He who knows most, doubts most.  — Jerónimo de Carranza

Dedicated to researching historical Spanish fencing and sharing the knowledge with the public.

Fencing History and Tales

Introduction | Literary Allusions | Famous Duels and Duellists | Women and Combat

Literary Allusions to Destreza, Carranza, & Pacheco

Francisco de Quevedo
History of the Swindler's Life (Historia de la vida del buscón)

Source for Spanish Version: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes
Translation by Mary Curtis ©2003
Painting: Francisco de Quevedo Portrait by Velazquez, 1631
Note: Visit the Narváez page for more information about the animosity between Quevedo and Narváez.

Book 2, Chapter 1

I continued onward dying with laughter at the vagaries with which I occupied my time, when, God and luck, I saw from afar a loose mule and a man next to her on foot, who looking at a book made some lines that he measured with a compass. He turned around and jumped from side to side, and from time to time, putting one finger on top of another, he did with them a thousand things jumping. I confess that I believed for a long time (for I stopped far off to watch him) that he was a sorcerer, and I almost decided not to pass by. In the end I made up my mind, and drawing near, he sensed me, shut the book, and as he put his foot in the stirrup, he slipped and fell. I helped him up, and he told me:

-I did not properly judge the geometric mean to make the circumference to mount.

I didn’t understand what he said and later I feared what he was, because a crazier man has never been born of a woman. He asked me if was going to Madrid in a straight line or by a circumferential route. I, even though I didn’t understand him, told him a circumferential one. He asked me whose sword I carried at my side. I responded that it was mine, and looking at it, he said:

-Those quillions should be longer, in order to parry the [right-to-left] cuts that are made over the center of the thrusts.

And he started to make such a long explanation that it impelled me to ask him what subject he was versed in. He told me that he was a true swordsman and that he could do it well anywhere. I, moved with laughter, told him:

-Well, truthfully, from what I saw your grace doing in the country before, I took you more for a sorcerer, seeing the circles.

-That –he told me- was what a technique by the fourth circle with the greater compass offered me , continuing the sword to kill the opponent without confession, because he does not say who did it and I was putting it in mathematical terms.

-Is it possible –I asked him- that there is mathematics in that?

-Not only mathematics –he said- but theology, philosophy, music and medicine.

-That last I do not doubt, since that art deals with killing.

-Don’t mock – he told me-, for I am now learning the clearing against the sword, making the large [right-to-left] cuts that encircle in them the aspirales of the sword.

-I don't understand anything that you have said, small or large.

-Well this book says it -he answered me-, which is called Greatness of the sword (1), and it is very good and tells miracles; and so you will believe it, in Rejas (2) where we will sleep tonight, with two spits you will see me do wonders. And you will not doubt that whoever reads this book will kill everyone that he pleases.”

-Or that book teaches men to be plagues or some doctor wrote it.

-What do you mean doctor? He understands it well, -he told me-: he is a great wise man and I would even say more.

In these conversations we arrived at Rejas. We dismounted at an inn, and as we dismounted, he loudly advised me that I should make an obtuse angle with my legs, and that closing them to parallel lines, I should set myself perpendicular to the ground. The innkeeper, that saw me laugh and saw him, asked me if that gentleman was an Indian, since he spoke so strangely. I thought I would die laughing. He came over to the innkeeper later and said:

-Sir, give me two spits for two or three angles, and in a moment, I will give them back to you.

-Jesus! –said the innkeeper-, your grace, give the angles here, and my wife will cook them; even though they are birds that I have never heard of.

-They aren’t birds! –he said turning to me-. Look, your grace, what it is to be ignorant. Give me the spits, for I only want them to fence with; and perhaps what you see me do today will be worth more than everything that you have earned in your life.

In the end, the spits were unavailable and we had to take two ladles. One has not seen anything so worthy of laughter in the world. He jumped and said:

-With this compass I reach further and gain the degrees of the profile. Now I take advantage of the remiss movement [movement to a side] to kill the natural [high-to-low movement]. This should be stab and this [right-to-left] cut.

He didn't come closer than a league from me and he walked around me with the ladle, and since I was standing still, they looked like techniques against a pot that is getting away. He finally said to me:

-This is the good one and not the drunkeries that these drunken masters of fencing teach, who don’t know anything but drinking.

He hadn’t finished saying this, when a mulatto [mule driver] came out of a room showing his teeth, with a hat doubling as a sunshade and a buckskin doublet under a loose doublet and covered with ribbons, knock-kneed legs to the imperial eagle, the face with a by the sign of the cross from his enemies, hooked beard, with a handle-bar mustache and a dagger with more bars than a nun’s convent visiting room. And, looking at the ground, he said:

-I am tested and I bring the letter, and by the sun that cooks bread, I will cut to pieces whoever treats poorly such a good son as is versed in the art.

Understanding the situation, I stepped between them and said that he wasn’t speaking to him and thus he didn’t have a reason to be offended.

-Draw your sword if you carry one, and we will test which is the true art, and forget these ladles.

My poor companion opened the book and said in a loud voice:

-This book says it, and it is printed by the King’s license, and I will maintain that what it says is true, with the ladle and without the ladle, here and elsewhere, and, if not, let us measure it.

And he took out his compass, and began to say:

-This angle is obtuse.

And then, the master drew his dagger, and said:

-And I don’t know who is Angle nor Obtuse, nor in my life have I heard tale of such men, but with this in my hand I will cut you to pieces.

He attacked the poor devil, who fled, leaping for the house, and saying:

-He can’t reach me, for I have gained the degrees of profile on him.

The innkeeper and I and other people that were around intervened in peace, even though I almost couldn’t move from laughter.

They put the good man in his room, and me with him; we ate and everyone in the house went to bed. And at 2 in the morning, he got up in his shirt and started to move around the room in the dark, jumping and saying in mathematical language a thousand absurdities. He woke me up, and not content with this, he called the innkeeper down to give him light, saying that he had found fixed object to the sagital thrust by the chord. The innkeeper cursed him for waking him, and it bothered him so much that he called him crazy. And with this he left and he told me that if I wanted to get up I would see the most famous technique that had been discovered against the Turk and his scimitars. And he said that later he wanted to go to teach it to the King for being in favor of the Catholics.

In this way we rose, we all dressed, we paid the inn, we made friends of him and the master, who left saying that the book that my companion argued in favor of was good, but that it produced more madmen than swordsmen, because the majority did not understand it.

Book Two, Chapter II
About what happened until he arrived in Madrid, with a poet

I took my road for Madrid, and he took his leave of me to go by a different path. And just as he was leaving, he returned hurriedly, and calling to me loudly, being in the country where no one heard us, he told me in my ear:

-For your grace's life, don’t tell anything of all the great secrets that I have told you in the subject of the art, and guard it for yourself, thus you have good understanding.

I promised him to do it, he turned away from me, and I began to laugh at such a silly secret.

1. Greatness of the sword [Grandezas de las espada] - fencing treatise by Luis Pacheco de Narvaez.
2. Reja is the name of a town but the word also means “grill, bar.”