Nicholas of Cusa: De Ludo Globi (the bowling game)

A complete English translation of Cusano's De Ludo Globi ("the bowling game" or "the game of the ball") is available online:

(the site has been mentioned by MikeH a few years ago ).

Hopkins' translation and many interesting aspects of Nicholas of Cusa's work have been discussed by Ross on his ludustriumphorum blog in 2009.

The complete Latin text is on google books.

The book was written in 1462-63. It describes a game similar to this one that was proposed by Ross.

The game consists in throwing an irregularly shaped ball that must follow a spiral trajectory stopping as near as possible to the center of the circular playing area. The playing area contains 9 concentric circles, a tenth circle constituting the center. I think you score as many points as the number of the circle the ball stops into, so I guess Hopkins' diagram is correct, while the numbering in the Latin edition is incorrectly inverted. The illustration in the Latin edition also suggests that bowling pins were used (as in the Zurlo game) but it is not clear to me if that was actually intended by Cusanus.

A few passages from Hopkins' translation exemplifying the allegorical interpretation of the game:
Nicholas wrote:(p.1207) I made a mark where we stand
throwing the bowling-ball; and in the middle of the level-surface I
made a circle, at whose center there is the throne of a king, whose
kingdom is a kingdom-of-life enclosed within the circle; and within
the [one large] circle I made nine other circles.
Now, the game’s directions require that the bowling-ball come to rest within a circle and
that a ball closer to the center scores more points—according to the
number assigned to the circle where the ball stops. And he who most
quickly scores thirty-four points—which correspond to the number of
years of Christ’s life—is the winner.
This game, I say, symbolizes the movement of our soul from its
own kingdom unto the Kingdom of Life, in which there is eternal rest
and eternal happiness. In the Center of the Kingdom of Life our King
and Life-Giver, Christ Jesus, presides
. When He was like unto us,
He moved the bowling-ball of His own person in such a way that it
would come to rest at the Center of Life. He left us an example in
order that we would do just as He had done and in order that our bowling-ball would follow [in the pathway of] His, although it is impossible that another ball come to rest at the [exact] same Center of Life
at which Christ’s ball comes to rest. For within a circle there are an
infinite number of places and mansions. For the bowling-ball of
each individual comes to rest at its own point and atom, at which no
other ball can ever arrive.


(p.1210) Chance (fortuna)
can be said to be that which happens independently of one’s intention;
and since each player aims at
the center of the circle, it is not chance if [his ball] arrives there.
But it is not in our power that our will be perfectly accomplished; for
when the ball hastens onward, we watch to see whether it approaches the center,
and we would like to assist it, if we could, finally to
stop there. But because we have not placed it on the route, nor given
it the impetus, that is necessary for this outcome, we cannot by means
of a supervening intention modify the course that we have impressed
[upon the ball]. ...
You see clearly that you place the bowling-ball into motion when
and how you wish to. Even if the constellation of the heavens were
to decree that the stationary bowling-ball is to remain stationary, the
influence of the heavens would not keep your hands from moving the
ball if you wished to. For the kingdom of each man is free, just as is
also the kingdom of the universe, in which the heavens and the stars
are contained; in the smaller world the heavens and the stars are
also contained, but in a human way.


(p.1222)Angels are intelligences.

And because angels are different [from one another], it is necessary that their intellectual [intelligentiales] viewings and discernments be distinguished intellectually
through orders and grades—from the lowest [rank of angel] to the
highest [rank of angel], which is Christ, who is called “the Messenger (angelus) of great counsel.”

On the basis of this distinction [among angels], there are found to be three orders, and in each order
there are three choirs. And the termination [of these orders and choirs] is the Center,
just as the number ten is the termination of nine digits,.
The first order [of angels] is closest to the Center and consists
of intellectible spirits, who by means of a simple beholding of the
Center, or Omnipotent Exemplar, comprehend all things apart from
successiveness (whether temporal succession or natural succession)
and comprehend them all at once. ...
A second [angelic] order is the order of intelligences, who comprehend all things at once but not apart from a natural
successiveness, i.e., [not apart from] the fact that some things have [the property of] deriving naturally from other things. And although they understand apart from temporal successiveness, nevertheless because they
cannot understand apart from a natural ordering, a certain weakening
of cognition characterizes them. ...
The third order [of angels] is called rational, because although
their comprehending is certain, nevertheless they understand less perfectly than do the others.
The first order contains three choirs, which behold, although differently [from one another], the Divine Will in God; and they imitate God’s [way of] discerning. But the three intelligible choirs comprehend the Divine Will in and through the intellectible choirs. And the three rational choirs behold the Divine Will in and through the intelligible choirs. Therefore, there are nine orderings; and God, who includes and contains all things within Himself, is symbolized as the tenth ordering.
Therefore, each of the nine orderings has its own theophany, i.e., its own manifestation of the Divine;
and God has His own—viz., the tenth—theophany, from which all the other theophanies emanate. Consequently, there are ten different kinds of distinction, viz., (1) the Divine Distinction, which is symbolically represented as the Center and as the Cause of all things, and (2) the other nine [kinds of distinction, which are represented] by the nine choirs of angels. And there are no more numbers or no more distinctions
[than these ten]. Hence, it is evident why I symbolized the Kingdom
of Life as I did and why I have likened the center to the sun’s light
and have depicted the three circles nearest [to the center] as fiery, the
next [three] as aerial, and the [last] three, which end in earthen black, as aqueous.
hopkins.jpg (62.1 KiB) Viewed 1720 times
de_ludo_globi.jpg (184.64 KiB) Viewed 1720 times

Re: Nicholas of Cusa: De Ludo Globi (the bowling game)

I want to add the very first sentences of the dialog.
The Cardinal is Cusanus himself, his interlocutor (in Book 1) is John IV Duke of Bavaria (who in 1462 was 25).
Nicholas of Cusa wrote: John: Since I see you seated off to the side, perhaps tired from
the bowling-game, let me speak with you about this game, if I see you to be willing.
Cardinal: Most willing.
John: All of us are fascinated with this new and fun game—perhaps because in it there is a symbolism of a certain deep speculation, a symbolism that we ask to have explained.
Cardinal: You are rightly moved [to ask]. For certain sciences
have instruments and games: arithmetic has the rhithmatia; music has
the monochord; and even the game of chess is not devoid of the symbolism of moral [lessons]. I believe that no decent game is altogether lacking in [symbolic] learning. For example, this very fun game of
bowling, it seems to me, symbolizes for us no small amount of philosophy.

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