Globe, Latin America, Lifestyle, Ludotheque

The duel…. a matter of honour

Since Biblical times, some modern anthropologists have said that the tragic ending of the brothers Cain and Abel can be interpreted as a metaphor for duelling in the earliest civilisations.


Silvio González


As well as this we have the battle between David and the giant Goliath, that demonstrated what a shepherd, armed with only his slingshot and a simple stone, could achieve when he really aimed for victory, writes Clayton Cramer, in his book “The Duel: Violence and Moral Reform.”

The challenge of the Greek Achilles against the unfortunate Trojan Hector destroyed the morale of the besieged citizens upon seeing their prince beaten.

Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837), the founder of modern Russian literature, was mortally wounded in a duel by the French soldier Georges d’Anthés, who had offended his wife. Prior to this, in his novel in verse entitled “Eugene Onegin”, Pushkin had masterfully described one of the most famous imaginary duels in literature.

Another Russian writer, Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), the author of the well-known novel “Lolita”, tells of the childish horror that he felt during a similar duel faced by his father, even though the offender ended up apologising.

In turn, the prolific Italian author of adventure novels, Emilio Salgari (1862-1911), served six months in prison in 1893 for wounding the journalist Giuseppe Biasioli, who had referred to him contemptuously in an article as “young man”, in a duel.

In 1864 the American writer and humorist Mark Twain (1835-1910) was on the verge of duelling with another reporter that he had offended. The journalist ended up apologising when, during a practice, he was made to think that Twain had shot down a bird in mid-flight. The story was spread by the author’s second and the true perpetrator of the well-aimed shot.

Then there were the noteworthy duels of the Mexican journalist Salvador Díaz Mirón (1853-1928), also a professor at La Habana, who spent four years in prison for fighting with Deputy Juan C. Chapital.

In the twentieth century writers instigated very few incidents of this type, although the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904–1973) and the Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) asserted that the majority of writers still went around well armed and ready to fight.


Duels could take place with either the sword typical of the European duel or (from the eighteenth century onwards) with guns.

Because of this, handmade holsters for duelling guns were made for the richest of the rich to use.

Whoever was hit with a glove was obliged to accept the challenge or he would be dishonoured as a gentleman, according to the account of the author Joanne B. Freeman in her book “Affairs of Honor”. Each side of the dispute must choose a trustworthy representative or second that would agree the site of the combat and accompany them. The main criteria in choosing the location being that it must be isolated, to prevent interruptions or spectators.

At the choice of the offended party, the duel could be: to first blood, where it ended as soon as one of the duellists was injured, even if the wound was minor, explains Robert Baldick in his article ‘The Duel; a History’.

The second option was until one of the opponents was badly wounded, in such a way that they found themselves unable to continue.

The third option was to the death, in which case there would be no satisfaction until one opponent perished.

In the case of gun duels, each opponent could fire one shot. Even if no one managed to hit their target and if the challenger considered himself satisfied, the duel could be declared over. However, a gun duel could also continue until one of the duellists was injured or dead, but an exchange of more than three shots was considered ridiculous because of the opponents’ inability to hit their target.

For a gun duel, both sides must start back to back with their loaded weapons in their hands and then they must walk a predetermined number of steps, turn back to their opponent and shoot.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) saw duels as riddled with useless violence, and George Washington (1732-1799) recommended to his officers during the American War of Independence that they should be banned.

Painful curiosity

They say that in 1808 two French gentlemen were duelling in hot air balloons over Paris. Each one tried to puncture his opponent’s balloon until one of them was shot down and died in the fall, along with his second.

Out of curiosity, when asked about their choice of weapon, the participants of some duels decided to opt for deliberately absurd objects such as mortars, sledgehammers and forks. PL.

(Translated by Donna Davison – Email:

Share it / Compartir:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *