Instructor Bowles and a few students visited the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization in Cupertino, CA to demonstrate French dueling arts during a lecture presented by Bruce Thompson, Ph.D. on the history of dueling in western civilization. The class gave an excellent overview on the Greco-Roman roots of dueling through the 20th century.
Although dueling may appear to have direct ancestors in the gladiatorial arenas of ancient Rome or in the trial by combat, the institution of codified dueling stands only on civilian-built architecture on a foundation of Greco-Roman values. These values and their play in society, namely the individual’s fidelity to them, provided the conditions for dueling as it began in the renaissance and beyond. These values are the lofty self esteem of the elite, the training of youth in martial exercise, the desire for glory, and one’s absolute courage in the face of death.
The renaissance is when the duel as an institution took shape. The first published work on dueling was Il Duello by Girolamo Mizio published in 1550 Italy. It provided the dueling rules as a form of conflict resolution and also helped mitigate the era’s high level of civilian street violence. Its important to realize our modern perspective bias when reflecting on this, as the institution of dueling will be thought of as barbarous in a civilized time, but civilized in a barbarous time.
The codified duel spread from Italy to the European continent’s elite and found particularly fertile ground in France. During the 14 year reign of King Henry IV there were over 4000 French dueling deaths. Despite this epidemic death toll among the aristocracy dueling persisted as it proved fidelity to the code and honor that characterized the entire class, and represented the vestigial right of personal warfare in an increasingly absolute State. Dueling persisted well into the 20th century, though experienced a sharp decline after World War I and the citizenry’s newfound distaste for combat.
“Five hundred years after the formulation of the original honor codes, the duel still engaged men in society, the military, and government. Europeans were duelling after the invention of the telephone, after cars started coming off assembly lines, after Einstein published his special theory of relativity.” Arthur Krystal, En Garde!, New York Times Magazine, March 12, 2007. Read Full Article
Exhibition at the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization
Students Henry Dinh and Edward Sandoval held an exhibition of arms for the very interested attendees of Dr. Thompson’s lecture at the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. We also displayed antique dueling swords from the private collection of Mr. Eric Haas, including a early 1800s epee du combat, and a Klingenthal-made practice epee. The class participants were exceedingly interested in the demonstration and asked very thoughtful questions!