Dojo Darelir, the School of Xenograg the Sorcerer

Tag: honor

Trial by Combat Was a Legal Privilege

November 28, 2021

Trial by combat was…a legal privilege, the privilege of oathworthy persons to refuse to submit to the ordinary process in a court. The duel over the point of honor was fundamentally different….

The two forms of noble combat certainly did bear some resemblances…. Trial by combat rested on two assumptions…: high-status persons were persons whose word had to be accepted as true, and they had the privilege of settling their disputes through violence. Dueling rested on the same two assumptions, at least to some extent. The starting point for a duel might well be some form of the insult “you lie.” Just as the honorable truthfulness of an oathworthy person was theoretically proved by victory in trial by combat, the honorable truthfulness of the challenger could be proved by a duel. In that sense the purpose of dueling, in its early history, was close to the purpose of trial by combat.

Yet at their core the two institutions were deeply different. Dueling, unlike trial by combat, was not a proof procedure, and it did not symbolize the lawful nonservile privilege of settling one’s disputes without going to court. Trial by combat was an alternative to ordinary trial, used by privileged oathworthy persons to resolve a legal question.… Dueling, by contrast, was purely a contest over the honorability of the duelists…, and apart from the possible criminal liability of the participants, it had no legal consequences whatsoever.

James Q. Whitman, The Verdict of Battle, pp. 150-51

Rarity of the Set-Piece Battle

August 3, 2010

While perhaps the most stunning manifestation of combat and the prominently mentioned events of military history, set-piece engagements…were never quite the norm of war. More often, armed conflict was less dramatic, intermittent, and played out in landscapes not conducive to conventionally marshaled armies and navies, and it involved civilians. We associate the battles of Granicus, Issus, and Guagamela and the fight on the Hydaspes River with the military genius of Alexander the Great, but he spent far more time fighting irregular forces in counterinsurgency efforts throughout the Balkans, the Hindu Kush, and Bactria.

Nevertheless big battles—or so generals dreamed—could sometimes change entire conflicts in a matter of hours, which in turn might alter politics and the fate of millions for decades. It is with history’s rare battle, not the more common dirty war, insurgency, or street fighting, that we typically associate war poetry, commemoration, and, for good or evil, radical changes of fortune and the martial notions of glory and honor. …

Victor Davis Hanson, The Father Of Us All, pp. 106-107

Breeding Ground of Honor

May 5, 2008

The breeding ground of honor [was] the state of semi-anarchy (when it was not complete anarchy) that prevailed in most of the world before the invention of the nation-state in early modern Europe. In such an environment, personal honor and the respect it elicited from others was almost the only instrument of social control, and this was still true to a considerable extent right through the [English] Tudor period. Describing the feud between two grandees in the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, Lawrence Stone writes that “Both in the brutality of their tactics and in their immunity from the law, the nearest parallels to the Earl of Oxford and Sir Thomas Knyvett in the London of Queen Elizabeth are Al Capone and Dion O’Banion, Bugs Moran and Johnny Torrio in the Chicago of the 1920s.” Among such people, honor was a matter of grim necessity, a workaday proposition by which their power and status in the world were measured and on which their very lives depended.

James Bowman, Honor: A History, p. 54

Emphasis mine.

From Jousting for Glory to Dueling for Honor

May 2, 2008

Knights and chivalry faded out. The old orders of knighthood and chevaliers stayed firmly in place, as prestigious men’s clubs tend to do, but the original point of the knight had been as a fighting unit, a kind of mounted tank, impregnable in heavy metal, on a big strong horse, lumbering and clanking onto the field of battle peering through a slit in his helmet and poking his lance at enemies similarly encumbered. The idea was to push the enemy off his horse, since once unhorsed he lay helpless as an overturned turtle, ripe to be captured and held for ransom.

Henry V‘s nimble archers at Agincourt beat them easily. Joan of Arc was particularly outspoken on the subject; she said her heavenly messengers had told her that artillery was the wave of the future and knights in armor just slowed everything down.

Gradually they hung up their lances and breastplates to rust in a shed. By the time Cervantes published Don Quixote in 1605 [C.E.], the foolish knight-errant was an affectionate joke from the past. Knights turned into gentlemen.

Gentlemen, being unemployed by definition, needed an emotional outlet, a bit of excitement, and some way to measure themselves against their peers now that tournaments were gone. Besides, as the feudal powers of the landowners shriveled under stronger centralized monarchies, a gentleman needed to shore up his status and prove he still mattered, he was still privileged, he still carried a sword. He stopped jousting for glory and started dueling for honor.

Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 21-22

Only Gentlemen Had Honor

May 2, 2008

The Italians drew up the earliest dueling codes to protect and enforce honor; Flos duellatorum came out in 1410 [C.E.] and young gentlemen all over Europe studied its delicate ethical matters and the subtle new swordplay more suited to personal encounters than the slash-and-whack of battle. In 1550, Girolamo Muzio’s Il duello succeeded it and was even more popular. Italians opened fencing schools, attended by eager young gentlemen from all over, and sent fencing masters to the rest of Europe. By 1480, Germany had opened dueling schools called Fechtschulen that enjoyed the special protection of the emperor himself and established a tradition beloved by the military and university students well into the twentieth century—some say the twenty-first.

The notion of a gentleman defending his personal honor, the notion that obsessed the Western world for centuries and spilled many gallons of the bluest blood, now seems as remote as the urge to throw virgins down volcanoes. Nobody now cherishes his personal honor or inspects that of others. Short of indictable felonies, nobody cares. We wouldn’t know how to measure it; the concept has vanished. Military valor still lends some luster, though Vietnam cast a shadow on it, and large amounts of money command universal respect, but the word “honor” survives only in a few state documents yellowing under glass. Jefferson was fond of it.

Whatever honor was, only gentlemen had it. Only gentlemen needed to defend it, which made their lives more perilous than those of the lesser beings, who could shrug and laugh off an insult. If a lesser being sent a challenge to a gentleman, the gentleman also could shrug and laugh it off, or send some lackeys to beat the insolent fellow with cudgels.

“Gentleman” has today become a rather idle compliment rarely invoked. It even carries overtones of the sissy, quite the opposite of its old role. Now any upstart lad can spend a couple of days mastering gentlemanly requirements: use the accepted forms of address, hold the door open for a lady, remember to say “please” and “thank you” in social if not in business situations. Use your napkin, not the tablecloth. Don’t bully the waiter. Don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve. Once he’s learned the rules, he’s accepted as a gentleman with no questions asked, but in former times he’d be a scoundrel of the worst order. Aping his betters. Flying false colors.

Manners had nothing to do with it. You could be as rude, surly, and bad-tempered as you liked, beat your wife, rape your servants, strew illegitimate children far and wide, drink and gamble till the cows came home, and let your bills pile up for decades till your tailor and vintner starved, but you were always a gentleman because you were born one, and so was your son. It came down through your family by way of inherited estates and ancient medieval fiefdoms and service to your king. Its privileges were many; its responsibilities were bloody.

Gentlemen’s Blood, pp. 24-26

Emphasis mine.

Dueling and the God of Peer Opinion

May 2, 2008

Despite repeated laws forbidding dueling, to deny a challenge marked one as unworthy. The abbé de Saint-Pierre charged in 1715 [C.E.] that [a military] officer who refused a challenge would “find himself forced by the other officers and by the commander himself to leave the regiment.”

One counts for nothing that an officer would rather pass for a coward…than to commit a mortal sin and a capital crime in formal disobedience of the law and the will of the prince; one counts for nothing that he does not want to risk his safety and the loss of the good graces of his king; he does not fight, therefore he is a coward; he is a coward, therefore he must be driven away.”

The explanation for duels lay much more in the symbolic than in the real, for by their nature, duels were irrational. Ultimately, the aristocracy’s fighting spirit was driven by the individual’s drive to prove himself within the standard of his own class and thus win gloire. The nobility set standards that must be obeyed, or else the individual would lose caste. As one historian of the duel insists, dueling was “another religion.” A duel was a human sacrifice to the god of peer opinion, and so was a battle.

John A. Lynn, Battle, p. 143

Emphasis mine.

Theme of a Warrior Culture

May 2, 2008

‘Warrior’ and ‘hero’ are synonyms, and the main theme of a warrior culture is constructed on two notes—prowess and honour. The one is the hero’s essential attribute, the other his essential aim. Every value, every judgement, every action, all skills and talents have the function of either defining honour or realizing it. Life itself may not stand in the way. The Homeric heroes loved life fiercely, as they did and felt everything with passion, and no less martyr-like characters could be imagined; but even life must surrender to honour. The two central figures of the Iliad, Achilles and Hector, were both fated to live short lives, and both knew it. They were heroes not because at the call of duty they marched proudly to their deaths, singing hymns to God and country—on the contrary, they railed openly against their doom, and Achilles, at least, did not complain less after he reached Hades—but because at the call of honour they obeyed the code of the hero without flinching and without questioning.

M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus, p. 113

Emphasis mine.

Heroic Honor Trophies in Homeric Greece

September 12, 2006

It is in the nature of honour that it must be exclusive, or at least hierarchic. When everyone attains equal honour, then there is no honour for anyone. Of necessity, therefore, the world of Odysseus was fiercely competitive, as each hero strove to outdo the others. And because the heroes were warriors, competition was fiercest where the highest honour was to be won, in individual combat on the field of battle. There a hero’s ultimate worth, the meaning of his life, received its final test in three parts: whom he fought, how he fought, and how he fared…. The Iliad in particular is saturated in blood, a fact which cannot be hidden or argued away, twist the evidence as one may in a vain attempt to fit archaic Greek values to a more gentle code of ethics. The poet and his audience lingered lovingly over every act of slaughter: “Hippolochus darted away, and him too [Agamemnon] smote to the ground; slicing off his hands with the sword and cutting off his neck, he sent him rolling like a round log through the battle-throng.”

…But what must be stressed about Homeric cruelty is its heroic quality, not its specifically Greek character. In the final analysis, how can prepotence be determined except by repeated demonstrations of success? And the one indisputable measure of success is a trophy. While a battle is raging only the poet can observe Agamemnon’s feat of converting Hippolochus into a rolling log. The other heroes are too busy pursuing glory for themselves. But a trophy is lasting evidence, to be displayed at all appropriate occasions. Among more primitive peoples the victim’s head served that honorific purpose; in Homer’s Greece armour replaced heads. That is why time after time, even at great personal peril, the heroes paused from their fighting in order to strip a slain opponent of his armour. In terms of the battle itself such a procedure was worse than absurd, it might jeopardize the whole expedition. It is a mistake in our judgement, however, to see the end of the battle as the goal, for victory without honour was unacceptable; there could be no honour without public proclamation, and there could be no publicity without the evidence of a trophy.

M. I. Finley, The World of Odysseus, pp. 118-19

Emphasis mine.