Alfonso X's Book of Games tr by Sonja Musser Golladay - Images courtesy of Charles Knutson.pdf

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Microsoft Word - Alfonso X's Book of Games.doc
f. 1: King Alfonso commands three of his subjects to write a book on games, and dictates to them the book of chess
[f. 1] Because God wanted that man have every manner of happiness, in himself naturally, so that
he could suffer the cares and troubles when they came to them, therefore men sought out many
ways that they could have this happiness completely.
Wherefore they found and made many types of play and pieces with which to delight
Some on horseback like throwing javelins and spears, taking up shield and lance, shooting with
bow and arrow, or others games of whatever manner they be that can be played on horseback.
And although they are based on the use of and skill with weapons, because they are not that
same thing they call it sport.
And the others that are done on foot are like fencing, fighting, running, jumping, throwing rocks
or darts, hitting the ball and other games of many natures in which men use their limbs in order
to make them strong and have fun.
The other games that are done sitting are like playing chess, tables and dice and other game
pieces of many types.
And though all these games are each very good in the time and place where they belong, but
because these latter games are played sitting they are everyday and they are done as well at night
as in the day; and because women who do not ride and are confined are to use them; and also
men who are old and weak, or those who like to take their pleasures separately in order not to be
irritated or grieved by them; or those who are under another’s power as in prison or captivity or
who are at sea. And equally all those who have harsh weather so that they cannot ride or go
hunting or elsewhere and have perforce to remain [f. 1v] indoors and seek some kinds of sport
with which to amuse and comfort themselves and not be idle.
f. 1v [detail]: “We commanded that this book be made... in which those games are made most beautifully”
And therefore we don Alfonso by the grace of God King of Castile, Toledo, Leon, Galicia, Seville,
Cordova, Murcia, Jaen and Algarve commanded that this book be made in which we speak about
in which those games are made most beautifully, like chess, dice and tables.
And although these games may be divided in many ways, because chess is more noble and of
greater mastery than the others, we speak of it first. But before we talk of this we wish to show
some reasons, according to what the ancient wise men said, that these three types of games –
chess, dice and tables – were invented. Because about this they gave many reasons, each one
wishing to show why these games were invented but those which are most certain and most true
are these.
As it is told in the ancient histories of India there was a king who greatly loved his wise men and
had them always with him and he made them very often to reason over the nature of things. And
of these he had three there who had various opinions. The one said that brains were worth more
than luck because he that lived by his brain did things in an orderly fashion and even if he lost
that he was not to blame in this because he did what suited him. The other said that luck was
worth more than brains because if his fortune was to lose or to win, no matter how much brains
he might have, he could not avoid it. The third one said that best was he who could live drawing
upon the one and the other because this was prudence, because the more brains he had, the more
care he could take to do things as completely as he could. And also the more he depended upon
luck, the greater there would be his risk because it is not a certain thing. But truest prudence was
to take [f. 2] from the brain that which man understood was most to his advantage and from luck
man should protect himself from harm as much as he could and to help himself with what was to
him advantage from it.
f. 2 [detail]: The Indian king and the three wise men
And after they had spoken their reasons very zealously the king ordered therefore that each one
bring an example to prove that which they said and he gave them the time period which they
requested. They went away and consulted their books, each according to his opinion. And when
the time arrived, they each came before the king with their example.
And the one whose opinion was brains brought chess with its pieces showing that he that had
more brains and who was perceptive could beat the other.
And the second whose opinion was fortune brought dice showing that brains mattered nothing
without luck because it seemed through luck that men came to their advantage or their harm.
The third who said that it was best to draw from both brought the tables board with its pieces
counted and placed orderly in their spaces and with its dice which move them in order to play, as
is shown in this book which speaks separately about this and which teaches that through their
play, he that knows how to play them well, even though the luck of the dice be against him, that
because of his prudence he will be able to play his pieces in such a manner as to avoid the harm
that may come to him through the rolls of the dice.
f. 2v [detail]: Chess, dice and tables
[f. 2v] And because chess is a nobler and more honoured game than dice or even tables, in this
book it is spoken of first. And shows how the board is to be made and how many squares it has
and what the pieces are and how many and what each one of them is called and in which squares
they are to be and how they move them playing with them and capturing each other and what
advantages some pieces have over the others. And how the players are to be perceptive to know
how to play in order to win and not be beaten and how they give check to the king, which is the
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