Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Theroco Wind

The wind that leads to madness (XVIth century)


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

Andrea Calmo (Venice, ca. 1510 - Venice 1571) was a playwright and comic actor. We do not know much about him in spite of a biography by Alexandro Zilioli included in the work Vite dei poeti italiani [Lives of the Italian poets], published in 1630 and remaining in manuscript. He died of fever, as we learn from the Necrologi [Obituary] records of the Venetian Republic, where we read under the date 1571: "Andrea M. Calmo, 61 years of age, from fever". Zilioli writes, deducing from certain passages of the Calmo’s Letters, that he could have been born into a family of fishermen. This is dubous, considering that Calmo himself in his will mentions his father and his mother as buried in the Basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, a privilege that could only be open to high-ranking personages. In addition to four pastoral eclogues, various plays, such as the Rodiana (1540), the Travaglia (1546), the Spagnolas (1549) and the Saltuzza (1551), in which is always present the figure of an old man with tangible similarities to the mask of Pantalone, there are his Lettere [Letters] (four books, 1547-1556), sent to the famous and lesser known or fictitious of his time, written in Venetian dialect mixed disproportionately with latinisms, entertaining twistings of words, and slang elements.


"It is, to quote the words of the author himself, a large collection of ‘ingenious cheribizzi [bizarrenesses]’ and ‘fantastic fantasies’, in the form of letters addressed by alleged fishermen (even to the misunderstanding of the origins of Calmo in this class) to recipients famous or fictitious. Circulating in these compositions (including those of the last book, which are directed to various courtesans of Venice), an amiable wit and irony intimate, and a mixture - as Molmenti wrote - of madness and wisdom, which allows the author to pass, with calculated skill, from chatter and rambling, so to speak free of charge, to veiled allusions to public events and characters and their fictionalization, by the skilful alternation of the various levels in which he develops his expositive style. The model of these strange compositions seems to have been Ruzante, who, with the letter "to the girlfriend" (from a codex conserved at the Marciana and published by V. Rossi in the appendix to the Letters of Calmo), opens a sort of new literary genre (new at least in the dialect tradition, which already flourished in the allied genus of testamenti [wills]), halfway between the playful epistle and theatrical monologue or sprolico destined for the theatre” (1).


Calmo also dedicated letters to some of the greatest artists active in Venice at that time, such as Aretino and Tintoretto, letters that reveal a superficial rapport and a sense of the awe he felt for those illustrious characters. More familiar, on the contrary, are the letters dedicated to lesser artists, such as Doni and Parabosco, or colleagues who dedicated themselves to the comic art like him, such as Giancarli and Molino, called Burchiella.


The reason why we have spoken about Andrea Calmo is that in the codex Marciano Italian XI. 66, which contains handwritten letters by Calmo and other authors (2), one of these is of great interest for our study. In this letter, the manuscript contains two examples, the second of which appears, in some places, as a correction of the preceding with contributions of valuable variations.


In the first place, the critics do not admit with certainty that the letter is attributable to Calmo, although the great resemblance in style and content encourages them to consider it legitimate to suspect that he was the author. The latest surveys indicate that it in fact as the work of an anonymous imitator; this is for the use of language that, apart from the Latin or Latinized element, is that written commonly in northern Italy in the XVIth century, while Calmo used the Venetian dialect in almost its narrowest form. Let's say imitator and not precursor, having regard to the date in 1567 that is mentioned in the text (3).


We should also note the inability of producing a full literal translation in modern Italian [and so also in this English translation], despite the ease of understanding certain passages. The ensemble is undoubtedly of great pleasure for the humor of certain words, sometimes very vulgar (turn to the left of the tower of Cremona, which is all made of the pele de coioni de romiti [skin of the balls of the pilgrims]), the sometimes insistent repetition in the superlative adjective (your most illustrious, most magnanimous, most esteemed [spectabiliosa], most excellent [], far-seeing [prouida], disruptive [disgregativa], more than blessed, most reverent, tangarizante, urbanissima, circumcisa magnanimitatem), with some mangled latinisms mixed with macaronic Italian (cum le vostre seche ballote dependentis constitutis animalibus cacatiuis in acto rebecante et trapulati) and expressions very narrowly of Venetian dialect of the time (et li toltoge le uictuarie e butadoge in manega con le pastagnoche fazando cauriole). It is, ultimately, a literary game, where the comedy of the language becomes more valuable than the content.


Our interest in this letter is due to the presence of two names of Triumphs, el bagatella and el matto, but especially for the term that appears in the second exemple theroco in replacement of the word scirocho (the sirocco wind) in the first (4). This is of great importance because the word scirocho, which in the first letter stands for the action of wind that makes people sciroccate, that is, crazy, out of their minds, gives the same meaning to the term theroco in the second specimen, supporting our hypothesis, as we have expressed in the essay Tharocus Bacchus est and Michael S. Howard Dionysus and the Historical Tarot (5), that the word tarot [tarocchi] is to be derived from the card of the Fool or Matto, referring in particular to a state of frenzied madness.


Before returning the letter, we will make a brief summary of the contents of the first part and the other two sections of interest.

The letter is addressed to two gentlemen [messeri], Francesco and Geronimo, whom the author appears to know well (più cha fradeli chari.mi [dearer to me than brothers]), whom he asks to help him restore his friendship with a certain Zanetto who, angry with the writer for no reason (senza esser sta leso in parte alcuna da tuffo. [without being harmed in any way by offenses])), had gone to Verona. The author confirms his regret for the incident (chosa che revera [fortemente] me duol in el cuor [a thing that strongly grieves me in my heart]) due to the fact that he not only did not hate him but also bore him respect, as the two gentlemen knew well (non per mal che li voglia, ma per quel rispetto che ben sapeti not wishing him harm, but for him respect from knowing him well]). The content of the letter then continues with a narrative of the improvements that the writer could add to the vegetable garden of the two gentlemen, a speech that stands out for the great creativity and rhythm that characterizes the whole, as can be seen from the following sentence where the macaronic Latin blends in harmony with the exuberant Italian and Venetian dialect of the time (original with the variants of the copy in parentheses):


mi offerisco omni meliori via, modo et forma, secundo la qualità, quantità, magnanimitudine, graveza, grosseza del intenso vostro aquilante ponere, mettere et remettere ante travasante una crepula suposta (gravezza sì miserativo delo intenso aquilante grossativo, charatole ponere desceptive, mettere et tramettere ante traversante una gropolosa supposta) nel proprio geometrico del vostro appelativo pretermesse (appellativo per la porta del orto praeter le) verze, capuci, ravaneli, scalognete, herbette et altre mesiance mescolative nomine specifice si chiama (mescolative se chiamerà) carote quisquis habet magnam totam quam (totamque) capere potest”.


[Translator’s note: below are some guesses, mostly of separate words, with little attention to syntax, in part stimulated by Prof. Vitali and in part from Florio’s 1611 Italian-English dictionary. Unknown words are left as is; hopefully the result gives some idea of the content].

"I offer myself to my best ability, manner, and action, according to the quality, quantity, magnanimity, gravity, thickness of your lofty intense decision to place and replace before transferring underground a crepula (heaviness thus most miserable of the lofty intense thickness, charatole putting desceptive, and transmitting and putting before crossing a knotty wood suppository) in the geometric of your own family name  pretermesse (family name for the door of the garden except the) kale, cabbages, radishes, scallions, short grass, and other mixed mesiance named specifically are called (mixed will be called) carrots Quisquis Magnam totam quam habet (totamque) capere potest [The Latin is, roughly, “anyone that has one piece because you can take”, possibly to say “if you want the seeds, they can be had in abundance”].


Continuing, we reach the sentence containing the two names of triumphs mentioned above: writing about what had happened in his land, the author speaks of an event that involved seeing his old mare that on the 8th day of a month in 1567 was made to get on a barge at the Rialto where three thousand sacks (tre mille sachi) of shrimp were crammed, and that this boat had left on Fat Thursday to go as far as Epiphany [also a city in Anatolian, now ruined] (zuoba grassa scorse per fino ala epiphania) then getting lost in a storm caused by a southwest wind (persi apresso la fiera de garbin zonseno) but then in the end everyone arrived safely at their destination. Now, when the author starts to tell about what had happened in his land, he writes: Da le bande de qua novelle vi so dir de la mia cavalla bolsa (che 'l mio cavallo antigo) adi 7 de botenigo mille et 5 et 6 et 7 el naso (e taso) el bagatella el mato  ["From my land, where I live, I am able to tell you of my mare purse (my old horse) to the 7 of Botinigo [a Veneto place-name, perhaps now designating a month] thousand and 5 and 6 and 7 the nose (and I am silent) the bagatella the mato"], where the variant "e taso" i.e. "e tacio” [“and I am silent"], makes the second specimen read "and I say nothing about trifles and crazy things", that is, about other things of little interest and nonsense. In practice, the author was interested only in talking about things that were dear to him. The substitution of the word "el naso" with "e taso” in the second copy of the letter appears therefore well placed, as "the nose", put as an oversight or copying error of the compiler, would make no sense in the sentence.


Another incident that happened in the land of the author to which he refers concerns the gardener of the Carmelite friars (l'ortolan deli frati de i Charmeni), in which, leaving on his horse loaded with three bags of lime to bring to the fair at Pentecost (cargo de tre [in the variant, ‘dodese’, i.e. ‘twelve’] miera de calcina per andar a le pentecoste), he came across twenty thousand Cordovan horsemen (se scontrò in vintimille cavalli de cordovani [number intentionally exaggerated]) lightly armed (armadi ala liziera),  who, completely at the mercy of the sirocco wind [in the Italian tradition the wind from the south, hot and dry from the African desert, puts people out of their minds] were commanded (i.e. pushed) by it  (che per comandamento de scirocho and in the variant, che per comandamento de theroco), to make raids (erano sta comandati che scorsegiasseno) in the streets and alleys of the periphery (de la tangerlina). The gardener faced them with insults (li assaltoge con le pestenachie) and other ridiculous actions (facendo capriole [doing somersaults]), thus saving his life.


As previously expressed, the second copy of the letter replaces scirocho with theroco to indicate the wind’s action in making people crazy (6), so that the term theroco must be put in relation with madness, with becoming crazy, thus supporting what we have previously expressed on the etymology of the word Tarot [Tarocco]. A term that was named after the card of the Fool because, between sense and nonsense, madness rules at each step all 22 triumphs of this path of elevation to the knowledge of the Divine (7).


Below is the entire letter in the parts taken into account by us, keeping the original script, where on many occasions the u stands for v. The variants made in the second specimen are in parentheses:


“Missier N. Franc.° et vui m. Jeronymo più cha fradeli chari.mi. Mosso da tanto marchese, che certissimamente me supera il perolo de la beretta, mi è sta forza a farui la presente lettera: la qual si guardereti ben, credo che uedereti che 1' inchiostro et la carta driza asimiglia al to color. Per tanto se le uostre signorie non mette compenso a soccorermi, non solum quel da Monferà, ma etiam quel da Ferara, credo certissimamente superar, sì che in tal cosa non mi extenderò più oltra, perché cognosco seti prudenti et non richiede che podeti ben intendermi et haueti inteso. Ve auiso chome messer Zanetto è andà a la volta de Verona con la cornatina indosso senza esser sta leso in parte alcuna da tuffo, chosa che reuera me duol in el cuor; non per mal che li voglia, ma per quel rispetto che ben sapeti; ma a tutto è rimedio perché la uostra inclita, magnanima, spectabiliosa,, prouida, disgregativa, beatissima, reuerendissima, tangarizante, urbanissima, circumcisa magnanimitatem uestram, metando riposo a la affanata mente scribere clericulis parum (paro) calare le uele. Et per esser condecente, conueniente, gerundial prospetiva al frascatorio uostro magnifico mio (al fracastorio uostro scarpacita de inzegno) mi offerisco omni meliori uia, modo et forma, secundo la qualità, quantità, magnanimitudine, graueza, grosseza del intenso uostro aquilante ponere, mettere et remettere ante trauasante una crepula suposta (grauezza sì miseratiuo delo intenso aquilante grossatiuo, charatole ponere desceptiue, mettere et tramettere ante trauersante una gropolosa supposta) nel proprio geometrico del uostro appelatiuo pretermesse (appellatiuo per la porta del orto praeter le) verze, capuci, rauaneli, scalognete, herbette et altre mesiance mescolatiue nomine specifice si chiama (mescolatiue se chiamerà) carote quisquis habet magnam totam quam (totamque) capere potest. El si ha per lettere de cambio de specie et pulcritudine uestra meliflua et categorica in quantitate magna et maxime de la uostra capacissima, solitaria, gustativa, romancha, strabosa et stratematica (gustativa, terrematicha, scabrosa, bizarescha, stratematicha) tiente alhora et post hic et hec at hoc in omnem terram exiuit sonus eorum et in fines orbis terre de la uostra certa et incerta teorica in hoc arbonicha in prendere (dela certa incerta prosopopeia uostra per uostra theorica carbonicha imprender) pigliare, taglare, infrascare cum le uostre seche ballote dependentis constitutis animalibus cacatiuis in acto rebecante et  trapulatiuo (et dependentiis consecutis animalis cazatiui in forma rebecante neruativa) propter suauitatem odoris merdatiuis metando el nostro bizaro idioma (el nostro delicato et bizarre thomao) in la propria materia viscativa in acto rebecante et trapulatiuo et questo basta quanto a la prima botega. - Da le bande de qua nouelle ui so dir de la mia caualla bolsa (che 'l mio cavallo antigo) adi 7 de botenigo mille et 5 et 6 et 7 el naso (e taso) el bagatella el mato per mezo Conegian apresso Malamoco in mar de baga tre mille sachi (trenta millia sachi) et gambelli cargi in vna burchiella de ruinazo (de ruinazo in Rialto) soracomito la zuoba grassa scorse per fino ala epiphania et (scapuzò per el bussolo et scorsizò per fina ala piphania ala uolta del zoioso et li) spazati li gotoni tra morti rotti e presi se trouò ala fiera de garbin (persi apresso la fiera de garbin zonseno) sani e salui. Preterito plusquam perfecto l'ortolan deli frati de i Charmeni uestito a sguacetto in calce a braga a caual de un barbastegio (sguazetto senza braga in creppa de un barbasteio) cargo de tre (dodese) miera de calcina per andar a le pentecoste (penthecoste per mezo la marangona) se scontrò in vintimille caualli de cordouani armadi ala liziera, che per comandamento de scirocho erano sta comandati che scorsegiasseno (per comandamento de theroco erano sta comandati per scorsizar) tutti li passi doppij et vgnoli de la tangerlina et li assaltoge con le pestenachie, le vituarie et butoge le gramole in manega facendo capriole (et li toltoge le uictuarie e butadoge in manega con le pastagnoche fazando cauriole) in tre solari, fuzì in calce a braga et uene in resta d'aio cum guadagno de 500 fioretti de padoana in borsa, cum li quali andò ala uolta de la torre de Cremona, la qual è fatta tutta de pele de coioni de romiti, quibus incisis per amor del uento de sirocho, che sgionfa la aqua a la palà et maxime a Tre Baselege, poria perhò andar de sora uia e far gran danno. Etc” (8).




1 - Ludovico Zorzi. See: Andrea Calmo, in “Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani” [Biographical Dictionary of the Italians], Treccani, Volume 16 (1973). Online al link:

2 - The letter can be found in the book edited by Vittorio Rossi, Lettere di messer Andrea Calmo riprodotte sulle stampe migliori, con introduzione ed illustrazioni di Vittorio Rossi [Letters of Messer Andrea Calmo reproduced on the best prints, with introduction and illustrations by Vittorio Rossi], Torino, Loescher, 1888, pp. 482-483.

3 - The same can be said for a fragment of a letter read on c. 175r of the codex.

4 - A survey carried out by us of the elderly gondoliers of Venice confirms that even up to the middle of the twentieth century the sirocco wind was designated by the term theroco.

5 - Michael S. Howard has written the following four essays on the subject, visible at the moment only in the English version: Dionysus and the Historical Tarot I - II - III IV. [Note added by Mr. Howard: the first of these essays concerns the possible derivation of the term “tarocco” from the Greek “tarochos”, listed in the Greek-Latin Lexicon published by Aldo Manuzio (1497) as meaning “perturbatio”, i.e. perturbation. I also hypothesize that there was a connection to “Tharopes” via an equivalence of “th” with “t”. Poggio Bracciolini’s Latin translation of Diodorus Siculus gives a “Tharopes” as the first man to whom Dionysus taught his rites, in which the participant experiences a tumult of mind and a kind of madness. The second essay details the fascination of the Este court with Dionysus, first evidenced by Alfonso I’s attempt to purchase a Leonardo depiction of Bacchus in April of 1505, only about three months before, in the same city of Ferrara, the first recorded mention of “tarocco” in reference to playing cards. The essay also discusses the Matto card of the d’Este tarot. It is specifically the connection to tumult and madness that is of interest, not simplicity or stupidity. The third and fourth essays carry the theme through the the Triumphs. Andrea’s new discovery helps to support the material in these essays].

6  - Sciroccato said of a person who stupid, confused, crazy, as if his brain was in the throes of a severe wind storm. With the term sciroccata is called in fact the sea storm caused by the sirocco, formerly called the Noto, and that in all probability gave rise to the concept of sciroccato. The etymology of 'Scirocco' or 'Sirocco' is to be derived, according to the Dizionario Etimologico [Etymological Dictionary] of Ottorino Pianegiani, “dall’arabo SCIOUQ, che tiene a SCIARQ, oriente, onde SIARQUI orientale e anche scirocco. In francese e provenzale: siroc; in Spagnolo: sirocco, jiroque, jaloque, aloque; in portoghese: xaroco. Nome di vento fra Levante e Mezzogiorno: dai Latini detto Noto” ("from the Arabic SCIOUQ, which is SCIARQ in the East, even if the eastern SIARQUI is also scirocco. In French and Occitan: siroc, in Spanish: sirocco, jiroque, jaloque, Aloque, in Portuguese: xaroco. Name of wind between Levante and the Midi: by the Latins called Noto"). The name xaroco in Portuguese seems very interesting, very similar to our taroco, in addition to the Arabic term Sciouq, reminiscent of our sciocco [silly, simple, simpleton]. In short, etymologies that somehow recall in their entirety to the meaning of tarot as sciocco, folle [foolish, crazy].

7 - Please read in this regard our Folly  and 'Melancholia'.
8 - We wish to thank Diana Romagnoli, vice-president of the Association, for helping us in our understanding of the letter.