Some time between circa 1460 – 1494, Count Matteo Maria Boiardo wrote a poem about cards, the structure of which either mimics or anticipates tarot: apart from the brief opening and closing sonets, the first four ‘chapters’ (of five) have fourteen parts, and the fifth twenty-two. This mirrors precisely tarot as we know it, with four suits of fourteen cards, and a fifth trump suit of twenty-two.
It is one of the oldest references to a deck with 22 trumps. From this some have suggested that perhaps Count Boiardo invented this structure which, on this argument, eventually became the standard structure for tarot.
Count Matteo Maria Boiardo of Scandiano was born in Scandiano circa 1440. In 1476 he moved to Ferrara as court poet of Ercole D’Este. In 1480 he was appointed Moden’s governor, and died in Reggio Emilia in 1494.
A deck, based on extant designs from the 15th and 16th centuries, has recently been produced by LoScarabeo using this poem.
Content of the said chapters
by Matteo Maria Boiardo
about a new game of cards.
Four passions of the soul, milady,
Are forty cards in this game.
The lesser gives place to the worthier,
And their meaning gives them their suit.
Each suit also has four figures,
Each of which I place in due role,
With twenty and one triumphs; and in the meanest place
Is a fool, because the fool the world adores.
Love, hope, jealousy and fear
Are the passions, and the cards have a tercet
So as not to leave the player in error.
The number in the verses runs:
One, two, three, ending at the highest;
Now it remains for you to find the art of the game.
HERE BEGIN THE FIVE MOST
BEAUTIFUL CHAPTERS ON FEAR,
JEALOUSY, HOPE, AND LOVE, OF
COUNT MATTEO MARIA BOIARDO
FIRST CHAPTER – FEAR (Whips)
1) FEAR keeps a soul is such doubts
That it has little reason to live happily,
Because it never enjoys and is always afraid.
2) FEAR, where there is some danger, forbids
All pleasure, and makes a man so faint-hearted,
That reason can never appease the soul.
3) FEAR makes the lamb tremble in the fold
If it hears the wolf outside; and it stays so enclosed,
That the subtlest breeze can hardly reach it.
4) FEAR keeps four horses at the service of a chariot
Under a cane, tied to a yoke;
It also keeps many in servitude, whom I do not excuse.
5) FEAR so grips us sometimes, that we cannot
Express our feelings, which is a great damage,
Because respect is a fellow of fear.
6) FEAR makes so that someone never defends himself,
And in case of conflict chooses to implore
And surrenders without using his weapons.
7) FEAR: if you reach the armed men in a joust,
Their courage will be dead under your influence;
Whenever you are present, you can see it on their faces.
8 ) FEAR troubles the senses, and makes pale
the face; one feels his heart tremble because of it,
And the eye shows it with an oblique glance.
9) FEAR has no doubts, about what is
present: but even though it be far away, it fears
Danger, and to fear danger seems near.
10) FEAR is certainly vain when you imagine it,
And where fear reigns, everyone agrees
That that body is ill and not healthy.
11) FEAR transformed Phineas, a tower among men,
Into stone, by the face of Medusa;
But fortune does not help the timid.
12) FEAR once turned king Ptolemy
Against Pompey, merely because Ptolemy was afraid
That Caesar would have taken his kingdom away from him.
13) FEAR prevented Andromache from saving
Her son, seeing Ulysses: and made him enter
Into the same tomb as his father Hector.
14) FEAR: Dionysius, instead of a barber,
Had his own daughters shave him with coals, in order
To avoid iron; and in the end he did not avoid it.
Because it is difficult to avoid what has been decided by heaven.
SECOND CHAPTER ABOUT JEALOUSY (Eyes)
1) JEALOUSY cannot spoil a true love,
Because if a lover goes with pure faithfulness,
Love rewards him at the end of his service.
2) JEALOUSY is a hard thing, when it seeks
to be useful to the rival in love:
Because often imploring grants mercy.
3) JEALOUSY makes sad a merry heart,
But often its spurs are the reason
That brings a lover to virtuous honour.
4) JEALOUSY, when it comes, it is better not to think
That you can fight it, because it wins everyone:
But it is good to be able to tolerate it.
5) JEALOUSY is searched by everyone, then everyone
Wants to avoid it; before, everyone wants to know;
Then everyone wants to lack knowledge.
6) JEALOUSY must not always take the rival
As an enemy; on the contrary, if he
Wants to win, he must be patient.
7) If JEALOUSY takes to see the thing that you love
Next to your rival, you think
That he is always talking in your interest.
8 ) JEALOUSY is so bad where it strikes,
That there is no cure for it;
If it grows too much, it is lethal.
9) JEALOUSY is no less frequent among the Gods,
Then among people; look at Juno,
Jealous of her Jove in some guilty situations!
10) JEALOUSY never puts anyone on the road
to certainty, it does not open the doors of truth,
It keeps people between hope and doubt.
11) JEALOUSY never was sure of Argus and
Of his cunning eyes, until the footsteps
With the name of Io were given to it.
12) JEALOUSY induced king Turnus, who was the heir
of king Latinus, to start a lethal war:
And he was killed, because death proceeds of such things.
13) JEALOUSY made Juno come to earth many times
For various loves of Jove,
Because whoever has it in the heart can never rest.
14) JEALOUSY made Vulcan change his shape
And catch Venus and Mars in his own net,
And the Sun made the proofs be manifest,
With its eclipses, signs and comets.
THIRD CHAPTER ABOUT HOPE (Vases with cover)
1) HOPE sometimes keeps a body joint with
A soul, that would not live without it,
And in the end it always reaches the palm of victory.
2) HOPE has never been defeated by any doubt,
But it is solid and constant to the end,
When Reason arrives to help hope.
3) HOPE when is limited to a boundary,
If it wants to move further than should be done,
Founds thorns before it reaches the flower.
4) HOPE when it comes together with reason
Is the sweetest food for the heart that wears it;
If it comes in another way, it brings more suffering.
5) HOPE keeps us in games and festivity
When power is fighting against will;
But, without order, it contains bad things.
6) HOPE, you are a friend of nature!
You keep your followers in such peace,
That any suffering does not seem to be hard.
7) HOPE, if you are not there
When someone has his own, you put such doubts
That he will not dare to say it is mine.
8 ) HOPE gives by itself to the soul
That which the soul desires, and it seems
It already has it, and it finds no resitance.
9) HOPE does not allow to be sad to someone
who is caught in a cage, when it is with him,
Nor to a shipwrecked, even if he is on dry sand.
10) HOPE wakes up the poor man who works
Digging, making a mountain, or a lake, flat,
Because he hopes to receive a prize for his efforts.
11) HOPE transformed Horatius in a lion, a dragon
So that he had the bridge cut, and went down
Desiring the safety of his homeland.
12) HOPE brought Jason, of unstrained soul,
And the Argonauts to the golden fleece
Through many adventures and a dangerous travel.
13) HOPE led Judith
Out of Betulia, to put Oloferne to an end,
and it seemed it was nothing but a big hope.
14) HOPE drove Eneas out of the Trojan border
To Italy; and his successors founded
Alba and then Rome for the Latin people.
Who once were the rulers of the world.
FOURTH CHAPTER ON LOVE
1) LOVE, if someone wants to be in good relations with you,
He has to be ready, courageous and prompt,
For, in the end, who holds on wins the prize.
2) LOVE, there is no doubt that jealousy
Is always with you many places:
But if it is little, it’s good, too much is bad.
3) LOVE, the end and final goal of your earnings
Is a continuous sighing until you die;
And he who laughs one day, cries thereafter for an year.
4) LOVE, this desire holds so strong
Of aquiring what you impress in one’s heart,
That it seems that doors do not open for your aim.
5) LOVE teaches to us not to be afraid
In every deed: because a courageous
Is always a winner in courtship.
6) LOVE, if sometimes you wound an heart,
And heal it with that same arrow,
How much it is favoured in your kingdom!
7) LOVE made that wise king go
As an animal for seven years: because its law
Makes the prince equal to his own servant.
8 ) LOVE made so that Apollon looked after
The herd of Admetus, and in the end it was not
Cruel to him; it corrects its people in such ways.
9) LOVE finds new arts; and under its honey
It always keeps a bait; and it makes its servants happy,
Whenever it finds one that is loyal.
10) LOVE puts to trial the desire of all its servants;
And if it finds it vain, it turns it
in so many shapes, that he complaints more every day.
11) LOVE made this big giant Cyclops
So full of love for Galatea,
That possibly no lover burned as much as he did.
12) LOVE made Paris so courageous,
That he dared to abduct beautiful Helen,
Beacause Love makes each heart generous.
13) LOVE, the son of Venus, made her
Burn for Adonis and with such flames:
Because Love infuses its star also from heaven.
14) LOVE made Jove descend many times
In different shapes, of bull, of swan, of gold,
And, in shape of eagle, he also took Ganymedes.
And it made Pasiphe fall in love with a Bull.
Triumph of the Vain World
CHAPTER ABOUT THE TRIUMPH OF THE VAIN WORLD
World, you are vainly loved by the mad,
And a fool thinks he can bring you on his donkey,
Because the stupid only trust your state.
Lazyness kept Sardanapalus idle between feathers,
Lustful concubines and banquet,
For so long that he lost the habit of reigning.
Hyppolita endured such efforts, that she is the only
Of the amazons who is crowned by merit:
And her name still flies in Scythia and in Greece.
Actheon was inflamed of love for an heavenly
Person, so much that he was transformed in deer:
So a man should not put his desire too high.
Rightly did Laura triumph over the perverted
Child Cupid, because she neither moved
Her eye from virtue nor ever put a foot wrong.
Antiochus was so secret, that he almost
Died for his love for Stratonica;
But the kind physician helped him effectively.
Grace does not go by chance, but with reason,
To the discreet and wise, for in love can be proud
He that hides his strongest passion.
Anger filled king Herod so much
That he ordered to kill Mariamne than
He calls her, and crying suffers with love.
Psyche was patient in what happened to her,
And because of that she found help in her troubles,
And in the end was made a Goddess, to be an example for us.
An error make Jabob a slave for seven years,
Because he did not speak of Rachel to Laban;
But time repaired all his damage.
In Penelopes there was such perseverance,
That, by weaving and undoing her web,
She deserved to rejoin her beloved Ulysses.
Egeus made for himself a cruel doubt,
So that he was quick to seek death in the sea,
As soon as he saw Theseus come back with black sails.
Sophonisba was faithful to Massinissa
Beyond doubt, because she promised to drink poison
If she were forced to follow the triumph.
Nesso deceived when he said to Dianira:
Give this cloth with blood to Hercules,
If it ever happens that you have to fight for love.
In Hipermestra, as in a cunning snake,
There was wisdom because wearing the clohes of a woman
She saved her husband who was bloodless with fear.
Chance fell on Pompeyus, that for many years
Had seated at the top of the wheel,
But in the end fortune submerged him with troubles.
Emilia, the faithful wife of Scipio, showed
Modesty; because when she found him with a maid,
He did not talk of his sin not to make it public.
A spark brings danger of a big fire:
See how Cesar was killed in the senate
By only two people; after he survived the anger of Sulla.
Experience was in Rhea, who after hiding
Jove in mount Ida, ordered to make noise
So that he could not be found because of his crying.
Time, you that hurry men to death,
You saved Nestor, and if in the end he came to an end,
It seems impossible to think of such a life.
Oblivion, you are the end and boundary
Of all, you took to Lethe Elice and Dido,
And among your ruins you have fame and time.
Inner strength made happy the death of
Lucretia: to clean her fame
She killed herself, and she prepared for the offender a dark net,
Giving an example to those who love their own name and honour.
SONNET OF EXCUSE
I see my error, but I follow
The common deception, and I esteem this to be a small fault,
Because being wrong together with the majority of people is better
Than saving oneself in case of a public damage.
I see men go deceiving themselves
And try to make hours seem short to them:
So, in order to make the deception even greater,
I have made this game, and I am the first to condemn it.
Because there is nothing else to spur it, but wings
That time, which is so precious and dear,
Sends away, like the string of a bow sends an arrow.
But since there is no way to stop it,
And escaping tedium is a natural instinct,
I excuse myself for learning from nature.