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A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.

A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.

This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

One of the most common verbs in Fiore’s works is “to enter” (Italian entrare or intrare). Translators often translate the Italian word with its English cognate, but I have never felt that I understand every use. Tom Leoni speaks of three types of expression which a translator must handle: those which are purely technical, those which are part of ordinary speech, and those which have both a common meaning and a technical one. Phrases like “to enter into the zogho stretto” fall into his third category, the most difficult to translate. Fiore also wrote in verse, and poetry usually allows a wider range of words, meanings, and expressions than prose. Being away from my books, I have used Wiktenauer to compile some examples of usage:

Sword in Armour, Getty MS: Quando io vezo che la mia punta no pò intrare in lo petto nè in lo volto per la visera, io levo la visera e sì gli metto la puna in lo volto. (“When I see that my thrust cannot enter into his chest nor into his face (because of his visor), I lift the visor up and then I thrust the point in his face.”- tr. Michael Chidester)

Sword in Two Hands Close Play, Getty MS: Quando io son incrosado io vegno al zogho stretto. Ello elzo de la mia spada entra le toy mane metto. E levo le toy brazze cum la tua spada in erto. (“When I am crossed, I come to gioco stretto. The hilt of my sword enters between your hands, and lifting your arms with your sword high. I put my left arm over yours [arms], with reversed hand, and I will injure your arms with your sword under my left arm. ”- tr. Matt Easton and Eleonora Durban)

Abrazare, Posta Longa, Getty MS: E si aquella presa mi venisse a manchare, in le altre prese che seguen vignirò intrare. (“And if that lock looks like it will fail me, then I will switch to one of the other locks that follow. “- tr. Colin Hatcher)

Eighth Play, Fifth Remedy Master of Dagger, Getty MS: E questo zogho intra in la ligadura mezana çoè al terzo zogho del primo Re e rimedio di daga. (“And from this play you can enter into a middle bind as shown in the third play of the First Dagger Remedy Master. ”- tr. Colin Hatcher, Leoni disagrees)

Posta Dente di Chinghiaro, Abrazare, Getty MS: E di questa isirò e in porta di ferro intrer (“And from this guard I can transition to Porta di Ferro, which will force you to the ground. ”- tr. Colin Hatcher)

Posta di Donna la Sinestra, Sword in Two Hands, Getty MS: E intra in lo zogho stretto per lo suo saver traversare. (“And [this stance] enters into the zogho stretto through her knowledge of how to traverse”- tr. Manning)

Punta Falsa, PD MS: Mostray de uegner dal drito, in lo riuersso intray
Per darte questa punta cum dolore e guay;

(“I appear to come from the right, but I enter on the left
To give you this thrust with great pain and harm;”-tr. Michael Chidester)

Posta di Finestra la Sinestra, Axe, Getty MS: Una e l’altra cerca la falsità, tu crederà che io vegna cum lo fendente e io tornerò un pe’ indredo e mi muderò di posta. Li che era in la sinestra, io entrerò in la destra. E crezo entrare in gli zoghi che vegneno dredo ben presta. (“One and the other certainly feints (falsità), you think that I come with the fendente and I turn a foot backwards and change my position (posta). From being on the left, I enter on the right. And I believe for entering in these plays which come after me I am well ready.”- tr. Matt Easton and Eleonora Durban)

Some of these uses are literal: a weapon can enter between an opponent’s hands to disarm him, or into his body to wound him. Others seem metaphorical: one can enter into a technique (zogho “play”, ligadura “bind”, or presa “hold”), enter a stance (posta), enter into the “close play” or zogho stretto, and enter on the backhand or left (in lo riverso … do you know of any other intransitive uses?) The so-called “Bolognese” masters of the sixteenth century also speak of entering, and a curious person might want to read them for comparison. Unfortunately, I still cannot read Italian. One might also want to look at the short Latin text in the manuscript in the Bibliotheque Nationale du France. Thus, my question: “what does it mean in Fiore’s art to ‘enter’?”