Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Giulio Cesare Croce and the Tarot

The Magician never comes to me, nor the World, or even the Fool


Translation by Michael S. Howard, June 2012 

This article appears as the first part of a study on the works of Giulio Cesare Croce referring to the Tarot and playing cards. The second part deals with the composition Lotto festevole fatto in villa, Fra una nobil schiera di Cavalieri & di Dame, / con i Trionfi de’ Tarrochi, esplicati in / lode delle dette Dame (Festive game played in a country house, among a noble crowd of Knights and Ladies, / with the Triumphs of Tarot, explained for / the pleasure of these Ladies) (1602) edited by Giordano Berti, visible in Italian in the Host Essays section (I Trionfi de' Tarrochi di G. C. Croce).

We know the life of Giulio Cesare Croce, an exceptional storyteller and playwright, through his autobiography entitled Descrittione della vita del Croce (Description of Croce’s life) (1). With violin accompaniment, he performed in squares and patrician houses on the occasion of fairs, markets and special solemnities. Born in 1550 in San Giovanni in Persiceto, a small town near Bologna, he died in poverty in Bologna in 1609, after being married two times and bringing into the world 14 children. He recounted Bolognese daily life in its various facets: the poor and dispossessed, the lords and their amusements, religious and secular festivals, the pleasure procured by food and how to cook, life in the home, carnival - so well as to be considered one of the greatest exponents of carnival literature - recounting better than anyone else city life in the late Renaissance. In addition to his famous Le sottilissime astutie di Bertoldo (The most astute tricks of Bertoldo) (2), he has left more than 600 printed works and manuscripts, composed both in Italian and in dialect. Among other things, he was a prolific writer of enigmas. Although he loved to play cards, including tarot, in one of his moral works he described the negative qualities of the players and the miserable end of those who exceeded in that vice.


In a small work on games, described as a sort of handbook for family fun, entitled Barzelletta sopra del Giuoco (Frottola on Games) (3)  whose attribution to Croce must nevertheless be reserved (4), along with parlor games, the author contemplates also games of chance:


Dadi: se voglio asso mi vien sei.
Carte: dico a trenta o a la bassetta,
chiamo re mi vien lunetta.
Tarocco: mai mi vien il bagatella,
non il mondo, manco il matto.
Palletta: mi spallai la spalla dretta
per la palla ribeccare. 
Ronfa: rare volte mi vien asso.
Trappola: le lunette m'hanno casso. 


Dice: if I want an ace what comes to me is a six.
Cards: I say of trente or bassetta [two Italian card games] 
I call the king and the lunette [little moon] comes to me.
Tarot: the bagatella [magician] never comes to me,
nor the world, or even the fool.
Palletta: I broke my right shoulder
taking the ball.
Ronfa: Rarely does an ace come to me.
Trappola: I am tired of the lunette.


Then he continues with a list of games, among which we also find that of Trionfetti (5): «Trionfet, thirty-one, primero, crichetta [three of a kind], (the great and the middle), superior sequence, chess (checkmate) tavoliero [a boardgame], “toccadiglio”, ball, “zoni”, backgammon».

In Canto XVIII Chant of the Cacasenno (6) an octave illustrates what happened around a table while playing tarot.

Canto XVIII - Ottava XXV

Poco lungi a' tarocchi si giucava 
   In partita da quattro Bolognesi, 
   Cui altri sopra per veder si stava, 
   Ed eran sì accaniti, e cosi accesi, 
   Che ad ogni lor parola si bravava, 
   Come gli Ebrei sovra gli usati arnesi. 
   Un disse: oh carte, che direi del bretta! 
   Si può dar della mia maggior disdetta?


(1) bretta = con questo termine un tempo a Bologna veniva chiamato il boia. Il senso della frase è che il dispiacere provato nel perdere alle carte era pressoché paragonabile a quello provato dall’essere finito dal boia.

Canto XVIII – Octave XXV

Not far away four Bolognesi playing tarot,
   Above them others were watching,
   And they were so fierce and so bright,
   That they argued whenever they said a word,
   As Jews do over used tools.
   One of them said: oh, cards, what can I tell of the executioner [bretta] (1)!
   Can one be given a worse misfortune than I have?


(1) Bretta. With this term in Bologna was called the executioner. The sense of the phrase is that the disappointment felt in losing  at the cards game was almost comparable to be killed by the executioner.


The term “Bagatelle”, meaning "things of little value, trifles" (7), is mentioned in the Bertoldino togetherwith the verb “taroccare”, meaning “to shout due to anger or rage”; this has been discussed often in several of our essays (8).


Canto VIII - Ottava VI

E poi, per tante vantaggiose e belle 
   Doti, e quasi direi, virtù morali, 
   Trasfuse nel garzon, che tenerelle, 
   E in erba ancora non rassembran tali, 
   Perchè occupate in varie bagatelle, 
   Confacenti all'età; ecc.


Canto VIII  – Octave VI

And then, many beneficial and beautiful dowries, I almost would say moral virtues, instilled in the boy, which dainty and budding still do not appear as such, because he is occupied in various trifles appropriate to his age; etc.


Canto VIII - Ottava XLIII

E tigna e flusso, fistol, cancro, peste, 
    E de' malanni tutta la genia 
    Augura a chi l'ha concio per le feste, 
    E taroccando pur se ne va via. 


Canto VIII - Octave XLIII

He wishes to those who have beaten him ringworm, the flow, fistula, cancer, plague and the whole pack of ills; and shouting [taroccando] he walks away. Etc.

A reference to Berni and Lasca - the first, author of the Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera (9) (Chapter on the Game of Primero); and the second, of the Trionfo della Rovescina (Triumph of Rovescina) (10) - is in the first canto, where both are mentioned as masters of the burlesque style:

O Berni, o vate dabbene, e gentile,
   Che detto sei infra i toscan’ migliori 
   Maestro, e padre del burlesco stile, 
   Onde ogni cuor rallegri, ed innamori, 
   Comunque ei siasi grossolano e vile; 
   E or fra gli eterni verdeggianti allori 
   Cinto, con messer Bino siedi, e ‘l Lasca.
   E l'altra Schiera, d' ederosa frasca;


Oh Berni, oh prophet honest and kind,
   You who among the Tuscans are considered the best
   Master, and father of  the burlesque style,
   So that every heart cheers and loves you
   Even those that are coarse and vile;
   And now encircled among eternal green laurels,
   You sit with Messer Bino and Lasca.
   And the other Crowd, of ivied bough.


A reminder to time-wasting players, that Croce extended to all types of idlers, but also to serious workers, like the manufacturers of playing cards, is found in the work Invito generale che fa la campana grossa del Torrazzo a tutti gli artefici che debbino levarsi a buon’hora la mattina per andar a bottega se non voglion giostrare con l’appetito e combattere con la fame del 1610  (General invitation that the great bell of Torrazzo makes to all the artisans who must rise early in the morning to go to the shop if they do not want to joust with their appetite and fight hunger) dated to 1610 (11). Here is the verse directed to the manufacturers of playing cards:


La campana del torrazzo,
La mattina quando suona,
Proprio par che 'l cielo intuona,
E che dica in suo parlare:
“Su, su, tutti a lavorare.”

Su, su, voi che fate carte,
Da tarocchi e da primiera,
Non stancate la lettiera,
Se volete da mangiare,
Su, su, tutti a lavorare.


The Torrazzo’s bell
In the morning when it sounds,
Sings just like Heaven,
And it says in its way of speaking:
"Up, up, all to work."


Up, up, you who make cards,
for tarot and primero,
Do not tire the bed,
If you want to eat,
Up, up, all to work.


In another of his poems, entitled Il trionfo de’ poltroni, opera piacevole con due mattinate bellissime e alcune canzoni napolitane nuove, belle e sentenziose (The triumph of the lazy, pleasant works with two beautiful matins and some new beautiful and sententious Neapolitan songs) (12), he had called the players not to lounge around in the tavern.


Chi si diletta a giocar due per parte,
Al pallon grosso, e chi giuoca alle carte,
A dadi, a sbaraglino, tal che così si comparte
Il giorno tutto quanto, senza ragionar mai d'arte.


Who delights in playing two on a side,
Big ball, and who plays cards,
Dice, backgammon, so that the day is all bound up in these things,
Without ever thinking of art.


Life in the tavern gives Croce the cue to recount, through the words of an inveterate customer named Basalorcio [Kiss the Jug] - his name is an agenda in itself - the link wine/cards in the “new work in dialogue” called Lamento de’ bevanti per la gran carestia del vino e delle castellate di questo anno, opera nova in dialogo di Giulio Cesare dalla Croce (Lament of drinkers for the great famine of wine and castellate [unfermented juice obtained by squeezing the grapes together with the stalks] this year).




Basta a me che la bettola vi sia,
E ch'io vi possa andar mattina e sera,
E star sovente in festa e in allegria.
E posso dir' a l'hoste a buona ciera,
Se non mi piace un vin: “Vammene, tira
D'un altro”, ch'ei mi serve, e volontiera.


It is enough for me that the tavern is there,

And that I can go there morning and evening,

And often be in celebration and joy.

And I can happily tell the host

If I don't like a wine: “Go, bring

Something else,” which he serves me willingly.


Ed hora una viola, hora una lira
Sentir sonare, hor far venir le carte,
C' ha giocar qui non è chi si ritira.
Hor a far' a la morra (1) a due per parte,
Un boccale a le cinque, una foietta,
Che questa de' bevanti è la ver'arte.


And hearing now a viola, now a lira [type of violin]

Play, now let the cards come,

That to play here no one holds back.

Now playing Morra two against two,

A jug at five, a foietta [about a pint],

This kind of drinking is the true art.


(1) Morra [Moor] = Very old Italian game of chance between two people, conducted by each lowering the right fist at the same time, quickly extending one or more fingers and shouting a number between two and ten, to guess the total number of fingers extended.


In somma, a la taverna mi diletta
Per le cause suddette, e perché siamo
Ad essa giunti, entriamo dentro in fretta,
Che l'hora è già passata.


In short, to be at the tavern delights me

For the reasons said above, and because

Having arrived there, we go inside quickly,

For time has already passed. (13)


As we reported, Croce was a talented and prolific creator of enigmas, which appeared in two printed works: the poem De gli enimmi del Croce parte seconda ne i quali si contengono altri cento quesiti piacevoli et ingegnosi, trattenimento nobile per ogni spirto gentile e virtuoso (The enigmas of Croce, second part, in which is contained another hundred pleasant and ingenious questions, treated nobly for every gentle and virtuous spirit” (14) and Gioco della sposa, opera nova e piacevole dove s’introduce una compagnia di Cavalieri e Dame in un ridutto a far de’ giochi ne’ quali si sentono molte argutie, motti, linguaggi, enimmi e altre cose piacevoli, di Giulio Cesare dalla Croce (Game of the wife, a new and pleasant work where a company of Knights and Ladies is introduced into a foyer to play a game in which are heard many witticisms, jokes, turns of phrase​​, enigmas and other pleasant things, by Giulio Cesare dalla Croce (15).


The book De gli enimmi  (On the Enigmas) contains one hundred enigmas, each described in octave, the answers - solutions - are reported in the Tavola della Dichiarazione degli Enimmi overo indovinelli del Croce (Declaration Table of the Enigmas, or rather riddles, of Croce), each is matched with an enigma by a reference number.

Riddle 56 relates to a character of the Tarot Triumphs:


Fra gli pianeti albergo, ed ho sollazzo
Mescolarmi col sole e con la luna,
E ben, che ciaschedun mi tenghi pazzo,
Ceder non voglio ad essi in parte alcuna.
Non son’ucciso, ed altri non ammazzo,
E me non può sforzar sorte o fortuna,
Anzi, con essa son spesso a le strette,
Né stimo morte, diavol, né saette.


I live among the planets, and I enjoy
Mingling with the sun and the moon,
And even if everyone thinks I'm crazy,
I don’t want to surrender to them any part of me.
I am not killed, and I don’t kill others,
Fate or fortune can’t compel me,
Rather, I often quarrel with it,
I do not esteem death, devil, or lightning bolts.


Declaration Table of the Enigmas

56 - Il matto de’ tarocchi (The fool of tarot)


On the condition of the prisoners, Croce wrote Dui Capitoli uno in lode e l'altro in biasmo della prigione (Two chapters, one in praise and the other in blame of the prison). In that of praise we find a further mention of tarot cards:


Lodi della Prigione

A tarocco, talora a schiera, a scacchi
si gioca per piacer, et abbracciarsi
l’un l’altro vedi e ami mostrarsi stracco.
Nissun qui dentro senti provocarsi,
ne dirsi villanie, ne far tristizie
ma insieme d’union accarezzarsi.
Dove si fa le più strette amicizie,
quanto ne la prigion? Chi più si gode
insieme, senza fraude ne malizie?


Praises of the prison


They play tarot, sometimes in a group, at chess
for pleasure, and you see each hugging
the other and you like to appear fatigued.
In here you do not hear anyone provoke,
say insults, or grieve,
but together caressing.
Where do you make closer friendships,
than in the prison? Who has more fun
together, without fraud or malice?


O prigion degna di perpetua lode!
Ben gran torto ha colui, il qual si lagna
d’esser rinchiuso fra tue mura sode!
In ti si canta, suona, beve e magna,
si dorme e gioca, e qui non si lavora
come, né più né men, si fa in cuccagna.


O prison worthy of perpetual praise!
One who complains of being locked
up inside your thick walls does a great wrong!
Inside you, one can sing, play, eat and drink,
sleep and gamble, and here one doesn't work,
just as, neither more nor less, is done in Cockaigne.


Now we report the composition Alfabeto de Giuocatori in Ottava Rima, Opera Morale di Giulio Cesare Croce (Alphabet of the gamblers in Octave Rhyme, Moral Opera by Giulio Cesare Croce) (16), giving the English of the first octave, in which the author, as mentioned above, carries out a full examination of the human qualities of the depraved people of card games. From the point of view of literary construction, the composition is remarkable for the progression from A to V (the last stanza contemplates both the U and the V) with which Croce begins each verse of the individual octaves. Obviously this construction in English is lost.


Avaro è il Giuocatore e sempre aspira
Al guadagno, per dritta o torta strada,
Avido a la moneta, e quando tira
Allegro canta, ma poi par che cada
A terra morto, quando più non mira
Argento, e che del tutto ha fatto vada
Arrabbia di dolor, s’affligge, e strugge,
Anzi come un Leon fremendo rugge.


The Gambler is avaricious and always aims at
Winning, by a straight or a crooked way,
He is avid for money, and when he takes his cards
He sings cheerfully, but then seems to fall dead
On the ground, when he no longer sees
Silver, and who, nothing remaining of all he has made,
Becomes rabid with grief, laments and is consumed,
Rather like a quivering Lion, he roars.


Among numerous pamphlets by Croce, published over and over, we find topics that describe Bolognese life in its most varied aspects, as well as suggestions of various kinds for the most diverse needs. The attitude is in most cases of a humorous nature, aimed at arousing mirth in the readers, as we find in the description of the treatments he recommends to cure various physical ills, as proposed in Il Vero e pretioso Tesoro di Sanità. Nel quale si contengono Secreti mirabilissimi, e stupendi per sanare quanti mali possono venire alle Persone, e stroppiare quanti sani si trovano al Mondo (The True and Precious Treasury of Health. In which are contained most marvelous and stupendous Secrets to heal how many evils can come to People, and in the world to choke [make sick] those who are healthy) (17); its full title already proclaims that it is a joke.


 Croce's healing recipes were to be administered for illnesses:


For gout, For headache, For mange, For bad [blood] flow, For phlegm, For sciatica, For ringworm, For spleen, For pain in the side, For spasms, For malaria, For blocked bile ducts, For pain in the ribs, For pain that reveals plague, For pain of the liver, For pain due to censure.


To give an idea of ​​the ingredients to be administered to patients, we will report those necessary to administer to persons who suffered from phlegm, as described in rhyming couplets:


AL CATTARO                                               (FOR CATARRH, I.E. PHLEGM)

Recipe                                                             (Prescription, in Latin)


Budelle d’un stitico,                                    (Guts of a constipated man)

Tremor d’un paralitico,                              (Tremor of a paralytic)

Lingua bovina,                                             (Bovine [i.e. cow’s] tongue)

La forca, e la berlina,                                  (The gallows and the pillory [= being chained for all to see])

Le punte di due stocchi,                             (The tips of two pointed weapons)

Il Matto de’ Tarocchi,                           (The Fool of the Tarot)

Foglie di fico,                                                (Fig leaves)

Promessa d’amico,                                      (A friend’s promise)

Songiadi sorbo,                                            (The fat of a rowan plant)

Il buffolo di un orbo,                                   (The smallest thing a blind man does not see)

L’osse di un’herborario,                              (The bones of an herbarium)

E fanne alettuario,                                       (And make these into an electuary [paste with sweetness added])

E danne al catarroso,                                  (And give it to the one with phlegm)

Ch’ei trovarà riposo,                                    (That he will find rest)  

E se con tal ricetta                                        (And if this prescription)

Non si risana, e netta                                   (Does not heal, and clean [the person of phlegm])

Fagli passar sopra la panza un carro,       (Pass a wagon over his belly),

Che così guarirà da quel catarro,              (That thus he will recover from that phlegm).


The use of the Fool of the Tarot should make it clear how those cards had entered the daily life of the Bolognese to such an extent that they were utilized in every situation, as well as for playing the game, so that it was normal to take advantage of them also in literary texts, although comically, since everyone knew and loved them. Introducing the character of the Fool into the texts, already ridiculous in themselves, therefore contributed to increasing even more their congeniality.


For the treatment of sciatica we find, among the various therapeutic suggestions, hanging the patient upside down from a wild plant. It is certainly not to be excluded that Croce was inspired by the tarot card in this.


ALLA SCIATICA                                                 FOR SCIATICA

Recipe                                                                   (Prescription)


Songia di cervo,                                                  (Deer fat)

Il salario di un Servo,                                        (The salary of a servant) 

E foglia d’ortica,                                                 (And nettle leaf)

Una carrozza antica,                                         (An old carriage)

Un mattarazzo,                                                   (A mattress)

E passa per sedazzo                                           (And pass through a sieve)

Queste cose sudette,                                          (These aforementioned things)

Poi metti le manette                                          (Then put handcuffs)

Al pover paziente,                                              (On the poor patient)

E fallo star pendente                                         (And let him be hanged)

Co’ piedi in alto à una pianta salvatica,         (With feet high from a wild plant),

Che così guarirà dalla sciatica.                        (Which will thus cure the sciatica)




1 - Descrittione| Della Vita | Del Croce; | Con vna esortatione fatta ad esso, da va- | rij Animali ne’ loro linguaggi, à do- | uer lasciare da parte la Poesia. | E dui Indici, l’uno delle opere fatte stampare | da lui fin’ad hora; l’altro di quelle che | vi sono da stampare. | Opere curiose, e belle. | In Bologna, M. DC. VIII. | Appresso Bortolomeo Cocchi, al Pozzo Rosso. | Con licenza de’ Superiori (Description of the Croce’s Life, with an exhortation by various animals in their languages​​ addressed to him, having put aside Poetry. And two Indexes: one of the works​​| printed by him till now; the other of those works which are yet to be printed. Curious and beautiful works. In Bologna, M. DC. VIII. Printed by Bortolomeo Cocchi, at the Red Wall. With license of the Superiors).
2 - Le sottilissime astutie di Bertoldo, dove si scorge un villano accorto e sagace, il quale dopo varii e rari accidenti a lui intervenuti, alla fine per il suo ingegno raro e acuto vien fatto uomo di corte e regio consigliere, opera nova e di grandissimo gusto, Milano, Pandolfo Malatesta, 1608, in die octobris (The very subtle cunning of Bertoldo, where you can see a shrewd and sagacious peasant, who, after several rare accidents happen to him, at the end is made courtier and royal advisor for his rare and acute intelligence, a new work in the best taste, Milan, Pandolfo Malatesta, 1608, in October).
3 - First published in Verona, then reprinted in Bologna by V. Benacci (without date)
4 - The poem was highlighted by Alberto Trauzzi, Bologna nelle opere di G. C. Croce  (Bologna in the works of G. C. Croce) in "Atti e memorie. Deputazione di storia patria per le provincie di Romagna" (Acts and memories. Printed by the Deputation of the history of the fatherland for the provinces of Romagna), Bologna, 1905. Some authors doubt that this work is by Croce.
5 - In this regard see the article Triumphs, Trionfini and Trionfetti.
6 - The Know it all (Il Cacasenno), written by Adriano Banchieri, was published together with Bertoldo and Bertoldino by Croce in 1620 on the occasion of the first printing of these tales, with the title Bertoldo, Bertoldino and Cacasenno.
7 - In this regard read the iconological essay The Magician.
8 - See the essays About the Etymology of Tarot, Tarot in Literature II, and Scrivendo e Taroccando
9 - See the paragraph “Primero against Tarot” in Tarot and Literature II
10 - AboutAnton Francesco Grazzini, called Lasca, see the essays Triumphs, Trionfini and Trionfetti and Tarot in Literature II
11 - Bologna, Bartolomeo Cocchi, 1610.

12 - Florence, Alle Scale di Badia, 1608.

13 - Bologna, Heirs of Gio. Rossi. MDXCVIII. 

14 - Bologna, Heirs of Gio. Rossi, 1601.
15 - Ferrara, Vittorio Baldini, 1601.
16 - Bologna, Bartolomeo Cochi, 1610.

17 - In Bologna, by Costantino Pisarri. under the Schools with the banner of S. Michele, s.d. (undated), s.n.p. (without page numbers).

Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  - © All rights reserved 2009