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Free translation and commentary on Fiore, with video.

It’s that take-stock time of year, and 2018 has been a monster.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year producing finished products, starting with: 

I started both of these books in 2015, so I didn't write them this year, but I got them out into the world.

These three rapier projects were all conceived and completed from June this year.

  • completed my PhD and graduated in July.
  • And taught seminars in Helsinki (twice), the USA (three times), Germany, Hungary, and Ireland.

I also have the first draft of The Rapier, Part Three: Developing Skills complete. Part Four, Rapier and Dagger, is ready in my head, and I have similar workbook series planned for Longsword (the sections of the sword out of armour from Fiore), Armizare (Longsword focussed, but interleaved with abrazare and dagger training, the way I teach in class), and even the provisionally-titled Jumppa series (which is Finnish for ‘exercise done to get fit’), which will cover the breathing, flexibility, strength, power, and stamina exercises I use. That’s a LOT of stuff to have in your head, so I imagine 2019 will involve a lot of publishing!

The problem with all this rampant productivity is that a lot of the work done to get these projects finished, published, and into your waiting hands has nothing to do with researching swordsmanship and getting better at fencing and teaching. So it feels like I haven’t really done much this year, because I haven’t learned much new about my art. I’ve clarified my thinking on how to train quite a bit, in the writing of Developing Skills, but other than that, I can’t think of a single research breakthrough or magical new insight into the Art of Arms.

This is unacceptable.

So I have had a thought. While I was in Seattle, I had a conversation with the excellent Michael Chidester, of Wiktenauer fame, and we agreed that the world needs a new, free, translation of Fiore’s Getty Ms. There is nothing wrong with the current published translation by Tom Leoni  but it a) isn’t free and b) in the interests of making the translation very clear, Tom tends towards over-simplifying the text. 

I've never written my own translation of Fiore before, though I have the book clear in my head, partly because it's a monster of a project. I know if I start at the beginning (the introduction), and work my way steadily through the whole book, I’ll get stuck, lose interest, and the project will fail. It’s too big. So my intention is to go through the bits I’m most interested in first, and transcribe, translate, and comment on them as I go. I have no idea how long it will take to get through the whole book- especially as I fully intend to transcribe and translate the related sections of the other Fiorean manuscripts at the same time, as the whimsy takes me. This will hopefully generate a lot of useful material for scholars of the Art, and so I’ll be posting the material here as I go, under a Creative Commons Attribution licence- in other words you can use it for any purpose whatsoever, including commercial projects, free, so long as you say where you got it from.

My process is simple: I pick a section, and transcribe one paragraph of Fiore's text straight from the ms, translate it, make whatever comments seem interesting to me, provide a video of how I do it in practice (at least in its basic form) then move on to the next. At the end of a section I'll comment on the section as a whole, and how I think it fits into the rest of the book, the other mss, and any related texts and systems. It would be both academically unsound, and foolish, not to make use of the existing translations and transcriptions, so when I get stuck, I'll check the wiktenauer transcriptions and translation (by Colin Hatcher), and Tom's, to see how they have solved the problem. I don't always agree, of course! Please note I will not be doing a comparative translation- this is not a response to their work, it's a separate project. If there is interest, I might pick a paragraph and compare my, Tom's, and Colin's versions, so you can see where we differ, but that would be a one-off. Be that as it may, you should be aware that this project owes a debt to their work.

So without further ado: I thought I’d start with the sword in one hand. You’ll notice that this is clearly first-draft work, and I am allowing my curiosity free rein. Enjoy.

Folio 20r 

This folio has the last of the sword against dagger plays (top left), a blank space where the second illustration would normally go, and then the first two pieces of the sword in one hand section. I’ll start there:

Noy semo tre zugadori che volemo alcider questo magistro. Uno gli de trare di punta. L’altro di taglio, l’altro vole batt lancare la sua spada contra lo ditto magistro. Si che ben sara grande fatto ch’ello non sia morto, che dio lo faza ben tristo.

We are three players that want to kill this master. One by striking with a thrust. The other with a cut, the other wants to hit throw his sword against the said master. It will be a great feat if he is not killed, that God makes very sad.

This is quite clear, I think. Three players, each representing the thrust, cut, or thrown sword. The last sentence is basically smack-talk. 

Voy seti cativi e di quest’arte savete pocho. Fate gli fatti che parole non ano loco. Vegna a uno a uno chi sa fare e po. Che se voi fossi cento tutti vi guastero per questa guardia ch’e chossi bona e forte. Io acresco lo pe che’e denanci un pocho fora de strada e cum lo stancho io passo ala traversa. E in quello passare mi crovo rebattendo le spade ve trovo discoverti. E de ferire vi faro certi. E si lanza o spada me ven alanzada, tutte le rebatto chome to ditto passonda fuora di strada. Segondo che vedreti li miei zochi qui dreto. De guardagli che vin prego. E pur cum spada a una mano faro mia arte como vedrete in queste carte.

I’ll just re-arrange the layout of the text so the versification is clear (this is rough- better literature scholars feel free to make corrections! I’ve paid more attention to rhymes than syllable count, because Fiore seems to: I don’t see the common eleven syllable (endecasillabo) or seven (settenario) lines. If poetry forms aren’t you’re thing, this may be useful: 

“The hendecasyllable (Italian: endecasillabo) is the principal metre in Italian poetry. Its defining feature is a constant stress on the tenth syllable, so that the number of syllables in the verse may vary, equaling eleven in the usual case where the final word is stressed on the penultimate syllable. The verse also has a stress preceding the caesura, on either the fourth or sixth syllable. The first case is called endecasillabo a minore, or lesser hendecasyllable, and has the first hemistich equivalent to a quinario; the second is called endecasillabo a maiore, or greater hendecasyllable, and has a settenario as the first hemistich” from Wikipedia, here:


Voy seti cativi e di quest’arte savete pocho.

Fate gli fatti che parole non ano loco.

Vegna a uno a uno chi sa fare e po. 

Che se voi fossi cento tutti vi guastero 

per questa guardia ch’e chossi bona e forte. 

Io acresco lo pe che’e denanci 

un pocho fora de strada 

e cum lo stancho io passo ala traversa. 

E in quello passare mi crovo rebattendo 

le spade ve trovo discoverti. [This has been corrected in the ms, from discoverte]

E de ferire vi faro certi. 

E si lanza o spada me ven alanzada, 

tutte le rebatto chome t’o 

ditto passando fuora di strada. 

Segondo che vedreti li miei zochi qui dreto. 

De guardagli che vin prego. 

E pur cum spada a una mano faro mia arte 

como vedrete in queste carte.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Fiore is writing in verse. For a whimsical take on this, see my Armizare Vade Mecum, a collection of mnemonic verses for learning Fiore’s art.

Now the translation:

You are thugs and of this art you know little. Do your deeds, words have no place. Come one by one, those who can, and even if you were 100, I’d smash you with this guard that is so good and strong. I advance the foot that is in front a little out of the way, and with the left I pass across. And in that pass I cross beating the swords, I’ll find you uncovered, and will make certain to strike. And if a lance or sword is thrown at me, I’ll beat them all away as I said, passing out of the way. Just as you see in my plays that follow. Take a look at them, if you please. And still with the sword in one hand I make my art, as you see in these pages.

A few things to note here. Firstly, I find chi sa fare e po tricky; the meaning of the whole phrase (from vegno to guastero) is obvious enough: come and have a go, even if there were 100 of you, I’d still f*ck you up. If anyone has a clear idea of this element, do let me know.

The meaning of cativi is clear- Leoni has “two-bit poltroons”; it could also be villains, thugs, low bad fellows. Also naughty people (“sei una ragazza cattiva?” is “are you a naughty girl?” (don’t ask me how I know that)). I’ve used ‘thugs’ because it fits the meaning, and the sense of ‘untrained’, and ‘rough’.

Let’s just compare this to the Pisani-Dossi, carta 13a:

First up, it's worth noting that this is only one play; the thugs don't get their own spot on the page. It's also worth noting that this occurs after the blows of the sword in the Pisani-Dossi, but before them in the Getty.


Per lancare de spada e trare tayo e punta

Per la guardia che io ho niente me monta

Vegno auno auno chi contra mi vole far

Che cum tuti io voio contrastar

E chi vole vedere coverte e ferire

Tor de spada e ligadure senza falire

Guardi gli mie scolari come fan fare

Se elli non trovari contrario non ano pare

By throws of the sword and striking cut and thrust

By this guard that I have nothing overcomes me

Come one by one, whoever wants to oppose me

And with all I wish to stand against

And whoever wishes to see covers and strikes,

Disarms, and locks without fail,

Watch my scholars how they do them,

If you do not find a counter they have no equal.

The overall meaning is the same, but it is missing the specific instructions regarding the footwork. 

Readers of Advanced Longsword (pages 84-86) will know how I view this section; it’s kind of a ‘if you’ve only got a couple of days to teach someone how to survive a duel, do this’. I do not think that the sword itself is any different to the longsword used elsewhere; this is not a separate weapon, it’s a distinct use of a weapon. There is no suggestion otherwise in the text itself, and the images clearly show a longsword, just as in the other sword sections. I will reserve commenting on the section as a whole for when I have completed the transcription and translation of it here. 

Note that we haven't got to a movement yet, so there's no point posting a video. Don't worry, they're coming in the next post in this series.

The comments section under each post on the topic is the place to put your disagreements, views, responses etc. I won’t be discussing the material on social media at all, because it’s a time-suck, and those platforms generate lots of money for very rich people who don’t need it. If you want me to see and respond to your thoughts, please post them here.

Updated: this project spawned a series of blog posts, and was eventually expanded and edited into a book, From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice.

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

8 Responses

  1. “chi sa fare e po”

    I think “po” is the same as modern “può”, which translates to “can”.

    So “chi sa fare” would literally mean “who knows how to do”, “e po” would literally mean “and can”.

    Translating the whole as you did with just “who can” looks good to me, and doesn’t detract anything meaningful.

    (Source: I’m Italian. I didn’t study medieval literature beyond high school level though, so I may be wrong.)

    1. Hi Emanuele. That’s how I read it; but it seems to be redundant within the sentence. unless Fiore is clearly distinguishing between ‘knowing’ and ‘being able’, which would make sense.
      Thanks for your input!

      1. I agree it is a bit redundant – a “commoratio” (yes, I had to look up this one :P) – but I have no problem imagining Fiore writing it like that just because it sounds good. As you wrote,

        “Vegna a uno a uno chi sa fare e po.
        Che se voi fossi cento tutti vi guastero”

        does sound like verses.

        Good night.

        P.S.: There are a couple of typos in your non-versified transcription: “cetni” and “spadad”.

  2. Why not do a commentary on Morgan, Novati, or Paris instead? Sure, it is not as complete as Getty’s but an analysis on them from someone who has handled Getty before are needed.

    1. That’s a good point. I’ll write a post about how I see the treatises in relation to each other. Which is why I won’t be doing a commentary on the others in the same way…

  3. Albeit the sense of “cativi” appears to be “not good” or similar, considering the pervasive influence of the Latin language (specially art the time it was written) it can have the secondary connotation off: “caught ” “captive” from Latin “Captivus”. Cheers

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