Destreza: On the meaning of Oplosophia

So in my vast stretches of spare time (ha), one of the things I do when I’m not actually trying to stab willing practice partners with rapiers is read primary sources. Under various advisements, I’ve chosen to take a look at Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas by Diogo Gomes de Figueireido. You may have noticed that it’s in Portuguese, and that I have not mentioned speaking or reading Portuguese (I am, however, fluent in Spanish and have worked as an editor in that language). Yeah. Apparently I like a challenge. Anyway, one of the first things I wanted to sort out was what the heck oplosophia meant. So I went poking around the interwebs, and all that came up for me was either references to the book itself, or mentions of the term being a hapax legomenona word that only appears once in any given context within a language. So I went hunting for classical language roots. Sophia was clear from other words, like philosophy, but for the life of me I couldn’t find any rendition of oplo* anywhere. And then, after a rapier class where we were all poking around in the book to look at cool stuff, I just happened to flip to the page where Figueireido explains the word and why he invented it. For those of you who want the tl;dr version, the idea is this: sophia is what we’re familiar with — knowledge, wisdom. Oplon appears in words like hoplite and panoply. It means arms. Literally, oplosophia is the wisdom and knowledge of arms. It’s a bit of a shame the word never caught on, ’cause I think it’s actually really cool.

Look at that. Hoplite and panoply.

Look at that. Hoplite and panoply. From etymonline.com

UChiLibWoodhouseEngGreekDictWeaponAcc12May2016

Sure enough, there it is. Oplon, opla. This assumes you can read Greek letters. I can, but only barely. From the Woodhouse Classical Greek reference (click on image for link).

Now, because my main non-English language is Spanish, I took the Middle Portuguese of the original text and shifted it into relatively modern Spanish. After that, I shifted it into relatively modern English. It’s important to note that this is a rough translation; if I were to consider publishing this as part of an actual book, there would be at least two more passes on the text, one of them only after I’d finished reading the entire work. But I figured folks might have fun seeing what I’d teased out of it so far. If you want to read the original, I direct you to the link to the title at the top of the post. It’s available from AGEA Editora, you can buy directly from them, and it is a very thoroughly and excellently edited edition. Well worth the purchase.

Modern Spanish translation:

Capítulo Cuatro [Libro Primero]

De la origen del nombre Oplosofía, y del fruto que se ofrece para aprender la Verdadera Destreza. Porque siempre el instrumento principal de las cosas que se enseñe y se trata es el nombre que le ponen y anima mucho a quienes han de aprender alguna ciencia saber las utilidades que de su doctrina se consiguen y consideran, que sería inadvertencia grande no decir (antes de definir esta ciencia) asi la razón porque la intitulo Oplosofía, como callar los ingresos curiosos de ejercer; por la que considerando la impropiedad de nombres que se les pone, y lo mucho que merece ser conocida por alguno que no reniegue su grandeza, me pareció llamarle Oplosofía, valiéndome para mejor autorizar la composición de esta palabra, la unión y fuerza de estas dos nombres Griegos: Oplon, que quiere decir armas, y Sophos, que significa sabio, o sapiente, que juntos forman el Oplosofía y valen lo mismo que la sapiencia o sabiduría de las armas, imitando de esta tipo o modo de los nombres que los Filósofos antiguos acomodaron con tan propia energía a los mejores y más selectas ciencias: Y porque también no se ignoran los provechos que con esta se granjeó, en primer lugar se sabrá que sirven sus ejemplos, reglas, y preceptos de dar perfección a la naturaleza de excluir los movimientos que no son de ningún fruto; y de liquidar con arte los más necesarios para conseguir su verdad; porque con la Verdadera Destreza (en cuya ciencia concordaran a los más nobles y excelentes) se perfecciona las disposiciones, se afinan los perfiles del cuerpo, y se alcanza como se ha de hacer todas las ofensas sin recibirlas, porque hay una luz que muestra los más seguros caminos para dar consecuencia a los efectos[.]

Modern English translation:

Chapter Four [First Book]

On the origin of the name Oplosophy, and what it offers in the learning of the True Skill. Because the principal instrument of those things that teach and treat a given subject is always the name given them, and greatly encourages those who would learn a particular science to know the uses that its doctrine considers and obtains, that it would be greatly inadvisable to not explain (before defining this science) the reason for selecting the name Oplosophy, and obviate those questions that may arise; considering the impropriety of the names applied to this science, and how very much it deserves to be known by a name that does not deny its greatness, it seemed proper to me to call it Oplosophy, availing myself of the union and strength of two Greek words to better compose this name: Oplon, which means arms, and Sophos, which means sage, or wisdom, which together form Oplosophy and mean the same as the wisdom or knowledge or understanding of arms, imitating this style or method of naming that the ancient Philosophers accommodated with proper vigor the best and most select sciences; And because the advantages gained by this name shall not be ignored, firstly it will demonstrate how its examples, rules, and precepts perfect the nature of excluding those movements that bear no fruit; and avail artfully those that are the most necessary to arrive at its truth; because in the True Skill (which science the most noble and excellent seek to attain) the arrangements are perfected, the profiles of the body refined, and the methods for achieving all the offenses without receiving them in kind are reached, because there is a light that shows the safest paths to grant consequence to these effects[.]

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4 Responses to Destreza: On the meaning of Oplosophia

  1. Dugkoz says:

    Thank you SO much for your translation of this passage and your other work on your blog on his use of the cape. It is so great to find more primary Destreza translations and it is exciting to see you working this material out. I have found little to no Figueiredo in English (other than the Montante translation by Meyer and Hick) and seeing it is great. Since you speak Spanish already, I am curious why you chose his work in Portuguese instead of working through one of the Spanish pieces by Pacheco or Mendoza that Agea has on their site. Is there a particular technique or element of his style that made you want to work his material out? It is awesome that you are taking the time to do this.

    Thank you again,

    Doug or Doroga Voronin in the SCA

    As a side note I run a Destreza Resouce list here:http://blackbirdsandblades.blogspot.com/2015/10/la-verdadera-destreza-resource-list.html

    Would you mind if I linked your work on my blog in a future update?

    • Lois says:

      Hello, Doug! Thank you so much for your kind words. I chose Figueiredo because there’s not much material in English on or by him, and I wanted to change that, even a little. Fortunately, 16th century Portuguese is close enough to Spanish that I can (with some reference websites open at the ready) press my way through the text and feel reasonably sure that I’ve at least got the gist.

      I’m intrigued by his historical context. If I understand correctly, he was finishing off this manuscript right around the time Portugal split from Spain, which meant Destreza became unpopular, and his work was relegated to the back shelves (this story may be apocryphal). He’s a bit off the beaten path, and in some ways unaffected by more mainstream Destreza influences, so it’s fascinating to see what he feels is important, and what approaches he takes when talking about the Wisdom of Arms. And he coined Oplosophy. It’s such a great word, even if it’s a little awkward looking!

      I’ve seen your resource list come up in my searches from time to time! I’d be honored if you included my site. I think you can link directly to the Destreza category page, if that seems the most efficient choice.

      Again, thank you for your kind words, and I hope to keep putting more materials up here as time goes on! Rapier and buckler may be next.

      Take care!

  2. Jim Lai says:

    Very interesting stuff! I have never seen the cloak used with Destreza before though I can see how it would work. Do you think the source refers to a full length heavy cloak or a shorter half cape sort of thing?

    • Lois says:

      Hi, Jim, and apologies for the delay in response — I’m still recovering from a 4-day word event.

      We’re pretty sure the cape is the capa española, which is a very specific garment and not at all like the shorter French or Italian capes of the 17th-19th centuries. The first clue we have regarding this is Figueiredo’s specific demand to not turn the cape more than once around the arm, to preserve a significant amount of hanging fabric to aid in defense. The next clue we have comes from the Esquilache Riots. In 1766, only 7 year after Charles III was crowned in Spain, one of Charles’ ministers enacted a number of laws to try to “modernize” Madrid. One of these acts specifically demanded that the Madrileños cut their long capes and fold their wide-brimmed hats into tricorners, like the contemporary French style.

      Francisco Goya painted El Paseo por Andalucía (Warning! Page is in Spanish! But do check out the painting) in 1777, eleven years after the riots, which goes to show the Spaniards were absolutely NOT interested in abandoning their unique cape (that to other Europeans made them look villainous and untrustworthy). Note the gentleman seated on the left — wide-brimmed hat, and a very long cape.

      Even today there’s an official association for the capa española! In fact, the 18th annual National (Spanish) Convention of the Friends of the Cape is happening in mid-November in Cantabria.

      So I feel it’s reasonable to say that the Spanish cape has been around for a significant amount of time (preceding the 1700s, easily), and is strongly considered an iconic item of Spanish clothing. With that in mind, I believe no self-respecting diestro would be caught dead with a tiny little non-Spanish cape…

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