Monday, November 27, 2006

history of the cards

In 1966, Michael Dummett wrote “The Game of Tarot”, a history of playing cards and the Tarot in Europe. There he concludes: “the overwhelming probability, then, is that, in about 1370- 1375, playing cards came to Europe, very likely through Venice, from Mamluk Egypt, where they had been known for some time. The etymological evidence suggests that they had reached Egypt through Persia, just as Chess had spread throughout the Islamic world from Persia, whither it had arrived before the Muslim conquest. From this point in the trail however, the evidence becomes patchy”. This conclusion is based on the discovery of a 15th century Egyptian Mamluk set discovered in the Topkapi Sarayi Museum in Istanbul. The set, consisting of four suits, Swords, Polo Sticks, Cups and Coins and three court cards: King (malik); Viceroy (naib); and Second Viceroy (thani Naib). The four suits are identical to the four suits in the Tarot pack, though it is now usual to refer to the sticks as wands or batons.

There are several other European references he draws on- an inventory of possessions drawn up by her son at the death of the Duchess of Orleans in 1408 mentions ‘a pack of Saracen cards’; inventories from Barcelona that attest to “Moorish playing cards” and the 15th century ‘Chronicles of Viterbo’ that say: “In the year 1379 there was brought to Viterbo, the game of cards, which in the Saracen language is called ‘nayb’.

Idries Shah in his Book ‘The Sufis’ says “Naib is an Arabic word meaning ‘deputy’… or substitute material, forming an allegory of the teachings of a Sufi master about certain cosmic influences upon humanity. This is divided into four sections, called the turuq
(four Ways), the word from which ‘tarot’ is undoubtedly derived…the pack as it stands today, is only partially correct…this error has been caused by a mistranslation from Arabic of certain words”. .”The Spanish still call playing cards naipes.

The earliest recorded playing cards are Chinese and there are several references that give AD 969 as the earliest certain date for Chinese playing cards. Could ‘ganjifa’ have originated from China? Could China – the land in which paper was invented- be the source for playing card games in the world ? The Colliers encyclopaedia on Books says: “From its introduction by the Moors, who had forcibly wrested the secret from the Chinese, papermaking moved to Italy , to cater to a rage for card playing, among other things. A public eager for ‘images’ – souvenirs of events and shrines…was rising on every side”.

No comments: