Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise (Agrippa)
Camillo Agrippa’s widely influential “Treatise on the Science of Arms” was a turning point in the history of fencing. The author – an engineer by trade and not a professional master of arms – was able to radically re-imagine teaching the art of fencing. Agrippa’s treatise is the fundamental text of Western swordsmanship. Just as earlier swordsmanship can be better understood from Agrippa’s critiques, so too was his book the starting point for the rapier era.
Every other treatise of the early-modern period had to deal explicitly or implicitly with Agrippa’s startling transformation of the art and science of self-defense with the sword. Likewise, all of the fundamental ideas that are still used today – distance, time, line, blade opposition, counterattacks and countertime – are expressed in this paradigm-shifting treatise.
This is a work that should be on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the history, practice or teaching of fencing. His treatise was also a microcosm of sixteenth-century thought. It examines the art, reduces it to its very principles, and reconstructs it according to a way of thinking that incorporated new concepts of art, science and philosophy. Contained within this handy volume are concrete examples of a new questioning of received wisdom and a turn toward empirical proofs, hallmarks of the Enlightenment. The treatise also presents evidence for a redefinition of elite masculinity in the wake of the military revolution of the sixteenth century. At the same time, is offers suggestive clues to the place of the hermetic tradition in the early-modern intellectual life and its implications for the origins of modern science.
Camillo Agrippa’s “Treatise on the Science of Arms” was first published in Rome in 1553 by the papal printer Antonio Blado. The original treatise was illustrated with 67 engravings that belong to the peak of Renaissance design. They are reproduced here in full.
“Mondschein has at last made available to English-speaking readers one of the most important texts in the history of European martial arts. Agrippa marks a turning point in the intellectual history of these arts….
Mondschein’s introduction to his work helps the reader understand Agrippa – and the martial practices themselves – as pivotal agents in the evolving cultural and intellectual systems of the sixteenth century.
Above all, Mondschein’s translation is refreshingly clean and idiomatic, rendering the systematic clarity of the Italian original into equally clear modern English – evidence of the author’s familiarity with modern fencing and understanding of the physical realities that his author is trying to express. Mondschein’s contextualization of his topic points the way for future scholarly exploration, and his translation will doubtless be valued by both students of cultural history and practitioners of modern sword arts.” – Dr. Jeffrey L. Forgeng