"Dal giogo alleviati": free servitude and fixed stars in Decameron 9.
Like all but the first Day, Day 9 actually begins in the conclusion of the Day that precedes it; the neat categories of art--the division of weeks into daily themes, and of days into numbered novelle, each with its rubric, introduction, and conclusion--falsify the organic continuities of life which, defying such structural dikes, lithely spill over from tale to tale, and from one day to another. My investigation of Day 9 must, consequently, begin with the conclusion of Day 8, where Emilia announces her intention, as newly appointed queen, that the following day's storytelling be free, "unyoked" from the usual obligation to conform to a daily theme:
Diletto se donne, assai manifestamente veggiamo che, poi che i buoi alcuna parte del giorno hanno faticato sotto il giogo ristretti, quegli esser dal giogo alleviati e disciolti, e liberamente dove lor piu piace, per li boschi lasciati sono andare alla pastura: e veggiamo ancora non esser men belli ma molto piu i giardini di varie piante fronzuti che i boschi ne' quali solamente querce veggiamo; per le quali cose io estimo, avendo riguardo quanti giorni sotto certa legge ristretti ragionato abbiamo, che, si come a bisognosi, di vagare alquanto e vagando riprender forze a rientrar sotto il giogo non solamente sia utile ma oportuno. (1)
(Dec. 8. Concl. 3-4)
(Delightful ladies, we see clearly enough that oxen, once they've labored for some part of the day bound beneath the yoke, are relieved of their yokes, untethered and left to wander freely according to their pleasure, at liberty to pasture in the woods. And, similarly, we see that gardens decked out with fronds of varied flora are not less, but far more beautiful than woods where all that meets the eye are oaks; for which reasons I believe, considering the many days our discourse has been bound by a fixed law that--as to those in need of some relief--it's not only useful, but desirable to wander a bit and, wandering, recover the strength to return once more beneath the yoke.) (2)
True to the vivid analogy used by Emilia--the comparison of the brigata members to oxen who, unyoked, go to pasture in the woods--Day 9 begins with a description of the brigata wandering about in an enchanting "boschetto" (Dec. 9. Intro. 2-6). With a brevity that belies its great importance to the concerns of Day 9, this description is easily overlooked by readers who are unlikely to note--at least on a first reading--that this "boschetto" is cast as a type of Eden, and that the "unyoked" brigata members' brief sojourn in these woods consequently suggests a return to Eden, and to the freedom from sin's degrading yoke that was, more than the beauty of their environment and ease of their labor, the essential privilege of the First Parents.
While Boccaccio's evocations of Eden in the three formal gardens of the Decameron frame--Day 1. Intro. 90-91; Day 3. Intro. 1-16; and Day 6. Concl. 18-32 (the "Valley of the Ladies")--have not, of course, escaped the notice of critics, the place and particular importance of the "boschetto" of Day 9 within this larger scheme of Edenic spaces has not been adequately explored. (3)
Boccaccio's use of a diminutive, "boschetto," does, it is true, have the effect of domesticating this forest, which, it is implied, is not expansive and alienating, but shaped to a human scale and inviting (like the "boschetto" of Guido Cavalcanti's famous pastorella, a place more likely to be inhabited by obliging shepherdesses than brigands or wolves). And yet, it is not immediately evident how this "boschetto"--which is, after all, not a manicured pleasance, but a natural forest--conforms to the Edenic mold. However, a careful consideration of the particular expressions and images used to describe this "boschetto" suggests that this is no generic forest, but one expressly designed to recall the "divina foresta spessa e viva" (Purg. 28.2) of Dante's terrestrial paradise.
While the ubiquity in the Decameron of verbal patterns and images drawn from Dante's Commedia may, at first glance, suggest that their presence is more mechanical than meaningful--a linguistic reflex rather than a literary reflection --a close examination of these allusions often reveals a consistency and pertinence that suggests quite the opposite. The presence of no less than three possible allusions to the Commedia in the first line of the introduction to Day 9 clearly signals Boccaccio's intention that this "boschetto" be viewed within a Dantean context:
La luce, il cui splendore la notte fugge, aveva gia l'ottavo cielo d'azzurrino in color cilestro mutato tutto, e cominciavansi i fioretti per li prati a levar suso, quando Emilia, levatasi, fece le sue compagne e i giovani parimente chiamare.
(Dec. 9. Intro. 1)
(That luminary, whose splendor sets the night to flight, had already changed the whole of the eighth heaven from dark azure to cerulean blue, and in the fields the little flowers had begun to raise their heads, when Emilia, herself arisen, had her lady consorts summoned and the young men too.)
If the reference to the "ottavo cielo"--the heaven of the fixed stars--suggests, but does not demand, a Dantean pedigree, the phrase "d'azzurrino in color cilestro mutato" is clearly modeled on Dante's description of the late afternoon sky in Purgatorio 26.5-6: "mutava in bianco aspetto di cilestro" (the word "cilestro" occurs only once in both the Commedia and the Decameron). Most conspicuously, the "fioretti" which blossom in the fields recall the moment in Inferno 2 when Dante undergoes a sort of spiritual rebirth or resurrection upon learning that his journey is divinely willed: "Quali fioretti dal notturno gelo/ chinati e chiusi, poi che 'l sol li 'mbianca, /si drizzan tutti aperti in loro stelo" (Inf 2.127-29). (4)
Each of these three allusions contributes to setting the stage for the day of free narration: in Dante's Aristotelian-Ptolemaic cosmography, the heaven of the fixed stars is assigned the function of introducing difference, a shattering of the abstract unity of the primum mobile, which accounts for the dazzling variety of phenomena (particularly germane here where the temporary suspension of a unifying theme has, like the fixed stars, introduced the possibility of difference); (5) the reference to Purgatorio 26 encourages us to associate Boccaccio's "boschetto" with Dante's terrestrial paradise; and the exquisite image of reflorescence drawn from Inferno 2 anticipates the theme of a spiritual restoration and a triumph over death that, as we shall see, is made explicit later in the introduction to Day 9.
Looking just beyond this first line, we find another trace of Dante's Eden in the stateliness of Emilia's "lenti passi" (Dec. 9. Intro. 2) as she leads the brigata into the "boschetto"--one that recalls Dante's controlled pace, "lento, lento" (Purg. 28.5), when he first sets out to explore the terrestrial paradise--while the description of the brigata's rhythmic gait, "piede innanzi piede" (9. Intro. 5), a few lines further down exactly reproduces, as Natalino Sapegno has noted, the phrase used by Dante to describe Matelda's dance-like movement in the terrestrial paradise: "e piede innanzi piede a pena mette" (Purg. 28.54). (6)
Though the transition from the most recent of the three frame gardens--the "Valley of the Ladies" in Day 6, with its neatly serried trees and compass-like circularity--to the uncultivated "boschetto" in Day 9 may seem rather abrupt, an examination of the interplay of nature and artifice in each of these four Edenic spaces reveals a gradual and consistent movement from the artificial to the natural, away from art and towards nature.
The first frame garden (Dec. 1. Intro. 90) is dominated by the presence of a palace, whose magnificent loggias, frescoed rooms, and well-stocked wine cellars seem to have pushed the more natural garden spaces to the margin. The second garden (Day 3. Intro.) is centered on a fountain whose water, guided by an intricate network of sluice-ways and culverts, not only irrigates the plants, but powers a mill--thereby giving concrete expression to the day's theme (the attainment, or recovery, of a greatly desired object through the use of "industria"). Like the second garden, the third, the "Valley of the Ladies" (Day 6. Concl.), has a central plan and a geometric regularity that seem at odds with the organic promiscuity of nature. Indeed, Boccaccio observes that while the perfect circularity of the Valley's central plain suggests that it had been traced by a compass, it does not owe this regularity to human artifice, for--and here he resorts to a paradoxical expression--it is the "artifice of nature" ("artificio della natura" Day 6. Concl. 20).
From a garden overshadowed by human art, to one that illustrates the productive exploitation of nature by art, to one that strikes a balance between nature and art, we progress to a fourth "garden" (Day 9. Intro.) where the balance tips resolutely in the direction of nature. (7) Here, there are no terraces, neatly planted trees, and fixed paths to guide us. Here, to paraphrase Virgil's declaration to Dante as they complete the moral curriculum of the purgatorial terraces and prepare to enter the terrestrial paradise, there are no narrow paths, there is no art: "fuor se' de l'erte vie, fuor se' de l'arte" (Purg. 28.132).
Like cantos 27 and 28 of Purgatorio, the introduction of Day 9 enacts a return to Eden, a restoration of innocence, and a recovery of the freedom that was lost as a result of the First Parents' transgression. Just as the entrance to the terrestrial paradise in the Commedia is marked by Virgil's solemn declaration "io te sovra te corono e mitrio," a metaphorical crowning to mark the renovation of Dante's "arbitrio"--that is, faculty of judgment or choice, rendered "libero, dritto e sano" by his passage through the moral curriculum of purgatory (Purg. 27.139-42)--the brief interlude in the "boschetto" of Day 9 is marked by a ceremonial crowning associated with a recuperation of freedom: the brigata members don oak frond garlands ("Essi eran tutti di frondi di quercia inghirlandati") and give the impression that they have somehow triumphed over death. Anybody encountering them would, Boccaccio tells us, have been forced to conclude "O costor non saranno dalla morte vinti, o ella gli uccidera lieti" ("Either these youths will not be vanquished by Death, or they'll be joyful when she comes to cut them down" Day 9. Intro. 4).
Boccaccio's decision to preface this second day of narrative freedom with a symbolic return to Eden, a restoration of self-determination (as indicated by the crowning), and an emancipation from the most devastating bondage of all--death, or fear of death--is, of course, entirely fitting to a Day dedicated to narrative freedom and self-determination. It is, then, beneath the aegis of Eden, the place where freedom was first tasted and first lost, that Boccaccio explores the complex interplay of bondage and freedom, yoking and unyoking, that is such a prominent feature of the Day 9 novelle--one, as we shall see, that often takes the form of a brilliant conflation of apparently antithetical, and traditionally discrete, spheres of knowledge and activity: scatology with eschatology, lechery with liturgy, physics with metaphysics.
However, before we discuss the stories themselves, it is necessary to consider one more peculiar, and highly significant, feature of Boccaccio's "boschetto." Boccaccio's forest paradise is, to use P. B. Shelley's evocative phrase, "created out of the wrecks of Eden" (Defence of Poetry 690). Though the "boschetto" of Day 9 may share some of the external trappings of Dante's terrestrial paradise, it is fundamentally different, for whereas the paradisal qualities of Dante's terrestrial paradise are original, a testament to the perfection of its divine architect, those of Boccaccio's "boschetto" are belated, the result of a cultural calamity: the plague of 1348. This is the troubling paradox that undergirds and infuses all of Day 9. In contrast to the original beatitude of Eden, this new state of blessedness--signaled by the strange docility of the animals and the brigata members' gaiety and freedom from the shadow of death--is fashioned from "the wrecks of Eden," the stuff of a world long fallen from its paradisal beginnings, in the wake of the plague. If the plague has brought death and devastation, it has also, paradoxically, restored, at least in part, the prelapsarian order of things, recalling that time when, to use Alexander Pope's expressive phrase, humans and beasts were "joint tenants of the shade" (Essay on Man Bk.3. ll.147-52).
In his paean to the vegetarianism of the Golden Age, Ovid's Pythagoras observes, "There was a time, the Golden Age, we call it/[...] when no men tainted/Their lips with blood, and birds went flying safely/Through the air, and in the fields the rabbits wandered/Unfrightened, and no little fish was ever /Hooked by its own credulity." (Metamorphoses 15.96-101). In Ovid, this original state of universal peace is paradoxically restored--if only temporarily --by the deluge brought on by Lycaon's depravity. In the swirling waters of this new-formed sea, the "wolf swims with the lamb" and "lion and tiger/Are borne along together [...]" (Metamorphoses 1, lines 304-05).
Importantly, the tame animals that populate Boccaccio's "boschetto" owe their docility and fearlessness to a similarly violent cause; the temporary absence of hunters as a result of the plague has restored their trust:
[...] videro gli animali, si come cavriuoli, cervi e altri, quasi sicuri da' cacciatori per la soprastante pistolenzia, non altramenti aspettargli che se senza tema o dimestichi fossero divenuti.
(... they observed the animals, like wild goats, stags, and others stand, as though sensing themselves safe from hunters on account of the plague's predominance, and wait for them as though they'd been rendered fearless or tame.)
Since, however, the relation of humans to the other animals--be it trustful, diffident, or indifferent--is not likely to change radically in the course of a single year (the action of the frame narrative is situated in 1348, the first year of the Black Death), Boccaccio's use of "quasi" to qualify the suggestion that the animals' remarkable docility stems from the suspension of hunting activity during the plague should probably be taken to heart. Clearly, historical accuracy is less important to Boccaccio than the restoration of an Edenic ethos, a prefiguration of the peaceable kingdom envisioned by Isaiah, where wolf and lamb feed together and the lion eats straw like the ox (Isaiah 65.25).
Indeed, the plague--as Boccaccio makes clear in the Decameron Introduction--supplies the historical pretext for a joint tenancy every bit as improbable in the social sphere as the communion of wolf and lamb is in the natural sphere: the unchaperoned company of young men and women who inhabit the villas and gardens of the Decameron frame (it is, I think, no coincidence that in Day 3 Neifile explicitly likens the women and men of the brigata to sheep and wolves). (9) It is, then, in this context of Edenic freedom, universal fearlessness and freedom from predation (whether that of humans by wild animals, or of animals by humans) that the young men and women of the brigata gather to tell the tales of Day 9.
2. Lifting the Yoke: the Rigor of Narrative Freedom.
Just as there exists a continual tension between the organic disarray of life and the more rigid exigencies of art, there exists a similar tension between the apparent spontaneity of the act of narration--one that implies a certain degree of choice--and the curtailing of this narrative freedom by the imposition of law in the form of assigned daily themes. Of the ten days devoted to storytelling, only two, the first and the ninth, are free of this restriction by theme. The inclination to view this suspension of an assigned theme in Day 9 as a simple repetition of the narrative freedom enjoyed in the first day is, however, to overlook the remarkable evolution--both of the brigata members' circumstances and of their moral conscience--that has taken place over the course of the seven intervening days.
Filomena attributes the narrative freedom of Day 1 to a purely practical concern; the brigata members have not yet had sufficient time to consider what tales to tell:
E il vero che quello che Pampinea non pote fare, per lo esser tardi eletta al reggimento, io il voglio cominciare a fare, cioe a ristringere dentro a alcun termine quello di che dobbiamo novellare e davanti mostrarlovi, accio che ciascuno abbia spazio di poter pensare ad alcuna bella novella sopra la data proposta contare.
(Dec. 1. Concl. 10)
(It's true that what Pampinea could not do, her election to the throne occurring late, I'd like to do: that is, to restrict within some bound the matter of our tales and to announce this limit in advance, allowing each of us sufficient time to think of some good tale that fits the chosen theme.)
It is only once a schedule of daily events has been firmly established that a regular "space" for reflection--each day's evening and morning hours--becomes available to the narrators. Moreover, the narrative freedom of the first day (Intro. 1.114) takes place in a fleeting moment of radical flux, the margin between lawlessness (the dissolution of social and political organization as a result of the plague) and the reinstitution of law (the restrictions voluntarily adopted by the brigata). In the wake of the plague, as Boccaccio makes clear in the general introduction and Dioneo confirms at the conclusion of Day 6--where he announces that, because of the perversity of the time, the judges have abandoned the courts, and laws, both human and divine, are silent (6. Concl. 9) --law has not merely been briefly suspended or its strictures temporarily lifted (in the manner of an amnesty); law has effectively ceased to exist. By contrast, the "lifting of the yoke" on Day 9 is, as the very expression confirms, a temporary suspension of law designed to shore up the law by providing those subject to its rigors with a brief license for recreation. In Day 1, freedom is born of lawlessness; in Day 9, it is authorized by law. In Day 1, it is accidental; in Day 9, it is elective.
As Boccaccio's vivid description of promiscuity, looting, and profiteering in the Decameron Introduction makes quite clear, this collapse of law in 1348 leads, on the whole, to the exercise of individual freedoms without regard for--and most often at the cost of--the collective good. In other words, what is gained is not individual freedom, but the subjection of the individual to the caprice or cruelty of other people's wills. In the midst of this cultural, social, and political free-for-all, the brigata members succeed in staking out an area of true freedom through the voluntary, and incremental, adoption of law in the form of restrictions of one sort and another. (10) Chaos, as Boccaccio makes quite clear, is as restrictive as order is liberating. In Day 1, this urgency to reestablish order is so strong that the brigata members spontaneously subject their narrative freedom to a de facto, if undeclared, daily theme: the triumph of the intellect. (11)
At the conclusion of the first Day, Filomena exercises her royal authority by instituting a restriction of narrative matter "dentro ad alcun termine" (Dec. 1. Concl. 10), a law that is freely adopted by each subsequent ruler until it is temporarily suspended in Day 9. By the time the ninth Day rolls around, Filomena's assignment of a narrative theme, a constraint initially designed to protect the brigata members' freedom, has not only become normative, a matter of routine, but is experienced as restrictive; novelty has ceded to normalcy, and it is therefore necessary to make an exception so that the rule can be brought into sharper relief and more vigorously applied.
Readers have often been surprised to discover that this new license, the "unyoking" of the brigata members in Day 9, appears to have very little effect. (12) Though free to wander as widely as they wish, the novelle cleave to well-worn paths. Just as the oxen, asses, and other farm animals chased from their homes in the morning graze a little bit here and there throughout the day, but return of their own accord to sleep in their respective stables (Dec. 1. Intro. 45), the emancipated novelle of Days 1 and 9 wander far less than one might have expected, tending to cluster around accustomed themes, and to reproduce familiar patterns--a consistency that is particularly strange in Day 9 given Emilia's insistence that the proposed release from the constraints of an assigned theme will not only restore the brigata members' spirits, but bear aesthetic dividends since, she notes, the variety of theme will, like the varied foliage in a cultivated garden, be far superior to the dull monotony of an oak forest (Dec. 9. Intro. 4).
Lyric poets have always understood the paradox that a certain kind of absence--particularly that of a lover, family member, or close friend--has the quality of evoking an even stronger presence. This is certainly true of Day 9, where a conspicuous absence, that of the constrictive yoke of an assigned theme, itself subtly assumes the function of a daily theme. As we shall see, the first stories of Day 9 stress freedom from the yoke and the last two stories effectively reintroduce the yoke, thus preparing the brigata for the return, in Day 10, to the constraint of themed story-telling. While this ring structure may seem to imply a consistent movement from freedom to bondage, the intervening tales do not, unfortunately, sustain a reading of this sort. Nor, for that matter, do all of the stories of Day 9 easily lend themselves to an analysis centered on issues of freedom and bondage. The brief analyses of the novelle of Day 9 that follow are by no means intended as sufficient, but merely as supplementary treatments of these tales, aimed at showing that the absence of a formal daily theme--and the emphasis on a freedom/bondage dialectic to which Emilia carefully draws our attention--have, paradoxically, themselves become de facto themes.
3. Freedom and Bondage in the Novelle of Day 9.
When Dante writes that "in the circuit of Love's palace, free will was never free," it is the lover's freedom that concerns him, not that of the beloved. (13) Seldom do we hear the testimony of the reluctant objects of erotic attention, those, like Ovid's Daphne or Cervantes's Marcella, who, far from reciprocating their suitors' passion, experience it as an act of violence to their sexual and social autonomy. (14) It is this darker aspect of erotic attraction that Boccaccio explores in the first novella of the ninth Day, exposing the lovers' egotism (their indifference to the feelings of the beloved) and juxtaposing their ridiculous self-delusions with the great discretion and restraint of Madonna Francesca de' Lazzari, the object of their unwelcome suit.
In this novella, the theme of liberation is most clearly conveyed through a series of expressions that describe Madonna Francesca's shrewd strategies for, and success in, getting two unwelcome suitors "off her back": "cautamente se gli leva da dosso" (Dec. 9.1, 1); "a torsi da dosso" (9.1.4); "si levasse da dosso" (9.1.6); "per torglimi da dosso" (9.1.10); "se gli tolse da dosso" (9.1.36); "a torsi da dosso" (9.2.2), and "a torsi da dosso" (10.2.2). The remarkable insistence with which this idiomatic phrase--in its various forms--is invoked confirms its importance within the economy of the tale. Occurring, as it does, in a strongly erotic context, this graphic metaphor for an unwanted burden assumes a distinctly sexual cast, revealing the crude desire (that, to take the metaphor literally, of being on Madonna Francesca's back) concealed by her suitors' sanitized courtship rituals--their persistent envoys and entreaties (9.1.6)--and underscoring the physical violation implied by this unwanted courtship. Madonna Francesca's success in dislodging these stubborn suitors from her "back" represents nothing less than the restoration of her sexual self-determination, of her right to choose a lover.
Distracted by Madonna Francesca's deft strategy and the antics of her suitors--whose clownish costumes, pratfalls, and pantomime-like gestures are a bravura exercise in physical comedy--the reader can easily overlook a parallel narrative, a tale of metaphysical liberation that complements Madonna Francesca's physical liberation. In the interstices of this erotic plot, Boccaccio seems to have deliberately traced the contours of a more subversive, metaphysical, plot: a parody of Christian resurrection theology.
Whereas Francesca's situation parodies familiar courtly love patterns of erotic desire by shifting the focus from the lover to the beloved, and dramatizing the plight of the young woman assailed by unwanted suitors, the posthumous escapades of Scannadio's body parody Christ's resurrection, implicitly question the scriptural account of Christ's empty tomb, and, by implication, cast doubt on the universal resurrection at the Last Judgment. Two distinct species of freedom are explored in this tale, that of Madonna Francesca, who is released from the unwelcome erotic siege waged by her two suitors, and that of the physically repulsive and signally depraved Scannadio, whose body, in a passage that cannot help but remind us of Luke's account of Christ's empty tomb, seems to have been miraculously "released" from his tomb: "La mattina, trovata aperta la sepoltura di Scannadio ne dentro vedendovisi [...]" ("In the morning, having discovered that the tomb was open and observing that Scannadio was not inside [...]," 9.1.35). (15) Though the names Francesca de' Lazzari and Scannadio may refer to historical persons (of whom, however, we have no documentary trace), it is likely that Boccaccio chose them precisely because of their theological implications. Since Francesca de' Lazzari's name clearly recalls that of Lazarus, Boccaccio's decision to cast her as a scion of the Lazzari family may be due, at least in part, to her Lazarus-like resurrection from an erotic "tomb." Scannadio's name--"scannare" (to slit a throat) + "dio" (God)--suggests that he is a man bent on slitting God's throat, a fourteenth-century scion of Otus, Capaneus, Lucifer and the various other would-be slayers of God. (16) That Boccaccio intends to exploit the etymological possibilities of Scannadio's name is clear enough, for he tells us that one of Madonna Francesca's suitors, Alessandro, feared that the dead Scannadio might rise straight up and slit his throat: "[...] e parevagli tratto tratto che Scannadio si dovesse levar ritto e quivi scannar lui" (9.1.26). As this, the only occurrence of the verb "scannare" in the whole of the Decameron, is used to describe Alessandro's imagined slaying by Scannadio--in a sentence, what is more, that deliberately accentuates the phonetic similarity between the proper name and the verb--it is almost certain that Boccaccio intends that we should see Scannadio's blasphemous nature inscribed in his very name. If Cepparello, the "piggiore uomo forse che mai nascesse" (1.15), has a depravity that transcends time, Scannadio, the "piggiore uomo che, non che in Pistoia, ma in tutto il mondo fosse" (9.8-9), does not lag far behind. However, whereas public opinion readily judges Cepparello a saint, the public response to the spectacle of Scannadio's empty tomb is far less uniform: "[...] tutta Pistoia ne fu in vari ragionamenti" ("all of Pistoia was abuzz with varied conjectures" 9.1.35).
The motif of a yoking and unyoking, freedom and bondage, continues to be explored in the second novella of Day 9, where a young nun, caught in flagrante with her lover and at risk of being severely punished by the convent's irate Abbess, succeeds, as Boccaccio's rubric tells us, not only in "liberating" herself from this danger ("fu deliberata"), but in securing the license to see her lover at her leisure. The relation of the wayward nun Isabetta's liberation in 9.2 with that of Madonna Francesca in the previous tale is made explicit by Elissa, the tale's narrator, who begins her tale by commending Madonna Francesca for freeing herself from suffering ("liberar dalla noia" 9.2.3) by means of a shrewd plan, and then proposes to tell us about a very different sort of liberation, made possible by a young nun's skill in wielding words ("leggiadramente parlando dilibero" 9.2.4). In the first tale, freedom takes the form of a deflection of a suitor's unwanted attention, and in the second, the right to receive--and return --a lover's attention. By juxtaposing these seemingly opposed examples of erotic freedom, Boccaccio encourages readers to discard any simple definition of erotic independence, reminding us that freedom does not consist in the liberty to have lovers, but in the freedom to choose them and, no less importantly, to refuse them as well. Like all other liberties, erotic liberty is found precisely in the free exercise of one's will.
By making the protagonist of Decameron 9.1 a highly resourceful, aristocratic widow and situating the action of the novella in a secular, urbane context, Boccaccio has done everything possible to show that there are no significant social or practical obstacles to her accepting either--or even both! --of the young suitors. That Madonna Francesca's refusal of these suitors does not stem from religious misgivings, prudery, or a concern with social propriety, is clear enough from the strategy she devises to get them "off her back"--one that involves the desecration of a tomb, stripping of a corpse, and hazing of two well-heeled young men. In 9.2, we are presented with a young woman in a diametrically different context. Like Madonna Francesca, the protagonist of this novella, Isabetta, is a resourceful, independent-spirited aristocrat (9.2.5). However, everything about Isabetta's circumstances underscores the overwhelming obstacles to her erotic fulfillment: she is cloistered in a convent, encircled by envious nuns, and governed by a hypocritical abbess as devoted to denying the pleasures of those in her charge as she is to pursuing her own. It is against quite overwhelming odds that she succeeds in exercising her freedom to choose and enjoy the company of a lover; it is against even more daunting odds that she manages to secure this privilege as a continuing right. What is evident in both novelle is that freedom is highly subjective and cannot, in any event, be defined in terms of conformity or nonconformity to any social, cultural, or religious norm. Sometimes, as the brigata members' actions make clear, the highest expression of individual freedom has the outward bearing of conformity, for freedom, Boccaccio reminds us time and again, does not reside in any action per se, but in the free exercise of the human will. There are, of course, times when an individual's liberty takes the form of an election to conform, an Augustinian libera servitus. Often, only the individuals who bear the yoke know if it is freely borne or thrust upon their necks.
Although the bulk of 9.2 is more focused on the notion of invidia (and its etymological association with blindness), the nun's intellectual resourcefulness, and the abbess's parodic conversion than on matters of sexual autonomy, the motif of liberation returns in Elissa's concluding paragraph, which neatly clinches the motif of liberty introduced in the opening rubric and the tale's first line: "e liberata la giovane, col suo prete si torno a dormire, e l'Isabetta col suo amante" ("and the young woman thus liberated, the Abbess returned to bed with her priest, and Isabetta, with her lover" 9.2.19).
From Dec. 9.1's and 9.2's illustration of freedom successfully preserved or recovered through the application of brilliant strategy and oratory, in 9.3 we descend, as it were, from the matters of the head to those of the belly and groin, as we witness Calandrino's successful bid to rid himself of an unwanted pregnancy.
In the realm of the body, pregnancy--particularly one that is not desired --is among the most devastating challenges to personal freedom and self determination. Maestro Simone's use of the verb "diliberare" in his promise to quickly liberate Calandrino from his pregnancy--"'in pochi di ti diliberero'" (Dec. 9.3.26)--leaves no doubt that this tale, like the two that precede it, is essentially about freedom. By treating the subject of an unwanted pregnancy in the absurd, and inherently humorous context of a male pregnancy, and pathologizing the pregnancy (which is cast as a disease), Boccaccio allows us to forget that the "cure" to this particular disease is an abortion: "[...] la bella cura che di lui il maestro Simone aveva fatta, d'averlo fatto in tre di senza pena alcuna spregnare" ("the marvelous cure which Master Simon had devised for him, that of terminating his pregnancy in three days without pain." 9.3.33). (17)
Since, however, it is probably more sensible to address causes before discussing effects, something should be said about the origin of Calandrino's imagined pregnancy. As readers will no doubt remember, it is Calandrino's friends, Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello, who, through an ingenious hoax, succeed in convincing him that he is pregnant. Like Cervantes's Sancho Panza --who, the Barber Maese Nicolas alleges, has allowed himself to become "pregnant" with Don Quijote's ideas ("En mal punto os emprenastes de sus promesas" 1.47)--Calandrino is endowed with an eminently pregnable mind, an unfettered imagination, and a receptivity to ideas that in a less doltish person might easily pass for idealism, but has garnered Calandrino the reputation of a credulous fool (upon hearing of Calandrino's simplicity, the sharp-witted Maso del Saggio immediately resolves to dupe him "o fargli credere alcuna nuova cosa" 8.3, 5). Since imaginative pregnancies are most efficiently treated by imaginative cures, Maestro Simone's prescription--the harmless concoction chiarea--proves wondrously effective.
Curiously, the only other circumstance when the verb "diliberare" denotes a freedom achieved by accomplishing a task or unloading a burden is when it is used to describe the action of telling novelle: "Panfilo era della sua novella diliberato" (4.7.2); "Sentendo la reina che Emilia della sua novella s'era diliberata [...]" (6.9.9). (18) Like its less venerable cousin in the abdomen, the stomach of the mind (to use Augustine's phrase) is apparently subject to repletion and finds a certain relief in excretion; in any event, the act of narration is experienced as a liberation. Whereas the narrators of novelle deliver themselves of the fictions that they themselves have fashioned, Calandrino, impregnated, one might say, by the ear and equipped with a mind better fit for absorbing than for producing or manipulating fictions, has no option but to seek external aid.
Of course, Calandrino is neither the first nor the most famous person to be impregnated in this fashion. The notion that Christ's conception was achieved through the Virgin Mary's ear was, if not an article of faith, at least a widespread notion originated by the Church Fathers and celebrated in medieval Marian hymnody. In a sermon on the Pentecost, St. Bernard observes that God sent the angel Gabriel to vomit (or belch) the Word of the Father through the Virgin Mary's ear into her womb and mind. (19) It may be that this story, like the first tale, masks a religious parody: the Virgin Birth. Calandrino may be viewed as a sort of intellectual "virgin": a man whose mind, unprotected by reason, is ripe for insemination by the most extravagant ideas. (20) Certainly, Calandrino's response to Maestro Simone's announcement that he is pregnant may be seen as a parody of Mary's perplexity upon hearing that she, a virgin, is with child: "Quomodo fiet istud quoniam virum non cognosco?" (Luke 1.34). Calandrino's confusion has a very different source, as it is (remarkably) not the cause of his pregnancy that baffles him, but the purely mechanical question of how he, a man, can hope to give birth to a child when women, though equipped for the task by nature, find it so excruciating: "'Ohime, tristo me! Come faro io? Come partoriro io questo figliuolo? Onde uscira egli?'" (9.3.24). Though Calandrino's poor understanding of human conception defuses the miraculous nature of his pregnancy--which he immediately pins on Tessa's predilection for being on top--in point of fact, his conception of a child (were it real) would be every bit as marvelous as Mary's. (21)
Although the Church Fathers struggled to rationalize the inherently absurd notion of a Virgin Birth, advancing a host of subtle arguments to prove that neither her insemination by the Holy Spirit, nor her delivery of Christ compromised the integrity of her womb (which remained a closed orchard, or "hortus conclusus"), the physiological hurdles to the Virgin Birth are actually not so different from those confronted by Calandrino, whose question, "'Onde uscira egli?'" reminds us that in his way, Calandrino too is a hortus conclusus --or at least a hortus with an exceptionally narrow wicket. (22) Since the Annunciation is parodied with particular frequency in the Decameron--for instance the "revelazione [...] fatta per la bocca del Ragnolo Braghiello" in 3.8.75 and Frate Alberto's impersonation of "l'Agnolo Gabriello" in 4.2--the possibility that Calandrino's conception-by-ear with its equally miraculous cure-by-chiarea is designed to parody the Annunciation and Virgin Birth should not be too summarily dismissed.
Though both Calandrino's pregnancy and his deliverance from it are illusory, the same cannot be said of the manipulation of his will, which, subject to fear and desire and insufficiently governed by reason, has no choice but to accept the bridle and bit thrust upon it by his friends Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello.
Questions of human freedom are equally present in Decameron 9.4, the tale of Cecco Angiolieri and Cecco Fortarrigo, where we are introduced to two men who live in the same city, bear the same name, and are, more importantly, bound by a mutual hatred for their fathers. The absence of any clear literary sources and abundance of circumstantial detail have resulted in a tendency to see this novella as a historically accurate picture of a notorious rascal--and his comeuppance at the hands of an even shrewder scoundrel. The problem is that Boccaccio's Angiulieri is in such complete contradiction of Angiulieri's self-presentation in his poetry. (23) The freebooting rogue and scourge of fathers so vividly painted in Angiulieri's sonnets has been transformed into an attractive, mannerly young man--"bello e costumato uomo era" (9.4.6). Though enraged by Fortarrigo's abuses, Angiulieri--a shameless scofflaw in his poetry--holds back his hand for fear of legal repercussions: "e se piu d'altrui che di Dio temuto non avesse, gliele avrebbe fatta" (9.4.14). While Angiulieri's Angiulieri is a fearless individualist who would happily see his father dead, Boccaccio's far more sheepish Angiulieri readily accepts his father's charity when, stripped of his possessions by Fortarrigo, he has run out of other options. By deliberately highlighting the contradiction between the fictional persona Angiulieri retails in his sonnets and the "historical" person presented in his Decameron vignette, Boccaccio forces the reader to contemplate the question of historical truth--and, more precisely, the role of fiction in shaping both historical action and the reception of history.
However, it may be that the carefully constructed symmetries of Boccaccio's tale are designed to achieve another, more specific end. Though, as noted above, critics have found no literary antecedents for this tale, certain important details suggest that Decameron 9.4 may be fruitfully read as a reworking of Luke 15.11-32, a contemporized version of the parable of the Prodigal Son which illustrates the point--one regularly encountered in allegorical readings of Luke--that our autonomy is illusory, and that God alone clothes, nourishes, and sustains us. (24)
Whereas the Prodigal Son requests that his father give him at once that share of his property that would, more usually, have been assigned him at his father's death, Angiulieri, discontent with the financial provisions his father has made for him in Siena, decides to seek his fortune elsewhere and requests an advance on his allowance--desiring to receive "ad una ora cio che in sei mesi gli dovesse dare" (Dec. 9.4.6)--to purchase new clothing and a horse for his journey. Whereas the Prodigal Son journeys to a distant land, lives riotously, and squanders all of his possessions, Angiulieri's possessions are stripped from him by Fortarrigo, who has managed to convince him--against his better judgment--to take him on as a travel companion and aide. It is, then, not Angiulieri, but Fortarrigo who supplies the figure of the wastrel, a variety of demonic double with whom Angiulieri has wittingly, if unwisely, knit his future. Angiulieri's friendship with Fortarrigo is forged from a mutual hatred of fathers, and not, as Boccaccio makes quite clear, from a more general consonance of customs or character: "[...] quantunque in molte altre cose male insieme di costumi si convenissero, in uno, cioe che amenduni li lor padri odiavano, tanto si convenivano, che amici n'erano divenuti e spesso n'usavano insieme" (9.4.5). Consequently, Fortarrigo's very presence necessarily evokes this hatred of fathers, and Angiulieri's willingness to be served by him (however reluctantly) is a testament to the tenacious quality of this vice.
In a reciprocal, simultaneous metamorphosis that recalls that of Buoso and the unnamed thief in Inferno 25, Fortarrigo gradually assumes the external appearance and economic condition of Angiulieri even as Angiulieri assumes those of Fortarrigo. Fortarrigo succeeds in filching first Angiulieri's purse, then his clothing, and finally his horse, leaving him in the very condition, "povero e in camicia" (Dec. 9.4.24), in which he had found himself shortly before (9.4.10). Just as Dante's allocation of sinners to their various circles and bolge strips away their social identity, revealing the deeper moral essence that unites each category of sinner, here Boccaccio reveals that beneath their very different costumi, Angiulieri and Fortarrigo are moral twins: father haters and flouters of God's fourth commandment.
Having fled from the face of his father, Angiulieri, like the prodigal son of Luke, soon discovers his incapacity to live independently. That it is Fortarrigo's duplicity rather than his own reckless spending that strips him of his possessions is almost beside the point; it was, after all, Angiulieri, who freely, if reluctantly, accepted Fortarrigo's service, fully aware of his bad character. He is, as it were, an accessory to the crime.
Having attempted, and failed, to flee his father, Angiulieri, like the Prodigal Son of Luke, is succored by his father: "dal padre fu sovvenuto" (Dec. 9.4.24). True freedom, this tale seems to suggest, cannot be achieved outside of God's purview; and hatred--though it often wears the mask of liberty--is not the sign of independence, but of an even stronger dependence insofar as it implies a variety of bondage to the thing hated, just as anarchy depends on government, and atheism on God. Only in love is true liberation found, and it is his father's abiding love for his truant son that restores Angiulieri's freedom, just as God redeems from the bondage of sin all those who turn towards him, as Manfred reminds Dante the Pilgrim: "'ma la bonta infinita ha si gran braccia, /che prende cio che si rivolge a lei'" (Purg. 3.122-23). Once again, we are confronted with the paradoxical nature of freedom: to submit to our passions is a form of servitude, a bondage to ourselves, whereas service to God secures our freedom.
In Decameron 9.3, we witness Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello's success in "impregnating" Calandrino's mind, convincing him, against the laws of physiology and common experience, that he is pregnant; in 9.5, we are shown how these same artists succeed in controlling Calandrino's actions through a deftly scripted and carefully staged scenario in which he is unwittingly granted a central role. Whereas Angiulieri, a crafter of poetic fictions, finds himself unwillingly cast in a real life "fiction" orchestrated by Fortarrigo, Calandrino, a crafter of painted fictions, finds himself unwittingly placed in an animated, reallife tableau composed by his painter friends. In human affairs, as Boccaccio's novelle confirm time and again, it is often not the truth that shapes events, but the most successful fiction; Fortarrigo's brilliant manipulation of language and appearances teaches Angiulieri that there is no truth so self-evident that it cannot be controverted by a well-turned lie. (25) Whereas Angiulieri's vulnerability stems from a blinding hatred of his father, Calandrino's is due to a no less blinding love of self--coupled, of course, with his remarkable naivete. Egotistical and ingenuous in equal measure, Calandrino is a perfect dupe, better suited to serve as the subject of art than as an artist.
In certain respects, this novella functions as a sort of pendant to Decameron 9.3, the tale of Calandrino's pregnancy, since it reprises the motif of a male pregnancy (traced, as before, to sexual position), and evinces a similar concern with the freedom--or subjugation--of the human will.
In a mise en scene that recalls the well-side infatuation of Jacob with Rachel in Genesis (29.10), Calandrino meets the lovely Niccolosa at the well of the estate where both have found temporary work: he, decorating the estate owner's villa, and she, satisfying--for a fee--the sexual desires of the owner's son. Just as Angiulieri's skill in poetic fictions proves no match for Fortarrigo's real life fictions, Calandrino's skill for deception proves no match for Niccolosa's. A prostitute, Niccolosa is as adept in counterfeiting reality as painters; if painters make their living by imitating nature's external mold, Niccolosa makes hers by imitating natural passion and pleasure. The moment Niccolosa notices that Calandrino is looking at her with interest, she resolves to ensnare him with a few simulated sighs. She easily succeeds in this end, and is soon able to lead Calandrino by the nose, guiding him through a series of actions scripted, for their own amusement, by his friends Bruno, Buffalmacco, and Nello. In a strategically brilliant move, they gain control of Calandrino by convincing him that he can control Niccolosa--first by supporting his belief that Niccolosa is infatuated with him, and later by providing him with a magical charm, which, they claim, will compel Niccolosa, willy-nilly, to satisfy his desires. Calandrino's lust for control, narcissistic conviction that he is an object of desire, and general naivete have the predictable result that he loses control and becomes an object of ridicule. The same man who had shortly before declared that he loved Niccolosa with a thousand bushels of that good stuff that leads to pregnancy ("quel buon bene da impregnare" 9.5.27), finds himself forcefully thrown on his back and straddled by Niccolosa, who rides him "a cavalcione" (9.5.57)--the very position to which Calandrino attributes his pregnancy in 9.3. It is no wonder, then, that upon discovering her husband in this position, Tessa is quick to observe: "'Alla fe di Dio, egli non era ora la Tessa quella che ti 'mpregnava'" ("By God's faith, it wasn't Tessa, then, who got you pregnant," 9.5.64). Calandrino's loss of self-determination is dramatized by a literal subjugation--the unyielding yoke of Niccolosa's arms and legs. Once again, we see excessive credulity cast as a metaphorical pregnancy and associated with a crippling loss of autonomy.
In the two novelle that follow, 9.6 and 9.7, the theme of freedom and bondage, though by no means absent, is less immediately evident. Decameron 9.6, the story of two youthful lodgers' success in bedding an innkeeper's wife and teenage daughter, Niccolosa, under cover of night subtly explores the question of human freedom as it relates to biological necessity, social hierarchy, and human ingenuity. Of the forces that drive the narrative's actions, two fall under the rubric of biological necessity: the aristocratic Pinuccio's sexual attraction to the peasant Niccolosa and his friend Adriano's no less urgent desire to go to the bathroom. If, as seems likely, the "opportunita natural" (9.6.15) which rouses Adriano and prompts him to pick his way through the dark to the bathroom is a desire to empty his bladder, it may be said that both young men were guided through the dark by a desire linked to their groins--a parallelism which strips Pinuccio's desire of its romantic pretensions by implicitly comparing the act of excretion to that of coition. In any event, the imperative to satisfy these natural drives is so overwhelming that it not only impinges on the young men's freedom, but compromises their safety. Though both the copulation and the evacuation could, we are led to believe, have been carried off without danger, Adriano's inadvertent displacement of a child's crib in the course of his midnight stumblings results in a sudden breach between perception and reality, and a subsequent reordering of events not in accordance with human design, but accident. (26) As a direct result of this displaced crib (itself a result of Adriano's urge to relieve himself), Pinuccio unwittingly reveals his nighttime romp with Niccolosa to her own father who, quite naturally, threatens to pay him back for this outrage. In response to this threat, the arrogant Pinuccio demands " Di che mi pagherai? Che mi potrestU fare tu?" ("With what will you pay me back? What can you do to me?" 9.6.21). No doubt Pinuccio has a point; what recourse does an impoverished innkeeper have against a wealthy young aristocrat? The dull-witted Pinuccio's unimaginative recourse to rank, however effective in saving his own skin, introduces a different, more pernicious sort of danger: that of a radical social polarization. It is Niccolosa's nimble-minded mother who, by means of a skillfully spun fiction, almost singlehandedly averts a tragic denouement. Indeed, her remarkable "avvedimento" (9.6.3) not only succeeds in preserving the progressive, socially integrated model of community implied by the easy relations between the wealthy young men and the innkeeper's family (epitomized by their sharing of room, board, and--most conspicuously--bed), but creates the means for Pinuccio and Niccolosa to continue their trysts in the future. True freedom, then, is revealed to derive not from such artificial, external phenomena as wealth and rank, but from the natural, intrinsic resources of the human intellect, a faculty capable of outmaneuvering fate itself, for--as this tale clearly proves--it can rewrite history according to its own lights, and, in doing so, shape the course of future events.
If a wise mother's "avvedimento" and concern for domestic harmony is the guarantor of freedom in 9.6, in 9.7 it is a foolish young woman's failure to exhibit similar qualities of character that results in her forfeiture of freedom. By framing the tale within the familiar context of dream theory--a subject given much authority by Macrobius's influential treatment in his commentary on the Dream of Scipio--and having Pampinea dwell on the truth value of dreams in the tale's preamble, Boccaccio draws attention to the problematic relation of prophetic dreams to determinism. Since the accuracy and inexorability of Talano d'Imolese's dream would seem to be proven by its fulfillment, it may initially seem that this tale simply confirms the most oppressive sort of fatalism and casts doubt on human freedom. However, it soon becomes apparent that it is not the usual fatality of physical law, astral influence, or divine providence that governs human events in this novella, but a different sort of fatality--one grounded in human character and shaped by the collision of character with circumstance. It is not Talano's dream per se, but Margarita's interpretation of his dream--one passed through the distorting filter of her vanity, obstinacy, and distrust--that results in its tragic fulfillment. A less self-serving, self-willed, and suspicious person would, we are led to believe, have taken the dream at face value, thus avoiding being savaged by a wolf. In this tale at least, character is destiny and our bondage is not to the fates, but to ourselves.
Like 9.4, the story of the two Ceccos, 9.8 illustrates the truth that in the sphere of sinful activity, no individual, however corrupt, is ever fully immune from exploitation by an even more accomplished sinner: every Cecco has his Cecco and every Biondello, his Ciacco. However, it is not with 9.4 that Lauretta explicitly links her tale, but with 8.7, the story of the scholar Rinieri and the widow Elena, claiming that the scholar's cruel vendetta has moved her to tell another, albeit less fierce, tale of revenge (9.8.3-4).
Just as the Stoics argue that the only act that can be said to be truly free is our first, since each subsequent act is necessarily determined by this first act, it can be argued that the only freely chosen novella is the first--the tale of Cepparello (Dec. 1.1)--for the subsequent tales are somehow caused or conditioned by the tales that precede them. (27) Most significantly for my purpose here, in 9.8, Lauretta suggests that this informal, and only sporadically noted, principle of narrative influence has assumed the guise of a rhetorical law, noting that "almost all" of the Day's narrators who preceded her "were guided in their choice of subject by something already said": "[...] quasi tutti da alcuna cosa gia detta mossi sono stati a ragionare" (9.8, 3). Nor can Lauretta easily be accused of exaggeration. If the first of the Day's tales, Filomena's story of Madonna Francesca and her suitors, seems to have no narrative "cause" (for it is Filomena's privilege, as the Day's first narrator, to range through a narrative "campo aperto e libero," as though running the "primo aringo" 9.1.2), the second, Elissa's tale of the resourceful Isabetta, enjoys no such freedom; its connection to 9.1 is explicitly confirmed by Elissa (9.2.3-4). Though the third story of Day 9, Filostrato's account of Calandrino's pregnancy, does not find its narrative spur in the story that precedes it, it is presented as a tale that he had intended to tell on the previous day, before it was "snatched from his mouth" by the tale of the "giudice marchigiano," which he told in its place (Dec. 9.3.3). Tales, as evidenced by this image of a violent snatching and substitution, have a touch of the tyrant, imposing their wills and curtailing their narrators' freedoms. Both 9.4 and 9.5 are inspired by 9.3; the name "Niccolosa" in 9.5 has, Panfilo claims in the preamble to 9.6, brought to his mind a novella about a different Niccolosa; it is, as we have seen, the scholar Rinieri's cruel revenge in 8.7 that moves Lauretta to tell the tale of Biondello and Ciacco (9.8); Emilia's misogynistic tale 9.9 repeats, as we shall soon see, elements of the general Introduction and draws inspiration from 9.7, Pampinea's similarly misogynistic tale of Talano's wife; and 9.10, as we shall see, essentially inverts the situation of 9.1 and, like 9.1, exploits an erotic context to parody the forms of religious faith.
An important corollary of this principle of influence is that the later a novella is told within a given day's cycle of storytelling--or, indeed, within the more comprehensive series including the stories that have been recounted on previous days--the greater the shaping influence exerted upon it. The implications of this observation are that the narrative freedom of Day 9 is not only of a different quality (a suspension of law rather than a consequence of lawlessness) but of a different degree; with eight days of storytelling on their "backs" the brigata members are, despite their narrative freedom, constrained both by the progressive reduction of possible novelle (for this pool of available novelle varies from topic to topic, and the very best novelle for any given theme are treated as a limited resource) and by the controlling influence of the web of narrative themes and strands that have already been introduced into the discourse. (28)
Though Dec. 9.8 does not, in its narrative development, clearly address issues of freedom and bondage, Lauretta's introductory observation that novelle are bred by novelle is an important reminder of the brigata members' literary sophistication, namely, their keen awareness of the technical and practical constraints of storytelling. By drawing our attention to the unusually strong presence in Day 9 of narratives that may be viewed as continuations or sequels of previous narratives, Lauretta forces us to acknowledge the controlling presence of earlier narratives in a day that is nominally free; the yoke is only apparently lifted. In the following tale, 9.9, Boccaccio's exploration of this theme of freedom and bondage is situated, once again, in the religious arena.
The blatant and vicious misogyny of Dec. 9.9 has, quite naturally, tended to blind readers to interpretative possibilities less directly associated with matters of gender and sexism. However, Boccaccio's tales are rarely, if ever, reducible to a single semantic register. For instance, while 9.1 is most immediately, and visibly, concerned with a resourceful young woman's success in extricating herself from subjection to the erotic desires of others, it may also, as we have seen, be read in a religious--and even a political--light. (29) In similar fashion, 9.9 lends itself to a reading which, though linked to the theme of misogyny, explores a different sphere of human activity: religion.
Emilia begins her tale with a miniature homily directed to the "amabili donne" of the brigata. As critics have long noted, this moralistic preamble reproduces the ideas expressed by Filomena and Elissa in the general Introduction (Dec. 1. Intro. 74-77). However, whereas Filomena's criticism of her sex is essentially psychological (she declares women "mobili, riottose, sospettose, pusillanime e paurose" Intro. 75), and Elissa's, theological (men, she asserts in a formula clearly modeled on St. Paul's I Corinthians 11.3, are the "head" of women: Intro. 76), Emilia's discourse focuses on the allegedly natural basis for female subservience and its reflection in customs and laws. While gender politics are clearly at the center of this tale, and have been amply treated in recent studies, various peculiarities of the tale suggest that beneath these conventional prescriptions and prejudices lies a very different, if no less controversial content. (30)
Although Emilia claims that her novella records Solomon's advice, "un consiglio" (Dec. 9.9.7), for combatting women's stubborn resistance to male authority, in truth, the tale offers two pieces of advice. In fact, one of the most conspicuous features of this tale is its construction around a series of binaries: the two protagonists, Giosefo and Melisso; the two cities where they live, Laiazzo (in Armenia) and Antioch (in Syria); the two pieces of advice offered by Solomon. (31) This carefully patterned structure, with its striking symmetries, suggests that there may be more to this tale than meets the eye. Janet Levarie Smarr identifies the tale's protagonists--Giosefo, Melisso, and Solomon--as three Jews from ancient times and makes the acute, but unelaborated, suggestion that this tale, and the one that follows, may refer parodically to the "legge di giustizia degli ebrei (la verga che punisce) a cui si oppone la legge della grazia Cristiana (la coda amorosa)" (Boccaccio geografo 144).
There can hardly be any doubt that Boccaccio uses the name "Giosefo" to convey the Jewish identity of its bearer. (32) Indeed, in a work with hundreds of names--Italian, Arab, Catalan, Greek, Roman, Persian etc.--only a handful of Hebrew names occurs, and these are generally used to draw attention to the Jewishness of their bearers: for instance "Abraam giudeo" (Dec. 1.2, rubric) and "Melchisedech giudeo" (1.3, rubric). (33) Though Smarr declares that Melisso, too, is a Jew, his name is less Jewish than Greek and may well have been suggested by its occurrence in the Commedia, where we read of the Greek Philosopher Melisso, who epitomizes the individual fishes for the truth, but lacks the art to find it ("chi pesca per lo vero e non ha l'arte," Par. 13.121-26)--in a canto, what is more, dominated by the figure of Solomon. 34 If accurate, this observation, as I hope to show in the pages that follow, merely confirms Smarr's insight that this tale implicitly compares Jewish and Christian ethical codes.
Is it purely by chance that Giosefo hails from a city, Antioch, famous for its large and thriving Jewish population, and Melisso from a city, Laiazzo, in the Christian Kingdom of Armenia? In his Jewish Wars, the Roman-Jewish Historian Josephus refers to Antioch as the city with the highest concentration of Jews due to the Antiochian Kings' policy of religious tolerance. (35) Laiazzo's association with Christianity is not merely a historical fact, but the lynchpin of the plot of Decameron 5.7, where the nobleman Fineo, one of a delegation of ambassadors dispatched by the Christian King of Armenia to negotiate with the Pope, chances upon a young man who is about to be executed for engaging in an illicit affair and recognizes him as Teodoro--his long lost son, kidnapped as a child from the port of Laiazzo. Once it is established that the young man is not, as had been believed, a Turk, but an Armenian Christian of noble blood, he is easily snatched from the gallows and married off to his noble mistress.
It may be objected that the parody of two dispensations, Jewish and Christian, proposed by Smarr depends too heavily on a free-handed shuffling of historical epochs, an implied telescoping of the more than ten centuries that separate Solomon's reign from the birth of Christianity. However, Boccaccio's readiness to engage in the most conspicuous sort of anachronism, placing Laiazzo, a port city in the medieval Christian Kingdom of Armenia, on the same historical stage as ancient Jerusalem, is less convincingly attributed to his ignorance of history than to his lack of concern with historical accuracy in a tale aimed at illustrating a higher, allegorical, truth. By creating this ideal space, and casting these particular dramatis personae--Solomon, who appears as he does in Dante's Convivio, "in persona de la Sapienza" (4.5.2), Giosefo, an Antiochan Jew in search of law (his wife's obedience), and Melisso, an Armenian gentile in search of love--Boccaccio stages an allegorical masque aimed at dramatizing the difference between a Jewish and a Christian dispensation. Certainly, Solomon represents an ideal link between these two orthodoxies, for the universalist wisdom of Proverbs speaks with equal force to Jew and Christian. By advising Giosefo to go to the "Ponte all'oca," Solomon gives him a lesson in the most effective means of securing obedience. When Solomon counsels Melisso to love, "ama," he is essentially proposing a logical corollary to a declaration made by Dante's Solomon (in the guise of Wisdom): "Io amo coloro che amano me" (Convivio 3.11.12). (36) The words of Dante's Solomon--a translation of Proverbs 8.17, "Ego diligentes me diligo"--clearly anticipate the apodictic law of reciprocity enunciated by Christ in the Gospels--"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (one, as Christ himself acknowledges, derived from Hebrew Scripture). That the advice offered by Boccaccio's Solomon adheres to this same pattern is implied by Solomon's one word command, "Ama," his response to Melisso's complaint that he is not loved, and confirmed by the last phrase of the novella: "e il giovane amando fu amato" (9.9.35).
Melisso, then, is a gentile from a city, Laiazzo, that has yet to receive that name, in an Armenia that has yet to be Christianized, a "fisher for the truth," who seeks love. In other words, he is, like Dante's Ripheus, a proleptic Christian, a Christian before Christ. Giosefo, by contrast, is an Antiochan Jew, who seeks obedience from a recalcitrant wife: "femina ritrosa e perversa" (9.9.12). It is, perhaps, not coincidental that these traits of obstinacy and perversity are precisely the ones that Boccaccio attributes to the Jews in the Esposizioni--"or con una ritrosia or con un'altra" (4, alleg., 34)--and De casibus: "discoli obiurgantesque et sui nescii" ("perverse, slanderous, and blind to their own best interest" 2.9, "Against the Jews"). (37) In a fascinating excursus in the Esposizioni concerning the distinction made by jurists and canonists between ignorantia facti and ignorantia iuris and its relevance to the question of salvation, Boccaccio makes a series of invidious comparisons between the Jews, with their "ritrosia" and recidivism, and the Gentiles, whom he describes as running, "senza alcune ritrosie," to embrace the new, Christian faith (Esp. 4, alleg. 39). It is implied that the misfortunes of the Jews are deserved precisely because, despite their privileged relationship to God and ample evidence of his favour--confirmed, what is more, by a host of miracles--"non gli prestavano [...] intera fede" (Esp. 4, alleg. 34). The punishment of the recalcitrant woman is similarly justified by the assumption that woman's subservience to man is, as Emilia argues in her preamble, part of the natural "ordine delle cose" (9.9.3), confirmed by custom and codified by law. A disobedient woman cannot, according to this logic, be excused on the grounds of ignorance of either fact or law, for she is rebelling against a subaltern status ratified by nature, custom, and law, proving by such behavior that she is blind to her best interest. Her punishment, by this standard, is well deserved.
This brief elaboration of Smarr's important insight tends to confirm that the vicious misogyny, which is the visible face of this tale, is supported by a more abstract, philosophical framework built of two dispensations, one Christian, the other, Jewish, one concerned with love and the other with obedience. Whereas the yoke of law does, at least according to this tale, achieve the effect of obedience, it is an obedience purchased at the cost of human liberty. Only love reconciles obedience with human freedom.
As we saw, Day 9 begins with a tale illustrating a woman's exercise of free will against the violently assertive will of not just one, but two besotted suitors --a circumstance that compounds the triumph and confirms the exercise of free choice. This same day ends--not, I think, by chance--with a tale illustrating how a woman is degraded to the status of an animal by subjecting her will to that of an unscrupulous priest. Decameron 9.1 describes a woman's triumph in getting two suitors "off her back"; 9.10 is the tale of a woman who, degraded to a "horse," ends up with a man quite literally on her back. In the first tale, we are shown how the yoke is lifted, in the last, how it is restored.
On the face of it, or rather the "fronte," to use Boccaccio's term for the rubric of each tale, this novella is not about a successful seduction, but a failed transformation, not the chronicle of an event, but of a non-event: "[...] e quando viene a appiccar la coda, compar Pietro dicendo che non vi voleva coda guasta tutto lo 'ncantamento" (Dec. 9.10, rubric). Paradoxically, in this tale that has long been considered the most sexually explicit of the Decameron, sex is presented as being somehow beside the point, a means rather than an end. As Mario Baratto has noted, "Il racconto non converge sul particolare lubrico: il quale e piuttosto l'esito irresistibile di una situazione perfettamente motivata" (Realta e stile 360). In other stories, supernatural metamorphoses and magic charms are used to facilitate a sexual seduction; gowned and feathered, the scurrilous Frate Alberto counterfeits the angel Gabriel to seduce the vain Lisetta; Elena, desperate to recover her estranged lover, stands perched atop a tower, reciting some rigmarole cooked up for her by the scholar Rinieri; Calandrino, his mind already crowded with visions of sensual delights, clutches the magic scroll guaranteed to make his beloved sexually receptive. Here, in Dec. 9.10, the opposite is true; the sexual encounter (albeit under guise of magic ritual) is cast as a means for effecting the desired metamorphosis.
It is noteworthy that neither of the participants in this sexual encounter is, at least initially, interested in sex; donno Gianni reluctantly agrees to perform the incantation only after failing to dissuade Pietro, and Gemmata's willingness to allow herself to be sexually exploited is never prurient, but pragmatic; the claims of poverty have trumped those of modesty. (38) The vehemence with which she scolds Pietro after he blurts out "'[...] io non vi voglio coda!'" (thus putting a premature end to both incantation and copulation) may suggest to some readers that Gemmata found the process of attaching the tail not entirely unpleasant. However, her actual words, uttered, we are told, in pure sincerity ("di buona fe" 23) tend to support Baratto's view that she is only disappointed by the imagined economic loss ("solo scossa dalla disavventura economica" Realta e stile 362), not from coitus interruptus but from the interrupted transformation with its associated promise of financial security: "'Bestia che tu se', perche hai tu guasti li tuoi fatti e' miei? qual cavalla vedestU mai senza coda? Se m'aiuti Dio, tu se' povero, ma egli sarebbe merce che tu fossi molto piu'" (9.10.23).
Given all this, it is hard to account for the riotous laughter provoked-according to Boccaccio--by this tale: "Quanto di questa novella si ridesse, meglio dale donne intesa che Dioneo non voleva, colei sel pensi che ancora ne ridera" (Dec. 9. Conc. 1). (39) How, indeed, does one explain this laughter? (40) What, after all, is so humorous about a man who in the course of a single morning manages to betray his calling as a priest, the confidence of a friend, and his own better judgment? Why do we--and the brigata--find the spectacle of a young woman being molested by a priest amusing?
A moment of reflection reveals a hidden poignancy to this tale about a naive young woman whom poverty has made so desperate that she is willing to sacrifice her social, sexual, even human identity by assuming the form of a mare, a beast of burden, in hopes of supplementing her husband's meager income. Yes, this is a tale that pokes fun at yokels, but it is also, and perhaps more importantly, a story about a woman whose faith in an ordained minister of the Church has made her susceptible to promises of miraculous transformations; a woman whose child-like innocence prevents her from understanding that she has been duped; a woman whose faith is so strong that it remains unsullied even by the priest's cynical exploitation of her body. Other women in the Decameron novelle who exhibit this sort of credulity, a belief in necromancy and the supernatural, are victims of their erotic passions or vanity; Gemmata alone is prompted to believe in miraculous transformations by an entirely legitimate and praiseworthy desire.
Beneath the light-hearted cascade of laughter that punctuates the end of this tale lie darker concerns. Is it, after all, so strange that Gemmata, a young woman brought up to believe in the mystery of the sacraments--complex rituals officiated by the seemingly magic hands of priests, hands that she has seen sprinkle the saving grace of baptismal water on infants, join men and women in marriage, and anoint the dying with healing oil--should believe that these same hands can accomplish other marvelous feats? Is it remarkable that an illiterate, impressionable young woman should entrust her body to the same hands that handle Christ's body, that she should credit the hands that preside over the miraculous metamorphoses of bread into flesh and wine into blood with the power to transform her into a mare? (41)
Transfixed by the image of Gemmata's body, naked and doubled over with feet and hands firmly planted on the ground, readers are more likely to surrender to murmurs of disapproval or sighs of delight than to dwell on the wider implications of this tale. Yet, Boccaccio's darker purposes, once acknowledged, can hardly be ignored. How, for instance, can we be sure that donno Gianni's liturgical recitations in church are any more effective than his magic incantations in the bedchamber? More disturbingly, are we justified in drawing the further inference that the Roman Catholic Church, whose sacred rituals at times bear a disconcerting resemblance to donno Gianni's histrionic mumbojumbo, has, like donno Gianni, succumbed to the temptation to exploit its authority to satisfy its secular ambitions, effectively making "mares" of us all? (42) Does the absence at the center of this tale, the horse that does not materialize, reflect the hollow core of the Roman curia? Does Gemmata's self-destructive credulity mirror our own?
By insisting on the contagiously humorous quality of the story--so powerful, according to Boccaccio that it transcends time, infecting hypothetical readers of the future with the desire to laugh out loud--Boccaccio has skillfully conditioned the reader's response to this tale; we are led, despite our better judgment, to believe that it is funny. By drawing the reader's attention to the accidental quality of Gianni's seduction and to the tale's bleak portrait of poverty in the Puglian hamlet of Barletta, Mario Baratto has reminded us that for all its apparent lubricity, this is a highly nuanced tale which contains a powerful, if easily overlooked, social critique. Giorgio Barberi-Squarotti has, likewise refocused our attention on the "true" subject of this story; not the obscene climax, but the conditions of squalor and misery that give rise to this moment. In her recent reevaluation of this novella, Marilyn Migiel forces the reader to confront the sexually violent and abusive nature of the act staged at its center, highlighting the way Boccaccio exploits the ambiguities of sexual metaphor to introduce questions about misogyny, bestiality and sodomy (A Rhetoric of the Decameron 141-46).
While accepting the importance and validity of these new, and illuminating, critical perspectives, I would like to propose that Boccaccio's story is less about poverty in the abstract than about the Church's role in perpetuating poverty; less about bestiality or buggery than humbuggery; less concerned with the evident hocus-pocus of bogus incantations than with the dubious efficacy (and potential for exploitation) of the Christian sacramental rituals; not about sexual abuse so much as the abuse of church authority for secular, profane, even sacrilegious ends.
Boccaccio's delight in lampooning Christian liturgical practices--in particular the sacraments--is evident in numerous tales of the Decameron. The first of Boccaccio's hundred tales, that concerning the canonization of the dissolute Ser Cepparello, is a brilliant parody of the sacrament of confession, while the last of the hundred tales, the Griselda narrative, may be read as a scathing indictment of the sacrament of marriage. (43) That a parody of Christian liturgical practices and critique of the Church may be at the center of this tale of a non-transformation is supported by a look at the novella's closest analogue, a fabliau entitled "De la pucelle qui vouloit voler." (44) This fabliau describes how a beautiful woman, courted, with no success, by the cream of society falls into the clutches of a priest who claims that he can fulfill her whimsical desire to fly "ausi comme fist Dedalus." Impressing upon her the importance of having a tail, "Que nus oyseaus sans ce ne vole," and a beak, the priest selflessly assumes the duty of supplying her with both. Having laid the groundwork for the beak by kissing her "more than thirty times," he brusquely requests that she turn over so that he can get a start on the tail. Like the irremediably vain donna Lisetta of Dec. 4.2, this Daedalus-manquee ends up doing all her flying in bed and "senza ali" (4.2.32). The priest acquits his duty with such diligence, laboring at his task both day and night, that the young lady is soon pregnant and uncomfortably plump. Recognizing that she has been duped, she sullenly observes that now she can hardly walk, let alone fly: "Coment porroie je voler?/A paine puis je mes aler."
For all its ribald charm and wry humor, this tale lacks the powerfully satiric effect achieved by Boccaccio through the parodic ritualization of the sexual encounter, the counterpoint between the crude acts being accomplished and the liturgy-like recitation that accompanies them. Whereas the author of the fabliau focuses on the act of copulation, described in the crudest sort of language ("Ele se met a recoillons;/Il li embat jusqu'as coillons/Le vit ou con sanz contredit"), Boccaccio draws out the preliminaries, lingering, with obvious delight, on the perverse interplay of sacralized language ("comincio a dire") with sexualized touching ("cominciandole a toccare [...]"). Only a few words, and these almost grotesquely euphemistic, are dedicated to describing the actual act of penetration:
Appresso donno Gianni fece spogliare ignudanata comar Gemmata e fecela stare con le mani e co' piedi in terra a guisa che stanno le cavalle, ammaestrandola similmente che di cosa che avvenisse motto non facesse; e con le mani cominciandole a toccare il viso e la testa comincio a dire: "Questa sia bella testa di cavalla"; e toccandole i capelli disse: "Questi sieno belli crini di cavalla"; e poi toccandole le braccia disse: "E queste sieno belle gambe e belli piedi di cavalla"; poi toccandole il petto e trovandolo sodo e tondo, risvegliandosi tale che non era chiamato e sU levandosi, disse: "E questo sia bel petto di cavalla"; e cosi fece alla schiena e al ventre e alle groppe e alle cosce e alle gambe; e ultimamente, niuna cosa restandogli a fare se non la coda, levata la camiscia e preso il pivuolo col quale egli piantava gli uomini e prestamente nel solco per cio fatto messolo, disse: "E questa sia bella coda di cavalla"
(Then donno Gianni had comar Gemmata strip naked and stand with her hands and feet set on the ground in the manner of mares, likewise advising her not to utter a single word no matter what should come to pass; and starting to touch her face and head with his hands, he began by saying: "May this be a fine mare's head"; and touching her hair, he said: "May this be a fine mare's mane"; and then, touching her arms, he said: "and may these be fine mare's legs and hoofs"; then, touching her breasts and finding them firm and round--thus awakening and causing to stand erect one who came unbidden--he said: "and may this be a fine mare's breast"; and he proceeded in similar fashion with the back, the belly, the rump, the thighs, and the legs; and finally, nothing remaining to be fashioned except the tail, having lifted his shirt, and grasped the dibble with which he sowed men, and deftly placed it in the furrow designed to this end, he said: "and may this be a fine mare's tail.")
The pairing of an opportunistic priest and a credulous woman is a prominent feature of both the fabliau and Boccaccio's novella; however, the ritualistic framing of the sexual act in the novella signals a movement from a superficially moralistic and fundamentally obscene tale to one that is superficially erotic and profoundly moral. From a tale ostensibly concerned with illustrating the perils of vanity--a woman who foolishly wishes to fly finds herself struggling to walk --we move to one with wide-ranging implications concerning the abuse of ecclesiastical power.
Though the sight of a priest performing a ritual combining hieratic gestures and incantatory language is apt to recall any number of liturgical rites, I submit that Boccaccio had a specific ritual in mind, that of Extreme Unction. (45)
For many centuries, the sacrament of Extreme Unction was also known as the "impositio manuum super infirmum"--a laying of hands on the sick. This scripturally sanctioned touching of a stranger's sick--hence defenseless--body (even, in certain cases, of the loins), one granted an apostolic imprimatur in the Epistle of James (5.14-15), underwritten by the Church Fathers and given doctrinal expression by the Scholastics, could hardly have escaped Boccaccio's satiric eye; one can easily see how there might arise a conflict of interest between the needs--or desires--of the officiating priest and those of the dying patient!
In the supplement to St.Thomas's Summa Theologia, we read that since the remedy for sin should, logically, be applied to its source, the "places" of the five senses must be anointed:
[...] the eyes, to wit, on account of the sight, the ears on account of hearing, the nostrils on account of the smell, the mouth on account of the taste, the hands on account of the touch which is keenest in the finger tips (in some places too the loins are anointed on account of the appetite), and the feet are anointed on account of the motive power of which they are the chief instrument.
(Answer to Supplement, objection 4, qu. 32, art. 6)
The ritual of Extreme Unction is rigorously anaphoric. As each successive part of the person's body is touched, the priest first recites the introductory phrase: "By this holy anointing and His most loving mercy may the Lord forgive you whatever wrong you have done by use of ...," followed by the identification of the body part being anointed. Donno Gianni's incantation is constructed from a similar coupling of a repeated phrase (based on a gerundive form of the verb "toccare") with the identification of a body part: "bella testa; belli crini; belle gambe," etc.
In contrast to the other sacramental liturgies, that, as St. Thomas notes, take the form of simple declarations in the indicative mood (for instance, "I baptize thee"), the sacrament of the divine unction takes "the form of a petition" (Summa, Supplement, qu. 29, art. 8). In Latin, this petitionary form is expressed by the use of the subjunctive mood: "per istam sanctam unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi etc."
This, of course, is precisely the form used by donno Gianni for his incantation: "'Questa sia bella testa di cavalla'"; "'e priega Iddio cha la coda s'appicchi bene.'" Furthermore, the sacramental recitation and donno Gianni's incantation reflect a similar general movement from head to foot. (46)
Given the argument that the remedy for sin is most fittingly applied to its source, it is notable that St. Thomas stipulates that the organs of generation--the most obvious source of erotic pleasure--are to be excluded from the anointing during the ritual of Extreme Unction "on account of their uncleanliness, and out of respect for the sacrament" (Suppl., qu. 32 art. 6, reply to Objection 4). That donno Gianni's profane "impositio manuum," his laying of hands on Gemmata, culminates in the virtual "anointing" of her organs of generation ("nel solco per cio fatto messolo" 9.10.18) with the "umido radicale" deposited by the "pivuolo col quale egli piantava gli uomini" (9.10.18) is, perhaps, no coincidence: if Gianni's incantation is a deliberate travesty of the sacrament of Extreme Unction, it is fitting indeed that the emission of semen (with its connotations of Adamic sin) has come to replace the remission of sins.
Boccaccio's periphrasis for donno Gianni's penis ("il pivuolo col quale egli piantava gli uomini") not only emphasizes the reproductive potential of the sexual act, but subtly suggests--through the use of the imperfect tense--that donno Gianni's insemination of women is a habitual act. It may be that like its French analogue, this tale uses the failed metamorphosis at its center to mask a successful, but undesired, variety of metamorphosis: pregnancy. Whereas the lady in the fabliau sees her vain desire to fly foiled by her pregnancy, Gemmata and Pietro, whose single room and single income barely sustain their modest existence, may find themselves caring for a child that they cannot afford. (47)
Aware that Boccaccio's novella was more offensive for its implied criticism of the Church and its ministers than for its erotic subject, the censors of the 1573 edition initially recommended eliminating all terms that would associate donno Gianni with the church--leaving the rest of the novella as an entertaining "beffa," while, later, its complete removal was recommended. (48) Perhaps it is not by chance that the version of Dec. 9.10 preserved in the Hamilton 90 ends abruptly with donno Gianni's facetious claim that he is able to turn his horse into a young woman; the leaves recording the rest of this tale are missing, torn out by a censor (or pilfered by some reader for other purposes). Still, all things considered, Boccaccio's tale elicited a remarkably small critical backlash; when Flaubert published his own, far subtler, eroticization of an Extreme Unction ritual in Madame Bovary, the critical response was so vehement that he was brought to court on charges of immorality and impiety.
4. Conclusion: Fixed Stars and Free Dependence
I will conclude this brief review of the theme of bondage and freedom in Day 9 by directing the reader's attention to Panfilo's theologically freighted declaration in the conclusion of Day 9, a reference to the freedom provided by Emilia's suspension of the assigned topic: "[...] arbitrio vi die di ragionare quel che piu vi piacesse" (Dec. 9. Concl. 4). By drawing together the ideas of free will, reason, and desire, these words remind us that the proper exercise of our "arbitrio" involves a voluntary shaping of desire--"che piu vi piacesse"--to the exigencies of reason.
As noted in the introduction to this essay, the activities of Day 9 begin beneath the star-spangled dome of the eighth heaven: the heaven of the fixed stars. Though the fixed stars, it is true, are most often associated with the shaping of human destinies through astral influence, insofar as choice depends on difference, and universal difference--in Dante's view, at least--is introduced by the heaven of the fixed stars, this heaven is actually the most fitting emblem of the paradox that embraces the whole of Day 9, one most succinctly expressed by Dante's Marco Lombardo in his rousing discourse on the stars and free will: "'liberi soggiacete'" (Purg. 16.80).
Concordia University, Montreal
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(1) All quotations are from Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, edited by Branca, 1976.
(2) Unless otherwise indicated, translations are my own. Annali d'ltaiianistica 31 (2013). Boccaccio's Decameron. Re-writing the Christian Middle Ages
(3) See, for instance, Mazzotta's suggestive treatment of this idea in the fourth chapter, "Allegory and the Pornographic Imagination," of The World at Play in Boccaccio's Decameron.
(4) In the introduction to Day 10, the sun occupies a position analogous to that of the fixed stars in the introduction to Day 9, and the association of astronomical symbolism with the narrative theme is made explicit in 10.1.1, where Neifile declares that liberality occupies a place in the moral sphere analogous to that occupied by the sun in the sky. Branca (vol. 4, Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio) and Sapegno (Decameron di Giovanni Boccaccio) both note the allusion to the "fioretti" of Inf. 2.127. They also note that the introduction to Day 3 borrows its first line--a description of the rising sun--from Purg. 2.7-9.
(5) Though Branca's notes direct the reader to Par. 32 for the fixed stars, Beatrice's theological discourse on the eighth heaven in Par. 2 is, perhaps, a more pertinent point of reference since it is here that Beatrice reveals that universal difference derives from the Heaven of Fixed Stars (see, in particular, ll. 64-72; 112-20).
(6) For this Dantean reference, see 804n6 of Sapegno's edition of the Decameron. The word "fioretti" also occurs in this purgatorial context shortly after this line.
(7) It is worth noting that a wooded area of this sort is mentioned in none of the other daily introduction narratives.
(8) Though this is the first, and only, time that the cause of this phenomenon is made explicit, the phenomenon itself is described on several previous occasions (see, for instance, Dec. 3. Intro. 13, where the animals are described as being "quasi dimestichi"). A similar phenomenon has occasionally been documented by adventurers and naturalists. Though Darwin's description of the docile birds and tortoises of the Galapagos in Chap. 7 of the Voyage of the Beagle is, perhaps, the example most familiar to modern readers, it is a phenomenon that had already been recorded in Boccaccio's time, indeed, by Boccaccio himself, in whose account of a 1341 exploratory mission to the Canary islands, De canaria, we read that the members of this expedition were able to gather doves by simply flinging stones at them or clubbing them: "et palumbes quos baculis et lapidibus capiebant et commedebant invenerunt" (De canaria, ed. Manlio Pastore Stocchi, vol. 5, tome, 2 of the V. Branca critical ed.).
(9) "'Tosto ci avvedremo se il lupo sapra meglio guidare le pecore, che le pecore abbiano i lupi guidati" (Dec. 3. Concl. 1).
(10) For instance, Pampinea's proposal that they tell stories (Dec. 1. Intro. 111), Filomena's introduction of daily themes (1. Concl. 10), Neifile's suggestion that the week be divided between days dedicated to "work" (storytelling, etc.) and those reserved for religious devotion (2. Concl., 5-6), and her further restriction of the narrators' freedom to select the matter of their tale (2. Concl. 9).
(11) As Barolini notes: "Although Pampinea, ruler of the First Day, leaves the subject of the Day nominally open, critics have long noted that the stories of Day 1 are characterized by the triumph of the intellect, which succeeds through the brilliant use of language in reversing a given situation, sometimes effecting a return to the status quo, otherwise simply improving conditions of the story's protagonist" ("The Wheel of the Decameron" 525).
(12) Barolini observes that Decameron 9, "although technically an open Day--is in fact a continuation, thematically, of Days VII and VIII" ("The Wheel of the Decameron" 531).
(13) Rime 86 (Foster/Boyde), 9-10: "Pero nel cerchio de la sua palestra/liber arbitrio gia mai non fu franco."
(14) A similarly coercive love is explored in the tales of the Marchesana di Monferrato (Dec. 1.5), Nastagio degli Onesti (5.8), and Madonna Dianora (10.5).
(15) Of Christ's tomb, Luke writes that the women "invenerunt lapidem revolutum a monumento, et ingressae non invenerunt corpus Domini Iesu" (Luke 24.2-3).
(16) Branca notes that Lazzari is the name of a powerful family from Pistoia, but adds that there is no documentary trace of a Francesca de' Lazzari (Dec. 9.1.6n6). Boccaccio's partiality for onomastic strategies of this sort is evident throughout his works and made explicit in the Decameron, where he declares that the frame characters' pseudonyms correspond to some real quality in their characters.
(17) The only other allusion to abortion in the Decameron is in 5.7.17 ("disgravidare").
(18) In the Decameron the verb "diliberare" is, as a rule, used like the English verb "to deliberate." Only rarely is it used to convey the idea of liberation, and the instances when this liberation takes the form of a delivery from an internal burden of some sort rather than from a situation are even rarer. For a similar conflation of poetic and physiological forms of pregnancy and birth, see Boccaccio's Trattatello 207.
(19) Bernard, Sermones de Tempore. In Festo Pentecostes, PL 183, col. 327: "missus est interim Gabriel angelus a Deo, ut Verbum Patris per aurem Virginis in ventrem et mentem ipsius eructaret [...]." See also Gregory the Great, Liber responsalis sive antiphonarius in PL 78, col. 731: "ingressus est per splendidam Regionem, aurem Virginis, visitare palatium uteri; et regressus est per auream virginis portam."
(20) For a more exhaustive account of possible textual and iconographic sources for Calandrino's pregnancy (though one that does not propose any connection with the Virgin Birth), see chap. 4 of Marchesi's Stratigrafie decameroniane..
(21) Calandrino is not alone in drawing such apparently absurd inferences concerning sexual position and conception. A "physiological" basis for this possibility can be found in the belief--derived from Hippocratic-Galenic embryological theory--in female "seed." For another fourteenth-century account of male pregnancy attributed to sexual position, see p. 134 of Jacquart and Thomasset's Sexuality and Medicine in the Middle Ages.
(22) See, for instance, St. Thomas, ST 3, que. 28 art. 2.
(23) Critics have pointed out this aspect, e.g., Russo, Letture critiche del Decameron (276-80). Branca notes that Boccaccio's portrait of Angiulieri is "contraria a quella della leggenda creata sui sonetti, letti come documenti autobiografici" (Dec. 9.4.6n2).
(24) See, for instance, Augustine's Confessions 1.18.28.
(25) For Fortarrigo's strategies for manipulating reality see pp. 234-37 of Baratto's Realta e stile nel Decameron.
(26) The deliberate substitution of coal for an "archangel's" feather in Dec. 6.10 and the accidental reorientation of the donkey's head in Dec. 7.1 each introduces a similar narrative "clinamen," forcing the tales' characters to spin saving fictions, thus revealing narrative to be the marvelous substance that "redeems" history by healing a fractured reality.
(27) This notion that narratives are somehow bound by narratives in a sweeping concatenation that embraces all of the one hundred novelle may seem a bit farfetched, but before rejecting it, it is worth considering how often the brigata members themselves acknowledge that an earlier tale (usually, the tale immediately preceding theirs) has awoken the memory of another tale (e.g., Dec. 1.3,.3; 2.5.2; 4.5.3; 6.6.3), drawn them to a particular subject (e.g., 4.7.3; 7.5.3; 7.10.7), or prompted them to exchange the tale they had originally intended to tell for another (e.g., 2.10.3; 8.5.3; 8.6.3). Sometimes a proper name (e.g., 6.6.3; 8.5.3; 8.6.3), a place name (e.g., 4.5.3), or a geographic location (e.g., 5.5.3) influences the choice of novella. At other times, the influence is far subtler; it is, however, rarely absent.
(28) Lauretta claims that Pampinea's tale of Alessandro (Dec. 2.3), has established a limit case of good fortune, obliging all subsequent tales to remain within the bounds she has marked out (2.4.4). In 3.9.3 Neifile observes that it is fortunate indeed that Lauretta was not the first speaker, for her tale (3.8) was such as to render all subsequent tales insipid by comparison. Elissa notes that though more than two of the tales that she had intended to tell have been "taken" from her by other narrators, there remains, all the same, one for her to tell whose rejoinder has, perhaps, something more of wit than those in the preceding tales (6.9.3). In the preamble to 7.10, Dioneo claims that the story he had wished to tell has already been told, and that so many other even better stories on the daily theme have been recounted that, rack his memory as he may, he cannot come up with any to compete with those already told (7.10.5). In the preamble to 10.4, Lauretta claims that the tales already narrated would have exhausted the loftiest examples of liberality, leaving her with little to say, were it not for the abundant material provided by the "fatti d'amore."
(29) Baratto notes the Ghibelline/Guelf context that, by introducing a "sottintesa sfumatura ironica," gives a "colorito implicitamente politico" to Madonna Francesca's ploy (Realta e stile 103). That is, the tale may be read as the account of a Guelf woman's triumph over two insistent Ghibelline suitors.
(30) See, in particular, chap. 7 of Migiel's A Rhetoric of the Decameron and chap. 2 of Sherberg's The Governance of Friendship.
(31) As Sherberg notes on p. 104 of The Governance, there is a no less pronounced pattern of triplication. Indeed, Sherberg proposes that the tale as a whole addresses three themes: the relation between men and women (governed by law), that between men (governed "by the ethics of communis commodi") and, more generally, questions related to the interpretation of language.
(32) Whereas Branca's edition of the Decameron uses the spelling "Giosefo," in Boccaccio's holograph, the Hamilton 90, this name is spelled "Giosepho"--a spelling that retains the distinctly non-Italian "ph" of the Latin rendering of Joseph's name in Jerome's Vulgate: "Ioseph." See Giovanni Boccaccio Decameron, Edizione diplomaticointerpretativa dell'autografo Hamilton 90 and Biblia sacra iuxta vulgatam versionem.
(33) The exceptions that come to mind are Natan of Dec. 10.3, who is given a conspicuously Christian role, and Salamone of 9.9. However, these two figures are more allegorical than historical, the first an embodiment of liberality, the second, of wisdom.
(34) The Greek Philosopher Melissus is also mentioned in De monarchia 3.4.4. and Amorosa Visione, IV, 47 ff. (as noted by Branca).
(35) See Jewish Wars 7.3.3 in The New Complete Works of Josephus. For Boccaccio's familiarity with Josephus see Hortis, Studi sulle opera latine del Boccaccio 383; the Zaccaria/Ricci edition of De casibus 1004n2, and Costantini, "Studi sullo Zibaldone Magliabechiano." By the Middle Ages, Antioch had been Christianized--in a process that presumably began with the evangelizing activity of Barnabas and Paul described in Acts of the Apostles. A description of Antioch is to be found in Boccaccio's Zibaldone Magliabechiano (fol. 163v-170v).
(36) Boccaccio discusses this universal law--the "ius gentium"--in Esposizioni 4, alleg., 25.
(37) De casibus virorum illustrium, ed. Ricci and Zaccaria, vol. 9 of the Branca critical ed.
(38) "[...] donno Gianni s'ingegno assai di trarre costui di questa sciocchezza, ma pur non potendo [...]" (Dec. 9.10.13). Baratto observes: "Il momento assurdo e grottesco della scena dell'incantesimo nasce quasi insensibilmente, per forza di cose, da tale misera realta. Donno Gianni, che lancia gratuitamente una battuta goffamente umoristica, e indotto controvoglia alla beffa dalla semplicita dei due coniugi [...]" (Realta e stile 361).
(39) This is a question posed by Barberi-Squarotti in Il potere della parola. For Barberi-Squarotti, this is a tale about poverty, not ribaldry, and the laughter is inappropriate, revealing a misunderstanding of the deeper issues at stake. Though, of course, it is well to bear in mind Dioneo's explanation of laughter, caused not so much by praiseworthy actions and words ("buone opere") but rather by "cattive cose" (Dec. 5.10.3).
(40) No doubt there is something inherently amusing about the blatant contradiction between the ostensibly practical objective and the manifestly prurient act. Certainly, the notion of a husband made witness to his own cuckolding--a conventional motif most brilliantly exemplified in Dec. 7.9, the tale of Lidia, Nicostrato and Pirro--might provoke a wry chuckle or two. But a bout of laughter so sustained that it is more easily imagined than described?
(41) The notion that humans could be transformed into beasts of burden had much currency in the Middle Ages (see note 1, p. 1495 Mondadori ed.). In bk. 18 of City of God, Augustine describes the use of magic to effect such transformations.
(42) Though Baratto does not elaborate on the connection, he too recognizes a polemical use of devotional imagery in this tale: "La stessa carica polemica, avvertibile implicitamente nella figura di un povero prete come nell'uso antifrastico di fonti devote, e resa piu sottile dalla neutralita livellatrice del racconto" (Realta e stile 363).
(43) In between this mock confession and travesty of a marriage, we find parodies of baptism (Andreuccio, in Dec. 2.5; Maestro Simone, 8.9) and penitence (e.g., Frate Puccio's "penitenza" in 3.4). Pier Massimo Forni writes: "An area of degradation--to use again Bakhtin's term--of the spiritual that certainly plays a central role in the conception of the Decameron, is the contrafactum, the parody of the sacred texts and of the liturgy of Christianity" (Adventures in Speech 85).
(44) Fabliau 108, vol. 4, p. 208 of Montaiglon and Raynaud's Recueil general et complet des fabliaux.
(45) Cormac o Cuilleanain asserts that the sacraments most neglected by Boccaccio are those involving a literal or metaphorical laying on of hands (Religion and the Clergy in Boccaccio's Decameron 132). If my reading of Dec. 9.10 is accepted, Donno Gianni's eroticized laying on of hands will do much to compensate this apparent neglect.
(46) Dec. 9.10: head-hair-arms-chest-back-stomach-croup/rump (groppe)-thighs-legs-tail/ Summa Supplement: eyes-ears-nostrils-mouth-hands-(loins)-feet.
(47) Interestingly, the sexual position used by donno Gianni and Gemmata--"nam more ferarum/quadrupedumque"--is one that Lucretius recommends to enhance the possibility of conception (De rerum natura 4.1265).
(48) On this matter, see Chiecchi's"Dolcemente dissimulando" cartelle Laurenziane e Decameron censurato (1573) (153, 158, 191).
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|Author:||Gittes, Tobias Foster|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
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