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 di San 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 would 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 requires the employment of every human virtue. But whenever any game seems to many to be childish and not to have sufficient maturity, nor to be conducive to happiness (to which our actions in everything should be directed), then maybe, by this reasoning, it is to be supposed that a serious man should abstain from playing. Certainly, since the virtue and reason of the honest man would consist in these moral actions, it follows that they are governed by right reason. I believe that that sort of game, which would be appropriate to the place, time, and person, of such character that it allows intelligence to shine, and that would also be enjoyable, is also fit for a serious man wearied of virtue. Not only will its playing be free from the difficulty of finding appropriate circumstances, but it will be conducive to happiness. So that, having restored the virtue that was previously fatigued, we can continue more vigorously in the noble working of the intellect. Consider therefore this game, most illustrious Duke, following a fourfold order, after giving your attention to serious and important things, if sometimes it happens that you will find it pleasant to be diverted to playful things by it [the game]. And it is even more pleasing where your keen intelligence would notice several most famous Heroes, renowned models of virtue, whose mighty greatness made gods, and ensured their remembrance by posterity. Thus by observation of them, be ready to be roused to virtue. The first order is indeed of virtues; it consists of: Jupiter, Apollo, Mercury and Hercules. The second of riches, of Juno, Neptune, Mars and Aeolus. The third of virginity or continence: of Pallas, Diana, Vesta and Daphne. The fourth however is of pleasure: of 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 the many command the 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 there are of the followers of riches and pleasure, the more they lead to the deterioration of our station. Every one of the gods, however, will be above all the ranks of birds and the kings of the ranks. 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 because 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 eschewing 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. I will briefly mention the causes of their perpetual fame and what is meant by those attributes by which they are described, as much as appropriate in this kind of writing, being entertaining for the quality of the images and the variety of the matter.


Antiquity bears witness that Jove was the King of Athens; there, while the race of man, still rough and wild, lived with no rules, as animals do, he was the first to establish laws. 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 what is most necessary for men.  He commanded the first temples and altars to the immortal gods to be built, and to venerate them with the highest dignity; and that men asked the gods anything of the good that they desired; and that they could hope to obtain that, if they asked appropriately. 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 and great merits, the former age venerated him 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. The images of four stars attend him: in the higher part, at the right, a splendour of right reason of the conduct of humanity, by which he first taught rustic men political customs; 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. Truly in the lower part, on the right side, appears a burning star like Mars; if in mine it shines maximally with frightful contemp when deployed so that the republic may be preserved, how much brighter in Jupiter, who for the sake of sacred worship happily defeated the blaspheming Giants by war! To the left, a certain radiance which he commended greatly in his sacred laws, but forcibly hid from the man who was greedy for it.


It is right that Juno, the opulent, revered for her marriage with Jupiter, fathered by Saturn, be next in rank; at the first she admonished the young girls with the most profound authority that they should carry the sacred modesty of virginity to husbands for the duty of matrimony; and then to preserve chaste beds, and choosing modesty over life, 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 the divinity of the goddess spread out, because she was the first to kindle women to the excellent praises of chastity, the lawful prayers were undertaken, and the pledges were paid. Her spouse Jupiter therefore put her in charge of human affairs, as to whether richness 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, fitting to the spouse of 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 noisy bird, covered in eyed feathers; because rich men are adorned, but noisy, and many eyes are required for gaining and watching after riches and earthly things. They assign her one colourful rainbow, welcome in appearance, but quickly disappearing. In fact the abundance of earthly things must be estimated at the light of this: that in a short time it can perish and flow away. However, it would seem to be good for the present purpose to omit the chariot and the arms which our Virgil assigns.


Even if her origin is less known, we receive in the third place the inventress of the olive Minerva, who is also Pallas. Perpetual virginity is ascribed to her, and the most useful arts: Spinning, weaving, chariots, and many constructions of wood they attribute to her device. She restrained with remarkable vigour the movements of all sensate pleasures and charms Investigating the best and with the strength of her spirit always intent on what could be of more help to human affairs and be more useful, 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 The excellence of her ingenuity, they assert her birth from 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 also gave as a sign in the dispute about the name of Athens: who would doubt that Pallas, having calmed the commotions of the senses, held peace itself? 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. To the left she is holding a shield, showing the frightful monster Gorgon. For every wise man has arms, is equipped with the clipeum-shield of Pallas, and relies on counsel. Perseus deprived the woman Medusa of the rich kingdom of the west, and fastened to the aegis her head of golden hair as appropriate honour to Pallas and for giving thanks.


Golden Venus, in 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, her office, if treated moderately, seems to be an utmost necessity to the world. But over time, having become more impudent, 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 the excess saturation of Ceres and Bacchus, and constant feasting, music, songs, dances, and all wantonness, by which men would ardently rush into the raging fire. She was held to be mighty the mother and goddess of love, especially since she should be able to do many things in the youth of men, as that age would be inclined to the speech of VenusAlways favouring lovers, she was much disalike in temperament to her son Cupid. Naturally there is no lover who could hope to enjoy the desired love without a favourably inclined Venus. Favours and protection are asked from her by blind mortals, in order to obtain pleasures. And as a devotee of love, having had the delights, gratitude is to be paid to her. Among the ancients, Said that Venus was pleasure itself and place in her the happiness of men; taking the thought from Epicurus, who professed pleasure to be the highest good. Although it was not of this sort of pleasure that such an honourable man discussed, but of that preferable pleasure which seemed to follow virtuous acts. She is described in a sufficiently wanton attire, with free-flowing hair, breast and arms exposed, knee bare; in order to more easily entice to love by the showing of these; lightly clothed by a lynx pelt, since pleasure is fleeting and brief, through the forest with a ready bow and gathered quiver, intent on hunting – since she hunts and wounds the souls of men wandering in the gloom.


APOLLO SHINING PHOEBUS, GLORY OF THE STARS, WHO IS SURROUNDED BY THE CHORUS OF THE PIERIDES, HOLY HELICON and mount Parnassus you adorn. Add yourself as fifth to the number of the gods. This one, the most desirous of glory, combined arms with wisdom and letters. There would seem to be nothing lacking to him regarding these two most excellent kinds of praise: namely by his arrows 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 he offered to humanking the art of healing. And as much thanks as it is possible to give is owed to his divinity, because it is from him that we received health and 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. It was customary to particularly invoke his favour by those who were going to write poems. And there is nobody who may be confident to be able to pursue the poetic honour, the laurel and the myrtle, unless Apollo breathe songs into their breast and allow drinking from the spring of Castalia; his name being counted among the highest praises of these divine prophets, since among poets and victorious leaders, his gift of the laurel is always green; 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 garments are more appropriate for a warrior. And they say he was 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.


Leave the springs of the sea and the straits of Oceanus, raise your head upon your waves, and urge the chariot over the Tyrrhenean sea for a brief while, O Neptune! This one, illustrious by his 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 his custodianship, there were conceded perfectly suitable things, the necessary commerce of a great number of things, and the communication among distant peoples; the practical knowledge of these things was acquired by the human race thanks to his favour. And not otherwise, and not easily, unless it were permitted by his kingdom; could the remote parts be approached, or foreign laws and customs seen. Burning Aftrica approaches the icy Don, as well as Spain Sabaea. Add that men received from Neptune many examples of skills. By observing the scales of fishes, men 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, how to make the steps of a spiral staircase inside a wall, ascending by it to a great height. And many other artful instruments were bestowed on us by Neptune. Not without merit was it written that the most artful cyclopes are the sons of Neptune. He is counted in the number of the gods, and esteemed as powerful for his kind of offspring and kingdom. And indeed it is believed that Neptune had thirty-five famous offspring. He is shown in regal attire, 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; his marvellous 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 known that certain voluptuous women, fluent and alluring,ensnare men by sweetness of words, leading them to ruin. Of which women, the first looks sufficiently honest, blushing in maidenly modesty; another is impudent and lustful, and the third a trickstress. Even if almost everyone in the country might be polluted by the common arts of these, nevertheless they are known to especially inhabit the kingdom of Neptune, as at Rhodes, Sicily, and Cyprus; also Circe herself is said to have been the most beautiful among the Sirens.


Born of Jupiter, sister of Phoebus: Diana the virgin, goddess of the woods and the mountains, maidenly modesty and snowy whiteness always possesses her expressions. 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. Something scarcely, or rather never conceded: in you gleam perpetual chastity and extraordinary elegance. You always live in a well-wooded place, and avoid idleness, so that no loss of chastity might overtake your steadfast courage; and you command your companions to chase the wild beasts with arrows, according to your habits. And you permit none of yours to appear to Venus, or to the son 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 stark art, and clearly no comfort can be taken: considering this, it is not surprising that hunters are turned into stags, or made fearful, often to be consumed by their dogs. To whom temples for virginity and altars are dedicated. Indeed, With some appropriateness, some called her the Moon, since the disturbances of Venus are settled by her cold influence. In a golden two-horse chariot for majesty, in a white mantle. By this one might refer to the radiant moon or to the purity of virginity. Roaming through the forest with bow and arrows, since she often hunts, or because by arrows of rays she illuminates the forest 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 its course among the planets with the greatest speed. She is described in triple aspect, namely the three faces of the virgin Diana, most notable in respect to these faces. Golden horns shine on the stags, because they often seem to be the rays of the sun, by whose reflection the light of the moon is caused.


His locks garlanded with vine leaves, let Bacchus approach the eighth place. Only let not the tigers be there, if he should jump from the chariot, ready to steady slipping feet with the walking stick. This one was the first planter of vines, and he supplied the very practical use of wine to mankind; and in venerating him, almost the whole world is warmed by the benefit of the discovery of this gift. His rites are celebrated especially by old men, since the old man Silenus sang with great authority, in submission to Bacchus, that troublesome age. And no festivity was deemed sufficiently worthy, unless Bacchus, god of joy, should be in attendance. And if he initially appears as beautiful and innocent, such is his strength and his sometimes terrifying fury, that he turns his unmoderated and untimely devotees into various expressions of wild beasts. He was drawn into the light from his mother Semele, stricken by lightning, to be attacked by the enemy Juno, but, being hidden away in the ivy he escaped the power and the hand of the dangerous Juno; 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, human kind laid aside the drinking cup of streams and springs, and, after tasting pleasantness, they no longer quenched their thirst from rivers. He is 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, to sustain the drunkards. He is called Liber, since, 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 mountain greatly abounds in vineyards.


I believe that it is not easy that sixteen gods sit together without some burden for the organizer or the indignation of some of them, since many among them quarrel about the parity of their birth and the height of their 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 appointed for Mercury. His oratory ability and strength of penetrting persuasion are so great that they can settle the spirits of the disputers, even during a contention. 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[?]: the power of his words and his charm of expression were so great that sometimes he would compel spirits to exit their proper bodies; but on the other hand, at another time he called back to the bodies those spirits that had exited them. And most of all he used such an extraordinary authority of his art and such a fitting use of his voice, that he stirred the spirits of the listeners by that attention, inflaming them by inciting persuasive words, to clothes with arms leaders that were before quiet, and to lead them in the battle line. But, time after time, so by a tranquil, so by a calm, so by a pleasant speech, he soothed the kings splattered with blood and the bloodstained soldiers; he compelled them to come together in friendship, after throwing down their spears, 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 merchants easily come to agreement thanks to the mediator Mercury. His dress in the Arcadian manner. Protected by a galero, because eloquence protects a man against a great number of pestilences. 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 the speakers of peace are required to be swift. Born of Jove, he is considered the interpreter god, since he exposed many secrets and concealed actions to men.


The keen leader of war, and glorious for arms, Mars, who is distinguished by so many spoils and a thousand chariots taken from enemies, we will place as tenth. Though savage and bold, save Jove, he, except [when he is] unconquered/invincible, doesn't accept any superior or equal. The whole world could not extinguish his thirst for power, so great was his desire, he attacked hearven. Therefore, red and ferocious, he stirs up anger, thus far threatening 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, after camps are established, not to desist from war before the enemy is conquered. First, he taught battle arrays and being in fighting ranks. He instituted military discipline by stern law.  At first that no soldier could leave the fight, unless he were victor. He said one must win or die. He decreed the condition that anyone who might flee from a battle, or who might disturb the battle arrays or ranks, would be slaughtered; that no soldier could look for booty before the enemy was put to flight, that to make war, rather than to keep war away, is nobler and more appropriate to military dignity. He wanted bold soldiers, to be enthralled by dangers, and to be the most resistant to cold, thirst and hunger; and he ordered them to be horrible, not to observe any pleasantness or laxity regarding the military art. Before the fight had commenced, he exhorted his soldiers by a sufficiently skillful, yet effective, speech. Reminding them that the conquerors always stand forth, and that they should not defile the glorious gains of many years in the imminent combat; promising that the best rewards, both of riches and rich stipends, will be for them, if they win, [reminding] that, from the very beginning of the fight, the soldiers should have their hands soaked with the blood of the enemies, and that the way must be opened by the sword through the densely packed enemy. He proclaimed a special custodian of the military standards; [and] that indeed they are the wall, houses, fortification, and towers of the soldiers, and in them the safety and strength of the army, even its prosperity, reside. He first decorated the soldiers with mural crowns. And this is why Mars is called “Gradius”, because he admonished his soldiers to enter battle not headlong but by regular order. Truly he did not care for clothes or any kind of ornaments, but only for choosing[?] horses and arms. He sits armoured on a horse. With cruel sword, dripping with blood, he aims at the road.


I thought that Vesta the virgin should not be omitted, but that she should be added as the eleventh in the number of the gods, and received with a certain unique veneration, although the most modest virgin did not seem to require any human praise. She was always intent upon the sacred rites of the gods, and in contemplative meditation. She first established the religious life for virgins, and the vows of religion, by which those avowed would be no longer permitted to return to the world. She showed by plain and true eloquence that the things of this world are transitory and perishable, and that there is nothing in them that is desirable or lasting. Therefore she advised to esteem these things as nothing, and to steer the mind toward the better things. And she accused the human race of the greatest madness, since it pursues these worldly things with such skill and enthusiasm, yet it is so often frustrated and deluded by a false and empty hope. She said that one ought to flee the enticements of this world as so many great hindrances to virtue. Finally, she said that these things are worthless when compared to heavenly things, and wrapped in much bitterness; that to pursue them is only faintness, fear, incessant work, and death; but for those mindful of the gods there will be good hope, joy, calm, and eternal life reserved for them. Then she taught her virgins to deliver thanks to the gods assiduously, since they had received from them a great number of good things, and they could hope to receive more, 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; the Vestal Virgins were named after her, they were held in the highest in reverence among the Romans. Wearing a very modest garment, like that of the nuns, she stands at an altar before the immortals, entreating the gods.


Nurturing Ceres, thanks to whose divine office antiquity abandoned acorns and bristly forest fruits, but, in exchange, crops were introduced, 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 the plough and all the various tools for the cultivation of the land, she taught rude and rustic men to till the soil, first to cut the bushes, then to set fire to the bracken and noxious thickets; they split the ground with the plough, and 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; but her kindness, by long duration and daily frequentation, became worthless (to the extent that we are guilty ones); although some of the ancients said that the prior age was a happy one, since it was content with those foods which the earth and shining springs provided by their own will, nevertheless from this comes our more happy one, 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 plough to separate the ground, so that the seeds thrown into the fields could be more easily 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 the ground to bear crops, to be obedient to men’s wishes.


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. The whole world, so often defended, owes this to you, the glorious, unbeaten hero: your Theban homeland generated you not only for itself, but for the help of everyone. Whatever disturbance the earth felt in your time, you boldly approached, always conquering, and returning more powerful; neither did facing any wild beasts frighten you, so that where a violent pestilence threatened, from that place you again carried away much glory. After Hercules, whose honours would be able to equal his? Let divine Augustus three times gird forehead with laurel, and the Caesar Julius seated in the chariot triumph as victor five times; Hercules’ head greened twelve times with the laurel wreath. While still an unweaned infant, he had expelled the twin serpents. They indicated 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, with whom, on the amputation of one, many heads came up, and he won back the land which had earlier been desolated with the ravaging of this horrible beast. He overcame the Boar, then Melaneus and the threefold Geryon of Spain, and also Achelus, whose forehead had two horns, one of which was torn away. He struck down and killed Diomedes the King of Thrace, Busiris of Libya, Antheus of Mauritania, and 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 the’se deeds of his which are most well-known by the songs of poets. He is distinguished by his terrifying garments, although with laurel girded to his forehead, yet neglectful of delicate clothing. He wears on his shoulder, as a conspicuous mark of strength, the skin of the huge Nemean Lion, which he routed, fearless, by might more than human. The Stimphalis struck down by arrows lies at his feet, with human face and a belly wide by gluttony, with the talons curved in the manner of a bird, which killed the most rapacious pirates on the Strophades islands. The three-headed Tartarean hound, which made the kingdoms of that region resound 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 he convinced mankind that only the working of virtue should be searched for, and glory should be attained, by many hard labours, neither by pleasure nor riches nor empty honours. After monsters of wild beasts had been extinct, and the world made peaceful, an easy way to heaven was opened to him, and he filled the place of the thirteenth of the gods.


I considered that Aeolus, the King of the Winds, must be put in the fourteenth place; even if, according to Virgil, he has the regin as well as the power by the spouse of Jove, Aether, it was conceded by his order 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. Because of his fury, sometimes the now-ripe gifts of Ceres and Bacchus perish. But when he summons the mild delightful Zephyr, the hillsides turn green istead of white, the woods are clothed with young leaves, all the fields laugh with grass, and new sweet streams flow from the 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; in the mid-day, he can cover the land in darkness, and give back the light itself after having put the darkness to flight. Begotten by Jove, he reigned at the windy Aeolian islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea near Sicily. Described as being dressed like a king, enthroned among the cliffs of his islands, bringing up a gale by the sceptre, because he so skilfully foretold the future changes of the air and the weather, as if he had the power of containing and releasing the winds by his hand.


There follows the illustrious light of Thessalia, perpetual honour of her native land, Daphne, no feminine splendour the like of whom shone at that time. In Daphne, nature brought together everything able to be seen, or rather to be thought, of that both admirable and most similar to divine excellence, in a maiden; and it led her as a singular model of virgins. In there there was such a strong heavenly splendour, she so excelled in the elegance of her character, that Phoebus himself, wounded by the golden arrow of Cupid, burned for her, inflamed by the most ardent fire.
Neither constant and alluring prayers, nor the most magnificent offerings, were wanting; the virtue, nobility, and great beauty of the lover were added to these. The beautiful maiden considered if she could appropriately comply with his demands, according to the ways of humankind, but in heart she was immovable in preferring the glory of perpetual modesty to brief pleasures, 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, because the consorting of women and men is fleeting, but only the eagerness for her maidenhood to be protected. She only dwelt on the banks by the grassy waves of her father Peneus, that she thereby sensed no arms of Venus. But when she was more vehemently pursued by Phoebus, she implored to be changed into a blossoming Laurel. Apollo himself, the most beautiful lover, spent time and poured out prayers in vain; yet, remembering his foremost love and still burning from the former flame, he performed worthy songs for the maiden. First he himself girded his hair, cithar, and quiver with laurel. And he established her as the distinction of caesars and poets, and decreed to be decorated by her fronds as an emblem of perpetual and always green fame. Described as dressed like a maiden, embracing her Laurel. And thence when by the moisture of the river Peneus, 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.


Adding an impious and impetuous boy to the council of so many eminent gods does not seem to acceptable for any honest reason, but so the order of our game requires. The error of the ancients fancied that he was the god of love, not by any merit of virtue or benefit, but on account of his great power and kingdom. Even when his cruelty and violent dominion are known, almost all youth, by free will or by force, accepts his power. 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 boy, while fleeing labours and agitation, only aimed at leisure; 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 kinds of delights. Meanwhile into the hearts of the miserable lovers he hurls the burning torch, and now he feels himself lord, reverting to his manners and nature; in the hitherto inexperienced he now drives, burns, torments, exhausts, and ravages, as well as makes sport of them, by infinite languors of the soul. The prayers of lovers or their tears have no value before him, he cannot be moved to compassion, nor is there any art to soften his rage. Inflicted wounds by no power of herbs can be healed; his power and nature is to introduce into the intellect beautiful forms first through the eyes, then through the natures of the other senses; 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 grasped, the intellect 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 previously free, by being so persuaded, is lead into captivity, and it is impossible to offer any further and difficult opposition, not to lead the neck up by the yoke. Whoever therefore desires to evade this most awkward and violent pest, let the still free vigour of the soul hinder at the beginning what was suggested to the soul in the first place, any appearances of his delights, 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. He is distinguished by a very youthful face, since he mostly pursues that age. In flight, thereby 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, the wanton and wicked Cupid wanders through heaven and earth; whose arms, pestilent to gods and men, Jupiter himself is not able to escape.

Original text at Europeana

(First published in 'The Playing Card', vol. 33 no. 2 (Oct.- Dec. 2004), pp. 111-126)
Changed to improved translation of Ross Caldwell in January 2022

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

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