Tarot cards were first developed in Italy, and then spread to France. Given the fact that those are two of the most romantic cultures in history, it’s probably not surprising that the tarot’s first language is the language of love. In fact, some of the tarot’s design might even be based on the starry-eyed poetry of a hapless Italian romantic named Francesco Petrarch.
In 1327, when Francesco was 23, he met a 19-year-old blonde named Laura — at church, no less. Unfortunately, Laura was married, so Francesco was consigned to love her from afar. When Laura died of the plague shortly after their first encounter — heartbreakingly young and still beautiful — Francesco wrote a poem called To Laura in Death, in which he pined, “To be able to say how much you love is to love but little.”
Throughout Francesco’s life, he continued to dedicate his musings to poor, dead Laura. His poetic masterpiece, the Trionfi, describes six allegorical figures: Love, Chastity, Death, Fame, Time, and Divinity. The poem is important to tarot historians, because each one of those figures is remarkably similar to the images depicted on the early tarocchi cards.
- In the poem, Love conquers ordinary men — like Francesco himself.
- But then Chastity comes along and conquers Love, just as the chaste young Laura declined Francesco’s advances.
- Death defeats Chastity, in the same way that the plague had stolen Laura away.
- But then Fame defeats Death — and to illustrate, Francesco describes how Laura’s memory lived on even though she was gone.
- Time has the upper hand, however. It trumps even Fame, because those who once knew Laura also pass away, and Laura’s memory is slowly erased from the face of the earth.
- Finally, Eternity triumphs over Time, as Francesco looks forward to rejoining his beloved in the afterlife.
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