Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

De Rege Scaccorum, de Imperatore Tarocorum

Playing cards and tarot if useful for scholars and courtiers to pass the time


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

Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano - Fabio Monza - Pedro Enriquez - Baldassare Castiglione – Tasso - Niccolò Machiavelli.

With this article we pick up again the themes of gambling and games of chance and talent, which we have discussed in several of our essays (1), demonstrating Renaissance thought in reference to games of cards and tarot and whether it is a beneficial or despicable pastime for men of culture and courtiers.


Aside from the game of chess, considered one of talent par excellence - in those days believed to have been invented by Palamedes under the walls of Troy as a pastime for soldiers - the 16th century authors agree in indicating that cards, including tarot, are useful for recreation only after all the tasks and chores in the course of the day have been completed, which does not became a profession for winning money, and even less, a time for improper if not reprehensible behavior toward his companions and to God.


An example of such reasoning is found in the Dialogues of Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano (1584? -1564) (2), who, reporting on what Cicero writes in reference to the game ("De decoration iocis et ludis servando" in De Officiis, Liber Primus, Caput XXIX), makes a digression on the subject.




In the first of which is discussed the Moral and Civil parts belonging to Court Writers, & to every gentleman, and the use that Princes gain from Writers:


“Many take games for a great pastime, on which I want to say what Cicero writes.

Neq; [Neque] n. [enim]  à natura ita generati sumus, ut ad ludum, & iocum facti videamur: sed ad severitatem potius, & ad quaedam studia graviora, atq; [atque] maiora. Ludo autem & iocum uti illum quidem licet: Sed sicut somno & quietibus ceteris, cum gravibus seriisq; [seriisque] rebus satisfecerimus. Ipsum quoq; [quoque] genus iocandi, non profusum, nec immodestum: sed ingenuum, & facetum esse debet. Ut. n. [enim]  pueris non omnem ludendi licenzia damus: sed eam quae honestis actionibus non sit aliena. Sic in ipso ioco, aliquid probi ingenii lumen eluceat. Ludendi etiam est quidam modus retinendus: ut ne nimis omnia profundamus: elatisq; [elatisque] voluptate in aliquam turpitudinem incidamus. (Therefore we were not already produced by nature in such a way that seems we are made for games and jokes, but rather for seriousness and certain other more serious studies of more importance. But of games and jokes there is indeed a lawful use, however, as there are for other entertainments, when we have satisfied our serious and earnest business. But in this the manner of joking must not be excessive nor immodest, but civil and pleasant. Therefore young men do not have license for every game, but those in which are honest actions and not unseemly; in the same way, in the joke shines some flash of a good nature. In gambling also one ought to keep some measure, not dissipate everything and not be transported by pleasure to stray into some turpitude)" (3).


How better could be given the rule and manner for passing some time with a game? Of what a man ought to do so as not to be lost, which otherwise makes one think day and night of games and playing at everything, as many have often done, but disputing the hour’s pleasantries in the game with sleep & other such things, and this after having satisfied serious and important things. The game should be cheerful and pleasant or have in it something to enliven one’s wits, because dishonest games are not suitable to writers, nor to civil courtiers, But I will praise the game of chess, invented in Greece by Palamedes to mimic a battle, in which the game is not ingenuity alone, you fall into jokes, pleasant mottos, & other things seemly to all levels of people, and no game is so common to all as Chess. Board games and cards are today very popular in the courts among gentlemen and commoners. But for a writer I will not praise banned games and games of chance rather than of ingenuity: there are not such, however, that it is never permissible to use to pass some time, but not to make as a profession; in which one gambles one’s money and time, you curse, speak evil and never think of anything but playing. But pleasant games give sport, entertainment, modest jokes, and clearly demonstrate that they are made to pass the time and escape boredom, done at suitable times that impede neither study nor business".


On the other hand it could not be otherwise, since card games and gambling were even more condemned by the Church when they became the instigators of anger and swearing, an attitude deplorable in men of culture and in those who frequented the courts. If condemnation by the Church was based on valid reasons, it remains least suspect the attribution of the invention of the tarot to the devil, as confirmed by high ecclesiastical offices and individual preachers (4). Since only very few clerics realized the inherent Christian ethical content in the order of the procession of Triumphs, and especially some jurists (5), we have to ask if what is expressed by the Church was based on a real conviction, or if it expressed a necessary formulation given that Christian content and gambling would not be able to go hand in hand, the hypothesis nonetheless remaining valid that the teaching of an intelligent game of this kind could effectively replace a firm action of condemnation.


From a passage in the second Dialogue of Giovanni Andrea Gilio, a cleric bent on his own erudition, it is clear that he was completely in the shadow of ethical values, in so far as in treating of painting and in particular the Last Judgment, painted by Michelangelo, he makes a digression on the presence in the Tarot of the Angel of the Last Judgment and Hell, condemning in his opinion such participation:



In the second we reason from the mistakes of Painters about history. With many notes made on the Last Judgment of Michelangelo, & other figures, as much of the old, as the new chapel: how Sacred Images should be painted.


"But who would believe (said M. Vincenzo) that the resurrection of the dead was put into a game of cards? How in a game of cards? said M. Francesco. Replied M. Vincenzo, take the tarot, and you will see the painting of the Angel playing the trumpet, & the resurrected dead coming out of their graves. It is really a bad thing (said M. Francesco) and worthy of reflection. Does it seem well done (suggested M. Vincenzo) that one of the guardians of men, venerated by the Church, a heavenly & angelic creature, a divine messenger of such importance, has been introduced into a card game , among the curses, perjuries, thefts, and misdeeds of game-playing?  And people do not think of it, and if they do think of it, they say nothing, and if someone does say something, yet this is not forbidden, nor respected. Demosthenes himself can try to defend this, and he will be like Guaeus Scicinius. Well said, said M. Francesco, & in order to make it easier for men to injure their body and soul, the Devil has been added, too, so that often a desperate person can hold him in his hand and give himself to him,  or in truth call on him for help" (6).


Losing money at gambling was further cause for condemnation by religious authorities, and Renaissance documents relating to personages who lost playing tarot are numerous in general. Fabio Monza (1519-1595), a member of a family of Vicenza, in his six books of journals, "recounts in thorough and accurate records of his time. Which is that of Palladio, Veronese, Tintoretto, the Inquisition and the Franco-Spanish wars, of Lepanto and the exploration of new lands, of famine and pestilence, of lords and soldiers, humble and illustrious figures, all personages and facts scattered in his daily notes" (7). There among these notes is also a list regarding his expenditures including how much money he had to shell out for losing at the game of tarot:


Purchased properly a boat together the aforementioned Mr. Fabio, for my part         L. 4   s.   8  [s = soldi]
Paid for drinking with fra. Fabio                                                                                             L. --    s.  4
Played and lost at tarrocho                                                                                                       L. --    s. 11

Ultimately a pittance when compared with the previous expenditure paid for drinking! But, as happens today, one could come to lose one’s home and capital.


Of games in general, to emphasize their emptiness, and in particular of the King in chess and the Emperor in tarot, religious authorities resorted to saying of certain ecclesiastical offices whose title was not supported by real tasks, "sicut dicimus de Rege Scaccorum, de Tarocorum Emperor" (they are as we say of the King in Chess and Emperor in Tarot), that is to say, even though they were Kings and Emperors, as fictional personages they were pieces and game figures without any power in reality. The same went to describe those who were thought to be important when in fact they were not, and as a warning not to boast of their duties or their privileges, given the nature of mortal man. It is one of the many expressions of memento mori with which the teaching of the Church is dotted over the centuries. Today we say the same thing with "counts as the two of trumps" or "counts as the two of batons if the trump is cups", etc.


We have found this expression in a treatise of the early seventeenth century regarding sacred theology and ecclesiastical law, by the Spanish patrician Pedro Enriquez, Knight of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (8):


Consilium XLVII


Possessio beneficij capta sine consensu illius, de cuius praeiudicio agitur, est invalida. (The possession of a benefice acquired without the consent of the one to whom it bears prejudice is invalid)


“Sicut in simili dicimus, quòd Comes appellatur, qui veram possessionem comitatus est adeptus, aliter non dicitur Comes, nec gaudet privilegio comitis, Andreas de Isernia in constitur, prosequentes sub tit. de pugnis sublati. Et abusive dicitur, qui comitatum vere non possidet, aliàs enim dicitur nudo nomine comes titularis, ut Abbas titularis in Ordine sancti Benedicti, & Episcopus Nullatenentis, sicut etiam dicimus de Rege Scaccorum, de Imperatore Tarocorum. Glos. in capitulo si pudor, vigesimaprima quaestione secunda, & in capitulo venerabilem, in versicul. transtulit, de electio, & de Doctore ignorante secundum Angelum in I. prima, §. pueritiam. ff. de postulat. in his enim sunt nomina abusiva, & sine iuris effectu, sicut etiam de Comitibus Lombardiae. Corsett. in cap. grandi, de supplen, neglig, Praelat. in 6”. (As is said in such cases, namely, that the one is called Count who has acquired true possession of the 'county' [understood as the dignity of a count, not territory], is otherwise not called Count, nor enjoys the privilege of counts: Andreas de Isernia in Costitt. Proseg. under the tit. De pugnis sublatis. He is instead called [Count] improperly, one who really does not have the county, the other is often defined only by the name, Count-holder, as is done with the titular abbot of the Order of St. Benedict, with the Bishop of no property, as they say also of the King in chess, of the Emperor in tarot. Gloss to chap. On Decency XXI quest. II, and in chap. vener. transposed formulations of Choice, and regarding Ignorant Doctors according to the Angel in I, first § pueritiam ff. on postul. They are in fact, in such cases, improper names free of legal effect, as also in the case of the Counts of Lombardy, Corsetti, in Rep. cap. Grandi De suppl. neglig. Praelat., in 6) (9).


It is a series of topos, repeated almost invariably by gloss-writers and jurists over the centuries, as for example, in a passage (10) from Romualdo Trifone that very much approaches our track: "They were called 'comites' 'naked of title' as were the abbots, the “bishops titulares nulla tenentes, canonice in herba absque praebenda': it could be said of them “de rege taxillorum, de impeatore Graecorum et de Cardinalibus Ravennae ... " (11).


Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), in the Book of the Courtier (12), written between 1513 and 1524 but printed only in 1528, talks about how to become a true courtier and manners to be assumed at court. Speaking about the game he keeps to the general trend, wanting card games played only after the completion of more serious occupations, condemning their use to win money, and so on. A variation, in comparison to other authors, is that he proves not so enthusiastic about chess: to play well, a person would have to devote many hours, time that would have to be stolen from topics far more important and elevated, concluding by saying that in that game mediocrity was more commendable than excellence.


Book Two


“In my opinion,” replied messer Federico, we have given the Courtier knowledge of so many things that he can easily vary his conversation and adapt himself to the quality of the persons with whom he has to do, assuming that he has good judgment and acts accordingly, and attends sometimes to grave matters and sometimes to festivals and games, depending on the occasion.”

“And which games?” asked signor Gasparo.

Then messer Federico replied, laughing, “Let us ask the advice of fra Serafino, who invents new ones every day.”

“Jesting aside,” replied signor Gasparo, “do you think it a vice in a Courtier to play at cards and dice?”

“I do not,” said messer Federico, “unless he should do so too constantly, and as a result neglect other more important things, or indeed unless he should play only to win money and to cheat the other player; and, when he lost, should show such grief and vexation as to give proof of being miserly.”

“And what,” replied signor Gasparo, “do you say of the game of chess?”

“It is certainly an amusing and ingenious entertainment,” said messer Federico, “but it seems to me to have one defect, which is that it is possible to have too much knowledge of it, so that whoever would excel in the game must give a great deal of time to it, as I believe, and as much study as if he would learn some noble science or perform well anything of importance; and yet in the end, for all his pains, he only knows how to play a game. Thus, I think a very unusual thing happens in this, namely, that mediocrity is more to be praised than excellence.”

Signor Gasparo replied: “Many Spaniards excell in this and in many other games; yet they do not devote much study to them or leave off doing other things.”

“You can be sure,” replied messer Federico, “that they do put a great deal of study into it, although they hide the fact. The other games you refer to, besides chess, are perhaps like many I have seen played that are of little account and serve only to cause the vulgar to marvel; hence, they seem to me worthy of no other praise, and no other reward than that which Alexander the Great gave the fellow who at a good distance could impale chickpeas on a needle” (13).


We have discussed the two Dialogues of Torquato Tasso (1544-1595) related to games in the article Tasso and the Tarot, to which we refer for a more extensive knowledge of the general contents. Here we will be occupied with reporting several passages in the Second Gonzaga, which is configured as a corrected variant of the first dialogue, the Romeo.


About the Second Gonzaga, Cesare Guasti writes in his "Bibliographical News", included in the edition he edited of the Dialogues published in 1858 (14):


"In the Second Gonzaga the pair converses who spoke in the Romeo, and to them is added Giulio Cesare Gonzaga, from whom the dialogue takes its name. He is not to be confused with Cesare Gonzaga, from whom the dialogue of Honest Pleasure is named, because Caesar was the son of Ferrante, Prince of Molfetta, and Giulio Cesare was born to Carlo Count of San Martino di Bozzolo, who was also the parent of Cardinal Scipione and so a friend of Tasso. I will speak of Annibale Pocaterra, who was the son of that Alessandro to whom the dialogue is dedicated, and to whom he gave proof of his literature, printing in Ferrara in 1592 two dialogues about Shame. Finally, the interlocutor Bentivogli was honored by our author in various rhymes, which would show not least by their birth the considerable virtues for which she was regarded. She was the wife of the elder brother of this Count Annibale Turco who married the beautiful Laura Peperara."


The Argument of the Dialogue is summarized by Guasti (15):


Not content with the way in which the author had treated the matter of Games in Romeo, he undertakes in this dialogue to reform it, adding a third party to the two in the introduction, and in doing that instead of narrating things heard, each of them comes to discourse on the proposal as to their own feelings. He imagines therefore that Margherita Bentivogli, who had intended to have a day with Count Annibale Romei to discourse on games with the Duchess of Ferrara, unable to be present at that speech, stimulates Giulio Cesare Gonzaga and Annibale Pocaterra, who found themselves near her, to present their thoughts on this subject.


In this dialogue, searching primarily for how a game in general can be defined, it is established to be a contest of fortune and talent among two or more, in which entertainments imitate real contention. Having therefore spoken on the origin of chess and the other games described, he goes on to say that although reducing everything to a single cause, that is, to the entertainments in which they were invented, however, since these entertainments can be either public or private, so also in this two species can be distinguished, that is, games in public and in private entertainment. He hints afterwards of what the entertainment consists: as the delight in it whirls, no less does it proceed from the victory of the operation of the player. Yet to those who behold it, this is a pleasant one, and finally in such games is greater delight. It is reasoned then that the winnings must be backed by money or other prizes, and it is demonstrated that these are the most enjoyable. It is said later that in the game, although the one is an enemy of the other, at the same time the desire for gain ought to be moderate, especially in games done with women. He touches finally on a few things about how to discern players for greed from those who are playing for fun or entertainment, about losing to women, and also about their ingenuity, and then passes to talk of fortune. It is demonstrated first that it is one of the accidental causes, said to be causes of those effects properly made with no human resolve, that occur with a different result from what one had presupposed: a definition that distinguishes it (fortune) from chance, which is declared to be that under which is subsumed all the effects that may be caused by nature by itself. He speaks subsequently of the different meanings which the name of fortune takes, then examines what parts are played by chance, fortune and art: and ends the interchange with some considerations about agreements, their purpose, and the reasons for which they ought to be established.


Second Gonzaga


Gonzaga: "... but you want to hear, Signora Margherita, perhaps if a game is worthy of blame, or whether it is permissible to deceive, or if it is well conceived that the cavalier should be in favor of being deceived by his wife, and also maybe when games originated, and which is more pleasant, and which not?

Margherita: I do not want to leave you longer in doubt, but I am going to tell you, that of all these things you are thinking about that I would like, you have proposed none that I did not have in mind; only one you have left out: how one should play, if one wants to win.

Gonzaga: I would indeed be content if you tell us what of all these things you wish us to discuss first.

Margherita: I'd like to know first if a game was commendable or not if it was permissible sometimes to deceive, because I would study in vain if I did not know beforehand, whether I could play so with praise or at least without blame.

Gonzaga: And in what manner of games are you in doubt, Signora, if it is permitted to deceive: in primera, or tarot, or even in what you women do sometimes among yourselves, when one woman places her head in the lap of a companion, puts her hands on her back, and waits to be struck?

Margherita: Not in that last game, because when I strike, I would always want to deceive and be believed another: but I believe that in this game [of cards] it is not reprehensible to deceive, since it is still a game.

Gonzaga: Hearing, Signor Annibale, that Signora Margherita doubts whether it is a game or not, we ought to examine first what a game is.

Annibale: It seems to me without a doubt that we must first find that out.

Margherita: And also to me, although this was not one of those thoughts that I first had in mind.

Gonzaga: Then tell me, Signor Annibale, what is a game?

Annibale: A contest of fortune and talent among two or more.

Gonzaga: Admirable definition, that which Signor Annibale has given in a nutshell, but what does Signora Margherita say?

Margherita: It will please me when I see something approved by you, but for now I am not displeased.

Gonzaga: But do we, O Signor Annibale, believe that in the Court of fortune and talent the courtiers contend?

Annibale: I truly believe so.

Gonzaga: And in the schools the philosophers?

Annibale: And in the schools the philosophers.

Gonzaga: And in the war the soldiers?

Annibale And again in the war.

Gonzaga: And so in all the arts and in all the actions of fortune and talent they contend.

Annibale: In all.

Gonzaga: So life is a game, O Signor Annibale, as I indeed said; well, that was an admirable definition, in which you defined life, and if this is true, which I do not think that anyone could doubt, then a game is commendable, of which I doubt, if it is commendable to live.

Margherita: So highly you have begun to think of games, that now I want to respond to Signor Annibale, that it appears to me without much doubt, that this is still a game, in as much as it is not this, of which we have begun to think.

Annibale: To me it has happened, O Signora, as to those who are attacked suddenly, rather from the novelty of the danger, which is of a size I fear, not so much because its reasoning scares me, but because of the new way in which it is adduced, and thanks to you, who have given me time to recollect: but I will answer that life is not contention, because we are born not to contend, but to live in peace.

Gonzaga: Pay what is due for remaining in this answer to Signora Margherita, and I still would stay, were I not ingenious late enough; but tell me of thanks, O Signor Annibale, when under the walls of Troy, Alexander fought with Menelaus for Helen, or even after those, for Lavinio (sic) Turnus, and Aeneas for Lavinia, that battle was fought?

Annibale: It was, without doubt.

Gonzaga: Nevertheless there was peace at the end.

Annibale: There was.

Gonzaga: Some contention, therefore, aims at ensuring peace, and because life has to end in peace, it will not be in contention, because it has to end in peace.

Annibale: I would say that the end of war is not peace, but victory and that peace is not the end of war, but of civil life, and now I mean by end not that, in the end is arranged differently, but that to which other things are directed.

Gonzaga: It pleases me that you have put forward your opinion, which I can approve rather than disapprove, because if the end of the captain, in as much as  he is such, is not peace, but victory, it is very reasonable that the war for which he is responsible has no other purpose than victory, and to finish, even  if that end is not exactly the end of the war. Thus the politician loves the captain who aims for peace: so I remember Signor Scipione my brother claimed, talking one morning with Signor Sigimundo our uncle, a Knight very experienced in war; and now I say this quite willingly, to prove to Signor Annibale that I do not deny being in agreement with him, on condition that he concede to me, either that a game is not a contest, or that war is a game.  

Margherita: I want to interpose here, lest worse follow, but I pray you, O Signor Annibale, to believe that a game is not a contest, because if you wanted to support this, and admit the other, that the act of war is a game, I would hear discussion of other things than that of which you want us to speak; but I would fear also, that the Signor Count my husband, if he was persuaded that war was a game and an entertainment, would more often abandon me than he usually does.
Annibale: Signora, if I would not sustain, that a game was a contest, and distinct from war, with good reason you might want me to concede in every part, but if adding to the definition this other difference, that it should be a contest made to secure peace, war will be distinguished, and so you cannot force me to concede my argument.
Gonzaga: Signor Annibale returns more vigorous, and I would say that he rises in the guise of Antaeus, who was born in his country, so that he should take the name, if to me he should appear never to have been beaten down, but I may see, that if a game is made for entertainments of peace, then if we remove, with such disdain, soldiers, who are wont to gamble in war, that may suffice by chance to disarm them, so that their Loici [?] could be manufactured.
Annibale: The soldiers are playing in idleness, which is often allowed in wars: so if it doesn’t please you to say entertainments of peace, we can say, entertainments of idleness.
Gonzaga: I'm not so vague about contests that between one way and the other makes much difference, but the races over obstacles and those of the Quintane, and tournaments are contentions not made for the entertainment of peace.
Annibale: . They are.
Gonzaga: So these could still be called games.
Annibale: I do not know why they cannot, because those that Homer and Virgil mention in the funerals of Anchises and Patrocles are very similar to these you have mentioned, and if they were so, they can be called games with propriety.
Gonzaga: But do these seem to you real contentions or imitations?
Annibale: There is no denying that in them there is not true contention, because of art, or grace, or pomp, or otherwise made, so yes contention, however, because the appearance is much larger than the effect, there is something more: and many times they express real war, or  duels, so it can be said, that these are not fake contentions.
Gonzaga: Those contentions are therefore fake, in as much as they are imitations of real ones.
Annibale: So it seems.
Gonzaga. So far, O Signor Annibale, we have found that many games can be found that are imitations of contention, not real contention.
Annibale, We have found this without a doubt.
Gonzaga: But in the games of racing and wrestling, do you see any chance of imitation?
Annibale: It seems to me seen both in the one and in the other; in the one, the race of Aeneas, or Turnus, or Hector is imitated; in the other the fight of Hercules, or Antaeus, and that of Ruggiero and Rodomonte.
Gonzaga: And in a game of cards you see no contention, O Signor Annibale?
Annibale: Knights I see truly painted, and the King, imitated in several ways.
Gonzaga: But what shall we say of the game of chess?
Annibale: It seems to me it is likewise imitation, because the order of the army in every way represents us, and it is said that Palamedes, the inventor of the order, invented it in the Trojan War.
Gonzaga: So far it seems that a game is imitation, since all these games already agree in this, that they are imitation, and if we equally find ourselves in other games, there will be almost no doubt that they are not imitation ... " (16)

. I understand very well how chance may be distinguished from fortune, which distinction , which I sometimes hear Signor Scipione my brother  use with the philosophers, is not new; but I also believe that it is not new in the eyes of Signora Margherita, or even if it were new to her, I  think that it was easily understood by her, but I believe, too, that she could doubt  if one who wins at tarot or primera wins by fortune.
Annibale: One wins by fortune most of the time, but sometimes one can win by ingenuity.
Gonzaga. And also by fortune sometimes the knight wins the prize in the joust or tournament?
Annibale: He does.
Gonzaga. And by fortune, the Tragic and the Comic sometimes won their contentions?
Annibale: They did. Etc.” (17).

In the following passage from The Prince (18), a treatise on political doctrine in which Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) exhibited the characteristics of princes and tmethods to keep them and conquer them, the author discusses Fortune, attributing to it the responsibility for half of the events involving the human being, and considering as due to the real actions of men the other part. The comparison that Machiavelli uses to justify hia assertion is of extraordinary relevance to our Italy: as a river without adequate margins can overflow after heavy rains, flooding all the surrounding land, “So it happens with fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her," Since men can make up for this defect by raising the right barriers, Machiavelli warns Princes, in order to put the mind and hand to the right virtues in Italy, “you will see it to be a land without barriers and without any defence”. Wise advice never heard to this day, as well as not relying upon blind luck in the game of tarot.



What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her


It is not unknown to me how many men have had, and still have, the opinion that the affairs of the world are in such wise governed by fortune and by God that men with their wisdom cannot direct them and that no one can even help them; and because of this they would have us believe that it is not necessary to labour much in affairs, but to let chance govern them. This opinion has been more credited in our times because of the great changes in affairs which have been seen, and may still be seen, every day, beyond all human conjecture. Sometimes pondering over this, I am in some degree inclined to their opinion. Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less.


I compare her to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defences and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. So it happens with fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.


And if you will consider Italy, which is the seat of these changes, and which has given to them their impulse, you will see it to be an open country without barriers and without any defence. For if it had been defended by proper valour, as are Germany, Spain, and France, either this invasion would not have made the great changes it has made or it would not have come at all. And this I consider enough to say concerning resistance to fortune in general.


But confining myself more to the particular, I say that a prince may be seen happy to-day and ruined to-morrow without having shown any change of disposition or character. This, I believe, arises firstly from causes that have already been discussed at length, namely, that the prince who relies entirely upon fortune is lost when it changes. I believe also that he will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful. Because men are seen, in affairs that lead to the end which every man has before him, namely, glory and riches, to get there by various methods; one with caution, another with haste; one by force, another by skill; one by patience, another by its opposite; and each one succeeds in reaching the goal by a different method. One can also see of two cautious men the one attain his end, the other fail; and similarly, two men by different observances are equally successful, the one being cautious, the other impetuous; all this arises from nothing else than whether or not they conform in their methods to the spirit of the times. This follows from what I have said, that two men working differently bring about the same effect, and of two working similarly, one attains his object and the other does not.


Changes in estate also issue from this, for if, to one who governs himself with caution and patience, times and affairs converge in such a way that his administration is successful, his fortune is made; but if times and affairs change, he is ruined if he does not change his course of action. But a man is not often found sufficiently circumspect to know how to accommodate himself to the change, both because he cannot deviate from what nature inclines him to, and also because, having always prospered by acting in one way, he cannot be persuaded that it is well to leave it; and, therefore, the cautious man, when it is time to turn adventurous, does not know how to do it, hence he is ruined; but had he changed his conduct with the times fortune would not have changed...


I conclude therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her (19).




1 - In particular in Playing Cards and Gambling.
2 - Due Dialogi of M. Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano, Camerino, Antonio Gioioso, 1564, pp. 58r-v.
3 - Degli Uffizi, Libri Tre, translation by P. Alessandro Maria Bandiera.
4 - On the argument read in particular the essay Playing Cards and Gambling. 
5 - Among the latter, Francesco Piscina (ca.1540-1651), who gave to the printers in 1565 his Discorso sopra l'ordine delle figure dei tarocchi (Discourse on the order of the figures of the tarot).
6 - Due Dialogi of M. Giovanni Andrea Gilio da Fabriano, op. cit., p. 109v.
7 - Francesca Lomastro Tognato (editor), I "zornali" di Fabio Monza nella Vicenza del Palladio: Anni 1564-1566, 1571-1572, Volume I, Viella, 2009, p. 119.
8 - Consiliorum sive Responsorum Petri Enriquez I. C. Hispani, Opera omnia in duas Partes divisa, Venezia, Apud Haeredem Damiani Zenari, 1605, p. 74v.
9 - The bibliographical indications allude to works and comments of gloss-writers and jurist-canons of various epochs, such as Andrea da Isernia, XIIIth-XIVth cent.; to the Costitt. Federiciane; to Antonio Corsetti, comment. di canoni, end of XVth cent.
10 - Scritti minori, 1966, p. 249.
11 - Naturally it is in canonical-ecclesiastical Latin, far enough (lesically) from classical Latin.
12 - Baldassare drew inspiration for il Cortigiano from his experience as courtier of the virgin duchess Elisabetta Gonzaga at the court of Urbino. The book is presented as a dialogue in four books, of which the third speaks of the rules for becoming a perfect lady, while the remainder is concerned with how to become a true courtier. The work, in the form of a dialogue, is divided into four books and describes the ideal practices and habits of the perfect courtier.
13 -  Our edition of reference: Il Cortegiano del Conte Baldassarre Castiglione, Venezia, Bernardo Basa, 1584, pp. 71r-v. [English translation taken from The Book of the Courtier, by Baldesar Castiglione: a Norton Critical Edition, ed. Daniel Javitch, trans. Charles Singleton (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 93.]
14 - Cesare Guasti, I Dialoghi del Tasso, Vol. II, Firenze, 1858, p. 3.
15 - Ibid., p. 45.
16 - Delle Opere di Torquato Tasso, Volume Seven, Steffano Monti and N.N. Compagno, 1737, pp. 344-347.
17 - Ibid., p. 358.
18 - First Latin edition, 1532.
19 - Our edition of reference: Il Prencipe di Nicolo Machiavelli, al Magnifico Lorenzo di Piero de Medici, Venezia, Domenico Giglio, 1554, pp. 46v-48r. [The English translation here is that of W. K. Marriot, 1908, at]