I arrived at Dr. M’s at 4pm on Wednesday to conduct his “History in English” class and to celebrate our anticipated completion of Volume II of the Folio edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, which ends with the conclusion of the XXth Chapter, on “The Motives, Progress, And Effects Of The Conversion Of Constantine – Legal Establishment And Constitution Of The Christian Or Catholic Church,” with a game of chess.
It so happens that Dr. M, in his travels to various exotic locales, took a fancy to three curious – and virtually unplayable – chess sets, each redolent with the decorative motives of the country in which it was purchased. The Asiatic versions were definitely unplayable, which left us with the Italian, a study in a metal alloy(?) of some of the most famous and exquisite images in bronze, marble and tempera on canvas that the world has ever seen, each mounted on a wooden plinth (see photo, below).
What on earth? If I am not mistaken, Dr. M has responded to 1. P-K4 with the Pirc Defence, P-Q3… although it is difficult to make head or tail of anything with the Doc’s Italian souvenir chess set.
I have no idea what a good response to the Pirc Defence is, but managed to advance my Queen’s Pawn (if that is what it is) to Q5 and was attempting to attack the Doc’s castled king, completely missing the bleedin’ obvious, videlicet, The Birth of Venus was in conjunction with the Old Palace Tower and about to nobble the KB Pawn and Checkmate David.
We played a second, longer and more intense game, which, with a supreme effort of keeping my eyes peeled and my wits about me, I managed to win after gaining a pawn and disrupting the Doc’s pawn structure with Donatello’s Marzocco Lion, which forked Michelangelo’s David and Boticelli’s Venus, although the Doc was able to nab my Venus, so to speak, in the following move.
I was able to push forward my King’s Pawns while tucking my King safely behind the Queen’s Pawns, and my pawn advantage and organization eventually told.
Wednesdays during term time are quite busy and I must admit I was exhausted after the second game. However, we had a fine time of it and I suspect our progress through Volume III of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, with the much anticipated drama of the reign of Julian the Apostate, will be augmented, and perhaps slowed down, by chess; not that Gibbon would mind, I suppose, as he was a player as well as a scholar.
The only question is, should we stick with the Italian Renaissance or invest in a respectable Staunton Chess Set …?