Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/239

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

ciation in those passages in the Gospels which show it turned to mockery by the Roman soldiers: "And when they had blindfolded him . . . . they buffeted him . . . . saying, Prophesy unto us, Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" (Luke xxii. 64; Matt. xxvi. 67; Mark xiv. 65).

Another of the Egyptian pictures plainly represents the game we know by its Italian name of morra, the Latin micatio, or flashing of the fingers, which has thus lasted on in the Mediterranean districts over three thousand years, handed down through a hundred successive generations who did not improve it, for from the first it was perfect in its fitting into one little niche in human nature. It is the game of guessing addition, the players both at once throwing out fingers and in the same moment shouting their guesses at the total. Morra is the pastime of the drinking-shop in China as in Italy, and may, perhaps, be reckoned among the items of culture which the Chinese have borrowed from the Western barbarians. Though so ancient, morra has in it no touch of prehistoric rudeness, but must owe its origin to a period when arithmetic had risen quite above the savage level. The same is true of the other old arithmetical game, odd-and-even, which the poet couples with riding on a stick as the most childish of diversions, "Luder par impar, equitare in arundine longa." But the child playing it must be of a civilized nation, not of a low barbaric tribe, where no one would think of classing numbers into the odd-and-even series, so that Europeans have even had to furnish their languages with words for these ideas. I asked myself the question whether the ancient Aryans distinguished odd from even, and curiously enough found that an answer had been preserved by the unbroken tradition not of Greek arithmeticians, but of boys at play. A scholiast on the Ploutos of Aristophanes, where the game is mentioned, happens to remark that it was also known as ζυγὰ ῆ ἄζυγα, "yokes or not-yokes." Now, this matches so closely in form and sense with the Sanskrit terms for even and odd numbers, yuj and ayuj, as to be fair evidence that both Hindoos and Greeks inherited arithmetical ideas and words familiar to their Aryan ancestors.

Following up the clews that join the play-life of the ancient and modern worlds, let us now look at the ball-play, which has always held its place among sports. Beyond mere tossing and catching, the simplest kind of ball-play is where a ring of players send the ball from hand to hand. This gentle pastime has its well-marked place in history. Thus the ancient Greeks, whose secret of life was to do even trivial things with artistic perfection, delighted in the game of Nausikaa, and on their vases is painted many a scene where ballplay, dance, and song unite in one graceful sport. The ball-dance is now scarcely to be found but as an out-of-the-way relic of old custom; yet it has left curious traces in European languages, where the ball (Low Latin balla) has given its name to the dance it went with (Italian ballare, ballo, French bal, English ball) and even to the song