Some modern martialists spend so much time arguing what the martially-minded duelist of yesteryear would have never done, it would seem that European Martial Arts, especially of the 17th and 18th centuries, was something for ultra-cautious, risk-adverse middle-aged veterans wearing leather soles on a freshly waxed floor while carrying a stack of Wedgwood china. And yet, period literature yields interesting indications that things were not what they seem…
—by J. Christoph Amberger
The Gesichte Philanders von Sittewald is a satirical picaresque novel by the German writer Johann (Hanß) Michael Moscherosch, born March 7, 1601, died April 4, 1669. History buffs will immediately recognize that Moscherosch lived through the entirety of the 30 Years War (1618-1648), the longest and most devastating war visited upon Central Europe until 1914.
Unlike the Adventurous Simplicissimus of his compatriot Grimmelshausen, Philander today is widely unknown. If it registers at all with students of German literature, it is because Ludwig Achim von Arnim adapted parts of it into his novella “Philander”, published as part of the collection Der Wintergarten in Berlin in 1809.
That relative oblivion may be explained by Moscherosch’s positioning the work as being the “visions” or recollections of a Spanish noble, Don Francesco de Quevedo Villegas, that were translated (verteutscht) by the novel’s hero Philander: The first printing is titled Les Visiones de Don Francesco de Quevedo Villegas. Oder Wunderbahre Satyrische gesichte Verteutscht durch Philander von Sittewalt, Straßburg: Johann Philipp Mülbe, 1640.
Notwithstanding the textual relations to the Spanish poet Francisco Gómez de Quevedo y Santibáñez Villegas and his Historia de la vida del Buscón, llamado Don Pablos, ejemplo de vagamundos y espejo de tacaños (1626), Philander’s adventures occur in a distinctly German context.
The following passage describes a duel between Philander and “Bbwtz” the leader of a small group of plundering soldiers, and between his friend, a medical “Doctor der Artzney, welcher zum Teutschen Kriegs-Volck ziehen woll[te]” , but upon being captured by the troop, volunteered to stay with them, and “Lffl”, another malefactor belonging to the group.
The reason for the duel was trivial enough: It involved drops spilled from a cup of wine that is being passed around. We find Philander and his friend at the eve of the duel, talking shop… among others, the Doctor’s trademark trick of thrusting backwards at the opponent upon having passed him.
My translation comes first, the German text is below.
(For those who may be tempted to believe that Philander may be a bastard brother to our Juncker von A. and his Alchemia Dimicandi infamy, just ask yourself: Would I ever lie to you? Yes, certainly I would. But Zeno.org wouldn’t: Here’s the link to the full text of the fourth part of the novel, entitled Soldatenleben, or soldiers’ life.)
The Doctor and I spent that night in a separate chamber, because we wanted to discuss tomorrow’s happenings. … The Doctor said that he knew a thrust which Lffl would have difficulties defending against, as he would thrust him through and through from behind before he could react, and yet it would happen honestly.
I had to laugh at the Doctor, as unhappy as I was, and said, “Not al all, sir, that would be an ugly thrust, through and through from behind, and that that one certainly was not being taught by Julius Caesar, who instructed his soldiers to the opposite and said: Miles faciem feri! Hold the sword straight at the eyes and thrust at the face. Because when Julius Caesar, the first Roman emperor, entered into the Battle of Pharsos against Pompey, Pompey had entirely young, handsome und mostly inexperienced soldiers who cared more about being ornately dressed than about manly fight; and Caesar knew they would make sure that they would not be hurt in the face and thus disfigured. Otherwise , it was custom that, upon closing, one were to strike at one side, at the face, at the shin, etc. Thus Caesar told his soldiers: Miles faciem feri! — strike at their faces and they will flee, which is exactly what happened.
“What an ugly thing, thrusting from behind!”
“Now, now,” said the Doctor, “I’ve tied it a few times, we shall see tomorrow.”
The other morning at seven o’clock, after we had fortified ourselves with a half measure of wine each and commended our souls to the Lord, we went before the gates, into the Brüel or Weyematte as it was called; our adversaries also arrived soon after, but they were plain drunk and acted as if they were insane.
Without hesitation, I drew my sword, but out of inattentiveness (which in situations like this is common, and one often does damage to himself that way) I positioned myself in a flat depression in the ground, and Bbwtz faced me standing about a foot higher, wherefore he had a good advantage against me; we fought for a while, and finally closed in on each other so that both swords passed by our sides.
Now Bbwtz threw his sword aside and grabbed me around the middle, threw me to the ground, and pushed with his knees at my heart, as if he wanted to wrack me on the wheel. I, however, kept my sword in my fist and hit his head with my hilt until the lood ran down.
“That’s not acting honestly,” I yelled, “Bbwtz, you are a murderer.”
At which the others came running and pulled him off me.
Then the Doctor and Lffl got at it. The Doctor must have been more with it, because he jumped around like a magpie, to this side, then to the other, and because Lffl was rather fat, he could not turn fast enough to bring him in line, until the Doctor finally saw his advantage and advanced past Lffl, then reversed his rapier with both hands, and thrust him from behind into the thigh, so that Lffl was going down before he could even become aware of it.
There was some discussion, one said the Doctor had violated the rules, the other said he had won. Lffl, however, was so incensed that he swore he would kill the Doctor, cutting him down with a dagger anywhere… which he failed to do as we shall hear later. Lffl was carried to town and we followed and made peace over a meal.