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Fiore scholars, you must have this book. A review of Flowers of Battle

Last year my friends at Freelance Academy Press boldly crowdfunded a publishing project: reproducing in facsimile and translation all four of the extant Fiore manuscripts. I supported the campaign, of course, and my copy of the first volume arrived some time ago. Flowers of Battle, Volume 1.

I left it unopened for a couple of months because a) I was scared that it might not live up to expectations and b) I wanted to make sure I had a good chunk of uninterrupted time to go through it.

Oh my. What a book. Greg Mele and Tom Leoni have produced a lasting monument to Fiore, and a fabulous resource for all scholars of our arts.

If you are a Fiore scholar, you simply have to have it. If you study other medieval martial arts, you really should have it. 

Buy it here. Go now, and don’t come back until you’ve bought it. It's only $125, and worth twice that, at least. Eat cheap food and don't drink alcohol for a month and there's your cash.

Welcome back.

The book comprises three sections: Fiore dei Liberi and His World, The Art of Arms, and the facsimile, transcription and translation of the Getty ms.

The first section is a historical tour de force, which includes biographies of Fiore, Niccolo d’Este, and Galeazzo da Mantoa, and detailed discussion of the weapons, armour, clothing, and duelling culture of the time. It’s fantastic; this section alone justifies buying the book.

The next section is an overview of the manuscript, which for me is perhaps the least useful part of this book, but will serve the less experienced very well. Yes, those of you familiar with my interpretations will find some things there that I would disagree with, but so what? It’s a thoughtful and in-depth overview of the manuscript as seen through the eyes of a very experienced practitioner.

The facsimile, translation, and transcription are very good; the translation itself is by Tom Leoni, and it is the cleanest, most accurate published translation out there. You have to have it, even if you can read the Italian. The transcription is helpful to have, though it’s rendered in a font that mimics the handwriting; it’s perfectly clear to read, but it’s not as instantly legible as it might be. I have not checked the entire transcription for accuracy, but the parts I have looked at have been flawless. My biggest quibble would be with the layout.

As you can see, on each page you get the manuscript folio on one side, and the transcription and translation on the other. This makes the entire book easy to refer to, but it interferes with the visual presentation of the manuscript. In these examples, these two pages should both be visible at once, as together they show the ‘five things’ you should know regarding the dagger. I think Fiore was careful about many of the two-page spreads we see in the book, and that element is lost in this edition.

I think the perfect approach is the one taken in the Royal Armouries ms I.33 by Extraordinary Editions: a perfect facsimile in one volume, and a translation and transcription in another, overlaid on the images as you can see:

I think I understand why they did it though, and there are always compromises to be made. Fortunately, you can get a very reasonably-priced bound facsimile of the manuscript to go with this glorious book. But if you don't have Flowers of Battle yet, save your pennies and buy that first. Clear?

There’s one thing that I ought to give you some background on. I am honoured to have been included in the acknowledgments, with the following:

Guy Windsor, for challenging our interpretations and forcing us to rethink them. … victory is not always ours.

Way back when, maybe 2003, Tom Leoni got it into his head that I am the spitting image of Stewie, from Family Guy. And pretty much every time we’ve met he’s asked me to say “Victory is mine!”. 

So this acknowledgment in the book is a continuation of a joke that has been running for about 15 years. I must say though, that when it comes to this book, victory is most certainly theirs. Bravo, gentlemen, bravo.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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