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The Fiore Translation Project #15 The Longsword, First Master Zogho Largo

Despite the fact that we’ve just had the sword in one hand, the grips, the blows, and the guards, this seems like the true beginning of the longsword section, because Fiore begins with these words, which appear over a blank space:

Spada son contra ogni arma mortale, ne lanza ne azza ni daga contra mi vale. Longae curta me posso fare e me strengho e vegno alo zogho stretto, e vegno allo tor d’spada, e allo abrazare. Mia arte sie roture e ligadure so ben fare de coverte e ferire sempre in quelle voglio finire. Chi contra me fara ben lo faro languire. Eson Reale e mantegno la justicia, la bonta acresco e destruzo la malicia. Chi me guardera fazendo in me crose, de fatto d’armizare gli faro fama e vose.

I am the sword, against all lethal weapons, no lance nor axe nor dagger is worth anything against me. I can make myself long or short, and I constrain and come to the close play, and come to the disarms, and to the wrestling. My art is breaking and binding, I can do covers and strikes very well, I always wish to finish in those. Whoever stands against me I will make them suffer. And I am Royal and maintain justice, I increase the good, and destroy malice. Who regards me, making in me a cross, I will make famous and renowned in the deeds of arms.

That’s a pretty good start to a weapons section, wouldn’t you say? You may be less overwhelmed when you compare it to a similar paragraph in the dagger section, on f9v. 

 

While I was writing The Medieval Dagger, I wanted to point out to the reader that Il Fior di Battaglia was written in verse, as just about anything besides a shopping list would have been in that period. Not high-flung perfectly crafted poetry, but organised with simple rhymes, and intended to be read aloud. I took this passage from the top left of f9v. And rearranged it as you see, to look like a poem, and sure enough, the rhyme scheme (simple couplets) is clear on the page.

Io son la nobele arma chiamada daga 

Che d’zogho stretto molto so vaga. 

Echi cognosce mie malicie e mia arte 

Dogni sotile armizare avera bona parte. 

E por finir subito mia crudel bataglia, 

Non e homo che contra me vaglia.

Echi mi vedera in fatto d’armizare,

Coverte e punte faro cum lo abrazare.

E torogli la daga cum roture e ligadure,

E contra me non valera arme ne armadure.

It’s not Dante, but it rhymes and scans occasionally and not very well, and the whole book is like this. Speak it aloud and the rhythms and pace of the language come alive. 

So when I translated it, I turned it into a sonnet.

The dagger am I, a noble arm, 

Knowing my malice, knowing my art, 

Playing close to do you harm, 

None can stand if I take part. 

I make my noble feats of arms: 

Who can hold against me? 

No armour made resists my charms, 

No arm either, you will see.

Cover, thrust, and grapple too,

I take your dagger, break and bind 

Strike me? I will make you rue 

The day, as you will find.

The cruel fight I’ll finish faster: 

Of the art of arms, I am master.

My point is that a) you should have read the Armizare Vade Mecum by now, and b) that every weapon claims to be the best. So take the trash-talking longsword with a grain of salt, okay?

Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s have another look at what that longsword paragraph says. As I see it it contains seven key parts:

1. “I am the sword, against all lethal weapons, no lance nor axe nor dagger is worth anything against me.” So, you can use the sword against any of Fiore’s weapons. 

2. “I can make myself long or short”. This means you can hold it ‘short’ as in withdrawn, or ‘long’ as in extended, but also you can grip it to make it a shorter or longer weapon (see the post on grips of the sword for details).

3. “and I constrain and come to the close play”. Stregnire– to constrain. Past participle: stretto. This can be read as ‘I approach and come to the close play”, or “I constrain the opponent’s actions and come to the close play.” See here for a full discussion of the meaning of ‘stretto’.

4. “and come to the disarms, and to the wrestling”. In the close plays we will indeed find four disarms, and lots of plays that are based on wrestling.

5. “My art is breaking and binding”. Breaking and binding what? From the evidence of the plays, I’d say breaking arms, and thrusts (though the verb there is rompere not roture, though there meanings are very close); binding swords, and arms. This is a trope we’ve seen before in the dagger section, applied to breaking and binding arms, but I think it’s fair to extend that to binds done sword against sword.

6. “I can do covers and strikes very well, I always wish to finish in those”. That’s good to know. After pages and pages of covers (sword in one hand) and strikes (f23r), it’s nice to be reminded that you can cover and strike… but actually it is good to be reminded that all actions should finish in a strike. Many times I’ve seen students freeze after a parry, or after getting control of their partner’s arm or weapon. I think that happened back in the day, too.

7. “Whoever stands against me I will make them suffer. And I am Royal and maintain justice, I increase the good, and destroy malice. Who regards me, making in me a cross, I will make famous and renowned in the deeds of arms.” Most of this is trash-talk, of course. But it’s worth noting that ‘making in me a cross’ is (I think) deliberately ambiguous. ‘Making a cross’ is how we parry; but it also means to view the sword as a Christian cross (because recall this is 1300s Italy, a deeply Christian culture).

The space on the page under this paragraph is odd. One assumes that there ought to be some kind of illustration, but what that may be is anyone’s guess. I have some thoughts about that, so watch this space!

The page continues with this:

Qui cominza zogho di spada a doy man zogho largo. Questo magistro che qui incrosado cum questo zugadore in punta de spada, dise quando io son incrosado in punta de spada subito io do volta ala mia spada e filo fiero dalaltra parte cum lo fendente zo per la testa e per gli brazzi, overo che gli metto una punta in lo volto, come vederi qui dredo depinto.

Here begins the play of the sword in two hands, wide play. This Master that is here crossed with this player in the point of the sword, says “when I am crossed at the point of the sword, immediately I make a turn of my sword and strike with a cut from the other side with a fendente, thus to the head and to the arms; or I place a thrust in his face, as you will see depicted next.

While I was at the Armizare 2015 event, I had a discussion about Fiore’s first play of the first master of zogho largo with Francesco Baselice. Let me summarise our interpretations, with reference to the text.

The key point for our discussion was regarding on the other side of what? I read the line “I make a turn of my sword and strike with a cut from the other side [of the player’s sword].” Which lead to the interpretation you can see on pages 170-171 of The Medieval Longsword. Or indeed, here:

https://youtu.be/Y1DkxYqwYTc

But Francesco read it as “I make a turn of my sword and strike with a cut from the other side [of my body].” So instead of striking on the other side of the opponent’s sword, he was striking to the head with a roverso fendente.

I have shot a quick video of the two versions and uploaded it here for reference. Sorry for the crap quality.

Clearly, on the evidence above, it is impossible to choose one interpretation over the other. Both follow the text, and picture (the fendente isn’t shown), and similar actions to both can be found elsewhere in the manuscript. The first two plays of the sword in one hand show striking on one side of the player’s sword, or the other, after a parry; the first two plays of the second master of the zogho largo describe a cut followed by a thrust, on the same side.

The text of the second play, showing the thrust, was the next place to look for more data.

In the Getty MS, it reads:

Io to posta una punta in lo volto come lo magistro che denanci dise. Anchora poria aver fatto zo chello dise zoe aver tratto de mia spada subito quando io era apresso lo incrosare dela parte dritta. De l’altra parte zoe de la stancha io debeva voltare la mia spada in lo fendente per la testa e per gli brazzi, como a ditto lo mio magistro che denanzi.

I have placed a thrust in the face as the master before me says. Also I could have done what he says, so, have struck with my sword immediately when I was near the crossing from the right side. From the other side, thus from the left, I would have to turn my sword in the fendente to the head and to the arms, as my master that is before me said.

Hmmm. That is inconclusive, but it appears that the strike should be done very early; as you get close to the crossing, or immediately that the crossing is made. And he mentions that the blow is done from the left side. Stanca in modern Italian means ‘tired’, and in this period, means ‘left hand side’. Two pages on from here, in the play of the colpo di villano, Fiore tells us to “await the peasant’s blow in a narrow stance with the left foot forwards”, with lo pe stancho for ‘the left foot’. (You definitely do not want to put your tired foot forwards!) So perhaps stancha here is more likely to refer to the body than the sword, but it’s hard to say. After all, posta di donna on the left, is posta di donna la sinestra.

In the Morgan the text in both paragraphs is identical except for a few variant spellings, so that’s no help. In the Pisani Dossi ms we see:

 

Over the master, the lines are:

Per incrosar cum ti a punta de spada/ De l’altra parte la punta in lo peto to fermada.

By crossing with you at the point of the sword, from the other side I’ll strike you with a thrust in the chest.

The differences are obvious, I trust. No mention of the cut, and the thrust is to the chest, not face. But it’s still de l’altra parte, from the other side.

And the next play, the strike itself:

Per lo ferir che dise el magistro che denanci posto/ in la golla to posta la punta de la spada tosto.

With the strike that the master before me said/ I have quickly put the point in your throat.

[Note, again not face, or chest!]

And the image is basically identical to the strike shown in the Getty ms, as you can see.

So here is the critical point for this discussion; ‘from the other side’ is not being used here to mean the other side of the player’s sword. It is quite clearly describing a thrust that remains on the same side of the sword, so it is probably being used to refer to the way you make the blow. You got into the crossing with a blow from the right, and you leave it with a blow from the left (as all Audatia players should already know).

So it seems that Francesco is probably right: at the very least, his interpretation is supported by the text and the pictures, and makes sense.

Perhaps a more challenging question is how on earth did you end up in the crossing shown? 

I think there are basically two options:

1. You were in frontale, your opponent came and engaged your blade in the same guard. This could be with you both moving, or one of you standing still. Unlikely, but possible.

2. You were attacked with a fendente, you parried from your right side, and as you went for your middle-to-middle parry, they turned their blade to intercept yours. This sort of thing happens a lot in free fencing.

However you got there, it seems there is no clear advantage on either side, so whoever moves first will get the play.

Here’s how I do the plays:

https://youtu.be/Y1DkxYqwYTc

What does that remind me of?

Oh yes. Does this look familiar?

The priest waits with the sword on his right shoulder, and the scholar besets with schutzen. The priest goes to bind the scholar’s sword, and literally “whoever is the first one ready for it” gets the play.

We could create a longsword version of this:

  • you wait in donna destra, 
  • your partner approaches in frontale, closing off the line of your most natural blow (a mandritto fendente)
  • you go to bind their sword
  • and one or other of you gets the play.

I’m sure you can think of many other ways to get there. And this by itself is an interesting development. For the entirety of the treatise up to this point, it’s always been clear how you get to the position of the master; all nine dagger masters are responding to a specific attack from the player, and in the sword in one hand plays too, there is a clear attack, specified in the text and pictures. 

But now we are just presented with the crossing, and play from there. 

Next week we’ll see what to do from a different crossing, and go into depth regarding why I do the play the way I do it. See you then!

This project is being published in stages. You can get part one, The Sword in One Hand, as a free PDF by subscribing to my mailing list below, or buy it in ebook format from Amazon or Gumroad. You can get Part two, Longsword Mechanics, from Amazon or Gumroad too!

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

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