Filosofia Cortesana – A Path Game

The tratado (booklet) “La Filosofia Cortesana Moralizada” (Courtly Philosophy) describes a board game created by Alonso de Barros in the late cinquecento (16th C). Akin to the modern game titled “Life”, players use pieces to move along the path according to rolls of the die or instructions on the board. The purpose of the game is to show how to survive and advance at court, achieving success among the pitfalls of life as a Cortesana (Courtier). The player mimics the progress of an ambitious courtier, handling the ups and downs of their courtly career. The challenges and rewards are reflected in the names of some of the caselle, which means little “casa” (spaces, or houses as the author names them) of the game which leads to and ends for the winner at the “Palm of Victory”.

Barros shows his intimate knowledge of courtly life and of the deceptions and disappointments which come to its followers. In the game of court, as in his own, there is only one winner, who takes all. Alonso de Barros speaks of his own experience labelling life at court a “sea of suffering” across which the hard workers and lucky can sail.

The origin of the game is gioco dell’ocha from Florence:

It is clear that clever men, after the first invention of one thing, adding or changing on the same basic idea, find out other inventions. We know this happened for the Game of the Goose, at the time of our fathers: that game was invented in Florence and, since it was very much appreciated, Francesco de Medici, Granduke of Tuscany, decided to send it to his Majesty Philip II of Spain. When it was published there, it gave the opportunity to some smart minds to invent other games little different from the first one, among which there is the game known as the Courtly Philosophy invented by Alonso de Barros from Spain.” – Game of the Goose, in Il Gioco degli Scacchi diviso in 8 libri by Pietro Carrera, 1617 (p.25)

For translations of the board directions go here.

Filosofia Cortesana Class APA

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