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  • The Evils of Chess! April 7, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback


    Chess! The taut, horrid syllable is enough to unveil the rotteneness at the heart of that most dreadful of games. Avoid it! Turn from it! Ostracise those who play it! Ok, Beach is playing out here, but he recently came across this extraordinary quotation from an Anglican vicar from Essex, at the death of his son, Ralph in 1648:

    As often times before, so on this day [of his son’s death] did I especially desire of God to discover and hint to my soule, what is the aime of ye God of heaven more especially in this correction of his upon mee; and when I had seriously considered my heart, and wayes, and compared them with ye affliction and sought unto God, my thoughts often fixed on thes particulars. wheras I have given my minde to unseasonable playing at chesse, now it run in my thoughts in my illnes as if I had beene at chesse; I shall be very sparing in ye use of that recreacon and that at more convenient seasons.

    So chess was the cause of little Ralph’s death? Perhaps here we have an aberrant view of a grieving father who had tortured himself to an unlikely conclusion? Not a bit of it. There is a strong chess-hating Christian tradition, apparently because chess was a waste of time and because it was so often involved in gambling. Petrus Damiani described chess as being impious and forced an Italian bishop to wash twelve poor men’s feet in penance for playing. St Bernard banned the Templars from chess (allegedly: no satisfactory reference found): this might explain a lot of their weirder habits. In 1254 Louis the Holy banned chess entirely from his realm. The Council of Trier in 1310 tried to ban chess in the Empire. That old but loveable kill joy Savonarola burnt chess boards on his Bonfire of Vanities along with several Botticelli’s. Or what about this English priest’s reflection (a contemporary of Ralph’s poor father)?

    [Chess] hath not done with me, when I have done with it. It hath followed me into my study, into my pulpit; when I have been praying or preaching, I have (in my thoughts) been playing at chess; than I have had, as it were, a chess-board before my eyes. . . . [Harleyan Miscellany]

    When Beach used to have a ‘problem’ with Tetris he’d fall asleep dreaming of falling geometrical shapes…  He understands.

    Then there are the various modern Christian polemics against chess.  (Note the passage beginning: ‘Never mind the well addressed…’ in this link was actually originally written as satire.) And as so often Islam puts it  concisely in one of the Hadiths: ‘Allah’s Messenger said, ‘He who played chess is like one who dyed his hand with the flesh and blood of swine.’ Pigs, of course, are not very popular in the Muslim world.

    Any other chess haters out there? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    NB Beach can’t help but thinking that most modern priests, pastors and imams would be overjoyed if their flock limited themselves to playing chess on Friday evening.