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Introduction of Chess into Arabia from Persia.—Art of Blindfold Play-Chess at the Court of the 'Abbaside Caliphs.-Progress of the Game towards the West.
HAVING now established, as we believe, beyond the possibility of cavil or doubt, that Chess was invented in India, and thence introduced into Persia in the reign of Naushirawan, about the middle of the sixth century, we proceed to trace its further progress to the westward. We cannot determine the precise year, or even decennium, when the Indian embassy arrived at the Persian Court; for the reign of Naushirawan extended over the lengthened period of forty-eight years-that is, from A.D. 531 to A.D. 579. We shall, therefore, assume the middle of that century as our starting-point, which cannot be very far from the mark; and, this being granted, we have excellent authority for saying that in the course of a little more than half a century afterwards the game became known to the Arabs, and (as we shall show in our next chapter) to the Byzantines. Early in the seventh century we find that it had reached the sacred cities of Mecca and Medina. The prophet Muhammad apparently alludes to it in the fifth chapter of the Kurān; but, being himself ignorant of its precise nature, he gives it a place among sundry abominations to be carefully
eschewed by "the Faithful in general. His words are, "O true believers, surely wine, and lots, and images, and divining arrows, are an abomination of the works of Satan, therefore avoid ye them, that ye may prosper."1 Now, all the eminent Musalman commentators on this passage say, that by "wine and lots" are meant "all intoxicating drinks, and all games of chance. By the term images they say that the Prophet alluded to "the game of Chess," and that the interdict applied not to the game itself, in which chance had no part, but to the little carved figures or images of men, horses, elephants, &c., then used on the board as imported from India and Persia, all of which, in the opinion of the prophet, savoured strongly of idolatry.
The Muhammadan casuists and expounders of the sacred text, however, with a degree of sense and enlightenment much redounding to their credit, have managed to rescue the game of Chess from the very degrading position assigned to it by the Prophet, as one of the "abomina
1 Kuran, chapter v. page 135. We are told that this chapter was revealed at Medina, which, in our plain English, signifies that it was composed about, or soon after, A.D. 622, when the Prophet performed his celebrated Hijra, or flight, Friday, July 16, of that year. In the second chapter, wine and gaming are in like manner denounced, but nothing is there said of the images. The words are, "They will ask thee concerning wine and lots (i.e., games of chance); answer them-In both there is great sin, and also something of use unto man; but their sinfulness is greater than their use." Sale adds in a note, "From these words some suppose that only drinking to excess, and too frequent gaming, are prohibited; and the moderate use of wine they also think is allowed from the following words in the sixteenth chapter: -And from the fruits of palm trees and grapes ye obtain inebriating drinks, and also good nourishment.
Verily much may be here said on both sides; but generally speaking, most Musalmāns, especially Persians and Turks, will drink wine when they get it as heartily as any Christian. It merely depends on the example set by the reigning monarch for the time being whether the "true believer may "tak his drap drink" in public or in private. If the "Asylum of the Universe" be a temperance man, which he seldom is, of course the subjects will pretend to follow the example, and confine themselves to secret potations. The wealthy among them, however, may at all times, easily procure a dispensation from the Kāzī, should the state of their health require it.
tions of Satan." At the same time the more rigid and orthodox among the "true believers," such as the sect of the Sunnis, including the majority of the Arab tribes, the Turks, the people of Bukhara, and the Afghans of the present day, in order to avoid all appearance of scandal, play with plain blocks of ivory or wood variously cut, but bearing no resemblance to any living creature, so that the term images may not apply. The Shi,as, on the other hand, including the Persians, and the Musalmāns of India, commonly called Moguls, who are much more liberal in their ideas, and to the full as free from idolatry as their more scrupulous co-religionists, still make use of the old-fashioned and tastefully carved figures, such as they existed at the courts of Kanoj and Susa in the sixth century. The following passage from the preliminary discourse of Sale's Kuran contains all that need be said on this subject. Sale, we may remark, was a most sound and accurate oriental scholar, and everything he wrote was founded on first-rate authorities. The edition of his Translation, which I here use, is that of Tegg, 2 vols. 8vo., 1825; a very beautiful and accurately printed work. In the Preliminary Discourse, sect. 5, page 171, the author says:
"Under the name of lots the commentators agree that all other games whatever, which are subject to hazard or chance, are comprehended and forbidden, as dice, cards, tables, &c. And they are reckoned so ill in themselves, that the testimony of him who plays at them is, by the more rigid, judged to be of no validity in a court of justice. Chess is almost the only game which the Muhammadan doctors allow to be lawful (though it has been a doubt with some)', because it depends wholly on skill and management, and not at all on chance; but
1 1 V. Hyde, de Ludis, Oriental in Proleg. ad Shahiludium.
then it is allowed under certain restrictions, viz., that it be no hinderance to the regular performance of their devotions, and that no money or other thing be played for or betted, which last the Turks and Sonnites religiously observe, but the Persians and Mogols do not.1 But what Mohammed is supposed chiefly to have disliked in the game of Chess, was the carved pieces or men, with which the Pagan Arabs played, being little figures of men, elephants, horses, and dromedarics;2 and these are thought, by some commentators, to be truly meant by the images prohibited in one of the passages of the Koran 3 quoted above.
"That the Arabs in Mohammed's time actually used such images for chessmen appears from what is related in the Sonna of Ali, who, passing accidentally by some who were playing at Chess, asked them, What images are these which you are so intent upon ? for they were perfectly new to him, that game having been but very lately introduced into Arabia, and not long before into Persia, whither it was first brought from India in the reign of Khosru Nushirwan.5 Hence the Mohammedan doctors infer that the game was disapproved only for the sake of the images: wherefore the Sonnites always play with plain pieces of wood or ivory; but the Persians and Indians, who are not so scrupulous, continue to make use of the carved ones. The Mohammedans comply with the prohibition of gaming much better than they do with that of wine; for though the common people, among the Turks more frequently, and the Persians more rarely,
1 V. Eundem, ibid.
2 V. Eundem, ibid. etiam in Hist. Shahiludii, p. 135, &c.
3 Chap. 5.
4 Sokeiker al Dimishki; Auctor libri al Mostatraf, apud Hyde, ubi. sup.
5 Khondemir, apud eundem, ib. p. 41.
6 V. Hyde, ubi sup. p. 9.
are addicted to play, yet the better sort are seldom guilty of it.'
Gaming, at least to excess, has been forbidden in all well-ordered states. Gaming-houses were reckoned scandalous places among the Greeks, and a gamester is declared by Aristotle' to be no better than a thief; the Roman senate made very severe laws against playing at games of hazard, except only during the Saturnalia; though the people played often at other times, notwithstanding the prohibition. The civil law forbade all pernicious games, and though the laity were, in some cases, permitted to play for money, provided they kept within reasonable bounds, yet the clergy were forbidden to play at tables (which is a game of hazard), or even to look on while others played. Accursius, indeed, is of opinion they may play at Chess, notwithstanding that law, because it is a game not subject to chance, and being but newly invented in the time of Justinian, was not then known in the western parts. However, the monks for some time were not allowed even Chess." As to the Jews, Mohammed's chief guides, they also highly disapprove gaming: gamesters being severely censured in the Talmud, and their testimony declared invalid.”
We find that at the Court of the Ummiya Caliphs who ruled at Damascus from A.D. 661 to 774, the game
1 V. Eundem in Proleg. and Chardin, Voy de Perse, T. 2, p. 46.
2 Lib. 4, ad Nicom.
3 V. Horat. 1. 3, Carm. Od. 24.
4 De Aleatoribus. Novell. Just. 123, &c. V. Hyde, ubi sup. in Hist. Alex, p. 119.
5 Authent. interdicimus, c. de episcopis.
• In com. ad Legem Præd.
7 Du Fresne, in Gloss.
Bava Mesia, 84. 1. Rosh hashana, and Sanhedr. 24, 2. V. etiam Maimon, in Tract. Gezila. Among the modern civilians, Mascardus thought common gamesters were not to be admitted as witnesses, being infamous persons. Vide Hyde, ubi sup. in Proleg. et in Hist. Alex, § 3.