I’m always seeking to prove my belief that our ancestors were far more astute and prescient than we realize or sometimes want to admit. Here’s another perfect example. Hans Talhoffer was a 15th century Danish fencing master, best known for his “Fechtbuch (Fight Book”) published in 1459. Fencing was the martial art of Renaissance Europe; a display of sportsmanship and athletic superiority. But apparently, Talhoffer was as forward-thinking as many of his contemporaries, such as Leonardo da Vinci. He studied a variety of disciplines: botany, chemistry, astronomy and – underwater technology.
The same year he first published “Fechtbuch,” Talhoffer apparently also dabbled in the possibility of diving with the help of a mechanical apparatus. Most of Talhoffer’s works were kept by Count Otto Thott, a Danish prime minister who left his vast collection of rare manuscripts to the Royal Library of Denmark upon his death in 1785. These three drawings show crudely-designed equipment that would allow for extensive submersion in water; a probability as unlikely in the 1400s as human flight. Whether Talhoffer ever constructed and tested such devices, or what material he would have used, is unknown. But, it demonstrates the kind of ingenuity that only ambitious dreamers possess.
Drawings courtesy Royal Library of Denmark.