My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inscriptions on Blades

There was an article in the New York Times on May 29, 1881, on inscriptions on sword and knife blades. It mentions several that have appeared in earlier posts at this blog, as well as a few new ones.
Inscriptions on Swords
In the Dresden Museum a sword bears, in an antiquated German, the tenderly swaggering advice: "Conrad, dear Schenk, remember me. Do not let Winterstetten the Brave leave one helm uncleft." The sword of Hugues de Chateaubriand flashed in the sunlight the noble motto won by his ancestor in the fight at Bouvines, "Mon sang teint les bannières de France" [My blood tints the banners of France]. In the Erbach collection is an old Ferrara blade, with the sage advice, "My value varies with the hand that holds me." A sword in the Paris Cabinet de Médailles is reverently inscribed, "There is no conqueror but God." The rapiers of Toledo were engraved in the hundreds with the wise council, "Do not draw me without reason, do not sheathe me without honor." The invocations of saints are very frequent, and so are the prayers, like "Do not abandon me, O faithful God," which is on a German sword in the Az collection at Linz; and ejaculations, like the Arabic,"With the help of Allah I hope to kill my enemy." There are vaunting mottoes, like the Spanish, "When this viper stings, there is no cure in the doctor's shop"; and pompous pronouncements, like the Sicilian, "I come"; and critical observations, like the Hungarian, "He that thinks not as I do thinks falsely"; and matter-of-fact declarations like "When I go up you go down," (only that is on an axe). This cutler poetry, as Shakespeare called it, presents itself all over Europe, in all languages, mixed up with the maker's address or the owner's arms. And so, if you go to Toledo now and buy a dozen blades for presentation to your friends at home, you have their names engraved upon the steel, with some sonorous Castillian phrase of friendship and gift-offering.
Of these, my favorite is "My value varies with the hand that holds me." However, it's hard to beat the inscription swordsmith Maestro Paul MacDonald reports having seen on a dirk in the National Museum of Scotland: "If yew would have me - then kiss my maisters arse and tak me."

By the way, the reference to "cutler poetry" comes from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice:
Gratiano: About a hoop of gold, a paltry ring
That she did give me; whose posy was
For all the world, like cutler's poetry
Upon a knife, Love me, and leave me not.

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