The following post is an awkward attempt at translating in english. I hereby apologize in advance to my former english teachers, may they forgive me this outrageous display of my negligence in class… It probably won’t make a lot of sense, and may well induce a gag reflex to the english reader. Sincere apologies to you dear reader.
Etienne Tabourot (1547-1590) also known as “Seigneur des Accords” (Lord of the Agreements), predates by four centuries Grasset d’Orcet (whose works influenced a lot the post-Fulcanelli wave of alchemophyles, and by that way a lot of esoterist Tarotologues), was undoubtedly a pioneer in what Grasset will name centuries later « la langue des oiseaux » – the language of the birds. Wild etymology or highly significant paronomasia ?
Seeing his canting arms, one won’t wonder that Tabourot developped at a deep level in his « Bigarrures et touches avec les apophtegmes du sieur Gaulard » (“Variagations and Touches with the Adages of Mr Gaulard“) how to decypher and build Rébus de Picardie, Equivoques François and other Antistrophes ou Contrepeteries, Anagrammes, Vers Léonins, etc… (“rebus from Picardy, French equivocals and other antistrophes or puns, anagrams, leonine verses, etc…“) (thanks to Sophie Nusslé for the title and subtitles translations)
What links Tabourot to our Tarots may well no be obvious at first sight, despite the widespread use of play on words in “tarot interpretations”. Before pointing it out, I’d like to talk a bit about a few aspects of Tabourot’s work which may feed Tarots lover’s curiosity.
We can’t but notice that several references pointed by Tabourot are also used and cited by Tarot historians, although their fame was then so immense that they would be cited as reference even in a cookbook – they are Clément Marot, Merlin Coccaï, François Rabelais or Pietro Aretino.
After giving hommage to the mythical or potential letters inventors (namely Memnon, Mercurus/Hermes, Thetas, the Phenicians, the Ethiopians, the Assyrians, etc…), Tabourot analyzes hyeroglyphic qualities of our alphabet, for instance :
« Q, pour ce qu’il ressemble au cul, duquel sort de l’ordure. »
(The letter Q is in French homophonic to “ass” – anatomical bottom, not the equine – so Tabourot describes it : “Q in that it ressembles an ass from which the waste gets out”).
Then comes the first chapter about the Rébus de Picardie. It is a first occurence of the Tarots in the book, here spelled TARAUT. At the verso of folio 5 from the 1595 edition (à Paris, par Claude Montr’œil et Jean Richer) is described but alas not illustrated the following rebus :
Un amant, dit-il, la maistresse duquel avoit nom Caterina, exprimoit ainsi son nom, pour le porter toujours sur luy: c’estoit qu’au milieu de sa chesne ou Catena, il y avoit un roy de deniers, tel qu’on les peint aux cartes de Taraut, que l’on appelle ry en langue Boulonnoise: voulant dire en outre que sa Caterina valoit tous les deniers du monde. L’invention grasse de ce messer consistoit en ce qu’il n’appelloit l’un des costez de sa chesne que Cate, et l’autre faisoit na, qui est la dernière syllabe de Catena: au milieu de laquelleestoit ce ry ou roy en françois.
Awkward translation :
A lover, whose beloved woman name was Caterine, expressed her name to carry it over him in this manner : in the middle of his chain necklace (Catena) was a King of Deniers as it is painted in Tarot cards, which is called “ry” in the Boulonnoise language, meaning moreover that his Caterina was worth all the Deniers in the world. This gentleman’s bold invention consisted in that he called one side of his chain necklace Cate and the other na, and in between this “ry”, all of which made Cate-ry-na.
Follow more rebus examples with less cards but more pictures, among which I’ll point out the two pictures below :
First one on the left reads “a kneeling (à genou) madman (Fol) with a trump (trompe) in his mouth, means FOL A GENOU (kneeling madman) TROMPE (trump) ( = fol âge nous trompe = foolish age betrays us)”, second one on the right reads “a world in that kind filled with S made of bones and souci (pot marigold or calendula but also the word for worries) means “the world full or sadness (tristes S = sad S, and tristesse=sadness) and worries (soucis)”.
Then come the Letters and musical notes rebus, and also the less common rebus based on dice, which I note because we find dice in some Bateleur cards :
Tabourot explains that “deux cinq signifient quine (Two five means Quine)” so we read “trois co quines (coquine : hussy, three hussies)”.
Then we’ll jump to chapter VI, Des autres équivoques par amphibologies, vulgairement appelez Des Entends trois. Those « double entendre » play on words are based on ambiguities and multiple interpretations (f.41r).
In the folio number 51 a second form of Tarot is found, TAROT, without the final s this time and preceded by a grammatical singular article.
Je cognois une femme de bona voglia, qui jouoit fort volontiers à toutes fortes de jeux, nommément au Tarot. Advenue la mort de son mary, l’on disoit qu’elle ne joueroit plus au Tarot, pource qu’elle avoit perdu son excuse, toutes fois elle n’a pas laissé d’y jouer depuis.
“I knew a woman of good will, who enjoyed playing many games, among wich the Tarot. When her husband died, they said she wouldn’t play Tarot anymore, for she had lost her “excuse” (reference to the game), although she didn’t stop playing since then”
Finally to speak about what was promised in the beginning, let’s get back to the chapter titled “Equivoques François”. Play-on-words, holorimes, this is what makes those “équivoques”.
We find the Tarots again.
At folio 29 the word is written TAROTS , a grammatical plural this time :
Or, descendons un peu sur les femmes : J’ay veu une certaine jouant aux tarots, laquelle comme ce vint à son tour d’avoir la main, escarta le roy de baston. Et voyant qu’il tardoit trop à venir, asseurée selon la disposition du jeu et nombre de ses triomphes, qu’il ne luy pouvoit eschapper, dit à l’un de ceux qui joûoient avec elle: Monsieur, il faut que j’aye vostre roi de baston. A quoy celuy qui l’avoit fit response : Vrayement, il est à votre commandement, quand il vous plaira, mon roide baston. N’estoit-ce pas présenter son service à propos?
(under 21 please stop reading right now) “Let’s speak a bit about women : I saw one playing tarots, who put aside the King of Batons (roy de baston). Seeing that he was late to appear, and certain that by the trumps she held she would win it, she said to one of her fellow : “Sir, I must have your Roi de Baston”. To what the man replied : “Really, it’ll be at your command when it’ll please you, my stiff stick (roide baston).”
Reading Tabourot shows how those consonantic games predate a lot the 19th century – but mostly Tabourot has the merit of reminding us what this is about : a game, an actualisation of the words, and nothing about a secret etymology nor a reserved to initiates hidden cypher ; it’s all about funny paranomasi which made the happiness of pataphysicians and humorists (poil au dentiste).