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A quotation from the 'Culex' in Boccaccio's 'De Casibus'.

For an author dealing programmatically with the downfalls of famous men, the matter (if not necessarily the texts) of the two Homeric epics provided ample scope for edifying example. In the thirteenth chapter of the first book of the De Casibus Virorum Illustrium, Boccaccio writes at length of the fall from fortune of Priam, king of Troy. (1) After a brief but inevitable chapter castigating the proud, the author in the fifteenth chapter turns, as a matter of moral balance, from the Trojan leader to the Greek:

Grande quippe argumentum instantis Fortune, si inspicere velint qua mavis causa elati, Priamus est; et vix, si hystorias evolvas omnes, comperies simile. Sane, ut eiusdem latius circumvolutiones monstremus, Agamenonem, inclitum Grecorum imperatorem, qui sibi ex casu Priami sublimem et prefulgidum triunphum presagierat, ceteris regibus derelictis, deducamus in medium. (1, 15, 1-2)

Tacitly, by moving from Priam's downfall to the departure of the Greeks (including Ulysses) from Troas, he is claiming in these chapters to have scrutinized, in proper chronological order, the subject matter of both the end of the Iliad and the opening situation of the Odyssey. The deliberate impression here is that Boccaccio, in dealing with the matter of Troy, had been overwhelmed by a mammoth, unmanageable bibliography on the subject. Whilst this might be true in the abstract, when all sources are freely available, it may have been somewhat hyperbolic in practice when Boccaccio was still waiting for direct access to Greek literature. The question of 'when' is extremely important. One of the key questions with the De Casibus is the dating of the two versions, A and B, one possibly from the latter half of the 1350s and one considerably later, possibly even from the 1370s. (2) The argument on precise precedence of these redactions is complex, and revolves in part on the degree of direct knowledge of Homer, and, in particular, on a crucial reference to the late of the Greeks after the triumph over Troy. Redaction A reads:

De Agamenone rege Micenarum Ulixes per altiora ductus, quorsum appulerit non satis certum est. Agamenon

whereas redaction B adds a significant insert (italicized):

certum est, esto ad Calipsonas insulas dicat Homerus. Agamenon

Vittorio Zaccaria comments: 'Bene afferma il Ricci che l'inciso [...] e la "piu diretta, limpida, perentoria prova" per la dimostrazione della posteriorita di B. E vero infatti che anche in altre fonti (p. es. in Ditti Cretese) poteva il Boccaccio trovare notizia del soggiorno di Ulisse nell'isola di Calipso; ma e anche vero che qui e esplicitamente citato Omero come fonte diretta' ('Le due redazioni', pp. 8-9).

As is well known, it was Boccaccio who arranged for the Calabrian Greek, Leontius Pilatus, to translate and comment the Iliad and the Odyssey. This task took place during the years 1360-63. (3) Certainly by the time of the later redaction of the De Casibus Boccaccio would have been able to sip culturally at the pure spring, rather than rely on possibly muddied waters downstream. (4) However, if the earlier version, as suspected, is prior to Boccaccio's sponsorship of the Calabrian's translation into Latin, then things begin to get a bit complicated. The gestation of the De Casibus, therefore, is situated precisely at the watershed of Boccaccio's Greek apprenticeship, and needs to be examined attentively. Any references to matters Homeric are of crucial importance, even if they demonstrate, as I shall show, sources other than Homer. In particular, there needs to be a clear distinction between what was primitively possible, pre-Leontius, and what may have been added afterwards, but without necessarily withdrawing the earlier, non-Greek source. Given the somewhat chaotic process of Boccaccio's self-editing over time, with its attendant risks of non-excision of superseded material, it may indeed be possible to find evidence of a fascinating cohabitation of prior, indirect sources with later more authentic ones.

A perfunctory glance at Boccaccio's earlier output shows that he was not content to await the labours of Leontius in order to exploit material of ultimately Homeric origin, albeit transmitted through a variety of Latin sources both ancient and contemporary. For instance, it is clear that Joseph of Exeter's influential De Bello Troiano made a deep impression on the young writer, for traces of its powerful pathos can be seen reproduced in Boccaccio's very earliest Latin carmen, the so-called Elegia di Costanza. (5) He also made a copy in his own hand of at least part of Joseph's poem. (6) Boccaccio's own Trojan romance, the Filostrato (1335?), derives ultimately from Benoit de Ste Maure's Roman de Troie, probably through the vector of Guido delle Colonne's Historia Destructionis Troie, which had received a volgarizzamento at the hands of Binduccio dello Scelto. (7) As was to be expected, given the uniform bias of his pre-Leontian sources, the Iliadic material outweighs the Odyssean in Boccaccio's early fictions. Later in his career, the fate of Troy and that of the returning Greeks, of Agamemnon in particular, receives a brief exposition in Amorosa visione, XXXIV. 43-83, as an arresting example of the vagaries of Fortuna. This account, dating from approximately 1342-43 in its first redaction, is, despite the sketchiness of detail, almost identical in its outline to the pattern in the later De Casibus. It is a conscious attempt to point out the parallel falls, first of the Trojans then of the Greeks, to indicate the ineluctable cyclicality of Fortuna. (8)

As I have indicated, the fate of Agamemnon receives specific coverage in the fifteenth chapter of the De Casibus, along with a brief but important mention of Ulysses. (9) Given that the purpose of the whole book is to illustrate the vanity of worldly achievements and the concomitant slide from grace of even the most favoured of mortals, the catastrophic moment (in the technical sense) after the Greeks' triumphing over Troy comes in for especial treatment. Here is part of Boccaccio's account, dealing with the scattering of the homeward-bound fleet:

Ylione quippe deleto et victoria Paridis iniuria expiata et Ulixi et Aiacis questione sopita, [Agamemnon] cum reges et populos apud Tenedum coegisset, in naves triunphum spectabilem ducturus, datis vento velis, classem eduxit in altum. Et ecce repente turbari nubibus et murmure celum, impetuosorum ventorum rabies exoriri, mare inflatum horrido turbine circumvolvi ceptum est. Hinc disiuncta classis, turbati remiges, ablata cum malis vela, et semoti ab officiis naute; nec mora illidi naves invicem, undis concuti vel assummi, scopulis infringi, atque quo magis poterat ventorum impetus vehi cepere; quam ob rem in incertum cursum tenuere plurime. Quid multa? Inter nauticum clamorem, precationes deorum in cassum, turbatis omnibus et luce perdita, disgregate non quo ceperant abiere; plures Nauplii dolo, mortis indigne filii dolore tracti, in Capharei scopulos periere; non nullas absorbere lybice Sirtes; quedam inter sparsas Egeo mari Cicladas devolute sunt; alie summum ad eurum sumpsere equor, et quo tendebant omnes pauce devenere. Sic, ex superstitibus tempestatis, Menelaus una cum Helena in Egyptum apud Polibum regem transvectus est. Menesteus, Athenarum rex, nausea fatigatus, cum Melos appulisset, clausit diem. Diomedes in oras Yllirici constitit, sub Gargano monte conpulsus. Ulixes, per altiora devectus, quorsum appulerit non satis est, esto ad Calipsonis insulis dicat Homerus. (I. 15. 9-16)

Boccaccio subsequently deals with the fatal homecoming of Agamemnon, dwelling with great narrative skill on his murder, accomplished with the aid of a cunningly sewn shirt. (10) The shipwreck scene quoted above is reminiscent of Dante's description of Ulysses's sinking in Inferno, XXVI, (11) and also of its Virgilian model, the wrecking of Aeneas's fleet in Aeneid, I. (12) Boccaccio, it is clear, as was also the case with Petrarch, (13) liked the literary challenge of shipwreck scenes. (14) In the Filocolo, for instance, there is an exceptionally vivid account of maritime perils in Book IV, when Florio and Ascalion, along with their chosen companions, embark confidently at Alfea (Pisa), only to encounter a frighteningly rough passage before landfall at Naples. As with the disastrous embarkation of the Greeks, it is a programmatic illustration of the workings of providence: 'Ma la misera fortuna, che niuno mondano bene lascia gustare sanza il suo fele, non consenti che lungamente questa fede fosse a' disiosi giovani servata' (IV. 6. 4). The paired mention of Fortuna and lovers' faithfulness here is an important clue. The storm that is about to strike the ship is a storm of passion, and, as a dream anticipation in Book III makes clear, the real subject is the wind of envy or jealousy. (15) The allegory is nevertheless meteorologically vivid: winds are summoned, raising rough seas, and the ship's passengers 'quasi morti in tale affanno [...] nella nave si riputavano'. The sky darkens, the sea becomes threatening, and:

subitamente incomincio da' nuvoli a scendere un'acqua grandissima, e 'l vento a multiplicare in tanta quantita, che levate loro le vele e spezzato l'albero, non come essi voleano, ma come a lui piaceva, (16) li guidava. E li mari erano alti a cielo e da ogni parte percoteano la resistente nave, coprendo quella alcuna volta dall'un capo all'altro: e gia tolto avea loro uno de' timoni, e dell'altro stavano in grandissimo affanno di guardare. E il cielo s'apriva sovente mostrando terribilissimi e focosi baleni con pestilenziosi tuoni, i quali, in alcuna parte colti della nave, n'aveano tutte le bande mandate in mare: laonde tutti i marinari dopo lunga fatica, e combattuti dal vento e dalla sopravegnente acqua e da' tuoni, il potersi aiutare, o loro o la nave, aveano perduto, e chi qua e chi la quasi morti sopra la coperta della nave prostrati giaceano vinti; e quasi ogni speranza di salute, per lo dire de' padroni e per le manifeste cose, era perduta. (IV. 7. 2-4)

The specifically Ulyssean connotations of this maritime disaster become clear, paradoxically, only once the ship has safely berthed in Naples. Once there, Florio-Filocolo and Ascalion are obliged to overwinter so as to await more clement weather for their navigation. Boccaccio describes this delay using the unmistakable language of Dante's depiction of Ulysses's last voyage (italicized): 'Videro Filocolo e' suoi compagni Febeia cinque volte tonda e altretante cornuta, avanti che Noto le sue impetuose forze abandonasse: ne quasi mai in questo tempo videro rallegrare il tempo' (IV. 11. 1). (17)

Let us return to the shipwreck. Both allowing the ship to drift and giving up hope are apparently realistic details, but they hide important clues about sources. The loss of hope, which superficially has a distinctly Dantean ring (the last line of the inscription over the gate of Hell, in Inferno, III. 9), along with problems with the two steering oars, (18) tells us that Boccaccio was also reading the Acts of the Apostles. The description of the shipwreck of Paul includes the expression 'iam ablata erat spes omnis salutis nostrae' (Acts 27. 20). Once this source has been identified, it is easy to see that the drift of the ship is also from the same chapter: 'cumque arrepta esset navis et non posset conari in ventura, data nave flatibus ferebamur' (Acts 27. 15). It is at this dramatically and rhetorically critical point, like Dante chased at the heels by the three beasts in Inferno I, that Florio-Filocolo feels he can indulge in a long speech, here specifically complaining about the injustice of Fortuna. After this lament he invokes first Jupiter, then Venus, one of Florio's two tutelary deities (the other, predictably, being Mars). She is of assistance, and the battered ship eventually docks, as if by plan, in the port of Naples. This nautical episode, a veritable purple passage, is anticipated by a dream in the nineteenth chapter of Book III. Though the description of the ship's travails is substantially similar to the later passage in Book IV, the allegorical significance is much clearer in this premonitory vision, being a warning to Florio not to allow his love for Biancifiore to be submerged by jealousy for Fileno. (19) Thus one can understand why Florio on the wave-swept deck prays to Venus, and not to Mars, the irascible cause of his violent male passion. I shall return to this allegory later.

In the Decameron, too, there are some arresting depictions of actual shipwreck. In the case of Landolfo Rufolo, the pirate ship he is being transported on is separated from its escort and is violently driven onto shallows, in a distinctly Ulyssean stretch of sea, by a sudden squall:

ma nel fare della sera si mise un vento tempestoso, il qual faccendo i mari altissimi divise le due cocche l'una dall'altra. E per forza di questo vento addivenne che quella sopra la quale era il misero e povero Landolfo con grandissimo impeto di sopra all'isola di Cifalonia percosse in una secca, e non altramenti che un vetro percosso a un muro tutta s'aperse e si stritolo: di che i miseri dolenti che sopra quella erano, essendo gia il mare tutto pieno di mercatantie che notavano e di casse e di tavole come in cosi fatti casi suole avvenire, quantunque obscurissima notte fosse e il mare grossissimo e gonfiato, s'incominciarono a appiccare a quelle cose che per ventura lor si parevan davanti. (Decameron, II. 4. 16-17) (20)

As the crew struggle in the water, the telltale presence of the word 'tavole', coupled with the bobbing merchandise and chests, shows that Boccaccio was recollecting the canonic Virgilian shipwreck description from the first book of the Aeneid, with its 'tabulaeque et Troia gaza per undas' (I. 119). (21) Two stories later in the Decameron, the copulatory adventures of Alatiel are also prefaced with a powerful evocation of a storm at sea:

si levarono un giorno diversi venti, li quali, essendo ciascuno oltre modo impetuoso, si faticaron la nave dove la donna era e' marinari, che piu volte per perduti si tennero. Ma pure, come valenti uomini, ogni arte e ogni forza operando, essendo da infinito mare combattuti, due di sostennero; e surgendo gia dalla tempesta cominciata la terza notte e quella non cessando ma crescendo tuttafiata, non sappiendo essi dove si fossero ne potendo per estimazione marineresca comprendere ne per vista, per cio che obscurissimo di nuvoli e di buia norte era il cielo, essendo essi non guari sopra Maiolica, sentirono la nave sdruscire.

Per la qual cosa, non veggendovi alcun rimedio al loro scampo, avendo a mente ciascun se medesimo e non altrui, in mare gittarono un paliscalmo, e sopra quello piu tosto di fidarsi disponendo che sopra la isdruscita nave si gittarono i padroni; a' quali appresso or l'uno or l'altro di quanti uomini erano nella nave, quantunque quegli che prima nel paliscalmo eran discesi con le coltella in mano il contradicessero, tutti si gittarono, e credendosi la morte fuggire in quella incapparono: per cio che, non potendone per la contrarieta del tempo tanti reggere il paliscalmo, andato sotto, tutti quanti perirono. E la nave, che da impetuoso vento era sospinta, quantunque isdruscita fosse e gia presso che piena d'acqua, non essendovi su rimasa altra persona che la donna e le sue femine [...] velocissimamente correndo in una piaggia dell'isola di Maiolica percosse. E fu tanta e si grande la foga di quella, che quasi tutta si ficco nella rena, vicina al lito forse una gittata di pietra. (Decameron, II. 7. 10-13)

This lively narration would seem to combine yet again Dante's Ulysses and Virgil's sinking of Aeneas's fleet, mentioned above, but then, as in the Filocolo, Boccaccio patterns it narratively with the account of Saint Paul's shipwreck on Malta (Acts 27. 14-41), with its treacherous but aborted attempt by the crew to abandon ship on a lifeboat, leaving the passengers to their fate, and the final, fortunate driving ashore on the coast of Malta. (22) Such a Pauline model, if correct, requires careful assessment in view of the ideology of the novella, with its Christian-pagan contrasts and its iterative illustration of Fortuna and divine intervention (Is it Providence or Grace? A very Pauline concern).

In the Genealogie, the navigational metaphor for intellectual discovery, repeated through the proems of each book, allows for moments of extreme turbulence, as when the author is faced with the scholarly confusion of recording the unruly Titanides:

Fluctuabar adhuc, splendide princeps, circa Paphum oppidum tuum, Veneris infauste describens illecebras, cum ecce, quasi Eoli carcere fracto, omnes in pelagus prodeuntes sevire venti ceperunt, et in celum surgere fluctus impetu inpulsi maximo, eoque repellente, in profundum usque demergi Herebum. Qui dum ascenderent et mergerentur iterum, flatusque illos valido spiritu ex transverso confringerent, stupidus ego et semivictus novitatis horrore, quidnam tam repentine tempestati causam prestitisset excogitans, fere absorptus sum. Tandem eius crebro invocans suffragium, qui ex navicula piscatoria ad se venientem periclitantemque Petrum manu sustulit, nunc dextrorsum, nunc sinistrorsum deiectum lembum, quibus poteram viribus regens, eo usque fere naufragus deductus sum, ut ex alto cernerem non aliter quam si dirutis ferreis Ditis muris, disiectis vinculis, Titanis antiqui immanem adventare prolem. (IV proem, 12)

Here, clearly, the traditional shipwreck motifs (for example, the escape of the winds from their Eolian prison in Aeneid I. 65-86) have been embroidered with material from Christ's calming of the waters of Galilee (Matthew 8. 23-27; Mark 4. 35-41; Luke 8. 22-25) and the walking on the waters (Matthew 14. 22-27; Mark 6. 45-52; John 6. 16). Yet another vivid evocation of a storm at sea opens the seventh book of the Genealogie, comparing the mountainous waves of the northern Atlantic to the 'ludum iocumque' of the supposedly clement Mediterranean. However, let us return to the description, in De Casibus, 1. 15, of the dispersal and foundering of the returning Greek fleet. In the previous sentences of the chapter the remaining problems of the Trojan war (such as the quarrel between Ajax and Ulysses over the arms of Achilles) have been solved, the ships have been loaded with the rich spoils of the city, and the Greeks set sail from the shores of Troy:

datis vento velis, classem eduxit in altum. Et ecce repente turbari nubibus et murmure celum, impetuosorum ventorum rabies exoriri, (23) mare inflatum horrido turbine circumvolvi ceptum est. Hinc disiuncta classis, turbati remiges, ablata cum malis vela, et semoti ab officiis naute; nec mora illidi naves invicem, undis concuti vel assummi, scopulis infringi, atque quo magis poterat ventorum impetus vehi cepere; quam ob rem in incertum cursum tenuere plurime. Quid multa? Inter nauticum clamorem, precationes deorum in cassum, turbatis omnibus et luce perdita, disgregate non quo ceperant abiere; plures Nauplii dolo, mortis indigne filii dolore tracti, in Capharei scopulos periere; non nullas absorbere lybice Sirtes; quedam inter sparsas Egeo mari Cicladas devolute sunt; alie summum ad eurum sumpsere equor, et quo tendebant omnes pauce devenere. (De Casibus, 1. 15. 9-12)

Whilst the Virgilian account of the wreck of Aeneas's fleet in Book I of the Aeneid is still an obvious, indeed inevitable inspiration for this passage, the actual model Boccaccio is employing is much less well known. It is a brief passage in the Culex, a short mock-epic traditionally ascribed to Virgil's youth, though arguments still continue to this day as to its real authorship. (24) In the Middle Ages, however, it was universally thought to be Virgilian. (25) In it, a sleeping shepherd is saved from a serpent's bite by being stung on the eyelid by a mosquito. Squashing the mosquito, the shepherd wakes up and dispatches the snake. The poor mosquito returns as a ghost the next day, and relates to the shepherd its doomed descent into the underworld. The poem finishes with the shepherd building a miniature tomb, and in gratitude appending a solemn funeral inscription to the heroic insect.

The mosquito's descent into Hades is an opportunity for a 'fly on the wall' account of the denizens of the underworld, modelled on Homer's nekuyia in the eleventh book of the Odyssey and analogous to Virgil's own catalogue of heroes in Aeneid VI. Part of the mosquito's review covers the deeds of the combatants of the Trojan war. It is technically an epyllion, an exquisitely coloured miniature Iliad. Then the mosquito proleptically ('iamque') alludes to the continuation of the Iliad into the Odyssey, first highlighting major incidents in the siege and then in Ulysses's wandering:

Huic gerit aversos proles Laertia vultus,

et iam Strymonii Rhesi victorque Dolonis

Pallade iam laetatur ovans rursusque tremescit:

iam Ciconas iamque horret atrox Laestrigone <litus>;

illum Scylla rapax canibus succincta Molossis,

Aetneusque Cyclops, illum metuenda Charybdis

pallentesque lacus et squalida Tartara terrent.

(Culex, l. 327)

In a conscious piece of self-referential recursiveness, this little Odyssey, staged in an insect's underworld, itself climaxes with Ulysses's own nekuyia ('squalida Tartara'). Then the mosquito turns to the remaining Greeks, singling out Agamemnon: 'Hic et Tantalae generamen prolis Atrides | adsidet, Argivum lumen, quo flamma regente | Doris Ericthonias prostravit funditus arces'. Now Boccaccio's De Casibus post-Troy chapter is precisely about Agamemnon, even the description of the king is the same: the Culex names him as 'Tantalae generamen prolis Atrides' and Boccaccio writes: 'Is quidem a Tantalo [...] duxit originem'. The Culex calls him 'Argivum lumen' and Boccaccio repeatedly uses words like 'prefulgidus', 'clarus', and 'illustris'. Then the mosquito deals with the shipwreck of the Greek fleet:

Reddidit, heu, Graiius poenas tibi, Troia, ruenti,

Hellespontiacis obiturus reddidit undis.

Illa vices hominum testata est copia quondam,

ne quisquam propriae fortunae munere dives

iret invectus caelum super: omne propinquo

frangitur invidiae telo decus. Ibat in altum

vis Argea petens patriam ditataque praeda

arcis Ericthoniae; comes huic erat aura secunda

per placidum cursu pelagus; Nereis ab unda

signa dabat passim flexis super alta carinis,

cum seu caelesti fato seu sideris ortu

undique mutatur caeli nitor, omnia ventis,

omnia turbinibus sunt anxia; iam maris unda

sideribus certat consurgere, iamque superne

corripere et soles et sidera cuncta minatur

ac ruere in terras caeli fragor. Hic modo laetans

copia nunc miseris circumdatur anxia fatis

immoriturque super fluctus et saxa Capherei,

Euboicas aut per cautes Aegaeaque late

litora, cum Phrygiae passim vaga praeda peremptae

omnis in aequoreo fluitat iam naufraga fluctu.

(Culex, l. 337)

The reprises are striking: in the De Casibus Boccaccio describes the triumphantly returning king of the Argives as 'asyatica preda ditatus', here in the Culex we see that the Argive power (grammatically feminine) is 'ditata praeda | arcis Ericthoniae'. When the ships sail, the Latin poet writes, in end-of-line position, 'Ibat in altum', and Boccaccio duly paraphrases 'classem eduxit in altum' precisely at the prose equivalent, the end of a sentence (my italics in all cases). The meteorological catastrophe in both texts is sudden. The Culex dramatically describes the darkening skies and the rushing squall raising the seas, exaggerating the height of the waves, which threaten to swamp the sun and stars and bring them crashing down:

cum seu caelesti fato seu sideris ortu

undique mutatur caeli nitor, omnia ventis,

omnia turbinibus sunt anxia; iam maris unda

sideribus certat consurgere, iamque superne

corripere et soles et sidera cuncta minatur

ac ruere in terras caeli fragor.

(Culex, l. 347, my italics)

Boccaccio is almost equally melodramatic, merely leaving out the reference to heavenly Pate or to the stars, and allowing the seas to pile up naturalistically before the raging wind:

Et ecce repente turbari nubibus et murmure celum, impetuosorum ventorum rabies exoriri, mare inflatum horrido turbine circumvolvi ceptum est. (I. 15. 10, my italics)

Most importantly of all, both accounts feature the telltale 'turbo', missing from the wreck scene in the Aeneid (but present, significantly, in Dante's account of Ulysses's last voyage ('un turbo nacque', Inferno, XXVI. 137)). (26) At this point the two accounts drift apart. Boccaccio inserts a bravura segment about the smashing together of the helmless vessels: 'Hinc disiuncta classis, turbati remiges, ablata cum malis vela, et semoti ab officiis naute; nec mora illidi naves invicem, undis concuti vel assummi, scopulis infringi' (I. 15. 11). The loss of sails and dismasting links this passage back to the description of shipwreck in the Filocolo: 'levate loro le vele e spezzato l'albero' (IV. 7. 2). It is a self-quotation, just like the 'mare inflatum', which reprises the 'mare grossissimo e gonfiato' (Decameron, II. 4. 17), that buffets Landolfo Rufolo (my italics).

Then the two accounts come together again. Boccaccio writes that the storm dispersed the fleet irretrievably, sending individual ships into unforeseen, often disastrous itineraries:

quam ob rem inincertum cursum tenuere plurime. Quid multa? Inter nauticum clamorem, precationes deorum in cassum, turbatis omnibus et luce perdita, disgregate non quo ceperant abiere; plures Nauplii dolo, mortis indigne filii dolore tracti, in Capharei scopulos periere; non nullas absorbere lybice Sirtes; quedara inter sparsas Egeo mari Cicladas devolute sunt; alie summum ad eurum sumpsere equor, et quo tendebant omnes pauce devenere. Sic, ex superstitibus tempestatis, Menelaus una cum Helena in Egyptum apud Polibum regem transvectus est. Menesteus, Athenarum rex, nausea fatigatus, cum Melos appulisset, clausit diem. Diomedes in oras Yllirici constitit, sub Gargano monte conpulsus. Ulixes, per altiora devectus, quorsum appulerit non satis certum est, esto ad Calipsonis insulas dicat Homerus. Agamenon--ut de reliquis sileam --fere solus ad exitium suum Micenas pervenit. (DeCasibus, I. 15. 11-17).

The reference to the noise of sailors' vain prayers mixed with shouts: 'Inter nauticum clamorem, precationes deorum in cassum', is, predictably, a reprise of the passage in the Filocolo immediately before Florio makes his complaint to Fortuna: there, Boccaccio writes:

Multiplicava ciascuna ora alla sconsolata nave piu pericolo, e ancora che il romore del mare e de' venti e de' tuoni e delll'acque fosse grandissimo, ancora il faceano molto maggiore le dolenti voci de' marinari, le quali alcune in ramarichii, altre in prieghi agl'iddii che gli dovessero atare dolorosissime delle loro bocche procedeano, conoscendo il pericolo in che erano. (IV. 8. 1, my italics)

After this self-quotational, decorative insert, Boccaccio proceeds to outline the geography of dispersal, in as far as it could be known, including the landfall of Ulysses. This is the key passage, as we have seen, used in arguments about the relative dating of the two versions of the De Casibus, for it contains an explicit reference to what Homer says, seeming to qualify or correct what is presented as a generally held opinion. One would not, however have had to read far into the Odyssey to come across the reference, for it occurs in Homer's opening sequence, immediately after the invocation (I. 12). Of the surviving Greeks only Ulysses tarried in his homecoming, held back by Calypso in her solitary grotto. (27) However, here too, despite the almost boastful reference to Homer, we can see the residual influence of the Culex at work. Pseudo-Virgilius writes:

Hic modo laetans

copia nunc miseris circumdatur anxia fatis

immoriturque super fluctus et saxa Capherei,

Euboicas aut per cautes Aegeaeque late

litora, cum Phrygiae passim vaga praeda peremptae

omnis in aequoreo fluitat iam naufraga fluctu.

(l. 352, my italics)

The Odyssey never mentions the reefs of Caphareus, where the lesser Ajax met his death. It is however possible that Boccaccio could have picked up a Paint signal from Ovid, Metamorphoses XIV, where Diomedes makes his excuses for not offering military assistance:

Postquam alta cremata est

Ilion et Danaas paverunt Pergama flammas

Naryciusque heros, a Virgine virgine rapta,

quam meruit poenam solus, digessit in omnes,

spargimur et ventis inimica per aequora rapti

fulmina, noctem, imbres, iram caelique marisque

perpetimur Danai, cumulumque Capharea cladis.

(Metamorphoses, XIV. 466)

Ovid refers to Caphareus also in Tristia, I. I. 83-84 and v. 7.35-36. Similarly, there is a mention of this ships' graveyard in Aeneid XI: 'scit triste Minervae | sidus et Euboicae cautes uhorque Caphereus' (l. 259), commented upon by Servius, and almost certainly the model for the line in the Culex, if it is indeed, as I strongly suspect, a post-Virgilian composition. Such Paint toponymic invitations were enough, at the time, for those claiming false acquaintance with the bard. Extrapolating from these same sources, Petrarch, in the opening paragraph of his vivid letter about the storm at Naples, blandly but mistakenly assumes that Caphareus is part of the Homeric narrative: 'et, ne manifesta in re supervacuis utar, homericam tempestatem nosti et allisum scopulo ducem atque omnem Capharei montis insultum; quem imitati, nostri poetae 'aquarum montes ad sidera sustulerunt' (Familiares, V. 5, my italics). (28)

However, let us return to the De Casibus. Given the similarity of narrative development, the compact series of geographical references to the dispersal of the fleet in Boccaccio is almost certainly an echo of the Culex passage. One element of the Culex description that seems to be missing, however, and that, with its strong Dantean associations (Inferno, XXVI. 136) would have been hard for Boccaccio, in a moralizing work like the De Casibus, to resist, is the reference to a sudden change of circumstance of the Greek host from joyful to depressed. The Culex, as we have seen, uses it as an introduction to the skedasis: 'Hic modo laetans | copia nunc miseris circumdatur anxia fatis' (I. 352). It is true that the inversion formula does not appear in the equivalent position in the De Casibus account, but we only have to wait a few lines for further discussion of Agamemnon's homecoming, and there, in front of our eyes, we find: 'Micenas pervenit, anxius, ex victore victus, et deiectus ex triunphante, ubi festos quos speraverat dies miser vertit in lacrimas' (I. 15. 17, my italics).

That Boccaccio should have had access to what, in the Middle Ages, was quite a rare text from the Appendix Virgiliana seems initially surprising. (29) It turns out, however, that Boccaccio actually made his own copy of the Culex, along with the Dirae, in the Miscellanea Latina manuscript (Laur. 33. 31), making a valiant attempt to understand and 'improve' the notoriously corrupt text, and providing numerous glosses of his own. Authors used in these glosses include Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis, Virgil, Livy, Ovid, Juvenal, Valerius Maximus, Servius, Hyginus, and amongst the moderns, John of Garland and Giovanni del Virgilio. (30)

The Miscellanea Latina has been tentatively dated by Albinia De la Mare to the early 1340s, on the basis of essentially palaeographical evidence. (31) If this is so, a number of issues of chronology need to be linked together. The dispersal and shipwreck material in the De Casibus seems to share characteristics with passages from the Filocolo (1336 38), the Amorosa visione (1342 43), the Decameron (1352-53), and finally, in addition to the Culex material (1340, but in all probability actually seen much earlier), with the Homeric correction itself, referred to in Redaction B, and only available some time after 1360. It is generally believed that Leontius started by translating the Iliad, so presumably a date post 1361 at the earliest is likely, unless Boccaccio impatiently asked for a preview of the Odyssey. What is certainly clear is that Boccaccio had made a considerable investment in 'Homeric' research for the earlier version of the De Casibus, including the paraphrasing of material from a little-known and difficult poem which not even Petrarch seems to have known as more than a name. When the time came to integrate genuine Homeric material, he did not have the courage or inclination to revise or excise the previous (and now obsolete) sourcing of the chapter, and contented himself with a mere insert, pitting the authority of Homer against the rest on one small, seemingly tangential but obsessively interesting detail, the eventual landfall of Ulysses. The clinching feature that probably convinced Boccaccio, in the first place, to use the Culex for the De Casibus lies in the bridge passage that links the 'Odyssean' section of the poem to the following part telling of the ruin of the Greeks. Pseudo-Virgilius writes:

Reddidit, heu, Graiius poenas tibi, Troia, ruenti,

Hellespontiacis obiturus reddidit undis.

Illa vices hominum testata est copia quondam,

he quisquam propriae fortunae munere dives

iret invectus cadum super," omne propinquo

frangitur invidiae telo decus.

(l. 337, my italics)

It is almost a dictionary definition of what the cautionary De Casibus as a whole is all about. With such a rubric, Boccaccio is being handed a perfect example of pride and fall, on a plate, complete with moral condiment. One small element in the passage above makes one wonder, however, if in the midst of these overlapping dates and insecure chronologies, one can place the access to the Culex somewhat earlier than even the palaeographic evidence of the Miscellanea Latina transcription suggests. The Filocolo, IV. 7 shipwreck description, which, as we have seen, contributes substantially, like the various Decameron shipwrecks, to the De Casibus Agamemnon chapter, is anticipated by a dream in Book III. It comes at a moment when Florio-Filocolo is consumed by jealousy, falsely believing that Biancifiore has succumbed to the courtship of Fileno. Our love-pilgrim has been contemplating suicide, and has clasped a blade, in anticipation of the deed. He then falls asleep on his bed, and enters a navigatory dream. In the vision, the ship's seaworthiness is, it anything, even more doubtful than that of the vessel in Book IV. In addition to the waves, Florio is beset by nakedness and a blindfold, not good nautical apparel for rough seas, though highly appropriate oneiric garb. What finally risks sinking the ship, however, is the appearance of a 'spirito nero e terribile a guardare, il quale prendeva la proda di questa nave, e tanto forte la tirava in giuso che gia mezza l'aveva nelle tempestose onde tuffata' (III. 19. 5). In the dream Florio pleads for assistance, and a naked Biancifiore hands him a sword and causes his blindfold to drop. The spirit is chased away, the sea calms, and Florio wakes up to find the sword in his hand changed into an olive branch. Whilst the olive branch might, in the nautical circumstances, make one think of Noah's ark (Genesis 8. 11), here it is a symbol of Minerva, or wisdom, which allows the now un-blindfolded Florio to understand that he had been blinded with jealousy towards Fileno. Now awake, he casts the real blade aside, abandoning thoughts of suicide. The storm, therefore, was a storm of passion, just as the shipwreck of Aeneid, I. 117 had been traditionally interpreted in allegorical readings, and behind the dream-code the real risk of sinking was the prospect of Florio killing himself. As symbolic and allegorical narrative it is typical of the rather overblown approach of the juvenile Boccaccio, but if we look at the end of the Culex quotation above, we see that the real cause of the Greek fleet's foundering is envy: 'omne propinquo | frangitur invidiae telo decus'. All glory is smashed by the ever-present weapon of jealousy. Florio's dream of the destructive power of jealousy, therefore, may well have acquired its nautical imagery from this preface to the storm in the Culex. In which case, we can look to a date in the mid to late 1330s for Boccaccio's first, artistically fruitful encounter with elements of the Appendix Virgiliana.

(1) The quotations from the De Casibus are taken from Tutte b opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, 10 vols, ed. by Vittore Branca (Milan: Mondadori, 1983), Vol. IX, ed. by Pier Giorgio Ricci and Vittorio Zaccaria. References to other works by Boccaccio are from the same Mondadori series. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Professor Zaccaria for very helpful comments and generous encouragement regarding an earlier draft of this article.

(2) See Pier Giorgio Ricci, 'Le due redazioni del De Casibus', Rinascimento, 13 (1962), 11-20, which should be read in conjunction with Vittorio Zaccaria, 'Le due redazioni del De Casibus', Studi sul Boccaccio, 10 (1977-78), 1-26

(3) See Manlio Pastore Stocchi, 'Il primo Omero del Boccaccio', Studi sul Boccaccio, 5 (1969), 99-112; still essential reading is A. Pertusi's magisterial Leonzio Pilato fra Petrarca e Boccaccio (Venice: Istituto per la collaborazione culturale, 1974).

(4) The striking image is Boccaccio's own, when justifying his revolutionary recourse to Greek sources, including Homer: 'Insipidum est ex rivulis querere quod possis ex fonte percipere' (Genealogie, xv. 7. 1).

(5) See Giuseppe Velli, Petrarca e Boccaccio: Tradizione, memoria, scrittura (Padua: An tenore, 1979), pp. 113-14.

(6) See Manlio Pastore Stocchi, 'Su alcuni autografi del Boccaccio', Studi sul Boccaccio, 10 (1977-78), 123-43 (p. 128 n. 1): 'Sebbene del Bellum Troianum rimanga solo un frammento di otto carte l'evidente carattere librario della parte superstite mostra che essa appartenne a un codice in cui il poema era trascritto per intero'.

(7) See M. Gozzi, 'Sulle fonti del Filostrato', Studi sul Boccaccio, 5 (1968), 123-209.

(8) The first version contains, however, an isolated reference to the Old Testament figure Sennacherib, which gives way to a more properly balanced allusion to Achilles (XXXIV. 79) in the second redaction. Though Branca in his commentary suggests as a motivation a lessening enthusiasm for biblical example, the more probable reason for the substitution is that Boccaccio was consciously trying to obtain a Greek Trojan symmetry in his Homeric references, so as the better to illustrate the grim impartiality of Fortuna.

(9) Ulysses receives a fuller biography in Chapter 40 of Book XI of the Genealogie, a chapter written clearly with access to the Leontian translation of the Odyssey. A long disquisition in the eighth chapter of the Fiammetta (1343-44), comparing the heroine's sufferings with that of famous figures from the past, including the wandering Greek, contains no specific biographical details, other than Ulysses's generic peregrinations and dangers, and is chiefly important for the interpretation of his motivation, namely a love of fame.

(10) It is also featured in the Amorosa visione: 'vedi che Egisto li da strema cena, | togliendoli la vita, lui ingannato | dal vestir fatto con froda fallace, | feminea, ove fu dentro avviluppato' (XXXIV. 75).

(11) 'Cinque volte racceso e tante casso | lo lume era di sotto dalla luna, | poi che 'ntrati eravam nell'alto passo, | quando n'apparve una montagna, bruna | per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto | quanto veduta non avea alcuna. | Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto torno in pianto; | che della nova terra un turbo nacque, | e percosse del legno il primo canto. | Tre volte il fe' girar con tutte l'acque: | alla quarta levar la poppa in suso | e la prora ire in giu, com'altrui piacque, | infin che 'l mar fu sopra noi richiuso' (Inferno, XXVI. 130-42)

(12) 'Talia iactanti stridens Aquilone procella | velum adversa ferit, fluctusque ad sidera tollit. | franguntur remi, tuna prora avertit et undis | dat latus, insequitur cumulo praeruptus aquae mons. | hi summo in fluctu pendent; his unda dehiscens | terram inter fluctus aperit, furit aestus harenis. | tris Notus abreptas in saxa latentia torquet | (saxa vocant Itali mediis quae in fluctibus Aras, | dorsum immane mari summo), tris Eurus ab alto | in brevia et syrtis urget, miserabile visu, | inliditque vadis atque aggere cingit harenae. | unam, quae Lycios fidumque vehebat Oronten, | ipsius ante oculos ingens a vetice pontus | in puppim ferit: excutitur pronusque magister | volvitur in caput; ast illam ter fluctus ibidem | torquet agens circum et rapidus vorat aequore vertex. | apparent rari nantes in gurgite vasto, | arma virum tabulaeque et Troia gaza per undas. | iam validam Ilionei navem, iam fortis Achatae, | et qua vectus Abas, et qua grandaevus Aletes, | vicit hienas; laxis laterum compagibus omnes | accipiunt inimicum imbrem rimisque fatiscunt' (Aeneid, I. 104-25).

(13) See Familiares, V. 5 to Giovanni Colonna, describing a tempest at Naples, and the mass destruction of all but one ship in the port (the galley which miraculously survives is a convict-transport: a patent opportunity for Petrarch to expose the apparent paradox of Grace). The expression 'naufragium in portu facere' was proverbial. Additional colour in this Familiaris is provided by punctual borrowings from the description of Caesar's passage across the Adriatic during a storm, ferried by poor Amyclas (Lucan, Pharsalia, V. 590-677), an episode traditionally interpreted as poverty's immunity from Fortuna.

(14) See the aptly named Georges Ulysse, 'Naufrages, naufrages et naufrageurs dans le Decameron de Boccacce', Cahiers d'Etudes Romanes, 3 (1999), 7-27.

(15) Boccaccio returns memorably to the winds of envy in his self-defence in the Decameron: 'lo 'mpetuoso vento e ardente della 'nvidia' (Decameron, IV, Intr. 2).

(16) This is a clear reminiscence of Dante's 'come altrui piacque' when referring to the 'turbo' that sinks Ulysses's ship in Canto XXVI of Inferno.

(17) 'Li miei compagni fec'io si acuti | [...] | Cinque volte racceso, e tante casso | lo lume era di sotto dalla luna | [...] | Noi ci rallegrammo...' (Inferno, XXVI. 121, 131, 136).

(18) This is already ah anachronism for somebody of Boccaccio's time: the northern European innovation of the single rudder attached to the stern-post had already, and definitively, ousted the twin steering oars of Mediterranean tradition. Boccaccio's activity as a Bardi discepolo in Naples would have given him many opportunities to board ships to see for himself, and elsewhere he shows considerable familiarity with nautical matters.

(19) As with the interpretation of Dante's mother's dream in the Trattatello, Boccaccio is here obliged by tradition, when employing oneiric sequences, to provide an interpretative key.

(20) Petrarch in Familiares, V. 5 speaks of the unfortunate ships in the port of Naples being smashed against the rocky shore 'ceu [...] tenera ova'.

(21) Though the expression 'plank in a shipwreck' was clearly an almost proverbial metaphor rather than a felicitous Virgilian invention for use in a real naufragium, see for instance Cicero, Ad Atticum, IV. 19: 'una ex hoc naufragio tabula'.

(22) 'nautis vero quaerentibus fugere de navi cura misissent scapham in mare sub obtentu quasi a prora inciperet anchoras extendere. Dixit Paulus centurioni et militibus nisi hii in navi manserint vos salvi fieri non potestis. Tunc absciderunt milites funes scaphae' (Acts 27. 30). Paul's ship drives ashore in almost exactly the same way as that in the Decameron: 'et cum incidessimus in locum bithalassum inpegerunt navem et prora quidem fixa manebat inmobilis puppis vero solvebatur a vi maris' (Acts 27. 41).

(23) The phrasing here is very similar to the 'winds of envy' passage in the Decameron self-defence: 'estimava io che lo 'mpetuoso vento e ardente della 'nvidia non dovesse percuotere se non Falte torri o le piu levate cime degli alberi: ma mi truovo della mia estimazione ingannato. Per cio che, fuggendo io e sempre essendomi di fuggire ingegnato il fiero impeto di questo rabbioso spirito [...]' (Decameron, IV. Intr. 2, my italics).

(24) For a summary of views on authorship and dating, see Dieter Guntzschel, Beitrage zur Datierung des Culex (Munster: Aschendorff, 1972).

(25) Servius says as much at the beginning of his commentary: 'scripsit etiam septem sive octo libros hos: Cirin Aetnam Culicem Priapeia Catalepton Epigrammata Copam Diras', in the standard edition by Georg Thilo and Hermann Hagen, Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii carmina commentarii, 3 vols (Hildesheim: Olms, 1961), 1, 1.

(26) The possibility of a Dantean reading of the Culex, though remote, might allow for the sourcing of the previous line in the Comedy: 'Noi ci rallegrammo, e tosto torno in pianto' (XXVI. 136), which can be compared to 'Hic modo laetans | copia nunc miseris circumdatur anxia fatis' (l. 353). If such a reading were plausible, then it would also explain the end of line positioning of the 'nell'alto passo' (XXVI. 132) analogous to the Culex 'ibat in altum' (l. 342). However, one must be cautious in using 'turbo' as unequivocal proof of source, given the presence of Lucan's rapacious 'turbo' which strips off the 'super volitantia malum | vela' from Amyclas's smack ferrying Caesar across the Adriatic (Pharsalia, v. 595-96).

(27) Homer again refers to Ulysses's captivity with Calypso at the beginning of Odyssey Book v. Boccaccio will quote directly from Homer, in Greek, in Genealogie, IV. 41, when writing the biography of the nymph.

(28) Petrarch had it on Macrobius's authority (Saturnalia, VI, 6) that this heavily paraphrased 'Virgilian' line (which fuses Aeneid, I. 103 and 105) derived from Homer.

(29) It is not mentioned, for instance, in either L. D. Reynolds, Text and Transmission: A Survey of the Latin Classics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), or L. D. Reynolds and N. G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), but is noticed, however, by R. Sabbadini, Le scoperte dei codici latini e greci ne' secoli XIV e XV (Florence, 1967), 1, 31 and 41.

(30) See the excellent article by Mary Louise Lord, 'Boccaccio's Virgiliana in the Miscellanea Latina', Italia medioevale e umanistica, 34 (1991), 127-97, where the Culex transcription and its glossatory additions are described on pp. 132 to 184. Particularly long transcriptions from Dares and Dictys are used to gloss Culex, 325 and 328, implying that Boccaccio was especially anxious to make up for his lack of direct access to Homer. Robert Black makes some very informed comments on Boccaccio's sophistication as glossator of the Culex in 'Boccaccio, Reader of the Appendix Vergiliana: the Miscellanea Laurenziana and Fourteenth Century Schoolbooks', in Gli Zibaldoni di Boccaccio: Memoria, scrittura, riscrittura, ed. by Michelangelo Picone and Claude Cazale Berard (Florence: Franco Cesati, 1998), pp. 113-28. Reproductions of sections plus the explicit of the Culex in Boccaccio's handwriting can be seen in the same volume, pp. 246, 247 and 303.

(31) See Albinia C. De la Mare, The Handwriting of Italian Humanists (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Association internationale de bibliophilie, 1973), pp. 17-29, to be complemented by Virginia Brown, 'Boccaccio in Naples: the Beneventan Liturgical Palimpsest of the Laurentian Autographs (Mss 29.8 and 33.31)', Italia medioevale e umanistica, 34 (1991), 41-126.

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Title Annotation:Giovanni Boccaccio
Author:Usher, John
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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