Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

Wise Madness, Pleasant Madness

The Order of Triumphs in a work about madness dated to 1607


 Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

              Pazzo, ben pazzo è quel che la pazzia                       Crazy, really crazy, is the one who craziness
              pazzamente dirà - pazzo - esser pazza;                    crazily will say - crazy - being crazy;
              figlia è di buon furor, non di follia                            It is the daughter of a good rage, not of folly
              ch'altrui fa saggia, e non impazza.                            that other believes wise, and not raving.

              S'impazza, impazza sol di frenesia,                          To go cray, raving only from the frenzy
              onde il saggio fra i pazzi non sollazza;                     so that the wise among the crazy is not amused, 
              ognun dunque dirà: Pazzia mia saggia,                   so everyone will say: my wise Craziness,
              saggio è no, pazzo sì chi non t'assaggia.                  is not wise, but crazy, if not the one who nibble you. (1)

Antonio Maria Spelta (1559-1632) was an historian, literary man and poet, remembered above all for the work Historia de fatti notabili occorsi nell'universo, & in particolare del Regno de Gothi, de Lombardi, de i Duchi di'anno VL sino al MDIIIC. Nel qual tempo fiorirono i vescovi, che resero la Chiesa dell'antichissima, e real città di Pavia, le cui vite brevemente si narrano (History of notable facts that happened in the universe, & particularly of the Kingdom of Goths, of Lombardy, of the Dukes of Milan... of the year VL actually MDIIIC. In that time the bishops bloomed who made the Church of the ancient and royal city of Pavia, whose lives are briefly narrated) (Pavia, 1603). The work contains descriptions of the triumphal entrances and displays of Maria of Austria, Charles' V daughter, in Pavia in 1581; of the Bishop Alessandro Sauli in 1594; of Margherita of Austria in 1599; a chapter about the Turkish invasions, a genealogy of the Emperors and a eulogy of Isabella Andreini, a famous actress of the epoch (2).

His work in two parts, Saggia Pazzia, Piacevole Pazzia (Wise Madness, Pleasant Madness), published in Pavia in 1607, attracted the attention of many, especially that of the author's friends, among whom was his publisher (3)  He, in the dedication to the count palatine Cesare Crospelli in the preface to the first edition, considered the Wise Madness "full of science, of doctrine, of moral instructions" and The Pleasant Madness even more appreciated for the concepts selected and for the way in which the various points had been expressed.

Giovan Battista Strambico, a poet as  well, dedicated the following sonnet to his friend:

Saggio scrittore che con sacrato ingegno
a pien puoi dimostrar quale or sia
vera di tutto il mondo la pazzia
con vago stile e con sicuro ingegno.

Wise writer who, with sacred knowledge,
can fully demonstrate the madness
true of the whole world the madness
with graceful style and sure talent.

We certainly cannot doubt that the publisher was not enthusiastic about Spelta, since he added to it, writing of him, "superb pomp of art, proud monster of nature, author of great name and marvelous style".

But beyond these praises, Spelta remains an inferior writer, with impure language and convoluted style, so much so that the text is many times difficult reading. For this reason we have preferred for this examination to rely on the modern translation edited by Attilio Lo Monaco Aprile in the first years of the XX century.

It is undeniable that L'Hospidale de Pazzi Incurabili (The Hospital of Incurable Madmen) (4) by Thomaso Garzoni of Bagnacavallo (1586) and the Lof der Zotheid (The Praise of Folly) by Erasmus (1511) served to inspire him. From the work by Garzoni, Spelta takes the theme of the hospital where crazy players would have been hospitalized, while the Praise of Folly has been ransacked for themes and concepts. Besides this there is in common the principle that what men do is madness, as life is a game of madness. Spelta, to whom must be granted a more careful psychological analysis of the social classes involved than Erasmus did, is absolutely a Catholic, unlike the Dutch humanist, who doesn't miss an opportunity to attack the Church, its religious orders and their discipline. Spelta's Catholicism gives really resounding results for the subject of our interest: proceeding to list the Tarot Triumphs beginning from the World, after he reaches the card of Temperance he ignores the Pope and the Popess (we know that the Church didn't like to see them inserted in a deck of cards) and goes directly to the figure of the Emperor and then lists the Empress, the Magician and the Fool. 

While in the Wise Madness passions dominate the scene, all conceived as wise manifestations of human nature, in the Pleasant Madness the author indulges in men's weaknesses: so we find the examination of persons in love, the ambitious, the hunters, the magicians, the necromancers, the diviners, the alchemists, the astrologers, the pedants, the privileged, the wise, the players, and many others, which the author investigates sometimes with grotesque attitudes of derision.  

These are some of the matters treated in the two parts of the work:

Wise Madness

Origin and merit of madness
The thousand madnesses of women
Madness makes men bold
Madness is an instrument of honour and glory
Madness makes men happy

Pleasant Madness

Madness of the astrologers
Madness of the magicians, necromancers, diviners
Madness of the players
Madness of the lovers
Madness of the privileged

Coming to the text, here following we quote a passage drawn by Origine e benemerenze della Pazzia (Origin and merits of Madness) which opens the first part of the work dedicated to the wise madness.

"...Socrates, when he suspended his high contemplations, didn't disdain to amuse himself with children, riding canes....... Domitian, according to what Svetonius writes, was accustomed to set apart an hour every day in a secret room, where he attended to nothing else but catching flies, and then pierced them with a sharp dagger. One way like another, and a funny way to employ the hours of rest, is that of laughing at human madness, to examine all the pleasures that humankind usually draws from madness. There is nothing bad in this! Didn't the ancient writers perhaps praise, one the fevers, one the flies, one old age, one death? Didn't Homer sing of the war of the mice against the frogs? Didn't Virgil praise the mosquito? Didn't Ovid celebrate the flea? And in recent times have not other chosen talents perhaps celebrated the plague, primero (5), chess, artichokes, cheese and other things? So it cannot be a reason for scandal to celebrate madness, when we think that it largely dominates the things of the world and deserves encomium and particular applause for the many goods and pleasures that it gives.

"Madness governs us, attenuates our gravest anxieties, estranges from us our harshest preoccupatons, consoles men and satisfies women, tempers the bitterness of our lives, inducing us to make hundreds of castles in the sky... The poets, who have always had great familiarity with madness, wanted it to be born from Pluto, god of wealth, and from the attractive and pleasant goddess of youth, in the fortunate islands, where are known neither old age, nor poverty, nor worries, where joy dominates, pleasures triumph, the consolations abound and amusements don't lack, where there are violets of every sort, roses without thorns, fragrant grasses, trees full of sweet fruits, where, in short, eternal spring blooms. Lady Madness therefore is noble, as much on the part of her father as on the part of her mother, and even from her native country. Coming to the world, it filled humanity with extreme joy and, to keep it in continuous joy, was accompanied immediately by Venus and Bacchus, scorning every work and abandoning itself to every sort of enjoyment. There is not therefore anyone who doesn't have great benefits from madness".

In the second part of the work, the one dedicated to Pleasant Madness, we find the "Pazzia dei Giocatori" (Madness of the Players), where the author, after the inevitable condemnation of gambling, proceeds with a list of sixteen vices that the game itself promotes. Among these we find as ninth the sin against mercy; the tenth one is usury; the eleventh is contempt of the Church, "since the player doesn't consider its prohibitions"; the twelfth is scandal, "because many people go wrong, while watching others play"; the thirteenth is lying, "because often the player, boasting, says he has won, while he has lost"; the fourteenth is hate "because the one who loses ignites hatred against the one who beat him and emptied his purse"; the fifteenth is unfaithfulness, "the deception committed in counting and calculating badly"; the sixteenth and last one is anger, "because the player gets angry, threatens, swears against God and the Saints, sometimes beats himself in desperation, tears his beard and hair, beats his head against the table, does other crazy things and, coming home, beats his wife and children and is bestial with the whole family".

Then he goes on to tell the story of an archer who wanted to punish God for having lost the game:

"We read of a certain archer who, having played and lost, got angry, prepared his bow and shot an arrow toward the sky, as if he wanted to take revenge on God. And the arrow came back down all covered in fresh blood and fell in front of the archer's face, who, seeing that miracle, repented, contrite, and declared he did not to want to play anymore".


Continuing the examination, the author lists madness in the hope of victory, the loss of money, the desire for revenge, etc, etc. coming to the following conclusion: "Therefore it doesn't seem to me that people [the players] are worthy of being put among the pleasant, calm and happy crazy persons, of which I intend to treat, but that they deserve rather to be confined with the raging ones in the hospice of the mad, to be cared for and cured of their frenzy".

At this point the most interesting discourse starts, since the author, besides reporting a list of disreputable games (6), among which is tarot, lists their order, similar to the one quoted by Garzoni in his Piazza Universale (Universal Plaza) (7), with the exception of the lack of the Pope and the Popess for the reasons  expressed above.

"Here [in the hospice of crazy people], they will have time to play morra at their pleasure, cards, common or tarot, where can be seen coins, cups, swords, batons, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. They will be able to see themselves reflected (8) in the king, in the queen, in the knight, in the page, in the world, in justice, in the angel, in the sun, in the moon, in the stars, in the fire, in the devil – could he take them! - in death - could it remove them from the world! - in the hanged man, their symbol or portrait, in the old man, in the wheel, in fortitude, in love, in the chariot, in temperance, in the emperor, in the empress; they will be able, if they want, to change their food, take the elegant cards, with the hearts, the flowers, the pikes [le picche]. In these infamous games, these misguided people want to spend their time, now in public, now secretly, playing trionfetti, trappola, bassetta, cricca, trenta e quaranta (thirty and forty), trentuno (thirty-one), banco fallito (failed bank), chiamare (calling), primiera (primero), salondrone, carta del mercante (card of the merchant), dar cartaccia (give wastepaper), and other games of which those write who treat of such art" 

Order of the Triumphs cited

Hanged Man
Old Man
Pope                           (absent)
Popess                        (absent)
Magician                  (absent)
Fool                            (absent)

Spelta then reports two exemples of those damned to hell because of this vice, justifying this insertion with the words "since examples give much benefit, we don't keep silent about what should frighten them and estrange them from the game". Of these we report the second,  as it is very much representative of the attribute of "Perditorum raptor" (kidnapper of the lost) attributed to the Devil, as we find in the card of that same name in the Leber Tarot of the XVI century. It is of interest to notice the double aspect of Pluto: in the Leber card, since God is king of Hell, kidnapper of damned souls, and in this work "father of madness", he is also king of riches (9).

«We also read that in Colonia there was a man who was entirely devoted to games, especially to dice, so that all day and all night he didn't do anything else but play. When he went around, he always had a purse of money, and when he met someone, he invited him to play, in which he was fortunate. Listen, please. One night the devil went to his house in the form of a player and cheater, with a pouch of money under his armpit. He sat down and put on the table a great quantity of money, and acted liberal or generous. He takes the dice, throws, wins, throws, makes good points, wins; and the one who wanted to beat others never saw a good hand, because he was defeated and lost most of his money, while the other yielded to no creature in cleverness. His anger mounting, he said to the swaggerer [bravo], or, to say it better, player, said: "Would you be the devil?" "Enough, enough!" the devil answered, "matins has come: it's time to go, brother". And seized him violently, brought him to the roofs and dragged him in such way that the wretch left his guts on the tiles. What happened to his body is not known, no one has ever been able to know where the devil threw it. The following morning the bowels were found in the house and were buried in the cemetery. You will be really crazy, therefore, if you don't propose to leave this bad practice, so harmful for your house and yourself, since for the game you will lose your soul, your body, your things».



- Opening sonnet of Il Follettobizzarro (The strange goblin), with the subtitle "Dalla rocca Incantata di Circe maga furiosa ai signori protomastri e arcisavii" (From the Enchanted fortress of Circe, raving sorceress, to the masters and very wise gentlemen), first subject of the Pleasant Madness.
2 - Besides being an actress, she also was a poetess and writer. Together with her husband Francesco Andreini, she acted in the Company of Comici Gelosi (Jealous Comedians), which in 1589 was invited to present La Pazzia di Isabella (The Madness of Isabella) in Florence, on the occasion of the marriage between Cristina of Aragon and Ferdinando I de' Medici.
3 - Ottavio Bordoni.
4 - Close examination of this work at the link
- The author here refers to the work by Berni Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera (Chapter of the Game of the Primero) (1526). About this see the essay Tarot in Literature II
6 - Among these also the game of Trionfetti to which we have dedicated a specific article.
7 - Apart from some omissions, the list slavishly repeats the one cited by Garzoni.  About this subject see the essay Triumphs, Trionfini and Trionfetti.
8 - This use of the verb "specchiarsi", "see onself reflected", had been used, with reference to Petrarch’s Triumphs, by Burchiello in one of his sonnets. See the essay Tarot in Literature I
9 - The  Leber card of the Devil has been discussed in the iconological essay related to this Triumph.