I watched the Washington Capitals beat the New York Rangers yesterday. We were discussing the all important hockey fight. Since my husband and I are relatively new hockey “fans,” a fellow watcher explained the apparent lack of fights in the playoffs. I was struck by the image of a player throwing his gloves down, and that the other player would accept this fight by throwing down his own.
It’s a really interesting continuation of the medieval practice of throwing down the gauntlet. It got me to thinking about the history of dueling and the rituals associated with those duels.
The Art of Manliness beat me to this history. Here’s a link to their article.
It was really the gloves that I was most interested in. Again, this particular throwing the gauntlet dates to the Middle Ages, when a King’s Champion would be chosen to duel for the king. Gauntlets are protective gloves (of which there are a wide variety of styles). This is part of a more ancient practice of a champion fighting in single combat. Two of the most well known single combats are David and Goliath and Achilles versus everyone else. There’s not actually a whole lot of glove slapping. You may do that, but mostly after someone has already challenged you by throwing down their own gloves.
Chris Hutcheson and Brett McKay at artofmanliness.com write,
Despite our romanticized notion of duels as being fought only over the most grievous of disputes, duels could often arise from matters most trivial-telling another man he smelled like a goat or spilling ink on a chap’s new vest. But they were not spontaneous affairs in which an insult was given and the parties marched immediately outside to do battle (in fact, striking another gentleman made you a social pariah). A duel had to be conducted calmly and coolly to be dignified, and the preliminaries could take weeks or months; a letter requesting an apology would be sent, more letters would be exchanged, and if peaceful resolution could not be reached, plans for the duel would commence.
Fans of Captain Malcolm Reynolds will appreciate the fact that the punch to the face of Atherton couldn’t have made Mal more of a social pariah than he already was. But a man has got to have a code, right. And that, my friends is what the art of the duel is all about. Protecting one’s honor.
And another story I (re)heard this week that includes a duel: Tycho Brahe and his nose. Brahe was not a Copernican, but was probably the greatest collector of astronomical data during his life, 1546 to 1601. His data would later be used by Johannes Kepler to help prove the mathematical legitimacy of the Copernican model (that’s the heliocentric or sun-centered model of the universe). Apparently while at university, Brahe had a serious disagreement of a “mathematical” nature. The resulting duel took off a rather significant amount of Tycho’s nose. Not many people can say that they lost their nose for math. So there’s that.
In conclusion, thank you hockey players for reminding us why throwing down the gauntlet is a part of our civilizing process that we should not forget. It’s been a mighty fine shindig.