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Thibault – Introduction

I have in recent weeks began re-reading Academie de l’Espee by Gerard Thibault d’Anvers, for a variety of reasons. Sadly my virtually non-existent French means I am reading the 2005 translation by John Michael Greer. To my surprise and delight, re-reading after having left it alone for several years I find it opening up for me, and it makes much more sense than it did the first few times.

I believe there is value for me personally in taking notes as I go – essentially a gloss on the book – and so I may as well publish those as I go, hence this first of roughly 45 posts about the book. But first, some strong caveats for the reader. The most important is that this is my understanding, opinion and interpretation, and is in no way authorative or even necessarily correct. The second is that I am working from a translation without having sufficient French or easy access to one of the originals to verify the quality of the translation. I’ve heard different opinions about the quality of the translation, but the general consensus from people in the know is that it’s ok.

Since this post takes roughly the position in the book of Greer’s introductory notes, I feel free to make my own introductory comments, starting with a general disagreement with the tenor of Greer’s introduction. In my opinion, Greer focuses way too much on the ‘esoteric’ nature of the book, perpetuating – probably inadvertently – the myth of the mysterious Spanish circle.

I contend that there is very little, if no, estoreric mystery in Thibault’s book. If you consider the philosophical and intellectual spirit of the years in which he was writing it, there is zero surprise that he leans heavily on geometry and briefly relates the geometry of the body to the broader geometry of the universe – if you pick up any scientific or mathematical text of the early 17th Century, you will find this tendency because it was one of the primary threads of scientific theory. Indeed, one way to look at the history of western science through the 17th Century is to see this mapping of earlier less rational thinking onto a mathematical models, followed by a rapid refinement of mathematical technique as it became evident that simple geometry is not good with the messy perceived world.

Indeed, while it is framed by a very particular mode of discourse, I am startled by how clear and unambiguous Thibault really is. I do not think the decision to call the book “The Academy Of The Sword” was taken lightly, it is entirely descriptive: there is a very distinct didactic method, and he aims to take the reader on a journey from novice to competency. That is not to say he is a forgiving teacher. He definitely expects that the student is practicing everything that is in the book, and very seldom states a lesson twice – he expects the reader to retain everything that he wrote in previous chapters. Occasionally he will refer forward to later materials by saying “don’t worry about this, we deal with it later”, and occasionally he will call back to previous points, but in general it appears he expects the student to take on the responsibility of retaining knowledge from one chapter to the next.

I think that it is easy to believe that Thibault’s book is obscure or difficult, because it is a very dense text. There is a good deal of exhaustive detail, coupled with a system which appears to be unusually focussed on very precise situational awareness, and his explanations are inextricably linked to the illustrations in the book. It is this latter point that I feel lets the Chivalry Bookshelf edition down, as many of the illustrations are not well reproduced. However having handled one of the original copies, this is understandable – the original book is huge, and the original engravings are very finely detailed. The reproductions lose detail, sometimes significant detail, and wind up more separated from the text than they were in the original.

So, excuse me for rambling, I will try to be more focused in later posts on this topic and hope to demystify Thibault.

Academy of the Sword
Gerard Thibault d’Anvers, 1630, trans. by John Michael Greer
The Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005
ISBN-13: 978-1-891448-40-9
ISBN-10: 1-891448-40-4