Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dialogue XXII - Juan Luis Vives on ball games

Juan Luis Vives was a philosopher and humanist in the 16th century whose works include, among other things, a book of Latin dialogues intended as language practice. Sources like this are excellent for examining folk culture, because the dialogue participants are talking about things from everyday life rather than momentous historic occasions or highbrow literature. In dialogue XXII, the characters discuss the game of sphaericulum ("ball"), and how it's really the same game in France as it is in Valencia (an assertion belied by some of the contrasts mentioned). The game in question is recognizably part of the jeu de paume family.

My Latin is terrible, so what follows is mostly taken from modern Castilian Spanish translation. There's also an English translation from 1908, directly from the Latin.

Borja: Where have you come from, kindest Centelles?
Centelles: From Lutecia.
Borja: But say which Lutecia.
Centelles: From which Lutecia, you ask, as if there were many?
Borja: Even if there's only the one, I don't know which one it is or where it is.
Centelles: Lutecia of the Parisians.
Borja: I have heard the Parisians mentioned, and frequently, certainly, but never Lutecia. So, then, Lutecia is what we call Paris. That'll be the reason why you haven't been seen in Valencia in so long, especially in the nobles' ball game.
Centelles: I have seen other ball games in Paris, other gymnasia, and other games much more useful and important than yours.
Borja: Which ones, please?
Centelles: Thirty colleges, more or less, in the university there, full of all manner of erudition, science, and wisdom, masterful doctors, and a studious youth with very good habits.
Borja: The plebes, no doubt?
Centelles: But, why do you call them plebes?
Borja: The dregs of the plebians, sons of shoemakers, weavers, barbers, launderers, and other similar artisans and workers.
Centelles: You, I see now, measure the whole world by your own city, and you think that throughout Europe there exist the same customs as here; I affirm that there there is a youth much more composed of princes, grandees, nobles, and very rich men, not only from France, but also from Germany, Italy, Great Britain, Spain, and Belgium, devoted in admirable manner to the study of diverse disciplines, and that obeys the precepts and orders of their educators; their customs are not formed from simple advice, but also by firm correction and, when it is necessary, even chastisement, blows, and the lash; all of this is accepted and tolerated with a content mind and peaceful face.
Cabanilles: I have frequently heard things like that said, when I was King Ferdinand's ambassador in France. But let's drop that for a moment, or save it for another time. Notice that we're in the Miracle Game, which is next to the Carroses. So, let's talk about ball to amuse ourselves.
Centelles: Please, let's not sit, but talk while walking about whatever seems good to us. But where shall we walk? This way, along St. Stephen, or that way, to the Royal Gate to see Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, in the royal palace?
Cabanilles: No, we shouldn't interrupt the erudite studies of that perfect prince.
Borja: It would be better to get mules, to talk while riding.
Cabanilles: Please, let's not quit using our feet and our legs; the weather is good and pleasant and the air is just a little bit cool; it will be better to go by foot than on horseback.
Borja: Well then let's go this way, by St. John of the Hospital, to Sea Street.
Cabanilles: And let's notice all the beauties we pass as we walk.
Borja: Don't even talk about that when going by foot; it will be a dishonor.
Cabanilles: In my opinion the bigger dishonor is that some men depend on the judgement of silly and stupid girls.
Borja: Would you like to go straight to Fig Tree Square by way of St. Tecla?
Cabanilles: No, just along Rooster Tavern Street, because there I want to see the house where my friend Vives was born, which I've heard is down on the left, the last house on the street, and then I'll visit his sisters.
Borja: Please, set aside these feminine visits; if you want to talk to a woman, I'd rather go to Angela Zabata's house, so we can have an erudite conversation with her.
Cabanilles: If that's what you want, I wish the Marchioness of Zenete were here!
Centelles: If it's true what I heard about her while I was in France, that's too important a subject for us to treat lightly, or than should be dealt with by those who are doing other things.
Borja: Let's go up to St. Martin, or should we head back down along Vallés Street to Villarrasa Square?
Cabanilles: This way, and then to the ball court of Barcia, or, if you prefer, the one at Moscones.
Borja: Do you have public games like this in France?
Centelles: For the other cities in France I couldn't tell you, but in Paris I know there is not a one, but many private ones, such as in the suburbs of St. Jacques, St. Marcellin, and St. Germain.
Cabanilles: And in the city proper there is one famous one, called Bracche.
Borja: Do they play in the same way there as here?
Centelles: Exactly the same, except that the owner of the court provides the shoes and hats for the game.
Borja: What are they like?
Centelles: The shoe is made of felt.
Borja: That wouldn't do here.
Cabanilles: Certainly not, on the cobblestones; in France, on the other hand, and in Belgium, they play on a tiled surface, flat and smooth.
Centelles: The summer hats are light enough, but in the winter they are thick and plenty warm, with a strap under the chin, so that with motion they don't leave the head or fall down over your eyes.
Borja: Here we don't use a strap, except when the wind is very strong. But what are the balls like?
Centelles: There are almost no balls full of wind like here, just smaller little balls than yours, and much harder, made of white leather; the stuffing isn't like yours of rags and shredded wool, but generally dog hair, and for this reason they rarely hit the ball with their hands.
Borja: Then, how do they strike the ball? With fists, like the wind-filled ones?
Centelles: Not even that way, but with a racket.
Borja: Made of thread?
Centelles: Of somewhat thick cords, almost like the sixths of the vihuela. They stretch a rope and the rest like here in the games in our city, sending the ball under the rope is a defect or fault; the signs, or, if you prefer, the limits, are two; the numbers, four: 15, 30, 45 or advantage, equality or victory, which must be double, as when it is said: "We have won the sign and we have won the game." The ball can be returned on the fly or after the first bounce, but after the second the strike is not valid, making a mark where the ball was struck.
Borja: Aren't there more games than the ball?
Centelles: In the city, as many as here, or more; but among the students, no other is practiced with permission of the masters; but sometimes they play secretly with cards, the young boys with knucklebones, and the worst of them with dice. We had a teacher named Anneo who on bad days would permit us to play with cards, but for that and in general for all manner of games he had made six laws, which he had written on a tablet and hung in his bedroom.
Borja: Unburden yourself, and tell us, as you have with other things.
Centelles: Let's keep walking; I'm dying to see my homeland, which I haven't seen in so long.
Borja: Let's get on some mules, to go with more comfort and more dignity.
Centelles: I wouldn't buy such dignity, not even with a mere snap of my fingers.
Borja: And I, to tell the truth, wouldn't even move a hand for it, but I don't know why it seems like that would be most becoming to our persons.
Cabanilles: That is fine, but we are three and by the narrowness of the street or by the quantity of people we would be separated, so it will be necessary or advisable to interrupt our conversation, or else not hear or understand constantly many of the words each other say.
Borja: Given that it would be that way in effect, let's continue on foot; enter through this alley to Peñarrocha Square.
Centelles: Extraordinary! Later we'll take Locksmiths' Street and Confectioners' and then to the fruit market.
Borja: Better yet, why not the one for vegetables?
Centelles: It's got both things; those who prefer to eat vegetables say it's for vegetables, and those who prefer fruit call it for fruit. What a vast market! What an array of vendors and merchants on display! What fragrance comes off the fruit! What great variaty, cleanliness, and brightness! One can't imagine gardens similar to this market. What skill and diligence of our local inspector and his assistants so that no patron is defrauded by a vendor! Is that Honorato Juan going by on a mule?
Cabanilles: I think not, since one of my servants, who met him a short while ago, left him retiring in his library; if he knew we were together, he doubtless wouldn't miss our conversation, postponing his serious business for our games.
Borja: Expound a bit on the laws.
Centelles: Let's free ourselves from this crowd by way of Our Lady of Mercy Square toward Funeral Street and St. Augustine, where there's less of an agglomeration.
Cabanilles: Let's not get so far from the center of the city. Instead, let's go up Pocketbook Street to the Tossal; then to Horsemen's Street and to your family's home, Centelles, whose walls still seem to me to be calling for that hero, Count Oliva.
Borja: Or perhaps, having finished mourning, they celebrate somberly that a youth of such qualities has succeeded such an important old man.
Centelles: What a delight to see the Assembly, and the four courthouses: the governor's, which seems almost hereditary to your family, Cabanilles, the criminal, the civil, and that of the three hundred shillings. What buildings! What a skyline!
Borja: Nowhere could you better propose laws than in the courthouse and the assembly; expound on them at last, for on praise or, better, your admiration for our city it will be more suitable to speak on another occasion.
Centelles: First law - When should one play? Man was made for serious things, not for bagatelles nor games. Now then, games were invented to refresh the spirit tired by serious matters. In consequence, one should play games when the spirit or the body are fatigued, and it should not be done in a manner different from sleep, food, drink, and the other things which renew and refresh the essence; to do otherwise is to fall into vice, as happens with other activities that do not occur at the appropriate time.
Second law - With whom should one play? Just as, when one is about to embark on a trip or go to a banquet, one examines with attention what class of men are to be one's future companions or comrades, in the same way one must consider who one plays games with, to ensure that they are known people, for in unknown people there is great danger and the proverb of Plautus comes true: "A man is a wolf to a man who does not know what sort he is." They should also be gracious, festive, affable people with whom there is no risk of disagreement or fight, nor of doing anything shameful or inconvenient; they should not be blasphemers against God nor perjurors; they should not be dirty in their language, so that they will not infect your habits with anything bad or dishonorable. Finally, let them be of the sort that brings no different idea to the game than your own, that is, that the spirit rest from its work and be refreshed.
Third law - What game? In the first place, a well-known one, because in something unknown, there can be no joy, not for the player, nor for his gaming companions, nor for the spectator. Next, it should at once rest the spirit and exercise the body, if the season and one's health permit. Otherwise, let it be a game in which it is not just the mind which decides everything, but one that also involves some skill, which might correct for chance.
Fourth law - For what stakes? Neither for no stake, which ends up bland and then tiring, nor for one so large it disquiets the spirit over the course of the game and, if lost, causes anguish and torment; this is not play, but torture.
Fifth law - How? Before starting to play, consider that you will be refreshing your spirit with the game, on whose fortunes you bet a few coins, that is, with them you purchase the relief of fatigue. Consider that it deals with luck, which is variable, uncertain, unstable, and pertains to all; it does not, after all, do you any injustice should you lose; bear it with equanimity, do not furrow your brow nor fill yourself with sadness, don't erupt into impropriety and curses against your gaming companions or the spectators. If you win, do not laugh in an insolent manner at your gaming companion. While the game is going on, show yourself to be completely affable, glad, delicate, good humored without falling into gracelessness or disrespect; give no sign of deception, dishonorable play, or avarice; do not be stubborn in disputes, and above all make no oaths; remember that the entire activity (even if you're in the right) is not so important as to invoke the name of the Lord in testimony. Remember that the spectators are like the judges of the game; if they offer a judgement, accept it without giving any sign of disapproval. In this way not only is the game made delightful, but the education of a noble boy will be made agreeable.
Sixth law - For how long should one play? Until you perceive that your spirit is renewed already and is refreshed from work, and the time for serious pursuits calls. Who does otherwise, seems to have wrought ill. Proclaim that these laws are accepted and ordered.
Borja & Cabanilles: As he has proposed.

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