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On the Introduction of Chess into the Lower Empire.
In the present day we believe that no man in Europe acquainted with Chess, and imbued with the least tincture of scholarship, will maintain that the ancient Greeks possessed any knowledge of the game. That they had a game of their own called TeTTea, played on a board with ruled lines or squares, by two persons, we are perfectly aware; but this bore no stronger resemblance to Chess than a coal-barge does to the Great Eastern. This game is said to have been invented by Palamedes at the siege of Troy, though we are warranted in concluding that it had been known before that period; for we find the suitors of Penelope playing at it in Ithaca on the return of Ulysses from Troy. The earliest mention of it occurs in the first book of Homer's Odyssey, verse 106, where, alluding to Penelope's lovers, he says—
οἱ μὲν ἔπειτα
Πεσσοίσι πθοπάροιθε θυράων θυμὸν ἔτερπον
Homer's meaning here is quite clear, however obfuscated by his commentators. The suitors of Penelope
1 Homeri Opera Omnia-cura Jo. Augusti Ernesti, five volumes, 8vo., Leipsic, 1824.
"were amusing themselves with the neσoo" (or the game called TеTTEIα) "being seated in front of the palace gates, upon skins of oxen which they themselves had slaughtered;" for in those good old times it was requisite in a gentleman that he should be qualified to kill his own bullock, and cook his own dinner.
The game here alluded to is clearly the nеtteia, a sedentary game, played by two people on a board of twenty-five squares, each player having five Teoσoi, or counters. This may be said to have borne a very faint resemblance to Chess, but, in reality, it was only the rudiments of our modern Draughts or Backgammon. The commentators of Homer, with regard to the above passage, refer us to Athenæus for ample light on this subject, "ubi ludus hic procorum particulatim describitur; " well then, Athenæus treats us to a description of an active game which cannot by any possibility apply to that alluded to by Homer, far less does it resemble Chess.
As the commentators, however, lay so much stress on Athenæus, I here transcribe the whole of that author's description, premising that, not having access to the original, I use the translation recently published by Mr. Bohn. The account is by no means clear or logical; but for that the author, or the translator, or both must be answerable; and Heaven knows they have a good deal to answer for.2 Athenæus says3"In Homer, too, the
1 Vide Appendix B., by Herbert Coleridge, Esq.
2 Bohn. Trans. of Athen. vol. i. p. 27. A more complete exemplification of the apathy or stupidity of commentators does not exist. It is quite evident that the game described by Athenæus was not played by men "seated on skins of oxen," as Homer clearly states; neither was it a game of dice. It was played by two equal parties of the suitors, fifty-four on each side, and seems to have resembled what Strutt describes (p. 383-4) as "Hop-Scotch" or "Taw," familiar to some of our schoolboys.
3 I think the reader will agree with me when I say that the above extract from the English Athenæus is the most obscure, slovenly and illogical piece
suitors amused themselves in front of the doors of the palace with dice; not having learnt how to play at dice from Diodorus of Megalopolis, or from Theodorus, or from Leon of Mitylene, who was descended from Athenian ancestors, and was absolutely invincible at dice, as Phanias says. But Apion of Alexandria says, that he had heard from Cteson of Ithaca what sort of game the game of dice, as played by the suitors, was. For the suitors being 108 in number, arranged their pieces opposite to one another in equal numbers, they themselves also being divided into two equal parties, so that there were on each side fifty-four, and between the men there was a small space left empty. And in this middle space they placed one man they called Penelope. And they made this the mark to see if any one of them could hit it with his man; and when they had cast lots he who
Then, if any one hit it, and
drew the lot named set it. drove Penelope forward out of her place, then he put down his own man in the place of that which had been hit and moved from his place. After which, standing up again, he shot his other man at Penelope, in the place in which she was a second time. And if he hit her again without touching any of the other men, he won the game, and had great hopes that he should be the man to marry her. He says, too, that Eurymachus gained the greatest number of victories in this game, and was very sanguine about his marriage."
In the Latin versions of the Odyssey, the word TeσσOOL is translated "talis," i.e. "dice," evidently confounding two distinct games, the TеTTеia and the Kußeia the latter
of English composition I ever met with in my whole life. It is an excellent illustration of the Scottish "gudeman's " idea of metaphysics, viz., "Ye see, Sir, when ae man canna mak oot what an ither man writes, and when the ither man himsel kens naething avâ aboot it, that is just what they câ metafeesics."
a regular dice game. Pope, availing himself of the proverbial license conceded to the " genus irritabile," that is the "tuneful tribe," improves marvellously on the Latin version, for of the original Greek he is said to have known little. His words are,
"On hides of beeves, before the palace gate
Now, looking at these couplets of Pope's, or rather of Pope's journeymen verse makers, we have no hesitation in saying that they are the least worthy of his name that ever were written. It is well known that Pope himself did not do the Odyssey. He may have occasionally touched off the rhymes of his assistants, leaving the sense to come as it might. The parenthesis in the second line is not only not Homer's, but it is downright nonsense. We really see no very alarming "symptoms of luxury" in a man's making a seat, aye, and a bed too, of a bullock's skin, particularly as he had previously killed and flayed the beast with his own hands, thus saving the regular butcher's fee. The third and fourth lines are not in Homer at all, so it would be simply ridiculous to waste time upon them. I have only to add that this passage, not of Homer's, but of Pope's Grub Street underlings, has been quoted and appealed to "usque ad nauseam as a proof of the antiquity of Chess in "early Greece."
1 To "captivate the queen" is an ambiguous expression. It may signify "to make the queen captive," which is the sense intended; or, according to the present usage of the word, it may mean, to "charm or gain the affections" of the live queen Penelope herself.
2 Pope has much to answer for as the originator of a vast deal of rhetorical rubbish inflicted upon us in Chess lectures and Chess articles in periodicals. Here, for example, is a fine stereotype specimen of this sort :-"When and where Chess was invented is a problem which we believe never will be solved.
The Byzantine, or Neo-Hellenic term for Chess, that is, "bona fide Chess," is CaTpIKIOV, a word unknown in the classic period of the Greek language, and incapable of satisfactory derivation from any Greek root. It is a pure exotic in the language (like the terms Chatrang and Shatranj in the languages of Persia and Arabia,) where it serves as a mere puzzle to exercise the ingenuity of the Lexicographers. The fact is, as we have already shown in our fifth chapter, that the Sanskrit compound
Chatur-anga" is the real root of Chatrang, Shatranj, and as we shall immediately point out, of çarpıkiov in like manner. This term CaTpIKIov then, is simply a barbaric or foreign word with a Hellenic termination. The Greek alphabet had no letter or combination of letters capable of expressing the sound of the Persian "ch" like our "ch" in church ") and as the nearest approximation they employed for that purpose the letter (zeta) ; hence Chatrang became ζατρανκ or ζατρινκ οι Hellenized, ζατρανκιον Οι ζατρινκιον. Again the middle v of the last form is thrown out in conformity with a very prevalent usage of the language well known to every Greek scholar, hence the form CαTρikio which is applied to Chess only, and never to the TеTTеiα or any other species of game. As instances of the elision of the letter v in foreign words introduced into the Hellenic, we may mention the Roman term "Castrense," which becomes κασтρеσιov, and "Ar
The origin of the game recedes every day further back into the regions of the past and unknown. Individuals deep in antiquarian lore, have very praiseworthily puzzled themselves and their readers in vain, in their endeavours to ascertain to their satisfaction, how this wonderful pastime sprang into existence. Whether it was the product of some peaceful age, when science and philosophy reigned supreme; or whether it was nurtured amid the tented field of the warrior, are questions which it is equally futile and unnecessary now to ask. Sufficient for us that the game exists; that it has been sung of by Homer," &c. &c.!!! We recommend the above eloquent morceau, taken from a Chess periodical now defunct, to the attention of Chess lecturers and those who are ambitious to do a spicy article for a Chess periodical.