The Capo Ferro Translation Project

“Italian Rapier Combat”, published by Greenhill Books

“…of all the Italian works on fencing none ever had such a share in fixing the principles of the science as the ‘Great Simulacrum of the Use of the Sword, by Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli, Master of the most excellent German Nation in the famous City of Sienna.’ The theories which he enunciated, the system that he followed and many of his ‘ferite,’ were hardly improved on by anyone before the days of Rosaroll and Grisetti. For once the title of the book fully represented its contents.” (Castle, ‘Schools and Masters of Fence’, pg 155 )

“But the peak of achievement of the Italian tradition is reached with the work of Capo Ferro…. [he] fixes permanently the principles on which all later sword-play is based, at least in those weapons in which the point predominates.” (Wise, ‘The History and Art of Personal Combat’ pg 74)

Many people consider Capo Ferro’s work to be the most comprehensive, comprehensible work on the Italian rapier to have ever been published. Published in 1610 during the height of the use of the rapier and although the works of Cavalcabo, Fabris and Giganti were also published around this time, Gran Simularcro Dell’arte e Dell’uso Della Scherma became the most highly regarded text of the time.

Four years after its inception, the Capo Ferro Translation project came to fruition in the spring of 2004. Thanks to the generous donations of the following patrons this translation of Capo Ferro’s great opus is now available.

  • Michael Anderson
  • Mtre Alexander Deme
  • Antone Blair
  • William S. Ernoehazy, Jr.
  • Steaphen Fick
  • Craig Johnson
  • Fred Kutz
  • John Lennox
  • Chris Lyon
  • Kevin P. Menard
  • Jason Porter
  • Martin Reznick
  • Tim Ruzicki
  • Dave Storrs
  • William Wilson
  • Art of Combat
  • Sussex Rapier Society
  • The School of European Swordsmanship
  • The School of the Sword
  • The Stoccata School of Defence

History of the Capo Ferro Translation Project

Excerpt taken from Jared Kirby’s introduction to “Italian Rapier Combat” published in 2004 (permission from Jared Kirby)

“I first became interested in translating Capo Ferro’s opus eight years ago. I had heard many times that Capo Ferro was the greatest fencing master of all time. Considering the high regard in which such notable authors as Egerton Castle, Arthur Wise and Sydney Anglo hold this master, I found it difficult to understand that in four hundred years no one had ever translated his treatise into English. So I began looking for a translator who would take on the project. As new books came out, such as Sydney Anglo’s The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe (Yale, 2000), Capo Ferro continued to be praised by modern authors. This reinforced the importance of this translating.

I met with many potential translators over the years, but after the initial meeting when they looked at the material, none of them would accept the job. There were two major reasons that translators refused to work on this project. The first reason involved the nature of the highly stylized Renaissance language. It is much like asking someone to translate Shakespearean English into modern Italian. Many of the words that Capo Ferro uses have slightly different meanings now, some words are no longer in use, and others are spelled differently in modern Italian. Therefore, the only way to find the definition is through the use of a sixteenth century dictionary. There are abbreviations that have not been used in centuries. The sentence structure in the sixteenth century would make a modern language professor scream because the grammar has changed so drastically. It is not uncommon to find one sentence that is half a page long, as the use of punctuation was very different. For example, commas are used to break up points, where we use a period today, but a period is only used to end a complete thought, where we start a new paragraph.

The second difficulty arose from the highly technical nature of this work. Without a firm foundation and understanding of the art and science of fencing it is very difficult to comprehend what Capo Ferro is explaining and thereby translate his true intention and meaning. After five years of searching for someone in the United States, I finally decided to employ a professional translator in Italy who was familiar with text like this. Thus the Capo Ferro Translation Project was born. I set up a fund to help raise money in order to pay this professional translator. Many scholars and practitioners of the sword generously donated to support this effort and several organizations lent their help, such as the New Dawn Duellists Society and Swordplay Symposium International.

The translator worked on this project for two years and I finally received the completed manuscript with much excitement. To my surprise and dismay, it was riddled with errors. There were words mistranslated, entire sentences missing, and very little of the material made sense. It was a glaring reminder that regardless of how well someone understands the language and is familiar with historical fencing, a full understanding of the technical nature of this type of material is requisite in order to convey the meaning of the author.

I was uncertain how to improve the quality of the translation until Maestro Ramón Martinez and Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez offered to help. Maestro Martinez has spent over twenty-five years working through some of the most important Italian and Spanish fencing texts of the Renaissance. Long before he became regarded as the expert of La Verdadera Destreza (Spanish school of rapier), he had already been teaching Italian rapier based on his own research and the traditional system of rapier and dagger that he had learned from his master. For her part, Maestro Acosta-Martinez has spent eight years studying the Italian treatises as well. I was delighted to have such qualified individuals helping to ensure that the highest quality translation would be prepared.”

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