Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of the Game of Schaci

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of the Game of Schaci



Schacarium[1] has sixty-four points, divided by eight, as husband and wife, bridegroom and bride, clergy and lay, rich and poor. Six persons may play at this game. The first is Rochus (93), and it is of two kinds, white and black. The white is placed on the right hand, and the black upon the left. The reason of which is, that when all the Schaci are fixed in their places, the noble, as well as the vulgar pieces, have certain goals towards which they must proceed. The Rochi alone, when they are inclosed, have no power of proceeding, unless a way shall be cleared for them either by the higher or lower men. The player moves directly across, and never to the corners, whether in going or returning; and if he move laterally from the other side, and take some piece, he becomes a thief.

The second piece is Alphinus (94), which passes over three points. For in its proper place, that which is black is fixed to the right of the king, with the white on his left; and they are not called white and black with respect to their colour, but to their situation. Because the black piece proceeding toward the right, that is, into the black and void space, is stationed before the Husbandman. But the left, by its own power, moves two points, the one towards the white space on the right; and the other, towards the white and void space on the left. Thus also of the third piece to the third square, by preserving its proper situation on the board; so that if it be black, to black, and the contrary—proceeding in an angular direction.

The third kind is of knights, of whom the right is white, and the left black. The white has three moves; one towards the right in the black place before the Husbandman; the other in the black and void space before the Wool-carder; the third, towards the left, in the place of a Merchant. When this piece is fixed near the king, it may move six squares, and when in the middle, eight. It is the same with the left. When the black is opposite to the king, and the white also opposite, they move together; one is placed before the queen, as the left; the other, before the king, as the right.

The fourth kind is of the inferior pieces which have one and the same move. For from the square on which they are placed they may proceed to the third, and there, as in security, remain in the king's move. But when they go out of the king's move, they are content with one square, and proceed in a direct line. Yet they never return in this manner, but secure the best situations they can. If they should be assisted by the knights, and other noble pieces, and come in the places of the higher, they acquire a greater power through favour of the queen. But it should be observed, that if the inferior pieces, going on the right, find any noble or vulgar adversary, and this in an angle, they may take or kill him on the right or the left; but the inferior piece never moves out of the strait line, to the right or left, unless he has obtained power of the queen[2].

The fifth piece in the play of the Schaci is called the queen. Her move is from white to black, and she is placed near the king: if she quit his side, she is captured. When she has moved from the black square in which she was first placed, she can go only from square to square, and this angularly, whether she go forward or return; whether she take, or is taken. But if it be asked why the queen is exposed to war, when the condition of a female is frail and unwarlike; we reply, when husbands go out to battle, it is customary for their women and wives, and the rest of their family, to live in the camp. And though they do not use a bow, and encumber men more by their whims than they destroy by their valour, yet the queen is intended for the king's help. Therefore, that she may evince her affection, she accompanies him to battle. (95)

The sixth kind of pieces used in this game are the kings. The king shews above all the rest what is the nature of motion and progression. For since he may reside in the fourth square with the white, though he himself be black, he hath the knight Alphinus on the right hand in a white space, but a Rochus in the black. In the left he holds opposite places. But though the king has more power and dignity than all the other pieces, it does not become him to move far from his throne; and, therefore, he begins his move from his own white square, like the Rochi, from right and left. Yet he cannot be placed on the left in the black space, near the situation of the Rochus on the white; but he may go into the white space near the aforesaid Rochus in the corner square, where the guards of the city are fixed; and there he hath in such move the nature of the knight. But he takes these two moves in place of the queen[3].

  1. Schacarium is the table or board on which the game is played, being distinguished by alternate black and white squares.
  2. I have thought it useless to translate the very strained application of this game, introduced between each description, but the following illustration perhaps ought not to be discarded. "Virgil, decended from a low Longobard [i.e. German] family, but a native of Mantua, was most renowned for his wisdom, and the excellence of his poetical talent. When somebody accused him of inserting certain of Homer's verses in his work, he answered, "That they were strong men who could brandish the club of Hercules."
  3. I cannot hope that I have translated this account of an obscure game quite intelligibly; but I was unwilling to omit it.

Note 92.Page 334.

"The game of the Schaci."

Scaci, Scacci, or Scachi—a kind of chess: "le jeu des Echecs." Thus called, according to Du Fresne, from the Arabic or Persian word, Scach, or king, because this is the principal piece in the game. Pseudo-Ovidius, lib. i. de Vetula, furnishes the following description, which will somewhat elucidate the text.

"Sex species saltus exercent, sex quoque scaci,
Miles, et Alphinus, Roccus, Rex, Virgo, Pedesque,
In campum primum de sex istis saliunt tres,
Rex; Pedes, Virgo: Pedes in rectum salit, atque
Virgo per obliquum, Rex saltu gaudet utroque,
Ante retroque tamen tam Rex quam Virgo moventur,
Ante Pedes solum; capiens obliquus in ante,
Cum tamen ad metam stadii percurrerit, extunc
Sicut Virgo salit, in campum verò secundum
Tres alii saliunt, in rectum Roccus, eique
Soli concessum est ultra citraque salire.
Obliquè salit Alphinus, sed Miles utroque
Saltum componit."

Of the origin of this play the same worthy writer observes.

"Est alius ludus scacorum, ludus Ulyssis,
Ludus Trojana quem fecit in obsidione,
Ne vel tæderet proceres in tempore treugæ,
Vel belli, si qui pro vulneribus remanerent
In castris: ludus qui castris assimilatur,
Inventor cujus jure laudandus in illo est,
Sed caussain laudis non advertunt nisi pauci."


Note 93.Page 334.


Rochus, Roccus, Rocus, Hrocus, from the German word Roch, signifying an upper garment. Whether this etymology can be admitted, is very doubtful. It moves to the right, in Pseud. Ovid.

Note 94.Page 335.


This piece is called, by the French, Le Fol, and by the Italians, Alfino. Du Fresne in v. According to Pseudo-Ovidius it moves in an oblique direction.

Note 95.Page 338.

Among many other matters in dispraise of the fair sex, which are found in this application, (and which I should blush to translate!) the writer observes after Seneca, "Quòd mulieres quæ malam faciem habent, leves et impudicæ sunt." But this is a Platonic tenet. Again, "Quidius," (or Ovidius) very learnedly remarks, "Casta est quam nemo rogavit." This is no doubt the original of a song in Congreve's "Love for Love."

"A nymph and a swain to Apollo once prayed;
The swain had been jilted, the nymph been betrayed:
Their intent was to try, if his oracle knew,
E'er a nymph that was chaste, or a swain that was true.

"Apollo was mute, and had like to've been posed,
But sagely at length he this secret disclosed:
He alone won't betray in whom none will confide;
And the nymph may be chaste, that has never been tried."