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001 The origin of gaming

TomisFortuna2A very apt allegory has been imagined as the origin of Gaming. It is said that the Goddess of Fortune, once sporting near the shady pool of Olympus, was met by the gay and captivating God of War, who soon allured her to his arms. They were united; but the matrimony was not holy, and the result of the union was a misfeatured child named Gaming. From the moment of her birth this wayward thing could only be pleased by cards, dice, or counters.

She was not without fascinations, and many were her admirers. As she grew up she was courted by all the gay and extravagant of both sexes, for she was of neither sex, and yet combining the attractions of each. At length, however, being mostly beset by men of the sword, she formed an unnatural union with one of them, and gave birth to twins—one called DUELLING, and the other a grim and hideous monster named SUICIDE. These became their mother’s darlings, nursed by her with constant care and tenderness, and her perpetual companions.

The Goddess Fortune ever had an eye on her promising daughter—Gaming; and endowed her with splendid residences, in the most conspicuous streets, near the palaces of kings. They were magnificently designed and elegantly furnished. Lamps, always burning at the portals, were a sign and a perpetual invitation unto all to enter; and, like the gates of the Inferno, they were ever open to daily and nightly visitants; but, unlike the latter, they permitted EXIT to all who entered—some exulting with golden spoil,—others with their hands in empty pockets,—some led by her half-witted son Duelling,—others escorted by her malignant monster Suicide, and his mate, the demon Despair.

‘Religion, morals, virtue, all give way, And conscience dies, the prostitute of play. Eternity ne’er steals one thought between, Till suicide completes the fatal scene.’

Such is the ALLEGORY;(2) and it may serve well enough to represent the thing in accordance with the usages of civilized or modern life; but Gaming is a UNIVERSAL thing—the characteristic of the human biped all the world over.

(2) It appeared originally, I think, in the Harleian Miscellany. I have taken the liberty to re-touch it here and there, with the view to improvement.

The determination of events by ‘lot’ was a practice frequently resorted to by the Israelites; as, by lot it was determined which of the goats should be offered by Aaron; by lot the land of Canaan was divided; by lot Saul was marked out for the Hebrew kingdom; by lot Jonah was discovered to be the cause of the storm. It was considered an appeal to Heaven to determine the points, and was thought not to depend on blind chance, or that imaginary being called Fortune, who,

     '——With malicious joy,
     Promotes, degrades, delights in strife,
     And makes a LOTTERY of life.'

The Hindoo Code—a promulgation of very high antiquity—denounces gambling, which proves that there were desperate gamesters among the Hindoos in the earliest times. Men gamed, too, it would appear, after the example set them by the gods, who had gamesters among them. The priests of Egypt assured Herodotus that one of their kings visited alive the lower regions called infernal, and that he there joined a gaming party, at which he both lost and won.(3) Plutarch tells a pretty Egyptian story to the effect, that Mercury having fallen in love with Rhea, or the Earth, and wishing to do her a favour, gambled with the Moon, and won from her every seventieth part of the time she illumined the horizon—all which parts he united together, making up FIVE DAYS, and added them to the Earth’s year, which had previously consisted of only 360 days.(4)

(3) Herod. 1. ii.

(4) Plutarch, De Isid. et Osirid.

But not only did the gods play among themselves on Olympus, but they gambled with mortals. According to Plutarch, the priest of the temple of Hercules amused himself with playing at dice with the god, the stake or conditions being that if he won he should obtain some signal favour, but if he lost he would procure a beautiful courtesan for Hercules.(5)

(5) In Vita Romuli.

By the numerous nations of the East dice, and that pugnacious little bird the cock, have been and are the chief instruments employed to produce a sensation—to agitate their minds and to ruin their fortunes. The Chinese have in all times, we suppose, had cards—hence the absurdity of the notion that they were ‘invented’ for the amusement of Charles VI. of France, in his ‘lucid intervals,’ as is constantly asserted in every collection of historic facts. The Chinese invented cards, as they invented almost everything else that administers to our social and domestic comfort.(6)

(6) Observations on Cards, by Mr Gough, in Archaeologia, vol. viii. 1787.

The Asiatic gambler is desperate. When all other property is played away, he scruples not to stake his wife, his child, on the cast of a die or on the courage of the martial bird before mentioned. Nay more, if still unsuccessful, the last venture he makes is that of his limbs—his personal liberty—his life—which he hazards on the caprice of chance, and agrees to be at the mercy, or to become the slave, of his fortunate antagonist.

The Malayan, however, does not always tamely submit to this last stroke of fortune. When reduced to a state of desperation by repeated ill-luck, he loosens a certain lock of hair on his head, which, when flowing down, is a sign of war and destruction. He swallows opium or some intoxicating liquor, till he works himself up into a fit of frenzy, and begins to bite and kill everything that comes in his way; whereupon, as the aforesaid lock of hair is seen flowing, it is lawful to fire at and destroy him as quickly as possible—he being considered no better than a mad dog. A very rational conclusion.

Of course the Chinese are most eager gamesters, or they would not have been capable of inventing those dear, precious killers of time—cards, the EVENING solace of so many a household in the most respectable and ‘proper’ walks of life. Indeed, they play night and day—until they have lost all they are worth, and then they usually go—and hang themselves.

If we turn our course northward, and penetrate the regions of ice perpetual, we find that the driven snow cannot effectually quench the flames of gambling. They glow amid the regions of the frozen pole. The Greenlanders gamble with a board, which has a finger-piece upon it, turning round on an axle; and the person to whom the finger points on the stopping of the board, which is whirled round, ‘sweeps’ all the ‘stakes’ that have been deposited.

If we descend thence into the Western hemisphere, we find that the passion for gambling forms a distinguishing feature in the character of all the rude natives of the American continent. Just as in the East, these savages will lose their aims (on which subsistence depends), their apparel, and at length their personal liberty, on games of chance. There is one thing, however, which must be recorded to their credit—and to our shame. When they have lost their ‘all,’ they do not follow the example of our refined gamesters. They neither murmur nor repine. Not a fretful word escapes them. They bear the frowns of fortune with a philosophic composure.(7)

(7) Carver, Travels.

Source: The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims, by Andrew Steinmetz

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