Traversare traversando attraverso

While perhaps not exactly correct Italian, the title of this post goes to exemplify the kind of challenges an amateur translator (or, rather just a self-taught reader of a foreign language) faces all the time. Of course, the same goes for those who are native speakers or otherwise well versed in the language, but their experience in reading the subtleties of the language is of great help for them.

Therefore I write this post understanding that I may be very far off, and end up having to write a follow up clearing out the issues raised herein. In fact, that is my very purpose – I hope those with more understanding of Italian will step in and set me straight, or otherwise help to clear the question.

The word we shall examine is traversare, easily translated in English as “traverse”. In more depth, we have translations ranging from “[to] cross” all the way to “set crosswise” or “travel across” and so on. These can be looked up online, and one can go deeper in the etymology, but the general idea of the word becomes clear, as well as the fact that both the Italian and the English share the same root.

Reading Fiore dei Liberi, we come across traversing in a few instances, the most famous being the reference to apparently diagonal type of footwork, where Fiore instructs us to, for example, move the front foot slightly off-line and pass across. Or this is how the meaning is generally conveyed. Let us take a closer look with an open mind.

In original we find an example of this, for example, on page 20 recto, last paragraph:

Io acresco lo pe’ ch’è denanci un pocho fora de strada e cum lo stancho io passo ala traversa.

Which would translate roughly as “I step with the foot that is in front a little out of the way and with the left I pass to cross”. Everything is straight forward until the last two words, ala traversa, which in fact might not be as easy to understand as we have used to think.

I am unsure where the thought that ala traversa would refer to the direction of the pass comes from. While it is certainly possible, and not by any means false writing, there is another possibility. This form of footwork – or this series of actions – is only described with a weapon in hand. Fiore continues the above quote with E in quello passare incroso rebattendo le spade ve trovo discoverti e de ferire vi farò certi. This translates as “And in this pass I cross beating the swords I find you uncovered and I will strike you for certain”. Fiore crosses the swords in this pass. He beats the swords in this pass. Will he, perhaps, traverse the swords in this pass?

More evidence, and actually the whole spark for this thought comes later in the manuscript, in the part where they fight in armor, holding the swords in the so-called half-swording grip. Here we have Fiore parrying his opponent’s blow, and explaining to us in 34 recto, first paragraph, that:

…quando uno gli tra’ una punta ello scolaro l’aspetta in la guardia sua, e subito passa ala coverta fora de strada e tragli una punta in lo volto…

Translating as “…when one throws a thrust and the scholar waits in his guard, and quickly passes to cover out of the way and draws a thrust in the face…”. Notice here the form of writing, ala coverta. We can be fairly sure that ala coverta is not referring to the direction of the footwork, so the construction can definitely be used to convey the purpose of the pass as an action just as well as direction. Moreover, a little earlier, on page 33 recto, we have Fiore explain a similar action using the following words:

…e passar fora de strada traversando la spada del scolaro…

Translating as “…and pass out of the way traversing the sword of the scholar…” we have here a reference to defending with the sword using the verb traversare. We need to overlook now the fact that it would seem that the text should read “traversing the sword of the player” instead of the scholar, but I believe this issue is unrelated and can be discussed elsewhere on another time. The sword is also traversed on page 26 verso, when describing the rompere di punta or breaking of the thrust, but interestingly here we have the verb used twice:

…e cum l’altro pe’ passa a la traversa anchora fora de strada traversando la sua spada cum gli toi brazzi bassi e cum la punta de la tua spada erta…

This can be translated, perhaps, as “…and with the other foot pass to cross also out of the way traversing his sword with your hands low and the point of your sword high…”. Now, how we execute the action itself doesn’t need to change that much depending on how we choose to translate here, but different options give us different feel for the text.  Is the first traversing to signify direction? Or is this a case of repetition? Is it “…pass crosswise also off line crossing his sword…” or is the second one merely repetition in where more details are given about this particular crossing: “…pass to cross also off line, crossing with your hands low and the point high…”. Both would make sense.

If, for a moment, we choose to go with the sword action, some passages would start to make more sense, consider for example the description of Posta di Donna, where the front foot steps off line and the other passes to traverse, finding the opponent uncovered. Uncovered how? Uncovered by crossing the swords. Then, same guard on the left side, where it enters into narrow play (zogho stretto) because its knowledge of traversing. Crossing swords? Finally, Dente di Zenghiaro mezana, which strikes “…ala traversa de la spada del compagno”, “…to cross the sword of the companion”.

Finally, in the description of the colpo di villano, villain’s blow, Fiore tells us that we are to passa a la traversa fora de strada pigliando lo suo colpo a meza la tua spada. Is it a very detailed description of the direction of the pass with two definitions, or a combination of direction, and action? I think this could safely be translated as “pass to cross out of the way catching his strike at the middle of your sword”.

Every single instance could be investigated separately, and maybe something conclusive could be said, but most likely not. Still, I think it is useful to consider this option as an alternative possibility, and see whether it can proven wrong – which at least now requires more linguistic knowledge than there is in my possession. In practice I have noticed, that the accressere, the step with the front foot often preceding this pass is out of the way – fora di strada – changing the direction of the person, but the pass is then straight. The strada may still refer to the line between the fencers and thus be off it, and need mention, but perhaps the pass is meant to be directly forwards, and what is important, is the covering action done with the weapon during this step. When describing the footwork alone, should we passare ala traversa, or is it sufficient and maybe more precise to just passare?

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