Posts Tagged ‘medieval’

Alphabet - Earlier this month, Freelance Academy Press had the pleasure of attending the  International Congress on Medieval Studies held at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, which went from Thursday, May 9th through Sunday May 12th. We had a booth in the exhibitor’s hall, and again received a fair bit of interest in our title roster, including our Deeds of Arms series, particularly the Combat of the Thirty volume, and Dr. Noel Fallow’s forthcoming entry on the Twelve of England.

However, the real highlight was that for the first time our press was a  co-sponsor of two sessions, entitled “Affairs of Arms”.

The first session was A Presentation of a Judical Duel, and that pretty much says it all. Freelance president and founder Gregory Mele presented a short paper on the history and customs of the judicial duel, before turning the floor over to a bit of interpretive history: a physical reconstruction and demonstration of a judicial duel at the turn of the 15th century.

The premise of the duel was a follows: c.1410, somewhere in northern Italy, a young, Italian squire, Giacomo Culla accuses an English knight of having been seen coming from the chambers of a well-known guildswoman “before morning mass”. The guildswoman, Natalia of Philadelphia was seen “with her hair loose and her bodice undone”, and the knight, had “marks of passion about his neck. Further complicating this claim is that both the squire and the knight are in the service of the lord, Sir Geoffrey Peel, an English adventurer (mercenary) in the Italian wars, and the knight’s wife, a native Italian woman, is currently pregnant, and so the squire claims outrage on the lady’s behalf.

It is not the charge of adultery, however, that precipitates the duel, however, but rather the knight’s claim that the squire Giacomo is a liar, and his demand that he recant his claims. This exchange of challenge and response, known as a Cartello, also outlienes the form of the duel.

Sex, scandal and political scheming – what more could one ask for?

The redoubtable Will McLean took Greg’s initial idea for the duel’s storyline and wedded it to a document from the Lord Hastings’ Ms, to create the final script for the duel, which can be read in its entirety on his “A Common Place Book” website.  In addition, our friend David Hoornstra caught the entire presentation on video, which he has graciously allowed us to post on our YouTube page:

A huge thanks to Annamaria Kovacs for presiding over the session and for all who participated in the presentation of the duel:

Jesse Kulla and Dave Farrell of the Chicago Swordplay Guild as Giacomo and Sir David, respectively;

Bob Charrette as Sir Geoffrey Peel, the presiding noble, attended by members of La Belle Compagnie ;

Will McLean took on the role of the Herald and Michael Cramer the Priest;

The accused Natalia of Philadelphia played by respected 14th century clothing scholar, Tasha Kelly of La Cotte Simple, fame, who had the misfortune of being left with “Schroedinger’s Virtue” due to the uncertain nature of the duel’s resolution. (Unsure of what we mean? Watch the video!)

Our second session, Wrestlers, Brawlers, Horse Archers, Oh My: Not-So-Knightly Arts of the Middle Ages was in the vein of last year’s presentation: a “paper” that was more of a physical demonstration of some aspect of martial culture.  In “Fiore dei Liberi’s Abrazare: Wrestling for War versus Wrestling for Love”, Keith Nelson demonstrated the unarmed combat at the heart of Fiore dei Liberi’s martial art of armizare, and how his various grips, throws and breaks differed from medieval sport wrestling. The presentation was well-received, but the “talk” of the session was Russ Mitchell’s “The Good, the Bad, the R5 and the Ugly: Non-Knightly Warfare and its Instruments”, in which Russ demonstrated the full war kit of the Hungarian medium cavalry – horse archers and swordsmen who uniquely merged eastern and western military traditions. This was a glimpse into one of the great financial and military powers of late Medieval Europe that goes all-but unnoticed  by Anglophone scholars, and attendees were impressed by Russ’s ability to speak extemporaneously and with great detail on his subject.

(Note: if you have any photos from this session, please let us know!)

Finally, during a DISTAFF session, our friends from La Belle Compagnie gave a tour-de-force presentation of how a knight was armed during the Hundred Years War, showing not just one such harness, but four from the 1330s, 1380s, 1415 and 1450! Best of all, the entire presentation was also caught on film!

In the end, our sessions were well-received, old friends were visited, new friends made, new publishing projects developed…and oh yes, we sold some books!

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Tom Leoni is well-known in the Western Martial Arts community as a researcher and translator of Renaissance Italian fencing texts. His The Art of Dueling (2005) brought the magnum opus of the famed 17th century sword-master, Salvatore Fabris to an English-language audience for the first time. Now out of print, used copies are eagerly sought, often commanding ridiculously high prices on Ebay or ABEBooks.

In 2010 and 2011 Tom expanded on his investigation into 17th c swordplay with Freelance’s Venetian Rapier and Ridolfo Capoferro’s The Art and Practice of Fencing, thereby making the complete “holy trinity” of Italian rapier available in clear, concise English. In 2010’s Complete Renaissance Swordsman: A guide to the use of all manner of weapons, Tom stepped further back in time, opening the doors to earliest surviving text of the Bolognese school of swordplay, which contained a vast curriculum of weapons.

But before joining Freelance, in 2009 Tom had self-published a modest little book – a translation of the earliest known work on Italian martial arts, the renowned il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle) by Fiore dei Liberi. This translation quickly became the seminal translation in the WMA community, and forms the basis of study in Robert Charrette’s Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The chivalric martial arts system of il Fior di Battaglia. In the ensuing three years, Tom has substantially reanalyzed, revised and expanded his translation. We sat down with him at the SCA’s Pennsic War to ask him how a staunch student of the Italian rapier found himself suddenly immersed in a study of the two-handed sword, wrestling, pollaxe and mounted combat, and why creating a second edition became an obsession.

Q: You have been translating Italian martial arts manuscripts since 2005, but your focus has always been on the 16th and 17th centuries. How did a translation of Fiore dei Liberi’s “Flower of Battle” come about?

It was Scott Wilson (owner of Darkwood Armory) who initially commissioned the translation. As a serious Fiore student, he wanted to have a single, reliable and consistent translation of the Getty manuscript at a time when there were many fragments of translations available on the Web, some more dependable than others. So he came to me and promised me to make me a custom rapier if I would complete the translation by the 600th anniversary of what we consider to be the date of the treatise. I complied, my original translation came out in 2009, and the beautiful Darkwood custom rapier hangs proudly in my salle.

Q: Can you answer this question for the Historical European martial arts community once and for all: is il Fior di Battaglia written in literary Italian or dialect?

Actually, neither! The book is written in vernacular, which is somewhere between the literary language and the dialect. Think of it as the proper language spoken with a heavy regional accent and using a simplified vocabulary. In writing, the most telltale sign of vernacular is the spelling, which approximates on paper the way the author would have pronounced the language; in our Master’s case, his spelling was heavily influenced by what linguists call Lombardisms (for instance, z or ç for g or c, gh for c, d for t, etc.). But once you account for the several consonant shifts, a few vowel shifts and the frequent elimination of double consonants, you get a fairly standard Italian–although definitely not as polished as the literary language as far as grammar, vocabulary and style. For an example closer to home, imagine a Joe Pesci spelling words as he pronounces them in his thick New York accent (e.g., “the two yoots”) or a Jeff Foxworthy doing so in his signature Southern drawl (e.g., “less do us sum rasslin’”): the spelling is unorthodox, but the meaning is still clear. Had Fiore written in true dialect, the Italian would be virtually unrecognizable–for instance, he would have used terms not found in Italian, he would have contracted many words, while with others, he would have dropped the final vowel or even the final syllable. Besides, writing in dialect for a wide audience was not at all common in Fiore’s time–and indeed, throughout the history of Italian literature.

Q: One of the other things that your translations have become known for is capturing the voice of the original author, rather than using your own. How would you describe Fiore’s personality as an author?

I am glad that some think I convey the voice of the original authors. Translating is truly an art-form, and my goal is to keep getting better. Returning to grad-school–especially having to translate under the rigorous guidance of the head of the Classics department at Catholic University–has certainly given me more food for thought as far as translating. Fiore’s personality as an author is truly interesting–and I think unique in the history of Italian fencing. While most Masters speak in a single voice, Fiore writes in at least three personas: the meticulous teacher of the art he loves and has learned to describe so well; the lovable boisterous soldier in the tradition of Plautus’ miles gloriosus; and the self-deprecating, easy-going man who never lost his sense of humor despite the respect and the status he has earned, who calls himself “a poor old man” and “Fiore the student.” The Fiore who comes across from the pages of his treatise is someone I would have loved to know, train and share a drink with. After spending so much time with him, I think of Fiore as a friend, while even “my” Fabris I view more as a father figure, since he only spoke in one voice–the voice of absolute authority in his field.

Q: What led to creating a second edition?

Three things mainly. One, the desire to review the translation as a Fiore student, rather than merely a historical fencer with a linguistic background; two, the awareness that working from a high-resolution version of the original manuscript was preferable than working from a transcription; three, the desire to include biographical material, a contextual study on the judicial duel (which is one of my main areas of academic interest), the account of some of the duels fought by Fiore’s students, as well as a thorough bilingual glossary on the Master’s terminology. The result is something I’m quite pleased with, and besides the complementary material I have mentioned, I would rate this translation a good 25-30% better and more accurate than that of the first edition. Also, I was able to offer plenty of footnotes giving suggestions as to the practical aspect of Fiore’s plays, now that I have gone through most of the book several times sword-in-hand (so to speak).

Q: There’s a rumor that after spending this much time with the old Maestro, your rapier now has to compete with the longsword and abrazare in your heart. Is that true?

It is absolutely true. Rapier is like the violin, while the medieval arts are like playing guitar. Both instruments are sublime and capable of perfection, but the guitar gives you satisfaction sooner, comes in many more varieties and can have an air of cool nonchalance that the more exacting violin does not have. I view medieval martial arts in the same light. Thanks to Fiore, I am learning to wrestle, I am getting proficient at fighting unarmed against a dagger, I get to use a whole plethora of interesting weapons under a single, coherent system, and I even get to fight in armor. Fiore also inspired me to get back on a horse, something I used to love when I was younger but I had not done in years. Something else that attracts me to Fiore is the fact that there is a lot more still to discover about his world, which as a researcher is like a newly-found gold mine. This is not to say that my enthusiasm for the rapier has diminished; only, it is hard (I would say impossible) not to be seduced by the system of Fiore and the context in which his art was practiced.

Q: There are a few questions that come up when English speakers with a bit of Italian look at Fiore’s terminology. Why do you think he used “abrazare”, for example, rather than “lotta”? Or “colpo” rather than “taglio”? To those of us who didn’t grow up thinking in Italian, what is the lesson to be learned there?

The lesson is that as a late-medieval man, Fiore understood his categories! Lotta is the whole of wrestling, while abrazare is a part–namely, arm-wrestling (as Fiore gives away on Folio 45 R, when he says “a play of abrazare [means] a play of the arms”). Colpo is the whole, a generic term for blow, action or attack, while taglio is a part–namely, a cutting attack. In other cases, it must have been the tradition that affected terminology; for instance, the name or descriptive adjectives of some guards and some strikes are unique to Fiore (as far as we know today) and must have come from a Master-student lineage particular to his area or his instructors–e.g., Posta di Donna, Sottano, Colpo di Villano, Guardie Pulsative, etc. I am looking forward to discovering what further research will yield in this regard.

Q: Now that you’re Fiore’s student, and not just his mouthpiece to the Anglophone world, how do you think his work “measures up” to the works of the later Renaissance that you have spent so much time with?

It measures up excellently. His treatise is so clear and thorough, we don’t have an excuse for getting Fiore wrong. We may argue about such minutiae as how far off-line you need to step, or whether or not you need an additional pass when you deliver your riposte by fendente in the Peasant’s Strike or whether there is a left Finestra in longsword, but as far as the main ideas and principal motions, he leaves no room for speculation. This is also greatly aided by the late-medieval pedagogical model of illustrating most actions, as well as by there being four extant version of his treatise. I wish that at least one among the great 16th century Bolognese Masters had adopted Fiore’s pedagogical model–we would know a lot more about that style than we can at present, with their (largely) non-illustrated, discursive instruction. I would say that up until the 17th century, Fiore has written the most valuable Italian treatise for us historical martial artists–and even compared to more recent treatises, he more than holds his own.

Q: There seem to be a lot of “memes” about Fiore’s work, perhaps because no complete, vetted translations of his work are readily available to the larger community. If there are a few of these that you could put to rest right now, what would they be?

I am glad you asked! The most macroscopic meme of recent vintage is that Fiore somehow wrote in code, and that his text is cryptic and hard to understand. Quite to the contrary, Fiore wrote as an expert instructor, who needed very few well-tested words to describe what he wanted to convey. His goal was clarity, and he achieved that admirably, in my opinion. How much clearer, for instance, can you get than his description of the Peasant’s Strike?

Wait for the peasant to launch his cut with his sword. As you wait, stand in a narrow stance with your left foot forward. When he attacks, perform an off-line accrescimento with your left foot to the opponent’s right, followed by an oblique pass with your right foot, catching his cut with the middle of your sword. Let his sword glide to the ground, and immediately respond with a fendente to the head or arms …

Sure, the fact that every action is illustrated helps, but how many treatises can you name that spell out the footwork with such consistent precision–in virtually every action? How many can you tick off that tell you exactly where to put your hands and your body and in which direction to push or pull as you wrestle? How many that name and describe all the turns that your body, your feet and your sword can make? As you read Fiore, you really get the sense that he wants you to know, he wants you to get it. Which is why I said that you simply can’t get Fiore wrong–although performing his actions correctly and efficiently is of course a matter of arduous practice.

Then of course there is the meme initiated (or perpetuated) by the Victorians, namely, that Fiore wrote a treatise in which there is essentially no theory and no finesse, only brute force. A few hours of training are enough to disprove that: can you imagine wildly muscling your way through the first few plays of abrazare? Or trying to “win” a crossing by pressing hard against the opponent’s blade? But then, the Victorians’ goal was different from ours: theirs was to trace an evolutionary pedigree (documented or half-legendary) for their own style, while ours is to piece together the original arts on their own merit, understand them and perform them to the best of our ability.

Fiore dei Liberi’s Flower of Battle, 2nd Edition is available exclusively from Freelance Academy Press! But it direct, and receive an added bonus: an annotated translation by of the closely related Morgan Ms, correlated as a correspondence to the Getty Ms and red-lined to make it easy to spot the differences, additions or deletions of text.

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by Christian H. Tobler

ast year, I penned an article for our website, “In Defense of Peter Von Danzig”, wherein I presented the case for retaining Master Peter’s name as the colloquial moniker for the Codex 44 A 8, a German fighting compendium preserved today in Rome. This manuscript is translated in my FAP title In Saint George’s Name. My reasoning was informed by the facts that a) this manuscript is the only one featuring that master’s work, b) that he was likely still living at the time of its creation, and c) that his is the final treatise in the compendium.

But perhaps there is one more reason to add in defense of this name…

I am often reminded of how repeated readings of a text that I “feeel I know well” can continue to reveal new insights. One such recent reading brought this home, and in a way I feel adds force – albeit with a bit of speculation – to the arguments I presented earlier.

Master Peter’s treatise is devoted exclusively to judicial combat in armour, and only on foot. But in a lesson on deflecting an enemy’s spear with your hand, he says:

Note: this refers to when you have a sword and he has a spear and he thrusts at you with the spear, intending to overreach you, and thrusts a long free thrust to your body. Take heed when he thrusts, and springing wisely and swiftly out from the spear thrust, grasp and throw him with the previously described wrestling, before he thrusts again. But if you have no weapon in your hands, then strike away with your empty hand as described in the mounted combat. […] (emphasis mine)

This is an interesting passage. The master refers to the mounted combat – doubtless a commentary on Liechtenauer’s Roßfechten (Combat on Horse). However, no such commentary treatise appears under Danzig’s name here, nor is any known from any other compendium. Given this, it seems likely that he is referring to the mounted combat commentary appearing earlier in Codex 44 A 8. If so, it might indicate a hand in the compiling of this manuscript – an awareness of its other contents as he was drafting his own final chapter of it.

On its own, such a notion might easily be waved away as overreaching speculation. When added to the other elements I have put forth, it is ‘more grist for the mill’, and perhaps even an indication of an active hand on the part of Peter von Danzig in the creation of Codex 44 A 8 – The Von Danzig Fechtbuch.

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A 15th-century illustration of Malatesta IV Malatesta.

he Malatesta of Rimini were an old noble family who rose to wealth and power as condottieri – mercenary soldiers – during the on-going clash of Pope and Emperor, Florence, Milan, Venice and their allies that characterized Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries. Ambitious, ruthless, with 100-year old patriarchs, hunchbacks and patrons who commissioned churches built in the form of pagan temples, they often appear the consummate, mustache-twirling villains – and with a name like “Evil Head”, how could they not? Perhaps the family’s most famous scion was Sigismondo, whose long feud with Federigo da Montefeltro is the subject of Hugh Bicheno’s excellent Vendetta: High Art and Low Cunning in the Renaissance.

But one of the most fascinating traits of Italy’s despots was their odd mix of brutality and humanistic love of the arts. As an example, here is a charming little sonnet, written by one of Sigismondo’s ancestors, Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta (1370 – 1429) upon the death of his wife, Elizabetta de Varano in 1405.

Born in Pesaro, he was the only son of Pandolfo II Malatesta and his second wife Paola Orsini.  He became lord of Pesaro in 1385. He spent the next seven years fighting as a condottiero for both the pope and Venice, against the growing power of the Visconti of Milan. In 1392 he was excommunicated by the pope for having conquered the papal possession of Todi, while in Venetian employ, but this did not stop him from becoming the Captain General of Bologna in 1394 for the anti-pope, Benedict XIII.

This philosophy of “a new day, a new pope, a new contract” would serve Malatesta well for the next two decades.

After conquering Narni and Orte for himself, he made peace with Pope Boniface. By 1404 he was back in Venetian employ, leading 20,000 troops against Padua. However, the Venetian armywas defeated and returned to Pesaro in late 1404, after which Malatesta made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. It was during this trip that his wife and mother of his seven children, Elizabetta, grew ill.

By 1409, Malatesta had again switched to serve the anti-pope, but ever the pragmatist, by 1412 he had again made peace with the pope, and thenceforth warred against antipope John XXIII. For the next decade he remained in papal service, although often fighting for Florence against Milan.

Yet through all the wars, he also remained a great patron of the arts, sponsoring figures such as Francesco Casini and the painter Mariotto di Nardo, and was in correspondence with humanists Coluccio Salutati and his daughter-in-law, Battista Malatesta. Given the nickname “dei sonetti” (“of the Sonnets”) due to his love for literature, he  was also the author of poems influenced by the style of Petrarch, one such being the lament for his lost Elizabetta:

(translation by Tom Leoni)

Dead is the sacred bride, she who maintained
My spirit whole, at peace and satisfied;
In heaven she, and I in grief abide,
Another man than who I was, I waned.
No man, but beast, I should have thought it best
To follow her fine form, now cold with death
Nor e’er depart her side at her last breath,
But burn in fire, there where her heart did rest.
To follow her my soul should have agreed
To heaven’s triumph, where she now resides
Until the end of time, as God decreed.
And even though my strength hardly suffices
For me to join her there, would that at least
My body would be laid by her blest ashes.
(and for those who prefer and can read the original Italian… )
Morta è la sancta donna che tenea
mio spirto unito, tacito e contento;
anzi vive nel cielo, e io in tormento
remaso sono, altr’uom ch’io non solea:
non huom, ma bruto, sì che ben dovea
sequire il corpo suo di vita spento,
né mai partir da lato al monimento,
ma incenerarmi ove ’l suo cor giacea,

ché forse l’alma lei sequita arebbe
nel triumpho celeste, ove si vive
eternalmente per divina possa.

Se pur di seguir lei fusser stà privez
le forze mie, almen stato serebbe
sepulto il corpo presso a le sacr’ossa.

Malatesta dei Sonneti Malatesta retired at Gradara, where he died in 1429. The Malatesta family would continue to be a power through the 15th century, but their fortune and land would slowly fall to other ambitious familes: the Sforza and Borgias.

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