Tarocchino Arlecchino: The Old Man

In this final series of cards, I must deviate from the Etteilla meanings. The Bolognese deck shows some intriguing alternatives to the Marseille trump sequence, and as Etteilla mutated the trumps in his own direction,1 the two are almost incompatible. Ah, the fun of starting a deck with minimal planning…

So, I made my own keywords, hopefully in a way that blends well. I followed the model of certain Etteilla trumps which use the same keyword for upright and reversed. And I present to you, the OLD MAN, or, TIME.

The Old Man or the Hermit from Tarocchino Arlecchino

His elderly appearance and the purse at his belt render the Old Man closer to another Commedia dell’Arte character, Pantalon. But in the spirit of the deck, even this part is played by Arlecchino. Hoary Father Time wears an antique style of costume, from way back when Arlecchino dressed in tatters and patches, before his motley was stylized into the elegant and enigmatic geometric diamond patterns we mostly see today. He wears faded colors only. I tried out some bright red, but it simply did not look right.

This is a style of dress that I used for The Fool in this deck, as well as one of my favorite tiny dolls.

Now, for the keywords. There are two Ancient Greek translations for “time,” each with its own iconography.

Chronos, accumulating and calculated time, is associated with the god Cronus or Saturn. As such, it can be represented by an old bearded man, sometimes with Saturn’s kindly attributes of wealth and agriculture, and others with the more macabre, child-devouring aspect (e.g. Goya).

Saturn Devouring His Son (1820-1823) by Francisco de Goya, Source: Museo del Prado <https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/saturn/18110a75-b0e7-430c-bc73-2a4d55893bd6&gt;. CC BY-SA 4.0
A few years ago I photoshopped this painting into Alex Trebek devouring Buzzy Cohen and it remains the only worthwhile reddit post I’ve ever made.

Kairos, in contrast, is a fleeting moment, the opportune time for action. It is depicted with fleeting wings. And what’s more fun, Kairos has his own fun hairstyle, an extreme reverse mullet, showing that you can snatch him from the front but have no hope of so doing from the back.

Kairos with wings, long hair in front, and a shaved head in back.
Detail of a fresco (1552-1554) by Francesco Salviati. PD-US

The Old Man of the Bolognese deck combines attributes of Chronos and Kairos. Paradoxically, even with wings spread wide he hobbles along (or backwards) on crutches. It is really an apt metaphor for time, both flying and dragging.

Upright, he shows his age. Reversed, he disappears in a moment.


Upright: time, chronos, age, elderly, generation, epoch, year, month, day, hour, minute, second, measure, tempo, duration, eternity, golden age, Saturn

Reversed: time, kairos, moment, instant, opportunity, occasion, juncture


1 In the Etteilla trumps, the Hermit/Time/Old Man got keywords typically associated with the Hanged Man/Traitor. The Hanged Man himself was removed and replaced with Prudence. But he will be coming up here soon, with those keywords.

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