Οὐτιδανοὶ µερόπων εἰ καὶ µέγα ῥέξαµεν ἔργον,
οὔτινος εἰς µνήµην δηρὸν ἐπερχόµεϑα·
οἱ δ᾽ ἀγαϑοὶ κἢν µηδέν, ἀναπνεύσωσι δὲ µοῦνον,
ὡς Λίβυς εῖπεν ἀνήρ, τοῦτ᾽ ἀδάµαντι µένει.
δήποτε γὰρ Ζήνωνα πολισσοῦχον βασιλῆα
παίγνιον ὰφράστων ἐκτελέοντα κύβων
τοίη ποικιλότευκτος ἕλεν ϑέσις, εὖτ᾽ ἀπὸ λευκοῦ
τοῦ καὶ ὀπισϑιδίην εἰς ὁδὸν ἐρχοµένου,
ἑπτὰ µὲν ἕκτος ἔχεν, µίαν εἴνατος· αὐτὰρ ὁ σοῦµµος
δισσὰς ἀµφιέπων ἶσος ἔην δεκάτῳ·
ὅς τε πέλει µετὰ σοῦµµον, ἔχεν δύο· µουνάδα δ᾽ἄλλην,
ψῆφον τὴν πυµάτην, ἀµφιέπεσκε δίβος.
ἀλλὰ µέλας δισσὰς µὲν ἐν ὀγδοάτῳ λίπε χώρῳ
καὶ τόσσας ἑτέρας ἐς θέσιν ἑνδεκάτην·
ἀµφὶ δυωδέκατον δὲ διέπρεπον εἴκελοι ἄλλαι,
καὶ τρισκαιδεκάτῳ ψῆφος ἔκειτο µία·
δίζυγες ᾿Αντίγονον διεκόσµεον· ἀλλὰ καὶ αὐτῷ
ἶσος ἔµιµνε τύπος πεντεπικαιδεκάτῳ,
ὀκτωκαιδεκάτῳ πανοµοίιος· εἰσέτι δ᾽ ἄλλας
εἶχεν διχθαδίας τέτρατος ἐκ πυµάτου.
αὐτὰρ ἄναξ λευκοῖο λαχὼν σηµήια πεσσοῦ
καὶ τὴν ἐσσοµένην οὐ νοέων παγίδα,
τριχθαδίας ἀδόκητα βαλὼν ψηφῖδας ἀπ᾽ ἠθµοῦ
πύργου δουρατέου κλίµακι κευθοµένῃ,
δοιὰ καὶ ἓξ καὶ πέντε κατήγαγεν· αὐτίκα δ᾽ ὀκτὼ
ἄζυγας εἶχεν ὅλας πρόσθε µεριζοµένας.
τάβλην φεύγετε πάντες, ἐπεὶ καὶ κοίρανος αὐτὸς
κείνης τὰς ἀλόγους οὐχ ὑπάλυξε τύχας.
Agathias used an elegiac distich for this poem. This Greek verse form uses the length of syllables to create a meter. Each pair of two lines has the following sequence of long (—) and short (v) syllables. In this system of meter, the last syllable of the first line may also be short. The semantic and/or rhythmic caesura may occur only in specific locations (|) creating a cadence if this form is repeated for a poem of this length.
— v v — v v — | v | v — v v — v v — —
— v v — v v — || — v v — v v —
The English translation aims to capture the intricate meter by using stressed and unstressed vowels to indicate long and short syllables with the caesurae in the same places. It also interprets the names of various fields according to the latest insights in the reconstruction of the game. It foregrounds the poetic qualities of the poem in addition to its historical value.
The position that is described in the poem has been reconstructed by several scholars. The most insightful reconstruction shows a position that can be interpreted with today’s backgammon rules on a board with two rows of twelve playing spaces, as opposed to another Roman version that had three rows of twelve spots. The white pieces move in counter-clockwise direction. With Zeno’s throw of the dice, it shows that the only option for white is to move pieces in such a way that most positions of white will have only one white piece, all other options are blocked by black. In this game, captures can only be made if you land on a position with one piece of the opponent. Positions with more than one piece are blocked. In the poem, a situation now occurs in which black has multiple opportunities to capture white’s pieces while prior to white’s move the position seemed strong as so few fields allowed a capture.
Agathias’s poem is a rare example of a poem from antiquity that allows for a complete reconstruction of a board game position. It has assisted in understanding the history of Duodecim Scripta and Alea, two Roman predecessors of present-day backgammon that have been connected to the time period of both Zeno and Agathias.