Andrea Vitali's Historical Essays on Tarot

A King of Tarochi - 1584

A King without sense in the Italian vernaculars of the 16th century


Copyright Andrea Vitali -  © All rights reserved January 12, 2019


Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, January 15, 2019


The sixteenth-century text by Leonardo Salviati Degli Avvertimenti della Lingua sopra 'l Decamerone [Language Warnings regarding the Decameron] (1) is an important document to confirm what we have already written about the meaning of tarocco as a foolish person, of minimal value, idiotic as well as crazy.


The author, having reported the Ninth Novella of the First Day of Boccaccio’s Decameron, presents us with a translation of the story “Vernacularized in various vernaculars of Italy" (2).


The novel, after its original version, is presented translated into the following vernaculars:


In the language of Bergamo.

In the Venetian language.

In the Furlian language.

In the Istrian language.

In the Paduan language.

In the Genoese language.

In the Mantuan language.

In the Milanese language.

In the Bolognese language.

In the Neapolitan language.

In the Perugian language.

In the Florentine language of the old market.


The story entitled “The King of Cyprus and the Woman of Gascony” narrates the incident of a Gascon woman who, after making a pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher, on the way back was outraged ‘villainously’ in Cyprus by several evil men. Besides being overcome by the violence she suffered, she thought of going to the king of Cyprus, Godfrey of Boulogne, to claim revenge. But she was informed by some that the king led a life of abandonment, a life of neglect, without any urge for reaction, a life of little account, of a “King of Tarochi”, as the author reports, so that those who went to tell him of wrongs suffered were heard, but nothing more, and that he behaved in the same way in response offenses he himself received. The woman, in hearing the king’s state, still wanted to go to him, and once before him, after telling him what happened, begged him to teach her how she could bear such shame as he himself demonstrated towards the many villainies that had been inflicted on him. Piling it on, she also told him that if the good Lord had wanted and she could have done so, she would have gladly given him this sure infamy that he would have gladly endured. On hearing these words, the king reacted as if he had awakened from a deep sleep. He therefore ordered the woman to be avenged and from then on became a persecutor of those who, through evil deeds, had muddied the honor of his crown.


Following is the original text of the story reported in the volume [followed by a translation into English].


Dico adunque che né tempi del primo re di Cipri, dopo il conquisto fatto della Terra Santa da Gottifrè di Buglione, avvenne che una gentil donna di Guascogna in pellegrinaggio andò al Sepolcro: donde tornando, in Cipri arrivata, da alcuni scelerati huomini villanamente fu oltraggiata: di che ella senza alcuna consolazion dolendosi, pensò d'andarsene a richiamare al re, ma detto le fu per alcuno, che la fatica si perderebbe: perciocche egli era di sì rimessa vita, e da sì poco bene, che non che egli l'altrui onte con giustizia vendicasse; anzi infinite con vituperevole viltà a lui fattene, sosteneva: in tanto che chiunque avea cruccio alcuno, quello, col fargli alcuna onta, ò vergogna sfogava. La qual cosa udendo la donna, disperata della vendetta, ad alcuna consolazione della sua noia, propose di voler mordere la miseria del detto re: e andatasene piagnendo davanti a lui, disse. Signor mio, io non vengo nella tua presenza per vendetta, che io attenda della ingiuria, che m'è stata fatta, ma in sodisfacimento di quella ti priego, che tu m'insegni, come tu sofferi quelle, le quali io intendo, che ti son fatte, acciocchè, da te apparando, io possa pazientemente la mia comportare la quale, sallo Iddio se io far lo potessi, volentieri ti donerei, poi così buon portatore ne se. Il re, infino allora stato tardo, e pigro, quasi dal sonno si risvegliasse, cominciando dalla ingiuria fatta a questa Donna, la quale agramente vendicò, rigidissimo persecutore divenne di ciascuno, che contro all'onore della sua corona alcuna cosa commettesse da indi innanzi .


The King of Cyprus, pierced (1) by a woman of Gascony, from bad becomes valorous.


I say therefore that in the times of the first king of Cipri (2), after the conquest made of the Holy Land by Gottifrè de Bouillon, it happened that a gentlewoman of Gascony on pilgrimage went to the Sepulcher: whence returning, in Cipri arrived, by some evil men was villainously outraged: of which she, hurting without any consolation (3), thought to go and report it to the king, but told by someone that her trouble would be wasted: because he led such a remissive life (4), and of so little benefit [si poco bene] that he did not avenge others’ shame (5); indeed he supported infinite villanous insults made to him with shameful cowardice: (6); so much so that anyone who vented distress some (7), it gave him no shame or irritation. When the woman, in despair of revenge, heard no consolation of her boredom, (8) proposed to want to bite the misery (9) of said king, she went wailing before him, she said. My Lord, I do not come in your presence for revenge, that I await for the injury that has been done to me, but in fulfillment of that I beg you, that you teach me, how you suffer (10) those, which I mean, what has been done to you, so that by appearing to you (11) I can patiently behave (12) which, give God (13), if I could do it, I would gladly give it to you, then if (14) such a good bearer. The king, even then, was slow and listless, almost from sleep woke up, starting with the injury done to this Woman, agrally (15) avenged, and became very rigid persecutor of anyone who committed anything against the honor of his crown from before (16) (3).


(1)  pierce = taken in a metaphorical sense

(2)  Cipri = Cyprus

(3)  without any consolation hurting = hurting, without any consolation

(4)  remissive life = spineless [weak] life

(5)  shame = offense

(6)  sustained = endured

(7)  distress some = some distress

(8)  boredom = misfortune

(9)  to bite poverty = to prick his wretched moral condition

(10) suffer = support

(11)  appearing to = learning from

(12)  to behave = to endure

(13)  give God = God knows

(14)  if = be

(15)  agrally = hard

(16)  from before = from that moment on.


What we now want to examine is how, in the various vernacular languages of the time, the sentence referring to the king's primary state has been translated, which in the original states, "egli era di sì rimessa vita, e da sì poco bene". "He was of such a spineless (weak) life, and of so little benefit". The sense of the investigation consists therefore in observing with what words or expressions, the vernacular languages have translated the sentence of our interest referable to a king who instead of being angry and promoting serious condemnations against the oppressed, showed a detached attitude, as if he were one foolish, a fool, not to react against actions that would have required a firm stance.


It seems of interest observe how popular sagacity has been expressed in an almost identical way. The notes in italics are taken from the volume of Giovanni Pananti I Parlari Italiani in Certaldo. (The Italian Speech in Certaldo) of 1875 (4).


 In the language of Bergamo


"qul Re era un turlulù (1), e ù pastonaz da far di gnocc, da nient" (that king was a fool, a sucker [babbeo], and just good for making gnocchi, one of nothing).


(1) turlulù = Even today we use it in this sense to correspond to the Tuscan bischero, p. 13. Bischero means nitwit [stupidotto], fool [sciocco], buffoon [balordo].


In the Venetian language:


"quell Re giera un certo pezzo de carne con do occhi, murlon (2), (that King was only a certain piece of flesh with two eyes [meaning inanimate].


(2) murlon = Outdated superlative voice: simple, silly, stupid, demented, p. 46.


Later, in this account in the Venetian vernacular, the author writes:


“Quando quella grama senti sto resolo di sto Re da tarochi, se la vite persa e desperà de trovar chi per fare le so vendette fesse el sò dretto a quei mascalzoni, che l'haveva offesa, ...” (When that unhappy woman felt like he had become this King of Tarocchi, she saw herself lost and she despaired of finding one who could make her revenge against those rascals who had violated her ... ".


Here we have the attribution to that King of being a King of Tarocchi, that is a King “of four soldi” ]idomatic expression meaning worthless], of no value, in the sense of "poor intelligence".


In the Furlian [Fiuulian] language


"parze che lui iare d'anim tant vil, e si dapoch" (it seems that he is of such a vile soul and so of little).


In the Istrian language


"lui rieva d'una vita tanto minchiona, e da poco" (he lived a life so foolish and of little).


In the Paduan language


"li era d'una vita si sdramazza, e così da puoco ben" (he led such an absurd life of such little sense [senso]).


In the Genoese language


"L'era un homo si dezutre, e da poc" (he was a man so inutile (3) and of little).


(3) dezutre = corresponding to useless, it is a word that has been forgotten.


In the Mantuan language


" 'l Re ira si dabben, e d'si bona vita" (the King was so good and of so good life). Here, ironically, it is said that the King was good because he never got angry with anyone.


In the Milanese language


"ol Re era tant da puoch" (The King was so much of little).


In the Bolognese language


"l'iera un hom fredd, e tant da poch e qusi minchion" (he was a cold man and so much of little, almost a fool).


In the Neapolitan language


"esso era d' una vita così paurosa, e tanto da poco" (he led a life full of fears and so much of little).


In the Perugian language


"la sua vita era tanto armessa, e tanto da poca" (His life was so much dismissive and so much of little).


In the Florentine language of the old market.


"egli era si vile, e si dappoco" (he was so vile and so much of little).


But we find again other expressions attributed to the King:


- in the Venetian language: "Quel Pincon de quel Re" or "That stupidotto of that King" [today we would say Pincion] and "Buffalo da Mestre de quell Re" (5), which identifies the sovereign as a person of poor intelligence.


- in the Paduan language: “El Re, che infina a quel punto iera sta tardivello, e da puoco " (the King who until then had been of slow intellect and of little importance)


- in the Milanese language: “Re l'era iussì minchion" (The King was so minchione)


- in the Neapolitan language: “Lo Re, che fino ‘ntanno era stato tardo, e pegro" (The King, who until then had been slow (of understanding), and lazy)


- in the Mantuan language: “Il Re, ch’a fin al’ora ira dapoc" (The King, who until then was of nothing)


- in the Perugian language: “Il Re infinteli essendo suto lento, e pligro " (The King who until then had been slow (of understanding) and lazy


- in the Istrian language: “El Re, inchinta quella bota, essendo sta longo " (The King, struck by that blow (inflicted by the woman), having been long (of understanding) or that did not understand things immediately.


- in the Florentine language of the old market: “Il re, che fino era stato un’huomo di cenci, e uno scimunito" (The king, who had been a man of rags, and a scimunito)


Although we believe that every Italian understands very well the meaning of the expressions attributed to the King, we remember what for us means a person "from nothing", "recently" and "just" to put in relation with the other terms reported in the various dialects and ie minchione (6), turlulù, King of Tarot, etc. All these attributions declare a person of no value, foolish as well as a fool, given the context, given his not acting in a situation that, on the contrary, would have required a firm and decisive reaction. Among other things, we still find, among other attributes, that of 'scimunito' [a term that according to the Crusca applies to scemo or sciocco, [fool], as well as "huomo di cenci", an expression that brings the personage closer to the figure of the Misero [Miserable One, i.e. The Beggar] of the so-called Tarot of Mantegna and the Stultitia [Dull-wittedness] of Giotto as painted in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua.


What results therefore is to have attributed to our character the value of fool, a term that obviously possesses the characteristic of person of little account or of “person of little”, a minchione for the Tuscans: practically a King of Tarochi, almost a fool.


So we have once again, through the expression Re da Tarochi, the meaning of tarot as pazzo, stolto, [foolish] as we previously expressed in other essays (7).




1 - Lionardo Salviati, Degli Avvertimenti della Lingua sopra 'l Decamerone [Of Language Warnings regarding the Decameron], Volume One, In Venice, printed by Domenico, & Gio. Battista Guerra, brothers, MDLXXXIIII [1584].

2 - Ibid, n.p. [no page number] .

3 - Ibid, n.p..

4 - Giovanni Papanti, I Parlari Italiani [Italian Speech] in Certaldo. Alla Festa del V Centenario di Messer Giovanni Boccacci [In celebration of the Five Hundredth anniversary of Messer Giovanni Bocaccio], In Livorno, printed by Francesco Vigo, 1875, from p. 11 to p. 47. Certaldo is the city in Tuscany where Boccaccio was born.

5 - Up to the '30s in this lagoon territory, buffalo were bred, which we know have been considered animals of low intelligence.

6 - Regarding the significance of Minchione see our essay Del Minchione (currently in Italian only).

7 - See, among others, the essays The meaning of the word Tarocco, Theroco Wind, and A 'Cavaleyro' taroco (13th century)as well as Tarocco sta per Matto and others currently in Italian only.