Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

The Sermons of Giusti

Giovan Battista Giusti and the Prince of the Tarot


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



In Florence in 1827 was given to the press the work Sermoni del Cavaliere Gio. Battista Giusti [Sermons of the Knight Giovanni Battista Giusti]


The publisher Prof. Francesco Orioli, a friend of the author, writes in the foreword "To the Readers": "Among the many styles of poetry deemed worthy of the poet’s spirits, I have to grant one of the principal places to Satire, whose office is commendable to scourge the dispositions to vice of the people and the citizens, in order to invite men hold them in hatred and to change. Solely to achieve this end, the satirical poet of urban satire seeks to provoke the laughter of others, offering human follies under the aspect of ridicule, with a mocking style of verse, which verses are often more effective than ones that are more negative style and this [latter type of] satire, I would say Juvenalesque, he sets out to achieve by the use of a harsher style, and indeed with the aim of arousing public ire rather than ridicule.


Nor do we in Italy lack truly good specimens of the two styles here made mention, because indeed we have, as everyone knows, a great abundance of ancient and modern poets who have succeeded excellently in one or the other mode, and it is enough for me to name, among many, a Lodovico Ariosto, a Gaspare Gozzi, a Parini. But now we are living in a shortage of Satire writers, while the need of their work is perhaps even greater than in the past, and that is why I have been unable not to hear, in the spirit of the greatest joy, this mode applied with great understanding by one of my oldest friends, whose sweet conversation for a long time I have informally enjoyed. This is Cavalier Batista Giusti, famous Engineer, Director Emeritus of the Water Works of the Papal Legations, whom everyone knows no less for his strict mathematical Studies, but who loved and still loves the pleasures of belles lettres, showing to Italy a graceful poet and an elegant prose writer. Ever since 1826 he had begun to write sermons, and some in that year, others recited subsequently, in the Academia de Felsinei [Bolognese Academy] with much resounding praise.  The majority of them also have been printed at my request in the Bolognese Journal entitled Bullettìno Universale dì scienze, lettere, ed arti [Universal Bulletin of science, literature, and the arts]; it was nevertheless a desire of many that they be gathered together in one book, and with them some others already known. Now winning, after my repeated instances by me made to him requesting it, he at last consented; here they are, and I makes myself publisher of this book with the hope, which is well founded, that this work will be a thing useful and gracious to those who love to read. Certainly no one will say that the subjects of satire are not suitable and serious, or that the insufficiently acerbic lash falls empty and strikes false. Nor displeasing, I think, is the style, which in this kind of poem it is fitting, since if it does not rise much to epic and lyrical heights, it does not descend to the level of prosaic baseness. On the contrary, it is decent, pure, noble, and especially with a good choice of words intended to procure evidence and force. In proof of this I could make many quotations here of its beautiful verses, if the whole book did not follow below, , bearing witness of the things I have affirmed. But in other words do not pass over them quickly, and hope only, that men, by reading these paintings of vices and viciousness, feel fear and correct themselves; the Author clearly, since it pleased him to enter into this arena, is not too tired to break into these new lands, which will not be broken, I trust, without public utility, which is also the main object of every good study".


If the publisher had not stopped to talk about Giusti, it would be difficult to know about that personage, virtually absent from the texts of the history of literature. In any case, we have found other information that makes him more than worthy of mention: he did the translation of Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, for which Rossini began to compose incidental music, and he composed the lyrics of Agli Italiani [To the Italians] for the entry of Gioacchino Murat into Bologna. In 1817 his work, All’amica: Odi del Cavaliere Giambatista Giusti  [To his female friend: Odes of the Knight Giambatista Giusti], saw the light whereas previously, in 1801, had appeared his Versi [Verses], published in Parma and illustrated by Francesco Rosapina and Felice Giani. His proximity to these famous artists undoubtedly places him among the leading personalities of his epoch. The reason why we consider Giusti’s Sermoni {Sermons] is to be found in the immediate sympathy of the writer for this author. It could not be otherwise since Giusti in Sermon III recalls Prince Francesco Antelminelli Castracani Fibbia, whom the writer has claimed to be the inventor of the tarot or rather the Ludus Triumphorum. (About this please read the essay The Prince).


In Sermon III, entitled Conversazioni all’amico Lorenzo Callini [Conversations with his Friend Lorenzo Callini], Giusti satirizes the bourgeoisie of the time, with its luxuries and decadence. The Sermon appears incisive in its descriptions and somewhat poetic in its textual style.. A translation into current Italian is not needed, as the current Sermons, taken together, appear easy to understand. The text has been faithfully reproduced from the first edition of the work, with normal characters and italics. The numbers in brackets refer to the numbering of the pages in the original. The verses in which Giusti speaks of the Tarot can be found on pages 22 and 23.








Sermon III



Because I'm tired of dictating about embankment and roads,

And locks, and culverts, and bridges,

(Eternal topics of my job)

I leave the office, and address to you, my sweet friend,

Thoughts and words. – One day

I spoke to you of Carnival. Now are other times,

Other amusements. Come with me: I want

To show you here how each of the rich and idle

Tries to make the [seemingly] infinite evening short,

So that life has some comfort, and that very quickly

The time comes for supper and sleep.

Here is a coffee shop: I insert myself into the crowd, and see

Vulgar people of all kinds, who sip hot or cold (drinks),

Then pay and leave their place to others.

But Gothic (shadowy) figures have their meeting

In a more hidden room - Waiter!

A sorbet, and in the meantime I listen and take note.

What are the newspapers saying? Will it be war or peace,

That the Russian has with the Turk? How will it go

With the Greek, the Spaniard and the Portuguese (Lusitanian)?

I say that there will be a great storm of war:

                              ( 20 )

And one well merits war who presumes to change

The old order, and runs away from peace.

To Pica who has spoken in this way, responds loudly

The garrulous Timone: And who, he says,

Can think of situations abroad, if the grain,

The seed of Sicily, and the long-sought

Hemp sit uselessly in the stores,

And no one looks for them and buys them?

And always the prices of meals become higher every day? 

It was better in the time of my youth. There was Calmiere [price control],

And the price for things was fixed: our bag is empty,

That of the plebeian full, who buys and sells

To his liking. Wretched Times! 

Fool! Because if abundance fills the bags,

He complains about the price; and of the harvest, if the year

Is barren: and he blames the present time,

And of the past is abundant in praise.

Ravido (talks) after him: complains

Of the registry, stamp, and  taxes, and he is never satisfied

In accumulating gold with gold,

Which in a few years doubled its value:

He dresses badly, eats worse: and leads a miserable life,

Always complaining of the times and too many

Expenses: and in the meantime he does not realize how

His cheerful [in spending] heirs will laugh at him.

Nomentano, on the contrary, who wasted

His paternal and maternal goods: I cannot,

He cries, restrain myself any more  the clever administrator

Steals, destroys my rich pickings:

I want back what is mine: I will pay everyone:

And enjoy in peace what remains: nor is recalled

                              ( 21 )

The excess owed to pay the census.

The idle Nasidio does not remember

Having ever seen

His ancestral fields; nor would he know

Who taught him the art of Crescentius and Columella [writers on agriculture].

The house is full of liveries unused

And a cellar, accountant, and agent,

All well fed at the villa

And fat f sharecroppers [factori] and in the records fat revenue

And lean in the cash box [cassa], and although he knows from experience

That if he asks for money, they answer cups (that is, don’t give him any),

Always cheerfully blind and foolish

He does not bother to resolve so much damage.

Finally arises the denigrator Rufillo

Who with ambiguous words pricks and plagues

The matron and the naive virgin,

Who are exposed to his attacks. Dirty mouth,

The dirtier, the more praised

[Was] the ignoble Ofello, who with applause,

and the silence that consents (means consent), deserved

a place among the titled: and was granted so.

And I close my ears. O foolish people,

Talking vainly: peace, war, law, and honesty: wrap

Them all in a bundle; I don’t care about you (people), and I move on.

Let us go elsewhere: well attended is this

Hotel of Filon: large, healthful rooms and loggias,

And a good number of friends.

Tables prepared for chess: newspapers

With the curiosities of news

And vain races, so that the fight

On the Seine between the right side and the left,

                              ( 22 )

Is food to the political palette.

But by the stairs down from her room

Descends the graceful and beautiful Lady; now

Are handed out the cards and (billiard0  cues; at one stroke

The athletes (players) are armed: they fight

And a great noise rises to a loud cry,

When the dim-witted Seneschal,

Promises much: takes his shot, and fails.

In another space four players sit

Playing tarot: O divine find! O illustrious

Son of my city! You fled our



miserable land, divided

By (political) parties and, received here hospitably,

As a reward for this noble hospitality,

Invented the tarot, and awards and honors

Were bestowed upon you by the Senate. (*)


(*) In the main hall of the Lords Fibbia Fabbri of Bologna, in Galliera Street, is observed a large picture on canvas, rectangular, in which is represented a personage dressed in a black robe, standing next to a small table and a chair, and having in his hand a deck of Tarocchino cards, some of which fall to the ground, and among them you can see the Queens of Wands and Pentacles, which indicate some Arms:

"Francesco Antelminelli Castracane Fibbia, Prince of Pisa, Monte Giori and Pietra Santa, and Lord of Fucecchio, son of Giovanili, born of Castruccio Duke of Lucca, Pistoia, Pisa etc. He fled to Bologna, gave himself to Bentivogli, was made Generalissimo of the Bolognese army, and the first of this Family, which was called in Bologna Fibbia, had as wife Francesca Daughter of Giovanni Bentivoglio. Inventor of the Game of Tarot  [Taroccho] of Bologna. From the XVIth Reformers of the sixteenth City had as a  privilege to put the Fibbia arms in the Queen of Wands, and those of his wife in the Queen of Pentacles. Born in the year 1360 died in the year 1410".


But who was the evil demon who from such

Useful fruit of your genius, took only the bitter? Near the good

Is found too often the bad:  the lily appears

In a fetid marsh; and the iron turns into a guilty dagger;

In this way from the good tarot originated

the perfidious game named Cinquina.

But it is time that we go to the palace

Of the beautiful friend at whose parties

The whole city rejoices: the coach is ready,

Departs and flies. By the number, and the loudness

Of the noise, of horses, coachmen and footmen,

I recognize the desired place and go down.

The dazzling glow of a thousand candles

Spreads light throughout the rooms and halls;

Tapestries to the ground, flowers everywhere,

Candelabras, and vases  painted by the hand

Of Flora in beautiful colors. [or perhaps “painted vases, in beautiful colors, in the (statued) hands of Flora”]

And here the donzello [servant]of the ladies

Shouts louder if the names are more famous,

And less if the name is unknown -

A woman who comes, if she is alone

Has to go alone into the middle

Of the circle of guests, where already those (women)

Sit who came first; she becomes pale,

Is disturbed and is almost seen to stumble,

But comes to her aid and guides her to an empty chair

                              ( 24 )

A friendly hand - She sits back - and breathes.

Who was it that invented, among the genteel

Customs of the fashionable world, this severe

Rite, forcing women to stay on display

In symmetrical array, leaving

The men to themselves, frolicking

In gilded rooms, unconcerned

about the embarrassment and eternal boredom

that govern the seated Divas?

To comfort the senses to sleep

Here is the chosen beverage, Moka [coffee].

Drunk while thinking or chatting:

The young gallant of recent loves, horse

carriages, while the bored ladies have as objects

Of their thoughts flowers, hats, shawls, dresses and feathers –

Long awaited, the illustrious singer

Finally has arrived, the sweet sound

Reminiscent of the beauties in the other room:

They still sit there alone; everyone sits back

And listens. The demure young lady begins

Her concert piece: and there is trembling affected by

Many looks, as her voice nearly fails

And she cannot regain the momentum.

With much applause, between honest and fake,

She returns to her seat: and, when seated, complains

Of convulsions, hoarseness, migraine.

Singing after her, men and women

With varying degrees of success - It was lucky

If inappropriate chatter and shrill

Women's voices did not disturb the song;




As if there were no [other] time to recount follies.-

Now have begun other music and songs,

And dancing begins. This is the most pleasing

Time of the party: and already

The young men and young ladies roam,

Hurry, strain, mingle: each chooses

His companion, the beautiful (women) triumph,

The ugly are ashamed, and unwittingly

Become spectators of the glory of the others.

Now succor me, O Muse, and teach me

to speak of the first couples in the French dances.

I sing only of the women and want to say what

The severe critic, who turns up his nose,

Reveals to me in the art of the dance, of

The women's talent and the secrets in their hearts.

That one, insolently and badly dressed, is all

Covered and loaded down with feathers and flowers,

Performs the steps poorly and dances and jumps

without order, disconnected from the rhythm,

Believe me, it is presumptuous and silly.

The other, in contrast to her, dressed

Modestly and in good taste, lowers

Her eyes gracefully; turns her neck somewhat;

And shows in a good way her mastery of the dance;

Avoid, O Ganymede, this lady, [because] if she wants to,

She can enchant the whole chariot [i.e. enslave all of you].

The first one believes herself very good

And when she dances it seems that she is thrust

In inefficient movements of spring and wheels.

The second , as if she were a jumpy locust,

With quick movements disturbs the order

Of the quadrilles and is always turning around.

                             ( 26 )


She continues to turn even when the music is over.

The former is stupid, and the latter moves in jumps.

Now we see that everyone is dancing. Here is an older

Woman, who moves in youthful jumps

And seems little bothered: here is a sly

Youth, who artfully pushes out of place

The veils, with frequent pulsations (showing)

The richness of her breast; and thus he discovers

The hidden desire of his heart: look at that other (fem,)

Who with grace and the difficult dance

At length [js] prepared to try

To correct his defect of nature: and she raises her eyes to Heaven

And seems to say: I am not beautiful,

but I am more able to accommodate a faithful love.

Silent sounds: the dripping sweat

Of the Ladies as they sit.  - Quick and capable

Servants (taking their places) in a long regulated row

Or with silver basins going to refresh

Dry throats with clean rosewater

Of (containing) fruit ice cream, or with

Elegant baskets of as many more sweets

As the industrious Genoese know how to invent.

And in the tumult that then was born, the glutton

Damon, who arrived just at this time, takes

One sorbet, and another, and another, and puts

His rapacious hand into the baskets; the sweets

He gulps down, fills his pockets, and departs.

And I also will depart, as already the silent night

Comes to the middle of its circle [midnight]

But before I give my eyes to sleep, listen

To what pitying thought I welcomed into my heart.

                              ( 27 ) 

Why so much waste? O famous rich,

Save a small part of the gold

That you intended for your pleasure and let it be had

By the helpless artisan, the lame, the blind,

Who die of hunger and difficulties.

Thus meditating, and so thinking, sleep took me

And the pitying thought fled with sleep.

Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  © All rights reserved 2006