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Description of the Michelino deck
- translation of the original text from Martiano da Tortona from ca. 1425



A TREATISE ON THE DEIFICATION OF SIXTEEN HEROES, by Marziano de Santo Alosio, to the Most Illustrious and Most Magnificent Prince, Filippo Maria, Duke of Milan: the preface happily begins:

Seeing that it is inevitable for virtuous toil to be weakened by fatigue, if the time be excessive, it might be asked whether it be fitting for a man to find recreation from the weariness of virtue in some kind of game. For while playing, nothing tiresome or difficult is encountered which obliges him to dwell in any way upon human concerns. But whenever any game is seen by many to be childish and not to have sufficient maturity, nor to be conducive to happiness (to which our wishes in everything should be directed), it is by this firm reasoning to be supposed that a serious man should abstain from playing. Certainly, the virtuous man, who happens to be ruled by right reason, should be able to remain firm in ethical conduct and in honourable reasoning during these activities. Thus I settled upon that sort of game, which would be accommodated to the place and person, of such character that it somehow shows its powers, and would also be enjoyable, and that it be fitted to the serious man wearied of virtue, and that without much difficulty the use of it will be free of circumstances of debts, and that it will be conducive to happiness; as I am truly persuaded that the noble working of the intellect of he who was fatigued would thereby be restored to excellence.
Consider therefore this game, most illustrious Duke, following a fourfold order, by which you may give attention to serious and important things, if you play at it. Sometimes it is pleasing to be thus diverted, and you will be delighted therein. And it is more pleasing, since through the keeness of your own acumen you dedicated several to be noted and celebrated Heroes, renowned models of virtue, whom mighty greatness made gods, as well as to ensure their remembrance by posterity. Thus by observation of them, be ready to be aroused to virtue.
Indeed the first order, of virtues, is certain: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury and Hercules. The second of riches, Juno, Neptune, Mars and Aeolus. The third of virginity or continence: from Pallas, Diana, Vesta and Daphne. The fourth however is of pleasure: Venus, Bacchus, Ceres and Cupid. And subordinated to these are four kinds of birds, being suited by similarity. Thus to the rank of virtues, the Eagle; of riches, the Phoenix; of continence, the Turtledove; of pleasure, the Dove. And each one obeys its own king. However, the order of these Birds is, although none of their type has right over another, yet this arrangement they have alternately – Eagles and Turtledoves lead from many to few: that is to say it goes better for us when many cultivate virtue and continence; but for Phoenices and Doves, the few rule over the many, which is to say that, the more the followers of riches and pleasure are visible, the more they lead to the deterioration of our station. Every one of the gods, however, is above all the orders of birds and the ranks of kings. But the gods are held to this law among themselves: that who will be first designated below, he should lead all the others following in sequence. And although it is well known that many gods were of the very same name, such as three Jupiters: two of Arcadia, the third of Crete; four Apollos; three Dianas, and similarly of the rest; by hating to delight in such questions, it will not be rendered excessively long, as it is held that only one of the very same name was assumed to deification, and one only the cause of perpetual fame. I will therefore make only a brief mention of these conditions, by which they are described; in which, according to their distinguishing quality, by difference of image and subject matter, it is permitted to vary a little in the writing style.

JOVE

Jove, who was the King of Athens while antiquity was still rough and wild. For the race of man, there was yet no justice, and man followed savage rites; Jupiter established the first laws. And he instituted matrimony, and banished the abominable feasts on human flesh, and forbade them by strict rigour. He induced the first society and friendship, and taught to men what is most necessary.
He commanded the first temples and altars to the immortal gods to be built, and to venerate them with the highest dignity. And the men asked the gods anything of the good that they desired. And if he deemed it worthy he would himself fulfil what they had prayed for. The inventor of wars, he overcame the Giants, mockers of the gods, and afflicted them with onerous punishment. Therefore on account of his outstanding virtue, the former age venerated him, and he was esteemed by the people as a god. And he was called Good Jove, and temples were dedicated to him, to the perpetual memory of his glory. Thus holding the divine honour, his name was received by posterity in the highest veneration. He is seated on a starry throne, with regal emblems. Four stars appearing above, attend him, while by the right part a splendour of right reason of the conduct of humanity, in which customs he instructed ingnorant men, the first leaders of the state. At the left that light by which he published the inviolable laws and he decreed the society which would be cherished by humankind, being guarded by equality. On the lower right side appears a burning star like Mars, which he lets loose frightfully if scorned, but especially so that the republic may be preserved. How the illustrious example of Jupiter shines for men! Who for the sake of sacred worship happily defeated the blaspheming Giants by war. To the left, a thunderbolt, which at one time he often used to protect his sacred laws against so many lustful and violent men.

JUNO

It is just that Juno, the opulent, the consort of Jupiter, fathered by Saturn, and next in rank, be revered; at the first she admonished the young girls with the most profound authority, as they carried the sacred modesty of virginity to husbands for the duty of matrimony; and then to preserve chaste beds, and preferring modest lives polluted by not so much as a thought. Indeed, this is the particular and unequalled glory of brides, and once extinguished, the rest of the dowries of mind and body remain in vain. Her majesty being so greatly esteemed by the Roman city, and such her dignity, that they maintained Chastity itself to rest on the seat of the Capitoline Juno. And for the protection of the nuptial beds, they would libate the divine and sacred honours. On the island of Samos, where she was brought up, the first wonderful and famous temple was built to her; to whom, after being popularly promoted to the rank of divinty, because first, the women kindled the excellent praises of chastity, the lawful prayers were undertaken, and the pledges were paid. Jupiter therefore put his spouse in charge of human affairs, as to whether divinity or power on the earth ought to be given to men, he wishes especially that she be asked. She is distinguished by her very dress, a spouse fitting for Jupiter. Head veiled in the manner of wives; while in itself the number of crowns indicates her to be the goddess of realms. They add a beautiful but harmful bird, covered in eyed feathers; because rich men are adorned, but harmful, and the potentate requires many eyes for watching after riches and earthly things. They assign her one colourful rainbow, welcome in appearance, but quickly disappearing. For in fact it is by her agreement that the limit of time of increase in things is granted, since in a short time it can perish and flow away. In a single chariot; but the arms which our Virgil assigns, it would seem to be good to omit for the present purpose.

PALLAS

Even if her origin is less known, we receive in the third place the inventress of the olive, who is called Minerva and Pallas. Perpetual virginity is ascribed to her, and the fullest measure of arts. Spinning, weaving, chariots, and many constructions of wood they attribute to her device. She confined with remarkable vigour the movements of all these perceptible delights and charms. She was able to bring the greatest amount of usefulness and assistance to the pursuit of human affairs, always intent on searching for the good as well as for strength of spirit. She was the finder of so many of the good arts, alongside the greatest glory of virginity. The poets prefer to esteem her as the wisest, even the divinity of Wisdom: and on account of her character, they assert her birth from the top of the head of Jupiter. And it is right and very fittingly written, because every mode of duty, or political work, and civil business, would seem to have beginning and birth from Jupiter himself. She is described with a covered head, since the thoughts of philosophers are not readily apparent. In her right hand she is clasping the peace-bearing olive, which she will give for a sign in debate, in the name of the Athenians, to anyone who doubts peace itself. Pallas possesses delicacy in calm movement. Her mantle is manifolded and variegated colours, because the words of the wise receive multiple interpretations, or else the counsels of the wise vary according to needs of the time. She is holding a raised shield, showing the frightful monster Gorgon. And Pallas is equipped with the clipeum-shield, for every wise man has arms, and relies on counsel. Perseus deprived the woman Medusa of the rich kingdom of the west, and decked his head with gold to the honour of Pallas; and in thanks of this worthy action, she fastened on him the aegis.

VENUS

Golden Venus, her perfect likeness to the morning star, is seated in the fourth place; who, by the tremendous elegance of her form, was easily taken to be a goddess. By natural law, she first joined men and women, and mixed pleasure therein. Certainly, in order to preserve living species, and in order that they might multiply, the same office, if treated moderately, seems to be an utmost necessity to the world. But over time she was not content to be held by any law, but instead she was devoted to all the kinds of pleasures, especially, we learn, with the intent of love affairs. She urged them, saturated by Ceres and Bacchus, and constant feasting, music, songs, dances, and all wantonness, by which men in frenzy would ardently rush into the fire. She was held to be mighty the mother and goddess of love, that she should be able to do many things in the youth of men, as that age would be inclined to the speech of love. She always favoured lovers much disalike in temperament, so giving birth to Cupid. Naturally no one of her lovers is there who could depend on a favourably-inclined Venus, hoping to enjoy love. As a result, only in transient gloominess can delights, favours, and protection be asked from her. And as a devotee of love, having had the delights, gratitude is to be paid to her. Among the ancients, they forbade pleasure itself, this sort of Venus, and accordingly established man’s happiness; taking the thought from Epicurus, who professed pleasure to be the highest good. Although it was not this sort of pleasure that such an honourable man discussed, but of that preferable pleasure, those effects of virtues which it seemed good to follow. Described as in a sufficiently wanton condition, with free-flowing hair, breast and arms exposed, knee bare; in the showing of these, more easily to entice to love; lightly clothed by a lynx pelt, since fleeting and being in the midst of brief pleasure; through the forest with a ready bow and gathered quiver, intent on hunting – to hunt and wound the souls of men wandering in the gloom.

APOLLO

Apollo Phoebus, shinging glory of the stars, surrounded by the Pierides in Helicon, you adorn the holy mount Parnassus. Approach, fifth in the number of the gods! This one, the most desirous of glory, combines arms with wisdom and letters. There would seem to be nothing lacking to him regarding these two most excellent kinds of praise: namely he did away with the Python, a serpent of enormous size and among the most dangerous in the lands; and he assisted Jupiter with amazing strength in the war with the Giants: thus we discover Apollo. The discoverer of the art of healing, he distinguished the power of herbs with sound discernment; and humankind having thereby been healed, he enjoyed their friendship. And how much thanks is owed to his divinity when healthy; it is because of him we undertake treatments of the body. Apollo is the god of divination and wisdom, by whose auspices the augurs fortell the future. And likewise he was the inventor of songs, and the composer for the voice. Especially of him, poems are written, whose favour it was accustomed to invoke by the same. And it is not everyone, who may be confident to be able to pursue the poetic honour, the laurel and the myrtle, unless Apollo breathe their songs into the breast; let him eagerly assent to the spring of Castalia; his name being counted among the highest praises of these divine prophets, since in the presence of poets and victorious leaders, his offerings of the laurel spring up; to whom uninterrupted honours are at least to be paid, for the merits of so many things. To him was built in the first place, in the island of Delphi in the Aegean sea, a marvelous temple, from which the responses of secrets used to be given by his oracle, very often still wrapped in much obscurity. His military garments are yet retained. And he was made the head of the nine Muses, and on Mount Parnassus the Cirrhan ridge was dedicated to contemplation, from where he himself drew out the notice of the future. Head locks decorated with laurel, by both Caesarian and poetic law; and he bears a bow with arrows, since he obtained excellence by his arts.

NEPTUNE

Leave the depths of the sea and ocean, raise your head upon the waves, and urge the chariot over your Tyrrhenean sea for a brief while, O Neptune! This illustrious one, by the parents Saturn and Ops, holds sixth place among the gods. To whom, by the testimony of Virgil, the rule of the sea and its thousand beautiful islands fell by lot; by perfectly suitable custodianship, there were conceded the great number of things necessary for commerce, and the communication among distant peoples; by the benefit of these things practical knowledge was acquired by the human race. And not otherwise, and not easily, unless it were permitted by his rule, could the remote parts be approached, or foreign customs seen. He approaches the icy Don, burning Africa, Sabaea as well as Spain. Because they are from Neptune, add many examples of skills undertaken by men. For instance, noting the conflicts among men, by observing the scales of fishes, they learned how they might protect themselves with iron; by considering fishes, the art of building long boats. The shell of the tortoise was a lesson for the roofs of houses. From the valves of the shellfish we learned the bends in the folding door; and also from the oysters or shellfish, protected by means of retractable walls, how to make the steps of an extendable ladder, ascending by it to a great height. And many other artful instruments were bestowed on us by Neptune. Not without merit was it most artfully written that the cyclopses are the sons of Neptune. He is counted in the number of the gods, and held to have the power of engendering offspring to rule. And indeed Neptune was bestowed with thirty-five famous offspring. He is shown in regal condition, in the ancient manner of those commanding, seated in a golden chariot, harnessed by dolphins, suitable to his dominion, although Marro joins horses. He bears the Trident as his sceptre, to denote the threefold quality of water, which is cold, wet and diaphanous, or transparent; whose monstrous kingdom is held to have the Sirens, who by sweet song soothe sailors, summoning sleep; and having put them to sleep, afterwards bring about their shipwreck. Indeed it is understood among voluptuous women how to ensnare men by fluent and alluring speech alone, and by sweetness of words to lead them continuously to ruin. Of which women, one is graced sufficiently with looks, who blushes in maidenly modesty; while another is impudent and lustful, and a third a trickstress. And almost everyone in the country might be polluted by the common arts of these alone; nevertheless they are known to be especially cherished by the royal power of Neptune, as at Rhodes, Sicily, and Cyprus itself; and also among the Sirens Circe is said to be the most beautiful.

DIANA

Born of Jupiter, sister of Phoebus: Diana the virgin, goddess of the woods and the mountains, whose maidenly mouth, and snowy whiteness, always possess modesty. Stop for a short while the swift chariot, and, held by the rein, restrain the flying deer; and take the seventh seat of the gods. Who scarcely, or rather never, is given over, in you gleam perpetual chastity and extraordinary elegance. You always live in a well-wooded place, and are swift to flee, so that no loss of chastity might overtake courage, and with arrows you command your companions, the wild beasts, to follow in your rite. And you permit none of yours to appear to Venus, or to one sprung forth of Venus. Once, on a day tired by excessive hunting, when she had leapt into the glistening spring in order to wet her white and handsome limbs, she was seen nude by Actaeon; indignant, she splashed Actaeon with water, changing him into a stag, which his own dogs tore to pieces quickly thereafter. The Hunt indeed is a bare art, and it is to no one’s advantage to able to be clearly discerned. By the close study of which, hunters might not surprise the stag or timid animal, often to be consumed by the dogs. To whom temples for virginity and altars are dedicated. Indeed in conformity with this they call upon the Moon, since the disturbances of Venus are settled in her cold flux. In a golden two-horse chariot for majesty, in a white mantle. By this one might refer to the radiant Phoebus or to the purity of virginity. Roaming through the forest with bow and arrows, since she often hunts, or because by arrows of rays the forest is illuminated by night. Her chariot is pulled by white stags, either because for the longing of hunting she is drawn to the woods by wild animals, or because the Moon finishes the course among the planets with great speed. She is described in triple aspect, namely the three faces of the virgin Diana, to be noted the most in respect to these faces. With the golden horns shining on the stags, which gold it seems good to consider as the rays of the sun, by which, reflected by the Moon, light is caused.

BACCHUS

Covered with vines, hair wreathed with leaves, Bacchus approaches the eighth place. So great that the tigers niether draw near nor rush on the chariot. He is ready with the walking-stick to steady the feet when they slip. This one was first a planter of vines, and he supplied the very practical use of wine to mankind; and in venerating it, almost the whole world was warmed by the benefit of the discovery of this gift. His rites are celebrated especially by old men, since that age when the old man Silenus sang with great authority, in submission to Bacchus, that none was to be deemed sufficiently worthy to plant, unless the god Bacchus should be in attendance. And in the first place, with such great force his appearance is beautiful; he is held to be fair-skinned, while the frenzy of the cultivators sometimes became so great, that it turned them into various expressions of wild beasts. From the Lightning by his mother Semele, he was drawn into the light to be attacked by his enemy Juno, but the Powerful One escaped her hostile hand, being hidden away from Juno in the ivy; since excessively bitter and hostile heat would have destroyed his fruit, appearing in the vine, unless it were helped by the covering of leaves. By his suggestion, after the grape had been discovered, and he laid aside the drinking cup of the spring, and by the pleasantness of tasting, by no means did he exhaust the drunken stream, the ruin of the human race. Being described as looking perpetually youthful, because he does not lose vigor with age. Temples decorated with his grape vines, he carries a walking stick, from his name. According to the nature of being drunk, he is called Liber, since by the same, while he reigns, he renders men unimpeded and free of cares. Twin tigers pull the chariot, since drunkenness sometimes leads to the ferocity of tigers. The Victor of India, he frequents the strenuous second peak of Parnassus, since that greatest mountain abounds in vineyards.

MERCURY

I do not believe that any of the Sixteen easily took up the positions of the gods without indignation; they must have fought one another for these positions, for many kinds of equality and for higher dignity. On account of this, so that the spirits would be mitigated on both sides, even if some insolence or strife should arise, the ninth, fairly middle place, we appoint for Mercury; when his great virtue is entreated, and his piercing vigor is urged, is the one who is able to settle them, still quarrelling with contention in their spirits. Very often he placated an angry Jove, and took away the lightning bolt from his hand. Mercury first gave letters and laws to the Egyptians. The rhetors say he is the god of eloquence, and the brightest and most abundant source of fine expression. Moreover, other currents are suggested, telling how his very great power and charm of expression became famous: because sometimes he would compel spirits to be deprived of their proper bodies; but on the other hand, at another time now he called back those that had been thus deprived. And most of all because when, by paying attention to the mood, and by the extraordinary authority of his arts and the fitting use of his voice, by his close attention and persuasive words he had stirred up and aroused to clothe with arms the steady leaders before, and to lead them continuously, in the battle line. But, time after time the kings and bloodstained soldiers being splattered with blood, so by a tranquil, so by a calm, so by a pleasant speech, he soothed them, to throw down their spears, and compelled them to come together in friendship, and to enter eagerly into embrace. The Cithar, conceded to Apollo, was invented by him. He is considered the god of those who do business, since, mediated by Mercury, merchants easily come to agreement. His dress in the Arcadian manner. Protected by a galero, because he protects a man against a great number of pestilences by sound speech. He divided the quarrelling serpents by the staff or caduceus, since it belongs to him to settle lawsuits. Winged sandals are tied on his feet, and he is described as unencumbered on the journey, insofar as he requires the speakers of peace to be swift. Born of Jove, he is considered the interpreter god, since he exposed many secrets and concealed actions to men.

MARS

The keen one of war, and the glorious leader to arms; Mars, whose chariot, distinguished by a thousand excellent things taken from enemies, we will place as tenth. Although savage and bold, he was warded off by Jove, who would not permit him to be first or equal, unless he should prove invincible. Not being permitted himself to destroy the whole world, he petitioned heaven to be allowed to rule over such as had that desire. Out of the bramble, and ferocious, he stirred up anger, thus far threatening to the lands. Although he was by an unknown father, Mars was credited with being born of Jove, on account of singular skill of arms and repeated victories. This one taught at first to establish camps, and only to desist from war once the fortresses had been established, not before, when the enemy had been conquered. First, he taught battle arrays and being in fighting ranks. He instituted military discipline by stern law. At first he did not pass any one of the soldiers, unless he were victor in a fight. He said that to be defeated would be to be dead. He decreed the condition that anyone who might flee from a battle, or who might disturb the battle arrays or ranks, would be slaughtered. They held no one to be certainly one of the soldiers, unless previously putting the enemy to flight; to be of great courage, and the more, to retain the dignity of soldiers, to make war rather than to keep war away. He wanted bold soldiers, to be enthralled by dangers, and having the most enduring passion for cold, thirst and hunger; and he ordered them to be horrible, by no means delicate, nor to observe any laxity regarding the military art. Before the fight had commenced, he exhorted his soldiers by a sufficiently skillful, yet effective, speech. Reminding the conquerors always to stand forth, and how the glorious gains of many years are furnished by imminent combat; not to surrender, promising reward to the best, both of riches and rich stipends to them in the future. And he himself would open the way by the sword through the densely packed enemy at the beginning of the fight, the first of any of the soldiers to have a cruel hand on hostile blood. He appointed a special custodian of the military standards. Indeed, in the existence of the wall, houses, fortification, and soldiers’ towers, and thanks to them, the greatest amount of safety and strength of the army, even its prosperity, exists. He first decorated the soldiers with wreaths for crowns. And this is why the march is called Mars, since he admonished his soldiers to descend not headlong but by regular order when swooping downward. Himself alone unclothed, lest he was to worry of any kind of ornaments, but only horses and arms being conspicuous, he sits equipped on a horse. With cruel sword, dripping with blood, he aims at the road.

VESTA THE VIRGIN

Not to be thought outside of the count, but in the number of the gods, Vesta, a virgin, will be designated eleventh. Although the most modest virgin seen, she is one to be excepted by unique veneration, requiring nothing of human praises. She was always intent upon the sacred rites of the gods, and contemplation in meditation; she first instituted religion to virgins, and the profession of religion, to which being honorably professed, it is lawful not to be turned according to the world. She, plain and true, shows by eloquent scales that in regards to the temporal and perishable, there is nothing that is desirable or stable. For she proposed these to be estimated as nothing, and required steering the mind to the better things. And she blamed the human race of the greatest madness, since worldly things, so clever, and pursued with such eagerness, are so often deceptive, frustrated by empty hope as well as delusion; she said that one ought to flee the enticements of the world of those things, as so many hindrances of virtue. The stars appear worthless and wrapped in much bitterness, compared to her, the humblest of people. Thus, during life one ought not to pursue faintness, fears, intense labours, and death, but to be contemplative of the gods alone, to cherish a good hope, joy, and everlasting calm. Then she taught her virgins to deliver thanks to the gods assiduously, since they had received from them a great number of good things, more than they might hope to receive by themselves, if they would persist in steadfast, and not pretended, devotion. She herself consecrated the first fires before the altars of the gods in perpetual veneration; from this they are called the Vestal Virgins, held to be the highest in reverence among the Romans, in being held the most worthy of sanctity; and in manner, she stands at an altar before the immortals, entreating the gods.

CERES

Nurturing Ceres, thanks to whose divine office acorns and bristly forest fruits, and by turn crops, came up, antiquity ranked first; she approaches the twelfth place. She was engendered of Saturn, and the queen of Sicily; she noticed the arable land to bring forth only so many briar and thorn bushes; so she devised all the various tools for the cultivation of the land, she taught rude and rustic men to till the soil, first to divide the land among them, then to set fire to the bracken and noxious thickets; they split the ground with the plough, and the women sowed. Indeed, she indicated the months during which the ground could be turned to advantage, and she distinguished the times of sowing of seeds according to variety. Then, at first the crops in the ground were seen to turn green, and afterwards every field glowed with ripe crops of grain. And thus she gave the use of crops to mankind. Nevertheless, gratitude was not given to this goddess Ceres by mankind, which they owed her for her merits, since not savagely, but like humans, we were being fed on pasture; but her kindness, by long duration and daily frequentation, became worthless (to the extent that we are guilty ones); one may call that bygone age the prior happy age, since it was maintained by these foods which the earth and shining springs provided by their own will; nevertheless from this comes our greater happiness if we should enjoy the gifts of Ceres and Bacchus not in luxury but for normal desire and in moderation. Described in queenly attire, crops and harvests on both sides. She commanded first, that cattle to be joined to the plow to separate the ground, for seeds to be thrown into fields more easily able to be irrigated. In hand she holds a burning torch, because farmers purge the hurtful humours of the ground with fires. Annual sacrifices were established to Ceres, since she compelled even the ground to bear crops, to be obedient to men’s wishes.

HERCULES

Brave Hercules, to whom a hundred extraordinary labours granted the title of an everlasting name, of whom no posterity at any time will leave the glorious praises unsaid. Of all the world your Theban homeland owes glory to you, so often having been defended, the unbeaten hero; and not only them, but everyone, for having brought help. You boldly approached each land which felt disturbed in your time, always conquering, and returning more powerful; neither did facing any wild beasts frighten you, so that where the violent pestilence threatened, from that place you again carried away much glory. Who would be able at some time after to adorn Hercules amid their Aex. Seated in the chariot, let the god Augustus three times gird forehead with laurel, and the Caesar Julius triumph as victor five times: occasion greened Hercules twelve times with the laurel wreath. While still an infant, he had expelled the twin serpents, that the Milky Way might be. They indicate he was begotten by Jove, and instilled with glorious excellence; and it was this whereby the youth received strength and reliance in the spirit. The strongest hero, by a clever trick and physical strength, he killed the seven-headed Lernean Hydra, who, on the amputation of one, many heads came up, and he won back his native land, which had earlier been desolated with the ravaging of this horrible beast. The Boar, then Melaneus. He overcame the threeborn of Spain: Gerionus, and Achelus, because of the two-horned forehead, the other Avulsus. Diomedes the King of Thrace. Busiris of Libya. Antheus of Mauritania. He struck down and killed Cacus, his house always warm with fresh human blood, on Mount Aventius. And the lands, having been liberated from these horrors, dedicated temples to sacred Hercules. He subjugated completely the savage band of Centaurs. And I have gone over easily and briefly these of his most well-known in the songs of poets. He is distinguished by his wild demeanour, yet much delicate laurel girded to his forehead, and being neglectful of his clothing. He wears on his shoulder the huge skin of the Nemean Lion, as a monumental mark of strength, which he routed, fearless by might more than human. The Stimphalis struck down by arrows lies at his feet, with a belly wide by gluttony, with the curved talons in the manner of a bird, since the most rapacious pirates perish on the Strophades islands. The threefold Tartarean hound, the master of this region, loud-resounding with a threefold bark, he dragged bound by chains from hell into the light, as he thereby showed to be false a threefold opinion concerning the constitution of happiness, and that he followed the way to honour neither by pleasure nor riches nor empty honours, but only by the working of virtue and by many hard labours, by glory being searched for and attained. To whom, after monsters of wild beasts having been killed, he opened the peaceful world easily, the way to heaven, and he filled the place of the thirteenth of the gods.

AEOLUS

In the fourteenth place I decided to put the King of the Winds, Aeolus, to whom, if only by the spouse of Jove Aether, are granted the reign as well as the power; still to his authority it was conceded, like Virgil, to soothe the waves, and by the wind to raise them, and in whatever way to agitate in all respects the kingdom of Neptune. By his command the appearance of this world is very often changeful. The hills become covered in white, the woods are laid bare; the plains become dirty, and what were formerly rushing torrents, freeze. The whole earth itself begins to shiver. In frenzy sometimes the now-ripe gifts of Ceres and Bacchus perish, whereat thereby he summons the mild delightful Zephyr. The hillsides turn green by the change of the bran, the woods are clothed with young leaves, all the fields laugh with grass, and sweet streams flowing from fresh sources; the glad world is adorned with foliage and a variety of flowers, and the whole sky resounds, pleasant with the song of flying creatures, and each living thing by nature inclines to love and coupling. Furthermore he is god of the clouds and the power of the hail-storm; being powerful in the mid-day to cover the land in darkness, and to give back the light itself after having been put to flight by the darkness. Begotten by Jove, he reigned at the windy island of Aeolius in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Sicily. Described being dressed as a king, enthroned among the cliffs of his islands, bringing up a gale by the sceptre, because he is thus shown most skillful of the air; and he foretold the future differences of times, even if the power in his hand consisted in containing and releasing the winds.

DAPHNE

There follows the illustrious one of Thessalia, light of her native land, perpetual honour, Daphne, similar to whom no feminine splendour has since shone. In Daphne, nature brought together everything able to be seen, or rather to be thought, of both admirable and of divine excellence, in a maiden. And she was such a singular model of virgins, and acquired such strength in herself, that the starry vault defiled so great elegance of character; so that Phoebus himself, being kindled by fire, blazed up, bounding to her most ardently, in golden rays of desire. Neither constant and alluring songs before, nor the most magnificent offerings, were wanting. He came near, bringing with him the virtue, nobility, and beauty of an excellent lover. The beautiful maiden would have been worthy of this, complying with human custom; but she was immovable in heart to the brief pleasures set before, in the glory of perpetual modesty, however much this opinion is scarcely able, if at all, to be impressed upon the minds of miserable mortals: since for the attainment of immortality, in this short time they ought to learn, not to succumb to lust. So great was her concern for this, not to be enticed by any empty allurement, since the consorting of women and men is fleeting, but only the eagerness for her maidenhood to be protected. The bank was so adorned by the grassy waves of her father Peneus, that she thereby sensed no arms of venus. But when she was vehemently pursued by Phoebus, she implored and was granted to be changed into a blossoming Laurel. Then Apollo himself, having loved the most beautiful, in vain, poured out prayers. So he performed worthy songs to the maiden, so as by no means to be forgetful of his foremost love, nor to be without the prior flame. First he himself girded his hair, cithar, and quiver with laurel. And he established and decreed that distinction of caesars and poets, to be decorated by his fronds with the emblems of perpetual and always green fame. Described as dressed like a maiden, embracing her Laurel. And thence when by moist Peneus, from the river by the warmth of the sun every one of the types of trees should arise, and thrives, there is especially the Laurel singled out by Phoebus; since at no time is it deprived of the glory of its foliage; and close to the river Peneus are places especially abundant in Laurels.

CUPID

So much for the insignia of the gods; an impious and impetuous boy is to be added to the council; not a thing reasonable enough to agree with it might seem, but so the order of our game finishes. The god of love, this one: not by anything of virtue or benefit in the title, but on account of his great power, as he even made the kingdom of the ancients to err; the youth who, by free will or by force, would get nearly everyone to obey his command, even if he would be noted for cruelty, and would be a violent master. Nevertheless he is of noble birth: he derived his origin by his parents Mars and Venus, bright and finely formed, and winged, most pleasant in appearance at first, but by nature rough and ferocious. Immediately upon his having been put forth into the light, the most ferocious tigers suckled him. Delicate from his mother, but being armed, the eating boy, while fleeing labours, aimed at being speedy; and often under the flowery or leafy garlands of girls, whereby the golden colour becomes mixed with the green, he rested near the shade, from where, throwing out golden arrows, with a slight and soft wound at first, he afflicts lovers and gradually draws the subjugated with the promise of a thousand kind of delights. Meanwhile into the hearts of the miserable lovers he hurls the burning torch, and now he feels himself lord, according to the manners, and reverting to the nature, in the formerly lacking he now drives, burns, torments, exhausts, and he ravages, as well as makes sport of them, by infinite languors of the soul. Nothing is strong before him, the prayers of lovers or their tears, is able to move him to compassion, nor is there any art to soften his rage. Having borne the wounds, of which the power and nature is beautiful forms, by no power of herbs are they able to be healed. Through the eyes first; then after that by means of the strengths of the remaining senses he goes against the intellect, and then to set forth the greatest number of wiles, that the soul might be inclined to them, with forms thrown before it which the intellect might grasp; whereupon now being held, the soul recalls them often to itself, and persuades the intellect to revolve around them, so that he might imprint the sights of delights deeply and tenaciously. Whereby the soul that was free some time ago, by being so persuaded, is lead into captivity, and can offer no further opposition. But with great difficultly it is possible not to lead the neck up by the yoke. Whoever therefore desires to evade this most awkward and violent pest, let him hinder at the beginning what was suggested to the soul in the first place, any appearances of his delights, thus far being free vigour of the soul: may he not let in misleading persuasions, nor let the mind naturally very fond of liberty to be lead under the yoke of the most shameful servitude. Distinguished by a very youthful face, since many pursue that age. In flight, thus marking the instability of lovers; girded with human hearts, since he triumphs as victor of these. Nude, only because lovers desire one another completely; with a full bow, he wanders through heaven and earth wanton and in flagrant desire; whose arms, pestilent to gods and men, Jupiter himself is not able to escape.

(translated by ROSS GREGORY CALDWELL)
(First published in 'The Playing Card', vol. 33 no. 2 (Oct.- Dec. 2004), pp. 111-126)




Martiano da Tortona wrote the book, Michelino da Besozzo painted the deck. The cards are lost. Here are two details of another work of Michelino, St Antony Abbot and St John the Baptist and St Antony Abbot