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Headword: *ta/bla
Adler number: tau,7
Translated headword: tabula, tabla
Vetting Status: high
Name of a game.[1] Palamedes invented this as an amusement for the Greek army,[2] with consummate ingenuity.[3] For tabula [4] is the earthly universe, the twelve squares[5] [correspond to] the number (sc. of signs) of the zodiac, and the dice-box and the seven cubes [6] in it are the seven wandering stars,[7] and the tower is the height of the sky, from which many evils are given in return to all people.[8] But others say ...
Greek Original:
*ta/bla: o)/noma paidia=s. tau/thn e)feu=re *palamh/dhs ei)s diagwgh\n tou= *(ellhnikou= stratou= su\n filosofi/a| pollh=|: ta/bla ga/r e)stin o( gh/i+nos ko/smos, ib# de\ ka/soi o( zwdiako\s a)riqmo/s, to\ de\ yhfobo/lon kai\ ta\ e)n au)tw=| z# kokki/a ta\ z# a)/stra tw=n planhtw=n, o( de\ pu/rgos to\ u(/yos tou= ou)ranou=: e)c ou(= a)ntapodi/dotai pa=si polla\ kai\ kaka/. a)/lloi de\ le/gousi ....
[1] On Greek and Roman board games in general see pi 1384 and the bibliography below, especially the essays by Austin and the references to Toner and the Oxford History of Board Games. For game-boards, many of which are found in taverns, see Toner, Leisure and Ancient Rome 90-91; for a summary of the commoner range of shapes of game-boards known see Roueché, Performers and Partisans at Aphrodisias 250-252.
[2] At Troy. Sophocles mentions his invention of a board game, almost certainly not this race game but the Greek war game (cf. pi 1384), in two lost plays, Nauplius (fr. 429P = 393N) and Palamedes. Plato correctly assigns the invention of the race game to the Egyptians (Phaedrus 274C-D; cf. Taillardat, p. 149, and Oxford History of Board Games pp. 70-73 and the preceding pages).
[3] Literally 'with great philosophy': 'ingenuity' seems to be the idea.
[4] Or, 'the game-board': tabla (the second syllable drops out in the Greek version of the Latin word) is both the name of the game and the word for a game-board.
[5] Many (not all) Roman game-boards have 12 squares/circles, or a multiple of twelve (see Roueché). The original Greek board apparently consisted of three rows of 12 points each, and the pieces moved in the apparent motion of the planets in the sky, East to West, West to East unseen, East to West. During the Roman Empire, probably shortly before the time of the Emperor Zeno's disastrous dice throw on a board of 24 points (reported by Agathias, AP 9.482, and analyzed in an essay by R.G. Austin), the modern board of 24 points came into being and the game was called alea in Rome and tabla or table in Greece. It is this game that is the ancestor of modern tavli in Greece and of backgammon. A much simpler game with three pieces played on a circular table with 12 holes (well illustrated in Roueché) may have been a version of tabla. Ovid describes it, 'There is a sort of game, confined by subtle method (tenui ratione) into as many lines as the slippery year has months: a small board has three counters on either side, and you win by joining your pieces up. Play a thousand games (a girl ought not to be unaware of the rules): you can often score by playing.' (Ars Amatoria 3.363-8). The word for the squares (ka/soi) is the Latin casus adopted in Greek: cf. E.A. Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (Cambridge, MA and Leipzig, 1914), s.v.
[6] Sophocles' Lexicon gives kokki/on as equivalent to Latin tessella, a little cube. The normal Greek word for the 6-sided die is ku/bos (kappa 2602).
[7] The source for this entry seems to be Malalas' Chronicle, written in the mid-sixth century AD. Malalas 5.22/103 says: 'Palamedes ... first devised the game of tabula from the movement of the seven planets that bring men joys and griefs by the hazard of fate; he made the tabula board the terrestrial world, the twelve kasoi the number of signs of the zodiac, the dice-box and the seven dice in it the seven stars, and the tower the height of heaven, from which good and evil are distributed to all.' The "tower" is the fluted receptacle used to shake and toss the dice without the opportunity to cheat; it was at least sometimes used above the head for the reasons given here. The dice of the gods always fall well (cf. delta 748).
[8] The Suda compiler seems to have put his own spin on the source here. Malalas (note 7) says that the 'height of heaven', i.e. the visible heaven as understood via astrology (and symbolized by the 'tower' on the tabula board: the larger circle or rosette seen on many carved game-boards) distributes 'good and evil' to all. A writer of intermediate date, John of Antioch (floruit first half of seventh century), says in his summary of the Malalas piece, '(Palamedes) suggested ... by the tower, the height of heaven, from which both good and bad things are given to all' (John fr.41 Roberto). But the Suda shows an anti-astrological outlook by rejecting the idea that astrology distributes good and bad things: in the compiler's version, only evil can come of astrology.
E.A. Sophocles, Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods (Cambridge, MA, and Leipzig, 1914)
Suetonius, *peri\ blasfhmi/wn, *peri\ paidi/wn, ed. J. Taillardat (Paris 1967) 64-73 (text reconstructed from Eustathius, Etym. Mag., etc.), 149ff. (notes)
Lamer, H. "Lusoria tabula," in Pauly-Wissowa, R-E 13 (1938) 1900-2029 (in German)
Austin, R.G., "Zeno's game of ta/blh (A.P. 9.482)," JHS 54 (1934) 202-5, cf. "Roman board games," Greece and Rome n.s.4 (1934-35) 24-34, 76-82; "Greek board games", Antiquity 14 (1940) 257-78
Kluge-Pinsker, A., Schach und Trictrac, Zeugnisse mittelalterliche Spielfreude in Salischer Zeit (1991)
Roueché, Charlotte, Performers and Partisans at Aphrodisias (London, 1993)
Toner, J.P., Leisure and Ancient Rome (Cambridge 1995) 90ff.
Oxford History of Board Games (1999) 70-73
Keywords: aetiology; biography; daily life; definition; dialects, grammar, and etymology; epic; ethics; mathematics; military affairs; philosophy; religion; science and technology
Translated by: Paul McKechnie on 27 February 2000@22:29:47.
Vetted by:
Robert Dyer on 23 December 2000@16:05:07.
Robert Dyer on 23 December 2000@17:03:25.
Robert Dyer (Made minor cosmetic changes. Substantially increased the bibliography and notes 2 and 5, with cross references to Pi 1384. Added a couple of sentences to note 7 to bring it into line with Delta 748. This represents an attempt to bring the entry into line with the most recent work on ancient gambling and with the reconstructions of Suetonius's work on board games. I emailed the writer before making these changes and said that I welcome discussion with him if he disagrees with anything I have written here or in Pi 1384 and my other entries on board games.) on 23 December 2000@17:17:24.
Robert Dyer (Small correction in spelling. The vetting status is the result of correspondence between the writer and the editor of this article and its expanded content. Each brought distinct competences to the version here given vetting status.) on 17 February 2001@10:09:19.
Catharine Roth (cosmetics) on 26 May 2008@22:57:26.
David Whitehead (more keywords; further tweaks and cosmetics) on 27 May 2008@03:37:05.
Catharine Roth (cosmeticule) on 8 January 2014@13:54:44.
David Whitehead (supplied a reference) on 30 January 2015@04:52:48.


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