Saturday, November 18, 2017

Chess and Marie de France's 'Eliduc'

Marie de France (fl. 1160-1215). Credit: Wikipedia.

Chess had often, as the previous post noted, been used in literature. One of the early mentions of chess -- the old game, of course -- in European literature is in Marie de France's Eliduc, a poem about love and betrayal between the hero, Eliduc, his wife Gildeleuc, and his lover, Guilliadon.

The lai (medieval poem about love) includes a short reference to a king who lives in England (where Eliduc arrives) playing chess with his court. According to Eve M. Whittaker (no relation, of course, of the infamous Norman Tweed Whittaker), however, the entire poem is a chess metaphor -- and not only that, but one that connects the philosophical lessons the game teaches in Muslim works to a new Christian outlook,

Her thesis (see previous link) is titled 'Marie de France's Eliduc: The Play of Adventure', published in Medieval Encounters: Jewish, Christian and Muslim Cultures in Confluence and Dialogue 6 (2000), 3-57. The existence of this work was brought to my attention by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.

For Eve Whittaker, in Muslim works where the game is a metaphor, it is seen as a metaphor on the correct philosophical way to live, but de France adds a new Christian message, where the game teaches one to reach eternal salvation. Interestingly, she thinks that the poem does not merely mix these two views, but that different parts of the poem are allegories of different parts of the game.

The first part of the poem is an analogy of the opening and middle game -- and that they use chess (as it was played in Europe at the time) to teach lessons about love and life (as in Muslim works). But the later part of the poem is an allegory of the end game -- and teaches how to reach salvation.

I am not sure what to think of Whittaker's conclusions, but it cannot be denied that she does a decent research job acquainting herself with both the rules of the game at the time. Her source is, naturally, Murray, no doubt the single best source for chess at the period.

No comments:

Post a Comment