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חֲרוּזִים עַל שְּׂחוֹק שָׁ״הּ־מָ״תּ | Rhymed Poem on Chess (long), by Avraham ibn Ezra (ca. 12th c.)

Source (Hebrew) Translation (Latin) Translation (English)

חֲרוּזִים עַל שְּׂחוֹק שָׁ״הּ־מָ״תּ
לְהָרָב אֲבְרָהָם אַבֶּן־עֶזְרָא ז״ל

Carmina-Rhythmica de Ludo Shâh-mât,
R. Abraham Abben-Ezre, beatæ memoriæ.
The Song of Chess
by Rav Avraham ibn Ezra, z”l

אֲשׁוֹרֵר שִׁיר בְּמִלְחָמָה עֲרוּכָה
קְדוּמָה מִן יְמֵי קֶדֶם נְסוּכָה
עֲרָכוּהָ מְתֵי שֵׂכֶל וּבִינָה,
קְבָעוּהָ עֲלֵי טוּרִים שְׁמֹנָה.
וְעַל כָּל טוּר וָטוּר בָּהֶם חֲקוּקוֹת
עֲלֵי לוּחַ שְׁמֹנֶה מַחֲלָקוֹת,
וְהַטּוּרִים מְרֻבָּעִים רְצוּפִים
וְשָׁם הַמַּחֲנוֹת עוֹמְדִים צְפוּפִים.
מְלָכִים נִצְּבוּ עִם מַחֲנֵיהֶם
לְהִלָּחֵם וְרֶוַח בֵּין שְׁנֵיהֶם.
פְּנֵי כֻלָּם לְהִלָּחֵם נְכוֹנִים
וְהֵמָּה נוֹסְעִים תָּמִיד וְחוֹנִים,
וְאֵין שׁוֹלְפִים בְּמִלְחַמְתָּם חֲרָבוֹת,
וּמִלְחַמְתָּם – מְלֶאכֶת מַחֲשָׁבוֹת,
וְנִכָּרִים בְּסִימָנִים וְאוֹתוֹת
בְּפִגְרֵיהֶם רְשׁוּמוֹת וַחֲרוּתוֹת.
וְאָדָם יֶחֲזֶה אוֹתָם רְגוּשִׁים
יְדַמֶּה כִּי אֲדוֹמִים הֵם וְכוּשִׁים.
וְכוּשִׁים בַּקֱּרָב פּוֹשְׁטִים יְדֵיהֶם,
אֲדוֹמִים יֵצְאוּ אֶל אַחֲרֵיהֶם,

Canam Canticum præliumque instructum,
Antiquum, à diebus antiquitatis institutum.
Instruxerunt illud viri prudentiæ & intelligentiæ,
Qui constituerunt illud octo ordinibus.
Et ad singulos ordines inibi exarantur
Super Tabella octo partitiones,
Hi autem ordines sunt quadrati constrati,
Et duo castra stant pressim.
Reges collocantur cum castris suis,
Ad gerendum bellum quod futurum est inter ipsos,
Omnium vultus ad præliandum parantur,
Ipsiq; semper vel progrediuntur vel castrametantur.
At non stringunt gladios in bello suo,
Nam bellum eorum est bellum imaginarium.
Et discriminantur certis notis & signis
In corporibus illorum notatis & insignitis.
Quicunque viderit eos tumultuantes,
Imaginabitur eos esse Edomæos & Cushæos.
Cushæi enim in bellum irruunt manibus suis,
Et Edomæi egrediuntur post illos.
I will sing a song of battle
Planned in days long past and over.
Men of skill and science set it
On a plain of eight divisions,
And designed in squares all chequered.
Two camps face each one the other,
And the kings stand by for battle,
And twixt these two is the fighting.
Bent on war the face of each is,
Ever moving or encamping,
Yet no swords are drawn in warfare,
For a war of thoughts their war is.
They are known by signs and tokens
Sealed and written on their bodies;
And a man who sees them thinketh,
Edomites and Ethiopians
Are these two that fight together.
And the Ethiopian forces
Overspread the field of battle,
And the Edomites pursue them.

וְהָרַגְלִים יְבוֹאוּן בַּתְּחִלָּה
לְמִלְחָמָה לְנֹכַח הַמְּסִלָּה.
וְהָרַגְלִי יְהִי הוֹלֵךְ לְנֶגְדּוֹ
וְאֶת אוֹיְבוֹ יְהִי נוֹטֶה לְלָכְדוֹ,
וְלֹא יַטֶּה בְּעֵת לֶכֶת אֲשׁוּרָיו
וְלֹא יָשִׂים פְּעָמָיו לַאֲחוֹרָיו,
וְאִם יִרְצֶה – יְדַלֵּג בַּתְּחִלָּה
לְכָל עֵבֶר שְׁלֹשָׁה בַּמְּסִלָּה.
וְאִם יִרְחַק וְיָנוּד מִזְּבוּלוֹ
וְעַד טוּר הַשְּׁמִינִי יַעֲלֶה לוֹ –
כְּמוֹ פָרָז לְכָל פָּנִים יְהִי שָׁב
וּמִלְחַמְתּוֹ כְּמִלְחַמְתּוֹ תְחֻשַּׁב.
וְהַפָּרָז יְהִי מַטֶּה פְסָעָיו
וּמַסָּעָיו לְאַרְבַּעַת רְבָעָיו.
וְהַפִּיל בַּקְּרָב הוֹלֵךְ וְקָרֵב
וְהוּא נִצָּב עֲלֵי הַצַּד כְּאוֹרֵב,
כְּמוֹ פָרָז הֲלִיכָתוֹ – אֲבָל יֵשׁ
לְזֶה יִתְרוֹן לְמַה שֶּׁהוּא מְשַׁלֶּשׁ.
וְהַסּוּס בַּקְּרָב רַגְלוֹ מְאֹד קַל
וְיִתְהַלֵּךְ עֲלֵי דֶרֶךְ מְעֻקָּל,
עֲקַלְקַלּוֹת דְּרָכָיו לֹא סְלוּלוֹת,
בְּתוֹךְ בָּתִּים שְׁלֹשָׁה לוֹ גְבוּלוֹת

Et quidem Pedites prodeunt in initio,
Ad præliandum è regione Aggeris.
Pedes sane debet recta è regione sui incedere,
At in hostem suum poterit deflectere ut capiat illum.
Alias quo tempore incedit, non deflectit gressus suos,
Nec potest gressus suos retro ponere.
Si autem vult, potest salire in principio
Ad quodvis latus per tres ordines in Aggere.
Et, si longius progrediendo evagatus fuerit à limite suo,
Et usque ad octavum ordinem ascenderit,
Tum sicut Pherz poterit per omnes partes reverti,
Atq; bellum illius tanquam bellú hujus reputabitur.
Et quando Pherî cft locaturus gressus suos,
Tunc incessus ejus est ad quamvis ex quatuor partibus
Deinde Elephas ad bellum prodit & accedit,
Ad latus collocatur ipse tanquam insidiator.
Sicut tu Pherz est inceffus ejus; nisi quod sit
Huic præcellentia, eo quod ille sit tantum trifarius.
Equi in bello pes est valde levis,
Adeo ut possit incedere per viam tortuosam.
Viæ enim ejus sunt tortuosæ, non autem aggestæ:
Intra tres domos sunt limites ejus.
First in battle the foot-soldier
Comes to fight upon the highway,
Ever marching straight before him,
But to capture moving sideways,
Straying not from off his pathway,
Neither do his steps go backwards;
He may leap at the beginning
Anywhere within three chequers.
Should he take his steps in battle
Far away unto the eighth row,
Then a Queen to all appearance
He becomes and fights as she does.
And the Queen directs her moving
As she will to any quarter.
Backs the elephant or advances,
Stands aside as ’twere an ambush;
As the Queen’s way, so is his way,
But o’er him she hath advantage,
He stands only in the third rank.
Swift the horse is in the battle,
Moving on a crooked pathway;
Ways of his are ever crooked;
Mid the Squares, three form his limit.

וְהָרוּחַ יַהֲלוֹךְ מִישׁוֹר בְּדַרְכּוֹ
וּבַשָּׂדֶה עֲלֵי רָחְבּוֹ וְאָרְכּוֹ
וְדַרְכֵי עִקְּשִׁים הוּא לֹא יְבַקֵּשׁ,
נְתִיבוֹ מִבְּלִי נִפְתָּל וְעִקֵּשׁ.
וְהַמֶּלֶךְ מְהַלֵּךְ עַל צְדָדָיו
לְכָל רוּחוֹת וְיַעְזֹר אֶת עֲבָדָיו,
וְיִזָּהֵר בְּעֵת שִׁבְתּוֹ וְצֵאתוֹ
לְהִלָּחֵם וּבִמְקוֹם תַּחֲנוֹתוֹ,
וְאִם אוֹיְבוֹ בְּאֵיבָה יַעֲלֶה לוֹ
וְיִגְעַר בּוֹ – וְיִבְרַח מִגְּבוּלוֹ.
וְאִם הָרוֹךְ בְּאֵימָה יֶהְדְּפֵהוּ
וּמֵחֶדֶר לְחֶדֶר יִרְדְּפֵהוּ –
וְיֵשׁ עִתִּים אֲשֶׁר יִבְרַח לְפָנָיו
וְעִתִּים יֵשׁ לְסִתְרוֹ לוֹּ הֲמוֹנָיו.
וְכֻלָּם הוֹרְגִים אֵלֶּה לְאֵלֶּה,
וְזֶה אֶת זֶה בְּרֹב חֵמָה מְכַלֶּה,
וְגִבּוֹרֵי שְׁנַיִם הַמְּלָכִים
חֲלָלִים מִבְּלִי דָמִים שְׁפוּכִים.
וְעִתִּים יִגְבְּרוּ כוּשִׁים עֲלֵיהֶם –
וְיָנוּסוּ אֲדוֹמִים מִפְּנֵיהֶם,
וְעִתִּים כִּי אֱדוֹם יִגְבַּר – וְכוּשִׁים
וּמַלְכָּם בַּקְּרָב הֵם נֶחֱלָשִׁים.

Ruc recta incedit in via sua,
In campo per latitudinem & longitudinem ejus;
Et vias obliquas non quærit,
Semita ejus non est torta nec perversa.
Rex quidem incedit ad latera sua,
Ad omnes ventos, & auxiliatur servis suis,
Et cautus est tempore sedendi & exeundi
Ad præliandum, & quoque in loco castrametacionis suæ;
Ut, si inimicus cum terrore ascenderit contra illum,
Eumque increpuerit, tum poterit fugere è loco suo
Vel, fi Ruc cum terrore imperiverit illum,
Sunt tempora quibus debet fugere coram eo;
Et sunt tempora quibus debet cingere se copiis suis.
Atque hi omnes interficiunt se invicem,
Hic illum magna excandescentia conficit.
Pugiles vero utriusque Regis
Confossi sunt sine effusione sanguinis.
Sunt tempora quibus prævalent Cushæi contra illos,
Et fugiunt Edomæi coram eis.
Suntque tempora quibus Edom prævalet, & Cushæi
Cum Rege suo sunt ipsi in bello debilitati.
Straight the Wind moves o’er the war-path
In the field across or lengthwise;
Ways of crookedness he seeks not,
But straight paths without perverseness.
Turning every way the King goes,
Giving aid unto his subjects;
In his actions he is cautious,
Whether fighting or encamping.
If his foe come to dismay him,
From his place he flees in terror,
Or the Wind can give him refuge.
Sometimes he must flee before him;
Multitudes at times support him;
And all slaughter each the other,
Wasting with great wrath each other.
Mighty men of both the sovereigns
Slaughtered fall, with yet no bloodshed.
Ethiopia sometimes triumphs,
Edom flees away before her;
Now victorious is Edom;
Ethiopia and her sovereign
Are destroyed in battle.

וְהַמֶּלֶךְ יְהִי נִתְפָּשׂ בְּשַׁחְתָּם
בְּלִי חֶמְלָה וְיִלָּכֵד בְּרִשְׁתָּם,
וְאֵין מָנוֹס לְהִנָּצֵל וּמִפְלָט
וְאֵין מִבְרָח לְעִיר מִבְצָר וּמִקְלָט!
וְעַל יַד צַר יְהִי נִשְׁפָּט וְנִשְׁמָט,
וְאֵין מַצִּיל – וְלַהֶרֶג יְהִי מָט.
וְחֵילוֹ בַּעֲדוֹ כֻּלָּם יְמוּתוּן
וְאֶת נַפְשָׁם פְּדוּת נַפְשׁוֹ יְשִׁיתוּן,
וְתִפְאַרְתָּם כְּבָר נָסְעָה וְאֵינָם
בְּשׁוּרָם שֶׁכְּבָר נִגַּף אֲדוֹנָם,
וְיוֹסִיפוּ לְהִלָּחֵם שְׁנִיָּה –
וְיֵשׁ עוֹד לַהֲרוּגֵיהֶם תְּחִיָּה!

Et tandem Rex apprehenditur in fovea eorum,
Et sine misericordia capitur in reti eorum.
Nec est fugiendi locus ut liberetur, nec evadendi locus;
Neq; est perfugium ad urbem muniram aut asylum:
Sed per manum inimici erit judicatus & dimotus;
Cumq; non sit liberator, tum interfectione fiet Mât.
Ejusq; copias omnes propter illum morte afficient,
Et animas eorum redemptionem animæ ejus ponent.
Nam gloria eorum jam abiit, & non sunt
In principatu suo, quia cæsus est Dominus eorum.
Sed nihilominus addent præliari secundo,
Eritque rursus interfectis eorum Revivificatio.
Should a king in the destruction
Fall within the foeman’s power,
He is never granted mercy,
Neither refuge nor deliv’rance,
Nor a flight to refuge-city.
Judged by foes, and lacking rescue,
Though not slain he is checkmated.
Hosts about him all are slaughtered,
Giving life for his deliverance.
Quenched and vanished is their glory,
For they see their lord is smitten;
Yet they fight again this battle,
For in death is resurrection.

Latin translation by Thomas Hyde in Mandragorias, seu Historia Shahiludii (1694). English translation by Nina Salaman (néé Davis), in Songs of Exile (JPS 1901) pp. 129-131. The parsing of stanzas follows after Salman’s translation. The transcription of the Hebrew is that shared by the Ben-Yehuda Project.

Nina Salaman offers the following details, in her Songs of Exile (JPS, 1901):

Although the poem bears evidence that the moves in chess have not changed, there are one or two variations of another kind worth noticing. The Indian chessmen have an Elephant to represent the Castle, or Rook, but it is clear that the author of this poem followed the Arabic designation, as he makes the Bishop the Elephant, or פיל, which the Arabs called Al fil (see Encycl. Brit., vol. 5). It is remarkable that the word Rook, from the Indian “Roch,” a “war-chariot,” is generally written by Hebrew writers רוק, but the author of this poem employs the word רוח. He may have used the word “wind” metaphorically as a war-chariot…

The date of this composition is given variously the twelfth century or, according to Moritz Steinschneider, the fourteenth or fifteenth. In the thirteenth century the Alfyn had the diagonal move of our Bishop, restricted in its range of action to the third square from which it stood. (From the Chess Players Chronicle, vol. 3, p. 63.) Steinschneider’s date would appear to be in conflict with this fact.

Steinschneider provides a critical text of the poem, which I’ve linked below. –Aharon Varady

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