Month: March 2019

Month: March 2019

Hieroglyphics in Mantua

In Mantua did Gonzaga a stately pleasure dome decree. Being a renaissance tyrant, he decorated that dome with plaster frippery and curliques and paintings of fashionable Greek and Roman themes, but he also decorated it with these:

A roof decorated with neo-classical reliefs and fake heiroglyphics
A decorated roof at one of the palaces in Mantua.

Those are fake hieroglyphics! Nobody could read heiroglyphics in the sixteenth century, but that was not a problem for the plasterers of Mantua any more than it had been for the priests of Isis at Pompeii 1500 years before. Putting up some old sculptures with a sphinx or obelisk and some mysterious inscriptions communicated a message of exotic cosmopolitanism, and that (not “a thousand of bread, a thousand of beer, a thousand of all good things to Semtutefnakht” or “Pa the scribe was here, these other scribes have trembling hands and stumbling lips”) was the message which visitors needed to read. Looking fashionably ancient in sixteenth-century Italy included Egyptian inscriptions as well as Greek friezes and busts of emperors. This raises the question when Europeans, and European settlers overseas, decided that the Greeks and Romans were ‘us’ and Egyptians, Syrians, or Persians were ‘them.’
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Folk Wrestling in Poland

The field behind the Zentrum für alte Kulturen, Langer Weg, Innsbruck, on 31 January 2019

Over on Patreon, Maciej Talaga talks about the folk sports which Polish peasants used to play in the slack times of the agricultural year. As he says, outside of the harvest season peasant societies tend to have more workers than useful things for them to do, so people on the land have to find ways to amuse themselves.

Biady, that is wrestling, was one of the most popular. It was played mostly by older boys and unmarried men, but there were exceptions. Participants would establish a specific hold – you can see it demonstrated on the video – and try to throw each other down without breaking it. Such matches could last anything from a few seconds to up to half an hour (with a single successful throw!). They involved no judges or coaches, as none of the participants would receive any formal training.

The latter was also the very reason why documenting “biady” required a specific research strategy. Since this martial game had no technolect or jargon, practitioners had no consistent way to talk about it. They couldn’t discuss given techniques, as we are used to do in HEMA, since there were no names for wrestling actions involved. Even less so in regard to tactics and theoretical concepts. In effect, my Grandpa also had hard times answering my inquisitive questions which I started bombarding him with after I discovered he has a vivid memory of this fascinating tradition. Being a simple man, he not only was surprised that anyone found it interesting, but also lacked words to explain martial matters in a structured way.

Having realised these difficulties, I called for help: I have a pleasure to run a little youth club teaching HEMA to some fantastic boys and girls. Three of them, Krzysztof Markowski, Marcel Kwapisz and Bruno Biernacki, enthusiastically agreed to assist me in a research trip. We went by bus to Wizna, a town located some 30 km away from my grandparents’ house in Łomża, and took a walk to visit the only Polish folk wrestler we knew about. And this time we were prepared much better – instead of asking questions, we started “biadying” in front of my Grandpa in the hopes that it would be easier for him to comment on our performance than talk about “biady” from a scratch on his own. And it worked!

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