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'Diana's Hunt,' 'Caccia di Diana': Boccaccio's First Fiction.

Boccaccio's earliest work in the vernacular, La caccia di Diana, was written c. 1333/4, when he was a student of canon law in Naples. As the editors of this splendid and assuredly definitive edition point out in their Introduction, its initial impetus can be traced to the sixth chapter of the Vita nuova, where Dante had written of his desire to record the name of his gentilissima, together with the names of many other ladies. Dante claims to have |taken' (presi) the names of sixty of the fairest ladies in Florence and |composed' (compuosi) an epistle in the the form of a serventese. No trace of the epistle has survived, which is not perhaps surprising since Dante says he will not be writing it (la quale io non scrivero). His only reason for bringing the fact to his reader's notice is that as he was |composing' his list it miraculously turned out that no position other than nine would be fitting for his lady.

Cassell and Kirkham prefer the more traditional interpretation of Dante's la quale io non scrivero. By translating it as |which I shall not write here', they are able to speculate briefly upon whether Boccaccio knew Dante's |letter' directly. But, as they promptly concede, Dante's brief description was all Boccaccio needed to compose and write a poem of his own along similar lines, peopling the work with fifty-eight young ladies drawn from the leading families of the Angevin capital, all individually named, and bringing their number up to sixty with his own anonymous lady and the goddess Diana herself. There can be little doubt that his motives were those of a resourceful young foreigner and man of letters in search of the patronage of the ladies' menfolk, and a consequent foothold in Neapolitan high society.

Like the Filocolo, his earliest vernacular work in prose, Boccaccio's Caccia di Diana is a prime example of contaminatio, reverberating in both its structure and its concepts with echoes of earlier literature. Cassell and Kirkham aptly describe the work as reflecting the |medieval passion for polyglot synthesis' (p. 6), a phrase they justify and illustrate by a comprehensive listing and intelligent, scholarly discussion of its various sources: Dante, Ovid, Apuleius, Claudian, Boethius, the Bible, St Gregory, patristic literature in general, the pseudo-Rabanus Maurus, and mediaeval bestiaries. The symbolism deriving from bestiaries is rightly given prominence in the Introduction and the Commentary on the poem, but other topics, such as the poem's numerological aspects, are also placed under close scrutiny. The lure of mediaeval number symbolism occasionally beguiles the editors into dubious speculative judgements for instance, in their commentary on the hunting dogs of canto III. Drawing attention to the tale of Nastagio degli Onesti from the Decameron's Fifth Day, they ask: |Is it coincidence that the figures marking the tale's position (5.8) duplicate the Hunt's recurrent verse totals, fifty-eight per canto?' The answer to their question must be |Yes!', but that is not to say that the placing of other tales in the master-work does not warrant enquiries of the kind. The two tales that include diatribes against the religious, for instance, those concerning Tedaldo and Frate Rinaldo, being placed at III, 7 and VII, 3 respectively, provide material for interpretation whether in malo or in bono, terms for which Cassell and Kirkham show a special liking in their illuminating commentary on the numerous beasts that appear in Boccaccio's enigmatic juvenilium.

The editors supply a facing-page translation of the poem which has the virtues of plainness and accuracy. They also provide an extensive bibliography and a useful index to their Introduction and Commentary. With this edition of the Caccia, Cassell and Kirkham have shed considerable light on an area of Boccaccio studies that has not thus far attracted much critical attention. They will perhaps allow this admiring reviewer to mention one minor error on p. 189, where |Bruno' should read |Buffalmacco'. One ventures to add that Boccaccio's use of nacchere in the passage from the Decameron (VIII, 9) to which the footnote refers has nothing to do with |repeated sexual percussion', except in the mind of its hearer. Like much else in the Caccia, its origins may be sought in Dante, and it simply forms part of the outrageous torrent of lavatorial images with which Buffalmacco regales the hapless Mastro Simone, pre-announcing to the reader his victim's ultimate fate when he is dumped at dead of night into a cess-pit.
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Author:McWilliam, G.H.
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1992
Previous Article:Dante's Journey of Sanctification.
Next Article:Giovanni Boccaccio: 'Decameron.'

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