After the game,…

After the game, the king and the pawn go into the same box. -Italian proverb

This is perhaps my favorite quote. It has a depth of meaning and summarizes some key parts of humans and society.

Several thoughts emerge from this proverb. An obvious one is that death is the grand equalizer. We do not get to take our status to the afterlife, like the Pharaohs; in contrast, the material goods we accumulate no longer matter, and thus all men die a pauper.

Another metaphor is the game itself. When pieces are placed on certain squares and rules are agreed upon, pieces gain power that they do not have prior and will not have afterwards. I see this as representing the artificial nature of life. The pawn will be less powerful than the queen, not because of merit, but because of initial status. Though chess speaks of a feudal society, it is easy to figure out who the kings, the rooks, and the pawns are in the modern era. The piece you are is a product of birth.

Now this has become less relevant in post-feudal societies, as social mobility does indeed happen. The inflexibility of the social fabric, however, remains.

Chess is also a game of inevitability. Pieces will be captured and removed, tactics will be employed, and the game will be won, lost, or drawn. When the game ends, no matter what, all distinctions end. Pieces are valued through a social agreement on what chess is and what it is not. Whether captured or remaining at the end, all things become equal once again.

If one is to perhaps over-interpret the quote (which I totally like to do), it is not just about class. Chess is a game of opposite colors; these colors are vitally important during the game. Afterwards, black and white pieces end up in the same box as well.

This proverb strikes me because it establishes a deep equality among humans. Politics, religion, sport, and the media all create distinctions and divide power in particular ways. But the power one wields is a product of social agreement (or forced acceptance) does not end forever.

The Game of Thrones television series has popularized many aspects of the book series, in particular a phrase that is very important to a select group of people. Spoken in an important but dead language, “valar morghulis means All men must die. No matter what, all beings must accept this.

Author: AJM

Writer, sociologist, Unitarian Universalist.

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