.

Non e tua arte? questa mosca ho presa.
Trova pur chi te creda in altra purte.
Hor non teniam la cosa piu suspesa:
Con dadi a passa dece, a sanza, al sozzo,
A darli la man larga e ben distesa;
Minoretto, sbaraglio, ad urta gozzo,
A trichetrac, et a torna galea;
Vedi se come un pipion te ingozzo.
Ah, ah, scio quel che vuoi, no te intendea:
Eccole qui le galante sfogliose :
Chiama te: fante; ve, chel te venea.
Io voglio contentarte in tutte cose;
O voi alla crichetta, o alla fluxata,
A rompha, a fluxo, et a le due nascose;
Primera, al trenta, et alla condannata;
A rauso, a cresce el monte; hor apre gli occhi:
Che tua o mia sara questa giornata.
Mancava anchora el gioco de tarocchi,
Chesser mi par tuo pasto: e un altro anchora
Minchion, sminchiata volse dir da sciocchi.
Hor prende qual tu voi, chel fugge lhora.

Altro non intendo io, che quel de scacchi.

Ne quello anchor sapresti. Da laurora
Infine a sera, dimmi in che te stracchi?
Quale e il tuo spasso? Intorno non ti veggio
Ne cavalli, ne ucei, levrier, ne bracchi.
Per admonirte queste cose chieggio:
Tu non sciai giochi, ne ti dai piacere:
Ne mi par che ami donne, che ancor peggio.

Ogniun se regge con el suo parere.
Io me dilecto sol parlar con morti:
Dimorando con loro a mio potere.

Con questo dire tutto me conforti.
Dimmi, fratel, sei forse negromante?
Se questo fai vien sol da incanti forti.
Se me ne doni un bon, certo e galante
Ad amor, te faro si riccho dono,
Choggi te valera più dun bisante.
El Spampana mi chiamo: e un homo sono
Che facci a altrui paura col sol sguardo;
Ma ad chi ben voglio non mai lo abandono.
Homo al mondo piu bravo e piu gagliardo
Di me non si ritrova: e te vo dire
Tutte le prove mie senza riguardo
Milli in un giorno ne ho facto morire.

Si de le mosche. ecc


- cfr: Adolphe Louis Fabre, Etudes historiques sur le Clercs de la Bazoche, Paris, 1856.
2 - Alesssandro D'Ancona, Origini del Teatro Italiano (Origins of the Italian Theatre), II, 13. Florence, 1877.
3 - Based on this farce it is possible to determine the appearance of the Captain's persona [maschera] with all its more marked characteristics – Spampana goes out showing himself  a "bravo" [bold one, but also boaster, swaggerer], in words and deeds as the bravest [bravissimo] of the  "bravo" – of the end of the XV century. In fact we find a profane theatre of a frankly popular character that separates itself from the sacred presentations and the aristocratic shows as well, at the beginning of the XVI century, and it is easy to reconcile this Captain Spampana with the drama of Pesaro. A farce by Francesco Villani published by D'Ancona, La guerra di Pontriemoli (The war of Pontremoli) is precious testimony of the profane and popular theatre "fatta pel magno capitano Nevazzo contro a Pocadosso da manco havere, capitano di detto Pontriemoli Opera nuova, et dilettevole, et puossi recitare in Comedia" (made by the great Capitano Navazzo against Pocadosso of litle value, Captain of the so-called Pontriemoli. A new and pleasant work that could be acted as Comedy). Navazzo, who opens the action in the form of a Prologue, introduces himself with the following words: "Io son Nevazzo, quel gran Capitano / che signoreggio tutte le colline, / et nomar fommi per monte, e per piano, / tanto son buoae le mie medicine: / appiè cavalco un bel cavai sovrano, / sol per pigliar Pontriemol col confine, / con dua mia condottier eh' ho da ventura, / che a tutto 'l mondo farebbon paura" (I am Nevazzo, that great Captain who rules all the hills, and who everybody knows in the mountains and in the valleys, since my matters are really valid: I ride a beautiful regal horse, just to take Pontriemoli and its territory, with two mercenary leaders of mine, who would scare the whole world).
4 - One of these is presented by the book called Desir, that Guido Mazzoni declares a «little dialogical poem in a thousand verses», whose first edition, in Monteregoli in Plano Vallis (Mondovi) by Vincentium Bernerium, is of 1609. A second one is Dolcina (a name that signifies a sweet and kind woman) by Gr. M. Cecchi.
5 - This passage is interesting for its iconographical aspects: Fortune is like a monster because it tremendously conditions mortals' lives, and it is veiled so as not to be identified, otherwise it could not interfere undisturbed in human events. Its double face identifies it as a bringer of effects tied up with fortunium and infortunium, that is to say to good and bad fate, while the sphere that it holds in its hands makes it Imperatrix Mundi, so it handles the fate of the world. About the iconology of Fortune, see the examination in the related iconological essay.
- Read about this in the essays About the etymology of Tarocco and Tarocco sta per Matto (In Italian)