Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Odi et Amo [I hate and I love]

Of Love and Hate for the 'Game of Tarot '


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

The game of tarot has been always considered the most beautiful of card games. Although today it is relegated to small enclaves, in the past it was loved by people of all walks of life: by emperors, kings, counts, dukes, cardinals, scholars, artists, peasants, soldiers, innkeepers, etc.. As in the best iconography of the Danse Macabre, where the same personages listed above are depicted in the train of a skeleton dancing, the same could be said for the game of tarot: all crowded around a table waiting for their turn to play.


Tarot: a pastime, sometimes a vice, loved and hated in equal measure, to which devoted themselves - at least in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries - the likes of Mozart (1), Monti, Parini, Rossini, Verdi and many others.


In this article we discuss two writers (one was also a famous mathematician) who also lived more than two centuries apart from each other; they experienced in confrontation with the tarot the same feeling of love and hate, so much so that each gave it a literary composition.


Of the first, born in Florence in about 1508, later becoming a Ferrarese, we have in part already written in our essay Tarot in Literature I (Section Title: Two Ferrarese writers). This is Flavio Alberto Lollio, author of the famous (for lovers of tarot history) Invective against the Game of Tarot (2), which argues against games of chance in general and tarot in particular, after yet another game lost playing with the Mayor and Cardinal Giulio:


Ma voi dite ch’è purtroppo disfatto,

    Quando un bel gioco vi va in tutto male

    Et ch’alli due servir siete costretto

    Come se foste proprio un’ orinale,

    Dando una carta a questo, un’altra a quello,

    Et solo a Voi restar spennate l’ale…

    Ditemi un poco, il di, che per rivale

    Pigliaste questo giuoco, non giocaste

    Col Podestà, e con Giulio Cardinale?


But you say, that it is unfortunately undone,

    When a good game goes all bad for you

    And that to serve two, seven are forced,

    As if it were really a urinal,

    Giving one card to this, another to that,

    And only You remain with plucked wings ...

    Tell me a little, that said, what rivals

    This game, played

    With the Mayor and Cardinal Giulio?


Although Lollio was considered in his day the prince of Oratory, he was much  respected as a writer for having composed the Arethusa, a pastoral comedy in heroic verse, with which he anticipated the Aminta of Tasso, he is now best remembered for his Invective, the reason why one could say that the tarot cards have 'given him so much'.


To understand the figure of Lollio, we avail ourselves of what Giovan Mario Crescimbeni wrote in De Comentarj intorno all'Istoria della Volgar Poesia [Of Commentaries about the History of Vernacular Poetry] (3), from which we quote, integrating with it also the notes to the text:


"Alberto Lollio, Ferrarese son of Francesco, professed such various doctrines, and cultivated eloquence to such an extent, that he was reputed one of the principal orators of the sixteenth century. He did several works in our language, which are referred to by Ghilini (a), and especially the Orazione [Orations], the quality of which cannot be expressed in words, as his name acquired an international reputation. But of that which belongs to our Poetry, in the year 1563, to please Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, he composed the Arethusa, which is of the Pastoral Fables indeed the first of the time, but not also the first in value, because although it is of good character, and woven with appropriate customs, nevertheless it remains much inferior in spite of the Aminta of Tasso. We find otherwise the Adelphi of Terence that he successfully translated into vernacular verse and several of his Rime for collections, and the sonnet that we offer for a demonstration is extracted from the Temple of Donna Giovanna d'Aragona published by Roscelli in the year 1554, from which you see clearly that he was a good Versifier, but did not reach the excellence in this profession that he had in the other of Oratory. He was fulfilled at last in the genre of the burlesque, and most famously in the Invective that he did in terza rime against the game of Tarot. In short, for his variety and wide knowledge, he was highly esteemed, in such a way that he also earned the honor of a medallion in bronze that is seen with his effigy. He flourished in the years after 1554, and having attained his final old age, died on November 15 of the year 1569, as stated in the inscription on his tomb in the Church of San Paolo in Ferrara, according to Marco Antonio Guarini (b). He is celebrated with all justice by Ghilini in the Theatre (c), Doni in his Library (d), and the Florentine Academicians in their notices (e).


(a) Teatr. Vol. I [Abbate Girolamo Ghilini, Teatro d’Huomini Letterati, Venezia, 1647]

(b) Comp. Hist. Ch. Fer. Lib. 3. pag. 184 [Marco Antonio Guarini, Compendio Historico dell'Origine, Accrescimento, e Prerogative delle Chiese, e Luoghi Pij della Città, e Diocesi di Ferrara, E delle memorie di que' Personaggi di pregio che in esse son sepelliti: In cui incidentemente si fa menzione di Reliquie, Pitture, Sculture, ed altri ornamenti al decoro così di esse Chiese, come della Città appartenenti. Opera non meno curiosa che dilettevole Descritta per D. Marc' Antonio Guarini Ferrarese, Beneficiato nella Catedrale. A' Santi Giorgio e Maurelio Martiri Protettori della Città, ed al Commune di lei dedicata, Libro III [Historical Compendium of the Origin, Growth, and Prerogatives of the Churches and Holy Places of the City and Diocese of Ferrara, and the memories of those worthy Personages interred there: In which incidentally is made mention of Relics, Paintings, Sculptures, and other decorative ornaments of these Churches as well as of those pertaining to the City. A Work no less curious than delightful. Described by D. Marc 'Antonio Guarini, Ferrarese, Beneficiato of the Cathedral, At Saints George and Maurelio Martyr-protectors of the City, and of the Commune dedicated to it, Book III], Ferrara, Heredi di Vittorio Baldini, 1621]

(c) Teatr. Vol. I [Abbate Girolamo Ghilini, cited]

(d) Trat. I, pag. 18 [Anton Francesco Doni, La libraria del Doni fiorentino. Nella quale sono scritti tutti gl'autori vulgari con cento discorsi sopra quelli. Tutte le tradutioni fatte all'altre lingue, nella nostra & una tavola generalmente come si costuma fra librari, Trattato I ] [The Doni library of Florence. In which are written all the vernacular authors with a hundred discourses on them. All the translations made into other languages, into ours, & a general index as is the custom among libraries.] Venezia, Gabriel Giolito de Ferrari, 1550]

(e) Par. I. p. 242. [Jacopo Dioniso Orsini, Notizie Letterarie ed Istoriche intorno agli uomini illustri dell’Accademia Fiorentina, Parte Prima [Literary Notices and Histories of the illustrious men of the Florentine Academy, Part One], Piero Matini, 1700]


Regarding the Invective, Crescimbeni’s editor adds, in his notes:


Lollio was the founder of the Academy of the Elevated of Ferrara, which gathered for the first time in his home in 1540 .... His Invective against the Game of Tarot is not in terza rima, as Crescimbeni says, but in blank verse, and was published in the back of some editions of Corporali and other authors, and elsewhere. First, however, it was printed by itself by Giolito in Venice in 1550, in 8, where also not simply Alberto Lollio, but Flavio Alberti Lollio is named. Doni in his Library makes mention of this Author, where he gives notice that he composed two books, one on the Virtues of past Academicians, and the other of the Nobility and manners of the present: butmost informative of all is the author of Notices of Famous Men of the Florentine Academy, at p.  242, where we find his life, affirming there that he was born in Florence" (4).


                                              Lollio Invective

                                                                               First page of Lollio’s Invective







Non fù mai mio costume di biasmare
    Alcuna cosa; ne dir mal d'altrui;
    Anzi usai sempre insin da fanciullezza,
    Lodar ciò che si sta; tenendo poi
    Quel, che paruto mi fosse il migliore.                                     5
    Hora dovendo il mio buono instituto
    Abbandonar, da giusto odio sospinto:
    A' voi chieggio perdon dotte sorelle,
    Habitatrici del sacro Helicona:
    Et prego, che la gratia, e 'l favor vostro                               10
    Non mi neghiate alla bramata impresa.






It was never my custom to curse
     Anything, nor speak ill of others;
    In fact I always, even in childhood,
    Praised what there is, then taking
    That which I relished was the best.                                          5
    Now, having my good foundation
    Abandoned, driven by righteous hatred:
    To you I crave pardon, learned sisters,
    Inhabiting sacred Helicona [dwelling place of the Muses]:
    And pray your grace, and your favor                                  10
    That you not deny me my desired endeavor.


The other author who is an object of the present discussion was one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the eighteenth century. Suffice it to say that at his death, Vincenzo Monti, Stendhal, Napoleon and other luminaries of the time wrote to honor him. This is Lorenzo Mascheroni (1750-1800), friend and colleague of Lazzaro Spallanzani and Alessandro Volta.


Born at Castagneta di Bergamo, when not yet twenty he succeeded Ottavio Bolgeni in the Chair of Rhetoric of his native Seminary, and immediately after in the public schools of the Collegio Mariano. Devoting himself first to poetry, he turned his interest towards mathematics and the philosophical sciences, to become professor in 1780 of the latter discipline. In 1785 he published his essay Nuove ricerche sull’equilibrio delle Volte [New research on the equilibrium of the Times]. After assuming the chair of geometry and algebra at the University of Pavia. where he taught alongside Lazzaro Spallanzani and Alessandro Volta, he published the Aggiunte al Corso Matematico di Bossut [Additions to the Mathematical Course of Bossut], Metodo per misurare i poligoni piani [Method for measuring polygonal floors] (1787) and the Annotazioni al calcolo integrale di Eulero [Notes to the integral calculus of Euler] (1790-92). In the latter work he solved problems in geometry that were considered among the greatest still existing in the eighteenth century. Meanwhile, since he continued to devote himself tobelles lettres, in 1793 he introduced  l’Invito a Lesbia (L'invito di Dafni Orobiano a Lesbia Cidonia) [Invitation to Lesbia (Invitation of Dafni Orobiano to Lesbia Cidonia)], an epistle in 529 loose hendecasyllables with which the poet (in Arcadia (5): Dafni Orobiano) invites Countess Paolina Secco Suardo Grismondi (in Arcadia: Lesbia Cidonia) to visit the collections on natural history and the scientific laboratories of the University of Pavia.


The composition sparked enthusiastic reviews among literary critics of the timeat  “Not to know the works of Mascheroni is indeed to anger the Muses” (Ferdinando Landi); "Things very difficult to say are said by him marvelously" (Bertola); "True wonder came to me  for  his most high talent and ability, from reading these his verses, whose beauty and magnificence could arouse envy in Diodorus himself "(Clementino Vannetti), etc.


 Portrait of Lorenzo Mascheroni

                                                                              Portrait of Lorenzo Mascheroni


Mascheroni was substantially, beyond his literary qualities, a great mathematician and scientist of the eighteenth century. Napoleon appreciated him to such an extent that many of his works were printed in Paris. Incomplete remains the poem in five cantos of Dantesque triplets that he dedicated to Vincenzo Monti at his death, entitled Mascheroniana (In the death of Lorenzo Mascheroni), while Stendhal, who had enjoyed Invitation immensely, honored him with several verses in Rome, Naples , Florence (letter of 16 December 1816). In his honor asteroid 1996  XW8 is named 27922 Mascheroni.


All this cannot fail to bring to mind another personality of the Age of Enlightenment, also a scientist, one of the most famous astronomers of all time, the German William Herschel, who excelled so much in music as to be as acclaimed by his contemporaries as Mascherobni was for the fine arts.


Mascheroni was a great enthusiast of the game of tarot. As was the case for Lollio, he sometimes won and sometimes lost. A game loved and hated at the same time, especially loved, so much as to devote to it a sonnet, reported in the volume Poesie di Lorenzo Mascheroni raccolte da’ suoi manoscritti per Eloisio Fantoni [Poems by Lorenzo Mascheroni collected from his manuscript by Eloisio Fantoni] (6):


Sul Giuoco de’ Tarocchi

On the Game of Tarot



       Che venir possa il canchero negli occhi,

E cada si, che il collo, e il cul s'ammacchi,

E nido sia di cinquecento acciacchi,

Chiunque loda il gioco de' tarocchi.

      Gioco da scioperon, gioco d'allocchi,

Che la mia borsa malamente intacchi,

Va al diavol; che i sonagli alcun t'attacchi,

Poichè m' hai rovinato ne' bajocchi.

      E tu, speranza, che sempre agli orecchi,

Susurri le promesse a’mammalucchi,

Di rifar con vittoria i danni vecchj;

      Che l'àncora di mano alcun ti spicchi:

L' àncora vana, colla qual ci cucchi;

E sopra quella a ciel seren t'impicchi.


       May a canker come in his eye,

And may he fall so that his neck and ass are bruised,

And become a nest of five hundred evils,

Whoever praises the game of tarot,

       An idle game, a game of fools,

That impairs my purse badly,

Go to the devil, may rattles be attached to you,

Since you have ruined me in money.

       And you, hope, who are always in the ears

Whispering promises to idiots

That in victory will be remade old damage,

       May the anchor from your hand be plucked,

That useless anchor, with which you catch us,

And above it, in the bright sky, hang yourself.


Although it may not appear at first sight, the author mentions in their meaning or recalls some Triumphs:


And may he fall so that his neck and  ass arebruised  = the Tower
Idle [scioperon] Game = the Bagattto [Magician] (from bagatella, trifle, something of little value suitable for people of the same talent)
Go to the devil, = the Devil
May rattles be attached to you = the Fool
And you, hope, = Hope (which we find in the game of Minchiate)
Whispering promises = the Pope
To remake with victory old damage = Justice
with victory = the Chariot
old damage =  the Hermit
The anchor from your hands be plucked = Death
The useless anchor, with which you catch us = Faith = the Popess (the anchor is an iconographic attribute in certain versions of Faith)
Above it in the bright sky = the Sun
Hang yourself = the Hanged Man


It is in fact a composition of a certain refinement, beyond the modest semblance of profanity.


A short composition, when compared to the Invective of Lollio, with no less than 308 verses. Of these, here are some that fully reveal the love/hate relationship of the author to that game:


Questa squadra di ladri et di ribaldi,                         227                       
    Questi, che il volgo suol chiamar Trionfi,
    M’han fatto tante volte si gran torti,
    Si manifeste ingiurie, ch’io non posso
    Se non mai sempre di lor lamentarmi
    Che lor non feci mai oltraggio alcuno.
    Anzi cercav’haverli per amici,
    Per quanto à pari lor si convenia:
    Et essi, co’l mostrarmi allegro viso,
    Come sogliono far gli adulatori,
    M’han poi assassinato: onde ho perduto
    Per colpa lor, di molti et molti scudi (7)                 238


This team of thieves and rascals                                                                227   
    These, that the vulgar call Triumphs
    Have sent me so many times great wrongs,
    So obvious injuries, that I can
    Never do anything but  complain of them,
    I who never did any outrage to them.
    Thus I try to have them for friends,
    As befits them as equals:
    And they show me a cheerful face,
    As flatterers are wont to do,
    Then they murdered me: hence I have lost
    By their fault, and many many scudi [unit of money] (7)            238




1 -  Read in this connecion the article I Won, Played Tarot.

2 - Ms. CLI, 257. Biblioteca Comunale, Ferrara.

3 - Giovan Mario Crescimbeni, De Comentarj intorno all’Istoria della Volgar Poesia [Of Commentaries concernng the History of Vernacular Poetry], Vol. III, in “L’Historia della volgar poesia”,Vol. IV, Libro I [History of vernacular poetry, Vol. IV, Book I], Venezia, Lorenzo Basegio,  1730, pag. 78.

4 - Ibid, pag. 79.

5 - The Academy of Arcadia, which Mascheroni had joined, founded in Rome in 1690.

6 - Firenze, Felice Le Monnier, 1863, pag. 398.

7 - To read the entire Invective [in Italian] please visit which contains a full transcript mad from the original manuscript (see note 2) edited by Girolamo Zorli, a member of the Association Le Tarot. Access the text here.