Blog Gaelic Making Philosophy

Alea Evangelii

I added a new event on the website as the project I’ve been working on for nearly a year is coming to fruition. The event will be an opportunity to play a game that I found in a manuscript which is held in the library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. I came across it in a catalogue of Irish manuscripts that are in the Bodleian and various college libraries across Oxford and what caught my eye was a facsimile in the catalogue with the diagram of the board layout.

After looking it up online I found a number of theories about the game that likened it to an old Viking board game called Hnefentefl. However the thing that made me take notice was that the board consisted of a square grid that was exactly like a full sized Japanese Go board. So I went to a local games shop and bought myself a Go set and went about trying to recreate the game according to the description in the manuscript.

After quite a lot of research I also found some texts that explained a key feature of the game. The manuscript itself which was copied by an Irish monk has a set of tables known as Eusebian Canon tables and these feature in many early copies of the New Testament including the famous Book of Kells that was most likely produced on Iona. Not having understood the significance of these tables before I found that they were so intrinsic to the game that the theory of it being a strategy game didn’t seem to make sense, rather it seemed that the nature of the game was to allow chance to select particular factors that would somehow relate to these tables. Hence the name Alea, which refers to the Roman die with four sides, and Evangelii that points directly to the four books in the official canon of the New Testament itself.

The only modern text I could find with the complete canon tables was a copy of the New Testament in Greek but it also was very useful because it contained the more familiar division of the four Gospels into chapters and verses. It was then possible to use a modern English or Gaelic translation to figure out what the text was divided up into by Eusebius in his original system. I am a total geek when it comes to reading religious or philosophical texts in their original language and so this game really appealed to me.

Starting the pieces

I also produced a further set of pieces over the summer while I was in Knoydart from a staff of hazel I had cut in a local wood. These pieces I cut and pared down and incised marks to make them distinguishable by touch as then my blind nephew would be able to play the game as well.

If you wish to learn more about my process of discovery and creation as well as have a chance to play the game itself please contact me to find out more. The event will be on the 24th of November 2022 at 7pm.

By DrewMcN

Drew McNaughton is a poet and musician with a passion for nature and languages.

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