1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bull-fighting

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BULL-FIGHTING, the national Spanish sport. The Spanish name is tauromaquia (Gr. ταῦρος, bull, and μαχή, combat). Combats with bulls were common in ancient Thessaly as well as in the amphitheatres of imperial Rome, but probably partook more of the nature of worrying than fighting, like the bull-baiting formerly common in England. The Moors of Africa also possessed a sport of this kind, and it is probable that they introduced it into Andalusia when they conquered that province. It is certain that they held bull-fights in the half-ruined Roman amphitheatres of Merida, Cordova, Tarragona, Toledo and other places, and that these constituted the favourite sport of the Moorish chieftains. Although patriotic tradition names the great Cid himself as the original Spanish bull-fighter, it is probable that the first Spaniard to kill a bull in the arena was Don Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, who about 1040, employing the lance, which remained for centuries the chief weapon used in the sport, proved himself superior to the flower of the Moorish knights. A spirited rivalry in the art between the Christian and Moorish warriors resulted, in which even the kings of Castile and other Spanish princes took an ardent interest. After the Moors were driven from Spain by Ferdinand II., bull-fighting continued to be the favourite sport of the aristocracy, the method of fighting being on horseback with the lance. At the time of the accession of the house of Austria it had become an indispensable accessory of every court function, and Charles V. ensured his popularity with the people by killing a bull with his own lance on the birthday of his son, Philip II. Philip IV. is also known to have taken a personal part in bull-fights. During this period the lance was discarded in favour of the short spear (rejoncillo), and the leg armour still worn by the picadores was introduced. The accession of the house of Bourbon witnessed a radical transformation in the character of the bullfight, which the aristocracy began gradually to neglect, admitting to the combats professional subordinates who, by the end of the 17th century, had become the only active participants in the bull-ring. The first great professional espada (i.e. swordsman, the chief bull-fighter, who actually kills the bull) was Francisco Romero, of Ronda in Andalusia (about 1700), who introduced the estoque, the sword still used to kill the bull, and the muleta, the red flag carried by the espada (see below), the spear falling into complete disuse.

For the past two centuries the art of bull-fighting has developed gradually into the spectacle of to-day. Imitations of the Spanish bull-fights have been repeatedly introduced into France and Italy, but the cruelty of the sport has prevented its taking firm root. In Portugal a kind of bull-baiting is practised, in which neither man nor beast is much hurt, the bulls having their horns truncated and padded and never being killed. In Spain many vain attempts have been made to abolish the sport, by Ferdinand II. himself, instigated by his wife Isabella, by Charles III., by Ferdinand VI., and by Charles IV.; and several popes placed its devotees under the ban of excommunication with no perceptible effect upon its popularity. Before the introduction of railways there were comparatively few bull-rings (plazas de toros) in Spain, but these have largely multiplied in recent years, in both Spain and Spanish America. At the present day nearly every larger town and city in Spain has its plaza de toros (about 225 altogether), built in the form of the Roman circuses with an oval open arena covered with sand, surrounded by a stout fence about 6 ft. high. Between this and the seats of the spectators is a narrow passage-way, where those bull-fighters who are not at the moment engaged take their stations. The plazas de toros are of all sizes, from that of Madrid, which holds more than 12,000 spectators, down to those seating only two or three thousand. Every bull-ring has its hospital for the wounded, and its chapel where the toreros (bull-fighters) receive the Holy Eucharist.

The bulls used for fighting are invariably of well-known lineage and are reared in special establishments (vacádas), the most celebrated of which is now that of the duke of Veragua in Andalusia. When quite young they are branded with the emblems of their owners, and later are put to a test of their courage, only those that show a fighting spirit being trained further. When full grown, the health, colour, weight, character of horns, and action in attack are all objects of the keenest observation and study. The best bulls are worth from £40 to £60. About 1300 bulls are killed annually in Spain. Bull-fighters proper, most of whom are Andalusians, consist of espadas (or matadores), banderilleros and picadores, in addition to whom there are numbers of assistants (chulos), drivers and other servants. For each bull-fight two or three espadas are engaged, each providing his own quadrille (cuadrilla), composed of several banderilleros and picadores. Six bulls are usually killed during one corrida (bull-fight), the espadas engaged taking them in turn. The espada must have passed through a trying novitiate in the art at the royal school of bull-fighting, after which he is given his alternativa, or licence.

The bull-fight begins with a grand entry of all the bull-fighters with alguaciles, municipal officers in ancient costume, at the head, followed, in three rows, by the espadas, banderilleros, picadores, chulos and the richly caparisoned triple mule-team used to drag from the arena the carcasses of the slain bulls and horses. The greatest possible brilliance of costume and accoutrements is aimed at, and the picture presented is one of dazzling colour. The espadas and banderilleros wear short jackets and small-clothes of satin richly embroidered in gold and silver, with light silk stockings and heelless shoes; the picadores (pikemen on horseback) usually wear yellow, and their legs are enclosed in steel armour covered with leather as a protection against the horns of the bull.

The fight is divided into three divisions (suertes). When the opening procession has passed round the arena the president of the corrida, usually some person of rank, throws down to one of the alguaciles the key to the toril, or bull-cells. As soon as the supernumeraries have left the ring, and the picadores, mounted upon blindfolded horses in wretched condition, have taken their places against the barrier, the door of the toril is opened, and the bull, which has been goaded into fury by the affixing to his shoulder of an iron pin with streamers of the colours of his breeder attached, enters the ring. Then begins the suerte de picar, or division of lancing. The bull at once attacks the mounted picadores, ripping up and wounding the horses, often to the point of complete disembowelment. As the bull attacks the horse, the picador, who is armed with a short-pointed, stout pike (garrocha), thrusts this into the bull's back with all his force, with the usual result that the bull turns its attention to another picador. Not infrequently, however, the rush of the bull and the blow dealt to the horse is of such force as to overthrow both animal and rider, but the latter is usually rescued from danger by the chulos and banderilleros, who, by means of their red cloaks (capas), divert the bull from the fallen picador, who either escapes from the ring or mounts a fresh horse. The number of horses killed in this manner is one of the chief features of the fight, a bull's prowess being reckoned accordingly. About 6000 horses are killed every year in Spain. At the sound of a trumpet the picadores retire from the ring, the dead horses are dragged out, and the second division of the fight, the suerte de banderillear, or planting the darts, begins. The banderillas are barbed darts about 18 in. long, ornamented with coloured paper, one being held in each hand of the bull-fighter, who, standing 20 or 30 yds. from the bull, draws its attention to him by means of violent gestures. As the bull charges, the banderillero steps towards him, dexterously plants both darts in the beast's neck, and draws aside in the nick of time to avoid its horns. Four pairs of banderillas are planted in this way, rendering the bull mad with rage and pain. Should the animal prove of a cowardly nature and refuse to attack repeatedly, banderillas de fuego (fire) are used. These are furnished with fulminating crackers, which explode with terrific noise as the bull careers about the ring. During this division numerous manœuvres are sometimes indulged in for the purpose of tiring the bull out, such as leaping between his horns, vaulting over his back with the garrocha as he charges, and inviting his rushes by means of elaborate flauntings of the cloak (floréos, flourishes).

Another trumpet-call gives the signal for the final division of the fight, the suerte de matár (killing). This is carried out by the espada, alone, his assistants being present only in the case of emergency or to get the bull back to the proper part of the ring, should he bolt to a distance. The espada, taking his stand before the box of the president, holds aloft in his left hand sword and muleta and in his right his hat, and in set phrases formally dedicates (brinde) the death of the bull to the president or some other personage of rank, finishing by tossing his hat behind his back and proceeding bareheaded to the work of killing the bull. This is a process accompanied by much formality. The espada, armed with the estoque, a sword with a heavy flat blade, brings the bull into the proper position by means of passes with the muleta, a small red silk flag mounted on a short staff, and then essays to kill him with a single thrust, delivered through the back of the neck close to the head and downward into the heart. This stroke is a most difficult one, requiring long practice as well as great natural dexterity, and very frequently fails of its object, the killing of the bull often requiring repeated thrusts. The stroke (estocada) is usually given á volapié (half running), the espada delivering the thrust while stepping forward, the bull usually standing still. Another method is recibiéndo (receiving), the espada receiving the onset of the bull upon the point of his sword. Should the bull need a coup de grâce, it is given by a chulo, called puntilléro, with a dagger which pierces the spinal marrow. The dead beast is then dragged out of the ring by the triple mule-team, while the espada makes a tour of honour, being acclaimed, in the case of a favourite, with the most extravagant enthusiasm. The ring is then raked over, a second bull is introduced, and the spectacle begins anew. Upon great occasions, such as a coronation, a corrida in the ancient style is given by amateurs, who are clad in gala costumes without armour of any kind, and mounted upon steeds of good breed and condition. They are armed with sharp lances, with which they essay to kill the bull while protecting themselves and their steeds from his horns. As the bulls in these encounters have not been weakened by many wounds and tired out by much running, the performances of the gentlemen fighters are remarkable for pluck and dexterity.

See[edit]

  • Moratin, Origen y Progeso de las Fiestas de Toros.
  • Bedoya's Historia del Toreo.
  • J.S. Lozano, Manual de Tauromaquia (Seville, 1882).
  • A. Chapman and W.T. Buck, Wild Spain (London, 1893).