My Marcelli translation is out now!

I am extremely happy to announce that my translation of Francesco Antonio Marcelli’s 1686 rapier treatise, Regole della scherma (Rules of Fencing), is now in print! If you pre-ordered a copy, it should be on its way to you!

I first started seriously digging into this text in 2018 and released a free translation of its single sword content in the spring of 2019. Since then, I’ve worked to finish translating the remainder of the text and research the huge amount of references made by Marcelli to historical events and the classics, as well as more contemporary works by intellectuals and other fencing masters. These are identified, explained, translated, and expanded on in hundreds of footnotes throughout. You won’t require the education and library of a 17th century gentleman to get the most out of this book.

A special thank you to Keith Farrell, my editor and the man behind Fallen Rook Publishing, for helping me bring this huge project to fruition.

You can get your very own copy here.

Mattei’s Neapolitan Fencing (1669) Now Translated and Available

A translation of Francesco Antonio Mattei’s Della scherma napoletana (“Neapolitan Fencing“) has been sitting in my pile of mostly complete projects for far too long, so I have finally taken the time to polish and release it.

Tracing his teachings through his brother, Giovanni Mattei, to Giovanni Battista Marcelli, Francesco Antonio Mattei published this clear but unillustrated work on the sword and dagger and single sword of the “Neapolitan School” in 1669, claiming to be the first to do so. Interestingly, the book states that an earlier, unfinished version of the sword and dagger content had been previously published without Mattei’s permission by an unnamed person who had been loaned the manuscript. Sadly, there do not appear to be any surviving copies of this earlier edition of the work.

This release has omitted a large amount of dedicatory poetry in Latin and Italian and has left the scattering of Latin quotations in the text untranslated. In the future a published version will be available that includes this content and also annotations explaining the many mythological, historical, and contemporary events and figures mentioned throughout.

You can download Neapolitan Fencing for free in Translations.

Keep an Eye out for Marcelli

My heavily annotated translation of Francesco Antonio Marcelli’s 1686 treatise Regole della scherma (“Rules of Fencing“) is drawing ever closer to the finish line. Keep an eye out for news here and from Fallen Rook Publishing. Francesco Antonio Marcelli being a fellow student of Giovanni Mattei (and Giovanni Battista Marcelli’s son), his book compliments Della scherma napoletana quite well, both works shedding light on some areas the other lacks detail, while also differing in intriguing ways.

Giganti Remastered?

I know, I know. I said the previous update to Scola, overo teatro would be the final update. However…

Recently I was creating handouts for class and was annoyed at the quality of the illustrations after printing. Thankfully, last year KU Leuven began making digitized copies of works in the Corble Collection available online. This is one of the finest collections of fencing and duelling treatises in the world and, among other treasures, it contains some very nicely preserved copies of both the 1606 and 1628 printings of Giganti’s Scola, overo teatro. As the university considers all digitized copies of works in their holdings published prior to 1900 to be public domain, I decided to retouch Giganti’s illustrations using these scans.

Old and fuzzy Figure 40
New, improved, and printer-friendly Figure 40

I’ve added the “remastered” versions to the translation, which will greatly increase the quality when printing your own copy of the book or creating handouts. You can grab the latest PDF from the Translations page. I’ve also separately bundled the full resolution retouched illustrations and made them available for download here. If you’d like to have a look at the originals, they’re in the Corble Collection along with many, many other fun things you can dive into.

I am releasing all this under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license, but if you find it useful or otherwise enjoyable, please consider supporting my sixth annual Extra Life fundraiser. The day is approaching quickly, and every contribution is helpful and appreciated.

New Giganti Revision

Over the pandemic lockdowns when we could not train in person, my fencing club held a weekly online reading night. As my translation of Nicoletto Giganti’s Scola, overo teatro (1606) is our main source text, we decided to work through the book chapter by chapter, giving me plenty of opportunities to re-examine my work and correct issues as they came up. At a certain point it became clear that the document had become different enough to make it worth doing a thorough editing pass before releasing it to the community again. Although there were very few substantive changes, the language has been considerably cleaned up, particularly in the forward’s crash course in the early modern philosophy of science.

You can find it under Translations.

As always, I welcome feedback. I do, however, have a couple major translation projects on the go and this is quite likely to be the last update to Scola, overo teatro outside of any typos or other minor issues that crop up. I have yet to update the version that appears on Wiktenauer, so if you use that as a reference, please keep in mind that the text there should be considered out of date until I get around to putting up this latest version.

Mattei Translation Complete*

*Mostly, that is.

I’ve finished the first thorough pass of my translation of Francesco Antonio Mattei’s 1669 fencing treatise Neapolitan Fencing, aside from two minor things. First, pages 81 and 82 are missing from the only publicly available digitized copy. I made inquiries with a couple libraries that hold copies of the text, and will hopefully be able to arrange for some photographs to be taken of these missing pages.

Second, at the front of Neapolitan Fencing, after the dedication and forwards and before the main text, in addition to sixteen (SIXTEEN) Petrarchan sonnets in Italian, there are five pieces of poetry written in Latin. Translating Latin not being my favourite job in the world, I’ve left these for last. Once those two things are taken care of I can get some more eyes on the text and start thinking about getting it out into the world.

Stay tuned!

New Translation Available

It seems like it will be another summer of solo practice for me here in Toronto. Looking for something new to keep myself engaged (not to mention a good excuse to buy a new sword), I decided to take a break from larger translation projects I’ve been working on and tackle Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri’s Lo spadone (“The Greatsword“). First appearing in 1653 as Part 3 of Alfieri’s L’arte di ben mannegiare la spada (“The Art of Handling the Sword Well“), many surviving copies are bound as separate volumes, including the Getty Research Institute’s copy, which I used for this translation.

It’s a short work that seems rather light on technical specifics, especially compared to Alfieri’s generally clear (for the first half of the 17th century) earlier work, but it was a fun project to spend a couple weekends on. I’m looking forward to doing some interpretation work later in the summer.

You can grab it for free over in Translations.

Translation Updates


My annotated translation of Francesco Antonio Marcelli’s 1686 fencing treatise Rules of Fencing is now with a publisher, and over the last few months we’ve been working steadily to get it edited. No ETA yet, but I will be posting additional details as things become clearer. Stay tuned!

What’s Next?

Coming down the pipeline is a translation of Neapolitan Fencing, of which I have nearly finished a complete first draft. The 1669 work by Francesco Antonio Mattei details the fencing system Mattei ascribes to Giovanni Battista Marcelli, F.A. Marcelli’s father. It is organized into two discourses and contains no illustrations. The first discourse details fencing with the sword and dagger, while the second discusses the single sword. Mattei’s work was criticized by the Palermitan fencing master Giuseppe Morsicato Pallavicini shortly after its publication, but was defended by F.A. Marcelli in Rules of Fencing as a “most ingenious book”.

Beyond being what appears to be the first printed description of Giovanni Battista’s southern Italian “school”, Neapolitan Fencing is interesting for its publication history. In a forward written by the work’s printer, Novello de Bonis, we are told that an earlier draft was loaned to an unnamed individual, who then sent it to the press without the author’s permission. De Bonis likens this event to a “miscarriage of genius”, and implores readers who come across a copy of this version to burn it and pity the author. Sadly, thus far I have been unable to locate any library catalogue entries that indicate any copies of this first edition survived the flames.

Marcelli Translation Update (and more!)

Somehow it’s been the better part of a year since an update!

Despite the radio silence, I haven’t been sitting on my hands. I’ve finished my edits of my translation of Francesco Antonio Marcelli’s 1686 fencing treatise Regole della scherma (“Rules of Fencing“) and it’s been out with some helpful reviewers for several weeks now. So what does my roadmap look like at this point?

  1. Additional editing pass through the translation of Marcelli’s text
  2. Additional editing pass through all footnotes and appendices
  3. Translator’s introduction
  4. Plate cleanup
  5. Review by third-parties
  6. Final edits

Not really a lot left to do! Cleaning up the plates and getting them “print ready” is slow work and something I may end up getting professional help with, but so far they’re looking good!

As feedback rolls in from people with preview copies I’ll be making additional edits to the translation as necessary.

Then it’s on to deciding how to release it. With previous translations (Giganti’s Scola overo teatro and my first version of Marcelli’s First Part) I released digitally under a Creative Commons licence, but I would love to have a hard copy of this one made available. Whether or not I self-publish on a platform like Lulu or shop it around to publishers is up in the air at this point.

Other Updates

For the fourth year in a row I’m participating in Extra Life! The event connects video, board, and tabletop game enthusiasts in order to raise funds for their local Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Since 2008 Extra Life events have raised over $70 million USD!

In just one week, starting at 9:30 PM EST on November 6, I will be playing video games for 24 hours and live streaming the entire marathon as I raise money for the SickKids Foundation and the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children.

Please consider stopping by, saying hello, and making a donation! Your contribution is tax-deductible and 100% goes to the SickKids Foundation. You can visit my fundraising page for more information.

Qualities of a Master

As our fencing club grows we find ourselves discussing what requirements a member will have to meet in order to run practices, and as part of that we’ve been looking at what some of the historical sources have to say on who is qualified to teach fencing. In Part One, Book One of Regole della scherma Marcelli devotes an entire chapter to the subject.

Chapter II

Qualities the master must have

How difficult it is to be a Master of Fencing! Though not for those who at the time of the Emperor Honorius were exiled from the Kingdom because, subverting the rules, they taught men to kill each other like brutes without guidance or study of Rule or art.1When the monk Telemachus was stoned to death by a crowd of spectators after trying to stop a gladiator match the Western Roman Emperor Honorius abolished gladiatorial games. (Theoderetus 1843, 326-327)

To be a Master it is necessary to consider with the name its qualities, although here the use of that desirable custom of the Ancients is abandoned, who anytime someone aspired to teach examined him in a public Senate of Excellent Masters. Becoming approved after the exam, they declared him worthy of that rank with public patents at the cost of their own acquired virtue, as Achille Marozzo refers to in Book 2 at Folio 472“At the present there are some Masters who teach no such virtue or art because they are endowed with little science, for they teach more by practice than anything else. Of this I am certain because I know that many set themselves to teach, convincing themselves they understand and not understanding. This happens because there are no more authenticated Masters like there used to be in ancient times. If those were not first privileged by the other Masters with patents they could not take students. Now everyone is a Master and takes students, and no one cares.” (Marozzo 1536, 47r)
The original text cites Folio 27.
and Giovanni dall’Aggocchie on Folio 7 of his First Book.3“Some Masters of this art direct it to a poor end due to not understanding that Theory and practice are different, and before they possess a little practice set themselves to teach. This only happens because that ancient custom of the creation of Masters has gone into oblivion. Know that not very long ago, just like someone needing to be advanced to the excellent degree of doctorate, first a diligent examination test was done, and then as he was judged sufficient, so he is given the privilege. This was also observed by the Masters of fencing. Therefore, first they examined those that wished to teach others and whether they understood the Theory of fencing and all the other things necessary to it. Then they placed a student facing them, making him throw blows poorly and place himself badly in the Guards in order to learn if they recognized in what ways the student erred. After this they tested with different good students. With this, as he was sufficiently successful, he was privileged by the other Masters and with his patents could open a school. These were authenticated Masters.” (Dall’Aggocchie 1572, 7v)
The original text cites Folio 8.
Narváez states in his First Book on the true skill that it was in use in his time (and at the present) in Madrid,4(Narváez 1600, 25) and we know by certain tradition that it is employed at our time in France. Regardless, it is necessary to be a Master in the present without being envious of the past.

In order to understand the difficulties that are encountered in order to reach so excellent a rank, at this point an examination of the qualities that are sought in the subject is begun. From the understanding of these the clarity of those will arise.

In Giovanni dall’Agocchie’s First Book on Folio 6, when describing a good professor he deems one must be equipped with Reason, Daring, Strength, Dexterity, Science, Judgement, and Practice.5(Dall’Aggocchie 1572, 6r) Requiring Reason and Daring in taking up the sword, he seeks to not degrade himself in endeavours. Strength serves to make him superior in gains. Dexterity, on the contrary, serves to defend from these. Science is understood through theory – that is, the fundamental operation of everything with its reason, so that sciat rem per causam.6“A thing is known by its cause”
Marcelli is paraphrasing Aristotle. (Aristotle 1901, 103)
Judgement must then serve for the recognition of Tempi, Measures, Lines, and Angles. By practice he means continuous exercise, by means of which after having studied the lessons a person practises his assaults and puts into action what his master taught him. The aforementioned Bolognese expresses very well the quality of a good Fencer who must at present work for himself, but the Master who must teach others needs to possess other competencies which evaluate to make him worthy of possession of this title.

Therefore, before every other thing added to the Master: Skill in Communication, which must be clear and easy in teaching his disciple in order to explain without confusion what he wants him to do, needing to avoid both entanglements that cause too much chatter as well as shrieking in advising him, which would deafen and confuse rather than inform him. Set aside the imitation of those that peddle to experts and literati, spitting out certain sentences and some terms that one would have to be a member of the Accademia della Crusca7The Accademia della Crusca is an organization dedicated to the preservation of the Italian language, founded in 1583 in Florence, Italy. The first edition of their dictionary of the Italian language, Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca, was printed in 1612. (Accademia della Crusca 2011) or always carrying the Calepino8Ambrogio Calepino wrote a Latin dictionary in 1502 which had been massively enlarged and reprinted many times when Marcelli wrote his book. (Allan, 512-514) A surviving copy of a 1613 edition held in the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies Rare Book Collection in Toronto weighs in at over a thousand pages. (Calepino 1613) in one’s pocket to understand clearly. Make use of those more used in this profession, which are upheld for our use by the Ancients and the confirmation of the Moderns. If there is desire to introduce new names to ears accustomed to the previous it would be nothing more than an annoyance to them without profit, a change without benefit.

It will never be possible for a Professor to be very clear in his explanations if he does not join every rule with its foundation – that is, the reason for which it is done and on which it is based. It will be hard work to teach the reasons if he is not knowledgeable, and for that reason he must be to such a degree an expert that with little difficulty he can create understanding and demonstrate all that rests on the base of the reason. He will be exempt from the stain in which people are buried who act as Fencing Masters, understand nothing, and freely operate at random without understanding the cause. It is necessary that these experience what occurred to a Master of this sort, who when asked by me what the reasoning was on which an action was based, the method of which we disputed, promptly answered, “Lelio, my Master does it so.” An answer worthy of an ignoramus, which he was. Now what virtue will this man seek to teach to others if he knows nothing of the Science and little more than nothing of the practice? How will the miserable disciple add to the perfection of his laborious study if he learns from a Master that himself knows and understands nothing? I am of the opinion that he directs himself blindly, never able to develop his wits from the tangled hedge that crosses his path in traveling such a disastrous road, when in encounters and guiding himself with a merest flicker of reason he would be led straight there.

Secondly, adding the Practice, which is just as necessary to the good Fencing Master. Before someone with this title begins to teach I believe that he will be well-exercised in playing with diverse Fencers, and being exercised, practised sufficiently in very diverse play with others. This is so that in teaching its actions they are always accompanied by different rules and considerations concerning the defence of those that others perform. The occasion arising that some disciple of his ends up offended by a sudden action of another, or instead becomes confused by some different play from his enemy, he can easily relieve him with his rules and understand how to teach him the way with which another time the aforesaid can be defended with them. This will not be possible if he does not through his own practice first make himself familiar with the different ways of Fencing of others. It will occur to them for the reason equally strange as it is miserable, that it is customary for people never trained elsewhere as disciples to already be made Masters by the same, not heeding that most beautifully said by the poet Menander: Someone who is made General and was never Captain, someone who is made Captain and was never a soldier, when he enters with the army in battle Hecatomben hostibus adducit.9“He leads out a hecatomb to offer to the foe” (Menander 1921, 515)
A hecatomb was a traditional Greek or Roman sacrifice, usually of a hundred oxen. Used figuratively to refer to a great loss of life. (The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, s.v. “hecatomb”)
Menander was a Greek poet and playwright. (Menander 1921, xii-xv)
He leads as many bulls to the sacrifice as soldiers to battle. So it is with Masters of Fencing who reached the rank of Master without scaling the stairs, the stairs being the lessons, and without having reached there due to sweat and blood. With a leap of superb presumption they pinned it upon their chests, prepared a school with a handful of bank rags, have already become Masters, and hecatomben hostibus adducunt.10“They lead out a hecatomb to offer to the foe” They teach as many disciples Fencing as they lead to death. The same in their schools then, presiding with the seriousness that so excellent a title carries, when they see someone play differently or observe some action that they do not know practised by others, it is almost as if they see something marvellous and never seen, ecstatic and insensate with their mouths open, not breathing, since Stultis omnis videtur nova rerum, & inopinata facies: magna pars est apud imperitos mali novitas. Seneca, Epistle 76.11“To the fool, however, and to him who trusts in fortune, each event as it arrives ‘comes in a new and sudden form,’ and a large part of evil, to the inexperienced, consists in its novelty.” (Seneca 1920, 2:166-177)

The Master, possessing all these components and needing to teach to everyone, before all else should judiciously procure the ability and disposition of [the disciple] so that it is possible to introduce him according to the aspects he is inclined to. At the beginning of study he must commit him to the path that he recognizes as more appropriate to his inclination and easier for his disposition in order to direct him to profit. Teaching him with this understanding he should always move at a slow pace in the lessons, without jumping from one to another before he recognizes that his disciple begins to possess and habituate himself well to the first, in order to then pass in a controlled way to the second. This is because doing the opposite it will occur that, deciding hurriedly to teach his disciple everything in one day, the aforesaid will learn nothing that day. From jumping in a hurry from one lesson to another it arises that after much time of study he is either at the beginning or further from it than when he began. Like a planet in retrograde, as much as he goes forward he returns backward more.

The disciple directed so, having laboured for much time in the lessons, the Master must always be mindful of the profit to him in that from day to day he improves, so that then at his time he can initiate him in the assaults, which will finish solidifying the lessons. With a warning, however, that in the beginning of assaulting he must not test himself against others than the same [Master], where it is possible to instruct him in all other circumstances and observations that are required in Assaults, and to give him those warnings that are necessary to him. While he is actually assaulting with his disciple he must prudently take care to offer him opportunities from time to time in order to help his mind know how to recognize them, and at the same time teach him how to make use of them. Along with their rules he will instruct him in the way of observing the measures, and how he must advance himself in acquiring them. Then, making their tempi for him he will train him to recognize them, and recognized, in what manner he must perform his against those which are shown to him by his Master in the guise of the enemy, or in other words, how they are performed in contratempi to strike the adversary. In the act of assaults he must explain to him in the same way the qualities of the Guards, Motions, Lines, Postures, and Angles that can be performed by the aforesaid. From these he gives advice to his disciple regarding how to make the counterguards in a way that the Lines are removed, and how one wounds on the Angles.

Further, I see it is necessary advice for the Master to remember to guide his disciple in a way that he knows how to refrain from furies, moderate himself in resolutions, and rouse himself from fear, keeping his spirit calm and his Body obedient to the signals of his will, ready to perform the actions in the circumstances and tempi that the enemy will have proposed to him, guiding him in assaults with this studious and profitable manner until he knows he is able to be assured in comparison with others and so that he becomes a perfect Fencer, which I believe must happen over a long course of years.

Works Cited

  1. Allan, Keith, ed. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics. Oxford University Press.
  2. Aristotle. 1901. Posterior Analytics. Oxford: B. H. Blackwell.
  3. Calepino, Ambrogio. 1613. F. Ambrosij Calepini Bergomensis Ord. Erem. S. Augustini Dictionarium Septem Linguarum: Hebraicae, Graecae, Latinae, Italicae, Germanicae, Hispanicae, & Gallicae Cum Paul Manutij Additamentis Suo Cuique Proprio Nomini Insertis : Accesserunt Etiam Henrici . Venice: Ioannem Guerilium.
  4. Dall’Agocchie, Giovanni. 1572. Dell’arte Di Scrimia Libri Tre. Venice: Giulio Tamborino.
  5. Knowles, Elizabeth, ed. 2006. The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. Marcelli, Francesco Antonio. 1686. Regole Della Scherma Insegnate Da Lelio e Titta Marcelli. Rome: Dominicus Antonius Hercules.
  7. Marozzo, Achille. 1536. Opera Nova. Modena.
  8. Menander. 1921. Menander, the Principal Fragments. London: William Heinemann.
  9. Narváez, Luis Pacheco de. 1600. Libro de Las Grandezas de La Espada. Madrid: The Heirs of Juan Iniguez.
  10. Seneca. 1920. Epistles. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  11. “Storia Dell’Accademia.” 2011. Accademia Della Crusca. 2011.
  12. Theoderetus. 1843. Ecclesiastical History. London: Samual Bagster and Sons.

Marcelli Translation Roadmap

In April of 2019 I released a rough translation of the Part One of Francesco Antonio Marcelli’s 1686 work Regole della scherma on the Rapierists Facebook group. Only two months later Chris Holzman beat me to the punch with his publication of a complete translation, which was very well-received by the rapier community. Already being mostly finished with the translation (and in love with the material) I continued to work on the project. In exploring the numerous texts Marcelli references, alludes to, and sometimes even copies word for word without attribution I’ve attempted to give future readers a sense of the intertextual nature of his book (and to make a second translation worth reading).

To keep myself accountable, here is the work that remains before deciding how it will be released:

  1. Additional editing pass through the translation of Marcelli’s text
  2. Additional editing pass through all footnotes and appendices
  3. Translator’s introduction
  4. Plate cleanup
  5. Review by third-parties
  6. Final edits

I will be posting updates and informative tidbits as I go, so stay tuned!