Monday, May 5, 2014

Fools Head Inn

Francesco Piscina, in 1565, explained Matto and Bagatto. He explained them badly, albeit creatively.

I do not want to leave out unmentioned another explanation, even if it will seem to be a joke. In order to make it clear, you must know that it can be read, in a very pleasant and acute comedy written by the very learned Intronati, of the famous Academy in Siena, not devoid of seriousness, of the amusing controversy between two very tight-fisted innkeepers: all people of any kind, when they had to travel, used to go to the Inn of the Mirror, but for a long time they have preferred to go to that of the Fool, more appropriate to their will and their actions. This is why, with great mystery, we see the Fool in the game of Tarot being represented in such a way that he looks behind towards a mirror, making fun of the fame of the Mirror, that is lost among all people, who once used to go to that inn. This is why his face is so joyful; he rejoices and glories in the credit he receives, so that all men run behind him. He is followed by the one that is called the Bagat, dressed as an innkeeper, not without subtlety, because as the signs of the Inns are seen by travellers in search of lodging before they see the innkeepers, as the signs used to give good reputation to the inns, as we see in those of the Lilies, Eagles, Falcons, Crowns and Kings, that in all good and famous cities show good lodging, in the same way the Fool, being the figure of the inn, has been put before the Bagat, who is the Innkeeper, meaning that famous inn in which most people prefer to stay.

... where Angels fear to tread. (Alexander Pope)


  1. I just noticed your post, Michael. I am glad this passage is on the web, what with Tarotpedia being temporarily removed. However the translation suffers from a confusion of tenses, making Piscina's allegory more mysterious than he intended. In the 6th line it uses a past perfect that should be present perfect (not "had preferred" but "have preferred") and at the end a past tense that should be present (not "to which most people used to go" but "in which most people prefer to stay". Marco Ponzi, the original translator, posted a revised translation at It is both more literal and clearer than what you have above (which is the version in the print edition), although still not the clearest English. He wanted me to correct the version on Tarotpedia (he did change "used" to "use", but that's not enough). However we couldn't figure out how to get me access and the project was dropped. The point, which may have been clear enough anyway, is that people used to go to the Inn of the Mirror, i.e. self-reflection, but now prefer the Inn of the Fool, whose picture is outside the Inn, as a kind of advertisement, and whose innkeeper is the Bagat.

    1. Hi, Mike,

      I am usually inclined to take such things on faith, and so I've made those two changes. This part of the interpretation is pretty frivolous, if not fatuous, anyway. It is, however, an interesting reminder that the author(s) of those two readings were just making things up, without much serious consideration.

      And it offered a great opportunity for a bit of creative sign making.