Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Mundus Alter et Idem

Tarot and utopia


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

by Bishop Joseph Hall


The composition L'Hospidale de Pazzi Incurabili by Garzoni had an extraordinary success, in a certain sense even more than his Piazza Universale. It was translated into French, German and English in a few years and taken as a model of structural reference by seventeenth-century culture. Among the different works inspired by this one (however we must not forget that Garzoni doubtless knew The Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant, Basle, 1494, by which he was conditioned) an important one for our studies is the Mundus Alter et Idem by Jospeh Hall composed in the Latin language in 1605.

Hall was an Elizabethan satirical poet and author of moral and theological poems in Jacobean age. He became Anglican bishop of Exeter in 1627 and of Norwich in 1641. The work cited was considered not only a writing of pleasant literature but also a text of moral and civil engagement.

The first edition was published in London by Humphrey Lownes (even if the indicated city is Frankfurt) and on that occasion Hall used the pseudonym of Mercurius Britannicus: MVNDVS ALTER ET IDEM / Sive  / Terra Australis ante / hac semper incognita longis / itineribus peregrini Aca: / demici nuperrime / lustrata / Auth: Mercurio Britannico. / FRANCOFVRTI APVD / Haeredes Ascanij de Rinialme.

Belonging to the most fondamentalist Puritanism, the layout of the work is probably due to Hall's felt necessity to engage in controversy with the English Jesuits, and Book III it is particularly sour and prickly against the Pope and the Roman clergy, a criticism in the present work effected through the pretence of a society distant in space, as can be deduced from the title. At the same time the writing has utopian values where the trip of Hall in search of Eutopia, good place, is expressed through a trip toward Outopia, nonexistent place, but the search of a happy if imaginary land won't lead to positive results.

Mercurius, after two years navigating the southern seas, arrives in the land of Crapulia. In some provinces the people are all irascible and lunatic, or else are horrid and deformed; dedicated to sins, the schools are taverns where the science of drinking and eating is taught. Elsewhere, where a democratic regime of women is in force, they only learned to command and not to obey; men work, women stand guard over them, the first getting up and the second sleeping. From his imaginary tale it can be deduced that the author believed that the world was not to be changed, since the utopian one would have been still worse.

Skipping the most philosophical aspects to come back to the theme of tarot, it is necessary to follow the trip of Mercurius who, reaching Orgilia (1), dukedom of Moronia Aspera, arid earth, sandy, sterile, meets just irascible people, hot tempered and full of fury, governed by the Duke of Courroux (2), a very cruel tyrant.

“None of these men ventures anywhere except when loaded down with weapons, so that even he who may have few clothes will, nevertheless, not be without all sorts of arms. That man, no less than if he had been hired as Mars's porter, carries a musket on his right arm, a cudgel to on his left, a sword on one side, a dagger on the other, and a bow and a quiver on his back wherever he travels. Anyone who meets him going along the road, unless he yield the road a long way off, must prepare himself for battle, or death is inevitable. It is a rare trip without a wound or even a murder; and once someone kills a person he tears him to pieces most ravenously, for the citizens always feed on raw flesh, usually human, which they reckon among the most splendid of feasts, and they intoxicate themselves with the drained-off blood. There are no laws there: by force and by arms are all things decided. An injury suffered is either revenged or endured. Only this one rule governs, obtained from ancient law: "Conquer and enjoy".

Dueling is permitted either to seek revenge, or to recover what is yours, or to seize what is someone else's. But if more than two assemble and join in the struggle, whoever remains alive is bound over into the Duke's custody. It is evident that this is an astute decree from the Duke, since it opportunely guards against the seeds of conspiracies, and under this pretext he procures better food for his table. The Duke's seat is called Tarochium (3), a vast city but completely made of wood, for the tyrant would permit it to be constructed from no other material, lest it be impossible to have it burned at his whim when the citizens have offended.

"No one lives here, except blacksmiths, executioners, and butchers in whose shops hang the legs of men, no differently than the legs of swine or cattle hang with us. To this city flows the torrential River Zornus (4), which they say runs even in the middle of winter, emanating heat like a mineral spring and giving off ill-smelling vapors” (Book Three: Moronia. Chapter 5: Orgilia, the Second Province of Moronia Aspera. Verses 6-34).

From what is written it is evident that Jospeh Hall calling the ducal Centre of Orgilia Tarochium barrowed the meaning of “crazy of tarot” that Garzoni in his Discourse XIII of The Hospital of Incurable Madmen had given to those people who go “taroccando bestially with their brain”, meaning those who, gaming with their own brain as with tarot cards, suddenly ignite themselves from anger.

The passage by Hall has in addition a precise comparison to the real life of gamers, who everyday went to the tavern armed and who often quarrelled among themselves,  causing in their state of anger frequent killings, one of the many reasons for which gaming was condemned by the Church.


1 - Orgilia: land of "orgies", in the sense of chaos.
2 - Dux de Courroux, from the French for despise, scorn.
3 - Tarochium: city inhabited by the “madmen of tarocco”, that is, by angry people. 
4 - Zornus: from the German “Der Zorn”, that is anger, wrath.

 Copyright  by Andrea Vitali  © All rights reserved 2003