Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

The Game of Final Bagatt

In praise of the Delightful Game vulgarly called Bagattultimo


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, July 2013

The poetic ideal of Alessandro Sappa (Alessandria 1717-1783) is in clear opposition to the aristocratic individualism of Vittorio Alfieri. "The Chronicles of Turino refer to a fiery public debate in which Alessandro Sappa. in the course of launching the Agenzia Poetica Torinese [Turinese Poetic Agency], threw out a vigorous challenge to the entire sleepy subalpine literary intelligentsia, stating that the first task of poetry was to test in concrete everyday action and then in the living body of the story all the possibilities for individual and collective liberation. On that occasion Alfieri challenged him to a duel and Sappa wisely demurred, launching the famous and superb quip in the dialect of Asti [Alfieri’s birthplace]: "Pisa pi curt, falabrac!" [Make a beautiful thing, piss shorter] Sappa’s forward-looking enlightenment modernism led him to theorize a poetry of occasions, full of all the moods of the impending industrial revolution and the inevitable rise of the masses onto the stage of history" (1).


In Volume Two of the Rime del Signor Cavaliere D. Alessandro Sappa, Patrizio Alessandrino ed Accademico Immobile, [Poems of Signor Cavaliere  D. Alessandro Sappa, Patrician of Alessandria and the Immobile Academy], published in Alessandria in 1772, we find a very nice ironic satire focused on the game of tarot, called by the author Bagattultimo, having taken the figure of the Bagatto as the emblem of the game. The satire is apparent in the title, as there is praise, yes, but in a negative sense. The poet makes a paladin - knowing from that moment that he would not be emulated: “Vò cantar (e sarò l' ultimo) Vò cantar di Bagattultimo" [“I want to sing (and I'll be the last) I want to sing of Bagattultimo”] - a "revolt" against a game that he feels is obviously a waste of time.


The author does not know where the Bagatto, called the Father of Heroes  -  “Questi è 'l Padre degli Eroi / (Degli Eroi però di carta)":"This is the Father of Heroes / (Heroes but of cards)"] - was invented: some say Naples, but it could be Milan. Certainly his mother's face was so bad as to be immediately compared to that character. Bastard son of the Quadrille [an Italian variant of chess] or of the one who invented chess? It does not matter. All of you are so devoted to him: "Si fa largo in ogni sito, Viene accolto, e riverito / Da Signore, e Cavalieri, / Da gravissimi Messeri" ["He makes his way to every place, he is welcomed and revered / By Lord and Knights / by the most grave Scholars"]. He is even loved by women, and not only by Damsels, but also Grannies: "Non Donzelle sol, ma Nonne / Dal lavor nojate, e stanche / Depor vidi in sulle panche / I nodetti, e l' arcolajo, / L'ago, il fuso, od il telajo / Per istar al tavoliere, / E a lui dar ogni pensiere; " ["Not Damsels alone, but Grannies / From work annoyed and tired / Seen putting down on their benches   / their knotters and winder, / Their needle,  spindle, or  loom / In order to be at the table, / And tit give it any stray thoughts". If one is ever heading for marriage, wishing also to have the means for determining whether his  wife is really in love with him, the author would immediately place the following condition: "Vorrei dirle: primo patto, / Io non vò veder Bagatto" ["I would say, first covenant, / I do not want to see the Bagatto"]. The satire continues onto those who go crazy and get angry during games. It is nice, where he reveals that the cards would have no reason to complain of loneliness, since "Nel Paese di Bagatto, / Che si chiama Mitigatto / Ogni Re ha una Regina, / O consorte, o concubina: / Fino al Papa, o indegnità! / La Papessa ivi si dà".["In the Country of the Bagatto, / That is called Mitigatto [three-handed tarot] / Every King has a Queen, / Or wife, or concubine / Up to the Pope, O unworthiness! / The Popess gives herself here"]. Only the Bagatto likes to live in chastity: "Sol Bagatto onesto Figlio / Vive casto come un giglio: / Ne sarà che mai s'invoglie / (Mi cred'io) di menar moglie". "Only the Bagatto is an honest Son / Lives chaste as a lily [giglio, with perhaps a pun on “gigolo”]: / He will never want / (I believe) To take a wife".


It is a poem, after all, a pleasant read where the satire is manifested through targeted poetic references, sometimes expressed with a real ability to write comedy and invention.


 In praise of the Delightful Game commonly called Bagattultimo




Of the son of Peleus and the Trojans

Sings Homer, and the Mantuan [Virgil]:

Sings well the great Torquato [Tasso]

Of freeing from the Sepulchre;

And of crazy old Orlando

Sings well Ser Ludovico [Ariosto]:

I, knowing how foolish

Are the Muses that feed me,

Want to sing (and I'll be the last)

Want to sing of Bagattultimo.

He is the Father of Heroes

(Heroes but of cards)

Not of those who in their time

Rome was, and Sparta saw:

But I do not want to make comparisons [paragone],

[With] a half crazy paragon,

Of Pausanias, or Scipio

With my paper Bagatto.

No, I respect them all

All the rest more than him.

Of his country, and his cradle

I cannot tell you anything.

Some say he’s from Naples;

Some say he was born in Milan:

I know enough to tell you that his mother

Did not go among gentlefolk;

Because to us she was a whore,

Who has a horrible face

Usually we just  say

That she is  the Bagatto’s mother.

There are some that believe him the son

(But however a bastard child)

Of the very oldest Quadrillo,

Who it seems to me was Lombard.

Otherwise I believe the author was

That Signor, who diebus illi [those days]

(He certainly was a nuisance)

To expel the crickets from the head

Invented the game of chess,

Which I would indeed see in the fire.

But he’s a bit of what you want,

That one knows, you know;

I know it, everyone knows it,

And those will know it who are to come:

Bagattultimo to this day

With pomp and show

Makes his way to every place,

He is accepted and revered

By Lord and Knights,

By most grave Masters

Often I saw the Elders [eminent ones]

And Graduates of great prestige

Those who think themselves Learned, and the Chamberlains,

And the Gowned, and Military men

For relief, and refreshment

From their public duties,

Passing from serious troubles

To cheerful and legitimate medicine;

Not getting perturbed,   

Staying with him for hours.

How many times I saw even Women

Not only Damsels, but Grannies

From labor annoyed and tired

Put down on the benches [also pews]

their knotters and spinning wheels,

Their needle, spindle, or loom

To be at the board,

And give him any stray thoughts;

As falls very slowly

The twilight vespers,

And though he is a little strong-limbed,

In fact a little too clumsy,

Stout, and wiry,

So to say he looks like a lout:

I want to say that although he fills the hands

Of those who get him

No one has therefore any reason to be nervous:

Those who left him soon got him again

Those who were his enemy now love him

Those who scorned him now crave him.

And the hands delicious

Of the delicate Ladies

I see always wheedling him

And caressing him fìne-fine

And feeling him without gloves

So that he angers lovers,

Who bite their fingers

On seeing imparted

So much grace, and such joy

To a churl made of paper.

And to say the truth, if at my great cost

A woman I loved one random day

(Please Heaven, I’d sooner

have my nose stretched the length of an arm)

And this one looked at me

With the eyes of a lizard;

So to see if she still loved me

(Which in truth would be bizarre)

I would say, first covenant:

I do not want to see the Bagatto.

Indeed he keeps in his service

Always three or four whomever,

 But the Bagatto by my faith

Stays by himself, on his own;

I’d  go away as far as I could

Not to compete against so great a rival

Dear to the old and to maidens,

Who raise him to the stars:

And whose many, many virtues

Give notable privileges.

And at first he is so quiet

That where he is no one speaks

And it would be indiscreet

To play the bagpipes [which are loud];

Shrewd and prudent

He tries to stay hidden 

In order to more easily

Ambush the unwary, 

And at last outwit the table,

Whose playing is bedeviled.

It is useless to predict

His aims, he yields to time [i.e. he waits];

And then  is docile

When he gets things done well

Having laid aside all coyness,

He communes with his peers

And he only tries his luck

When he has more than a little hope.

Of putting the beak on the goose [finishing his job well; from Goose]

And then comes the mold in the nose [he gets angry]

When engaged by chance [i.e. games with no strategy].

If taken into the spider’s web

By the error of his guide,

One who sees him complains [of him]  

And in his heart mumbles and shouts;

And accusing the leader [the Bagatto]

Of reprehensible judgment

He turns afflicted in his thought

To cruel Bagatt-icide [the Bagatt’s murder] ,

Which then is made clear

To the Masters of the country. [those who have mastered the game]

These then tease him  [the erroneous player]

For not being alert;

Or because he is too stingy:

For a Page of his Companion

He let go into ruin

The tarot’s ringleader [the Bagatto]:

Or perhaps because feeling exalted

But feeble of memory,

He made a confusion

Between [“Fra il,” also “Among the”] twenty-one and twenty-two.

To me, this happens often:

And then I, O so many quips,

From so many people, listening to

Bitter reproaches:

The vile name Dunce

(So vile, as to make Facciolati

Blush, and Calepino,

Who sent it to the printer) [Calepino published a dictionary translating Latin into seven languages, which Facciolati later expanded]

This name accursed

Every night to me is told.

Only the Bagatto in his cloth

Stays humble in much trouble;

And although so he is abused,

He volunteers, and as a good soldier

A thousand times back in the hands

Of the unwary Captain:

He seems always to have in his heart

To cling to the worst:

He seems to enjoy staying with the one

Who has the weakest brain.

For example’s sake, and he enjoys much

To be with me: though often

I abandon him in the midst of trouble;

While others would like him

As their prey [would like to take advantage of him]

In order to increase their money;

So that the Wretched One is seen 

Among the commoners of the tarot

In the ignoble quinternion [group of five]

Subject to others’ acts of ridicule and derision.

In the Country of the Bagatto,

Which is called Mitigatto [a tarot game among three players]

Every King has a Queen,

Or wife, or concubine:

Up to the Pope, o unworthiness!

The Popess gives herself here [to the Pope].

Only the Bagatto is an honest Son

Lives chaste as a lily [giglio]:

He will never wish

(I believe) to take a wife.

 O you. by Solons [those who imagine themselves wise] too much courted

lofty chess;

And you. too much caressed

Resounding Tricki-Tracki [Italian game],

You want to be first,

And he will always be last,

And so that no one will esteem him

He has himself called Bagattultimo:

Therefore I believe most truly

Of a eulogy he is most worthy.

But now I cannot say more:

Because it is time to end;

Already more than one presents himself as a friend

Who then from behind puts it to me there;

And will give me to his comfort.

Here illusions, and there San Biago [martyrdom]

If so it is, as I believe,

As I see and almost touch [i.e., it is a familiar reality]

I guess I'll stop my mocking,
For fear I'll get a knocking.



1 - Description reported in the notes illustrating the volume Poetry of Painting (Feaci Edizioni [Phaeacians Editions]) from which we learn that in 1776 the Cavalier Alessandro Sappa founded the Agency Poetica Torinese. See the link