Recent peer reviews of The Game of Saturn

The Game of Saturn by Peter Mark Adams was positively reviewed by Joscelyn Godwin for the Renaissance Quarterly (Volume 71, Number 2, Summer 2018). Godwin describes Adams' analysis as "a convincing history of the Brera’s S-B pack":

Adams’s approach is the antithesis of those that try to squeeze the S-B into some external scheme such as alchemy or divination tarot. He compares it to modern ethnography, which seeks the meaning of phenomena and behavior in their own context, not ours. His soberly argued conclusions are that the S-B was created in Ferrara at the court of Ercole d’Este. Its inventor was Pellegrino Prisciani, already responsible for the program of the Salone dei Mesi in Palazzo Schifanoia.

And he concludes:

Even if only partially provable, The Game of Saturn opens a new and darker vista on the pagan Renaissance. No student of that current should ignore it.

The full review is available from the University of Chicago Press.

An extensive review by Niketas Siniossoglou of National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, was published in Aries – Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism 18 (2018). He observes,

'Adams decodes astral, alchemical, and sexual associations that are plausible, and shows how they may have been redeployed into visual format. Still, the deck was made to conceal things and resist interpretation; part of its function consists in hiding what it really is, and in this regard it is a great success. What is plausible here, is also ambiguous and allusive, or, as Adams repeatedly notes, polysemous.'

And continues,

'Adams sees in the dark neopagan symbolism of the Sola-Busca tarocchi a case of Nicodemism avant la lettre (“A Nicodemite is someone who whilst outwardly conforming to the dominant religion, conceals their true beliefs and practices”, 210), and shows that a Renaissance circle around the Duke Ercole d’Este, as well as members of “a clergy underworld,” were inclined to experiment with things that today we would label as “occult”. In other words, a genuine interest in the heterodox worldview conveyed by this deck conformed with the ruthless political and economical power game of the time. Adams suggests that the deck may well hide a potential ritualistic aspect. Though it is impossible to speculate on the extent of the deck’s real ritual operation, the mere existence of the deck implies a vivid interest and possibly an active involvement in a worldview with theurgic and pagan points of reference. This is a particularly significant point, given the current tendency in Byzantine and Renaissance studies to play down the possibility of a distinctively “pagan” outlook, or existential stance, in both Byzantium and the Renaissance. Following the anachronistic projection by modern scholars of an anodyne, irenic, and fluid Christian discourse onto the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, all evidence of a distinctively non-Christian outlook is dismissed as the literary game of polymaths—some scholars have gone as far as even de-paganizing the notorious “Book of Laws” by Georgios Gemistos Plethon (1355–1452), something that would probably come as a surprise to Plethon himself. On the contrary, Adams is right in taking the Sola-Busca seriously, that is, as evidence of an intellectual activity extending beyond literary show-off.'


The Game of Saturn is a stimulating read, and it is difficult to put it down. It will appeal to all scholars of Renaissance intellectual history, esotericism, and Plethon. Published by Scarlet Imprint, the book is a rare example of fine print-making, featuring beautiful reproductions of the Sola-Busca deck. It is only after finishing the book that one reflects on its motto: “There is no document of civilisation that is not at the same time a document of barbarism”

The full review is available from Brill Online Book and Journals.