Le Monde Primitif

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Court de Gébelin, Antoine (1719-1784). Monde primitif analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne

Le monde primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne: Considéré dans divers objets concernant l'histoire, le blason, les monnoies, les jeux, les voyages des phéniciens autour du monde, les langues américaines, etc. ou dissertations mêlées


ANTOINE COURT DE GEBELIN (1728-1784), French scholar, son of Antoine Court, was born at Nimes in 1728. He received a good education, and became, like his father, a pastor of the Reformed Church. This office, however, he soon relinquished, to devote himself entirely to literary work. He had conceived the project of a work which should set in a new light the phenomena, especially the languages and mythologies, of the ancient world; and, after his father's death, he went to Paris in order to be near the necessary books. After long years of research, he published in 1775 the first volume of his vast undertaking under the title of Le Monde primitif, analyse et compare avec le monde moderne. The ninth volume appeared in 1784, leaving the work still unfinished. The literary world marvelled at the encyclopaedic learning displayed by the author, and supposed that the French Academy, or some other society of scholars, must have combined their powers in its production. Now, however, the world has well-nigh forgotten the huge quartos. These learned labours did not prevent Gebelin from pleading earnestly the cause of religious tolerance. In 1760 he published a work entitled Les Toulousaines, advocating the rights of the Protestants; and he afterwards established at Paris an agency for collecting information as to their sufferings, and for exciting general interest in their cause. He co-operated with Franklin and others in the periodical work entitled Affaires de l'Angleterre et de l'Amerique (1776, sqq.), which was devoted to the support of American independence. He was also a supporter of the principles of the economists, and Quesnay called him his well-beloved disciple. In the last year of his life he became acquainted with Mesmer, and published a 'Lettre sur le magnetisme animal'. He was imposed upon by speculators in whom he placed confidence, and was reduced to destitution by the failure of a scheme in which they engaged him. He died at Paris on the 10th of May 1784.

He was also active in various Freemasonic Lodges in Paris, and his works had an influence in some developments therein.

Cf the main entry in Court de Gebelin for more details.

Publication details

[PDF of scanned original French book ]

vol. 8, tom. 1, Paris 1781

Valleyre l'aîne

Le Monde Primitif has also been republished (in French).

publisher and date of publication

Elibron Classics, 2006


'Du Jeu Des Tarots' (a translation in progress) of Court De Gebelin's seminal essay. Also includes the Comte de M***'s 'Recherches sur les Tarots'.

Relevant pages are pp. 365-410

Author's comments (if available)

The section on tarot in Le Monde Primitif begins with De Gebelin writing:

Du Jeu des Tarots.

Où l'on traite de son origine, où on explique ses Allegories, & où l'on fait voir qu'il est la source de nos Cartes modernes à jouer, etc. etc.

1. Surprise que causeroit la découverte d'un Livre Egyptien.

Si l'on entendoit annoncer qu'il existe encore de nos jours un Ouvrage des anciens Egyptiens, un de leurs Livres échappé aux flammes qui dévotèrent leurs superbes Bibliothèques, & qui contient leur doctrine la plus pure sur des objets intéressans, chacun seroit, sans doute, empressé de connoître un Livre aussi précieux, aussi extraordinaire. Si on ajoûtoit que ce Livre est très-répandu dans une grande partie de l'Europe, que depuis nombre de siècles il y est entre les mains de tout le monde, la surprise iroit certainement en croissant: ne seroit-elle pas à son comble, si l'on assuroit qu'on n'a jamais soupçonné qu'il fût Egyptien; qu'on le possède comme ne le possedant point, que personne n'a jamais cherché à en déchiffrer une feuille: que le fruit d'une sagesse exquise est regardé comme un amas de figures extravagantes qui ne signifient rien par elles-mêmes? Ne croiroit-on pas qu'on veut s'amuser, se jouer de la crédulité de ses Auditeurs?

2. Ce Livre Egyptien existe.


On the Game of Tarots.

Where we address its origin, where we explain its Allegories, & where we show that it is the source of our modern playing Cards, etc. etc.

1. Surprise that would be caused by the discovery of an Egyptian book.

If we heasrd announced that there exists still in our day a Work of the ancient Egyptians, one of their Books that escaped the flames that devoured their superb Libraries, & that contains their most pure doctrine on interesting subjects, everyone would be, without doubt, in rush to acquaint themselves of a Book so precious, so extraordinary. If we were to add that this Book is wide-spread in a large part of Europe, that for many centuries it is within the hands of everyone, the surprise would certainly be increased: [ne seroit-elle pas à son comble] (translation needed), if we assured that it has never been suspected as Egyptian; that we possess it without possessing it, that no-one has ever sought to even decipher one sheet: that the fruit of an exquisite wisdom is regarded as an mass of extravagant figures that signify nothing on their own? Let's not believe that we want to amuse ourselves, to play with the credulity of its Editors?

2. This Egyptian book exists.


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