A recent addition by Henshawe to the California Lectura Dantis
suggests the existence of a form of MC based on the Divine Comedy
of Dante Alighieri. The game was played as a devotional aid by Benedictine monks of the Cluniac order on a circular board, marked with a plan view of Dante's Inferno. The intention was originally that the game should act as a mnemonic to help novice monks become familiar with the theology of sin and redemption, but the game soon became popular as a recreation. Ultimately, after less than two centuries of popularity, it was condemned in 1412 by Gregory XII, and subsequently anathematised by the Council of Lyons.
Unfortunately, the monks of Cluny recorded few actual games - the Cistercian order, more extreme, preferred simply to contemplate possible games alone - and only fragmentary references to the rules are still extant. Most of the relevant manuscripts are now in the Bodleian Library. However, some aspects of the game can be inferred from the evidence left:
- No games were played on Sundays or High Holy Days. Games played on Fridays were played without huffing, and all players were considered to be in knip throughout unless doubled onto the Sixth Circle (Heretics).
- Any player who made more than three consecutive (four interleaved) moves upon or immediately adjacent to the Circle of Ordinary Fraud was immediately placed in thrap until such time as another player either doubled back (if immediately adjacent) or successfully performed an active repeat strile in his plane (the effect of this rule is still unclear).
- Advance (whether forced or intentional) was always to be counterclockwise unless proceeding from or to the Pit of Malebolge (Virgil's Exception).
- Unnecessary conversation during the game was in theory banned under the Rule of St Benedict.
- Ugolino's Riposte allowed a player to force another player to trump, whether in huff or not, if either had already made a successful swing in Limbo.
And a partial account survives of a game played by one of the earliest known practitioners, Robert of St-Aube, against the Franciscan master Harald of Uppsala in around 1270. Robert was at this point an old man by the standards of the day, being almost seventy, and this may explain his more hesitant play.
H: Coining and forgery; Hammer of Charles Martel* to Treason against City or State. (*This move is unclear).
R: Treason against Family.
R: Violence of Spirit.
H: Wood of Suicides.
R: Gluttony. Doubling to Barratry.
H: Brother, that is forbidden; today is a fast-day.
R: Very well... Gluttony, back diagonal to the Wall of Dis.
R: God be praised! Pandering and Flattery. You are confined*, brother. (*believed to be the equivalent of achromatic disengagement, although the subsequent course of play leaves room for dispute on this point.)
R: Spreading of Scandal and Schism. (Robert, perhaps unwittingly, opens the way for Harald to perform a classic single shunt.)
H: Heresy. (A very daring move; Harald rejects the offered opening in favour of an indirect drop).
H: Redouble. River Lethe. Circle of Misers and Spendthrifts. (This appears to be an early form of strile.)
R: Circle of False Prophecy.
(at this point the fragment becomes illegible)
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