This revival, begun in earnest in the previous century, had reached a high point in Frederick's time: at his Imperial court, translators put a good deal of ancient Greek and Arabic writings into medieval Latin. Michael Scot, astrologer and translator of Aristotle, was his friend and counselor, and Frederick was in a position not only to quote the great Greek, the Prince of Philosophers, but also to find fault with him as a writer about birds. "We discovered," he wrote in The Art of Falconry, "by hard-won experience that the deductions of Aristotle, whom we followed when they appealed to our reason, were not entirely to be relied upon, more particularly in his descriptions of the characters of certain birds.... In his work, the Liber Animalium, we find many quotations from other authors whose statements he did not verify and who, in their turn, were not speaking from experience. Entire conviction of the truth," concluded Frederick, in words which many a sports editor has repeated, with variations, to erring writers through the centuries, "never follows mere hearsay."
Red-bearded, bald and shortsighted, Frederick must have been an enormously dynamic man. The source of his driving energy was passion—not only a passionate dedication to what he believed in, but also a passionate determination to see that it was done right. This is evident in his life as a politician and a soldier (though he was not great as a military leader), and it is obvious in his writings on falconry. He loved the sport, but he felt it was misunderstood. In the very first words of his treatise he speaks of "the many errors made by our predecessors who, when writing on the subject, degraded the noble art of falconry by slavishly copying the misleading and often insufficient statements to be found in the works of certain hackneyed authors. With the object of bequeathing it to posterity we now offer a true and careful account of these matters between the covers of this monograph."
Having thus denounced all available writings on his favorite subject, Frederick then candidly set forth his own credentials: "We have investigated and studied with the greatest solicitude and in minute detail all that relates to this art, exercising both mind and body so that we might eventually be qualified to describe and interpret the fruits of knowledge acquired from our own experiences or gleaned from others. For example, we, at great expense, summoned from the four quarters of the earth masters in the practice of the art of falconry. We entertained these experts in our own domains, meantime seeking their opinions, weighing the importance of their knowledge, and endeavoring to retain in memory the more valuable of their words and deeds."
Why all this incredible effort and expense? To understand this is to understand what sport has really meant to men for centuries, even millenniums: not a spectacle, not an adventure, not a means of relaxation and change from daily routine and toil, but an integral part of life. No one has yet succeeded in defining this adequately; perhaps it is beyond definition. Frederick, too, sought to define that meaning. "The pursuit of falconry," he wrote, "enables nobles and rulers, disturbed and worried by the cares of state, to find relief in the pleasures of the chase. The poor, as well as the less noble, by following this avocation, may earn some of the necessities of life; and both classes will find in bird life attractive manifestations of the processes of nature. The whole subject of falconry falls within the realm of natural science, for it deals with the nature of bird life."
But what particularly attracted the Emperor was that falconry has rewards all of its own, inherent in the difficult task of training wild, rapacious birds to do man's will. He scorned hunting by means of nets, snares, bows and arrows, spears and other instruments; he even looked down on hunting animals with other animals such as hounds and leopards. "It is true," he said, "that [these] latter are more popular, because their technique is crude and easier to learn; falconry, on the other hand, is less familiar and does not commend itself to the majority because skill in it is difficult to acquire and because it is more refined.
"Any dabbler in venery," Frederick concluded scornfully, "can readily hold in leash or let loose dogs or other quadrupeds; but in the pursuit of falconry no tyro can so easily join in the chase, either to carry his birds or to throw them off at the quarry. Falcons and other hawks are rendered clumsy or entirely unmanageable if placed under control of an ignorant interloper. By using his hearing and eyesight alone an ignoramus may learn something about other kinds of hunting in a short time; but without an experienced teacher and frequent exercise of the art properly directed no one, noble or ignoble, can hope to gain in a short time an expert or even an ordinary knowledge of falconry."
Clearly, what appealed to Frederick in hunting, besides the passion of the chase, was finesse. Entirely different in all respects except in his dedication to his sport was Gaston de Foix, who wrote, a century later, the celebrated hunting treatise, Livre de Chasse (The Book of Hunting).
Gaston III, Count of Foix and B�arn, was destined from birth to be a man of character and accomplishment. The kings of Aragon, Navarre and England were his kinsmen, and his lineage was studded with the names of famous warriors. His two principalities lay on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, and the castle of Orthez was his stronghold, built by his great-great-grandfather, Gaston VII of B�arn, whose daughter's marriage with Roger Bernard III of Foix united the two formidable houses. The author of Livre de Chasse was, therefore, a prince of considerable standing among the royalty of Europe, and he lived up to it in every way.
He was, for one thing, enormously wealthy. His enthusiastic biographer, Jean Froissart, described his castle as one of the finest royal residences of any Christian land and stated that in a vault below one of its towers was kept a treasure chest containing "one hundred thousand florins thirty times over"—the only way of saying 3 million florins before the word million was invented. It has since been figured out that this amounted to about $8 million. This was more money than any European king could claim to have, and Gaston lived accordingly. Froissart relates that he had 1,600 hounds and, on one occasion, when he met his cousin Edward, the Black Prince, and his bride at Tarbes, Gaston had 600 horses in his train. The festivities at Orthez were legendary in Europe for their lavishness and display, and the castle was understandably high on the list of European aristocracy as a place to be invited to. But not only kings, princes, nobles and ambassadors were guests there; Gaston, too, was a liberal patron of the arts and, while he was not the scholar Frederick was, his court was nonetheless frequented by poets, scientists and artists of the day.
Gaston himself moved about in all this glittering pageantry and wealth with the absolutism of a great feudal lord. As a boy he was strikingly handsome, with a head of golden hair so flamboyant in appearance that he was nicknamed Gaston Phoebus—a name, incidentally, that was also attached to the hunting treatise he later wrote, Livre de Chasse, and is still used interchangeably with its title. From boyhood on, his temper was as flaming as the sun which he took as his emblem. "I was wayward and frivolous," he wrote later, "so that I shamed my parents, and all the world said: this one can never be worth anything; unhappy country of which he will be the ruler." The world was only partly right, for Gaston proved to be a good ruler, but his temper plagued him throughout his life and finally led him into a terrible tragedy, the killing of his only son.