The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#1
An eleventh century Irish moralization of a hnefatafl / tafl variant. The "king" at the center of the board represents "the Unity of the Trinity" and each side of the board represents one of the four evangelists.

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/25094011
http://tafl.cyningstan.org.uk/page/167/ ... gelii-text
http://image.ox.ac.uk/show-all-openings ... ript=ms122
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#2
This is something that I have not found in the online commentaries about the game.
The legend at the left of the illustration of the board seems to me to read: "Signat haec figura in alea passionem Christi" This symbol marks on the board the passion of Christ. Since the symbol appears in four different places on the board, I guess it corresponds to the passion of Christ in the four gospels.
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#3
The structure of the game is based on the Eusebian canons, a set of ten tables that represented the structure of the four gospels.

324 squares are contained in the table; for 18x18=324. There are 7 triangles, of the second, third and fourth canons. 72 men are contained in the canons: Mt 20, Mc 15, Lc 17, Jo 15 [=67]. For, as the Gospels are multiplied in the canons, they rise to a larger number:

Mt in can. 1 is named 4 times; Mt in can. 2 is named 3 times; Mt in can. 3 is named 3 times; Mt in can. 4 is named 3 times; Mt in can. 5 is named twice; Mt in can. 6 is named twice; Mt in can. 7 is named twice; Mt in can. 10 is named once.


I think the sentence above means:
Matthew in canon one appears in a table with 4 columns. Matthew in canon two appears in a table with 3 columns. Matthew in canon three appears in a table with 3 columns. Matthew in canon four appears in a table with 3 columns. Matthew in canon five appears in a table with 2 columns. Matthew in canon six appears in a table with 2 columns. Matthew in canon seven appears in a table with 2 columns. Matthew in canon ten appears in a table with 1 column.

4+3+3+3+2+2+2+1=20

This is confirmed by the numbers of the other three evangelists:

The three other Evangelists are similarly multiplied. Add then together 20 of Mt, 15 of Mc, 17 of Lc and 15 of Jo, and they make 67. 

Each of these numbers is the number of columns in each of the canons in which that evangelist appears. The 10th canon is a list in which each evangelist appears alone: so it is the only canon with only one column.
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#4
The first side with the preceding angle, reckoning from left to right, is St Matthew's. The second side, with the angle where St Matthew's line ends and descending from it [i.e. on the right], is St Luke's. The third [i.e. at the bottom] is St John's. The fourth [up the left side] is St Mark's.

The upper left angle is St. Matthew (marked with 1 dot)
The upper right angle is Luke (marked with 3 dots)
The lower right angle is St. John (marked with 4 dots)
The lower left angle is St. Mark (marked with 2 dots)

The dots are repeated on each single piece ("man") on the board. I added colors to make the association clearer:
Matthew - Black
Luke - Blue
John - Red
Mark - Green

The following paragraphs describe the 16 pieces at the center of the board (excluding the King / Trinity at the very center). These 16 pieces are said to correspond to Canon 1 (which has 4 pieces / columns in the Eusebian table for each one of the four evangelists).

The middle square, which contains 9 squares---viz. 5 pale and 4 filled with groups of four men---belongs to can. 1. The beginning of each canon is to be found where there is a cross with a number.

Go to the great middle square's upper square, which has four men within it: Mt at the top, under a cross and no. 1, Lc to Mt's left, Jo at his feet, Mc to his right.

Now go to the square with the no. 2 above it: and under the 2 you find Mc, with Mt on his left, Jo on his right, and Lc at his feet. In the opposite square under the no. 3 you have Lc, with Mt on his right, Mc at his feet, and Jo on his left. Lastly, in the fourth square under the no. 4 you have Jo, with Lc on his right, Mc on his left, and Mt at his feet.


So, the 16 pieces are organized in four groups of four pieces each. Each group includes a piece for each of the four evangelists.
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#6
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote:I don't know anything about hnefatafl. Is the object of this variant the same as the regular game, but just with moralized pieces? Or are the rules different, actually involving the symbolism of the Evangelists? (e.g. all four have to be in place to win?)
Hello Ross,
I did not know anything about hnefatafl myself before finding out about this interesting variant.

The online rules for Alea Evangelii interpret it as a standard hnefatafl, only larger. From what I understand, the manuscript says nothing about the rules; it only describes how the pieces should be placed.

If the game was actually close to the standard, I guess one player would have had "Canon 1": the "King" and the 16 pieces around him. This makes the king weaker than in usual games (he usually has 1/3 of the pieces). Online rules make the game more standard, assigning to the King a set of pieces from the different canons.

My idea is that, since each evangelist has a side of the board and a set of pieces of his own, I think that maybe the game was to be played by four players, each trying to surround the (unmovable) Trinity with four of his pieces?
Porro primarius unum Mathei et Marci et Luce et Iohannes votum vel unitatem trinitatis significare videtur - The "primary" man signifies the one purpose of Mt, Mc, Lc and Jo, or the Unity of the Trinity.
The four "varios viros"/variegated men (corresponding to the passion?) are assigned to Mark and John, apparently to compensate the fewer pieces assigned to them on the basis of the canons. This also seems to suggest that the balance between the evangelist was important.

I have a terrible time reading the manuscript. Thanks god there is a transcription online :)
Just to make things harder, I just noticed that the manuscript board is wrong (two pieces are missing).

Can you please help me with these two words? This one is the only piece which is not numbered with dots as belonging to a specific evangelist, nor marked with the Xth canon.
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#7
Those are obscure.

If you're looking at Cappelli, you can see he's of no help.

The first I thought might be "fhi", but on comparison with the "r" of "figura" in your first detail, it could be "flr", which still doesn't help at the moment.

The second seems to be "tab/u/la", but then that circle under the erstwhile "t" might make it a "g", hence "gabula", but what would that be?

Interesting puzzle.
Image

Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#8
It's said to be a game of the tafl-family.

16 white stones + "a king" ("primavirius vir") in the middle fight against 46 black stones. The king wants to reach the border. If he reaches the border, his party has won. The black stones want to capture the king. Black and white stones move like a Rook in Chess. The king moves also like a rook, but it's limited to 3 fields in each move. Only the king may have the position at the center field (the throne). A black and white stone is captured when enclosed on two opposite sides by stones of the other color. The king is captured, when black stones take position on all 4 direct neighbor fields. The king cannot participate in capturing black stones.

These rules are from a German book about games. I don't know, how correct these are.

Interesting is the board size. 19x19. That's a Go-board, and the king is placed on a field called "Ten Gen" (the "mid of heaven"). As in Go the stones are placed on the crossing lines, not at the fields. One could easily play the game with Go stones.

Well, how comes it, that something like a North European game was played on a Go-Board in about 10th century?

The number of the used stones is 63. China had a preference for Go (Chinese name Wei-Chi) and for the number 64 (in I-Ching). The game of Go is at least 2000 years old. A record of an unfinished game has survived from c. 90 AD.

The size of the G-Board likely was chosen cause of astronomical reasons. 19x19 = 361, so close to to number of days of the year.

Ming-Mang, a Tibetian game, had been also played on a Go-Board. It has similar rules.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ming_Mang_%28game%29

Tafl-Game - family:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tafl

*******

Correction: my book speaks of 46 black stones,but actually it are 48 on its picture.
Huck
http://trionfi.com

Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#9
Ross G. R. Caldwell wrote: The first I thought might be "fhi", but on comparison with the "r" of "figura" in your first detail, it could be "flr", which still doesn't help at the moment.

The second seems to be "tab/u/la", but then that circle under the erstwhile "t" might make it a "g", hence "gabula", but what would that be?

Interesting puzzle.
Hello Ross,
thank you for the suggestion.
After further inspection of this terrible script, I think the first word is "fer" or "per" (see "sEmel . xv . viRorum numerum EfFiciunt").
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I thought the second word was tabula, but you are right, the first letter looks like a "g".
I think that making sense of this detail is beyond my power :)

Anyway, the organization of the board and its relation with the canons is clear enough. Canons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 9 and 10 perfectly match the Eusebian tables.
Canons 6, 7 and 8 miss a piece each.
And then there is the mysterious unmarked piece.
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Re: The Boardgame of the Gospel (alea evangelii)

#10
My German game description, as far I get it, has made two mistakes, one , when counting the black stones, and the other forgetting 8 white stones on the picture.

The Wikipedia article has 24 white stones and 48 black stones on its board interpretation and this looks more equal to the manuscript picture:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alea_evangelii

However, it also has differences in the corners (against the manuscript page). Indeed the manuscript shows only 45 black stones (whereby one cannot really differ between black and white stones in the manuscript).

And there are confusing "dots" (a lot of them), which seem to relate to the numbers 1-4 and the numbers refer to the Evangelists in the 4 corners (which also have "dots", 1-4).

And the stone positions have diagonal lines to form groups of stones ...

If I compare the dots to the picture, it starts to become similar to this game ...

Image


"Mensch ärgere Dich nicht" in German, a Pachisi variant, very popular, a running game with dice, very different from games of the Tafl family.
Huck
http://trionfi.com

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