Friday, April 30, 2010

Are the Gladiatoria MSS Part of the Liechtenauer Canon?

Some readers of this blog may know of my fascination with the so-called "Gladiatoria" family of Fechtb├╝cher, and one or two may even have read my translation of the Krakow edition. Recently, some excellent work by Dierk Hagedorn of Hammaborg has shed an interesting new light on the relationship between these MSS and the Liechtenauer school.

The issue is whether or not the Gladiatoria MSS are to be considered part of the Liechtenauer canon or their own, unique line.

Christian Tobler was the first to argue that many of the plays shown in Gladiatoria are "boilerplate" techniques that match very closely with ones shown in pure Liechtenauer sources such as Ringeck, von Danzig, etc. I agree with him completely on this issue, and have used this to justify the inclusion of Gladiatoria plays in die Schlachtschule’s purely Liechtenauer curriculum. It's possible, however, that the similarity of material was merely an example of parallel evolution; after all, while there are strong similarities, there are also plays that are very different from any shown in any Liechtenauer source (e.g., unscrewing your pommel and throwing it). I, personally, believe these different techniques simply reflect the fact that the Gladiatoria material is much, much more extensive when it comes to Harnischfechten than are other sources; in other words, we might consider the Gladiatoria Fechtb├╝cher to be advanced texts on the subject, so it’s only natural that they should contain material not seen in the other sources.

Dierk Hagedorn has contributed a transcription of one of the more unusual Gladiatoria sources, Cod. Guelf. 78.2 Aug. 2. from the Herzog August Bibliothek—the so-called Wolfenbuettel Fechtbuch. This is an unusual manuscript in that it contains drawings of a wide variety of unarmored forms together with a selection of plates matching the regular Gladiatoria MSS and then a wide variety of war machine drawings (like those seen in Talhoffer 1459); it must be considered an outlier in the Gladiatoria family because of the “extras” it includes. The transcription can be seen here:

Looking at Hagedorn’s transcription, we can see that the first two pages show a version of Liechtenauer’s standard Merkeverse. While it is possible that this material was included merely because the author wished to be associated with the famous Liechtenauer line (a claim that could be made for Talhoffer as well, who did the same thing in his 1459 Fechtbuch), it nevertheless does add to the likelihood that the Gladiatoria material belongs within the Liechtenauer canon proper, a contention with which I strongly agree.