arranged engagement in combat between two individuals
(Redirected from Dueling)

Duels are arranged engagements in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules. They were chiefly practiced in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period (19th to early 20th centuries) especially among military officers. During the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier), duels were mostly fought with swords (the rapier, later the smallsword, and finally the French foil), but beginning in the late 18th century and during the 19th century, duels were more commonly fought using pistols, but fencing and pistol duels continued to co-exist throughout the 19th century. The code of the honorable duel surrounded the notion of honor. Duels were fought not so much to kill the opponent as to gain "satisfaction", that is, to restore one's honor by demonstrating a willingness to risk one's life for it, and as such the tradition of dueling was reserved to the male members of nobility, in the modern era extended to those of the upper classes more generally. From the early 17th century duels were often illegal in Europe, though in most societies where dueling was socially accepted, participants in a fair duel were not prosecuted, or if they were, not convicted.

It has a strange, quick jar upon the ear,
That cocking of a pistol, when you know
A moment more will bring the sight to bear
Upon your person, twelve yards off or so. ~ Lord Byron
Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest. ~ Samuel Johnson


  • It has a strange, quick jar upon the ear,
    That cocking of a pistol, when you know
    A moment more will bring the sight to bear
    Upon your person, twelve yards off or so.
  • With epigrams of spite and daring
    It's pleasant to provoke a foe;
    It's pleasant when you see him staring -
    His stubborn, thrusting horns held low -
    Unwillingly within the mirror,
    Ashamed to see himself the clearer;
    More pleasant yet, my friends, if he
    Shrieks out in stupid shock: that's me!
    Still pleasanter is mute insistence
    On granting him his resting place
    By shooting at his pallid face
    From some quite gentlemanly distance.
    But once you've had your fatal fun,
    You won't be pleased to see it done.
  • The custom of a duel appears among civilization as a symbol of the fact that a person can and should, in certain cases, sacrifice his most precious good - life - for things that have no meaning and meaning from a materialistic point of view: for faith, homeland, and honor. That is why this custom cannot be compromised. It has the same basis as war.
    • Włodzimierz Spasowicz (1829-1906), Russian-Polish lawyer, publicist, and public figure[1]
  • Well, you see, I'll tell you the whole secret of dueling in two words. If you are going to fight a duel, and you make a will and write affectionate letters to your parents, and if you think you may be killed, you are a fool and are lost for certain. But go with the firm intention of killing your man as quickly and surely as possible, and then all will be right, as our bear huntsman at Kostroma used to tell me. 'Everyone fears a bear,' he says, 'but when you see one your fear's all gone, and your only thought is not to let him get away!' And that's how it is with me. A demain, mon cher.
  • Popova: Do you think I'm afraid of you just because you have large fists and a bull's throat? Eh? You Bourbon!
Smirnov: We'll fight it out! I'm not going to be insulted by anybody, and I don't care if you are a woman, one of the "softer sex," indeed!
Popova: [Trying to interrupt him] Bear! Bear! Bear!
Smirnov: It's about time we got rid of the prejudice that only men need pay for their insults. Devil take it, if you want equality of rights you can have it. We're going to fight it out!
Popova: With pistols? Very well!
Smirnov: This very minute.
Popova: This very minute! My husband had some pistols.... I'll bring them here. [Is going, but turns back] What pleasure it will give me to put a bullet into your thick head! Devil take you! [Exit.]
Smirnov: I'll bring her down like a chicken! I'm not a little boy or a sentimental puppy; I don't care about this "softer sex."
Luka: Gracious fathers!... [Kneels] Have pity on a poor old man, and go away from here! You've frightened her to death, and now you want to shoot her!
Smirnov: [Not hearing him] If she fights, well that's equality of rights, emancipation, and all that! Here the sexes are equal! I'll shoot her on principle! But what a woman! [Parodying her] "Devil take you! I'll put a bullet into your thick head." Eh? How she reddened, how her cheeks shone!... She accepted my challenge! My word, it's the first time in my life that I've seen...
Luka: Go away, sir, and I'll always pray to God for you!
Smirnov: She is a woman! That's the sort I can understand! A real woman! Not a sour-faced jellybag, but fire, gunpowder, a rocket! I'm even sorry to have to kill her!
Luka: [Weeps] Dear... dear sir, do go away!
Smirnov: I absolutely like her! Absolutely! Even though her cheeks are dimpled, I like her! I'm almost ready to let the debt go... and I'm not angry any longer.... Wonderful woman!
[Enter Popova with pistols.]
Popova: Here are the pistols.... But before we fight you must show me how to fire. I've never held a pistol in my hands before.
  • Twice two’s four, and a stone’s a stone. Here to-morrow we have a duel. You and I will say it’s stupid and absurd, that the duel is out of date, that there is no real difference between the aristocratic duel and the drunken brawl in the pot-house, and yet we shall not stop, we shall go there and fight. So there is some force stronger than our reasoning.
  • Dueling was very much a public matter. Insults, and the challenges to duel that followed, traveled via newspaper editorials, word of mouth and plain old gossip. They also reached a widespread public with "postings" at street corners and taverns.
    Few men could resist such a public challenge. Even Abraham Lincoln was called to duel: he had referred to one man as a "smelly, foolish liar" in a newspaper editorial. Lincoln chose swords over pistols, in the hope that his long arms would offer an advantage. He eventually apologized and avoided the duel altogether.
    Newspapers at the time were factionalized and expressed very distinct viewpoints. Editors were constantly being challenged and were known to carry sidearms at all times—even in the office—in case an irate reader should wish to dispute an editorial.
  • Ippolit Matveyevich entered the room in slightly better spirits. "Unheard-of impudence," he exclaimed angrily. "I could hardly control myself."
    "Dear, dear," sympathized Ostap. "What has the modern youth come to? Terrible young people! Chase after other people's wives. Spend other people's money. Complete decadence. But tell me, does it really hurt when they hit you on the head? "
    "I'll challenge him to a duel!"
    "Fine! I can recommend a good friend of mine. He knows the duelling code by heart and has two brooms quite suitable for a struggle to the death. You can have Ivanopulo and his neighbour on the right as seconds. He's an ex-honorary citizen of the city of Kologriv and still even brags about the title. Or you can have a duel with mincing-machines — it's more elegant. Each wound is definitely fatal. The wounded adversary is automatically turned into a meat ball. How do you like the idea, Marshal?"
  • A duel is a form of combat between two people that occurs according to established rules with the goal of restoring honor and removing from the offended party the stain of shame inflicted by an insult. Thus the role of the duel is socially symbolic. It represents a specific procedure for the restoration of honor and cannot be understood without clearly contextualizing the concept of honor in the broader ethical system of the Russian Europeanized post-Petrine nobility. Of course, when seen from a principled position that rejects this understanding of honor, the duel loses its meaning and becomes ritualized murder. The Russian nobleman of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries lived and operated under the influence of two contradictory regulators of social behavior. As a loyal subject and servant of the state, he abided by the tsars' commands. Fear of the punishment awaiting the disobedient served as a psychological motivation for submission. Simultaneously as a member of the nobility and part of the social estate that was both a socially dominant corporation and the cultural elite, he abided by a code of honor. The psychological motivation for submission here was shame. The ideal that noble culture created for itself demanded a total rejection of fear and regarded honor as the primary determinant of conduct. Hence activities demonstrating fearlessness gained social significance. So, if the "regulated state" of Peter I viewed noblemen's conduct at war as a service benefitting the state and noblemen's bravery only as a means for achieving this goal, then from the perspective of honor, bravery turned into an end in itself. This became particularly evident in duels: danger and coming face to face with death became the purifying means for removing an offense.
  • Some fiery fop, with new commission vain,
    Who sleeps on brambles till he kills his man;
    Some frolic drunkard, reeling from a feast,
    Provokes a broil, and stabs you for a jest.
  • Nor was Hamilton the only American statesman to be drawn into a duel. Henry Clay fought in one, and James Monroe thought the better of challenging John Adams only because Adams was president at the time. Among the other faces on American currency, Andrew Jackson, immortalized on the twenty-dollar bill, carried bullets from so many duels that he claimed to “rattle like a bag of marbles” when he walked. Even the Great Emancipator on the five-dollar bill, Abraham Lincoln, accepted a challenge to fight a duel, though he set the conditions to ensure that it would not be consummated. Formal dueling was not, of course, an American invention. It emerged during the Renaissance as a measure to curtail assassinations, vendettas, and street brawls among aristocrats and their retinues. When one man felt that his honor had been impugned, he could challenge the other to a duel and cap the violence at a single death, with no hard feelings among the defeated man’s clan or entourage. But as the essayist Arthur Krystal observes, “The gentry . . . took honor so seriously that just about every offense became an offense against honor. Two Englishmen dueled because their dogs had fought. Two Italian gentlemen fell out over the respective merits of Tasso and Ariosto, an argument that ended when one combatant, mortally wounded, admitted that he had not read the poet he was championing. And Byron’s great-uncle William, the fifth Baron Byron, killed a man after disagreeing about whose property furnished more game.”
  • Dueling persisted in the 18th and 19th centuries, despite denunciations by the church and prohibitions by many governments. Samuel Johnson defended the custom, writing, “A man may shoot the man who invades his character, as he may shoot him who attempts to break into his house.” Dueling sucked in such luminaries as Voltaire, Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington, Robert Peel, Tolstoy, Pushkin, and the mathematician Évariste Galois, the last two fatally. The buildup, climax, and denouement of a duel were made to order for fiction writers, and the dramatic possibilities were put to use by Sir Walter Scott, Dumas, père de Maupassant, Conrad, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov, and Thomas Mann. The career of dueling showcases a puzzling phenomenon we will often encounter: a category of violence can be embedded in a civilization for centuries and then vanish into thin air. When gentlemen agreed to a duel, they were fighting not for money or land or even women but for honor, the strange commodity that exists because everyone believes that everyone else believes that it exists. Honor is a bubble that can be inflated by some parts of human nature, such as the drive for prestige and the entrenchment of norms, and popped by others, such as a sense of humor. The institution of formal dueling petered out in the English-speaking world by the middle of the 19th century, and in the rest of Europe in the following decades. Historians have noted that the institution was buried not so much by legal bans or moral disapproval as by ridicule. When “solemn gentlemen went to the field of honor only to be laughed at by the younger generation, that was more than any custom, no matter how sanctified by tradition, could endure.” Today the expression “Take ten paces, turn, and fire” is more likely to call to mind Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam than “men of honor.”
  • My knowledge of pain, learned with the sabre, taught me not to be afraid. And just as in dueling when you must concentrate on your enemy's cheek, so, too, in war. You cannot waste time on feinting and sidestepping. You must decide on your target and go in.
    • Otto Skorzeny, comparing his dueling days with commando tactics, as quoted in Skorzeny (1972) by Charles Whiting, p. 17.
Wikipedia has an article about: