Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on the Tarot

My Heart has become a Taroch

The Order of Triumphs in a Villanelle of the XVI century


Translation revised by Michael S. Howard, Feb. 2012

The theme of the heart wounded by the arrows of love is usual in the medieval and renaissance iconography and literature, inspiring the sonnet Un jour, l'aveugle Amour, Diane et ma maistresse (A day, blind Love, Diane and my mistress) by Philippe Desportes, included in his Diane published in 1575, and a second one by Gaspar Gil Polo Probaron en el campo su destreza / Diana, Amor y la pastora mía  (They tried their skill in the field/ Diana, Love and my sheperdess) included in the Diana Enamorada of 1564. John Lyly composed the song Cupid and My Campaspe Playd, which he inserted in the comedy Campaspe (III, v. 62-75) published in 1584 after probably having been presented at the Elizabethan court in the theatrical season of 1583-84 (1).

While in the sonnets by Desportes and Gil Polo the challenge, in a battlefield among Love, Diane and the beautiful young shepherdess Argia, consists in throwing arrows against a heart-shaped target, in Lyly the target disappears and the challenge is not made with arrows, but with cards:

Cupid and my Campaspe played
At cards for kisses, Cupid paid:
He stakes his Quiver, Bow and Arrows,
His mother's doves, and team of sparrows;
Loses them too; then down he throws
The coral of his lip, the rose
Growing on 's cheek (but none knows how);
With these, the crystal of his brow,
And then the dimple of his chin:
All these did my Campaspe win.
At last he set her both his eyes,
She won, and Cupid blind did rise.
                O Love! has she done this to thee?
                What shall (alas!) become of me?

In a Villanelle included in the work Corona / Delle Napolitane / A Tre Et A Quattro Voci, / Di diversi eccellentissimi / Musici / Nuovamente poste in luce (Crown/of the Neapolitans / for three and four voices / of various and very excellent / musicians / newly put into the light) (Venice, 1570) by Mazzone Marc'Antonio, the battlefield becomes the beloved's face (front, hair, eyes, eyelashes) that we can see triumphing at the end.

Amor m'ha desfidat' alla battaglia
     La fronte di Madonna sarà il campo
     E temo e spero et ardo e non ho scampo.
I bei capelli d'or faran la corda,
     E li sguardi saette, e i cigli gl'archi,
     Gl'occhi lucenti archibugetti carchi.
Io porto per trombetta alti sospiri,
     Humiltà per impresa et ella altiera
     Ha l'arme nude e sdegna la bandiera.
Spuntando il Sol comincerem l'assalto
     Benché alla donna mia, leggiadra e audace
     Mi renderò gridando pace pace.

Love challenges me to the battle
     Milady's front will be the field
     and I fear and hope and burn and have no escape.
Her beautiful golden hair will be the rope,
     her gazes will be the arrows; her lashes will be the bows,
     her starry eyes, small arquebuses ready to shoot.
In place of trumpets, I have deep sighs,
     Humility for my emblem, and she, haughty,
     bears no emblem and disdains the flag.
We'll begin the assault at dawn
     and at the end, to my bold and graceful woman
     I will surrender, crying: peace, peace.

If we have expanded this examination, it is to underline the existence of a series of villanelles of the XVI century in which the theme of the love challenge in gaming recurs, by which, as we find, Lyly's song seems to be inspired.  (2).

The field of the love battle is the chess board in the villanelle Scachier è diventato lo mio core (My heart has become a chess board) (3), and Tu giochi a scacco Amore (You put Love to be won in playing chess):

Scachier è diventato lo mio core,
     E di nero, e di bianco, e nello gioco,
     La Dama, con il Re son fiamma e foco.
I Rocchi (1) sono i miei saldi pensieri,
     E le speranze mie son due delfini,
     Che per traverso vanno li meschini.
Sdegno nel petto sono i due cavalli,
     Che per quartero assaltano sto core,
     E le pedine son pianto e dolore.
Amor gioca con meco, e va cercando
     E non m'aiuta tua beltà divina,
     Di darmi scaccomatto di pedina.

My heart has become a chess board,
     of black and white, and in the game,
     the Lady, with the King are flame and fire.
The Rooks (1) are my strong thoughts,
     and my hopes are two dauphins, (2)
     that move diagonally, the wretched things.
The two horses are the disdain in my breast,
     that ceaselessly (3) assaults my heart,
     and the pawns are my weeping and pain.
Love plays with me and tries,
     and your divine beauty does not help me,
     to checkmate me with his pawns.

(1) Rooks
= Rocchi, i.e. Towers
(2) dauphins =Bishops
(3) ceaselessly = per quartero, per quartiere 

Tu giochi a scacco Amore,
     Per tormi a me li Rocchi del mio core;
     E cerchi in un sol tratto
     Vitorioso darmi un Scaccomatto.
Io spingo le Pedine,
     Delli mei pianti innanti a questo fine.
     Per far prigion la Damma
     Ch'alla battaglia ogn'hor seco mi chiama,
Ma trovo due Alfieri,
     Che ribattono indietro i miei pensieri,
     A tal che più non posso
     Con li cavalli miei giongerli adosso.
Tal che senza disegno,
     Se non m'agiuta il Re potente e degno,
     Il mio Campo anderà a sacco
     Et io morendo non dirò più Scacco.

You play with love as at chess,
     to storm the strongholds of my heart;
     and you try, with just one move,
     victorious, to checkmate me.
I push forward the Pawns,
     of my weeping before my end comes.
     To imprison the Lady
     who every hour calls me to battle,
I find two Bishops,
     who drive my thoughts back,
     but I can no longer
    place them with my horses.
So with no strategy,
     if the King, powerful and worthy, does not help me,
     my Field will be destroyed
     and I, dying, won't say checkmate any more.

Finally we arrive at a really interesting villanelle, with the title Taroch è diventato lo mio core (My heart has become a Tarot) in which the love skirmish is told through the figures of a Tarot deck. The work deserves great attention for its literary aspect and for the order of Triumphs as well, of Type B that has the World as superior Triumph, followed by Justice and the Angel (4). The position of the Fool at the opening of the work is due obviously to exigencies of a literary character, while the expressions "Wicked Fate" to indicate Justice and "Inflamed House" for the Tower card, although appearing to be uncommon, are easy to understand.

Taroch è diventato lo mio core
     Mato va per il mondo, ahi sorte fella
     Con gionto Angelo, Sole, Luna, e Stella.
Errando fugge l'infiammata casa
     Il Diavolo disprezza, e morte chiama
     Ch'apicato finir la vita brama. .
Il Gobbo gli fa luce acciò la Ruota
     Per forza lo conduce in man d'Amore
     Che il car solo trionfa a tutte l'hore. .
La Temperanza, Papi, e Bagatino,
     Circondano d'intorno a stò mio core
     Si che Tarocchi è fatto per tuo amore.

My heart has become a Tarot
     Fool that goes around in the world, oh wicked fate
     together with the Angel, the Sun, the Moon and the Star.
Wandering it escapes from the inflamed house
     despises the Devil and calls death
     as hanged it desires to end its life.
The Hermit lights its path until the Wheel
     with force leads it into the hands of Love
     because only the Chariot always triumphs.
Temperance, the Popes and the Magician,
     circulate around my heart
     so that the game of tarot is made for your love.

Used terms and their order

Fool                        Mato
World                    Mondo
Justice                  Sorte fella
Angel                    Angelo
Sun                        Sole
Moon                     Luna
Star                       Stella
Tower                   Infiammata casa
Devil                     Diavolo
Death                   Morte
Hanged Man      Apicato
Hermit                 Gobbo
Wheel                   Ruota
Strenght              Forza
Love                      Amore
Chariot                Car
Temperance       Temperanza
Popes                     Papi
Magician             Bagatino

Before proceeding with another text, we would like to underline the importance of the villanelle in the European landscape. The "villanesca alla napoletana", or "canzone alla napoletana", or "canzone villanesca", or "villotta alla napoletana", or "aria alla napoletana" o simply "napoletana" (The "villanelle Neapolitan", or "Neapolitan song," or "villanesque song", or "Neapolitan air", or simply "Neapolitan"), is presented, according to the common, even if inexact, definition, as a popular, lower class poetico-musical composition sung with instrumental accompaniment. In Naples "alli XXIII de Octobr. MDXXXVII" (on October 23rd 1807) were published "novamente" (newly by Giovanni of Colonia the Canzone Villanesche / Alla Napolitana, / Libro Primo / Tenor (Villanelle Songs / the Neapolitan way / Volume One / Tenor), a work considered the birth of this particular poetico-musical form (5), a form destined to share with the madrigal the field of chamber music during the XVI and XVII century. Both genres received wide popularity in Italy and other countries, so much that in the years 1588-1590, Federico Lindner, publishing in Nuremberg his Gemma Musicalis Selectissimi Varii Stli Cantiones, added "Vulgo Italis Madrigali et Napolitane dicuntur" (6).

The last text we report is the villanelle "Io viddi tre giocare alla primiera," (I saw three playing primero) in which a battle, not of love anymore, develops with cards among an ass, a cricket and a cat:

Io viddi tre giocare alla primiera,
     Un Asino, un Grillo, con un Gatto;
     Ma l'Asino al fin restò disfatto.
Giocavano patacche come pera,
     E facevan nel resto al primo tratto;
     Ma l'Asino al fin restò disfatto.
Dando le carte fece frusso Grillo,
     Cinquantacinque poi fece lo Gatto;
     Ma l'Asino al fin restò disfatto.
Dando le carte fece frusso Grillo,
     All'hora l'Asinel gettò uno strillo,
     Guarda, che sorte c'ha sto piccirillo.

I saw three playing primero,
     an Ass, a Cricket, with a Cat;
     but the Ass in the end was undone.
They started playing for small stakes,
     and did in the rest as as the beginning;
     but the Ass in the end was undone.
When the cards were dealt the Cricket chirped,
     then the Cat made fifty-five [in Italian, the number sounds like a cat's purr];
     but the Ass in the end was undone.
When the cards were dealt the Cricket chirped,
     and now the Ass let out a wail:
     See, how fate has this one being an infant.


1 - The hypothesis that the sonnet by Lyly was derived from the one by Desportes, was advanced by R. W. Bond in the article Lyly's Song in "Review of English Studies", VI, 1930, page 296. At its turn, the quoted composition by Gil Polo was considered the model that inspired  the one by Desportes. Cfr: E. G. Mathews, Gil Polo, Desportes and Lyly's «Cupid and my Campaspe», in "Modern Language Notes", Dec. 1941, LVI, pages 606-607.
2 - Cfr. Maria V. Lorenzoni, La fonte della canzone "Cupid and My Campaspe" di John Lyly (The source of the song "Cupid and My Campaspe by John Lyly), in "Annali della Facoltà di Lingue e Letterature Straniere di Cà Foscari" (Annals of the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature of Cà Foscari), Venice, 1970, vol. IX, pages 168-169.
3 - This villanelle was set to music by Stefano Felis. There is also an earlier Sicilian version of this villanelle, entitled  Fu diventatu in iocu di scaccheri (It became a game of chess), Ricc. 2774, cc.72v-73r, while Cosimo Bottegari made a version for voice and lute contained in Arie e Canzoni in musica di Cosimo Bottegari, Modena, Estense Library, Ms. C 311, 1574.
4 - About the different kinds of Orders, see the article The Order of Triumphs.
5 - The very rare exemplar is now stored in the Herzogliche Biblioteck in Wolfenbüttel.
6 - Cfr. Bianca Maria Galante, Le Villanelle alla Napolitana (The Neapolitan Villanelle), Florence, 1954, Introduction, page X.