So a couple of weeks ago I was at the unveiling of (wait for it) The Lost Second Book of Nicoletto Giganti. This is not a sequel to a fantasy blockbuster about giants. Instead, it’s an early 17th century fencing manual. Fellow author Anne Lyle was also there, and her report is here.
This is a fascinating example of how the discovery of a single document can change the way an entire area of history is seen.
Nicoletto Giganti was a fencing master, and his first book is well known, a tome dealing primarily with the application of the thrust when duelling with rapier or rapier and dagger. The book is well known and praised by various scholars of the fight from his time on, and it has been taken as a benchmark of where the science of the sword was going – from the medieval hacking about to the renaissance poking people with sharp things. In fact Gigangi’s book is exactly the sort of thing that George Silver bitches about – the English Silver’s own text can be handily summarised as “You bloody mincing Italians, I’ll take you all on.”
There were rumours of a second book, but no actual evidence it ever got written, until Piermarco Terminiello and Joshua Pendragon happened across what had been thought to be an inferior 2nd edition of the first book in the Wallace Collection, but which turned out to be the only known surviving copy of the second book.
From the frontispiece it becomes apparent that Giganti had become master of arms to the Knights of San Stefano, who were basically a bunch of anti-Ottoman privateers operating out of Pisa, and who probably had little to do when not plundering and raiding other than fight each other and everyone else. Giganti’s second book is therefore “everything else” – sword against multiple opponents, dagger against dagger, sword and shield, grappling and how to defend yourself against a man with a spear when all you’ve got is a fruit knife.
Instantly, therefore, the image of Giganti as the champion of the formal and mannered salle duelling – and nothing else – is banished. Here is a book for the man about town in a violent time and place. And it’s full of pictures of naked men stabbing each other in the eye ( which the artist has sometimes executed with more bloodthirstiness than actual skill, but there you go.)