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The Brigata's overarching tale: rewriting the Christian Middle Ages.

1. The Sacred and Profane in the Decameron: Betwixt and Between Seriousness and Parody

As we have seen in the first essay, the Boccaccio persona's voice in the Decameron opens and concludes the masterpiece, speaking within his own Proem and Conclusion. In both Proem and Conclusion he refers to, praises, or invokes God, as he also does in other instances of his all-encompassing discourse; references, invocations, and praises to God are also made, from time to time, by the ten young people within their chronotope and by other characters within their tales as well. 1 In spite of the presence of the sacred, taken seriously in so many chronotopes of the masterpiece, the Decameron's main thrust is to rewrite the traditional Christian approach to life, as represented, for instance, by the journey of Dante the Pilgrim, or Dante's ancestor Cacciaguida. According to this view of Christian life and the world, humans are on a pilgrimage toward God, from the beginning to the end of their lives, called upon to live each day of their existence within a community pervaded by the supernatural from daybreak until night. According to my reading, the Decameron rewrites this typical view of medieval life.

At the same time, Boccaccio's Decameron contains all the elements typical of Christian medieval life, at least externally. Here are just a few of these elements, which I intend to explore: the ten young people leave from a sacred place, Santa Maria Novella, and return to it at the end of their experience; they set aside Fridays and Saturdays for religious purposes; they also attend the holy offices on the second Sunday of their sojourn outside the city. Most of these elements, however, are contextualized differently from what their original sacred nature calls for, or are totally rewritten, or are even ridiculed in such a manner and to such an extent that Boccaccio's masterpiece, while not aiming to show irreverence specifically toward God or the sacred per se, nevertheless parodies the sacred in general and Christianity specifically, especially as exemplified in so many tales dealing with priests, monks, nuns, and so many Christian lay people as well. In fact, in its many components, which I have proposed to call chronotopes--the chronotope of the work's title, of the Boccaccio persona, of the Narrator, of the brigata, and of the tales--the Decameron seeks to propose a way of living that is humane, compassionate, and even liberal and magnificent toward others, albeit in different degrees: here and there in the first ninety tales, much more so in the last ten tales, in the brigata's overarching tale, and unquestionably in the Boccaccio persona's overarching discourse. This systematic attempt at rewriting medieval life is exemplified in the life of the brigata, always living honestly according to the Decameronian meaning of onesta, but not necessarily religiously, and in Day Ten's tales. The end result of this approach to life is not to propose a behavior substantially different from the one proposed by Christianity, but rather to put forward a conduct that, while being human and humane according to the true spirit of Christianity, is also bereft of the hypocrisy tarnishing virtually all the Decameron's clergy and the religious bigots of the masterpiece. Boccaccio is capable of rewriting the medieval Christian outlook on life by his extremely clever usage of parody in all its forms. That the Decameron parodies medieval life in general and thus also rewrites Dante's Comedy--the Middle Ages' highest poetic creation--constitutes a fundamental acquisition of Boccaccio criticism, certainly since Giuseppe De Sanctis, and even more so recently. (2)

To be sure, Boccaccio's parody pervades every aspect of the Decameron, including its title. In fact, time and again Boccaccio scholars mention that the Decameron's title is patterned after early Christian and medieval writings on the six days of the biblical creation, such as St. Ambrose's Hexameron. Vittore Branca, for instance, in making this suggestion in a footnote of his Decameron edition, suggests possible parodic implications of Boccaccio's title, which he sees patterned after St. Ambrose's Hexameron; Branca does so, however, somewhat timidly, within parentheses, and followed by a question mark ("forse anche parodisticamente?" 3n1). (3) By contrast, in his study of Boccaccio's oeuvre, Carlo Muscetta--to mention one of the many critics who share this critical viewpoint--accepts not only the Decameron title's connections with St. Ambrose's Hexameron, but he also suggests the ways in which Boccaccio's work functions parodically and comically. (4)

More rarely, or hardly at all, do scholars refer to another subtext underlying the ten-day construction of the idyllic place inhabited by the mixed-sex brigata, namely, the monastic life and the Benedictine Regula, which for centuries governed (and still governs) the lives of men and women in many monasteries and convents. And yet, hardly any other medieval institution is more criticized and ridiculed--and thus also parodied--in the tales of the Decameron than the lives of monks and nuns in monasteries and convents, even or perhaps especially those living outside the city and in solitary places. Could it not be that Boccaccio seeks to rewrite, not only the lives of ordinary lay people, but also that of priests, monks, and nuns in constructing the lifestyle of the ten young people? Or, in broader terms, might it not be possible to view the Decameron, which Francesco De Sanctis saw as a canzonatura (or mock portrayal) of medieval life, as an attempt to put forward a different, divergent, and thus parodic representation of the entire Christian Middle Ages?

After all, the ten young people decide to depart from the city of Florence in a very famous church, they found an ideal community without, however, having to do any labor or erect any building, and declare that they intend to celebrate customary religious obligations on Fridays and Saturdays. And yet, Boccaccio does not spend a single word on those religious practices. At the same time, however, the ten young people either do not celebrate the Lord's Day (Day Three) or they do so only perfunctorily (Day Eight); they conduct their daily activities following the pattern of the seven canonical hours, giving them, however, no religious purposes; and they complete their secular pilgrimage by returning to the same church in Florence without ever acknowledging their gratitude to God for their safe return and without invoking divine protection for their future lives in the plague-ridden city. All such elements emphasize the parodic nature of the masterpiece.

Within the broad context of the entire Decameron, but focusing especially on the life of the brigata, this essay intends to analyze several key elements of the Decameron where Boccaccio the parodist plies his parodic craft most aptly: 1) the brigata's life, modeled after the six days of creation and the seventh day devoted to rest; 2) the spontaneous and democratic crowning of kings and queens, which goes counter to the medieval concept of authority, believed to derive from God; 3) the founding of a monastery and the practice of monastic life, which the brigata imitates and parodies; 4) the meaning of emptiness, characteristic of so many places: the empty city and its palaces, which the ten young people leave behind; the two empty villas and the solitary valley of the ladies--which they seek to fill, at least momentarily; the many empty houses in the stories; and, at the end of their fourteen-day experience, their return to a still empty city and empty homes.

In the process of this analysis, I will seek to illustrate how the life of the brigata, from early in the morning until late at night, is patterned after, and parodies, the life of monks and nuns--indeed, of all devout Christians--and thus it also parodies the liturgical practice of the seven canonical hours, celebrated in the church liturgy and honored by medieval people. Ultimately, therefore, the life of the ten young people parodies also the future paradisiacal life adumbrated (according to patristic writings) here on Earth in the life of devout Christians as well as of monks and nuns in monasteries and convents, and sought after and hoped for in the eternal afterlife by all Christians. According to this reading, the Decameron's parodic purposes--its pars destruens of medieval life--start unraveling in some tales of Day One (primarily Dec. 1.1; 1.2; 1.3; 1.4, but also, in part, in others); parody unfolds, by and large, in the tales of Day Two through Nine; and it thus paves the way for the ten tales of liberality and magnanimity, narrated in Day Ten, the masterpiece's pars construens, which seeks to describe how the secular virtues of liberality and magnanimity can overcome bad fortune, human limitations, and primarily human vices, in an attempt to create a new community of people.

Let us begin by focusing on the Decameron as a parody of the six days of creation while keeping in mind the best known treatise on this topic, St. Ambrose's Hexameron.

2. Ancient and Medieval Titles:

St. Ambrose's Hexameron vs. Boccaccio's Decameron

The link between the title of Boccaccio's masterpiece and the Latin title of St. Ambroses's treatise on the six days of creation, the Hexameron, a series of nine sermons on the biblical creation of the world, is so obvious that virtually all the Italian editors and commentators, as well as most English translators, feel obligated to footnote the title of the Decameron and refer to the Latin title of St. Ambroses's work. Hardly any scholars, however, have gone beyond such general references. A few succinct remarks on St. Ambrose's Hexameron will help us establish some very obvious structural and content-related connections between the two works.

The Hexameron consists of six books, containing nine homilies, delivered during the Holy Week of an unspecified year between 386 and 390 (Coppa 89). During the first day, in the morning, St. Ambrose explains the creation of the sky and Earth (homily 1) and, in the afternoon, of light (homily 2). During the second day, in the afternoon, St. Ambrose comments on the creation of the firmament (homily 3), and, on day three, on the creation of water (homily 4) and plants (homily 5), most likely in the morning and then in the afternoon, respectively (Banterle 14). On day four, in the afternoon, we have the creation of the sun, moon, and stars (homily 6). On day five (for Banterle, Holy Thursday), in the early afternoon (Banterle 14n8), we have the creation of fish (homily 7), and, later in the afternoon, the creation of birds (homily 8). On day six, in the afternoon, the ninth and last sermon deals with the creation of animals and of man and woman (homily 9). (5)

In so far as Saint Ambrose writes down the discourses previously delivered on six consecutive days, one can see a similar pattern somewhat suggested in the Decameron. Here the Narrator, who is not a member of the brigata, claims that he writes down what a "trustworthy person" has narrated to him after the events (Dec. 1. Intro. 1.49, "si come io poi da persona degna di fede sentii"; also 6. Concl. 20). And while it takes St. Ambrose six days to comment on God's creation--that is, as many as the days of creation itself--St. Ambrose nevertheless delivers and then writes nine homilies, implicitly suggesting the human word's inadequacy vis-a-vis God's simple commands, e.g., "Fiat lux," followed by similar commands in the following five days. Boccaccio's masterpiece not only is structured, as Cardini calls it, as "un Genesi laico," and thus a parodic rewriting of the six days of creation. With its one hundred tales, the Decameron is, externally, also patterned after the Divine Comedy's one hundred cantos; furthermore, it also describes at length what all scholars read as a rewriting of Dante's Hell (certainly in the description of the plague) and, furthermore, as the brigata's effortless, painless, joyful entrance into, and momentary possession of, not just one but three earthly paradises: the two villas and the valley of the ladies, all three of them empty--a concept and an image on which I will later dwell. (6) But the correlations between the biblical Eden, of which Dante offers several examples, and the three Decameronian loci amoeni can be further expanded. In fact, on the one hand the ten young people's lifestyle during their fourteen-day sojourn outside the city is irreprehensible, unlike the conduct of Adam and Eve in Eden and also that of all priests, nuns, and monks of the one hundred tales; on the other hand, their stories exemplify, first, all possible human vices (Day One through Nine) and, then, in Day Ten, the highest human virtues, which are achieved without the aid of God's grace and through human effort and secular virtues.

Further connections between the Hexameron and the Decameron arise from the employment of the first-person discourse. Saint Ambrose speaks in the first person in all the sermons of the Hexameron, which therefore may be seen as a unified discourse broken down in nine, delivered and then written in the first person from beginning to end. Boccaccio's Decameron, likewise, may also be viewed as a unified discourse, in which the Author in the text speaks in the first person in his all-encompassing chronotope, as I have illustrated in the previous essay, or has the ten characters speak in his stead, or he himself narrates what he claims he has heard from a trustworthy person, one of the members of the brigata. Furthermore, in most of the homilies of the Hexameron the speaker time and again addresses his audience, not unlike the Boccaccio persona, who also addresses his intended, albeit fictional, readers, the women in love, at strategic moments of the work. (7)

Beyond these mostly structural similarities, one should further focus on the overall purpose of the Hexameron, trying to determine to what extent this patristic work may be compared to or contrasted with the overall purpose of the Decameron.

Readers know that the goal of the Decameron is manifold: not only to amuse, but also to advice and to instruct. The Decameron seeks to amuse, as the Author writes in the Proem (14), and later Pampinea, Dioneo (Dec. 1. Intro. 92-95), and more or less explicitly all the ten young people state, and as the life of the brigata certainly bears out. It is not the intention of St. Ambrose to amuse, but he certainly wants his audience to revel in the marvels and splendor of God's creation, as he time and again emphasizes. That is also the purpose of Boccaccio the Narrator as he introduces the readers to the beauties and marvels of the two villas, of the valley of the ladies, of every day's beginning up to the moment the young people sit down to narrate stories, and also in some of descriptive passages at the end of the day (for instance Dec. 1. Concl. 15-16). Suffused throughout these narratives, filtered through the Narrator's eyes and voice, we will find a profound admiration of "this most beautiful edifice of the world," after which the human body is patterned--precisely the human body, indeed the feminine body, which the Narrator, almost as a voyeur, describes in many instances, for instance on the eve of Day Six, that is, on the same day, the sixth of Creation, when Adam and Eve were created. (8) At the same time, the Decameron's purpose totally differs from that of the Hexameron, where the author exhorts all believers to raise their voices to praise God--for instance, in the same context quoted above: "consona circa Dei laudes populi vox" ("the voice of the people singing in harmony God's praises" bk. 3.1.5). Not so in the Decameron, where the ten young people always enjoy the beauty of the two villas, of the valley of the ladies, and even admire and commend highly the unnamed owner of the second villa for its beauty (3. Intro. 4), but not once--contrary to all religious medieval literature, for instance, St. Francis's Canticle of the creatures--do the young people raise their thoughts to God to praise Him for nature's splendor or for sparing them from the plague.

Throughout his sermons, St. Ambrose seeks to instruct and provide fruitful advice to his faithful, who must also learn how to distinguish good from bad, avoid evil, and live honestly. Boccaccio has the ten young people present these same ideals, or he himself states them. For, in fact, in the Decameron we also read that the purpose of the masterpiece is to provide not only "diletto," but also "utile consiglio" and thus to advise what to avoid and what to follow ("che sia da fuggire e che sia similmente da seguitare" Proem 14). (9)

St. Ambrose describes God's six days of creation so that the faithful whom he instructs may rejoice in God's marvels, the greatest of which is the creation of Adam and Eve, who inhabited the earthly paradise. Throughout his nine homilies, the Christian orator puts in front of the eyes of his audience, as it were, God's marvels--heaven and earth with all its trees and fruits, all the animals, the birds, and fish--for man and woman to enjoy. (10) In Boccaccio's Decameron, whereas the city of Florence devastated by the plague has turned into a sort of hell on Earth, the countryside, with its two villas and the valley of the ladies, is time and again likened to the earthly paradise.

Boccaccio's parodic rewriting, which unfolds throughout the Decameron, becomes thus clear: the ten young people move on their own into this earthly paradise while undergoing no toil, no labor, and no pain; they eat and drink without any sweat of their brow; they sing and dance throughout the day until late at night with no worries; flowers bloom all around them, and even the wild animals seem not to fear them (Dec. 9. Intro. 2), almost like the harmless animals of the prelapsarian Eden. And yet, the ten young people eventually return to the city of Florence, which is still being ravaged by the pestilence caused by humankind's sinfulness and God's wrath (Dec. 1. Intro. 8; 25; 10. Concl. 3). The biblical Adam and Eve move from the God-made earthly paradise, which they inhabited before their fall, to the Augustinian regio dissimilitudinis, where Cain will soon kill his brother Abel and found the first city ever built; by contrast, the brigata leaves behind the city of man defiled by man's wickedness and punished by God's just wrath, and temporarily moves into three earthly paradises, made in part by nature and in part by man, only to leave finally these three loci amoeni behind and return to the plague-ravaged city.

Commenting on the six days of the biblical creation, St. Ambrose expounds on how God brings order out of chaos, creates man and woman, and places them in the earthly paradise. Finally, at the end, God rests, as if tired after six days of intense labor. The author of the Hexameron is aware also of his own work as an orator and writer, to which he refers time and again as a labor, not unlike the Author within the Decameron, who refers to his own work as a fatica (Dec. 4. Intro. 10; Author's Concl. 1). Thus God the Creator, St. Ambrose, and Boccaccio, all share in a similar, laborious task; or, rather, the two human authors seek to emulate the divine work par excellence, sharing God's primary role as Auctor, a role played by Boccaccio in a peculiarly parodic manner, as we shall see.

St. Ambrose comments on the conclusion of each biblical day and of the entire creation, just as we read in Genesis: "God saw all that he had made--and it was very good!" (Gen. 1.31). At the end of the Hexameron, man and woman inhabit the earthly paradise, a place full of delights. Shortly after, however, St. Ambrose must confront Adam's and Eve's fall, their expulsion from Eden, and Cain's murder of Abel, as the Christian orator does in two homilies typically associated with, and certainly a sequel to, the Hexameron, namely, Paradise and Cain and Abel (Savage v-xi). In brief, for the Bible, as well for St. Ambrose, God creates the world and humankind through His will, which becomes manifest through words. Placed in the garden of delights, man and woman disobey God's command, are expelled, and enter a world ravaged by all those evils they have brought upon themselves, just as is the case of the city of Florence devastated by the plague at the beginning and at the end of the Decameron.

Boccaccio has his work of creation begin where God's creatures, Adam and Eve, end up after their expulsion from Eden. Contrary to the beginning of humankind's biblical narrative, at the story's beginning Boccaccio's brigata leaves Florence portrayed as locus horridus to seek solace and merriment in an Eden-like locus amoenus, where they live in and around an empty, magnificent villa, at first, and, subsequently, in a second, even more splendid and still empty villa, and also in the most luxuriant, but still empty, Eden, the so-called valley of the ladies.

Adam and Eve spend only a short time in Eden because of their disonesta; Dante's Adam, in fact, spends hardly six hours in the earthly paradise (Par. 26.139-42). By contrast, the ten young people enjoy an Eden-like experience for fourteen days--that is, more than twice the number of days of creation and a much longer time than the Dantean Adam and Eve. Contrary to Adam and Eve, they always live onestamente; and, just as they choose to leave Florence, they also decide to leave their Eden by a common decision. And yet, just as the biblical Adam and Eve find hell upon leaving Eden--Cain's murder of Abel, followed by the foundation of the first city--so the ten young people, too, not by necessity but through common deliberation, return to Florence, namely, the hell of the history created by humankind gone astray and punished by God because of its wickedness. Thus the Hexameron's conclusion--the creation of man and woman and the sojourn in the garden of delights--is overturned, not only by the primogenitors' fall but also by all Cains murdering all Abels throughout humankind's history. Boccaccio's brigata, with their secular pilgrimage away from the city, seeks in many ways to re-create humankind's primordial condition by inhabiting three separate Eden-like places. Ultimately, however, they return to Florence, which may not be unlike the first city founded by Cain, or, worse, "la citta dolente" created by God for Satan and his followers (Inf. 3.1).

3. The brigata's Parody of Civic and Religious Life

a) Rewriting the Biblical Cycle of Days

Dwelling in a place and time betwixt and between the reality of humankind's fallen nature and the desire to return to the primordial Eden, humans never give up their hope to recreate their primordial happy condition. Religious life--namely, the life lived by monks and nuns in monasteries and convents--and also the life of Christian lay people, have always been viewed as an attempt to imitate the life of humankind in Eden before the fall and as an anticipation of the blissful eternal life in Heaven. That Boccaccio has in mind both the earthly paradise and the celestial city in constructing the three secluded places inhabited by the brigata is made clear by the text's multiple implicit and explicit references to paradise (e.g., Dec. 3. Intro. 11); that Boccaccio has also in mind religious life in constructing the brigata's daily activities can likewise be shown, not only by the sharp criticism and parody of the lives of priests, monks, and nuns occurring time and again in the tales, but also by the way he organizes the brigata's time. Juxtaposing the brigata"s life, on the one hand, and, on the other, monastic life and the life of all pious Christians of the time, he further expands the contrastive comparison of the biblical six days of creation of the Hexameron and the brigata's attempt at recreating a peaceful and enjoyable life.

As we have seen above, God's creation, viewed anthropomorphically, consists of a series of activities marked by a sixfold daily sunrise and sunset. Modeled upon God's six days of creation, the Benedictine rule's concise motto "Ora et labora," followed by many religious orders of men and women, engages God's chosen people in activities capable of helping them exploit their God-given gifts, protecting them from all temptations, and directing them toward the heavenly life. Likewise, the brigata's major concern since their arrival in the first villa is to be fully occupied. Contrary to the Benedictine "Ora et labora," however, the ten young people are engaged, from early morning until evening and the middle of night, in what St. Benedict would definitely call otiositas, which he explicitly prohibits in his rule. (11) Thus, the brigata"s organization of daily activities, on the one hand, seems to reflect the Benedictine rule's injunction, expressed through its motto, to avoid idleness and be always occupied. On the other hand, the brigata's continuous and whole immersion in those joyful activities bears out how different their lifestyle is from the lives of monks and nuns as well as those of devout medieval Christians. (12)

Indeed, the only complete week that the young people spend outside Florence, from Day Three to Day Seven, begins with the profanation of the Lord's day by means of their secular pilgrimage to another villa and total neglect of the Lord's day: an apposite introduction--one could argue--to the defilement of the Lord's brides in the first tale on the same Sunday, Day Three, and to everything sacred narrated and parodied precisely on this first Sunday of storytelling. In fact, one could certainly read each tale of Day Three as a series of parodic profanations, which had already begun unfolding with Cepparello's tale (Dec. 1.1) and will continue to unfold until the end of Day Nine, culminating, according to the very insightful reading proposed by Tobias Gittes in this volume, with the profanation and parody of the last Christian sacrament, then called extrema unctio (St. Thomas, Summa theologica, Suppl. q. 29, 1), in the tale of donno Gianni, compar Pietro and comar Gemmata. (13)

As a parodic rewriting of both the Hexameron and the Benedictine rule, the Decameron does not unfold along six days--like the six days of creation--but rather along ten days of storytelling, supposedly by the ten young people but in reality by Boccaccio. Viewed as a creator of stories, therefore, the Narrator competes, as it were, with God's creative work. (14) Unlike God the Creator, who rests at the end of the sixth day of creation, the Narrator has the ten young people rest, and he himself rests, in two different ways: the Narrator as well as the brigata rest twice and for two consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, from all the activities described in the previous and following days; the Narrator also has the young people rest from the obligation of narrating a story under the "yoke" of a fixed topic on Day Nine. The brigata, however, does not rest from their usual activities on the two Sundays that they spend outside the city, and the ten young people observe the obligation of attending the holy offices--such is the term employed by Boccaccio--only on the second of the two Sundays. The sequence of their observance and non-observance of their religious obligations, of their repose or lack thereof on the Lord's day, as well as their rest from telling stories on a fixed topic, unfolds as follows:

The overarching tale of the brigata:

(Day Zero) Tuesday: Encounter in Santa Maria Novella. (15)

(First day) Day One of storytelling. Wednesday: Secular pilgrimage away from the city; the founding of the new community (Dec. 1. Intro. 94-96); free topic. Panfilo's beginning of the first story: Everything must commence with God's name (1.1.2). (Second day). Day Two of storytelling. Thursday: Tales of fortune, divine Providence, human naivete and wickedness.

(Third day) Friday: No storytelling; religious practices, which are not described.

(Fourth Day) Saturday: No storytelling; religious and hygienic practices, not described.

(Fifth Day) Day Three of storytelling. Sunday: No religious practices; secular pilgrimage to second villa. Tales of human ingenuity, by and large employed to desecrate whatever is held sacred in Christianity.

(Sixth Day) Day Four of storytelling. Monday: Tales of unhappy endings, caused by nature, humans' wickedness, recklessness, and disrespect for the sacred. 14 15

(Seventh Day) Day Five of storytelling. Tuesday: Tales of happy endings after many trials and tribulations.

(Eighth Day) Day Six of storytelling. Wednesday: Tales of wit and word, which achieve a recovery, but not a perfect resolution.

(Ninth Day) Day Seven of storytelling. Thursday: Pilgrimage to, and sojourn in, the ladies' valley and return to the villa. Stories of deception by wives against husbands, harkening back to the fall of Adam and Eve and humans' fallen nature.

(Tenth Day) Friday: No storytelling; religious practices, which are not described. (Eleventh Day) Saturday: No storytelling; religious and hygienic practices, not described. (Twelfth Day) Day Eight of storytelling. Sunday: Holy offices. Tales of deceptions by everybody against everybody else.

(Thirteenth Day) Day Nine of storytelling. Monday. Free topic, but in reality a continuation of the deceptions of Day Seven and Eight.

(Fourteenth Day) Day Ten of storytelling. Tuesday. Liberality and Magnanimity, carried out with self-sacrifice on behalf of others.

(Fifteenth Day) Wednesday: Return to Santa Maria Novella and to the plague-devastated city.

Conclusion of the overarching tale of the brigata.

The first two-day "weekend," which begins with a Friday and includes Saturday (but not Sunday), takes place only two days after their arrival in the first villa. This peculiar weekend, therefore, begins with God's sixth day of creation (Friday) and is followed by Saturday, which in the Decameron is devoted to the Blessed Virgin and the ladies' hygienic purposes.

The decision not to tell stories on the first Friday and Saturday is proposed by Neifile on the evening of the second day (Dec. 2. Concl. 5-6) and is observed by the brigata once again on the following Friday and Saturday, following the advice of Lauretta (Dec. 7. Concl. 16). The tales told on both Sundays are in sharp contrast with the sacred nature of the day. On Day Three, as I pointed out above, the young people narrate some of the Decameron's most obscene and sacrilegious stories; the tales on Day Eight, devoted to deceptions played by women on men, by men on women, and by men on men (or rather by people on people; that is, by anybody on anybody else), portray a world devoted, not to the celebration of a sacred order, but rather to its total opposite.

For Christians, however, the day of rest is neither Friday nor Saturday, but Sunday, the day of rest and worship par excellence. By contrast, as I have just pointed out, the brigata defiles this most sacred day in more than one way. The ten young people, in fact, precisely on their first Sunday outside the city, undertake a secular pilgrimage to the second villa. Furthermore, on the same first Sunday, they also neglect to attend the holy offices, as they do, however, on their second Sunday. Thus, on the one hand, they are aware of the religious meaning of Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. On the other hand, however, the Narrator does not tell us how they celebrate those days, except for the second Sunday, when early in the morning they attend in a nearby little church the holy offices celebrated by a country priest, who may not be at all dissimilar from the country priest, "il prete di Varlungo," portrayed humorously and ridiculed in the second tale of the same eighth day.

As all Boccaccio readers know, the Decameron proposes an additional concept of rest: not having to tell stories on a fixed topic. Day One and Day Nine fall within this category. Accordingly, the brigata enjoys four days of complete rest from storytelling out of fourteen, that is, two Fridays and two Saturdays, which the Narrator does not deem worthy of any description, as well as two additional days of some kind of rest, not from storytelling, but from storytelling on a fixed topic (referred to as a burden), for a total of six days of some form of rest. So it is worthwhile noticing that the brigata defiles both Lord's days in more than one way: they do not attend the holy offices on the first Sunday, when they also carry out a secular pilgrimage. On both Sundays they also engage in their primary activity of storytelling, and thus they also labor, defiling the Lord's day from another perspective. (16) Furthermore, as I have pointed out above, the nature of the stories told on both Sundays can be considered an additional manner of defiling the sacred.

Accordingly, Boccaccio's re-arrangement of the days of rest and some form of labor, of religious and non-religious activities, of storytelling and non-storytelling, transforms and subverts in many ways the typical Christian manner of employing properly the time, divided according to the sacred temporal rhythm of the week, patterned after God's six days of creation, just as each day is organized according to the seven canonical hours. By transforming and subverting the week, as well as each day of the week, the Decameron transforms and subverts also the notion of time, which Boccaccio does not situate completely outside the sphere of the sacred, but rather beyond or adjacent to the sacred, certainly with equal value and dignity. The brigata's time, therefore, can be viewed as a secular celebration carried out along the sacred celebrations of medieval Christianity, and thus parodic of the primary medieval perspective, which tended to be ecclesiastical and sacred. (17)

Thus, the life of the brigata not only desecrates both Sundays and considers unworthy of narration the two days, Friday and Saturday, set aside for religious purposes; with the young people's decision to leave the city (a decision they take on a Tuesday, "martedi" or the day of Mars) and to depart on a Wednesday, "mercoledi" or the day of Mercury, Boccaccio proposes totally different beginnings for the new existence of this new community. (18) He also makes sure that the protagonists of his masterpiece begin their journey on a day different from the one chosen by Dante for the beginning of the Pilgrim's voyage or by Petrarch for the day he fell in love, for both a Friday. Finally, when the ten young people decide to return to Florence on a Tuesday and they do so on a Wednesday, on the morning of their fifteenth day away from the city, they bestow no sacred meaning upon their return, just as they also did not do for their departure. For on neither occasion do they invoke God's blessings (either inside or outside the church) on the day they depart or return, nor do they render thanks to Him for their safe return.

But before focusing on the work's conclusion, I would like to expand further the suggestion to view the brigata's life as a parody of Christian life in general and of monastic life more specifically.

b) Gathering in a Holy Place

Boccaccio makes sure to situate the brigata's overarching tale within a chronotope marked, at least at first sight, by the sacred. In fact, the seven young women enter the narrative in a sacred place, Santa Maria Novella. The text, however, does not emphasize the religious nature or purposes of their presence in a sacred place.

[...] dico che, stando in questi termini la nostra citta, d'abitatori quasi vota, addivenne, si come io poi da persona degna di fede sentii, che nella venerabile chiesa di Santa Maria Novella, un martedi mattina, non essendovi quasi alcuna altra persona, uditi li divini ufici in abito lugubre quale a si fatta stagione si richiedea, si ritrovarono sette giovani donne [...]

(Dec. 1. Intro. 49)

([...] I say that, our city being thus almost without any people, it so happened, as I learned afterward from someone worthy of trust, that, in the venerable church of Santa Maria Novella, on a Tuesday morning, with hardly anyone else there, after hearing the divine offices in somber garments as required by such sad circumstances, seven young women found themselves [...]

In fact the Narrator introduces the seven young women by saying that, after they had already "heard the divine offices," they "si ritrovarono"--that is, they "found themselves," "they happened to meet," "they met" (Day 1. Introd. 49). (19) Shortly afterward, the text states clearly that the seven young ladies set aside whatever prayers they might have said earlier to focus on different concerns:

Le quali [giovani donne], non gia da alcuno proponimento tirate ma per caso in una delle parti della chiesa adunatesi, quasi in cerchio a seder postesi, dopo piU sospiri lasciato stare il dir de' paternostri, seco della qualita del tempo molte e varie cose cominciarono a ragionare.

(Day 1. Intro. 52) (20)

(Not because they were drawn by a set purpose but rather by mere chance, these ladies, having gathered in one of the parts of the church, after sitting in a sort of circle and after heaving a few sighs, they gave up saying paternosters [Our Father, i.e., the Lord's Prayer], and began to say among themselves many and various things on the quality of time.)

Later on, in reference to the three young men, the text clearly states that they did not go to the church for religious purposes but rather to look for their women, all of whom were among those seven young ladies (Day 1. Intro. 78).

And yet, despite the ladies' apparently genuine but unspecified religious attitude toward the sacred, and despite the three young men's lack of display of any awareness of the sacred, they first meet--as we have seen--in a sacred place, where they also decide to start on the following day their secular pilgrimage outside the city walls in order to begin, as it were, a new life and a new community. (21) Considering the condition of these ten young people, inspired by the same goals, and leaving behind their city, one cannot help but think of other people, men and women, oftentimes young rather than old, who throughout the Middle Ages--indeed throughout all epochs--abandoned their fathers and mothers, relatives and friends, houses and neighborhoods in order to found outside the city a community of people who would follow Christ's life more closely. (22) Moving away from Florence and seeking to create a new life for themselves in the two villas and in the valley of the ladies, the brigata shares most of the motives that impelled so many founders of religious communities and their followers. The ten young people do so, however, by overturning most of those intentions.

c) The Threefold Secular Locus Amoenus: The Anti-foundation of a City and an Abbey

Juxtaposing monastic life and the brigata's life may help us better understand and even explain many important narrative elements of the Decameron, for instance that unexplainable feature of the two magnificent villas totally empty and yet fully furnished and ready to welcome the brigata. It is true, on the one hand, that Pampinea claims that the young ladies own many such places outside the city (Dec. Day 1. Intro. 65); on the other hand, however, no member of the brigata ever claims to own either villa, no allusion whatsoever is made to the first villa's owner, and only a brief mention is made of the unknown, unidentified, and nameless owner of the second villa, whom they praise very highly ("magnifico reputarono il signor di quello" Dec. 3. Intro. 4). (23)

As a contrastive point of reference to the two villas I would like to propose the abbey or monastery, whose foundation is a momentous event that requires a special divine intervention and a supernatural inspiration, as well as a great deal of sacrifice and dedication on the part of the founding monks and/or the first disciples. (24)

The circumstances in which the ten young people decide to leave the city devastated by the plague, as well as their sojourn in a beautiful villa surrounded by a magnificent garden, cannot be seen but as an anti-foundational event and a parody of the founding of a new form of social life and civilization: a parody of the founding of an abbey or monastery, which was typically regarded as an act of obedience to God's calling to a higher form of Christian life and always required a great deal of physical labor and sacrifice. Among the many possible parodic elements, I would like to suggest that not only the first villa but even more so the second villa, as well as the valley of the ladies, can be viewed--as it has been suggested by many scholars--as an attempt to return to the Eden from which the primordial parents had been expelled. In this Eden, however, the ten young people do not yield to temptation, even though virtually all the characters of their stories narrated there evince some form of human weaknesses. Their return to the plague-ridden city of Florence marks, at the same time, an admission of the impossibility of regaining Eden, thus bringing us back to the sequel of St. Ambrose's Hexameron, namely, Paradise and Cain and Abel.

Monastic communities were always led by a member of the same religious order, either elected by all the members of the community (as is the case, by and large, with abbots) or appointed by an outside authority responsible for that community. Pampinea's initial decision to have, among the members of the brigata, someone responsible for each day--called "principale" in Dec. 1. Intro. 95, and later called queen and king, a responsibility and honor to be shared by all--may have appeared revolutionary in the medieval world. In fact, Pampinea's suggestion, approved by all, places the principle of authority, not in God but within the community itself, and the queen's and king's purpose is not to guide the brigata morally or spiritually, on a spiritual journey toward God, as it were, but rather on the exclusive pursuit of a happy and well-governed life here on earth:

"Dioneo, ottimamente parli: festevolmente viver si vuole, ne altra cagione dalle tristizie ci ha fatto fuggire. Ma per cio che le cose che sono senza modo non possono lungamente durare, io, che cominciatrice fui de' ragionamenti da' quali questa cosi bella compagnia e stata fatta, pensando al continuare della nostra letizia, estimo che di necessita sia convenire esser tra noi alcuno principale, il quale noi e onoriamo e ubidiamo come maggiore, nel quale ogni pensiero stea di doverci a lietamente viver disporre."

(Dec. 1. Intro. 94-95)

("You speak very well, Dioneo; gaily we mean to live, for no other reason has made us flee [from Florence] except that of running away from sorrows. But insofar as things which are without order cannot endure for a long time, I, who began the conversations out of which this beautiful company of people was made, do now believe, so that our joy may be lasting, that there be one among us in chief authority, whom we honor and obey as our superior, whose exclusive thought shall be to plan for us to live happily.")

The need for some authority is prompted by the necessity of order in the community; the principle of authority is immanent, within the brigata itself; its purpose is the pursuit of happiness, hic et nunc, here and now. Thus, in foregrounding since the outset all the prerequisites needed to establish a community of people whose purpose is to pursue happiness here and now, rather than seek everlasting happiness in heaven, the brigata's foundational act parodies the very foundations of all religious orders, as well as the life of all Christians, of the Middle Ages. Consequently, the sequence of queens and kings of the brigata mimics the election of abbots, abbesses, and the appointments of all religious leaders in the countless religious communities of the medieval period. Also, the daily appointment and sequence of queens and kings within the brigata's overarching tale and these rulers' brief duration in office, parody all forms of religious authorities and certainly also of political offices. In fact, one could further argue that Boccaccio's manner of handling authority, albeit in the playful (and yet very serious) context of the brigata, is remarkably novel: each one of the ten young people is entitled to govern the brigata, but no longer than one day; each one can select the successor; no one can govern twice until everybody has exercised his or her authority; governing is an honor as well as an onus; and, finally and perhaps also most importantly, given their number, women will govern men twice as many times, plus one: an element which, in itself, may bear out a further parody of the male-dominated society of the time. (25)

Once the contrastive analysis proposed above is accepted, further comparisons between this secular community and medieval religious communities can easily be drawn. Inspired by God, and typically begun by an extraordinary person or a highly motivated small group of people, monastic communities maintained a fine balance between staying away from the secular world and anything it represented and welcoming guests and anyone wanting to join them. St. Benedict's rule prohibits anyone from bringing into the monastery any news from the outside. (26) At the same time, however, monasteries welcomed anyone who happened to knock at their doors or decided to join the religious community. (27) The opposite attitude and norms govern the brigata. The servants are instructed never to bring back from outside the villa anything but good news. (28) Likewise, in two instances--at the end of Day Two and also of Day Ten--Neifile and Panfilo, respectively, mention the possible arrival of other folks as a sufficient reason for moving to the second villa or for returning to the city. (29)

d) The Seven Canonical Hours vs. the Brigata's Daily Activities

Further expanding the parody of medieval Christian life in general and of monastic life in particular, the Narrator marks the brigata's time according to traditional medieval time designators, namely, the seven canonical hours. Prime, tierce, sext, none, vespers, compline, matins and lauds--the latter two being often considered as one canonical hour--were traditionally announced by church bells, were sanctified by the prayers of all believers, especially monks, nuns, and priests, and were also constant reminders to all people of the sacredness of time. In brief, I submit that the chronotope within which the brigata's time unfolds is patterned after these canonical hours, and that Boccaccio does so in a very transgressive manner. In fact, just as he rewrites parodically the brigata"s spatial setting in describing the two villas and the valley of the ladies, reminiscent of Eden, the primordial locus amoenus, so does he also parody the traditional medieval manner of sanctifying time, which follows a long-standing biblical tradition proclaimed in Psalm 119: "Septies in die laudem dixi tibi super iudicia iustitiae tuae" (v. 164; "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws"). (30) In the Decameron the traditional medieval time designators--that is, the seven canonical hours--are thus deprived of their religious nature. Consequently, the young people's time is neither the time of the church nor the time of the merchant, but rather, as a parody of both, it is the time of the festive brigata, which is neither otiosa a la Petrarch (see for instance his De vita solitaria), nor occupata a la St. Benedict, but instead always engaged, very decorously, in pleasurable and honest activities. (31)

At the basis of monastic life, as St. Benedict's Regula emphasizes, lies the will to devote every hour of the day to the service of God, whether monks spend time in praying, or engage in intellectual or manual activities. In this manner, monks, as well as all believers, direct all human actions toward the supernatural, thereby linking monastic life, a prelude of celestial life here on Earth, with heavenly life, where a perennial liturgy is forever celebrated with no interruption.

For the brigata, by contrast, the purpose of their lives is to be merry and enjoy life to its fullest in human terms, while always remaining within the strictures of the honestum, as they repeatedly remark. (32) In this manner the brigata's life, without being anti-Christian, parodies Christian life in general and monastic life, in particular, doubly: first, the young people organize their daily activities according to a monastic schedule, which also all lay people were urged to follow; secondly, by living onestamente, the ten young people implicitly criticize monks and clergy for their vices, which contradict their preaching, while pointing to their hypocrisy.

In medieval monastic life monks rise early from bed; in certain communities they are awakened by a monk, who is responsible for making sure that all have been awakened. In the liturgy, the first hour of the day (prima or prime) marks the beginning of the day--day and night being equally divided in twelve hours--with several references to the darkness that is disappearing or has disappeared and to the sun that is rising. In monasteries and convents, the first canonical hour ushers in all the following canonical hours, the liturgy of the mass, and all other daily activities, according to a schedule organized purposefully to ensure that the monks avoid all forms of idleness and their lives are totally oriented toward God. (33)

Although with different purposes, a similar schedule occurs also at the beginning of every day of the Decameron, for the day's queen or king makes sure that all young people get up early and keep busy, albeit in activities in sharp contrast with those prescribed for religious people and devout Christians. Thus the ten young people's activities may be viewed as the secular and parodic counterpart of the monks' daily occupations. In fact, they too, like Benedictine monks, invariably begin each day, including the day of departure from and return to Florence, early in the morning. (34) But obviously the thoughts of monks, nuns, clergy, and devout Christians focus on God as soon as they are awakened and begin reciting the holy offices, which have been transmitted down to our time. (35) Regarding the brigata, all daily needs concerning food and lodging are taken care of by their servants. (36) Consequently, Boccaccio's young people eschew any form of manual labor or anything at all associated with physical work, as well as any form of intellectual activity, unless we consider as an intellectual pursuit the storytelling they carry out for the purpose of entertainment. From the moment they awaken and get up onwards, the young people are involved exclusively in ambling through the gardens, conversing among themselves, eating, drinking, storytelling, singing, and dancing.

At noon, the sixth hour of the day, Benedictine monks have their repast in silence, while listening to the lectio divina. The brigata, too, has its repast at the sixth hour. At least in one instance we read that the ten young people wash their hands before eating (Dec. 1. Intro. 104), a practice customary also for monks, for instance Carthusians, when they have their common meals in the refectory on Sundays and special holydays. While the young people dine on exquisite wine and food, they are (contrary to the monks, who remain silent) involved in pleasant conversation. (37)

After their noon meal, Benedictine monks either "rest in their beds in complete silence" or, if they prefer, read "without disturbing the others" (ch. XLVIII). The pattern that the ten young people follow each afternoon, until the ninth hour, is strikingly organized in the same way, from the first afternoon which they spend in the first villa and which Pampinea organizes for the brigata to follow until the last day (Dec. 1. Intro. 106-12).

At nones, monks resume their principal activity until vespers (Regula, ch. XLVIII. De opera manuum cotidiana). Likewise the brigata begins at the same time their storytelling, which, however, the Benedictine rule would characterize as idle talk and therefore condemn. (38) At day's end, beginning with vespers--followed later by compline and, at the end, in the middle of the night, or early in the morning, by matins and lauds--monastic life attains its highest religious moment, which then culminates with the morning celebration of the Eucharist.

The brigata's activities also peak in the evening and at night, after the mid-afternoon storytelling, obviously in a secular manner that parodies the life of all Christian believers' and even more so that of priests, monks, and nuns. Parodying the liturgy of the church, for which the announcement and celebration of religious festivities begin on the eve of the holyday, the brigata turns all such religious practices into secular and enjoyable activities. Let us pay attention to the words of Pampinea, who, at the conclusion of storytelling, states that from that day onwards "a quest'ora giudico doversi le seguenti giornate incominciare" ("at this hour I hold that the following days should begin" Dec. 1. Concl. 2). The immediate, practical explanation is for the next queen and king to be able to set up everything for the following day (1. Concl. 2). Two more appropriate explanations should also be borne in mind. First, since in medieval times the day and night were divided in two equal parts, the night would begin at about the time the brigata would end the storytelling. Second, for the brigata the day begins at the same time when the liturgy of the church also commences its solemnities, namely, at the time of Vespers, when the new queen or king announce the following day's storytelling topic. Boccaccio's purpose to rewrite Christian Middle Ages becomes thus even more patent and strikingly parodic.

In fact, at the end of the day's storytelling, each current queen or king crowns his or her successor, who then proceeds to announce the topic of the following day's storytelling, thereby parodying the liturgical theme announced on the eve of the religious holyday. Let us keep in mind that Vespers, as we read in the Catholic Encyclopedia, "was the most solemn Office of the day [...]"; on solemn feast days, Vespers also announced the liturgy of the festivity. (39) This specific element needs emphasizing. For, in fact, it offers the most appropriate explanation, not only of the appointment of the next day's queen or king on the eve of the day over which they rule, but also of the topic for the stories of the following day being announced on the vigil.40 Moreover, an additional element of Vespers should also be considered, namely, the hymns, which are very ancient and are "devoted to the praise of one of the days of the Creation, according to the day of the week [...]." (41) In contrast with the function of the hymns sung at vespers, the ten evening ballads carry no religious or sacred meaning; on the contrary, they reveal--perhaps more so than any other element in the brigata's overarching tale--the personality of the ten young people: an element to which I will return in the essays devoted to the ballads. If one is willing to accept the personal, autobiographical, even confessional tone of the ten ballads, then an additional parodic element emerges. For in fact vespers and compline, sung either as the day approaches its end (vespers) or terminates (compline), invite all Christians to reflect on the day's activities, recognize their personal faults, and ask for God's forgiveness. In singing the ballad at the end of the day, the members of the brigata either recognize some form of personal weakness--such as despair, anguish, desire, jealousy--alluding to monastic practices mentioned above, albeit parodically, for the young people show no regret; or they boast their satisfaction in their love and its pursuit--a love, obviously, that medieval Christianity would disapprove of, because it has not been blessed by the sacrament of matrimony (except for Lauretta).

Thus the conclusion of the brigata's day, with the solo ballad and all young people's prolonged dancing and singing, parodies in countless ways the conclusion of the daily activities of monks, who at the beginning of the night initiate the so-called silentium magnum, and go to bed early in order to rise early, at times in the middle of the night, to sing Matins and Lauds. (42) The ten young people, individually, like monks, retire to their bedroom late at night or even in the middle of the night, and yet they still rise early in the morning in order to engage again in festive activities; but they carry out all these activities with a spirit completely opposite to that of monks or devout Christian lay people. e) Playfulness vs. "Taciturnitas

Rewriting Medieval Life by Rewriting Medieval Poetry and Music

In several instances in Inferno and Purgatorio Dante describes the damned, the penitent souls, or even Virgil and the Pilgrim by likening them to monks. In all such instances the similes present them in a sad, somber, and silent attitude, according to specific circumstances:
      Taciti, soli, sanza compagnia
   n'andavam l'un dinanzi e l'altro dopo,
   come frati minor vanno per via.

   (Inf. 23.1-3)

(Silent, alone, without any escort,/ we kept walking, the one before and the other after,/ as friar Minors go along the way.}

Furthermore, the infernal circles are called chiostri, and its inhabitants frati and conversi, obviously ironically. The Purgatorio's inhabitants are also called frati, and so are also the souls in Paradiso, even though less frequently than in Inferno. When the infernal souls move fast in a somewhat circular fashion, theirs is not a dance but a ridda (Inf. 7.24), a frenetic movement or race that is part of their punishment. Running does characterize also purgatorial souls, in accordance to their specific penitence and is always accompanied by appropriate prayers. Penitential songs often accompany the penitent souls, whether they are in the so-called Antepurgatory or in Purgatory proper. Singing and dancing accompany the members of the pageantry in the Earthly Paradise. Finally, joyous singing and dancing characterize in the most positive manner the souls in Paradiso, and such terms as to dance, song and singing (ballare, ballo, canto, cantare, carola, and danzare), always in their positive meaning, describe the heavenly souls and angels.

The same terms--ballare, ballo, canto, cantare, carola, and danzare--appear also in the Decameron, and they all characterize the activities of the ten young people from early morning to noon, and from vespers to late in the evening and night. While, on the one hand, the Decameron is known for its one-hundred tales, narrated by the ten young people, one each for ten days, on the other hand, however, storytelling does not constitute the young people's sole or perhaps even their primary activity, for it occupies not just a small portion of their day but only part of the afternoon, approximately from nones until vespers. Aside from sleeping, eating, and drinking, two activities, singing, and dancing--followed by conversing among themselves and walking--occupy the young people more so than storytelling. Furthermore, the young people are engaged in singing and dancing, not just at a specific moment of the day, as the case is with storytelling, but rather from early in the morning until late at night, albeit not continuously, but certainly repeatedly and for a considerable time. Also, singing and dancing constitute the brigata's main activity at the end of the day, prior to the singing (at times accompanied by dancing and a musical instrument) of the solo ballad and oftentimes following it until late at night. Thus singing and dancing characterize the brigata in a programmatic way not just to escape from the tribulations and sadness of the plague-devastated city, but also in their attempt to recreate a form of life that counteracts the prevailing Christian medieval approach to life. From this perspective, therefore, the brigata's singing and dancing from morning until late at night--in brief, the ten young people's joyous, life-loving levity vis-a-vis medieval Christianity's pesantezza--43 opposes religious practices that throughout the Middle Ages had utterly permeated and shaped the life of priests, monks, and nuns as well as of devout lay people, particularly through the recitation of the psalter, the divine office, and all such related practices. All these were rituals that called for single as well as common recitation, including also singing individually or collectively, as well as body movements, such as standing while praying, kneeling, raising one's hands, making the sign of the cross, bowing, and so on and so forth. In brief, all such rituals--I submit--are parodied in the young people's relaxed attitude, leisurely strolling throughout the gardens, conversing, singing and dancing, at times holding hands, as it most likely characterizes the practice of carolare, the solo singing, and the continued dancing and singing by the entire group protracted until very late in the evening and at night. (44)

By contrast, non-religious songs were condemned fiercely, as we read, for instance, in St. Ambrose's Hexameron. (45) Reciting or even singing psalms became a common practice during the Middle Ages, offering an alternative to all profane activities; so St. Benedict's rule meticulously indicates which psalms should be recited during each of the seven canonical hours. Gradually this practice spread also among the clergy outside the monastery and even lay people. Thus, up to the High Middle Ages and beyond, as we read in the Catholic Encyclopedia, "down to the time of the invention of printing, the Psalter, or at least a volume containing psalms and portions of the Office with a supplement of miscellaneous prayers, remained the type of the devotional manuals most favoured by the laity" (Online, "Prayer Books"). (46) In brief, by having the ten young people engage in singing and dancing at many hours of the day, Boccaccio presents another style of life, which countervails dominant medieval practices. This lifestyle is not at all disrespectful of any religious practices and certainly not of the Christian Godhead. At the same time, the brigata's lifestyle is pleasing, human, and also humane as a way to alleviate life's monotony and human sufferings. (47)

4. A Journey from the Empty City to Empty Villas and Back to the Empty City

Among the many images, based on descriptive elements and charged with significance, which Boccaccio the Narrator employs in portraying the plague-stricken Florence is that of emptiness. This emptiness, however, goes counter to God's initial act of creation, when He filled what was empty ("Terra autem erat inanis et vacua" Gen. 1.2) and His primordial command to man and woman, "Crescite and multiplicamini," and it thus signifies that something went awry in Italy's most beautiful city, Florence ("nella egregia citta di Fiorenza, oltre a ogn'altra italica bellissima" (Dec. 1. Intro. 8). In fact, as Boccaccio the Narrator describes the physical, moral, and spiritual devastation of Florence, laid waste by the 1348 plague, he ponders over the city's many empty palaces, houses, dwellings:

O quanti gran palagi, quante belle case, quanti nobili abituri per adietro di famiglie pieni, di signori e di donne, infino al menomo fante rimaser voti! O quante memorabili schiatte, quante ampissime eredita, quante famose ricchezze si videro senza successor debito rimanere! Quanti valorosi uomini, quante belle donne, quanti leggiadri giovani, li quali non che altri, ma Galieno, Ipocrate o Esculapio avrieno giudicati sanissimi, la mattina desinarono co' lor parenti, compagni e amici, che poi la sera vegnente appresso nell'altro mondo cenaron con li lor passati!

(Dec. 1. Intro. 48; my emph.)

(How many grand palaces, how many stately homes, how many noble residences, once full of family members, of men, and of women, were now left desolate of all, even to the humblest servant! How many families of historic fame, of vast ancestral domains, and wealth proverbial, ended up with no heir to continue their succession! How many brave men, how many fair ladies, how many gallant young people, whom any physician--were he Galen, Hippocrates, or Aesculapius himself--would have pronounced in the soundest of health, ate with their kinsfolk, companions, and friends in the morning, and, when evening came, supped with their forefathers in the other world.)

The Narrator's plaintive exclamation is grounded, therefore, on two opposed images: what was full before, and what has now become empty, both juxtaposed to life, before, and death, now. Next to the emptiness which engulfs palaces and houses, the Narrator presents also the image of the empty church. When the seven young ladies arrive in Santa Maria Novella in the morning, the typical time for the celebration of the Eucharist and thus for a certain number of the faithful to be present, the Narrator points out that there was hardly anybody else (Dec. 1. Intro. 49, "non essendovi quasi alcuna altra persona"). Shortly afterward, moreover, Pampinea remarks that the number of the friars tending to the church has also been reduced almost to nothing (1. Intro. 56, "de' quali il numero e quasi venuto al niente [...]"), further reinforcing the Narrator's previous remarks about the scarcity of priests to tend to the sick and the dead.

Thus, insofar as houses and churches are empty, the city itself becomes empty:

A me medesimo incresce andarmi tanto tra tante miserie ravolgendolo: per che, volendo omai lasciare star quella parte di quelle che io acconciamente posso schifare, dico che, stando in questi termini la nostra citta, d'abitatori quasi vota [...].

(Dec. 1. Intro. 49; my emph.)

(It is irksome to myself to keep going over so many miseries; therefore, having decided to pass over that part of the miseries which I can aptly avoid, I say that, our city finding itself in this condition and almost empty of its inhabitants [...].)

Thus, employing what rhetoricians call synthesis--a summary of all the motifs presented thus far--Boccaccio the Narrator states that the city was "almost empty" of its inhabitants. Shortly afterward Pampinea restates the same concept by means of another image: the empty Florence surrounded by empty city walls (Dec. 1. Intro. 66: "'le mura vote della nostra citta'"). But what is a city empty of its own inhabitants but a congeries of buildings, erected recently or some time before and left abandoned? Dante scholars will immediately recognize in the Narrator's comment ("stando in questi termini la nostra citta, d'abitatori quasi vota") a biblical verse employed by Dante to portray the condition of the city at the death of Beatrice:

Quomodo sedet sola civitas plena populo! facta est quasi vidua domina gentium.

(Vita nuova 28.1)

(How does the city lie solitary that was full of people! She has become like a widow, she that was great among the nations.) (48) For Dante, the city where Beatrice was born and lived becomes, at her death, desolate, widowed, emptied, only because she no longer inhabits it physically. And yet, Beatrice can still fill this emptiness from Heaven, where she now dwells, as long as the Dante persona remembers her ("la gloriosa donna de la mia mente" VN 2.1; "the glorious laldy of my memory") and strives toward her ("E di venire a cio io studio quanto posso [...]" VN42.2; "And to come to that, I strive as much as I can [...]").

In the case of Boccaccio's Florence, however, the city's emptiness carries totally different connotations. Not only does Florence--its houses, its churches, its city walls--become empty because of the death of so many of its inhabitats; much more importantly and ominously, the city is so desolate because of its citizens' depravity, which caused God's wrath to lay it waste. (49) Thus, contrary to what occurs in Dante's Vita nuova, where Beatrice's death and the city's consequent emptiness are intended to guide the male protagonist even more directly than before toward the spiritual and heavenly Beatrice, in the Decameron the physical emptiness of Florence is a sign of its spiritual and civic emptiness, for which, at least at this juncture of the story, Boccaccio the Narrator seems to be unable to offer any remedy. All he can do is to relate the decision of ten youg people to leave behind the city laid waste and to go to the countryside, where they cannnot certainly avoid the anger of God (1. Intro. 25), but where they may be able to contemplate more at ease the eternal beauties of the heavens (1. Intro. 66).

Thus, when the ten young people and some of their servants begin on the following morning, a Wednesday, their journey to the countryside, they undertake a secular journey by carrying out the decision they had already made in a sacred place, Santa Maria Novella. And, leaving behind the empty city and moving to the countryside, they first arrive in a villa, which, on the following Sunday, they abandon in order to move to another, even more beautiful villa, in which they remain until they return to Florence, except for their seventh day of storytelling, a Thursday, which they spend almost entirely in the so called valley of the ladies.

Overwhelmed by the beauty of these three loci amoeni--true paradises on earth--readers neglect to reflect on the two features which the two villas and the valley share and which occupy two opposite poles: the two villas and the valley are full while they are also empty. The two villas are full of everything is needed to make the sojourn of the brigata very comfortable, while the gardens boast everything the young people might desire for their enjoyment: they are luxuriant and filled with flowers of all kinds, with birds and other animals, which seem to be less and less afraid of humans. As to the valley of the ladies, the Narrator embellishes it and thus fills it with everything imaginable to turn it into the most splendid locus amoenus: a small river, a pond with fish, all kinds of trees, some cultivated by man and some nurtured by nature. For the valley, in fact, seems a work, not of man but of nature (Dec. 6. Concl. 20). Being full and also, at the same time, empty, these three loci amoeni challenge the reader to interpret the significance of this fullness and emptiness.

The explanation may lie in the fact that nature, with or without the aid of humans, has not fallen under God's present punishment, as Pampinea suggests in proposing their sojourn in the countryside, when she states that the heavens' eternal beauties--and, implicitly also the beauty of nature as a whole--have not been denied to humans in spite of their wickedness (Dec. 1. Intro. 66). But it is also the same Pampinea--echoing the Narrator (1. Intro. 25)--who likewise admits that people die in the countryside just as they do in the city (1. Intro. 68). The three loci amoeni are empty, therefore, for the same reasons houses, churches, and the city walls are also empty: because of God's anger aroused by human wickedness. The emptiness of the city's palaces and walls as well as of the two villas in the countryside point to the degradation of that splendid form of life which made it possible for their owners and inhabitants to build them. Likewise, the emptiness of the churches stands for the degradation of religious and spiritual life, first and foremost among those primarily responsible for it, that is, all clergy in general as well as believers.

This interpretation of fullness and emptiness may help understand the very complex significance of the valley of the ladies, which is the work of nature rather than of man (Dec. 6. Concl. 20: "artificio della natura e non manual"). Also, the two images of fullness and emptiness characterizing the valley harken back to the biblical Eden more so than the gardens of the two villas, even though the second garden is explicitly likened to a paradise (3. Intro. 11). Furthermore, the valley grants the two groups--that of the seven women, and, separately, that of the three men--the highest degree of freedom: playing in the nude in the purest water of the pond without any shame, as if they were in the biblical garden before the fall.

This last remark concerning the valley may also explain why it is Elissa, the youngest (and arguably the most innocent) of the ten young people, who is cognizant of the valley and who leads her female companions to it. At the same time, however, readers will find out through the ballad which she will sing shortly after returning from the valley, in the evening of Day Six, that she, at the age of eighteen, is utterly disenchanted with the man who has tied her with love's chains, that she wants to be free and to have him chained, or, at least, she wishes to be totally delivered of any chains of love in order to become once again as beautiful as she used to be--a desire which is an impossibility in time-ravaged human life. In brief, it is Elissa herself--the youngest person of the group, totally dissatisfied in love and thus in life, and perfectly aware of her lost former beauty--who provides readers with the appropriate explanation of the fullness of nature and emptiness of the valley.

Its fullness reminds the young people of a wealth and a beauty which humankind's primogenitors used to enjoy, and which the young people can now relish just for a short time. Thus the brigata's brief stay in the valley is reminiscent of the short sojourn of Adam and Eve in Eden, of a place from which humankind's primogentors were expelled, and also of a condition of innocence and happiness which can no longer be acquired. The valley's fullness and emptiness point toward two diametrically opposed directions, just as Elissa's topic for Day Six's tales does. For, in fact, the "leggiadro motto" which she proposes may succeed, from time to time, in avoiding loss, danger, or defeat (Dec. 6.1, "perdita o pericolo o scorno"), which nevertheless are bound to occur over and over again in human events; but no human words can put an end to the never ending spiral of human trials and tribulations, or redeem corrupt human nature, or acquire again the lost innocence. In contrast, the tales of Day Seven, proposed by Dioneo and recounted preciseley in the valley, point to the drama of loss and consequent emptiness which took place in Eden at humankind's primordia through their focus on deceptions played by wives on their husbands, that is, parodying what was intended to be the most sacred bond uniting man and woman.

Insofar as the valley of the ladies stands for the locus amoenus par excellence, the entire chronotope constructed around it--the valley itself, the two groups' separate arrival and departure, the brigata"s communal arrival and sojourn there on Day Seven, and the final departure from it--constitutes a mise en abme of the entire experience of the brigata outside the city of Florence. While the experience of the valley offers the young people much joy, this joy cannot be but ephemeral. For, among the three places which the ten young people inhabit, the valley is the most remote, the most solitary, the loneliest, the emptiest; it is also the most naturally beautiful among those three loci amoeni. It is the place in which they spend the shortest time and they behave most transgressively: The two groups, separately, get undressed and frolic pleasurably, but also innocently, in the water of the pristine pond; it is the place where they initiate the theme of the beffe, to be further continued and expanded in Day Eight and Nine.

Just as for the valley of the ladies, so too for the two villas, fullness points not just to something, but rather to someone, a person or rather persons, who used to fill those places and now no longer do, leaving them empty. Both villas are ready to welcome the brigata, not necessarily (or certainly not primarily) because the servants have prepared the two palaces for the young people's arrival, but because the two palaces and their gardens are there for people to inhabit and enjoy and yet those palaces are empty. Fully furnished and ready to be inhabited--better than chiavi in mano, we would say nowadays--even with well-stocked cellars (Dec. 1. Intro. 90; 3. Intro. 4), the two villas call for a human fullness and presence which is no longer possible. Just as they are empty until the moment the brigata arrives, they will also remain empty--first, the villa of Day One and Two; second, the villa of Day Three through Ten--when the brigata leaves. Both gardens are luxuriant and well laid out, the second one even more so than the first: true paradises on Earth, as the group unanimously acknowledges in regard to the second one (Dec. 3. Intro. 11).

These two villas do not belong to any of the ten young people. It is true that, addressing her female companions, and proposing to them to move to the countryside, Pampinea states that each one of them owns many "places in the countryside" (Dec. 1. Intro. 65, "nostri luoghi in contado, de' quali a ciascuna di noi e gran copia"). And yet, none of the ten young people claims that the two villas belong to them, or to someone else they know. (50) No mention whatsoever is made of the owner of the first villa. As they arrive in the second villa, the ten young people praise its beauty very highly ("sommamente il [palagio] commendarono") and view its owner as a person of great magnificence ("e magnifico reputarono il signor di quello" 3. Intro. 4)--a person, however, whose name is not mentioned, who is absent, and who has nevertheless left his palace ready to welcome the brigata, but nobody--not he, nor his wife, family members, or servants--is there to welcome the newcomers. The two villas are two empty palaces, well provided with everything, but with no people within; furthermore, as the young people leave the first villa and finally also the second villa, they feel no need to show their gratitude to anyone. (51) As in the case of the valley, they arrive, they enjoy, they use, and they finally leave everything behind--without any afterthoughts, concerns, nostalgia.

It is appropriate, therefore, to explain the emptiness of the villas in ways similar to those which scholars have employed to explain, by and large, the emptiness of the city of Florence and the valley. As I pointed out above, the valley's emptiness is reminiscent of the emptiness of the earthly paradise after the expulsion of Adam and Eve because of their disobedience. Likewise, the city's palaces and walls are empty, not just because of the death of so many citizens but also and foremost because of its citizens' depravity, which has brought about God's wrath. Also, churches and monasteries are empty because of the corruption of the clergy, which Boccaccio emphasizes through so many tales. Accordingly, the two villas are empty because of the degradation of that civilization which enabled its people to build such splendid places but which is no longer able now to foster and nurture the virtues necessary for such splendor to continue flourishing, all of which echoes a famous, albeit somewhat ambiguous line of Cacciaguida, when he speaks of empty houses, not in his time, but in his offspring's time. (52) With their arrival, the ten young people fill, at least momentarily, those two palaces, bearing out with the proper conduct how people can enjoy themselves, according to Dioneo's threefold manifesto (sollazzare, ridere, cantare), while also behaving with decorum and onesta. (53) And here is then the purpose of the two weeks which the ten young people spend in the two villas and in the valley: not to avoid the plague or postpone death, for they know full well that they cannot do that; (54) but rather to demonstrate with their lives how a new and renewed society can be rebuilt, employing, as it were, the outers shells (the empty houses, churches, and city) of the present, corrupt, society, living according to reason (1. Intro. 53) and onesta (repeated many times), avoiding the reprehensible conduct of many inhabitants of the city (1. Intro. 65, "i disonesti essempli degli altri") and pursuing honestly Dioneo's threefold manifesto.

The motif of emptiness, either caused by moral degradation or other reasons, pervades the world of the tales as well. Cities can become empty. (55) Monasteries are no longer filled with monks as they used to be (1.4.4), while, ironically and parodically, a convent with only eight nuns and an abbess at the story's beginning, can end up with "assai monachin" at the end (3.1.42). Houses become, totally or in part, empty for many reasons, typically attributable to the conduct of men: for political upheavals (Dec. 2.6); because men go on a crusade (1.5; 10.9), leave the house for business (2.9; 3.9.9; 4.2.12), kill each other for a woman (2.7), or lovers are killed or kill each other (4.3; 5.1); when a grandfather kills his nephew (4.4), or brothers kill their sister's lover (4.5); when a husband kills his wife's lover and she then kills herself (4.9); when a woman leaves her house for being wrongly accused (2.9). Homes become empty because lovers are killed or kill themselves (4.1), or entire families are forced to leave (2.8), or when someone abandons his house after committing a horrible crime (4.9.24). The house can be empty when wives are neglected by their husbands (2.10). Also, houses can be viewed empty morally when wives deceive their husbands, whether their husbands are in the house or not, or when a husband dismisses his wife just to test her (Dec. 10.10). Houses become empty also figuratively, when no relationship exists between husband and wife (Dec. 5.10; 9.7; 9.9). In brief, the concept and imagery of emptiness pervade the entire masterpiece.

But do the ten young people really fill this emptiness? After all, they inhabit the two villas and the valley only for fourteen days, returning to the empty city of Florence in the morning of the fifteenth day after their departure. While they live outside the city very happily, according to their initial program, and while God's righteous wrath does not strike them down, what will their condition be upon their return to Florence?

Pampinea's words in Santa Maria Novella about her own condition in the city before the departure to the countryside may anticipate everybody's condition upon their return. Just as the city was empty when they left because of the devastation of the plague, so is the city empty upon their return. Thus it could certainly be argued that Pampinea's words about the city's emptiness apply to both moments, before and after their sojourn in the countryside; namely, in leaving the city, they abandon nobody, for in fact she, and her companions, have been abandoned by their relatives, who have either died or fled to avoid death. (56) Upon her return, will she feel the same way she used to before she left? At that time, before her departure, as she roamed around the house, empty of everyone except herself and her maid, she used to be filled with terror and her hair stood on end because she felt abandoned, alone, afraid. (57) Will Pampinea's somber considerations before their departure change at all after the fourteen days spent in the two splendid villas and the luxuriant valley? After all, as we have seen above, hardly anything has changed in the city of Florence, where the plague has decimated its population and still lays it waste. Will Pampinea's attitude apply also to each member of the brigata upon their return?

And what about the Boccaccio persona, who has narrated the brigata"s overarching tale offering it to the suffering women in love? Will the ten young people's sad, lonely condition be at the end also that of the Boccaccio persona, who had previously failed in his attempts to win the affection of the very noble lady (Proem), is now defending himself against lauzengiers and maldicenti (Introduction to Day Four), and at the end must defend his art also against the women to whose assistance he had come? I believe that these questions are worth the critic's attention at least as much as (or more so than) scholars have sought to speculate about the condition of the ten young people upon their return to Florence. For, in fact, the ten young people are fictitious characters, while the Author (that is how Boccaccio calls himself) stands for a true historical person, an individual who seeks to imitate God in His act of creation and who is himself a maker and a creator.

I will return to these questions at the end of this essay and at the end of this volume's last essay.

5. Medieval Life Rewritten: Announcing a New Era

Every rewriting implies a critique of a previous text and way of life, as well as a foregrounding of a new era. I have thus far sought to expound the many ways in which, through the brigata"s overarching tale, Boccaccio has rewritten the prevailing view of life during the Christian Middle Ages, which structured every moment of an individual's daily activities, from the humblest lay person to monks, nuns, and all ranks of the clergy. I have also suggested that the first nine days of the Decameron constitute, by and large, the work's pars destruens, while Day Ten comprises what I have called its pars construens: an illustration of the ways in which a new community could be rebuilt, replacing the existing, by and large, bankrupt way of life, as I will seek to show in the essay on Day Ten.

A critic who saw clearly the parodic nature of Boccaccio's work was Francesco De Sanctis (1817-83). Imbued as he was with the spirit of Romanticism typical of the Italian Risorgimento, De Sanctis, in his assessment of Boccaccio, was not able to set aside the paradigm of the heroic virtues and ideals he saw and so much admired in Dante. (58) And yet, despite his partially biased view of Boccaccio, he fully understood Boccaccio's parodic attitude toward the Middle Ages. At the same time, De Sanctis makes no reference to the elements I have developed above--that is, the Decameron as a parody of the six days of creation, of monastic life, and generally of medieval life excessively turned away from this world and pointing to the other world. And yet, fully comprehending what is at work in the Decameron, De Sanctis thus commences his analysis of Boccaccio in his Storia della letteratura italiana:

Se ora apri il Decameron, letta appena la prima novella, gli e come un cascar dalle nuvole e un domandarti con il Petrarca: "Qui come venn'io o quando?" [Rime 126.62] Non e una evoluzione, ma e una catastrofe, o una rivoluzione, che da un di all'altro ti presenta il mondo mutato. Qui trovi il medio evo non solo negato, ma canzonato.

(Storia della letteratura italiana 1.314)

(If you now open the Decameron, as soon as you read its first tale, it is like falling from the sky and asking yourself, as Petrarch did: "How did I come here and when?" [Rhymes 126.62]. The Decameron does not evince some kind of evolution but rather a catastrophe or a revolution, which from one day to the next presents to you a changed world. Here you find the Middle Ages non only negated, but mocked.)

Thus for De Sanctis the Decameron constitutes a "revolution," a "changed" perspective, a denial of the Middle Ages--obviously as portrayed by Dante or by Petrarch; a rebellion against the Christian world view and therefore a catastrophe; in brief, a "parody" of it, for, in De Sanctis's view, the Decameron "canzona" the Middle Ages, namely, it makes fun of it, teases it, ridicules it.

De Sanctis expounds his view of the Decameron as a negation and a mockery of the Middle Ages from various perspectives. Boccaccio's world is a denial of transcendence (Storia 1.312); it marks the entrance into the world, loudly and mockingly, of sin, matter, and the flesh that had been cursed because of their opposition to the spirit ("l'ingresso nel mondo, a voce alta e beffarda, della materia o della carne, la maledetta, il peccato [...]"). In fact, Boccaccio's world is, in De Sanctis's view, the first laughter enjoyed by a society which is more educated and intelligent than the previous one, and also ready to make fun of its predecessors ("il primo riso di una societa piU colta e intelligente, disposta a burlarsi dell'antica"). Boccaccio's world expresses also the voice of nature and man, who, while admitting the existence of transcendence, the angels, and God, puts all of this aside while setting himself up as his own means to achieve his immanent goals ("la natura e l'uomo che pure ammettendo l'esistenza di separate intelligenze, non ne tien conto, e fa di se il suo mezzo e il suo scopo" Storia 1.329). (59) It is precisely because of his revolutionary spirit and his parodic nature that all critics seem to agree that, next to the other two crowns, Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio emerges as the most modern of them. (60) Which among us is willing to follow seriously Dante the Pilgrim in his journey through the three realms of the Christian afterlife and return to this world after experiencing the vision of God Triune through Christ? Or which one of us is ready to imitate Petrarch who, at the end of his Canzoniere, refers to his foremost love, Laura, as Medusa and sets all his previous earthly pursuits aside to turn himself completely to the Chsristian Godhead through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin?

But, then, if Boccaccio does not manifest in the Decameron the faith of Dante and Petrarch--DeSanctis is right in this respect--one can still wonder about the last word which he leaves to us readers.

Let us return briefly to the conclusion of the previous essay, when I proposed that Boccaccio portrays himself in his all-encompassing discourse as a suffering lover who has received comfort, as a compassionate giver toward all those who suffer, as a determined poet toward those who attack him maliciously, and, at the work's conclusion, also as a tolerant and open-minded author even toward his own creatures, who at the end object to their own creator's art. And here may very well lie the major difference between Boccaccio, the creator of the Decameron, and God, the Creator as described in the Bible and St. Ambrose's Hexameron.

At the end of each of the six days of creation, the biblical author describes God, the true Auctor and Maker, saying, "And He saw that it was good." At the end of his masterpiece, as Boccaccio seeks to defend his art against the women's objections, he will resort to the Bible and its explanations by the clergy, to defend his art; but nowhere can Boccaccio, the auctor and maker of the Decameron, say, as he contemplates each one of his days of creation: And I see that it is good. While it is true, on the one hand, that the ten young people live honestly during their sojourn in the three loci amoeni, on the other hand the myriad characters of the one hundred tales look, more often than not, like fallen creatures and at times even like fallen angels, beginning with the most wicked man on Earth, Ciappelletto of Decameron 1.1, to his double, Scannadio, or God-slaughterer, in Decameron 9.1. In the history of salvation as interpreted by medieval Christianity, all creatures, despite their fallen condition, have access to salvation through Christ and all can hope to attain the eternal joy of Heaven. To the ten young people who leave the plague-ridden city of Florence, Boccaccio the author can only offer, at best, two enjoyable weeks outside the city and a safe return to the same city, still ravaged by the plague. Thus Boccaccio's secular Genesis, consisting of ten or fourteen days of creation, appears to bring the young people, as well as the reader, exactly to where and when Adam and Eve ended up--or even worse--when they were expelled from the Earthly Paradise, Cain killed his brother Abel, and the former founded the first city of men. So the brigata"s return to Florence may help the reader realize that the plague-infected city symbolizes the chaos out of which God created the world, or, perhaps even more appropriately, the chaos that pervades the world after Adam and Eve's disobedience against God. Whether Boccaccio's secular Genesis, while parodying the biblical creation, offers at its end some hope to the ten young people and its readers, can be examined only at the conclusion of this study.

The same Boccaccio exercises another form of compassion, which I could call intellectual, at the very conclusion of the Decameron. Here in fact, after very honestly listing and expounding the objections that his creatures--the ladies in love--bring forward to him, and after trying to rebut these objections, he, compassionately and benevolently, allows them--and all his readers--to think as they and we wish to think. In this aspect Boccaccio imitates the biblical God himself, who forgives man so that man may repent. But in this respect Boccaccio goes even further, for he, by contrast, allows man and woman to think as they wish, just as in the one hundred tales he is more willing to laugh at his characters' failings than to condemn them, with the exception obviously of all the hypocritical priests, monks, and bigots. Precisely because of his compassion toward all human beings who are suffering, and his benevolence toward all the readers who, like the women in love, object to his art and his stories, Boccaccio appears in all his modernity.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Mazzotta, Giuseppe. The World at Play in Boccaccio's Decameron. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.

Muscetta, Carlo. Giovanni Boccaccio. Letteratura Italiana Laterza. Il Trecento. Dalla Crisi dell'eta comunale all'Umanesimo. Roma: Laterza, 1972.

Mercuri, Roberto. "Genesi della letteratura italiana in Dante, Petrarca e Boccaccio." Letteratura italiana. Storia e geografia. Vol. 1. L'eta medievale. Ed. Alberto Asor Rosa. Torino: Einaudi, 1987. 229-445.

O Cuilleanain, Cormac. Religion and the Clergy in Boccaccio's Decameron. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1984.

Potter, Joy Hambuechen. Five Frames for the Decameron. Communication and Social Systems in the Cornice. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1982.

Righetti, Mario. Manuale di storia liturgica. 4 vols. Milano: Ancora, 1950-56.

Savage, John J. "Introduction." Saint Ambrose. Hexameron, Paradise, and Cain and Abel I-XI.

Uguccione da Pisa. Derivationes. 2 vols. Critical ed. Enzo Cecchini et alii. Edizione Nazionale dei Testi Mediolatini. Firenze: SISMEL - Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2004.

(1) References to God in the Poet's overarching discourse should be weighed carefully. In fact, while never making strong and overt affirmations of his faith as, for instance, Dante the Pilgrim does (e.g., Par. 24-26), Boccaccio mentions repeatedly his beliefs as a Christian (Proem 5; 15; Day Four Introduction 9; 38; 40; Author's Conclusion 17; 29). Furthermore, as a Narrator, he attributes the plague to God's righteous punishment of humankind's wickedness.

(2) Among the recent studies of the topic, I refer to Delcorno's essay on irony and parody in Lessico critico decameroniano. Mercuri ("Genesi della tradizione letteraria italiana") deals with issues related to the practice of rewriting in general terms. Agamben speaks of parody as a constant tendency throughout Italy's literary culture. For a treatment of parody in theoretical terms, I refer to Gorni and Longhi. I will return to Boccaccio's practice of parody also in the last essay of this volume.

(3) At the same time, Branca affirms Boccaccio's familiarity with this treatise by St. Ambrose ("Per il testo" 39).

(4) "L'allusione all'Exaemeron di Ambrogio (le sei giornate della creazione) si chiarisce in senso parodistico e serio-comico, nella riaffermazione del valore della poesia e della sua particolare utilita sociale" (316).

(5) Thus, St. Ambrose delivered two homilies on day One, Three, and Five of that week, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, ending late in the evening; in day Two, Four, and Six he delivered one homily only. Concerning borrowings by St. Ambrose from previous exegetical works on the days of creation, primarily St. Basileus of Caesarea, Origenes, and Hyppolitus Romanus, as well as his influences upon subsequent writers, see Coppa 90 (Opere di Sant 'Ambtogio).

(6) Here are further additional contrastive comparisons that could be made between the Decameronian valley, the locus of the most intense enjoyment of the brigata at the end of Day Six and throughout most of Day Seven, and St. Ambrose's explanation of valley where the waters gathered: "Vallis est haeresis, vallis est gentilitas; quia Deus montium est, non vallium." "Vallis est scena, vallis est circus ubi currit mendax equus ad salutem, ubi vilis et abjecta contentio, ubi litium foeda deformitas" (bk. 3, ch. 1.3). By contrast, the two villas are situated on little hills, which are not, however, a place where the brigata seeks the "Deus montium" (Hex. 3, ch. 1.3).

(7) A close analysis of St. Ambrose's addresses to his audience may help establish further relationships between this patristic work and the Boccaccio persona's complex rapport with the women in love, similar in certain respects to St. Ambrose's care for his audience.

(8) The world is called "hanc pulcherrimam mundi fabricam" (bk. 3.1.5) and the human body is made like it ("Ac primum omnium cognoscamus humani corporis fabricam instar esse mundi" bk. 6.9.55).

(9) References to pleasure and enjoyment in St. Ambrose's homilies can also be found, e.g., in Day Five, Eight Homily.

(10) See for instance the summary of creation before that of Adam and Eve: "Vestita diversis terra germinibus virebat omnis, coelum quoque sole et luna, geminis vultus sui luminibus, stellarumque insignitum decore fulgebat" ("The entire earth was now arrayed in its verdant garb of diverse plants. The sun, too, and the moon, those two luminaries, and the stars in their splendor shone forth in the heavens" bk. 5.1.1).

(11) Regula, ch. 48: "De opera manuum cotidiana. 1. Otiositas inimica est animae, et ideo certis temporibus occupari debent fratres in labore manuum, certis iterum horis in lectione divina. ("Of their Daily Manual Labor. 1. Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.")

(12) In his De vita solitaria, Petrarch describes his life as a scholar and as a Christian dividing the time according to the seven canonical hours. On Petrarch's treatise, see Cherchi's insightful analysis of the work, with many pertinent considerations on the concepts of occupatio and otiositas, and on the seven canonical hours. On otiositas see the many biblical injunctions against it, e.g.: Eccl. 32.29; Prov. 31.27; Matt. 12.36; Eccle. 2.21.

(13) At the beginning of this tale, Branca suggests, once again rather timidly, Boccaccio's ironic purposes in rewriting a story whose sources carried devotional purposes ("Potrebbe questo essere un altro esempio di ironizzazione novellistica licenziosa di un racconto devoto [...]" Dec. 9.10.1n1; my emph.). At the same time, this last licentious tale in the Decameron could also be read as a parody of all sexual activities carried out in all the Decameron tales. In fact, while donno Gianni performs a sexual act ("preso il piuolo col quale egli piantava gli uomini e prestamente nel solco per cio fatto messolo") and attains some kind of sexual pleasure ("Era gia l'umido radicale per lo quale tutte le piante s'appiccano venuto"), its abrupt interruption by compar Piero ("'O donno Gianni, io non vi voglio coda, io non vi voglio coda'") ridicules sexual intercourse even further than in Dioneo's tales of Day Three and Five.

(14) For each of those six days, the biblical narrator states clearly each accomplishment and God's satisfaction with His work: "In principio creavit Deus cslum et terram. Terra autem erat inanis et vacua, et tenebra erant super faciem abyssi: et spiritus Dei ferebatur super aquas. Dixitque Deus: Fiat lux. Et facta est lux. Et vidit Deus lucem quod esset bona: et divisit lucem a tenebris. Appellavitque lucem Diem, et tenebras Noctem: factumque est vespere et mane, dies unus" (Gen. 1.1-5; my emph.).

(15) In reference to the choice of a Tuesday for the brigata" s initial gathering, Branca proposes, this time with no hesitation, that this choice has narrative--or, rather, logistic--reasons: "Naturalmente e scelto il martedi per permettere un certo svolgimento delle 'giornate' prima dell'interruzione pia nel venerdi e di quella igienica del sabato (cfr. III concl., 5 sgg.)" (Day 1. Intro. 29n4). On the contrary, I will seek to explore Boccaccio's highly parodic purposes for having the ten young people meet in Santa Maria Novella, not on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday--the three days that carry prominent religious significance within the lives of the brigata, as they do principally in Christianity--but rather on a Tuesday, after which they leave the city on a Wednesday, and return to it after two weeks, on a Wednesday.

(16) Let us keep in mind that Emilia, in proposing a day of storytelling free of any narrative restrictions (Dec. 8. Concl. 5), makes references to oxen freed of their yoke at the end of their day's labor (8. Concl. 3), and to gardens no longer tended to by workers (8. Concl. 4). Both analogies emphasize the need for humans to work, while also alluding to the biblical curse of labor (Gen. 3.16-19).

(17) By interpreting in this parodic manner the group's non-observance (first Sunday) and observance (second Sunday) of the dominical precept, one gives a specific significance to an otherwise insignificant narrative detail--attending Mass on the second Sunday--which cannot at all be viewed as "un elemento decorativo" (Muscetta 261), or an insignificant detail, as most critics still propose.

(18) One could certainly develop further this suggestion, proposing, for instance, that they leave behind plague-ridden Florence precisely on the day whose name refers to the pagan god of war, while the departure day, which marks their new experience's beginning, points to the pagan god of lingua and ingenium (Isidore; Uguccione)--both so fundamental in the world of the tales. I will make further considerations on the brigata's departure's day as a de-centering of the sacred in this volume's last essay.

(19) The Dantean reader may see in the verb ritrovarsi an echo of the condition of Dante the Pilgrim at the beginning of his infernal journey, when the Dante the Poet writes about his past condition saying, "mi ritrovai in una selva oscura" (Inf. 1.2). Realizing that he is lost may be seen as the sine qua non for the Pilgrim to undertake the journey toward salvation. The seven young ladies, too, are aware of their desperate situation; but, unlike Dante the Pilgrim, who needs divine assistance and guidance, they take the initiative on their own, and seek an escape which can only be temporary, ultimately returning to the place they had sought to leave behind, namely, the plague-ridden city. Boccaccio the author is fully aware of rewriting Dante's Divine Comedy, and he forges ahead (employing De Sanctis's definition) with his commedia umana, which he describes with all human vices and virtues, ultimately allowing the young people to return to Florence, still devastated by the plague, to face their human destiny, whatever it might be.

(20) The word paternostri, or paternostro--Pater noster or the Lord's Prayer--carries parodic overtones in all the instances it is employed throughout the Decameron. In fact its recitation is attributed to impotent and/or naive husbands (Dec. 3.4.5; 3.4.18; 3.4.19; 3.4.24; 3.4.30), simpletons (2.2.3; 2.2.7; 7.1.5), hypocritical women, priests and monks (2.2.3; 5.10.14; 5.10.23; 7.3.23), or their companions, even with obscene connotations (7.3.39). Most lamentably two of the most common English translations available today--by G. H. McWilliam (Penguin), and by Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella--misread the Italian original, making it say the exact opposite: "reciting their paternosters" (McWilliam), and "saying their prayers" (Musa and Bondanella). These egregious mistakes are even more lamentable in that old translations render the text correctly, for instance, J. M. Rigg: "'Twas not of set purpose but by mere chance that these ladies met in the same part of the church [...], they gave up saying paternosters, and began to converse (among other topics) on the times."

(21) The text describing the departure of the ten young people does not indicate any meeting point for them to gather and begin their journey to the countryside on Wednesday morning ("E ordinatamente fatta ogni cosa oportuna apparecchiare e prima mandato la dove intendevan d'andare, la seguente mattina, cioe il mercoledi, in su lo schiarir del giorno, le donne con alquante delle lor fanti e i tre giovani con tre lor famigliali, usciti della citta, si misero in via" Dec. 1. Intro. 89). But, insofar as Santa Maria Novella was the place where they took all these important decisions, the church can be considered as their true point of departure, as it will also be their point of return. One can only speculate why Boccaccio chose Santa Maria Novella instead of other, more ancient churches in Florence: certainly not because of an ahistorical tradition that identifies the two villas chosen by the brigata with palaces still standing nowadays on the slopes of the hill on which Fiesole is situated, in some proximity to the church (see Branca's comment at Dec. 3. Intro. 3n1, but also the much more cautious comments at Dec. 1. Intro. 90n1), even though we read that from the second villa the ten young people can see Fiesole (Dec. 7.4.1). We know, however, that those hills in the proximity to Fiesole have always been a focus of Boccaccio's imagination, as, for instance, it appears most clearly in Ninfale fiesolano, in which Boccaccio mythologizes the beginnings of Tuscan civilization. A possible suggestion may be found in the direction that the brigata takes at the beginning of Day Three, when from the first villa they move to the second villa, journeying westward ("il cammino verso l'occidente" Dec. 3. Intro. 3). We also know that for Boccaccio the plague moved from the east to the west. But in Boccaccio the implications of this journey from east to west are not emphasized and, after all, the young people are able to return to the city alive and unharmed.

(22) Several stories in the Decameron dealing with religious communities of men and women are situated outside the city, thereby requiring an even more determined decision, on the part of their founders, to create a new life and a new city. Thus, as examples from the first thirty tales, Boccaccio situates several stories, either in close relationship to a religious community of men (Dec. 1.1.30, "una religione di frati"; 1.7.11, "Santa Croce") or even totally within a religious community of men situated outside the city (1.4) and also of women, equally outside the city (3.1). All such stories develop a negative, parodic view of the religious life practiced in those communities. Readers must wait until the end of the Decameron, the second tale of Day Ten, to find the only positive example of clergy engaged in an act of liberality, which seems to the brigata like a miracle (10.3.2).

(23) For an analysis of the two villas and gardens as loci amoeni, reminiscent of the biblical earthly paradise, see the oft-quoted essay by Kern.

(24) An example of the monks' sacrifices involved in the foundation of a monastery may be that of Abelard, who describes the extremely harsh conditions he and his followers underwent while founding the oratory he named after the Holy Trinity: "[...] on a piece of land given me, by leave of the local bishop, I built a sort of oratory of reeds and hatch [...]. [...] students began to gather there from all parts, hurrying from cities and towns to inhabit the wilderness, leaving large mansions to build themselves little huts, eating wild herbs and coarse bread instead of delicate food, spreading reeds and straw instead of soft beds and using banks of turf for tables" (The Letters of Abelard and Heloise 74-75). Further examples can be found in the history of the Franciscan order, with St. Francis's command not to have a permanent place for his followers and, at the same time, the humble beginnings of their monasteries, for which I refer to Fonti francescane, with its elaborate index, e.g., "Monastero."

(25) Scholars have reflected on the organization of the brigata, which is governed by the random sequence of queens and kings. Bruni calls this organization "un ordinamento monarchico," adding that this monarchic structure may reveal Boccaccio's sympathy for this form of government which he saw at work during his Neapolitan years (Boccaccio 238). Potter sees in this structure a novel application of the rotation of Florentine political responsibilities (Five Frames 20). At the same time, one should bear in mind that Florentine politicians could not appoint their successors, and that kings and queens had a lifetime mandate, which was thought to derive from God. (A classic study of medieval political thought is The King's Two Bodies by Kantorowicz.)

(26) The injunction not to let anything from the outside enter the monastery can be found in St. Benedict's rule: "LIV. Si debeat monachus litteras vel aliquid suscipere. 1. Nullatenus liceat monacho neque a parentibus suis neque a quoquam hominum nec sibi invicem litteras, eulogias vel quaelibet munuscula accipere aut dare sine praecepto abbatis." "LXVII. 5: Nec praesumat quisquam referre alio quaecumque foris monasterium viderit aut audierit, quia plurima destructio est."

(27) St. Benedict's rule encourages hospitality: "LIII. De hospitibus suscipiendis. 1. Omnes supervenientes hospites tamquam Christus suscipiantur, quia ipse dicturus est: Hospes fui et suscepistis me; 2. Et omnibus congruus honor exhibeatur, maxime domesticis fidei et peregrinis." In Dec. 1.4, the action of the young monk who brings into the monastery a young lady may be viewed as a parodic misreading of the Benedictine rule. (Martinez develops his analysis of Dec. 1.4 as a parody, in many respects, of St. Benedict's Rule.)

(28) "'[...] e ciascuno generalmente, per quanto egli avra cara la nostra grazia, vogliamo e comandiamo che si guardi, dove che egli vada, onde che egli torni, che egli oda o vegga, niuna novella, altro che lieta, ci rechi di fuori'" (Dec. 1. Intro. 101).

(29) "'Appresso, per cio che noi qui quattro di dimorate saremo, se noi vogliam tor via che gente nuova non ci sopravvenga, reputo opportuno di mutarci di qui e andarne altrove, e il dove io ho gia pensato e proveduto'" (Dec. 2. Concl. 8). Panfilo repeats and even expands the same concern when proposing to the group to return to Florence (10. Concl. 7).

(30) St. Benedict's rule quotes the same psalm precisely when Benedict instructs his followers when to pray: "XVI. Qualiter divina Opera per diem agantur. 1. Ut ait propheta: septies in die laudem dixi tibi. Qui septenarius sacratus numerus a nobis sic implebitur, si matutino, primae, tertiae, sextae, nonae, vesperae completoriique tempore nostrae servitutis officia persolvamus, quia de his diurnis horis dixit: Septies in die laudem dixi tibi."

(31) The only canonical hour or hours not included in the previous list, namely, Matins and Lauds--considered as a single canonical hour probably from the eighth century onwards--could be explained in one of the two following ways: Matins and Lauds are parodied in the brigata's festivities at the end of the day, which typically continue well into the night, or at the beginning of each day, when the group is awakened early in the morning and immediately begins their daily festive activities. Let us also bear in mind that everybody is awakened in the morning following the queen's or king's instructions, in a manner not at all dissimilar from the manner in which monks and nuns were often aroused, typically by a member of the community.

(32) For an in-depth study of the concept of onesto and onesta I refer to Cherchi's book on this topic.

(33) To explain the canonical hours and related terms, I will refer to the online Catholic Encyclopedia. Among the countless studies on the liturgy, see Righetti, Manuale di storia liturgica, in four volumes.

(34) Day One: "[...] la seguente mattina, cioe il mercoledi, in su lo schiarir del giorno [...]" (Dec. 1. Intro. 89). Day Two: "Gia per tutto aveva il sol recato con la sua luce il nuovo giorno e gli uccelli su per li verdi rami cantando piacevoli versi ne davano agli orecchi testimonianza, quando parimente tutte le donne e i tre giovani levatisi ne' giardini se ne entrarono [...]" (2.2). Day Three: "L'aurora gia di vermiglia cominciava, appressandosi il sole, a divenir rancia, quando la domenica, la reina levata e fatta tutta la sua compagnia levare [...]" (3.2). Day Four: "Cacciata aveva il sole del cielo gia ogni stella e dalla terra l'umida ombra della notte, quando Filostrato, levatosi, tutta la sua brigata fece levare, e nel bel giardino andatisene [...]" (4.44). Day Five: "Era gia l'oriente tutto bianco e li surgenti raggi per tutto il nostro emisperio avevan fatto chiaro, quando Fiammetta da' dolci canti degli uccelli, li quali la prima ora del giorno su per gli albuscelli tutti lieti cantavano, incitata, sU si levo, e tutte l'altre e i tre giovani fece chiamare; e con soave passo a' campi discesa [...]" (5.2). Day Six: "Aveva la luna, essendo nel mezzo del cielo, perduti i raggi suoi, e gia per la nuova luce vegnente ogni parte del nostro mondo era chiara, quando la reina levatasi, fatta la sua compagnia chiamare, alquanto con lento passo [...]" (6.2). Day Seven: "Ogni stella era gia delle parti d'oriente fuggita, se non quella sola la qual noi chiamiamo Lucifero che ancora luceva nella biancheggiante aurora, quando il siniscalco levatosi con una gran salmeria n'ando nella Valle delle Donne [...]. Appresso alla quale andata non stette guari a levarsi il re, il quale lo strepito de' caricanti e delle bestie aveva desto, e levatosi fece le donne e' giovani tutti parimente levare" (7.2-3). Day Eight: "Gia nella sommita de' piU alti monti apparivano, la domenica mattina, i raggi della surgente luce e, ogni ombra partitasi, manifestamente le cose si conosceano, quando la reina levatasi con la sua compagnia [...]" (8.1). Day Nine: "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 [...]" (9.2). Day Ten: "Ancora eran vermigli certi nuvoletti nell'occidente, essendo gia quegli dello oriente nelle loro estremita simili ad oro lucentissimi divenuti per li solari raggi che molto loro avvicinandosi li ferieno, quando Panfilo, levatosi, le donne e' suoi compagni fece chiamare" (10.2). The day of return: "E come il nuovo giorno apparve, levati, avendo gia il siniscalco via ogni lor cosa mandata, dietro alla guida del discreto re verso Firenze si ritornarono; e i tre giovani, lasciate le sette donne [...]" (10. Concl. 16).

(35) While the so-called holy office and breviary have gone through several transformations throughout the centuries, several features have remained the same. Thus, the hymn marking the beginning of Matins and also of the first canonical hour, prime, sung or recited at day's break, contains references to the night's darkness having been chased away or the rising sun, of which clear echoes are found in the description of the brigata's beginning of the day.

(36) In the Decameron the brigata of the ten young people is accompanied, and in most respects served, by a shadow brigata consisting of several maid servants ("alquante delle lor fanti"), attending to the ladies, and three male servants, attending to the three males, with one of these in charge of overseeing everybody's needs (Dec. Day 1. Intro. 89), as was customary in the social ranks to which the ten young people belonged. Let us keep in mind that in most monasteries and convents, certainly from the eleventh century onwards, most needs of the ordained religious, just as the needs of cloistered nuns, were taken care of, respectively, by the so-called lay brothers and lay sisters (Catholic Encyclopedia online, under "Lay Brothers"). The presence and function of the Decameron's shadow brigata bears out the two-tiered structure present in monasteries and convents (which reflects contemporary class divisions), while also parodying it--as we see, for instance, in the boisterous interruption of the young people's activities caused by Licisca and Tindaro's vulgar diatribe at the beginning of Day Six. Let us also keep in mind that in most monasteries a monk, the cellerarius, was responsible for taking care of most logistical matters on behalf of all monks (Sancti Benedicti Regula 31, "De cellerario monasterii, qualis sit"), a function similar to that performed by Dioneo's servant, Parmeno, called siniscalco (seneschal) by Pampinea (Dec. Day 1. Introd. 98).

(37) For instance, Dec. 1. Intro. 106: "[...] con piacevoli motti e con festa mangiarono." While monks were allowed sufficient food and drink so that they would be able to carry out their daily duties, any excess was always criticized, and abstinence encouraged (Regula XLIX).

(38) Regula S. Benedicti" "VI. Scurrilitates vero vel verba otiosa et risum moventia aeterna clausura in omnibus locis damnamus et ad talia eloquia discipulum aperire os non permittimus."

(39) For the liturgical custom of announcing the feast day on its eve, see the essay "Vigil" in Catholic Encyclopedia online, from which I draw the following: "In the first ages, during the night before every feast, a vigil was kept. In the evening the faithful assembled in the place or church where the feast was to be celebrated and prepared themselves by prayers, readings from Holy Writ (now the Offices of Vespers and Matins), and sometimes also by hearing a sermon."

(40) One should keep in mind that the author's rubric at the beginning of each day--announcing the day's queen or king as well as the topic--simply summarizes what had already taken place on the eve of that day. In the Hamilton 90 manuscript, in fact, the same rubric is written immediately after the end of each day and is followed soon afterward, without any blank space, by the beginning of the next day. Even materially, thus, the rubric is a kind of material cerniera--the physical element linking each day with the next one.

(41) "The series of hymns consecrated to Vespers in the Roman Breviary also form a class apart and help to give us some hints about the symbolism of this hour. The hymns are very ancient, dating probably, for the most part, from the sixth century. They have this particular characteristic--they are all devoted to the praise of one of the days of the Creation, according to the day of the week, thus: the first, "Lucis Creator optime," on Sunday, to the creation of light; the second, on Monday, to the separation of the earth and the waters; the third, on Tuesday, to the creation of the plants; the fourth, on Wednesday, to the creation of the sun and moon; the fifth, on Thursday, to the creation of the fish; the sixth, on Friday, to the creation of the beasts of the earth; Saturday is an exception, the hymn on that day being in honour of the Blessed Trinity, because of the Office of Sunday then commencing" (Catholic Encyclopedia online, "Vespers, Symbolism").

(42) In his rule, St. Benedict devotes an entire chapter to silence (Ch. LXI, "De taciturnitate"), viewed as "nutrix virtutum et custos animarum." In the same context he also condemns scurrility, useless words, and all words leading to laughter.

(43) Boccaccio himself, in his function as Poet within the text, suggests this terminology by refuting all critiques of not being "pesato" and proclaiming himself of being "lieve" so much so--he writes--that "io sto a galla nell'acqua" (Dec. Author's Concl. 22-23)

(44) Here is the definition of carola from the Grande dizionario della lingua italiana: "Ballo di molte persone in cerchio, che si tengono per mano, spesso accompagnandosi col canto.--Per est.: danza in genere." (The English word carol carries also this meaning, and it shares the same etymology of the Italian word, via Latin, from the Greek chorus, or dance, and aulos, flute.)

(45) "[...] ed omnes se invicem diligant, omnes se invicem foveant, et quasi unum corpus diversa se membra sustentent: quos non mortiferi cantus, et acroamata scenicorum quae mentem emolliant ad amores, sed concentus Ecclesiae, et consona circa Dei laudes populi vox et pia vita delectet [...]" (Hex. 3. Ch. 1.5).

(46) On the same subject see, in the Catholic Encyclopedia online, in addition to "Prayer Books," such related entries as "Primer" and "Little Office of Our Lady," the latter being a practice that has lasted until our time.

(47) In his book on the function of singing in Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, Cerocchi emphasizes appropriately the complete transformation of singing in Boccaccio. But reference should be made to the subversive function of the brigata's dancing and singing vis-a-vis their practice in the prevailing medieval society. In the Divine Comedy Hell produces only cacophony, while singing characterizes the penitent souls in Purgatory and the exulting blessed and angels in Paradise. No longer spiritual and transcendent as in Dante, in the Decameron, by contrast, singing by the ten young people assumes a value in itself, just for its own pleasure and satisfaction. (On the importance of the play element of culture and society, Huizinga's Homo ludens constitutes a classic study.)

(48) Dante quotes from the Lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah (1.1), a text which Boccaccio knows, most likely directly and certainly also through Dante, and to which he refers in the Author's Conclusion (24, "il lamento di Germia").

(49) Boccaccio the Narrator mentions several possible causes for this enormous calamity: influences of the stars (Dec. 1. Intro. 8: "per operazion de' corpi superiori") or God's righteous wrath (1. Intro. 8: "giusta ira di Dio"), attributable to "le nostre inique opere" and willed by God "a nostra correzione mandata sopra i mortali." God's righteous anger is mentioned also later, when the Narrator, speaking of people leaving the city to avoid the contagion, comments that God can punish humans for their depravity anywhere they might go (1. Intro. 25). Later he speaks of "cosi inimico tempo" (1. Intro. 43) and also of astronomical influences ("tal fu la crudelta del cielo" 1. Intro. 47). Also, Pampinea refers to "questa crudele pestilenza" (1. Intro. 64) and to "il cielo," that is, God, being angry (1. Intro. 66). In brief, although at first hesitant between astronomical causes and God's wrath, Boccaccio attributes the plague's cause to human wickedness prompting God's punishment in order to correct humankind.

(50) While it is Neifile who proposes to leave the first villa and move to the second one (Dec. 2. Concl. 7), the idea of moving from one place to another is already implicit in Pampinea's initial proposal (1. Intro. 47: "'E per cio, quando vi paia, prendendo le nostre fanti e con le cose oportune faccendoci seguitare, oggi in questo luogo e domane in quello quella allegrezza e festa prendendo che questo tempo puo porgere, credo che sia ben fatto a dover fare [...]'"; my emph.).

(51) Scholars have been preoccupied with the identification of both villas, in the story not too distant from Florence. Branca warns against any such attempts in a footnote on the first villa (Dec. 1. Intro. 90n1), but he cannot resist relating past suggestions for identifying the second villa (3. Intro. 4n1). Moving beyond such a realistic trap, one should rather seek to explain the meaning of what is most peculiar about these loci amoeni: not their beauty (they are, after all, archetypical beautiful places), but their emptiness.

(52) Cacciaguida states that the city of Florence of his time, contrary to contemporary Florence, "'Non avea case di famiglia vote" (Par. 15.106). Although the specific meaning of those "empty houses" is unclear--empty because they are excessively large for the family's needs, because of the many exiled people, or because of the corrupted mores of its citizens (Scartazzini)--even for Dante this "emptiness" points to the moral decadence of the city. As to the Church, Dante has St. Peter in Paradise proclaim that his seat on Earth "vaca" (Par. 27.23), namely, it is empty because of the unworthiness of Peter's successor, according to most ancient commentators (Scartazzini), echoed by modern critics as well.

(53) Dante the Pilgrim enters the divine forest--the foremost locus amoenus in that it is the biblical Eden--in Purg. 28, and he finds it empty. Later on, he laments its emptiness and regrets the primogenitors' transgression which caused this emptiness (32.31-33: "Si passeggiando l'alta selva vota,/ colpa di quella ch'al serpente crese,/ temprava i passi un'angelica nota." No such feelings of regret characterize the brigata upon entering the three empty loci amoeni.

(54) It is true that Pampinea states that, by not going to the countryside, they would incur not only "dolore e noia" but "forse morte" (Dec. 1. Intro. 71). But her words follow those of the Narrator who states categorically that God's wrath would follow even those who leave the city and move to the countryside (1. Intro. 25)--a statement to be carefully pondered by the critics who hold that the brigata seeks to run away from death, postpone it, or conquer it. Furthermore, in stating that one third of the population died, the Narrator remarks that he excludes counting those who died in the countryside ("lasciando stare il contado e alla citta ritornando" 1. Intro. 47). Finally, Pampinea also admits that they can be overcome by death while in the countryside: "'[...] e tanto dimorare in tal guisa, che noi veggiamo (se prima da morte non siam sopragiunte) che fine il cielo riserbi a queste cose'" (1. Intro. 47). And see what Pampinea states later on almost incidentally: " '[...] quantunque quivi muoiano i lavoratori come qui fanno i cittadini [...]'" (1. Intro. 68).

(55) Lauretta tells her listeners that "Marsilia, si come voi sapete, e in Provenza sopra la marina posta, antica e nobilissima citta , e gia fu di ricchi uomini e di gran mercatanti piU copiosa che oggi non si vede" (Dec. 4.3.7). Emilia points out the decadence of contemporary Fiesole: "'Come ciascuna di voi sa, Fiesole, il cui poggio noi possiamo di quinci vedere, fu gia antichissima citta e grande, come che oggi tutta disfatta sia, ne per cio e mai cessato che vescovo avuto non abbia, e ha ancora'" (7.4.4). A city can be empty because of greed, as Elissa remarks: "'Dovete adunque sapere che ne' tempi passati furono nella nostra citta assai belle e laudevoli usanze, delle quali oggi niuna ve n'e rimasa, merce dell'avarizia che in quella con le ricchezze e cresciuta, la quale tutte l'ha discacciate'" (6.9.4).

(56) "'Per cio che, quantunque quivi cosi muoiano i lavoratori come qui fanno i cittadini, v'e tanto minore il dispiacere quanto vi sono, piU che nella citta, rade le case e gli abitanti. E qui d'altra parte, se io ben veggio, noi non abbandoniam persona, anzi ne possiamo con verita dire molto piU tosto abbandonate; per cio che i nostri, o morendo o da morte fuggendo, quasi non fossimo loro, sole in tanta afflizione n'hanno lasciate'" (Dec. 1. Intro. 68-69).

(57) "'E, se alle nostre case torniamo, non so se a voi cosi come a me adiviene: io, di molta famiglia, niuna altra persona in quella se non la mia fante trovando, impaurisco e quasi tutti i capelli addosso mi sento arricciare; e parmi, dovunque io vado o dimoro per quella, l'ombre di coloro che sono trapassati vedere, e non con quegli visi che io soleva, ma con una vista orribile, non so donde il loro nuovamente venuta, spaventarmi'" (Dec. 1. Intro. 59).

(58) Here is De Sanctis's succinct view of Dante's world: "[...] eta virile e credente e appassionata," which the critic contrasts to the era that succeeds it as follows: "Questo infiacchirsi della coscienza, questo culto della bella forma fra tanta invasione di antichita greco-romana sono i due fatti caratteristici della nuova generazione [...]" (Storia 1.318). And: "Ma l'eta eroica era passata" (Storia 1.328).

(59) But we cannot accept some of the harshest criticisms he levels at Boccaccio--such as, "Spento e in lui il cristiano, e anche il cittadino" (Storia 1.328)--because Boccaccio, while he is neither Dante nor Petrarch, is still a Christian and certainly also a citizen, but he belongs certainly to a culture different from the one inhabited by Dante and also by Petrarch.

(60) Thus, for instance, Battaglia writes that Boccaccio "si rivela il piU moderno e a noi piU prossimo." This critic identifies the reasons for Boccaccio's modernity: with his work, Boccaccio "aveva operato in seno alla tradizionale finalita della poesia una radicale eversione di valori," thereby establishing "un risoluto distacco [...] dall'eta medievale, da cui pur preveniva lo scrittore e di cui conservava parecchi miti." Battaglia furthermore submits--regrettably with no specifics--that Boccaccio's approach is also innovative: "Il metodo da lui introdotto nell'interpretazione della vita e della societa e di portata innovatrice" (La letteratura italiana 1.1, p. 259). He suggests that the structure of the Decameron displays "una dimensione 'aperta', destinata a trasmettere alla civilta letteraria italiana ed europea un modulo di narrazione 'circolare', che in se portava una visione della vita e della realta in perenne gestazione" (La letteratura italiana 1.1, p. 250). Battaglia further develops and proclaims the modernity of Boccaccio: not only for his "prodigiosa tecnica del Decameron, " which makes him "il primo narratore moderno"; and not only for being "l'inventore ineguagliabile del 'realismo' psicologico e sociale"; but also for writing such works as Filocolo, Ameto, and Fiammetta, which have amplified, more so than any other author, "il nostro patrimonio letterario." Battaglia concludes stating: "Il Boccaccio e stato forse il piU grande fondatore della nostra civilta letteraria" (La letteratura italiana 1.1, p. 260).
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Author:Cervigni, Dino S.
Publication:Annali d'Italianistica
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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