Ann Moyer invites us to engage with the forgotten, chess-like game rithmomachia (" The battle of numbers ") that combined the pleasures of gaming with mathematical study and moral education. Intellectuals of the medieval and Renaissance periods who played this game were seeking not only to master the principles of Boethian mathematics, but to improve their minds and characters by contemplating its numbers and ratios. Rather than promoting practical computing skills or the production of scientific specialists, the philosophers' game strove to impart to all students the general principles of numerical order at work in the cosmos, and the divine origin of that order. Rithmomachia, then, was no ordinary game, and its history offers a unique window onto the intersections among learning and leisure ; theory and practice ; and scholarship and curriculum in European culture from the eleventh century through the sixteenth. Included in the book is a complete, illustrated Elizabethan rulebook.
The Philosophers' Game examines the nature and importance of the game's appeal as well as some of the reasons why it faded into obscurity. It developed as Boethius' Arithmetic acquired its status as a standard textbook of the liberal arts curriculum. Its rules were based on Boethian principles and ratios, and its players came exclusively from the ranks of those who had studied Boethius' text and its particular traditions of Platonic thought. Following the game's fortunes reveals significant features about the importance of Boethian arithmetic over several centuries. Rithmomachia enjoyed a last wave of popularity in the Renaissance before the early Scientific Revolution led to the game's disappearance. Its demise forms part of the great transformation of fields of learning and the classification of knowledge that marked the final dissolution of the quadrivium among the traditional liberal arts.
The Philosophers' Game will interest anyone who studies the history of science, mathematics, or education in medieval and Renaissance Europe, the intellectual or cultural history of those eras ; or the histories of games, sports, and leisure. It will also appeal to scholars interested in astrology and magic.