The fifteenth-century Italian physician and lawyer Fazio Cardano (Latin: Facius Cardan) was a friend of Leonardo da Vinci and a noted occultist. Rumors spread that he was in communication with a demon, a story Cardano spread himself, according to his son Gerolamo (De Subtilitate 19). This is not a particularly interesting story, but I bring it up because Jacques Bergier in Extraterrestrial Visitation from Prehistoric Times to the Present (1970) makes a very big deal of a passage attributed to Cardano by his son in De Subtilitate (1551) about the arrival of “aliens” in Renaissance Italy.
In the following passage, quoted from Gerolamo Cardano, is alleged to be transcribed from his father’s own notes. Unfortunately, Bergier’s translation (an English translation of Bergier’s French translation of the Latin original) is flawed, oddly truncated, and missing key words. (Par for the course with Bergier.) I am using the English translation given in the 1913 edition of Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars’ 1613 Rosicrucian novel The Comte De Gabalis (commentary XV) to explicate the French author’s reference to Cardano.
Bergier left out the last sentence about the beings lecturing at a public academy. Presumably this was too ridiculous for even him to take seriously, seeing as how it contradicts his assertion that visitors were secretive, came only to a select few adepts, and stressed that they could not divulge their secret knowledge.
The aliens sure dress funny, though. Bergier suggests that their clothes are the illuminated garments of beings of light, a type of extraterrestrial: “In my opinion, they were investigators who were sent by beings capable of lighting and extinguishing stars and were perhaps created by these beings.” They always, he said, wore “luminous” garments that glowed in the dark.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any “luminous” garments in Cardano’s description. I see that the shoes were shining, and their armor glittered. This is a fairly standard description of royal clothing. More importantly, the “aliens” are dressed in a very specific way, instantly recognizable to any Renaissance scholar with a reasonably good Classical education. They are dressed in the garments of the Roman triumph.
Piecing together the details of the Roman triumph is an issue too complex to get into here, but from such writers as Appian, Plutarch, Dionysus of Halicarnassus, Livy, Seutonius, and others we know that the Roman triumphator wore a purple (which in Roman times was a shade of red) and gold robe called the toga picta, a crown of laurels, glittering red boots, and a face painted red to match that of Jupiter Capitolinus, the chief god (see H. S. Versnel, Triumphus, ch. 2). After the time of Caligula, the emperor would sometimes wear a golden breastplate. Caligula himself wore that of Alexander the Great in his mock triumph. Cardano’s description of the beings is, in its essentials, dependent on the Classical descriptions of Julius Caesar’s four triumphs of 49 BCE and that of Scipio. The “Greek toga” corresponds to the tunica palmata, a purple tunic embroidered with palms, over which the toga picta, with its gold embroidery, was draped. Cardano has perhaps confused the gold-and-purple toga picta for “glistening and ruddy breastplates”—since both answer to the same color scheme. (Classical descriptions of this toga as being completely covered in stars made of solid gold may also have led to the misidentification of it as a metal covering.)
At the same time Cardano allegedly wrote his description (recorded by his son decades later), Andrea Mantegna painted The Triumphs of Caesar (1485-1492) based on the descriptions of Plutarch, Appian, and Seutonius. (Interestingly, in his painting, Caesar’s gold toga picta resembles armor more than drapery.) Additionally, in 1443 Alfonso I of Aragon celebrated a triumph in Naples in the costume of a Roman triumphator, as did Borso d’Este of Mantua in 1452 and 1471. Cesare Borgia put on a pageant of Caesar’s triumph in 1500.
So it’s not like this was a secret. Anyone alive in those years would have recognized the outfit. Thus, we don’t need to appeal to aliens to explain it.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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