Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

The Jewish fake Count, a XVIIth century Giudiata

Another document where Tarocco means mad


Essay by Andrea Vitali, December 2019


Translation by Michael S. Howard, January 2020



In the city of Rome toward the end of the 16th century, and for all the following two centuries, the Papacy, in order to distract the populace from its mortifications and disappointments, thought it necessary to give them a sacrificial victim located in the Jewish community, the best ethnic group for unloading its own tensions. On the other hand, it was this people who had “killed Christ” and in this the feeling inherited from the Middle Ages had not completely gone to sleep.


In the Middle Ages, Jews and Saracens were often transformed into demons in the popular imagination (Jews were sometimes depicted with pointed beards and goat horns). In regard to the “New Christian Knighthood” that was going to the Holy Land, Saint Bernard writes in their favor,: “Jesus Christ willingly accepts the death of his enemy, by which a just revenge is made, and yet more willingly gives himself to his soldier, as his consolation. The soldier of Jesus Christ thus kills with security and dies with even greater security; when he takes the life of an evil man it is not homicide, but malicide [the killing of evil]; he is the avenger of Christ on evildoers and the defender of Christians. ... The Christian is glorified by the death of a pagan because Jesus Christ himself is glorified in it" (1).


And further:


 "The devil has raised up a cursed race of pagans, these perverse children who, let it be said without offending you, the courage of the Christians has endured too long, not wanting to see their perfidies and their deceptions, instead of crushing the poisonous beast with the heel." (In this case, pagans as symbols of the Antichrist).


In practice, the death of the pagan was believed to exalt Christ by preventing the spread of error. It was therefore possible to kill not by wickedness, but in virtue of the laws (2).


This is an attitude that, albeit in obviously more moderate tones, we find in the 15th century. The Synagogue was often represented blindfolded to symbolize its blindness in not considering Christ as the true son of God. In the 15th century mural by Giovanni da Modena, Triumph of the Church over the Synagogue present in Bologna’s Basilica of San Petronio, in the San Giorgio Chapel, we find one of the rare examples of a "brachial cross", that is to say, one with two human arms at its horizontal ends, one of which crowns the Church, while the other sticks a sword in the head of the Synagogue, which rides a goat, symbol of the devil (figure 1).


Only with the Counter-Reformation was this attitude considered anti-Semitic, and it is for this reason that few images of this kind are found, as many were destroyed.


In the Rome of the 16th and 17th centuries, the resentment towards the Jewish people remained alive anyway. Considering the Jews a usurers' lineage did nothing but increase their distance from the people, who readily accepted what the Papacy meant to offer them, namely the organizing of theatrical performances on carts, generally drawn by oxen and wandering through the city squares, with the intention of satirizing the Jewish world.


These representations, which took place at carnival, were called “Giudiate”, a term derived from 'giudìo', an ancient dialectal form for “Jew”. In Italian, "Jew" is "Giudeo", from which is derived "Giudata", as from the word "Carneval" we get "Carnevalata", meaning "carnival-like activity". In many cases, where a dramatic extremization ended its story with the killing of the bad Jew, there were scuffles and revolts on the part of those offended.


Dino Messina writes in this regard, "The Christian guild of fishmongers - who carried out their trade in the Portico d'Ottavia, therefore in close proximity to the Ghetto - used to prepare for Carnival floats and farcical theatrical performances, the so-called giudate, with a strong derisive flavor. In them the precise rites, prayers, beliefs and personalities of the religious tradition of the Jews were targeted, ridiculing them and showing aversion and contempt against them. These representations were continually denounced to the ecclesiastical authorities by the factors, the heads of the [Jewish] community, precisely because of the virulent and offensive tone that fomented hatred and violence in the population who attended these shows. The rites of violence culminated in the staging, on floats decorated with foliage and pulled by oxen that traveled throughout the city, of a traveling folk theater that mimicked moments of the daily life of the Jews - for example, circumcision, a custom that greatly disturbed the Christian soul - generally culminating in the funeral of a rabbi, accompanied by a farcical and disparaging symbolism" (3).


Unacceptable situations, as evidenced by very old protest documents of the Jewish community in the Roman archives.


As mentioned, these are productions of popular origin, nourished by that anti-Semitism that we do not find in the dramaturgies composed by writers in various parts of Italy, which favor an ironic attitude and where the Hebrew speech is inserted with the sole purpose of entertaining, as in the scene of the pawnshop in Modena included by Orazio Vecchi in his Amfiparnaso (a Harmonic Comedy, i.e. one set to music) of 1597, with words such as Baruchabà, goi, moscògn, parechèm or with the mangling of others,such as badanài, Merdochài, Adanài, all in reference to the profession of Jewish lenders.


We also find in other authors, such as Giulio Cesare Croce, titles such as the “Tremendous Brawl between Mardocai and Bedanai” inserted in the composition La scatola historiata [The Illustrated Box], of 1605. and A very grand [S]Caramuccia [Quarrel] breaking out anew in the city of Ancona between two Jews for a goose, of 1609.


The language, in the case that we are going to illustrate of our interest, is composed of terms in Roman dialect combined with Hebrew words according to a unique style that is found in the works of the genre published in different parts of Italy.


The theme of the “fake” is paramount, as Jews were considered to be fakes in the sense of liars and falsifiers. But if we broaden the context, we realize that “fake” is an attribute that belongs to various commedie dell’arte such as Harlequin the fake prince and characters that accompany him, such as the fake child. On the other hand, it was natural to resort to that term since the commedia dell’arte usually appeared in the period of Carnival, where everything and everyone was fake, as everyone was in disguise.


We have taken into consideration the term “fake” to introduce the title of the giudiata of our interest The Jewish fake count, or Tognino gone mad opposed by Ridiculous Giudiata, published in Todi in 1697, which, as the full title makes explicit, (4), was staged in Trastevere [site of the former ghetto] in Rome.


Even if it is a giudiata, we are not dealing with a text of despicable anti-Semitism, as for a true rhetoric of otherness in the Carnival context as are the 'gypsy-esque' or 'gypsy-ishe' things of the Tuscan popular theater, the Moorish dance and the religious procession called 'barabbata' which takes place at Marta on Lake Bolsena (5). We could say that for its satirical spirit, aimed at the same time for fun, this giudiata should be interpreted as one of the Roman examples of commedia dell'arte. A representation aimed at arousing laughter, which yet always expressed a truth, in this case, the customs and habits of the Jewish people.


Structured in quatrains of eight syllable lines like similar others, to entertain the people it was necessary that the dramaturgy be as varied as possible, which is why recited texts were interspersed with songs and dances. Since the first two quatrains are preceded by the indication of the execution of a Saltarello, a dance handed down from the Middle Ages, it is assumed that these were accompanied by instruments, while the other two, anticipated by the word Canto, were sung accompanied by the rhythm of the previous dance. Alternatively, we could assume that each of the two pairs of stanzas was preceded by, for the first, a Salterello, and for the second, a song.


The story focuses on an obstructed love and on jewels to be recovered.


These are the characters:


Shiua, an old Jew

Artemitia, his daughter

Diana, his daughter

Moscé, a Jew in love

Tognino, a Milanese soldier

Cianfraglia, a woodcutter originally from Aquila [a province of central Italy]


In the passage of our interest we find the term Tarocco with the meaning of “mad", as already indicated in several of our essays (6).


The situation described in the quatrains that we will report is the following:


Since Tognino has fallen prey to madness, Artemisia and Cianfraglia, to restore him to his senses, adopt a magic ritual consisting of touching him at various points of his body with a stone. For this purpose, once the insane one is tied and lying on the ground, Cianfraglia performs the spell suggested by Artemisia. The stone cannot fail to remind us of when Moses struck a rock, obviously a stone, with his stick in the desert, causing the water to flow and saving the thirsty Jews (7). A stone therefore from its liberating function is borrowed from the biblical passage to ironize on the beliefs of the Jews. Also, in the tradition of the Italian folk-magic, dating back to pagan times, different stones were thought to have different healing properties, as we find described in Ficino’s Three Books on Life (8).


Original text [translated from Italian but with tarocco and dialect words in italics] (9)




Ar. Tell him these words now

Sciotè (1) with this enchanted stone I touch you [tocco]

That it immediately make your reason return

By the virtue of tabarabatocco. (2)


Aq. I do the test or give scuscie (3),

Sciotè (1) with this enchanted stone I touch you [tocce]

That it may immediately return your reason

By the virtue of tabarabatocce (4).


When they have bound Tognino, they will lay him on the ground; and then with a stone they will touch him in several places; and after a while he returns to himself as they have asked.




To. Who has tied me, I who am so tarocco (5)

Sont’in camiscia (6) as goes a

Galinaccio, (7) and I am noteven an alifrocco (8), And you, find my jewels.

Ar. You were crazy [pazzo], there was a stone here, it touched you,

And immediately it made Aresanà, (9)

And now I want [to tell] you all

Of the Count, and of the jewels, but not here


To better understand the meaning of the text, we give below an explanation of each term highlighted with numbers.


(1) Sciotè = mad, from Hebrew שוטה.

(2) tabarabatocco = meaningless term, only a word that fills the mouth, used to enchant the public. A bit like “abracadabra”. The use of such a word was aimed at making fun of alleged Jewish magical practices, in order to highlight its absurdity.

(3) di scuscie = argue greatly. Here with the meaning that if the ritual had not been successful, the whole thing would have ended in a great quarrel. In practice the two would have come to blows.

(4) tabarabatocce = the ending of the word in e rather than in o as we find in the tabarabatocco of the first quatrain, intends to highlight the regional difference in origin of Cianfruglia, Aquilan compared to Artemisia, Roman. The same applies to the previous word tocca [touch] which has become here tocce.

(5) tarocco = mad, crazy. Since the friend was no longer controllable, because out of reasoning, he had to be held firm to avoid doing unreasonable acts.

(6) Sont’in camiscia = being in shirt = showing up, appearing. As if the mad friend had understood the state he was in.

(7) Gallinaccio [English parallel: cock-sure] = proud person who wants and thinks that he looks beautiful when he is not beautiful. Doing the 'galetto', in fact, means giving yourself airs, considering yourself superior to everyone. Person who for his feelings becomes an object of ridicule because of no value. Furthermore, the use of a rooster [gallo] highlights the relationship between feathers and crazy, following the iconographic version of the Fool.

(8) alifrocco = popular word to indicate a person who is not worth anything, not to be taken into consideration, not to waste time mocking him since it would not be worth considering his inconsistency.

(9) Aresanà = risanare = healing.


Free translation of the text:


Artemisia [to Cianfraglia the Aquilan]:


Now tell him these words that I tell you,

Mad, with this magic stone I touch you

to make you immediately come to your senses

by the power of tabarabatocco.


Cianfraglia the Aquilan:


Let's do the test, otherwise I'll take a beating if I have no success.

Mad, with this magic stone I touch you

to make you immediately come to your senses

by the power of tabarabatocce.


When they have tied Tognino, they will put him on the ground; and then with a stone they will touch him in several parts of his body; and after a while [Tognino] will come back to himself and they will release him.




Who has tied me, I who am so crazy [tarocco],

appearing like a ridiculous gallinaccio [cock-sure person]

and a person not even worth being laughed at. (1)

And you, try to find my jewels.


My question: Here you say “you, try to find”. Earlier you just had “you, find my jewels.” These should be consistent.


(1) In practice, Tognino says he is so crazy, out of his mind, to the point that he is not even in consideration as someone to be mocked.




You were crazy and this stone touched you

and immediately made you heal.

and now I want to tell you everything

of the Count and the jewels, but not now and in this place.


To conclude, as briefly mentioned above, this composition presents itself as a further document testifying to the meaning of the word tarocco as “mad”. It involves a character, Tognino, from whom madness has taken away a good part of his brain, that is, his ability to reason, making him enter the category of persons mentally deranged [tarata] (10).




1 - Saint Bernard, De laude novae militiae [In praise of the new knighthood], II, 3, in J. P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, 182, c. 923D. (Abridged 1977 English translation by Conrad Greenia online,

2 - M. M. Davy (ed.), Saint Bernard, vol. 1, Paris, 1945, p. 47.

3 - Dino Messina, Ebrei come maiali, le radici storiche di un oltraggio [Jews like pigs, the historical roots of an outrage], Corriere della Sera / Blog, online,

4 - L'ebreo finto conte, ouero Tognino impazzito contrasto di Giudiata Redicoloso. Recitato dalla Couersatione di Trasteuere alla Botticella [The Jewish fake count, or Tognino gone mad opposed by Ridiculous Giudiata. Performed by the Discussion Group of Trastevere in Botticella.]  In Todi, Sold in Piazza Madama by the Heirs of Francesco Leone, 1697.

5 - See Giovanni Kezich, Carnevale. La Festa del Mondo [Carnival, the Festival of the World], Bari-Roma, Laterza, 2019.

6 - In this regard, read the essays The meaning of the word ‘Tarocco’ and Tarocco sta per Matto [the latter in Italian only] (In their notes are references to the original essays.)

7 - Exodus 17:7.

8 - “So we get the emerald, the amethyst, the sapphire, topaz, ruby, unicorn horn, and especially the bezoar stone, as the Arabs call it, all endowed with hidden properties of gifts. These gifts come not only from taking such things internally, but even if they just touch your flesh, and thus produce on it their warm power. They then bring their heavenly force into the spirits which protect against poison and plague itself”. Ficino, The Book of Life, “On making your life agree with the heayens”, Chapter 22.

9 - L'ebreo finto conte [The Jewish fake count], op. cit., s.n.p. [without page number].

10 - For the etymology of the word “tara” read the writer’s essay About the Etymology of Tarocco.



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