Ancient and modern methods of arrow-release.
Part 14 of 17
In regard to the release practiced by the various tribes in India, I have no information.
Through the courtesy of the lamented James Fergus-son, I was permitted to examine his large collection of photographs of Indian Temples; and in a brief examination of these pictures I discovered a few releases in the sculptures. In the Peroor Temple near Coimbatore, an eight-armed God is represented as holding upright, between the first and second fingers of the right hand, an arrow. It is impossible to conjecture the form of release in this attitude ; though, if the arrow were carried to the string in this position, the Mediterranean release would be suggested.
On the southwest face of the temple of Halabeed, Mysore, an archer is shown with the arrow already released; the attitude of the hand, however, suggests the Mediterranean form. In the Valconda, a small, ruined temple near Calamapoor, archers are shown having the tips of all the fingers on the string, in the same position as shown in the later Assyrian release; and this would indicate the secondary release.
These data are altogether too few and vague to determine the form or forms of release of these people. Concerning ancient methods of archery in America, but little can be said. Probably the most reliable data are to be found in the few Mexican records which survived the shocking desecration by the Catholic Church at the time of the Conquest.
An examination of the plates of Kingsborough's "Mexican Antiquities" reveals a number of hunters and warriors armed with bows and arrows. The figures at best are somewhat rudely drawn; those that are in action have the shaft-hand so poorly drawn that in most cases it is difficult to make out the release. In, the few drawings in which the attitude of the shaft-hand is clearly shown, the tertiary release is probably indicated.
To Mrs. Zelia Nuttall Pinart I am indebted for tracings of archers from the Atlas Duran, Plate I., and Mappe Quinatzin I, Plate IV. These, though quite as ambiguous as those to be found in Kingsborough's can only be interpreted as representing the tertiary release. In the latter work, Plates 90 and 93 of Vol. II. show apparently a Mediterranean release; and were there no other reasons for believing that these people practiced the tertian release, it might be assumed that the Mediterranean release was also practiced. The reasons are, first, that in every case the arrow is pulled to the breast or even lower; and, second, and of more importance, in every instance when the archer is shown with the right hand toward the observer, the arrow is below the bow-hand, whereas in every ease when the archer is shown with the left hand towards the observer, the arrow is above the bow-hand. The bow is represented vertically, as in all rude and early figures ; but the artist, not being able to represent the bow foreshortened and horizontal, has unconsciously indicated the attitude of the tertiary release by preserving the attitude of the bow in relation to the hand.
We have seen that the Mediterranean release has two forms, in one of which three fingers are brought into action; in the other only two fingers are so used. English authorities say that if one can accustom himself to draw the bow with two fingers, a better release is the result. While the difference between these two forms seems slight, as indeed it is yet the practice to-day among European and American archers is to draw with three fingers. It was evidently not so universally the form in Europe a few centuries ago; for at this time, judging from the few examples we have seen, the archers are almost always depicted drawing with two fingers. It is true, the directions in the works of these early times as well as allusion to the subject state that three fingers on the string is the proper method of release. Yet the lew sculptures, ivory carvings, etchings, manuscripts, drawings, etc., to which we have had access, almost invariably depict the two-fingered release.
It would be interesting to know whether the bow has become stiffer in later years, requiring three fingers to bend it, or whether (as more probable) the fingers have become weaker, thus requiring more fingers to do the work.
It is interesting to find in these early works a uniformity in the method of release employed, and that the Saxon, Norman, Fleming, French, English, Scandinavian, and Italian practiced essentially the same release.
Hansard says (see the "Book of Archery," p. 77), "All representations of archers which occur in illuminated manuscripts of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries - and I have examined some scores of them - identify the ancient with the modern practice. The pen-and-ink drawings of John de Rous, a bowman as well as contemporary biographer of that Earl of Warwick who, during the Wars of the Red and White Roses, was the setter up and destroyer of many kings, will furnish amusement and information to the curious. The necessary slight inclination of the head and neck -' this laying of the body in the bow,' the drawing with two and with three lingers-are there correctly delineated. They may be found among the manuscripts in the British Museum."