The Unity Of Games

Is it not true that man has displayed more inventive faculties to satisfy his vices, than for anything, else? To convince ourselves of this fact we need only look at the innumerable inventions destined to aid him in losing the time which has been so parsimoniously dealt out to us all.

But the human brain acts in accordance with a very small number of laws, and the inventor cannot escape from the effect of this rule. Look at the basis of most games, however they may differ in appearance. Is it not possible to find one single game, from which most of the others are derived?

Follow me in thought, dear reader, over one of the high-roads of Spain or Italy, and let us ask some old Gypsy to leave her camp for a moment and tell our fortunes. Look at the strange cards she draws from her greasy bag: the Universe, the Sun, the Stars, Death, Fortune, Love, are only a few of the names of these eccentric figures, which depict the phases of our daily life with so much simplicity. What is this game? The Gypsy Tarot.

It is composed of our cards with four additional figures called Knights, who are placed between the Queen and the Knave. But its originality lies in the twenty-two supplementary and symbolical figures. Each of them represents an image, a number, an idea. Court de Gebelin, a savant of the eighteenth century, has shown us that this game, as possessed by the Gypsies, is of Egyptian origin, that it also existed in China and India from the earliest antiquity, and we shall see that it is the father of most of the games now known.

It is composed of numbers and figures, which mutually react upon and explain each other. But if we separate p. 339

the figures and arrange them upon a paper in the form of a wheel, making the numbers move in the shape of dice, we produce the Goose game, with which Ulysses, according to Homer, practised cheating beneath the walls of Troy.

If we fix the numbers upon alternate black and white squares, and allow the lesser figures of our game to move upon them--the King, Queen, Knight, Foolish Man or Knave, Tower or ace--we have the Game of Chess. In fact, the primitive chessboards bore numbers, and philosophers used them to solve problems of logic.

If, leaving the figures on one side, we confine ourselves to the use of numbers, the Game of Dice appears, and if we weary of throwing the dice, we can MARK the characters upon horizontal plates and create the Game of Dominoes.

If the symbolical figures are in our way, we replace them by black and white draughts, and by using the numbers upon the dice we invent Backgammon, another combination of the Goose game.

Chess degenerates in the same way into the Game of Draughts.

Lastly, our pack of cards, instead of first appearing under Charles X, according to the common report, is of far older date. Spanish regulations are in existence dated long before this reign, forbidding the nobles to PLAY at cards, and the Tarot itself is of very ancient origin.

The sceptres of the Tarot have become clubs, the cups hearts, the swords spades, and the pentacles or money diamonds. We have also lost the twenty-two symbolical figures and the four knights.

But if all these games are derived from the Tarot, what is its origin and its primitive derivation?

These are grave questions, which for their solution lead the mind into dangerous researches. Let me p. 340

therefore relate to you a certain confidence upon this subject which I received from a dusty old manuscript, forgotten in a corner of a library. Take it as romance or as history, whichever you like, it does not matter so long as your curiosity is gratified.

Now, let us transport ourselves in imagination three thousand miles away, into the midst of the wonderful and grandiose Egyptian civilization, which arch^ologists are each day revealing more fully to our century.

Let us enter one of those cities, of which Paris would form but one district, passing through the defensive outworks guarded by a well-equipped body of soldiers, and glide amongst the inhabitants, who are as numerous and as busy as those of our greatest cities.

On all sides immense monuments of strange architecture rise to enormous heights; the terraces of rich houses indicate the first steps of a gigantic staircase, formed by the palaces and temples, and dominated by the silent residence of the supreme head of the Empire.

The great cities are everywhere fortified, the Nile is restrained by moles, and enormous reservoirs are ready to receive its surplus waters, and thus transform terrible inundations into beneficent irrigation.

All this involves science and savants, but where are they?

At this epoch science and religion were blended in a single study, and all the men of science, engineers, doctors, architects, superior officers, scribes, etc., were called priests or Initiates. We must not confuse the priest of antiquity with the word taken in the modern sense, or we shall fall into many errors, amongst others that of believing that Egypt was given over to clerical despotism in its worst form.

Instruction of every kind was given in the temples in various degrees, according to methods perfectly established, and, at that epoch, imitated in every country in the world.

The highest instruction which man can acquire was given in the great temple of Egypt, and it was there that the great reformers of the future completed their studies: Orpheus, Lycurgus, Pythagoras, and Moses amongst many others.

Astronomy was one of the sciences which became the object of constant investigation. We now know through Pythagoras, who has perpetuated the knowledge of the wise men of Egypt, that they were acquainted with the movement of the earth round the sun, as well as with the position of the latter in relation to its satellite planets. Many of the mythological stories relate to these mysteries and the wise men of the epoch, that is to say, the priests taught astronomy to their disciples, by means of small cards, which represented the months, seasons, signs of the zodiac, planets, sun, etc., etc. In this way they imprinted upon the imagination of the students the data which later on they verified in nature.

A time followed when Egypt, no longer able to struggle against her invaders, prepared to die honourably. Then the Egyptian savants (at least so my mysterious informant asserts) held a great assembly to arrange how the knowledge, that until that date had been confined to men judged worthy to receive it, should be saved from destruction.

At first they thought of confiding these secrets to virtuous men secretly recruited by the Initiates themselves, who would transmit them from generation to generation. But one priest, observing that virtue is a most fragile thing, and most difficult to find, at all events p. 342

in a continuous line, proposed to confide the scientific traditions to vice.

The latter, he said, would never fail completely, and through it we are sure of a long and durable preservation of our principles.

This opinion was evidently adopted, and the game chosen as a vice was preferred. The small plates were then engraved with the mysterious figures which formerly taught the most important scientific secrets, and since then the players have transmitted this Tarot from generation to generation, far better than the most virtuous men upon earth would have done.

Such is the story or the history confided to me by this old manuscript, upon the origin of the father of our great games, and I am very glad that it provided me with the means of proving my perhaps paradoxical assertion of their original unity.

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