JF Ptak Science Books Post 1616 (Part of the History of Lines series.)
It turns out that one of the most famous and iconic books on chess is really not about chess at all. Jacobus de Cessolis, (Jacopo da Cessole, c. 1250 – c. 1322) the author of The Game and Playe of the Chesse1, found its way into print in the very highly capable hands of William Caxton in 1474 ("Fynysshid the last day of marche the yer of our lord god. a. thousand foure honderd and lxxiiiia") and into a second edition in (about) 1483. Caxton produced a spectacular, beautiful work on moral and ethical virtue and challenge, using the game of chess as the foundation for metaphor and aliteration of the wide classical literature that it calls upon.2. The book doesn't tell you how to play--but it does instruct on how to live. A great aid to the book's power are the sixteen strong woodcuts ("repeated to make twenty-four figures"3), which mo doubt were a strong influence on their viewers.
I have included this entry in this blog's History of Lines series for the connection between the lines of morality and the lines of he chessboard and the movement of its pieces, which were at last the outward and symbolic basis for the ethical lessons of the work if not used in actuality.
1. The book was one of the first books ever printed in English, and was probably the first morality play printe in the language. It was reprinted many times, later under the title of Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum ('Book of the customs of men and the duties of nobles or the Book of Chess').
2. Arthur Hind, An Introduction to the History of Woodcut, 1935. Volume II, p. 708.
3. The commentary quoted here is from the facsimile edition of the original work published in London in 1883 by Elliot Stock with notes by William E.A.Axon
The authors named in this study include "Saint Ambrose (2 references), Anastasius (1), Avicenna (2), Saint Augustine (9), Saint Basil (1), Saint Bernard (2), Boethius (3), Cassiodorus (1), Cato (5), Cicero (6), Claudian (2), "Crete" (1), Diomedes (1), Florus (1), Galen (1), Helinand (4), Hippocrates (4), Homer (1), Saint Jerome (3), John the Monk (1), Josephus (4), Livy (2), Lucan (1), Macrobius (1), Martial (1), Ovid (6), Paulus Diaconus (1), Petrus Alphonsus (2), Plato (4), Quintilian (3), Sallust (1), Seneca (15), Sidrac (1), Solinus (1), Symmachus (1), Theophrastus (1), "Truphes of the Philosophers" (2), Turgeius Pompeius (1), Valerius Maximus (23), Valerian (7), Varro (1), Virgil (2), "Vitas Patrum" (2)."