Cheeky Chess and More

You glide your bishop to b5. Your opponent…blushes. That’s right, blushes. Because you were quite forward with your flirtation and things are getting a little hot.

I can’t imagine a less flirtatious board game than chess. Yet hundreds and hundreds of years ago, the above scenario may have taken place. Chess actually provided an opportunity for men and women to spend private time together.

Where did I learn this? At the British Museum in London, where one of the most famous chess sets resides: The Lewis Chessmen. Made of walrus ivory and whales’ teeth, the set is impressive.

Here’s something else I learned, which is excerpted from the British Museum display: “The medieval European chess set reflected the order of feudal society.” Makes sense, but it was nothing I considered when I was playing chess in elementary school. I’m sure I had no clue what feudal society was. I’m also sure I wouldn’t have cared had someone tried to explain it to me.

The display also states “The queens adopt a dignified pose probably based on contemporary representations of the Virgin Mary.” I personally think the queen looks exasperated. The king should throw a little flirtation her way.

And the bishop? To me, it was a chess piece that could move diagonally across the board. It never represented a holy person dressed for mass. Of course, now it totally makes sense. And now I appreciate the symbolism. It only took me a few decades to learn about this stuff.

The Lewis Chessmen represent just one of the treasures found in the British Museum. It was the first national public museum in the whole world—opening in 1753 and remaining a free resource since then.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I only spent an hour in the museum. It’s all I had during my visit. The place deserves a day at least and many return visits. Who knows what else I might learn?!


This entry was published on November 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm and is filed under History, Sights, Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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