Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Rook

I just finished reading The Chess Artist by J.C. Hallman. Although a bit longish, I enjoyed it. The excursion Hallman and his compadre (Glenn Umstead) took to Kalmykia seemed to take up the entire book ... or maybe the book just dragged on during that part. But the parts I enjoyed most were the chapters about the history of chess and how the pieces came to be today as well as all the other chess adventures Hallman and Glenn took (click here to see a picture of the two).

After I finished the book this morning, I went back and re-read the chapter on the Rook. It was a fascinating discovery about myself.

"The rook's movement and its strength relative to the other pieces has
generally suggested the mechanical, vehicles or articles of war. Most often, the rook is infrastructure. As a line piece that can access all the squares of the board - moving in straight line on either ranks of files and capturing along its path - the rook combines the abstract potentials
of the knight and the bishop. Before the piece came to be represented by the figure of a crenelated castle tower, a depiction that appeared between 1524 and 1550, the rook was often portrayed as a two-headed shape. Early carvings of both bishops and knights were upright figures with some kind of aslant protuberance; early rooks had two such projections. In ornate sets it was a knight with two horse heads instead of one."

Hallman later notes in the same chapter that some family coat of arms associated with the word rook retain the two projections. (Rookwood to the left, Rochette to the right and Rochlitz at the top)

He goes on to describe how the rook started as a chariot or ship. In Arabia, rukh mean "chariot" while in Sanskrit roka meant "ship." Once the game arrived in Europe, different countries tried different names. In Germany marchio or "lord of the marches" described the piece, while in England it was known as duke. "A fifteenth-century morality listed rooks as judges for three reasons: a rook cannot play until a way is opened for it; a rook is in danger when on the same color as the king; and a rook loses power when it is 'in the King's palace' (i.e. not yet castled)." But the Europeans did not fully understand the definition of the piece and deferred to the Italian word rocca which meant "fortress." And this is how we have our modern-day rook which looks like a castle fortress.
What I Learned About Myself and the Rook
First of all, what I was fascinated about was learning the rook had a two-headed projection which was carried into family coat of arms. When I did a search on the Rochlitz coat of arms, I was shocked to see the resemblance between that coat of arms and the little icon I created for this blog. Both sport a mirror-R and are black and yellow. Is there some subliminal context of the rook concept that I picked up through the years of playing chess? It's a bit freaky seeing this connection.
Another aspect was the idea that rooks are associated with mechanical vehicles or articles of war and are usually associated with infrastructure. Maybe I'm thinking about this too much, but my entire career has been in infrastructure groups within our IT (i.e. mechanical) company. Also, I partly chose the handle Rocky, which comes from Rocky Balboa (the fictional boxer), because he seems blue-coller-like. To bring this back to infrastructure ... anything to do with infrastructure is very much blue-coller-like .... there's lots of work and it can be menial, but it is vital to the existence of the group/company/nation.
And lastly ... the relation to ships. Over the last few months, I've been becoming a big fan of the old tall-ship, sea-battle paintings that many others have a fixation with (click here to see an example of what I'm referring to which also happens to by favorite painting of this kind). And so when I learned the rook was also associated with ships, the hairs on my arms seemed to stand up.
Anyway, like I said, I may be thinking about this a bit much, but to say the least, it is very enlightening.
Rookwood and Rochette Coat of Arms: House of Names
Rochlitz Coat of Arms: Wikipedia Commons

1 comment:

  1. Hi Rocky! Yeah I read that book recently also. It sounded like he walked by that drained pond EVERY time he went for a walk. Were there any official objections ever raised by Kalmykia or Kirsan about the content of Hallmans book? Hmmm. Was an interesting book, nonetheless.