Mezzo-Spada in Period Text

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Mezzo-Spada in Period Text

Postby Jeffrey Hull » 22 Apr 2006 05:44

This is basically a repost of something I posted at ARMA, but thought it would be nice to share it here as so many are interested in the Italian fencing at these forums. Hope that is fine to do:

Please note this use of *mezzo spada* to mean *half-swording* in the 1516 Italian epic-poem Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533). The Italian text is by Ariosto (of course) and the English translation is by William Stewart Rose (Bobbs-Merrill Co; 1968):

XLVIII
Ma tarda è la sua giunta; che si trova
Marfisa incontra, e di tanta ira piena
(poi che s'ha vista alla seconda prova
cader sì facilmente su l'arena),
che pregar nulla, e nulla gridar giova
a Ruggier che di questo avea gran pena:
sì l'odio e l'ira le guerriere abbaglia,
che fan da disperate la battaglia.

XLIX
A mezzo spada vengono di botto;
e per la gran superbia che l'ha accese,
van pur inanzi, e si son già sì sotto,
ch'altro non puon che venire alle prese.
Le spade, il cui bisogno era interrotto,
lascian cadere, e cercan nuove offese.
Priega Ruggiero e supplica amendue,
ma poco frutto han le parole sue.

XLVIII
But is too slow withal; for on her feet
She finds Marphisa, with such fierce disdain
Inflamed, at being in that second heat
So easily reversed upon the plain,
She hears in vain exclaim, in vain entreat,
Rogero, who beholds their strife with pain.
So blinded are the pair with spite and rage,
That they with desperate fury battle wage.

XLIX
At half-sword's engage the struggling foes;
And -- such their stubborn mood -- with shortened brand
They still approach, and now so fiercely close,
They cannot choose but grapple, hand to hand.
Her sword, no longer needful, each foregoes;
And either now new means of mischief planned.
Rogero both implores with earnest suit:
But supplicates the twain with little fruit.

Italian-English speakers may differ with Rose over the exact wording, but I think it is quite clear that this period use of *mezzo spada* means not the middle area of the blade, but rather the way to use the sword itself by half-swording. That seems the singular instance of the term in that entire work. Practically all other weaponry references in that work deal with sword and shield, or falchions, or spears and so forth.

Sometimes in discussion of Vadi, *mezzo spada* may be disputed as either *middle of the blade* or *half-swording*. Although I do not dismiss the former, I favour the latter, as it seems that both Vadi and Ariosto confirm each other in their separate yet similar usage close in time to each other (late 15th Cent & early 16th Cent).
Jeffrey Hull
 

Postby admin » 22 Apr 2006 11:14

Good stuff! 8)
I'd have to check, but I seem to remember that it definitely means halfswording in Vadi, at least some of the time. Sadly Fiore doesn't name it - he simply says 'taking the blade with the left hand' and things like that.
Good to see you here by the way :).
http://www.antique-swords.co.uk/

I like swords more than you.
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Postby Carlo » 22 Apr 2006 19:07

Hi Jeffrey.

I think it is quite clear that this period use of *mezzo spada* means not the middle area of the blade, but rather the way to use the sword itself by half-swording.


what motivates your belief?

The Italian text to me suggests two folks striking each other, getting crossed, pushing instead of uncrossing and getting into the close fight.

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Postby Carlo » 22 Apr 2006 21:04

A mezzo spada vengono di botto;
e per la gran superbia che l'ha accese,
van pur inanzi, e si son già sì sotto,
ch'altro non puon che venire alle prese


They suddenly come to the half sword; and for the great pride that motivates them they keep pressing forward and are already close, so they can't do anything else but have to wrestle.

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Postby Jeffrey Hull » 23 Apr 2006 02:31

Besides the term itself of *mezzo spada*, the action described by the text implies to me a binding which involves the two swordfighters using their weapons like short staves or pollaxes -- which is quite the same game as half-swording. Also, half-swording often leads to wrestling, similar to what the passage indeed goes on to describe. All in all, it gives me the strong and distinct impression that this is basically the same as half-swording, a lot like the action we find described, for example, by Huendsfelder kurzen schwert:

http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/hundsfelder.html

However, I suppose the term shall remain arguable, and I am willing to accept that perhaps the Italian fencers back then meant it both as an area of the longsword-blade and as a method of using one's sword staff-like. Like I said, I happen to favour the latter idea, but I do not dismiss the former idea.
Jeffrey Hull
 

Postby Carlo » 23 Apr 2006 10:11

Hi Jeffrey,
surely Ariosto could to be familiar with halfswording, in the sense hema practicioners mean it today, more so than the literature experts that wrote the books I studied with. This means that what you say is more probable than what they would hold.

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