Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

A sonnet in Modenese dialect of the XVIth century

In olden times good children did not play tarot


Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  - © All rights reserved December 14, 2017


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, December 25, 2017. Translations of historical texts, unless otherwise indicated, are the joint products of Mr. Howard and Mr. Vitali


In the book Scelta di curiosità letterarie inedite o rare dal sec. XII al XVII [Selected unpublished or rare literary curiosities from the 12th to 17th century], the first volume of a series directed by Giosuè Carducci, we find several compositions on the literature in Modenese dialect entitled Testi Antichi Modenesi dal secolo XIV alla metà del secolo XVII  [Ancient Modenese Texts from the 14th century to the mid-17th century], edited by Francesco L. Pullè (1), a famous professor of Indo-European philology as well as a linguist, a scholar of Sanskrit and Italian dialects.


Since it is not a major interest for this study to enter the examination of Modena's dialectal literature, we will briefly focus on recalling only a few authors of the second half of the 16th century, when that vernacular seems to have served as an instrument of pleasant correspondence “a quei sodalizi di uomini egregi ai quali si deve il risveglio delle patrie lettere” ["to those associations of illustrious men to whom is owed the awakening of the fatherland of letters"] (2), and in particular of that society which was begun by Panfilo Sassi at the beginning of the century and was then officially constituted by Giovanni Grillenzone. The latter and his children, including Servil, wrote in the vernacular. Another circle in which poetry was cultivated in dialect gathered around Tarquinia Molza, to whom Pincetta, the author of the sonnet to be examined, devoted an entire collection of his compositions. We recall also Giulio Bertani, Giovan Francesco Ferrari as well as the already cited Pincetta.


At the end of the sixteenth century, there erupted the presence of Orazio Vecchi, whose Amfiparnaso, a comedy in music, brilliantly conjoined the dialects of various Italian regions, sung through the masks [as used in the regional commedie dell’arte] of those regions.


Among other famous Modenese musicians of the time, Bellerofonte Castaldi is remembered by the manuscript Rime berniesche diverse, raccolte da Bellerofonte Castaldi, in Modena: senza licenzia de’ superiori. Amen. [Various satirical verses collected by Bellerofonte Castaldi, in Modena: without dismissing superior ones. Amen.] We should not in any case think that we are talking about minor authors, since we are faced with the most prominent figures of Emilian regional literature, literary writers in the language who used the dialect as a stylistic exercise and for some correspondence, as mentioned above.


Regarding Pincetta, Pullè hoped to continue the investigation to find out who the personage was, in his time unidentified. He wrote "So the search for a manuscript of Pincetta in the British Museum (MS.22, 336) has brought to light a second (MS 32, 495) that is very important for this and other texts from 1500. Unfortunately, current economic concerns of our ministry did not allow me to see the originals of those documents and to pursue investigations that would undoubtedly lead to the discovery of other precious materials. Supplied as best as possible with the help of my colleague Prof. C. Bendall is a very accurate copy by Mr. C. E, Pollak of London. It is up to this work to stimulate others, and to produce documents that were ignored or inaccessible to us. It will be his best prize as soon as it is recognized as incomplete." (3).


Pullè would now be happy to know that under the enigmatic nickname of Pincetta, Ippolito Pincetti (1535-1595), was a man of business and Modenese letters, who entertained an amiable and friendly relationship with the literary figures of the time including Grillenzoni, Tarquinia Molza and many others. Since he was at home also in Ferrara, the Modenese Community asked him to deal with a quarrel they had with Pius di Sassuolo for the waters of the Secchia River, which had to be debated in Ferrara. Pincetti, who was then in the city for personal reasons, wrote that he would take “the business” [l’impresa] to heart, which he did very well since his intervention put the balance in favor of the Modenese Commune, for which he did not demand any compensation, "more than ever eager to serve his country".


We are speaking of a personage so famous in his times in Emilia as to be attributed also the role of an improbable soldier in Modena, in an octave of Il Lambertaccio [The Lambertazziad], a tragic-heroic-comic poem of Bartolomeo Bocchini in 1641.


In the preface to this work, the author informs us that he wanted to give his poem the title of “tragic-heroic-comic” because he had mixed the tearful, the heroic and the ridiculous. But the tragic, in truth, is only an accessory, because it is reduced to the hardly touching death of the hero, Antonio Lambertazzi, and to short moments of unhappy loves.


The first four cantos, centered on the origins of the war between the Petroniani (Bolognese) and the Gemignani (Modenese), reflect the subject of the Secchia Rapita of Tasso: since the Bolognese had refused to return the castles of San Cesario and Nonantola, the Modenese allied themselves with King Enzo and faced their rivals. Among the armies of Bologna were the courageous Antonio Lambertazzi and the beautiful Minerva Malatesta, who after the victory of Fossalta celebrated their marriage. The eight cantos following deal with the internecine struggles between the Lambertazzi and the Geremei, caused by Antonio's crazy ambition, until the death of the protagonist (Antonio) due to his betrayal by Tebaldello Zambrasi of Faenza, from whom the Lambertazzi partisans had stolen a pig.


The main source of the poem is the Historia dei fatti di Antonio Lambertazzi nobile e potente cittadino Bolognese [History of the Facts of Antonio Lambertazzi, noble and powerful Bolognese citizen], which historian G. Bombaci published in Bologna in 1632. "Bocchini, in imitation of Tasso, wanted to include a myriad of contemporary Modenese and Bolognese, and frequent hints of events and customs of his time, already scarcely understandable to those who lived outside Emilia, so that, as the poem was published in Venice, the printer C. Zenero added an anonymous Bolognese - but perhaps Bocchini himself - to the Declarations at the end of each canto to explain those manners of speech and hints to events too tied to a provincial environment to be understood by all readers. Precisely this addition of lesser facts and lesser characters, makes it difficult to understand some of the cantos, Yet at the documentary level there returns to Il Lambertaccio, that value which poetry denies it, and the poem can be a valuable aid to those who want to study the history of seventeenth century Emilia" (4).


But we come to octaves 89 and 90 of Canto Two of Il Lambertaccio in which our Pincetta is involved (5). While the Petroniani are fleeing from their opponents, Innocenzio with his band comes to their aid, instigating those in retreat to turn around and return to fight, yielding the massacre of a considerable number of enemy soldiers, including our Pincetta, whom the author had made to wear Modena arms.


Doue va, doue gira, e doue guarda

    Qual nouo Basilisco atterra, vccide,

    Sembra la spada fulmine, ò bombarda,

    Che fracassa ogn’ incontro, e lo diuide;

    Guai a chi innanzi al forte il piè ritarda,

    Perche dubbio non v’è, ch’iui s’annide,

    Si fa piazza d’intorno, in cui racchiude

    Mille salme abbattute, e d’alme ignude.


Ippolito Pincetti a destra lassa,

    Disteso d’vn rouerscio in sù la testa,

    E ne l’istesso tempo arriua, e passa

    Ad Ugo Molzi la panciera lesta;

    Poi da l’Erre Pedrin di vita cassa

    Con vna punta, e pur ancor non resta,

    Che vuol morti con loro, a lor vicini

    Con Giulian Luigi Bellenzini.


(Wherever he [Innocenzio]goes, wherever he turns, and wherever he looks

     As if he were a new Basilisk he lands, he kills,

     His sword looks like a thunderbolt, or a bombard [cannon],

     Which destroys every enemy it meets, and cuts him through;

     Woe to those who, before this strong one, slow their feet [i.e. do not flee],

     Since he has no doubt about who is hiding in that place,

     He makes a square around him [i.e. a large space], in which he encloses

     A thousand bodies killed, empty of their souls.


He [Innocenzio] leaves Ippolito Pincetti on the right

     Lying on the ground by a blow on the head,

     And at the same time as he arrives, he quickly pierces

     The panciera [armor covering the belly] of Ugo Molzi.

     Then of Erre Pedrin he destroys the life

     With a tip [of a lance or sword], and yet he still does not stop,

     Because dead with them and near them he wants

      Luigi Bellenzani with Giuliano.


Coming finally to the motif of our interest, we report Pincetta’s sonnet “Ad un altr zuunett de Muiera” (“On another young man of marrying age”), present, among many others, in the Testi Antichi Modenesi (6).


We are not yet able to offer a faithful translation of the whole sonnet, which we hope to be able to present later. We will,however, give the translation of the quatrain where the term tarocchi is present, along with those of other card games of the time:


Al temp’ antigh tutt’agnon zugheua

al pisaruole, grand’e pezznin,                                     

ch i erin bon fiuò, ch’ al n s’useua,

n tarocch, ne gile, n triunfin.


(In ancient times everyone played

pisiruole (1), large and small,

Because they were good children, who used

Neither tarocchi, nor gilè, nor trionfini (2).


(1) pisaruola = pisaruole means fusaiuolo, an instrument used in the game

(2) trionfini = on this card game see the essay Trionfi, Trionfini and Trionfetti


Below is the entire sonnet in the original dialectal language


Ad un altr zuunett de Muiera

(B 95. Sunett nouanta cinqu)


        Fioul mè bel at ni dar un cunseie,

che biê ti a t’impar à le mi spês.

L’altr diazz in cert luogr’ à intês,

ch t’uuô muier: mi n’ te n dseunseie,

        n’ manch ti n cunseì: fà ti al to meie:                   5

medasì at deg ben, ch’lè un gran pês;

mò st n’unò imparar pò d che mês

nass’ i gatt, n t’impazzar con zent reie.

       Al temp’ antigh tutt’agnon zugheua

al pisaruole, grand’e pezznin,                                      10

ch i erin bon fiuò, ch’ al n s’useua,

       n tarocch, ne gile, n triunfin.

Algh era po’ un’hom saluie, ch studieua

dagand’ a tutt quant di latin.

                      Vn zoun’ al puurin                                15

uuiand tuer muiera, al uà a cattar,

e ‘l prega, ch d gratia al gh nuoia dar                 

                     cunsei, cun l’hà da far.

Dissl’ al salui: Fiuol m’ ua’ uêd zugher

all pisaruole. E lù a strabilier,                                      20

                      ch’ al n sà induiner,

zò ch’al s uuoie dir: pur al gh’ uà.

e stà à guardar: a la fin al s’addâ,                

                      ch agnon  d qullor hà

la pisaruola fatta chm e lù:                                           25

al grand granda, e al piu grand più,

                      e i putt pzznina. Horsù

a l’intend (diss al zoun) adess qusi:

impazzat con i tuò par anca ti.


v. 5 e 18 cunsci sic! l’originale




1 - Bologna, by Romagnoli Dall’Acqua, bookseller publisher, 1891.

2 - Testi Antichi Modenesi [Ancient Modenese texts], op. cit. in the text, p. XXXIV.

3 - Ibid, p. VI.

4 - Gianni Ballestrieri, Bocchini, Bartolomeo, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani [Biographical Dictionary of the Italians], Volume 11, 1969.

5 -  Bartolomeo Boccini, Le Pazzie de’ Savi Ouvero Il Lambertaccio, Poema Tragicoeroicomico, [The Foolishnesses of the Wise, Or The Lambertaccio, Tragic-heroic-comic Poem]. In Bologna, By Carlo Zenero, MDCLIII (1653), pp. 75-76.

6 - Francesco L. Pullè, Testi Antichi Modenesi…, [Ancient Modenese Texts] op. cit. in the text, pp. 244-245.