XIV. Temperence or Prudence


Meaning:  The use of reason and contemplation to see deeper into a situation.  Mixing to achieve the right balance or temperature.  Being merciful.  Steady progress towards a goal.  You deserve meditation.

Reversed:  Listening to the wrong advice.  Seeking advice when it isn’t needed at all.  Being spontaneous to the point of injury, however much serious injuries might make beautiful scars.



Cary-Yale Visconti

The typical image is of diluting wine with water, the way the ancients perceived as the civilized way to drink.  Hard to fault that, staying hydrated is important, but it is also an easy visual analogy for self measurement.  How much is in each cup, what ratio is best?


In response to Reform art invention for visible allegories for independent and old world inspired virtues of their own, the church over the next few centuries would be building with a similar, allegoric language.  The Atrium of St. Peters Basilica, would be remodeled in the 18th century with their own virtues – Fortitude (Athena), Justice, Prudence (Hygea) scarcely changed from the ancient gods.  Faith, Hope, and Temperance are innovations, they are conceptual.  The choice for the Church makes a remark on Temperance’s other meaning, the foundry act of dipping heated metal into water to harden it.  The tarot contains the quartet of humanist Cardinal Virtues and a selection of four church virtues, with one crossover shared between them, which is Justice.  Temperence, Fortitude and arguably the Church, presented as the Papess card, are all that was borrowed.

Temperence, one of four cardinal virtues, shared between the old and new world.
Temperence, one of four Cardinal Virtues of humanism, or virtues shared between the old and new world views.

In the Paris example, we have a unique depiction, of water not being measured but poured onto a fire.  Perhaps this is a play on the double meaning of the word, as tempering involve water, fire and steel, or perhaps this comments on some contemporary situation for which mixing a drink with a measured hand is useless – a way of saying, time to put the fire out!

Giuseppe Raffaelli (1696-1731)
Temperence, St. Peters Basilica, Giuseppe Raffaelli (1696-1731) with the metallurgy analogy.

Bacchus and Ariadne Herm 2-3rd Cent., Roman Egypt
Bacchus and Ariadne Herm 2-3rd Cent., Roman Egypt

Another association involves the use of the pouring between pitchers as an emblem of return, something that would link the old death / fertility role of Hermes with the Janus or Door god of the Romans, and the unknown two faced character on stones found as relic by the Celts.  Along with these, one of the most common and prominent symbols of the ancient world, worn from the far East to the edges of the west, are the twin beasts that adorn every crescent shape.  These are the primal mirrors of Janus, like the herms of Hermes, the simplified shorthand caduceus in my opinion, understood to be the magic in the wand by diverse peoples long forgotten:

Ionia, 3rd Cent. BC
Ionia, 3rd Cent. BC

In the Paris version of the Marseille deck the Justice card is also that of a Janus type figure.  But I regard this card to be the sublimated symbol for a primordial idea about creation.  In early times some cultures believed all would go to the underworld, others would gather at an ice castle far to the north, and for most only heroes and royalty could return.  By the time of late Antiquity, more people believed everyone had an afterlife in another world, eventually to replace the idea of a return to some part of this.  From the Romans, we know Janus and Jana to be primordial Latin names for the Sun and Moon.  Janus is another form of Dianus, suggesting a matriarchal Sun and Moon pairing from archaic times that appears in other old people’s stories, like the Welsh and the Basque.  But way down by the time of the Romans, the faces of Janus had become duplicates, double males in that tribe’s peculiar love of patriarchy.  The reason it endured, is that the word janua means door, and as the door god, it became the seasonal deity of the New Years.  Just as unreal to the Romans, as I imagine, as Old Man Time and Baby New Year are to us, the way the notion carries on today.

Prudence, Nantes Cathedral, Tomb of Francois II, 15th Cent.
Prudence, Nantes Cathedral, Tomb of Francois II, 15th Cent.

Over and again, the story of myth and poetry is that the conqueror is total, the defeated become specifics.  In the time period of humanism and the Tarot, we see the use of Janus type figures, so-called because they diverge from the double male to a male-female.   This may like so much Gothic art include a continuation of the Celtic civilization’s symbols,  in which the bicephalous man is a not well matched but noted symbol, generally thought to represent the New Year as well.  This makes Janus a sort of Adam and Eve in one, whose day is the New Year, and points further still to a very old time which fades off from history’s sight.

And Janus of course, look at it, is about balance.  Especially when it’s the male and female, then it matches other symbols of regeneration, the twin snakes of the caduceus, the twin dragons and horses and so on, foresight and hindsight.