Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,
I hope you all have had a wonderful inspirational weekend. I had a busy weekend at work, so I hadn't time to publish this regular episode on time. We are going on with our exploration of "The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam. As I was preparing this episode that I have titled "A Game of Chess" a haiga I created a while ago came in mind. I love to share that haiga here with you, maybe you can remember it.
|Haiga "A Game of Chess" (© Chèvrefeuille, 2015)|
'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.
© Omar Khayyam (Tr. FitzGerald)
Life is here likened to a game of Chess or Checkers, the black and white squares of the Chess-board being likened to Nights and Days. Destiny is the player who captures (slays) pieces in the course of the game, removing them from the board and putting them back in the storage box (Closet.) It is Destiny too, who finishes the game – “mates” in Line 3 is “Check Mate” – the term for the end of a Game of Chess. The overall idea is that Destiny kills us all off, one by one.
The related image of Death playing Chess with Mortals to decide where and when they will die is probably best known to most people through Ingmar Bergman’s film “The Seventh Seal” of 1957. What is less well known is that Bergman got the idea for this image from a wall-painting in the medieval church of Täby in Stockholm, dating from the latter half of the 14th century!
|Death playing Chess (Medieval church Täby in Stockholm)|
The idea that human life is a game of the gods is ancient. Thus, as Canter notes in his article “Fortuna in Latin Poetry”, the goddess Fortuna “delights in mockery and in making man the victim of her sport." Thus, Virgil, in The Aeneid talks of Fortuna mocking mankind by knocking them down then picking them up again, as fancy takes; Horace, in his Odes, talks of Fortuna pursuing her wanton sport by deliberately switching her favours from one person to another; and Juvenal in his Satires talks of Fortuna raising men from the gutter to high office just to amuse herself.
The Roman tragedian Pacuvius, who lived in the 2nd century BC, wrote of the goddess Fortuna as follows:
Dame Fortune, some philosophers maintain,
Is witless, sightless, brutish; they declare
That on a rolling ball of stone she stands;
For whither that same stone a hazard tilts,
Thither, they say, falls Fortune; and they state
That she is witless for that she is cruel,
Untrustworthy, unstaid; and, they repeat
Sightless she is because she nothing sees
Whereto she’ll steer herself: and brutish too
Because she cannot tell between the man
That’s worthy and unworthy. But there are
Other philosophers who against all this
Deny that there is any goddess Fortune,
Saying it is Chance Medley rules the world.
That this is more like unto truth and fact
Practice doth teach us by the experience;
Orestes thus, who one time was a king,
Was one time made a beggar.
(The translation is by E.H.Warmington)
In modern times, Bertrand Russell opened his essay “A Free Man’s Worship”, first published in 1903, with an account of God’s creation of Man, as given by the devil Mephistopheles to Dr. Faustus:
“The endless praises of the choirs of angels had begun to grow wearisome; for after all, did he not deserve their praise? Had he not given them endless joy? Would it not be more amusing to obtain undeserved praise, to be worshipped by beings whom he tortured? He smiled inwardly, and resolved the great drama should be performed.”
|Death Playing Chess by Israhel von Meckenem|
Omar Khayyam was very lyrical about death and it seems to me that he accepted the idea of "death belonging to life", as we also saw in the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, (The theme of our first CDHK Theme-week).
game of life and death