Transcription and English translation of Cod. Guelf. 1074 Novi from Wolfenbüttel
By Alex Kiermayer (transcription) and Robert Foster (translation)
This is from an anonymous German work on longsword and dussack.
Cod. Guelf. 1074 Novi / Wolfenbüttel, Herzog Augustbibliothek
Alex Kiermayer, February 2004
Initial Translation and Interpretation thoughts for the Longsword of the Codex Guelf 1074 Novi “Fechtbuchleinn”
An introduction to the Fechtbuchleinn
The Codex Guelf 1074 Novi is a relatively short manuscript (pages 1r-12v) consisting of two parts: A Longsword section and a Dussack section. As my knowledge of the Dussack does not extend beyond my ability to “pick it out of a lineup,” I have worked strictly with the Longsword section, pages 2r-6v (Page 1r has only the word “Fechtbuchleinn,” and page 1v is blank). The extent of the information I have been able to find on the manuscript comes from the internet websites of “Wiktenauer.com” and “Hammaborg.de,” neither of which provides more than the current location and estimated production date of the manuscript along with a transcription by Alex Kiermayer dated February, 2004. According to the websites, the Fechtbuchleinn dates to sometime in the 16th century and is currently in the holdings of the Herzog-August Library in Wolfenbüttel. A search of the library’s website failed to locate a digital copy of the manuscript, so for the purposes of my work, I have relied strictly upon Alex’s transcription – something I have no trouble in trusting. The manuscript apparently has no illustrations, nor are any alluded or referred to in the text.
The Longsword section of the manuscript is itself divided into four sections: The Gänge (or actions), the Niederstellen (or settings down), the Niederlegen (or layings down), and the Stuck (or play) of the sword. This organization, along with many phrases and the manner of explanation used is remarkably similar to those used in the two extant English Longsword manuscripts (MS additional manuscript 39564 and the MS Harley 3542) and while some sort of connection surely exists among them, the degree of that connection is unclear. I cannot take credit for this discovery, as it was James Wallhausen (hereafter “J.W.”) who pointed it out to me. While I have not in my translation used the English texts to replace words in the Fechtbuchleinn, I have used them to corroborate odd phrases, i.e. “that’s really weird, I wonder if he meant that to mean something else…nope, same wording in the English manuscripts, I’ll leave it,” and at times to help choose among essentially identical English translation options of a word. A more in-depth analysis of the correlations among these manuscripts will be the subject of another article; hopefully from J.W.
The first section, the Gänge, consists of seven Gänge of which the seventh Gang is missing (a single illegible word after the heading “The seventh Gang”). Each Gang is a fairly short series of actions in which an opponent is alluded to but not specified. Additionally, the Gänge do not appear to build upon one another, but are each a stand-alone series of actions. While it’s tough to say precisely, they appear to be what the HEMA community today would call drills.
The second section, the Niederstellen, is a bit trickier. There are five Niederstellen, each of which consists of a series of actions similar to the Gänge. What apparently distinguishes them from the Gänge however, is that each of the Niederstellen includes the action of “niederstell-ing” (I know, all of my German buddies are having linguistic fits right now, but my primary audience here is English-speaking, so cut me some slack). Unfortunately for us, that action while dictated is not explained (see notes on terminology translations below).
The third section, the Niederlegen, is significantly shorter than the previous two. It consists of the “Little Leap Prior to the Niederlegen,” and the “Niederlegen of the Sword,” followed by a short variation of the Niederlegen of the Sword. The Niederlegen is interesting in that it’s (to my mind) one of the closer correlations to the MS 39564, and appears to be distinguishable from the other sections in that the series of actions ends with laying the point of your sword down to the ground (you “legen” it “nieder” – again apologies to the native German speakers).
The fourth (and final) section, the Stuck im Schwert, is a 10-part play. Each of the 10 parts of the play appear to be linked not as 10 sequential parts of a single play, but rather as 10 options based on the outcome of the part just performed. What I mean is that at the end of each part, another (and not necessarily the next sequentially) part is directed. It’s a little fuzzy, but perhaps is supposed to be sort of a flow chart in prose format.
Due to the archaic and non-standard use of terms in the Fechtbuchleinn, I had to make certain leaps of reasoning in order to merely make a translation that was sensical. Some of the translations I have used are clearly correct, while others are my best guess at the time of this writing. In this section, I will add my thoughts on the terminology, options as appropriate, as well as what I think the certainty is that I have correctly translated the term.
- Verwendetem Leib: “Twisted body” this appears to me to involve striking without moving your feet (therefore, you have to twist your body to execute the maneuver). I’m at about the 90% confidence level of being correct on this. The only other option I could come up with which might make sense is “Extended/uncoiled body” as in to reach out to full extension with a strike or thrust. I gave up on this option based on the commands of Verwend-ing in conjunction with the following movements; “twisted” just seems to make more sense. There is however one occasion (the third Niederstellen) where “extended” seems to make more sense. In this one instance, I have therefore translated it as such. Perhaps, this means that all instances should read that way?
- Kreuz: “the Bind” this appears to be a 100% item.
- Der Schneidt: “the Blade” rather than either being strictly the edge or by default the long edge. Again, pretty 100% on this one. I had considered that in certain paragraphs, it might refer to the long edge, but in those cases it turned out to be an irrelevant distinction.
- Streich: Simply “a Stroke,” I had hemmed and hawed about whether this was a Hau or a slice until J.W. turned me on to the MS additional manuscript 39564 which also uses the word Stroke in exceptionally similar (at times identical) form. I have chosen to retain the word as Stroke until or unless sufficient interpretation experimentation leads to either a different word or a more specific definition of this one.
- Übergangen: Literally “Going over,” it smacks to me as the Liechtenauer Tradition’s “Abnehmen.” Since I can’t yet be too sure of this however, I will keep the somewhat awkward “Going Over” in my translation with the idea that I’m thinking of Abnehmen.
- Knopff: Another no-brainer; it’s “Pommel.”
- Duplier: I’m going with the non-technical definition of this, i.e. striking from one side to the other in rapid succession. While the Second Gang gave me some trouble on this (depending on where you break the sentences down, it could also explain the technical action), based on further reflection and some “Stop over-interpreting!” love from Andreas Engström on the HEMA Alliance forum, not to mention the similarities with MS 39564 that J.W. pointed out, I’ve decided on the non-technical translation. In the translation therefore, I will replace “duplier” with “double,” or whatever wording best affects that meaning in the sentence.
- Flech: “the flat of the blade.” Again, thanks to Andreas Engström for the decency to tell me not to read too much into things.
- (dem Fuß vorgesetzt) über zwergs: This took a little imagination. I have decided upon „über zwergs“ meaning „Überzwerch“ which is archaic south German-Austrian dialect for „athwart“ or „crosswise.“ I’m about 90% sure of that. Not only does it make sense, but it’s also corroborated by MS 39564 (The 23rd Called Facing Off with the Spring) usage.
- Verfallen: I’m going with a downward blow of the sword of some type: a “falling blow.” I could go two ways on this one. My initial reaction was to translate it either as an under-bind (a la MS I:33) or a Mutieren (a la Liechtenauer). I was dissuaded from both of these ideas by a combination of MAJ (DEU) Robert Albrecht’s initial reaction to the text and the similarity to the MS 39564 which J.W. brought to my attention. That left me with either Robert’s thought that it’s an Oberhau-type action or Bradak and Heslop’s thinking (per their article, “The Boon of the English Flourysh”) that it’s a Sturzhau-type action. Both seem reasonable. The only thing really going for Robert’s translation is that in the Fourth Gang, it mentions “in Sturz geschlagen” which might lead one to separate the meanings (see “in Sturz geschlagen” below). Therefore, for the purposes of this initial translation, I will use “falling stroke”…which also corroborates with MS 39564 (Fallyng Stroke); however you want to interpret that… There are however a couple of occasions (reference needed during final edit) where the “verfallen” command makes more sense as simply allowing the blade to fall (not as part of an attack); in those cases, I have tried to make that apparent in the translation.
- In sturz geschlagen: The immediate and most obvious solution to this is “to strike a sturzhau.” I was absolutely satisfied with that until J.W. pointed me to the MS 39564; in Bradak and Heslop’s article they mention that “verfallen” could mean what we understand as a Sturzhau (see Verfallen above). This led me to seek other options for “in sturz geschlagen.” The only reasonable one (Andreas Engström would be angry about over-analysis) was an archaic, Austrian term, “Sturz” which means “cover/protection,” as in the cover for a loaf of bread. While application thereof is plausible, for purposes of this translation, I will stick to the standard Sturzhau.
- (mit den) Füße zusammen: Lots of opportunities for interpretation here. The difficult part is that the text references standing, stepping, and springing/leaping with both feet together. My thoughts are as follow:
- Standing with both feet together can either mean exactly that, or with the forward-placed feet of the two fencers being both the same foot and placed toward and near each other… or it could mean standing with the same foot forward as earlier.
- Stepping with both feet together I’m about 90% confident means exactly that: Step from a One-foot-forward stance into a stance where your feet are next to each other; this is part of the footwork which Roland Warzecha teaches for sword and buckler at Hammaborg and makes sense in the text given the follow-on actions directed.
- Springing with both feet together offers two options in my mind: Springing/leaping such that your feet are together at the end (less likely), or springing/leaping such that both feet move and the foot placement (forward vs behind) remains the same pre- and post-leap.
- Reib (dein Leib): I take this to be a simple spelling error. I believe the intended word was “Reiß” as in to pull with force or yank. No definition of Reib (rub) or other similar spellings of what that would sound like are even remotely plausible in my opinion. For translation purposes, I will use “yank” to distinguish from ziehen (to pull).
- Flucks: I translate as “flugs” which means “quickly.” I’m 95% sure of this. The other option would be a mis-conjugation of “fliegen” meaning to flee, but the sentences’ structure make that awkward.
- Gang: I choose to use the translation of “action” for this although J.W. makes a good argument for using “chase” in order to better correlate to the MS 39564.
- Niederstellen: Literally translated it would be “to put down” or “to set down.” Or, if we’re going for the noun form, “low position.” Reading through the text doesn’t help a whole lot: The Niederstellen is one of the four sections of the Longsword in the Fechtbuchleinn. Within each of the Niederstellen section’s paragraphs is the command to Niederstellen (in a couple of variations). This action however is never defined or explained. J.W. suggested that in its correlation to the English manuscripts, the Setting Down found in several Lessons in MS Harley 3542 are equivalent to the Niederstellen of the Fechtbuchleinn and there certainly are strong similarities in that the five Niederstellen all appear to end with setting the sword [point] down to either the ground or near the foot.
- Niederlegen: Again, a problematic word. Literally either “to lay down” or, as a noun, “the written record.” I toyed with a couple of ideas including “Niederlagen” meaning “defeat” as in, here’s a play with which you defeat your opponent. The Niederlegen section of the Fechtbuchleinn only has two parts: The Little Leap Prior to the Niederlegen and The Niederlegen of the Sword. Thanks again to J.W. these two paragraphs actually look a bit like two similarly (if not identically) named paragraphs in the MS 39564. Specifically: The Third Counter, called The Short Spring with a Falling Stroke and The Laying Down of your Sword. While the text of the two paragraphs in MS 39564 is structurally similar to that of the Fechtbuchleinn’s, they are not too similar in specific actions (i.e. NOT a one-for-one correlation). The other point is that in MS 39564, the two paragraphs are not tied together at all. We’ll see; I still need to take more than a passing glance at the MS Harley 3542. On the bright side, unlike Niederstellen, the Niederlegen itself is not a specific action to be taken. For translation purposes, I will use “laying down.”
- Zeuch: “to pull.” I saw three reasonable translations for this one: 1. Zeuch (archaic) meaning to walk/move/travel from which I would select “move.” 2. Zeuch (coming from a way of spelling “zieh” according to the 1535 Strassbourg Dictionarium Latinogermanicum) meaning to pull. 3. Zeuch being a specific technical action. J.W. suggests that if one continues to try to correlate the Fechtbuchleinn with the English texts that Zeuch could be the same as Rake (which according to Bradak and Heslop is a kind of slicing cut). Given that the word zeuch is used in other German texts (HS 44 A 8 “Peter von Danzig” and the Glasgower Fechtbuch at a minimum) and that folks smarter than I (Dierk Hagedorn of Hammaborg for instance) have translated it as “pull,” I have decided to maintain that translation in my own work here although the usage is at times awkward…thus making the use of Zeuch as a technical action tempting. And if it may be a technical action, then perhaps it is some kind of draw cut as this would incorporate both a similarity to the interpretation of “rake” as well as some form of the word “ziehen,” food for thought at any rate.
A few assumptions for the translation and interpretation
Since there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, I assume that the author/one taking action within the text is right-handed. Additionally, since there are no guards/wards mentioned in the text and only occasionally are there instructions on how to stand and where to hold your sword as a start point, I assume that unspecified starting guards are equivalent to vom Tag on the right shoulder. Finally, I assume that although many of the phrases and terms used within the text are unique or at least not “doctrinal,” that the actions described are not necessarily also unique. There are only so many ways to move the human body and a particular weapon therewith, so while not necessarily identical to the named actions of the strictly Liechenauer tradition, I do not believe them to be absolutely different…hence the assumption of the vom Tag guard.
A note on the format
The translation will be in two columns. Rather than the standard original transcription in one of the columns, I will use English in both. The pure transcription of the text will precede the translation so that readers are not forced to reference multiple documents. In the left-hand column I will provide an essentially word-for-word translation of the text. In the right-hand column I will provide a less strict translation, relying more on meaning/intent and making it a little easier (I hope) to follow for the reader of modern English. This right-hand column is not meant to be a complete interpretation, just a clearer use of language. Thus, although a certain amount of interpretation was required, I have striven to keep it to a minimum. Words which are [assumed to belong in the text] for clarity reasons will be so marked. Words or phrases sandwiched by * are best guesses either added or interpreted. Following Alex Kiermayer’s transcription, illegible words are marked by ??? to the estimated number of illegible letters. Finally, following the translation I will provide some initial thoughts on interpretation of some of the elements of the text.
Initial thoughts on Interpretation
There are several paragraphs within the analyzed portion of the manuscript which seem to be coherent and give executable actions without much in the way of interpretation beyond just reading the text. On the other hand, there are those which only seem to make sense with significant interpretation and still others which remain an absolute mystery; at least to me.
Robert Foster, May 2012
Transcription and English translation