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Chapter 1 (Re)moving the King: Ideals ofCivic Order in Jacobus de Cessolis's Liber de ludo scachorum I shall then suggest that ideology "acts" or ''functions" in such a way that it "recruits" subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or "transforms" the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which I have called interpellation or "hailing," and which can be imagined along the lines ofthe most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: "Hey, you there!" -Louis Althusser Jacobus de Cessolis's Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium ac popularium super ludo scachorum (The Book ofthe Morals ofMen and the Duties of Nobles and Commoners, on the Game of Chess; henceforth the Liber), one of the most widely circulated texts ofthe late Middle Ages, opens with a story of a king named Evilmerodach who rules over Babylon.1 True to his name, Evilmerodach is a tyrant. He has come to power by killing his father, Nebuchadnezzar, chopping the body into three hundred pieces, and giving the pieces to three hundred birds to eat. This violent assassination troubles Philometer, a philosopher in the city, who, at the request of the city's residents, agrees to instruct the king in the art of humane governance.2 To this end Philometer creates the game of chess, which he first teaches to Evilmerodach's nobles. When Evilmerodach sees his men playing, he wants to join them, and Philometer teaches him the rules. Evilmerodach then asks Philometer why he has created the game, to which the philosopher responds that he wants to teach the king how to live a virtuous life.3 Playing chess, Philometer claims, will teach the king the art of proper governance. This introduction to the game in the Liber's first book lays the groundwork for the rest of the treatise. Books 2 and 3 contain chapter-by-chapter 16 Chapter 1 descriptions of the pieces, or as constituted by the allegory, the different types of people who inhabit a well-ordered kingdom. Beginning with the chess king, Jacobus describes the physical attributes of each piece in detail and narrates stories to illustrate the virtuous behavior each piece/citizen should exhibit. The "noble" pieces in book 2 are treated separately from the "common" pieces in book 3 (Table 1).Yet Jacobus devotes a great deal ofenergy to each, spelling out the importance of his (or in the case of the queen, the only female piece on the board, her) contribution to the common good. The eight pawns in book three symbolize trades as varied as innkeeper, farmer, smith, and notary, and as the Liber's exempla repeatedly demonstrate, the virtue of each group is crucial for the well-being ofthe community as a whole. In the fourth and final book, Jacobus explains the game's rules, after which he informs his readers that Evilmerodach shed his evil ways once he mastered chess: "so that the king who had formerly been wicked and disorderly , became just" ["ut rex qui prius erat inordinatus et impius, iustus fieret"] (163-64). But Jacobus does not stop with the king's conversion, which he uses as an example for all men. "Therefore:' he adds, "let us all have recourse to the One who is virtue from whom virtue and grace flows" ["Igitur ad ilium recurramus qui est virtus a quo virtus manat et gratia"] (164). The pairing ofthe narrative ofEvilmerodach's rise to power with the Liber's extended chess allegory allows Jacobus to introduce themes and tensions fundamental both to his work and to the idea of civic order. Nebuchadnezzar 's mutilated corpse indicates the importance of the king's physical being as both a somatic entity and a representation of the larger realm. That Evilmerodach not only kills his father but, as graphically depicted in Caxton's 1483 edition of the Liber, destroys the dead body systematically and publicly, highlights the importance of the ruler's body just as it exposes the new ruler's depravity (see Figure 1). In an outdoor landscape framed by a thin line that can barely contain the scene's chaos, birds swirl around the dismembered body as the executioner gazes to a point outside of the frame. It is not enough for Evilmerodach to seize the kingdom; he fragments the previous ruler and destroys all order as a means to secure his own power. In response to this barbarity Philometer creates chess as a model of civic order based on...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812201048
Related ISBN
9780812239447
MARC Record
OCLC
859160604
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2014-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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