An ancient Indian hymn in the tenth book of the Rig Veda (c. 4000-1500 BCE) features a gambler addressing the dice that have all but destroyed his life. The ode describes how the gambler loses wealth and material assets, family, self-respect, peace of mind and social prestige.
These nuts that once tossed on tall trees in the wind
but now smartly roll over the board, how I love them!
As alluring as a draught of Soma on the mountain,
the lively dice have captured my heart.
My faithful wife never quarreled with me
or got angry; to me and my companions
she was always kind, yet I've driven her away
for the sake of the ill-fated throw of a die.
His wife's mother loathes him, his wife rejects him,
he implores people's aid but nowhere finds pity.
A luckless gambler is no more good
than an aged hack to be sold on the market.
Other men make free with the wife of a man
whose money and goods the eager dice have stolen.
His father and mother and brothers all say,
“He is nothing to us. Bind him, put him in jail!”
I make a resolve that I will not go gaming.
So my friends depart and leave me behind.
But as soon as the brown nuts are rattled and thrown,
to meet them I run, like an amorous girl.
To the meeting place the gambler hastens.
Shall I win? he asks himself, hoping and trembling,
But the throws of the dice ruin his hopes,
giving the highest scores to his opponent.
Dice, believe me, are barbed: they prick and they trip,
they hurt and torment and cause grievous harm.
To the gambler they are like children's gifts, sweet as honey, but they turn on the winner in rage and destroy him.
Fifty-three strong, this band jumps playfully,
like Savitri, the god whose statutes are true.
They pay no heed to the anger of the powerful;
the king himself bows down before them.
Downward they roll, then jump in the air!
Though handless, they master those who have hands!
Unearthly coals thrown down on the board,
though cold they burn the player's heart to ashes.
Abandoned, the wife of the gambler grieves.
Grieved too, is his mother as he wanders to nowhere.
Afraid and in debt, ever greedy for money,
he steals in the night to the home of another.
He is seized by remorse when he sees his wife's lot,
beside that of another with well-ordered home.
In the morning, however, he yokes the brown steeds
and at the evening falls stupid before the cold embers.
The Gambler to the dice:
To the mighty chieftain of your whole band,
the one who has become the king of your troop,
to him I show my ten fingers extended.
No wealth do I withhold! I speak truly!
Steer clear of dice. Till well your own field.
Rejoice in your portion and value it highly.
See there, O Gambler, your cattle, your wife.
This is the counsel of the noble Savitri.
The Gambler to the dice:
Grant us your friendship, have mercy upon us!
Do not overwhelm us with your fierce attack!
May your anger and evil intention be assuaged!
Let the brown dice proceed to ensnare another!
To think about – or discuss with a friend
- In the ode, the gambler talks to the dice, pleading with them to treat him as a friend, not a foe. What implications does this have? To what extent do modern gamblers behave similarly or differently?
- Is the gambler a victim? Is he a slave? If so, of what or whom?
- Or is he to blame for his predicament? Should a “luckless gambler” be punished?
- Is there any hope for the gambler? If so, how?