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The Decameron First Day in Perspective

The Decameron First Day in Perspective

Edited by Elissa B. Weaver
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    The Decameron First Day in Perspective
    Book Description:

    Giovanni Boccaccio'sDecameronis the best known and most read work in Italian literature next to Dante'sDivine Comedy. In the tradition ofLectura Dantis, the practice of story-by-story critical readings of Dante's work, Elissa Weaver has collected essays from some of the most prominent American Boccaccio scholars to provide critical readings of theDecameronProem, Introduction, and the ten stories that constitute the first of the ten 'days' of storytelling.

    The first of the twelve essays opens the volume with a consideration of the Proem, demonstrating the importance of Boccaccio's literary subtexts (Ovidian and Dantean) for understanding his poetics. The second essay, on the Introduction, discusses the title of the work and the framing tale. The remaining ten contributions treat in detail each story, examining the literary, ethical, and social concerns embodied in the short narratives and in the context provided by the comments and discussions of the story-tellers, and exploring the intertextual relations within theDecameronand with sources and analogues. This inaugural book in a new series of critical essays on theDecameronwill provide an important guide to reading the complex series of narratives that constitute the opening of theDecameronand will serve as a guide to reading the entire work.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8109-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-11)

    Boccaccio opens theDecameronwith a simile: the painful beginning is like a steep and rugged mountain beyond which lies hidden a beautiful and pleasurable plain; the greater the effort expended on the climb the greater will be the delight of the plain (Intro. §4). The difficult mountain is a reference to the description of the Black Plague that devastated Florence (and much of Europe) in 1348, narrated in great detail in the Introduction; in the delightful plain is figured the escape of the group of Florentines to the refuge of the countryside and the entertaining storytelling that ensues. Yet...

  5. The Decameron Proem
    (pp. 12-28)

    Points of departure are signs that lead to arrivals; finishing anything, we tend to look back to its inception, for only with the sense of the relation of those two events or moments do we feel we come in contact with whatever it is that constitutes wholeness, integrity. Given the fact that beginnings are of undisputed importance, we should be more than a little surprised that BoccaccioʹsProemiois probably the most neglected part of theDecameron. Robbed of wide recognition of its rightful and important place as introduction to the whole by the (justly) closely studiedIntroduzione,¹ it is...

  6. The Place of the Title (Decameron, Day One, Introduction)
    (pp. 29-56)

    The first person to appear on the First Day of theDecameronis ʹlʹ autoreʹ [the author] - if, that is, we consider the Dayʹs rubric to be a part of the Day.

    Comincia la Prima Giornata delDecameron, nella quale dopo la dimostrazione fatta dallʹautore per che cagione avvenisse di doversi quelle persone, che appresso si mostrano, ragunare a ragionare insieme sotto il reggimento di Pampinea si ragiona di quello che più aggrada a ciascheduno. (I Intro. §1)

    [Here begins the First Day of theDecameron, in which - after the authorʹs explanation of why certain persons, who later...

  7. The Stories

    • The Tale of Ser Ciappelletto (I.1)
      (pp. 59-76)

      Poised at the threshold of theDecameron, the figure of Ciappelletto seems excessive and elusive, on the one hand, and endowed with a curious referential power, a kind of anthropological plausibility, on the other. Here is what Stendhal, almost five centuries later, would write of an odious preceptor he had as a child:

      Abbé Raillane was in the strictest sense of the word a sinister rascal [ʹun noir coquinʹ]. It would be hard to find a drier soul, more inimical to all that is honest, more perfectly devoid of any human feeling. He was short, thin, very pinched with a...

    • The Tale of Abraham the Jew (Decameron I.2)
      (pp. 77-88)

      The second novella of theDecameron, the story of ʹGiannotto di Civigniʹ and ʹa Jew named Abraham,ʹ has received little critical attention. According to Mario Baratto, one of the few contemporary scholars to study the novella in some detail, it presents themes and patterns that are hardly new in medieval literature. Baratto summarizes them as ʹthe invective against the corruption of the Roman church ... the typology of the wise and shrewd Jew ... the language of a simple man infused with the power of the Holy Spirit, the manner of his conversion (which proves by contrary logic the presence...

    • The Tale of the Three Rings (I.3)
      (pp. 89-112)

      Boccaccio has come very close, in recent times, to becoming a fashionable writer, or, as the French would say,un auteur à la mode– but only for reasons of a purely intellectual and rather abstract nature - that is, for methodological considerations. TheDecameron, in particular, has provided an exceptionally valuable corpus to narratological inquiry in all its varieties. I do not intend to detract from the importance of the results thus achieved or to minimize the merit of having conferred on Boccaccio studies something of the glamour of the limelight. But my approach will be different. In studying...

    • The Tale of the Monk and His Abbot (I.4)
      (pp. 113-134)

      The fourth tale of the First Day marks a shift in subject matter from the theological casuistry of Ciappelletto, Abraham the Jew, and Melchisedech, to the passions of the flesh.¹ Dioneo introduces his tale by reaffirming the purpose of storytelling as entertainment designed to produce pleasure and delight:

      ʹAmorose donne, se io ho bene la ʹntenzione di tutte compresa, noi siamo qui per dovere a noi medesimi novellando piacere; e per ciò, solamente che contro a questo non si faccia, estimo a ciascuno dovere esser licito (e così ne disse la nostra reina, poco avanti, che fosse) quella novella dire...

    • The Tale of the Marchioness of Monferrato (I.5)
      (pp. 135-147)

      Pampinea, the queen of the day, asks Fiammetta to entertain her congenial audience, and Fiammetta, accepting the invitation, tells her story. Her immediate predecessor has been Dioneo, the daring, thought-provoking, slightly mischievous storyteller, who, beginning on the next day, will be asked to seal the narrative itinerary with a story, the tenth, predictably salacious, often brilliant, and intensely awaited by his eager companions. The interrelationship between the tales of Dioneo and Fiammetta can be seen to form a chiasmus. Dioneoʹs challenge of the First Day is answered by Fiammetta: his is the story of a young monk accused of sexual...

    • The Tale of the Inquisitor (I.6)
      (pp. 148-159)

      It seems a bit odd to undertake to write at length about a three-page tale, especially a tale so apparently simple that very few people have discussed it at all apart from noting that it is one of the First Dayʹs examples of vice.¹ But nothing by Boccaccio is ever as simple as it seems. The vice which this tale exemplifies and mocks has been variously described as hypocrisy or avarice; both are certainly involved. Boccaccioʹs own summary states succinctly: ʹConfonde un valente uomo con un bel detto la malvagia ipocresia deʹ religiosiʹ [A worthy man confounds with a witty...

    • The Tale of Bergamino (I.7)
      (pp. 160-178)

      The seventh story of theDecameronʹs First Day features a man of the court, Bergamino, who in order to counteract the negative effects of a sudden change in his relationship with his lord, Can Grande della Scala, resorts to telling a story about Primas, the glorious forefather of the modernfabulatores. In Bergaminoʹs tale, Primas, finding himself in difficult circumstances not unlike those of the storyteller, succeeds in having his worth as a man of letters recognized and rewarded by the Abbot of Cluny.

      From this brief preliminary summary it is at once clear that the story of Bergamino and...

    • The Tale of Guiglielmo Borsiere (I.8)
      (pp. 179-206)

      Laurettaʹs anecdote for thebrigataʹs first day out, a little parable about the courtier Guiglielmo Borsiere and how he made Ermino Grimaldi mend his miserly ways, has caught much less attention than its companions: black Cepperelloʹs besaintment; Abrahamʹs revelation of rottenness in the heart of Christian Rome; the tale of three-rings recollected by Melchisedech; abbatical obesity made weightless for a gardenerʹs willing daughter; Dr Alberto of Bologna, white of head but not in the tail. Except for the powerful magnetic field of fun and evil centred on Ser Cepperello, the motley sequence of tales in Day One, like Day Nine,...

    • The Tale of the King of Cyprus and the Lady of Gascony (I.9)
      (pp. 207-221)

      Upon re-reading the story of the king of Cyprus and the lady of Gascony, I found it impossible to dismiss the fact that there are two kinds of novellas in theDecameron: those to which we want ʹto do service,ʹ and those which we want to serve us. That is to say, we encounter stories that demand a privileged critical treatment, and others from which we want merely to lift an idea. Although this may not be an exceedingly insightful notion, it helped me to envision my approach to a reading ofDecameron1.9.

      We have been seduced by the...

    • The Tale of Maestro Alberto (I.10)
      (pp. 222-240)

      As figure 1 reveals, this study rests on an interest inDecameronI.10 that is vegetal, and will argue that when we peel away the textual layers of this complex little narration, what we come to is neither a celebration of stilnovist love, as Luigi Russo and Mario Baratto have suggested, nor a simple example of therovesciamentotechnique which seems to govern all the tales of Day One, as Georgio Padoan and Antonio DʹAndrea argue, nor a lesson on witty repartee, as Pampinea herself proposes in her prefatory remarks to the tale.¹ What we come to instead when we...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 241-256)
  9. Contributors
    (pp. 257-260)
  10. Index
    (pp. 261-270)