The modality of moral communication in the Decameron's first day, in contrast to the mirror of the Exemplum (*).
Over the last twenty years scholarship has increasingly concerned itself with medieval sermons and their use of the exemplum to portray a moral lesson. The term exemplum (plural exempla) designated for late medieval moralists an episode from a saint's life, or a person living a model life or, at its most allusive, the symbolic interpretation of natural phenomena. (1) Whatever the particular designation, the exemplum portrayed, as its literal sense indicates, an example to be followed, and its moral force derived from the conception that religious perfection was ultimately determined by one's volition, a volition, to be sure, guided and strengthened by grace. (2) The analysis of various exempla has provided scholars of religious, cultural, social and intellectual history a common field of inquiry: the exemplum forms a bridge between scholastic and popular theology, verbal and visual or Latin and vernacular modes of expression, dogma and natural science, and not least between piety and poetry.
For the Italian Trecento this research on the exemplum has been particularly fruitful, ranging from Delcorno's writings to the multi-volume publication of the Racconti esemplari. (3) Italian scholars have been able to build upon the foundations laud by Levasti, Getto, Petrocchi, and Battaglia, and the study of exempla has also enriched the pursuits of art historians, most notably in the examination of the frescoes in the Camposanto in Pisa, which portry the Thebaid fathers and the Triumph of Death. (4)
Despite this cholarly groundwork, little attention has been devoted to the relation between the Tuscan preachers or religious writers and their contemporaries composing secular prose or poetry. This relation, in the case of the Decameron, reveals critical features of the contrast between medieval and Renaissance culture. What connections of historical importance can we discover between Boccaccio's hundred stories and the exempla recounted by the friars active in and around Florence?
In one of Delcorno's recent essays, he notes the Dominicans' role in promoting doctrine and preaching in Tecento Tuscany, and he sees in the Decameron's "complex thematic score" "the remarks on contemporary eremitism and the parody of certain motifs inherent in the monastic tradition." (5) Citing several instances in which Decameron narratives present variants on exempla (e.g., IV.intro., III.10, II.6), Delcorno claims that the work "indicates the inadequacy of the culture imposed by the preachers" and the Boccaccio may have viewed the Pisan frescoes as "a project of penitential life completely at odds with the ideals expressed in the Decameron." (6) Delcorno's view, in so far as it emphasizes the Decameron's break from mendicant sermonizing, complements Battaglia's earlier analysis of the story of Tito and Gisippo (X.8), a story which shows, in his words, how "ethical and social values are no longer able to emerge as categorical and normative." (7)
The Decameron therefore projects the exe mplum tradition through the lens of irony, allowing its readers to see it with unprecedented sharpness and expose its limitations. (9) Everything in the Decameron hinges on the possibility inherent in irony, which leaves its readers room for independent perspectives toward the same phenomena or story. The reader (or, in the case of the brigata, the listener) may then revise or affirm her perspective in the passage of time, in the context of the later stories or personal experience. It is this contingent, possible quality of the Decameron's meaning, in tune with its temporal awareness, that most clearly distinguishes it from the supposed universal, objective nature of the medieval exemplum. (10)
The new potentialities of the Decameron are exhibited by its form, especially by the work's larger framework. Boccaccio subverts the ecclesiastical center of the exemplum tradition by using ten lay narrators, including seven women. Even as these narrators tell stories with 'morals' or lessons, the reader is instantly challenged to assess their remarks, accept them or reject them, without recourse to clerical authority. A key support of medieval tradition, the theological and social status of the clergy, has been knocked away, and one is left to consider the worth of the tales in one's own terms: a liberating, anxious moment. No one narrator in the Decameron assumes the mantle of moral spokesperson. (11) We see then a cultural prefigurement of Kierkegaard's concept of indirect communication: the absence of objective moral authority allows the ethical meaning to be communicated indirectly, in a way that requires the reader to appropriate the meaning for himself. (12) In terms of Renaissance humanism, the Decame ron presents its own, more radical version of the dictum repeated by Petrarch in his letters: while external authority carries some weight, personal experience is the touchstone in determining what has moral value or is worthless. (13)
The research of these scholars, however, does not elaborate upon the nature or the implications of the opposition between the Decameron and medieval exempla. While the passages recounted by Delcorno and Battaglia underscore Boccaccio's knowledge and revision of individual exempla and saints' lives, their assessments do not engage the broader, formal relation between the Decameron and this tradition. In fact the Decameron exploits the characteristics of Trecento exempla, especially their purpose of teaching moral acts through a prescribed visual model, in order to express a new modality of moral communication. (8)
This challenge the reader faces in discovering the meaning of a narrative is heightened by the transitory nature of the sequence of stories told over ten days, or two weeks, counting the days of rest. (14) Stories told later in the first day respond to earlier ones, revising or underscoring their messages. (15) Each story-teller too is scrutinized by the others, elicits their reactions, and thus also commands the reader's evaluation. The flow of time and history, in which both the narrators and their audience participate, establishes a coherence for the hundred stories not found in other collections of tales, such as the Novellino.
In addition to demanding this coherence, the temporal flow in the Decameron conveys the sense of movement and mutability, and of the mediation of meaning by a particular persona. Among the narrators distinct personalities come forth, Emilia's the most intriguing; the reader must account for their points of view, and read the stories in light of the subtle shifts of narrative perspective. By contrast the traditional use of exempla presents each as a monastic cell: complete and entire, evenly illuminated, and ultimately at rest. The stasis of the exemplum is exhibited in the formal divisions of the Thebaid of the Camposanto in Pisa and in the narrative fragmentation of the saints' lives in the Golden Legend. (16) The mendicant exemplum is immured by its moral, behind which the personalities of both preacher and reader are hidden from view.
The ecclesiastical writers examined for their influence on mid-Trecento piety are for the most part Dominican: Jacobus de Voragine ([+]1298), compiler of the Legenda aurea [Golden Legend], a collection of saints' lives and liturgical feasts that was quickly translated into the vernacular; Johannes de Sancto Geminiano ([+]1333), a composer of a popular reference manual for preachers explaining the use of exemplary symbols, the Summa de exemplis et similitudinibus rerum [The Summa of Examples and Likenesses of Things]; Bartholomeo da San Concordio ([+]1347), author of a popular penitential manual and also of a collection of sayings by classical and Christian authors, known in the vernacular as the Ammaestramenti degli antichi [Teachings of the Ancients]; Domenico Cavalca ([+]1342), the foremost pastoral writer of his time, whose Speccbio della croce [Mirror of the Cross] and translation of the Vite Patrum [Lives of the Fathers], the Vite de' santi padri, were extensively copied; Rainerius de Pisis ([+]1348), th e most scholastic member of the group, who composed the Pantheologia, a dictionary of theological concepts; Taddeo Dini ([+]1359), a renowned preacher; and nor least Jacopo Passavanti ([+]1357), whose Speccbio della Vera penitenza [Mirror of True Penitence] is the most significant religious treatise written in Florence immediately after the Plague of 1348. Passavanti was also the preacher for the Dominican house of Santa Maria Novella, the setting for the Decameron's opening scene. Rounding out this list of contemporary sources is the lay chronicler Matteo Villani ([+]1363); his assessment of the Black Death's effects will be compared to the moral discussions of the Decameron narrators. These writers then, wrote in both Latin and the vernacular, for clerical and lay audiences. Despite their differences in approach and even subject matter they shared the conception that the exemplum provided a pattern for moral improvement by portraying models of behavior established by clerical authority.
Given the significance of the exemplum as a visual model of behavior, we may note a second, closely related term that surfaces among Boccaccio's mendicant contemporaries: the mirror or speculum. Cavalca, in his Lives of the Fathers, claims that he translated [recato in volgare] the bellissimi esempli of the holy fathers "recognizing that the life of the saints is a living reading [una viva lezione] ... and as it were a mirror where man can ponder and engage in self-reflection [speccbiare se] and by this means amend and direct his own life." (17) Similarly, in his Mirror of the Cross, he calls Christ a "book and mirror of all perfection." (18) The exemplum is thus brought into relation with speculum, perhaps as one might relate 'model' with 'paradigm.' The mirror of behavior permits the opportunity for self-reflection. Because both exemplum and speculum propose a visual example (as opposed to verbal Instruction) for the reader to follow, they 'reflect' to the reader the state of his (or her) perfection or impe rfection. (19)
The ecclesiastical writers are conscious of the exemplum's mimetic power when promoting a person as a model to their audience. They may emphasize, within the narrative itself, the need to reduplicate not just the saint's efforts, but also the struggles of those who overcome adversity through the saint's spiritual help. The ideal disciple as well as the ideal teacher are presented to the reader. This doubling is portrayed in the popular if controversial treatise, This doubling is portrayed in the popular if controversial treatise, the Mirouer du simples ames [Mirror of Simple Souls] by the Beguine Marguerite Porete [+1310], as well as in the miracle legends of the Virgin, the Miracoli. One reads at the Mirouer's outset about a princess who, after painting an image of the distant, noble Alexander, dreams of him through a second, internal image. (20) The miracle stories of Mary; made popular throughout Europe in sermons and collections, are a series of exempla in which the fallen priest, nun or knight is saved t hrough devotion to the Virgin. (21) Porete's Mirouer and the Miracoli therefore not only present exempla or specula; they also show, in the course of the exemplum narrative, how readers are to use these models. These works emphasize the moral value of this use, of the active 'reflection' of the model. The Trecento reader, trained as he or she is in the art of association, may come to view his or her life as that of the pious sinner before the Virgin or the princess seeking her king. And would not the reader see the nobility of the Virgin or Alexander in those who are preaching the exempla, in the clergy, who are responsible for their spiritual cure?
Boccaccio's contemporary, Domenico Cavalca, was preoccupied by the question of the clergy's role as exemplum. The two writers share a concern about the moral authority of the clergy, and respond in different ways. As a moment in Trecento cultural history, their differences sheds light on the distinction between the sensibilities of mendicant teaching and Renaissance humanism at this time.
The ecclesiastical authority that has promoted the bona exempla encourages Cavalca, in his Mirror of the Cross, to regard the clergy itself as a mirror of purity for the laity: "the ecclesiastical ministers must be mirrors through which the laity must engage in self-reflection and in the ministers' saintly lives acknowledge their own uncleanness and their flaws and thereby correct them." (22) It is consistent with the Church's teaching that the clergy, as Christ's representatives, should approach the standards of behavior exhibited by the saints and Christ himself and become a "living reading" for their congregations. Taddeo Dini expresses this clearly in a sermon, perhaps to his fellow Dominicans of Santa Maria Novella: "just as the saints through their martyrdom and penances are mirrors not only illuminating the divine congregation but even igniting love within it, so too we, because we ought to be the mirror of the laity and because the rule we follow is called a mirror [speculum], must sustain many tribul ations and penances so that we can say: we are put to death: the Apostle calls us to this Col.3[:5]: 'put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth."' (23)
But a cleric of Cavalca's sensitivity, involved as he was in issues of moral reform, also perceives the problem with clerics as exempla or specula: what of the influence of the bad, immoral clergy? We hear Cavalca's sharpest critique of clerical decadence, rivalling that of Petrarch: he holds these clerics accountable for the sinful actions of the laity. "But truly today one can say that on account of the wicked examples which come forth from a number of secular clerics and religious clerics, laypeople are becoming coarse and are avoiding the cleansing of themselves and are not giving glory to God, because the clergy's life is not a mirror of truth, but of great iniquity, so that the laity believes it might be permitted to do that which it sees done by those very people who ought to be instructing them." (24) As elsewhere in much of medieval anticlerical criticism, the very ideal contained in the clerical vows damns the many who fail to live up to this ideal. But how, at this moment of crisis, are the laity t o know which examples to follow, which to avoid, when the mirrors, in which they should gaze, are themselves flawed, when those responsible for exemplary behavior instead lead one toward perdition? This troubling question, Cavalca's conundrum, may have prompted the Dominican to translate the Lives of the Fathers -- and perhaps for not only, as he claims, "simple and illiterate [i.e non Latin-reading] people." (25) Cavalca's answer to this problem is incomplete: "but he who would be wise [chi fusse savio] would not attend to the life of the wicked priests and false religious, but attend once more to the life of the good, both those who lived in the past and those still present." (26) "Chi fusse savio:" but indeed how does one become "wise" and learn to distinguish the good from the bad exempla? Cavalca refrains from exploring this pedagogical conundrum.
This problem, however, becomes a main thematic point of departure for the Decameron storytellers, both in their actions and in their narratives. It was "shameless examples" [disonesti essempli], which the seven young women viewed "like death itself" [come la morte], that moved them to leave the plague-stricken city. (27) And in the first of the Decameron stories, the narrator Panfilo presents a fictional antithesis to the urban decay. In Florence the innocent fall to corruption and indignity; yet Panfilo recounts how in Burgundy the wicked Cepparello is laid to rest with honors, as a model of sanctity for others. Cepparello's vice is concealed from the friar and the townspeople by his false confession and his elaborate, splendid burial. The fraudulence of his life and the preacher's eulogy, however, are obvious to Panfilo's audience. Boccaccio's brigata, and by implication his wider readership, are aware that a great deal in moral instruction depends upon the ethical sensibility of both teacher and student, o f both the teller of the exemplum and his readers. Genuine moral development, the brigata indicates, cannot be catalyzed simply by the preaching of exempla. The preacher may too often be compromised, either venal (Filomena's friar in III.3), duped (Panfilo's friar in I.1), or duplicitous (Dioneo's Brother Onion in VI.1O). Correspondingly, his audience may be either too imperceptive or, increasingly, too cynical. The Decameron confirms the crisis in the exemplum tradition between the conventional model of sermonizing and the heightened perception of clerical frailty; and it responds by showing a new way of narrating moral problems to a more sceptical readership.
Boccaccio's storytellers are therefore concentrating not on preaching moral truths as knowledge, but on presenting various moments in which readers may achieve insight into human nature. The stories employ new methods of aligning the perspectives of narrator and reader, an alignment necessary to any genuine communication. As do other Renaissance texts, the Decameron liberates rhetoric and epistemology from a metaphysical, doctrinal purpose and practices them in an individualized manner that recognizes the capacity of the reader to listen. (28) Boccaccio's work attends to the process of becoming aware of the human capacity for goodness and wickedness, a process buoyed by time's potentiality, rather than to the certain measurement of moral goodness, which is the aim of the exemplum.
While investigating the Decameron's status as a moral text, however, scholars have often applied preconceived categories or definitions, and have overlooked the temporal movement that conditions the abilities of both the storyteller and his or her readers. (29) Commentators have struggled to reconcile the obvious variety of the book's events with a uniform moral vision that would provide an objective meaning to the work. (30) The variety or `inconsistency' of the Decameron, however, is created precisely by its multitude of narrators, talking and acting in time, underscoring how Boccaccio uses the force of temporality to qualify any attempt at moral objectivity. In contrast to the clerical exemplum, the temporal flow is not irrelevant to the Decameron, nor is temporality ancillary to a prescribed moral purpose, as one finds, for example, in the allegory of Death in the frescoes at Pisa. On the contrary, the temporal, subjective form of discourse, in which every story-teller and reader is vested with his or her own historical individuality, is the medium through which the Decameron's moral design is expressed. The quandary in deciding on the consistency or inconsistency of Boccaccio's work may be resolved only if we look first at Boccaccio's practice of the art of communication, among his characters and between his narratives and their readers.
The difference between exemplum and narrative in the Decameron's first day can be characterized as one between a static and a dynamic cosmos, between a universe in which the clerical estate would objectively identify the moral good, to a world in which moral evaluation of behavior is inherently subjective. (31) This does not mean that the ethical good ceases to be as an objective reality, but its presence or absence must be assessed by everyone, in relation to his or her own individual existence. The moral truths are less self-evident than the clerics would like them to be, and in fact need not be the same truths that the clerics advocate. By presenting its alternative to the mendicant world view, Boccaccio's work marks a critical moment in the early Renaissance history of ideas.
This analysis centers on the first day of story-telling, for the narratives of this day find their own theme. The continuity among the stories emerges gradually, in the process of their narration. Unlike the themes of following days, no deliberate motif is put forward, toward which the brigata must address their tales; and in contrast to Day IX, in which a theme is consciously avoided, the first day is more experimental and less structured. The rules for story-telling have not been explored or tested, and so the brigata appears only to begin a process it would later revise. Moreover, the first day finds the Florentines responding to their vivid memories of the Plague and their dislocation from their city. Thus the theme they hit upon seems to be more spontaneous, less premeditated, and a more accurate representation of their thoughts and feelings as the theme takes form organically between one narrative and the next.
The examination focuses on three episodes from this day told by Neifile, Filostrato and Emilia. Each episode responds to the story immediately preceding it. Neifile's story of I.2 concerns the Jewish merchant Abraam who, urged to convert by his Christian friend Giannotto, travels to Rome and observes the decadence of the curial clergy, and then adopts the Christian faith. This story picks up on the theme of divine goodness that Panfilo introduced in his opening tale. Filostraro in I.7 recounts how Bergamino persuades Can Grande to be more generous to him by describing the encounter of Primasso, another poor artist, with the Abbot of Cluny. Filostrato's narrative refers to the previous story told by Emilia in I.6 of the layman who mocks the greedy Franciscan inquisitor. We close by examining Emilia's mysterious ballad at the day's end. Her song, in its proclaimed self-absorption, can be understood as a critical reaction to Pampinea's remarks illustrated in her tale of I.10. Pampinea, who has been designated by scholars as the moral leader of the brigata, narrates how the lady Malgherida dei Ghisolieri is embarrassed in her attempt to make fun of the respected doctor Alberto of Bologna. (32)
Though we may conceptualize this analysis as a series of three pairs, we shall uncover in all these episodes an ironic commentary on the traditional notion of motivating people in the moral life through the exemplum or speculum. In fact the sequence of the stories creates a different type of 'mirroring,' engaging the active participation of Boccaccio's readership as a second brigata. The subsequent narratives reflect the ideas of the previous ones, forming an ever-deepening, implicit critique of the human capacity to make moral judgments that transcend time and circumstance.
Scholars have identified the first day's theme as the power of the buoni motti, the clever speech or repartee. (33) This conception should be revised more precisely, for the idea of buoni motti fails to account for the developments in either Panfilo or Neifile's narratives, the first two tales, nor does it point out the object of this wit. What we observe in this opening string of stories are not just clever words, but words directed against authority, both secular and spiritual. Pampinea in fact rebukes her companions for their irreverence, though we shall see how her exception nonetheless proves the rule. (34)
Neifile, following upon Panfilo's tale of Cepparello, also begins with a moral: her story, like Panfilo's, will underscore to what degree God's all-suffering goodness (benignita), "provides its own proof of its unerring righteousness by bearing patiently the defects of those, who in word and deed ought to be its true witness, and yet behave in a precisely contrary fashion" (I.2.3) (35) This introductory moral is reminiscent of the form of the traditional exemplum, for instance in the various episodes from the Lives of the Fathers.
But in Neifile's tale those who are impugned by their "defects" are the clergy, which is indicated not only by the story's description (the "depravity of the clergy" [I.2.1]), but also by its characteristic distinction between "word" and "deed," which corresponds to the clergy's visual and verbal instruction, edification through act and doctrine, through exemplum and sententia. Neifile presents an ironic exemplum, in which the power of the clergy's behavior as a mirror or model is used to overturn and subvert the traditional understanding of its influence. In her story we see Boccaccio and his narrators shifting the weight of the exemplum method from clerical authority (proper behavior and preaching) to the lay reader (proper perception: listening, reading, understanding). Boccaccio's emphasis on the reader's responsibility and acumen will become, at the close of the Decameron, his first line of defense against his critics. (36)
This overturning of expectations is indicated by Neifile's phrase "behave in contrary fashion." The plot contains reversals not only for characters within the story but also, true to the purpose of the exemplum as a "mirror," for its readers. Abraam, a merchant and additionally, she tells us, "a great master in Judaic law," (I.2.9), is asked repeatedly by his fellow merchant Giannotto to convert. Giannotto's attempts (made "crudely in the way of most merchants," the refined narrator remarks [I.2.8]) finally move Abraam to announce a visit to Rome and the Curia. As educated as he is, as trained in words and philosophy, he also desires to see how the Christian faith is put into action by its leaders: he will convert "if they seem to me such that I can comprehend both through your words and through them [the Roman clerics] that your Faith is greater than my own" (I.2.11). (37)
Consonant with the exemplum tradition, Abraam wishes to see doctrine made manifest by behavior, words by deeds. A Trecento Christian would demand no less. To cite the maxim uttered by Bartolomeo di San Concordio, "examples move more than do words." (38) But Abraam's desire is the occasion for Neifile's satire and, we have seen, for Cavalca's distress. For Giannotto recalls to himself the vices of the Roman clergy, their lives as 'mirrors of iniquity,' and now does all in his power to dissuade Abraam from seeking such exempla. There are, he tells him, "greater masters and wiser men in Paris who could answer all his questions about the Faith (I.2.14). (39)
Neifile thus addresses the conundrum which Cavalca, in his honesty, could not surmount: if one must look to the clergy as exempla, as ideal Christians, what happens to one's faith and one's morals, if their lives are wicked? Giannotto's despair over Abraam's conversion appears to be justified.
Abraam returns from Rome and describes what he saw in words of moral criticism that are remarkably Christian, almost from a mendicant sermon: "there was, in any one who seemed to me a cleric, no holiness, no devotion, no good work [buona opera] or model of pious living ["essemplo di vita"] or of anything else, but rather lust, avarice and gluttony, fraud, envy and pride and similar things and worse." (1.2.24). (40) Apart from an almost complete list of mortal sins, we find the phrase "essemplo di vita" placed in conjunction with the clergy's works, their buona opera, as the friars would have done. (41) Giannotto, expecting the obvious, is then stunned by his friend's reaction to the clerical depravity and their nefarious "essemplo di vita." Abraam's survey of the Roman clergy has led him not to reject, but rather to accept the Christian faith. He notes that Christianity is increasing, becoming "more lucid and clearer," despite the clergy's best efforts to undermine it. In contradiction to the outward appearan ce of the clergy, he "seems to discern" the Holy Spirit shining within the religion. (42) The ironic implications are rich here, and made possible by Abraam's ability to "discern" a meaning to his observations that runs opposite to the literal interpretation feared by Giannotto (and Cavalca): that bad clergy can only represent a bad religion. Giannotto, Neifile records, "was expecting a conclusion diametrically contrary to this one" (I.2.28). (43) Neifile presents through Abraam a reading of exempla in which the individual reader is an active interpreter, who may reach conclusions opposed to expectations, that is, to the purported moral.
Even if the reader's independent interpretation offers a resolution to the fear confronted by Cavalca, about how to determine good from bad exempla, this independence is scarcely considered by the mendicant preachers of exempla, and in fact it is discouraged. In Cavalca's translation of the Lives of the Fathers disobedience to clerical counsel entails its sinful consequence, as when a monk ignores his abbot's advice and "falls into fornication." The exempla from his collection uphold the moral superiority of the clerical estate over the lay, without reservation and ambiguity. Abbot Pamon, traveling to Alexandria with other religious, tells a group of laymen to "stand up and do honor to these friars [sic], so that they bless you, for they often talk with God, and their mouths are blessed." Cavalca emphasizes how a holy man's fame through his actions and teachings [esempli e ammaestramenti] "brought many to know the path of salvation and perfection." By contrast, the secular world is clearly distinguished as a place of temptation and entrapment. Alluring women, a pious father informs his son, "are monks of the world, [they] but have a different dress from our own." (44)
Apart from Abraam's challenge to the Church's authorization of the meaning of exempla, his reaction raises another troubling consequence for the clergy. It bears repeating that the exemplum makes little mention of its specific narrator or audience. Saintly living, in the eyes of the Church, is not a category conditioned by time and place. Neifile's Abraam represents a new, critical observer, similiar to the ten young Florentines. He reacts to the recent curia, fallen from its ideal glory (a reference to Avignon?), just as Neifile's nine listeners respond to her tale in the Florentine countryside of 1348. The exemplum is transformed by the Decameron's historical setting. It becomes a particular incident nonetheless possessing great significance for its immediate audience. (45) In kinship with Boccaccio's own narrative of the plague, Abraam's description of his observations emphasizes the importance of the phenomenon in history, of the specific temporal moment, as perceived by a particular witness. His account departs significantly from mendicant language through the pronounced subjectivity of his impressions, the repeated mi parve, "it seems to me." (46) And not only Abraam's role is at issue, but also that of Neifile and of the narrator of the Decameron as a whole. The attentive reader or listener cannot regard any comments as objective, but must determine their meaning through his or her own subjective appreciation of events and of narrative character. This subjectivity of viewpoint, of narrator and audience in the Decameron, distinguishes its use of the exemplum tradition from the method of the mendicant sources. (47)
Abraam, the good reader of exempla, is himself designed to guide and 'mirror' the reader's response to the story. By being alert to nuance and th less obvious significance of the Roman clergy's corruption, he confirms Neifile's moral about divine goodness bearing patiently those who violate their Christian calling. Further associations between Neifile and her protagonist bring her story into the wider context of the Decameron's opening day. Neifile is also perceptive and well instructed in the moral psychology of the Church. This quality in turn is shared by other members of the brigata, especially Pampinea and Emilia. Partly on account of these common characteristics, Neifile's story cannot be read in isolation from others in Boccaccio's work. On the contrary, each narrative is incomplete by itself; the reader needs to weave the narratives into a whole, thereby also distinguishing the hundred stories from the exempla of holy lives.
Neifile, having encouraged her readers to follow the exemplum of Abraam, puts her own personality forward for their scrutiny. The Decameron narrator describes her as "adorned no less with courtly manners than with beauty" (I.2.2). (48) This combination of courtliness and beauty might seem the perfection of Florentine Trecento womanhood. (49) But the reader perceives a more critical faculty of a female character at work here. Neifile has revealed her fluency with the mendicants' distinction between word and deed, opere and parole, and she is capable of appreciating and expressing Abraam's erudition, in his use, for example, of "essemplo di vita" and his list of Roman vices. But she is quick to speak in her own voice, indicting clerical venality in terms worthy of a contemporary moralist, mendicant or otherwise: "he [Abraam] found that generally all of the them from the greatest down to the least sinned without the slightest hesitation [disonestissamente] in lust [lussuria] and not just in natural lust but inde ed in the way of sodomites, without any restraint of shame or modesty....In addition, he openly saw them to be universally gluttons, tipplers, drunkards and, next to lust, greater slaves to their bellies than to anything else, in the manner of brute animals." (1.2.19-20). (50)
Neifile's use of the word "lust" [lussuria] shows an understanding of the mendicant psychology of sin beyond her social station. The Dominican Rainerius de Pisis, whose Pantheologia was a contemporary encyclopedia of scholastic terms, wrote that "lust is an inordinate appetite of venereal delight." (51) The "inordinate appetite" is indicated by Neifile in the adverb disonestissamente and the phrase "without any restraint of shame or modesty." According to Rainerius, "honestas [purity] by its nature repels or tempers crude sensual impulses." (52) The quality of purity of mind [honestas mentis] consists in large measure of rimordimento and vergogna; or, in his Latin, verecundia and pudicitia, shame and modesty. (53) Both traits, like chastity, break or restrain sexual impulses (note Nefile's use of "restraint" [freno]); they even avoid the indications (signa) of the lustful. "Hence just as chastity repels or represses and restrains [refrenat] the very admixture of sensuality: so too modesty is shame before the indications of the lustful.... because modesty reddens before, avoids and detests such indications." (54) In the absence of this restraint, this freno, the clergy, Neifile says, has become like "brute animals," lacking the highest human faculty of reason. This also accords with medicant psychology. To Rainerius, the first evil of lust is that the "intellect is darkened or blinded by the gloom of sin." (55)
Neifile's personality and her words associate her story with the Decameron's introduction, in which the two narrators Boccaccio and Pampinea describe the social and moral disintegration caused by the plague. Her criticism recalls Pampinea's defense of onesta in the introduction: it was necessary for the brigata's-self-preservation, not only physically but morally, to leave the mali esempli of Florentine scoundrels, among whom both secular and religious clergy must be counted. (56) Pampinea precedes Neifile in her articulate and observant indictment of clerical misdeeds and hypocrisy, also employing the mendicant language of moral psychology, contrasting submission to unbridled "appetite" and obedience to reason and law. (57) Neifile's reference, certain if oblique, to Pampinea's speech indicates that her story is to be read as a confirmation of Pampinea's reasoning and the brigata's subsequent actions. Just as Abraam is repelled by what he witnesses in Rome, the nominal capital of the church (though not the a ctual seat in 1348), so too the brigata could depart from their native city and its licentious clergy, whose corruption is exacerbated by the plague. (58)
Thus it is likely in this context that Neifile's audience would have understood her remarks, so notable given their contrast to her courteous ways, as a commentary not only on the disreputable Avignon curia, but also on the social disorder resulting from the reaction to the plague. Her lay protagonist Abraam, in a contrary, unexpected way, responds positively to this chaos and malfeasance. Does not, the reader wonders, the brigata do the same by leaving the city? And to ask the question on another level of reading: may not this same reader be edified, and not corrupted, by the sensuality, confusion and deceit expressed in the stories it recounts? Abraam upsets the commonplace underlying the mendicant exemplum: that the narration of immoral behavior provokes immoral desires in the reader. (59)
Neifile's story of Abraam's travels advises the reader to entertain a perspective on events in opposition to their initial or obvious appearance. It serves not least to reiterate, in a subtler, more ironic form, the meaning attached by Panfilo to his story of Cepparello. The common people, he says, may be deceived by Cepparello's true nature, but God's goodness respects their pious prayers [I.1.90]. Abraam, in his rectitude and intelligence, sees clearly the clerical venality -- he is not deceived -- yet at the same time he recognizes the divine spirit at work. In its indirect advice to its audience her tale also introduces Filostrato's story of Bergamino (1.7). The tales of the opening day, at first glance artlessly arranged, edify one another in reciprocal relation. For Filostrato uses the mendicant conception of exemplum and speculum to elucidate the Decameron's sense of effective storytelling and proper listening to this narration.
The title of Filostrato's tale evokes the clerical exempla as it connects story-telling to ethical correction: "Bergamino, with a novella about Primasso and the Abbot of Cluny, rightfully shames [onestamente morde] an avarice newly found in Messer Can della Scala" (I.7.l). (60) Filostrato is quick to declare that Bergamino's effort will occur by way of literary association, not directly, but figuratively. Bergamino is one who "by means of a charming tale, representing through another story that which he wished to say about himself and Can Grande, ashamed messer Can della Scala, a great lord, of a sudden and uncommon stinginess that had appeared in him." (I.7.4). (61)
If Neifile understood her protagonist Abraam to represent the student of exempla, an association analogous to that between the penitents in the mendicant stories and their readers, Filostrato now develops further the Decameron's irony of the exemplum tradition. His tale describes not only the acute observer of exempla, as Abraam was, but also the ideal tellers of exempla: Bergamino and, in the role of protagonist within Bergamino's own story; Primasso. Like Neifile, Filostrato uses the connotations of the exemplum, which are so familiar to his Florentine readers, in order to expose its shortcomings. In his story he critiques clerical didacticism by emphasizing the indirect nature of poetic discourse. This indirect, psychologically more refined quality; he suggests, provides poetry with greater ethical persuasiveness than mendicant sermonizing.
Filostrato uses the same verb mordere: "to shame" (the root of Neifile's rimordimento), but now "with a charming story, representing through another." As did Neifile, Filostrato takes his cue from the story preceding his own. In Emilia's account of the malevolent Franciscan inquisitor, the layman accused by the inquisitor "with an amusing remark ashamed [morsi] him and the other mendicant buffoons" (I.6.20). By contrast Filostrato's tale contains a more indirect rebuke, and its target is not "the vice-filled and corrupt life of the clergy," which is, he says, "a fixed [i.e., easy] target of wickedness" (I.7.4).
To summarize briefly Filostrato's story: the wretched Bergamino, rejected by Can Grande when visiting his court, gradually consumes his savings until Can Grande asks him the reason for his melancholy. Bergamino responds by telling the episode of the impoverished Primasso, whom the Abbot of Cluny failed to recognize until, upon acknowledging his error, he rewards him with his normal generosity; Can Grande immediately sees the point of Bergamino's story and honors him accordingly.
Bergamino, a story-teller within a story, is described by Filostrato as "an incredibly quick-witted and polished speaker" (I.7.7). To his poverty to his host Can Grande, and his host's own stinginess, Bergamino tells the story of a third wordsmith Primasso, "a most worthy man in the linguistic arts and....peerless as a great and extemporaneous versifier" (1.7.11). (62) Both Bergamino and his alter ego Primasso are quick-witted (presto) with words. Bergamino in turn reflects the subtle mind and sharp rhetoric of his own commemorator, Filostrato, and perhaps the qualities of the model narrator of the Decameron. (63)
For Bergamino, with his "charming story" [leggiadra novella] that touches upon Can Grande's parsimony, approximates the poet characterized by Boccaccio in his first draft of his Vita di Dante: the poet who is engaged in an edifying purpose. "Thus the poets in their works, which we call 'poetry,' sometimes with the fictions of various deities, sometimes with the transmutations of men into various shapes, and sometimes with charming persuasions show the course of things, the effects of virtues and vices, both those things we ought to follow and ought to avoid." (64) This concept in the Vita di Dante of the poetic writer, who instructs his reader with, among other things, "charming [leggiadre] persuasions," illuminates how Boccaccio, inspired by Dante, is using poetry and rhetoric in a way that departs from the practice of the mendicant exempla writers, if at times also with an ethical end in view. (65)
Bergamino recounts to Can Grande the poor state of Primasso before the Abbot of Cluny, and tells how his ragged appearance in his court initially disgusts the abbot: "rapidly there rushed through his mind a wicked thought, one that had never occurred before, and he said to himself: "Look at whom I give my food!'" (I.7.18). But Primasso's persistent loitering at the table, in which he slowly consumes each of his three loaves of bread in succession, forces the abbot to question the reasons for his disturbed state of mind. "Assuredly stinginess ought not to have assailed me if this man were of small moment: he must possess a certain greatness, he who seems to me a scoundrel, for my mind to be so craven about honoring him" (I.7.24). (66) Thereupon the abbot inquires who Primasso is and strives to honor him (I.7.25).
For Bergamino, the parallels between Can Grande and the abbot are obvious. Can Grande also fails to honor his guest, in a way that is arbitrary and exceptional to his normal generosity. And Bergamino's story has the expected effect, as Can Grande tells him: "Bergamino, you have so aptly shown your damages, your worth and my stinginess and what you desire from me: and truly I had never been assailed by stinginess before now because of you, but I shall chase it with the very club that you yourself have devised" (I.7.27). (67)
Notice, here, the power of the exemplum! In accord with Cavalca's purpose in his Lives of the Fathers, Bergamino's exemplum of the abbot provokes a conversion from meanness to liberality in Can Grande. (68) It seems that the concept of the clerical life as a model or indeed mirror for the laity, a concept deeply imbedded in the method of mendicant preaching, is employed by Filostrato to explain this change of mind. And as Can Grande would have noticed the clerical exemplum of Bergamino, so too Filostrato's audience.
Yet Filostrato departs from the mendicant method in two significant ways, demonstrating, like Neifile, how a traditional concept may be used in order to transform it. As in Neifile's narrative, the reader may discover a sense contrary to the initial appearance, and irony is at work again.
In the first instance, the Abbot of Cluny is hardly the model of clerical piety. (69) The abbot is portrayed as nothing less than a secular prince, like Can Grande, and the reasons for his conversion to generosity have more to do with pride than with humility. If he sees the true nature of Primasso underneath his outward clothing, he does so for reasons of bruised self-satisfaction. It is beneath him, he feels, to be offended by someone insignificant therefore Primasso must be a man of some moment. These are feelings of courtly sensitivity, not those sentiments a mendicant preacher would foster. The abbot's example, the "club" created by Bergamino, is that of worldly liberality, which should not shirk from granting the talented the honor they deserve. The abbot and Can Grande are not asked to be good Samaritans, who treat all, but especially the poor and downtrodden, with instinctive Christian charity. Like Neifile and Emilia, Filostrato emphasizes the degree to which the social elites, especially the clergy, fail to achieve their prescribed ideals. But these ideals, in this case, are more secular than spiritual.
Furthermore, Filostrato's subtle approach is refined by his protagonist Bergamino. In contrast to both Filostrato and the preaching friars, Bergamino never attempts to outline a moral intention behind his narrative of Primasso. (70) It is, as Filostrato says, a "charming story." The attempt to read it as a moral exemplum or speculum is left to Can Grande. It is therefore the listener or reader, and not the narrator, who finally discerns its edifying import. Here we see a more obvious movement away from the pretence of an objective morality, presented by the clergy; than we first witnessed in Abraam's visit to the Curia. Filostrato emphasizes this by repeating, in his description of Can Grande, the verb intendere: "to understand." "Can Grande, being a nobleman of understanding, without any other demonstration understood exactly what Bergamino wanted to say." (71) It is important that this understanding comes "without any other demonstration." Can Grande as listener is better able to reflect upon the example, t he mirror held up before him, in that it is presented to him obliquely and with wit. (72)
By employing the element of surprise, Bergamino makes his remark more effective. This sudden, spontaneous reply, characteristic of Bergamino's talent, is a critical plot device in the remaining stories of the first day. In the tale following Filostrato's narrative (I.8), Lauretta recounts how Ermino de' Grimaldi who, in his ostentation, "was not anticipating the response" of Guiglielmo Borsiere. Guiglielmo "with charming words" "skewers" his avarice, in a manner similar to Bergamino (I.8.1,15). In the next story, 1.9, Elissa describes how the lady of Gascony 'punctures' [trafitto: the verb is that of I.8's trafigge] the weakness of the king of Cyprus with unexpected sarcasm for his failure to avenge her rape. Like Filostrato, who underlined the power of figurative speech at the beginning of his story, Elissa explains the psychological effect of this element of surprise, in terms that clearly set off the narrators' departure from the mendicant method of instruction: "it has already happened quite often that th e correction, which diverse criticisms and many punishments given to someone have not produced, has been effected many times by a single word, spoken by chance and not with intent aforethought [ex proposito]." (73) Chance, spontaneity are crucial elements of the narrator's criticism. Though he shares the mendicant conception of the power of verbal portrayal in the exemplum, Boccaccio implies through his narrators that a different approach is in order if the reader is to engage in genuine, ethical self-reflection. The clerical emphasis on 'criticisms and punishments,' in general the pre-conceived (ex proposito) didactic sententia, can leave the reader cold and unmoved.
Boccaccio's difference from the mendicant method of moral instruction is deepened through his emphasis on the audience's readiness, the receptivity to listen and to reflect. Elissa in her prologue to I.9 makes this explicit: "...because, in the awareness that good stories are always helpful, they should be attended to with one's entire mind, no matter who might be the speaker." (74) Bergamino's message, directed toward changing Can Grande's behavior, is 'individualized,' not only for but also by his listener. His narration allows his listener to 'complete the hermeneutic circle' and understand the author's intent in the listener's own terms, without being prejudiced by the author's station in life. Can Grande, in the presence of the humble Bergamino, "understood exactly what Bergamino wanted to say." The individual listener's encounter with these "charming words" (I.8.1) that possess, so Lauretta, a power to change [Ermino's] mind almost completely to the opposite of what it had been up to this point" (I.8.17 ) is far different from the mass response to the friar's sermon on Cepparello and from the universalized lessons of the contemporary preachers, who speak from a position of ecclesiastical authority
Of the first ten, Pampinea's story is the most closely related to the didactic exemplum of the mendicant preachers. True to her role as the initiator of the brigata's departure and as Queen, Pampinea speaks in solemn tones about the loss and transformation of a type of feminine virtu. Women no longer understand a witty remark [alcun leggiadro [motto]] or if they do, they are unable to respond. They masquerade their muteness behind the name of onesta, pretending to be demure and pure of mind (I.10.4; 6). "Thus that skill that once was in the souls of women of the past has been turned by modern women to the adornment of the body" (I.10.5). (75)
As the brigata's appointed and, it would appear, self-appointed mistress, Pampinea uses the theme of clever words, leggiadri motti, to address not only the lack of wit among her female contemporaries, but also their incautious use of it; by this address she will bring the day's discussions to an end. She will show through her story how a woman should avoid embarrassing herself when trying to embarrass others. Her tale illustrates Malgherida's reversal at the hands of Alberto of Bologna. The magisterial peroration has a tone not unlike that of the mid-Trecento clergy:
In order that you might watch yourselves, and moreover that through you one could not witness [intendere] that proverb that is commonly said everywhere, that 'women in all matters always get the worst of it,' I intend this last story of those of today, which falls to me to recount, to lend you instruction ["ve ne rende ammaestrate"] so that, as you are different from other women in nobility of mind, you may also show yourselves distinct from others in excellency of manners. (I.10.8) (76)
"I wish to render you thereby instructed" is another way of translating Pampinea's "Voglio ve ne rende ammaestrate." For the first time the reader encounters, and the brigata hears, a narrator employing in her own voice the verb preferred by the Dominican prosatori for instruct or "indoctrinate." Among the writers already cited, Bartholomeo di San Concordio's collection of sayings is entitled the Ammaestramenti degli antichi, and Cavalca described Christ's words as an amaestramento. In the Decameron, the term is mentioned first by Neifile, but with regard to the clerical catechism: Giannotto "engaged the most worthy men to instruct [ammaestrare] [Abraam] thoroughly in our faith" (I.2.29). (77) Now Queen Pampinea will instruct the women through her exemplum to be careful and well advised in how they speak.
Although Pampinea's theme is the same as her fellow Florentines, her moral, didactic tone sets her story apart from the others. She moves the discussion therefore to a conceptual level, generalizing about moral behavior. It would be inconsistent with the Decameron's treatment of exempla to permit her to maintain her position as moral spokeswoman without clever rebuttal. The Decameron's first day thus concludes initially with one narrator assuming the posture of preacher, who presents both the lesson and exemplum, and then with the work's ironic response to her posturing.
Pampinea, in criticizing the pretense of protecting onesta in order to conceal one's stupidity, also calls into question the reasoning she had advanced earlier, in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, for leaving the city: that in order to preserve their onesta the women must flee from the urban moral disease. (78) She herself is conscious about how her disparagement of female vanity and loss of wit reflects on her own comportment: "I myself am embarrassed to say it, because I cannot say anything against other women that I do not say against myself' (I.10.6). But there are deeper problems in her prologue. She begins by saying that "charming words [leggiadri motti] ... being succinct, are much better suited for ladies than for men, insofar as one blames ladies more than men for talking much and at length, when this can be avoided" (I.10.4). Perhaps she feels her prologue is necessary, but it is anything but brief and concise, and the doubt arises whether her style of discourse stands in harmony with it s content.
The appearance of contradiction is heightened by her shift of focus. From criticizing women for their loss of words, she turns to advise them on the proper timing of speech, in effect to warn them not to speak incautiously or too often. Her story turns on the failed attempt by Malgherida dei Ghisolien to rebuke a distinguished maestro: women should be careful not to transgress their social position before authority. Her opening account of women's muteness and physical vanity has little to do with the final moral of their story and in fact conflicts with it. (79)
It is likely, given the theme of the other novelle of Day I, that Boccaccio is mocking, through Pampinea's pose of moral superiority, both the loquacity of clerical preachers and the inherent problem in their sermonizing. Their sermons are not merely too verbose. They also lack subjectivity, an introspective awareness of the relation between the speaker and his utterance. Pampinea's attempt to correct the subversive nature of the earlier stories is unlikely to impress her audience. She strives to close the day's story-telling on a note of moral rebuke and edification, but the effort backfires and leads the reader to ask uncomfortable questions about her personality and position. It is precisely these questions that the previous stories, in their challenges to social authority have encouraged the reader to raise. Pampinea, viewing the theme of the day as that of clever speech, will conclude it as she deems morally fir, but she also evokes a perception of this theme's elusiveness and inconclusiveness, its resis tance to authoritative definition. And as we have seen, in Boccaccio's hands an exemplum or speculum will nor necessarily confirm the preacher's preconceived moral expectation, and present a simple, unambiguous meaning. The attempt of Cavalca, Passavanti and other friars to promote piety through saintly examples elicits, among the Decameron's brigata and readers, a sceptical scrutiny.
It is not Pampinea at day's end who has the final word. First Dioneo asks the next day's Queen, Filomena, for "a gift of special grace:" may he break the pre-established procedure ("l'ordine data da voi") and not only tell a story on any topic, but also tell the last one of every day? Henceforth each day's final story will no longer be given to the King or Queen, but to arguably the most reckless and salacious narrator of the brigata (I.Concl.12-13). Could not this be a reaction against pampinea's moralizing?
But the first day's ultimate statement belongs to Emilia, who in her tale in 1.6, as Filostraro noted, took the most direct aim at clerical hypocrisy. Almost as recompense she now sings a ballad that contains the most puzzling lines of the day, perhaps of the entire ten. For the Decameron narrator notes: "This little ballad coming to an end, in which all had cheerfully joined the refrain, even as some greatly pondered its words..., it pleased the Queen to end the first day." (80) What kind of coda is this, that ends the day with a puzzle?
The reader does not know what the thoughtful are thinking, despite the scholarly attempts to determine the meaning of Emilia's ballad. There are clues to this meaning contained in her choice of words, clues we may best decipher in context of the Trecento understanding of exemplum and speculum. Emilia sings:
I am so pleased by my beauty
that of another love I shall never
care nor believe to rake pleasure.
I see in this beauty, each time I look at myself in the mirror [or self-reflect],
that good that contents the intellect:
neither new accident nor old thought
can deprive me of such delight.
What other object so pleasing
could I ever see
that would place new delight in my heart?
This good does not flee whenever I desire
to gaze upon it to my consolation:
indeed it meets with my pleasure
with such sweet feeling, that no mortal
could ever give a sermon
nor glean an understanding
who has not burned with such delight.
And I, who burn with every hour
I more firmly fix my eyes on it,
give myself wholly to it, wholly yield myself,
already tasting that which it has promised me:
and I hope for greater joy later on,
a joy so made that never
will one feel here a similar delight.
(I. Concl. 18-21) (81)
We see Emilia here using the language of the schoolmen, as did Neifile earlier: "that good that contents the intellect;" "new accident." This language has led some commentators to maintain that she is meditating upon God or Wisdom. (82) It has also been argued that Emilia is recalling Dante's I'anima filosofante, the philosophizing soul, who "not only contemplates truth itself, but also contemplates its own contemplation and the beauty of this." According to this standpoint, Boccaccio is closing the first day with a sublime reference to both metaphysical and lyrical traditions. (83)
While these poetic or metaphysical references are likely, one must ask: with what tone are they being treated? The interpretations offered by commentators fail to account for the possibility of irony in relation to cultural or religious tradition, largely because these views do not attribute distinct, psychological personalities to the members of the brigata. (84) As we have seen throughout the first day, it is their individuality vis-a-vis the reader that derlies the Decameron's subjective mode of communication, of which irony is a critical component. The idea that Emilia simply contemplates God or Truth is difficult to reconcile with the Emilia we hear speaking either earlier or afterwards. Her independence of character is established in her story of the inquisitor in 1.6, which attacks the clergy's control over orthodoxy. One might claim that she is posing a mystical vision using scholastic concepts, akin to Meister Eckhart. But in contrast to Eckhart or other mystics, she makes us aware of her posing and posturing.
Given Emilia's typically iconoclastic way of speaking, even when compared to her companions, could she not be using the scholastic, clerical language to suggest something more ambiguous or even heterodox? "I see in this [my] beauty, each time I look at myself in the mirror (self-reflect) ["io mi specchio"], that good that contents the intellect." The Trecento reader could recall two associations: first Pampinea's recent indictment of women's pride in their appearances, and then the understanding of holy lives as specula, as proclaimed by Cavalca and Dini. In accord with these associations, Emilia's readers would interpret her mi specchio in both a literal as well as a figurative sense. The mirror may reflect a physical or a mental image. Her preoccupation with her physical self suggests vanity and concern for temporal beauty; yet on another level the mirror also connotes the quest for supersensible truth. (85) Unlike contemporary moral writers, Emilia sings with such ambiguity as to leave the interpretation i nconclusive. And furthermore she responds to each sense of the mirror in a way that undercuts the moral authorities of her day.
If we view Emilia as reacting to Pampinea's charge that her contemporaries take too much pride in their physical display, she has implicitly rejected the Queen's lesson, her ammaestramento. "I am so pleased by my beauty," she sings. Emilia sings of her beauty's pleasure "with such sweet feeling, that no mortal/could ever give a sermon/nor glean an understanding/who has not burned with such delight." (86)
Pampinea had criticized not only women's vanity, but also their failure either to understand wit or to speak with wit. But Emilia responds to her in a very clever way. Emilia's song suggests that her pleasure is beyond words and "sermons," and that anyone who lacks such delight in this pleasure -- including the Queen! -- could never understand it. Pampinea, she implies, stands apart from such delight and may therefore find it easier to moralize (i.e., make sermons) about it. Through her song Emilia trumps the Queen in both forms of feminine virtu: she celebrates the power of both physical and verbal charm, contradicting the Queen's assertion that women cultivate their appearance at the cost of their wit. Possessing physical splendor need not tie the tongue nor deplete the mind; a woman may yet have the grace of both body and intellect. In fact the reader is asked to attribute both qualities to Neifile and other ladies of the brigata. Emilia's ballad cleverly raises the question: could not Pampinea and other, clerical moralists be practicing their sermons while ignoring the graces not merely of the body but indeed of language, the 'brief, charming words'?
The central point of Emilia's poetic rebuttal, based on this first reading, is the need for a common emotional experience (in her case a delight in the pleasure of beauty; "ardesse di cotal vaghezza") in order to understand and speak about this experience with authority. Authentic communication between one who talks and one who listens comes through partaking in analogous, if not the same, experiences. (87) Playing upon association between protagonist and audience as observers of exempla, Emilia's point now brings more fully to light that which at first glance in these earlier stories was less obvious. Can Grande understood Bergamino's story because, by "representing through another," he could recognize the abbot's emotions as his own. Abraam becomes a significant character for the lay brigata; with his native intelligence he discerns the Holy Spirit at work, despite the obvious clerical venality. But what does Emilia's argument imply about the moral effectiveness of the mendicant exempla, if they fail to acc ount for the audience's emotional lives, their interests and desires? Let us consider her use of speculum more specifically in relation to the preaching friars.
"Each time I self-reflect" [ognoro ch'io mi specchio]. Only Emilia in the Decameron uses the word specchio, here and in her story of the sixth day, which we shall examine shortly. Her song's use of this term exposes an inadequacy in the exemplum tradition, especially in its rhetorical power, a power more than verbal in its ability to "move people to good works." Cavalca had declared the clergy "mirrors through which the laity must engage in self-reflection and in the ministers' saintly lives acknowledge their own uncleanness and their flaws and thereby correct them." Dini called his bethren the specula mundorum, "the mirrors of the worldly." Passavanti entitled his vernacular work a "mirror" of true penitence, for it showed "that which one ought to do and which one ought to observe in others." (88) But in Emilia's mirroring she sees "that good that contents the intellect."
Emilia's ballad demonstrates how the language of the clerical preachers may confirm their self-satisfaction rather than induce self-criticism. Their speculum may do more to comfort them than to challenge their ways of thinking. This, Boccaccio suggests, is an inherent flaw of the clerical mirror. Insofar as the clergy assumes its own way of life as the ideal, it fails to notice its own detachment from the lives of the laity. The clerical estate does not succeed in escaping, in fact it does not aim to escape, its preconceived frame of reference in matters of morality. Emilia's song proclaims her self-absorption or willful narcissism; she appears isolated and independent from the company of the brigata. Her song thus imitates and mocks the distance between the clerical specula and the laity's concerns, and clerical arrogance toward the laity's way of life. Do not the fathers and friars advocate that one withdraw from the world of the laity and pursue a sanctified solitude in the hermitage? Does not Cavalca desc ribe the life of the laity in the world, the secolo, as more arduous and perilous than the religious life? (89) The research of Benvenuti Papi has shown the appeal of religious seclusion to Trecento Florentine women. (90) But Emilia shows us a different reaction to the mendicant ideals. First in her story of 1.6 and now more obliquely in her song, she expresses how the privileges of the clergy could elicit not only the clergy's pride and hypocrisy but also the laity's aversion.
Emilia's use of the speculum establishes both a psychological and methodological critique of the clergy's use of this symbol. In the first instance, the clergy's focus on the mirror may produce only static, isolating self-absorption. Yet this observation leads to the more important methodological or rhetorical point, in which Boccaccio's break from the mendicants more clearly emerges. Emilia's song makes her companions think about its meaning. Though she sounds self-contained, she provokes her audience to evaluate her verses. Because of their ambiguity and range of meaning, her ballad counters Pampinea and more generally the social and spiritual authority assumed by the clergy. Not only does the clergy fail to follow its own exemplum or speculum: that, as Cavalca's concern, is, in Filostrato's words, an "easy mark." Boccaccio implies that the ecclesiastical speculum's greater flaw, shown most clearly by the mendicant sermonizing, is its failure to recognize the readiness of the lay reader to listen and interp ret its significance for himself.
Emilia's ballad of the mirror of beauty finds a resonance in her-story of Day VI. As noted by commentators, the sixth day appears in some respects a reiteration of the first: it begins the second half of the Decameron's story-telling and picks up on the theme of the charming word or witty reply. (91) In musical terms, it like a second movement that offers variants on an earlier motif. (92) Emilia's story of this sixth day is remarkable in how it uses this concept of the speculum for the second and final time in the Decameron.
Emilia tells the episode of Cesca and her uncle Fresco. Cesca, a difficult, conceited child, continually complains about other people. Her uncle, finally exasperated, tells her to avoid looking at herself if she wants to keep bothersome faces out of sight.
Emilia's tale centers around the use of the mirror. "Fresco urges his niece not to look at herself in the mirror [or self-reflect; "non si specchi"] if annoying people, as she has claimed, have become irritating to look at" (VI.8. 1). Branca, in his notes on the first and last sentences of the narrative, remarks on the mirror as an "emblem of truth" in medieval symbolism and, alternately, as a symbol of vanity as the mirror of Eros. (93) We have already encountered both significations in Emilia's song of Day I. Her story says still more on the relation between the two meanings of speculum, of external and inner self-reflection, a relation whose nature is best discerned by regarding Emilia's story in context with her verses and thus in the web of connotations linking speculum with the exemplum or moral narrative.
The need for this context becomes apparent through the descriptions and actions of Emilia herself. For Emilia, when called upon by Elissa to tell her story, "not otherwise than if she had aroused herself from sleep, began with a sigh [soffiando incomincio]" (VI.8.3). This impression of withdrawn self-absorption, first presented in her canzone, is strengthened by her opening words: "Fair [vaghe] young ladies, since a deep thought has kept me from here a long time" (VI.8.4). It is uncertain whether she has even heard the previous stories, and the adjective vaghe recalls her song's refrain of her own pleasure [vaghezza]. As we saw in Neifile's story of Abraam, the narrator's personality comes into play, and Emilia's personality is mote complex than Neifile's: detached, subtle, more self-involved and moodier. Her puzzling, ambiguous self-confession in her song makes any objective presentation, and consequently any straightforward reading, impossible. So far has Emilia moved from the mendicant manner of using exem pla and specula, even if she plays upon the idea of the speculum as an "emblem of truth!"
Emilia in fact alludes to her own apparent self-involvement in her description of the difficult young Cesca, who also sighs to express her inner troubles: "fully fretting she plopped herself down at his [Fresco's] side, and did nothing but sigh [altro non facea che soffiare]." (VI.8.7). The identification between a story's narrator and protagonist, first made evident in Filostraro's novella of Bergamino, is now broadened by Emilia in her association of herself with the one receiving the rebuke. Her uncle Fresco tells the sighing girl: "if annoying people annoy you as much as you say, if you wish to live a cheerful life, never look at yourself in a mirror [reflect upon yourself; "non ti specchiare"]. . . ." (VI.8.9). Emilia focuses not only on the uncle's "amusing remark," but equally on "whether she [Cesca] was in a state to understand it" (VI 8.4). For Cesca, it seems, is no Can Grande: "she said that she wished to look at herself in the mirror [si voleva specchiar] just like other women" (VI.8.10).
Emilia's story is linked with Day I through its reference to the speculum, and even its very difference from these opening stories serves as an additional commentary on their treatment of the exemplum and their significant revision of the mendicant tradition. Her story in Day VI is the only one in the Decameron which displays the inefficacy of verbal wit, the buon motto. The clever remark fails to create a moment of genuine self-awareness. Her story stands as the antithesis not only to the narratives of Neifile, Filostrato, and Pampinea in Day I, but also to the Trecento practice of preaching the exemplum as speculum. Fresco's remark is witty and true, but his niece misses its pun and its ethical point, choosing only to hear its literal, physical meaning. She lacks the ability to perceive associative or poetic nuance, whereby a remark may be read "by representing something through another." She is so pleased with herself, so absorbed in her own image, that the figurative, reflected meanings do not touch her.
Cesca, as the one unable to read reflected meanings, again portrays a flaw in the tradition of the clerical speculum we witnessed earlier. Her uncle's remark, certainly a greater "club" than the one Bergamino presented to Can Grande, falls just shy of being blunt. But Cesca's narcissism solidifies her mental obtuseness. How are the clergy to reach people such as her through the exemplum, especially when their preaching lacks the avuncular wit and timing of Fresco?
Emilia's story of Cesca suggests a second type of Trecento audience, opposite to the intelligent reader portrayed by Can Grande. She seems to be elaborating on her specchio-song as well and delighting in presenting puzzles to her listeners. The ending of her story in Day VI, like her little ballad, is also unexpected and seems to catch the brigata by surprise. "The Queen, sensing that Emilia had finished off her story and that no other remained to speak except she," are the opening lines to the following tale (VI.9.2). As does her song, Emilia's story ends inconclusively, insofar as it misses the ultimate edifying note contained in both the exemplum-tradition and the variations on this tradition in the first and sixth days.
Yet the inconclusiveness has a thematic purpose in the Decameron. Emilia's narrative of Day VI, similar to those of her companions, contains meanings that interweave within a single story, among stories, and between the story-telling and the cornice of the work, provided the reader attends to them. The Decameron is characterized by the subtle references among narrators and between narrator and protagonist, protagonist and audience that undermine the simpler, more static cosmos of the medieval exemplum. Because of this undulating weave of associations the work engages a sharp sense of irony toward the mendicant method of preaching. It transforms the moral lessons, normally announced by the clergy, through a mode of communication, practiced by secular narrators, that is more attentive to the critical moment. The ethical substance is not preconceived but presto parlato, spontaneous, evoked by the atmosphere of discussion. The planned use of wit by Pampinea's lady in I.10 is ingeniously turned against her.
Emilia's Cesca and her mirror underscore the historical significance of Boccaccio's use of the exemplum. According to the Decameron's brigata, the effect of the verbal picture, the exemplum, depends decisively on the subjectivity of the reader. The mendicant custom of pre-determining the moral lesson of the story only serves to raise scepticism among many in the audience, leading them to question the source of clerical authority, as we see in the friars' sermons told by Panfilo and Dioneo. Narrow moral messages preached through the exempla carry little force in the minds of those who now need to develop their own, personalized associations between their real lives and the ideal vita. The ten young story-tellers, in leaving the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella and the diseased city, must create their own ethic. The medieval church taught the Florentines how to conceive a sense of symbolic order in religion and society. Now it must stand aside as the urban laity, trained to perceive and interpret the wor ld through figures, metaphors and symbols, conceives its cosmos in its own terms, with a heightened awareness of ambiguity and human potential and pretension.
(*.) Research for this essay was supported by fellowships at the Vatican Film Library at St. Louis University and at the Newberry Library. I am also grateful to Ronald Witt and Paul Gehl for their comments on earlier drafts.
(1.) The last signification of exemplum is found in the Summa [or Liber] de exemplis et similitudinibus rerum by johannes de Sancro Geminiano, OP ([+]1333).
(2.) See the compilation of scholars' views of the exemplum in Delcorno, 1975, 191-3, and in Branca, 1983-4, 182-3.
(3.) Among the primary sources: De Luca, ed.; Levasti, ed.; Pozzi and Leonardi, ed.; Segre, ed.; and Varanini and Baldassarri, ed. Among the scholarly analyses, see Branca, 1981; Delcorno, 1975 and 1989a: Getto; Petrocchi, 1967 and 1983; and Sapegno.
(4.) Cf. Battaglia Ricci, 1994 and 1987; and Bellosi.
(5.) Delcorno, 1989b, 350.
(6.) Delcorno, Ibid., 354, referring to Balducci in IV, intro.; and 351.
(7.) Battaglia, 511.
(8.) Delcorno has recognized this quality of the Decameron, but his studies of its treatment of the exemplum concentrate on identifying sources of separate stories, not to the thematic relation among them: "Ironia/parodia" in Bragantini and Forni, ed., 179. In another essay that investigates more general features of Trecento piety, Delcorno emphasizes the "amplitude and coherence of the literary manipulation and of the ideological demystification exercised by Boccaccio on the corpus of exemplary literature." "Metamorfosi boccacciane dell' 'exemplum'" in 1989a, 269. The essay however overlooks the stylistic invention of the Decameron, especially the interplay among narrator, brigata, and reader, focusing instead on the sources of specific novelle, in isolation from one another and the larger work. Battaglia's "Dall'esempio all novella" also devotes its attention to a single episode, the friendship of Titus and Gisippus in X.8: 509-525.
(9.) Delcorno notes: "He [Boccaccio] in fact does not limit himself to utilizing in a parodic key certain particular sources, but points the weapons of irony against entire classes of exempla, subordinant to the grand themes of popular religion, modeled and guided by the preaching of the mendicants." "Metamorfosi" in 1989a, 269. I differ from Delcorno in part by viewing Boccaccio's efforts not as ideological, but rather as a poetic act that exhibits an understanding of human psychology and epistemology at variance with the understanding expressed by most of the mendicant preachers.
The statement of John D. Lyons might be applied to Boccaccio's work: "the consciousness that an example [exemplum] is not merely any narrative but a narrative with a claim to a particular sort of truth (the relationship of general class to particular instance) is what allows sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers to use example in a highly ironic way." (12, author's emphasis).
(10.) This characteristic of the Decameron has largely escaped the attention of scholars. Battaglia notes Boccaccio's attempt to transfer "exemplary emblematicity to the probability of experience" (512), but he does not sustain this conclusion through a continued analysis of episodes from the work, nor does he concentrate on the relation between narrator and audience. Alfonso Paolella does not sufficiently differentiate the exemplum's force of persuasion from that of the Decameron, overlooking the irony and subjectivity of discourse in the latter, which is conveyed also by the historical individuality of its characters (37-38, 110-112). Due attention to these qualities of irony and subjectivity is also missing in the writings of two other commentators. Karlheinz Stierle stresses how contingency is a feature of the novellas that distinguishes them from exempla (582); yet his reference to a "new temporal dimension" opened up by contingency is not elaborated, and in particular this dimension is not extended beyo nd the novellas themselves, to the experience of the audience. Winfried Wehle discusses the "critical competition" between the "doctrinaire method" of the exemplum tradition and the "inductive relations-hermeneutic" of the novella: "[Moral obligation] is subject to a process [in the novella] that disturbs the sense of univocalness [Entvereindeueigung], a process which temporizes [verzeitlicht] historically the medieval tradition of figurative understanding in light of the 'epistemological' alternative of humanism. A moral determination of meaning of stories succeeds no longer by way of application, but on the contrary experientially" (64). While I agree with this distinction, Wehle details its validity for the French novella, not the Decameron; he also does nor explore how the awareness of irony fosters the reader's experiential understanding, and how this awareness is developed through a sequence of stories told over time.
(11.) Thus I part company on this point with Vittore Branca, who calls Pampinea "la 'saggia'" and "la piu ricca di avveduta umana e, spesso, l'aurorevole 'portavoce' dell'autore (1981, 20, 43n)." Branca's sentiment is followed by Victoria Kirkham (13), who says she "personifies Prudence."
(12.) Kierkegaard, 1972, 1: 273, "Communication;" also 1992, Pt. II ch. 2, 72-79. It is questionable to assume that, for Boccaccio, the ethical is always present as a theme. Entertainment, the aesthetic, may obscure the ethical from time to time, as Boccaccio indicates in his Proemio 13-15.
(13.) E.g. Familiares I.3.3, III.6.3; also emphasized in the Secretum 2.1.10, 2.3.3, 2.14.5.
(14.) Story-telling is suspended on Fridays and Saturdays, between days II and III and between days VII and VIII.
(15.) See Delcorno's remarks on Decameronian self-parody in day 1V under the influence of Dionco: "Ironia/parodia," in Bragantini and Forni, ed., 187. While parody is one element of this response in day I, we shall observe other, less obvious connections among story-tellers.
(16.) Among the elements of the exemplum Branca notes its "finality and persuasive and didactive intent," 1983-84, 183. See Hayden Maginnis' discussion (141-144) of the "episodic character of the frescoes" in Pisa, which helps create their "departure from naturalism."
(17.) "conciossiacosache la vita de' santi sia una viva lezione... e quasi uno speccbio ove l'uomo pub considerare e speccbiare se, e per questo modo la sua vita ammendare e dirizzare." Cavalca, 1858, 13; emphasis mine.
(18.) "libro e spechio done perfecione," "Specchio," lv; in other mss. "lume e specchio:" cf. the modern edition, 1992, 26.
(19.)Johannes de Sancto Geminiano (l.ix ch.66) compares Scripture to a mirror, citing Gregory I as his source. His reasoning is comparable to Cavalca's thoughts on the Fathers, namely that the speculum of Scriptura shows us the degree of our beauty or ugliness, of our perfection or lack thereof. "Scriptura sacra assimilatur speculo. Unde Grego. dick: Scriptura sacra mentis oculis quasi quoddam speculum opponitur: ut interna nostra facies in ipsa videatur. Ibi enim feda: ibi pulchra nostra conspicimus: ibi sentimus quantum proficimus: ibi a profectu quamlonge distamus."
Cf. also how Passavanti, in the prologue to his Specchio della penitenzia, refers to Jerome, "la cui vita e la cui dottrina sono essemplo e specchio di vera penitenzia," as his precursor and concludes:"... impero che in questo libto si dimostra quello si richiede di fare e quello di che altri si dee guardate accio che si faccia vera penitenzia, convenevolemente e ragionevolemente s'appella Specchio della vera Penitenzia" (6-7; emphasis mine).
It is important to observe, if outside the scope of this essay, how the major clerical prose writers attempted to adapt the exemplum tradition to their Trecento audience by emphasizing and incorporating more dramatic moments in their narratives. Boccaccio, by contrast, may be said to employ this tradition in order to break from it decisively.
This association between mirror and example continued after the Renaissance, e.g. in the popular treatise of Samuel Clarke (1599-1682): A mirrour or looking-glasse both for saints and sinners, held forth in some thousands of examples... (3rd ed., 1657).
(20.) "Or entendez par humilte ung petit exemple de l'amour de monde, e l'entendez aussi pareillement de la divine.... Adonc fist elle paindre ung ymage qui representoit la semblence du roy, qu'elle amoit, au plus pres qu'elle peut de la presentacion dont elle l'amoit e en l'affection de l'amour donte elle estoit sourprinse, et par le moyen de ceste ymage avec ses autres usages songa le roy mesmes." Porete, 10-12.
(21.) To cite two tides for this series, contained in the Miracoli della gloriosa Vergine Maria: "Come una donna per operatione del demonio fece uccidere suo genero e fu liberata della gloriosa vergine maria," or "Duno chavaliete giovane che venne inpoverta e poi per bonta della beata e gloriosa vergine Maria divento riccho" (4, 75). The material aims of this piety, the sensual nature of these stories, stressing beauty and lust, and their narrative structure, relying often on an act of deception, need to be considered more fully in relation to the Decameron. Delcorno has emphasized the oriental, patristic tradition of exempla, at the expense of these more fantastic narrative inventions from the thirteenth century. For a scholary introduction to the miracle-stories, cf. Levy, ed., xi-clxviii.
(22.) "gli ministri ecclesiastici debbono essere specchio ne liquali gli seculari si debbono specchiare e ne la loro sancta vita conoscano la loro immonditia e si la loro macula e si la corregiano." Cavalca, 1490?, 56r (ch. 46). My emphasis.
(23.) "sicut sancti per martiria et penitentias sancti sunt specula non solum illuminantia ad dei congregationem sed etiam inflammantia ad dilectionem sic nos quia debemus esse specula mundorum et regula quam tenemus speculum dicitur, oportet nos sustinere multas tribulationes et penitentias ut possimus dicere mortificamur: ad hoc monet nos apostolus Col. 3 [:5]: 'mortificate membra nostra quae sunt super terram'" fol. 128'; my emphasis. Quetif-Echard (I, 647b) place his death in 1359 and cite the praise expressed by Michele Poccianti in his Catalogus scriptorum florentinorum: "Multa milia sermonum ad omnem materiam elegantium et eruditorum, qui per ordinem non tantum nostrum, sed et per alios diffusi tanquam gemma pretiosa asservantur."
(24.) "Ma veramente hogi si puo dire che per gli mali esempli che procedono dalquanti chierici seculari e chierici religiosi, gli secolari se brutano e non dano gloria a dio perhoch' la loro vita non e spechio di verita, ma di molta iniquita, si ch' gli secolari reputano quasi licito di fare quello che vedano fare a quelli I quali gli deverebbeno amaestrare.," Specchio, Newberry Inc. 4973, 56r, (ch. 46), my emphasis.
(25.) "uomini semplici e non litterati" (1858, Proloque, 13.)
(26.) ma chi fusse savio non guarderebbe a la vita di mali sacerdoti e falsi religiosi, ma reguarderebbe ne la vita de buoni che sono passati e di quelli che sono presenti, Cavalca, 1490?, 56r, (ch. 46).
(27.) Pampinea tells her six companions: "io giudicherei ottimamente fatto che noi... di questa terra uscissimo, e fuggendo come la morte I disonesti essempli degli altri onestamente a' nostri luoghi in contado ... ce ne andassimo a stare." (I.In.65).
(28.) See Vickers, 731.
(29.) Kirkham, in her discussion of the Decameron's morality, omits reading the work through its narrative personalities. Without this reading, her claim for a "moral system" tied to scholastic notions of morality founders on counter-examples of acts performed with impunity, and on the critique the storytellers exercise on each other in the aftermath of the moral dissolution wrought by the plague. See her "Morale" in Bragantini and Forni, ed., 2523. Similar problems face Janet Smarr's conception that the Decameron stories present "an idyllic vision of a possible or at least hoped-for rational government of the self and society." 1986, 174. For a perceptive summary of the differing views of the Decameron's moral purpose, see Hollander's "The Proem of the Decameron" in 1997, 92. He characterizes four positions towards the Decameron's moral intention as 1) traditional Christian/humanist moral vision; 2) literature of amusement, "escape;" 3) a new moral vision inimical to the old order; and 4) his own, in which t he Decameron examines the human incapacity to live in harmony with morality or nature, and seeks an artistic expression commensurate to this problem. Hollander's view is most compatible with the Decameron's ironic, indirect form of utterance, and with its treatment of the exemplum, but like the other positions it puts forward a conceptual claim on the work's content without fully analyzing how the work's form might color this claim. An essential component of this form is the way it addresses the temporal, historical situation of the listener.
(30.) See Branca, 1981, 152; and Barolini, 526.
(31.) Burckhardt, 2:473 (VI.3), early identified this subjective quality of Renaissance culture, although he associates the subjective with the secular. See also the developments in fourteenth-century scholasticism (`William of Occam, Jean Buridan, Gregory of Rimini, Nicholas of Autrecourt), whose relation to humanism has scarcely been studied. This omission has been noted Trinkaus, 241-244.
(32.) See above, n. 11: Branca, 1981, and Kirkham.
(33.) Cf. Branca, 1981, note 2 to I.10.20.
(34.) See Smarr's observation that in the Decameron "the witty use of language" helps "form a bridge across social boundaries" (173). I question, however, her assertion that Boccaccio's intention is "to restore society through an indirect address," since it is possible that this use of language exacerbated social tensions and promoted irreverence.
(35.) "sostenendo pazientemente i difetti di coloro li quali d'essa ne deono dare con I'opere e con le parole vera testimonianza, il contrario operando, di se argumento d'infallibile verita dimostri."
We should notice how far the shadow of the plague extends over these opening stories. Both narrators, Panfilo and Neifile, emphasize God's patient goodness in the face of human wickedness, as if to discount the idea of the plague as punishment; cf. Panfilo's conclusion I.1.90-9 1. But compare also Boccaccio's statement in the first draft of the Trattatello in laude di Dante, perhaps written in the 1350's: "il quale [nostro riconoscimento; i.e. pentimento] sea lungo andare non seguira, niuno dubiti che la sua [i.e. di Dio] ira, la quale con lento passo procede alla vendetta, non ci serbi tanto piu grave tormento, che appiena supplisca la sua tardita" 1995, 7-8 (I. Red. 7). Sasso aptly notes here the reference to Valerius Maximus, perhaps taken from Bartholomeo di San Concordio's Ammaestramenti, 23.4.II.
(36.) Cf. Decameron, Concl. 8 and 11: "Le quali, chenti che elle si sieno, e nuocere e giovar possono, sf come pssono tutte l'altre cose, avendo riguardo all'ascolatatore.... Niuna corrotta mente intese mai sanamente parole: e cost come le oneste a quella non giovano, cosf quelle che tanto oneste non sono la ben disposta non posson contaminare, se non come il loto i solari raggi o le terrene brutture le bellezze del cielo."
(37.) "se essi mi paranno tali che io possa tra per le tue parole e per quelli [chierici romani] compredere che la vostra Fede si migliore che la mia."
(38.) III. 13, p. 41. This commonplace is expressed also by Cavalca, 1858, 13; and Jacobus de Voragine, in [section]112 ; v. II, pp. 957-8.
(39.) One subtlety of Neifile's satire is that it undercuts the significance of doctrine and scholastic theology, of which Paris was the capital. Abraam is not looking for the "masters" and the 'wise,' but the good if unlearned clergy. He is responding, though a non-Christian, in the way the mendicant preachers of the Trecenro requested of their faithful, in the way, in fact, Cepparello's "holy friar" asked of his congregation: with a focus on the external sanctity of the blessed life. Cf. I.1.85: "E nella postolo, il santo frate, che confessato I'avea, salito in sul pergamo di lui comincio e della sua vita, de' suoi digiuni, della sua virginita, della sua simplicita e innocenzia e santita maravigliose case a predicare."
(40.) "quivi niuna santita, niuna divozione, niuna buona opera o essemplo di vita o d'altro in alcuno che chierico fosse veder mi parve, ma lussuria, avarizia e gulosita, fraude, invidia e superbia e simili case e piggiori."
(41.) With regard to the phrase essemplo di vita, cf. the Trecento Corona de' monaci, a translation and revision of the Carolingian Diadema Monachorum: 53 (ch. 15). "Erono quasi ottanta monaci, e a tutri era essemplo di santita." For the association between exemplum and actions, as opposed to words of instruction, see Domenico Cavalca's Mirror of the Cross, where he describes Christ's gift of "lo [suo] parlare in amaestramento[,] la vita e la morte tuta in esempia." Cavalca, "Lo Specchio," 13v; ch. 5.
(42.) I.2.26: "E per cio che io veggio non quello avvenire che essi procacciono, ma continuamente la vostra religione aumentarsi e piu lucida e piu chiara divenire, meritamente mi par discerner lo Spirito Santo esser d'essa, sl come di vera e di santa piu che alcun' altra, fondamento e sostegno."
(43.) "aspettava dirittamente contraria conclusione a questa"; my emphasis.
(44.) 1858, v.1, ch.138 (p.210b): "D'un monaco che per la sua inobbedienza cadde in fornicazione;" v.1, ch.119 (p.199b): "State su e fate onore ai frati, acciocche eglino spesse volte parlano con Dio, e la loro bocca e santa;" v.1, ch.143 (p. 212b): "Un monaco solitario antico e di gran fama istava in un monte nelle parti d'Antiochia, per li cui esempli e ammaestramenti molti venivano in conoscimento di via di salute e perfezione;" v.1, ch. 133 (p. 208b): "Figliuolo mio, questi sono monaci del mondo, ma non hanno quell, abito che noi." My emphasis. The father will diminish the women's attraction by this description, and there is a distinct association between mondo and secola, as an arena from which the father wants to escape ("uscendo del secolo," 208a). This chapter is a text parodied by Boccaccio's story of Filippo Balducci and his son in his introduction to day IV of the Decameron.
(45.) This idea of historicality in the Decameron deserves a broader treatment the concept may be found both in Dante and Petrarch, in Dante's purported audience of 1300 to his Commedia and in Petrarch's continued epistolary treatment of his experiences. A historical setting, by contrast, is missing from the Novellino.
Scholars have recognized how the Decameron's stories transform the exempla through a more precise determination of the narrative setting; e.g. C. Degani, 198. But Boccaccio determines the time, place and circumstance of the audience as well, and the epistemological consequences of this setting, too, need to be investigated. Degani remarks elsewhere, with specific regard to Boccaccio's story of Filippo Balducci in IV.intro., that "everyone can draw his own conclusions, for good or ill" (200), yet she does not elaborate how the brigata, in light of its own concrete, particular experience, shows its independence of interpretation time and again, to the effect that the exemplum is not "renewed" (200), but, in its moral essence, overturned.
(46.) "parendogli assai aver veduto" (1.2.22); "mi vi parve in tanta grazia di tutti vedere....e con ogni arte mi par cheil vostro pastore....meritamente mi par discerner lo Spirito Santo" (1.2. 24-26).
(47.) The limitations of the clerical auctoritas were nor lost to all mendicants, and among the Trecento Dominicans it is again Cavalca who recognizes the problem with the greatest sensitivity. Writing at the opening of his Mirror of the Cross, he asks his readers "che pregino dio che perdoni ala mia presoncione pero che dico quelle ch' non opero / e mostro per alcuna sientia quelle cose che non o per experientia," "Lo specchio," [1.sup.v]-[2.sup.t]. This remarkable confession stands as the exception to the norm among his colleagues (such as Rainerius), who present their moral views with an impersonal style designed to erase any doubts about their objectivity.
The standpoint of Abraam and Neifile that subverts the exemplum extends to the very act of his baptism and confirmation. Here the Parisian masters are allowed their say. Giannotto, having given Abraam the Christian name of Giovanni, "appresso a gran valenti uomini il fece compiutamente ammaestrare nella nostra fede, la quale egli prestamente apprese: e fu poi buono e valente uomo e di santa vita" (1.2.29). Neifile uses properly the verb ammaestrate in the sense of "instruct" or "indoctrinate." But does Abraam become "good and worthy" [buono e valente] on account of his conversion, his baptism or his instruction? Neifile's readers will recall that it was precisely Abraam's integrity at the outset that led Giannotto to press for his conversion: "La cui dirittura e la cui lealta veggendo Giannotto, gl'incomincio forte a increscere che l'anima d'un cosl valente e savio e buono uomo per difertto di fede andasse a perdizione" (1.2.5). We hear the same adjectives -- worthy, good -- describing Abraam now before and t hen after his conversion. The problematic relation be tween clergy and laity, already addressed in Abraam's reading of the Roman exemplum, presents itself to Neifile's listeners in this final sentence, this conclusion of her story. Rather than closing this troublesome narrative with a tidy moral, Neifile questions this very tidiness of moral conclusions, in the spirit of the contrary interpretations earlier introduced by the story's protagonist.
(48.) "non meno di cortesi costumi che di bellezza ornata." Note the courteous manner of the narrator's description.
(49.) E.g., the Marchioness of Montferrat, I.5; Bartolomea Gualandi, II.10; and the lady who fools the friar in III.3: "una gentil donna di bellezza ornata e di costumi, d'altezza d'animo e di sottile avvedimenti" (III.3.5).
(50.) "egli [Abraam] trovo dal maggiore infino al minore generalmente tutti disonestissamente peccare in lussuria, e non solo nella naturale ma ancora nella sogdomitica, senza freno alcuno di rimordimento o di vergogna.... Oltre a questo, universalmente gulosi, bevitori, ebriachi e piu al ventre serventi a guisa d'animali bruti, appresso alla lussuria, che a altro gli conobbe apertamente."
(51.) "luxuria est inordinatus appetitus delectionis veneree" (2:66).
(52.) "honestas secundum rationem repellir vel moderat concupiscentias pravas" (1:250v). See also Cavalca, 1858, v.1 ch.132 (p. 207b): "Pero quando l'uomo si sente muovere di movimenti disonesti disordinati, si guardi e pensi quale sia la cagione e secondo il bisogno ponga il rimedia." My emphasis.
(53.) The three signs of honestas mentis arc conversatio extrinseca, verecundia and pudicitia (Ibid., 1:250v); all are missing from the curia in Abraam's view. For this relation between onesta and vergogna elsewhere in the Decameron, cf. Panfilo's description of Alariel's seduction in II.7.29: "piu caldi di vino che d'onesta temperata, quasi come se Pericone una sue femine fosse, senza alcuna ritegno di vergogna in presenza di lui spogliarisi, se n'entro nel letto," and its antecedent in Intro., 29: "a lui senza akuna vergogna ogni parte del corpo aprire non altrimenti che a una femina avrebbe fatto...il che in quelle che ne guerirono fu forse di minore onesta, nel tempo che succedette, cagione." My emphasis.
(54.) "unde sicut castitas repellit vel reprimir er refrenat ipsam mixtionem veneream: sic pudicitia est verecundia circa signa venereorum.... quod signa pudicitia erubescit, caver et detestatur." Ibid., 1:250v; my emphasis. Cf. also Decameron 11.3.8: "senza alcuno freno o ritegno cominciarono a spendere."
(55.) "intellectus obumbrarur vel cecarur peccari caligne." Ibid., 1:66r-66v, also citing Gregory later: "Primum peccatum [luxuriae] esr cecitas menri, inquantum luxuria impedit intellectum et subvertit."
(56.) Both follow "solo che l'appetito cheggia," Pampinea says; for "e non che le solute persone, ma ancora le racchiuse ne' monisteri, faccendosi a credere che quello a lor convenga e non si disdica che all'altre, rotte della obedienza le leggi, datesi a' diletti carnali, in tal guisa avvissando scampate, son divenute lascive e dissolute" (I. Intro. 62).
(57.) If we turn to the Pantheologia, we see Pampinea's charge supported by Rainerus' description of the power of diletti carnali. The luxuriosus, he says, "appetit diu vivere et voluptate diu frui; et per hoc desperationem incurrit futuri seculi: quanta dum mens detinetur carnalibus delectationibus, ad spirituales venire non curat sed eas fastidir"; 2: 66v, my emphasis. Rainerus refers here to Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 2a2ae 153 ch.5. As cited above in relation to Nefile, Rainerus sees the rational judgment obscured by the power of sensuality: "nam in actibus venereis non est intelligere: et hoc propter delectationis vehementiam ex qua impeditur iudicium intellectus." 2: 66v.
(58.) The tie between the swirling saturnalia of the papal curia and the plague-shocked Florence is strengthened if one recalls Boccaccio's own account of the disease. He describes one group of inhabitants who, with a "proponimento bestiale," give themselves over to "il bere assai e il godere e l'andar cantando a torno e sollazzando e il sodisfare d'ogni cosa all' appetito che si potesse... senza modo e senza misura." (I. Intro. 21-22). Even if Boccaccio shows an understanding for their actions in the irrational fear of death, he anticipates Neifile's "piu al ventre serventi a guisa d'animali bruti...senza freno alcuno di rimordimento o di vergogna. (1.2.20;19). Her words senza freno find a stronger resonance in the account of the plague by the moral chronider Matteo Villani. Villani condemns those survivors who "si dierono a piu sconcia e disonesta vita, che prima non haveano usata....scorrendo senza freno alla lussuria." (p. 16: IV. 14-15; 18-20); my emphasis. Of Florence he says "[e] senza alcuno ritegno q uasi tutta la nostra citta scorse all disonesta vita, e cosi, e peggio, l'altre citta e provincie del mondo." (pp. 16-17: IV. 6-29).
(59.) Boccaccio refutes this assumption explicitly in his epilogue: Concl. 11. But at the other pole, contrast Passavanti's exemplum of the young nun corrupted by the priest's inquiry about forbidden pleasure: 1863, 135-137 (dist. V cap. IV).
(60.) Bergamino, con una novella di Primasso e dello abate di Clignl, onestamente morde un'avarizia nuova ventuta in messer Can della Scala."
(61.) "messer Cane della Scala, magnifico signore, d'una subita e disusata avarizia in lui apparita morse con una leggiadra novella, in altro figurando quello che di se e di lui intendeva di dire."
(62.) For an introduction to Hugh Primas, see Adcock, ed. Burckhardt cited the vagabond poets, the clerici vagantes, as potential forerunners of the humanists. 1:179-180, 211 (III.1 and III.4).
(63.) Consider Boccaccio's adoption of the pseudonym Filostrato in his youthful works, his defense of his poetry in the introduction to Day IV, the day ruled by Filostrato, and Filippo Villani's description of Boccaccio as "sermone faceto er qui concionibus delectarentur," "witty in speech and delighting in conviviality" (18).
(64.) "Cosi li poeti nelle loro opere, le quail noi chiamiamo 'poesia,' quando con fizioni di varii iddii, quando con trasmutazioni d'uomini in varie forme, e quando con leggiadre persuasioni, ne mostrano le cagioni delle cose, gli effetti delle virtu e di' vizii, e che fuggire dobbiamo e che seguire." 1995, 53 (I. Red. 142); my emphasis.
(65.) The connection between Bergamino and Dante is also evoked by the figure of Can Grande. More could be said about Boccaccio's reference to Gregory's idea of a two-fold level of preaching for the erudite and the vulgar 1995, 52-53 (1. Red. 138-140). It would be revealing to compare the use of Gregory by Trecento clergy: Cavalca's translation of the Dialogues comes to mind.
(66.) "Fermamente avarizia non mi dee avere assalito per uomo di piccolo affare: qualche gran fatto dee esser costui che rebaldo mi pare, poscia che cosi me s'e rintuzzato l'animo onorarlo."
(67.) "Bergamino, assai acconciamente hai mostrari i danni tuoi, la tua virtu e la mia avarizia e quel che da me disideri: e veramente mai piu che ora per te da avarizia assalito non fui, ma io la caccero con quel bastone che tu medesimo hai divisato."
(68.) See the tale of the prostitute's conversion (v.1, ch. 125 203a) or of the married former monks who return to the monastery, repenting their having left "the angelic order" (l'ordine angelico, v.1, ch.137, 210a).
(69.) One can read in the life of St. Bernard in the Golden Legend how he wished to prevent one of his monks from going to Cluny, no doubt because the strict Cistercian knew the decadence of the older monastery; 1017 (2.104): "Frate Ruberto, monaco di san Bernardo e, secondo la carne, suo parente, ne la sua gioventudine ingannato per male conforto d'alcuni, [si porto a Cluni]. E'l venerabile santo poi che Si fue infinto di non saperlo alcuno temporale, manifesramente ordinoe di richiamarlo per la lettera;" cf. Bernard's criticism of the Cluniacs in his Apology.
(70.) See the moral titles in the exempla from Cavalca just cited: v. 1, ch. 125: "d'un frate il quale converti la sirocchia meretrice a penitenzia" and v. 1, ch. 137: "Di due frati, li quali vinti dalla tentazione della carne pressono moglie, ma poi si penterono a tornarono a penitenzia."
(71.) "Messer Cane, il quale intendente signore era, senza altra dimostrazione alcuna ottimamente intese cio che dir volea Bergamino." I.7.27; my emphasis.
(72.) Wehle refers to the "parabolic way of speaking" in the novella, contrasted with the "language of simile" [Gleichnissprache] of the exempla (100), though he underplays the necessity of each reader's individual appropriation of the story's import.
(73.) "spesse volte gia addivenne che quello che varie riprensioni e molte pene date a alcuno non hanno in lui adoperare, una parole molte volte, per accidente non che ex proposito detta, 1'ha operato." I.9.3; my emphasis. Note again the learning ascribed to a female narrator.
(74.) perche, con cio si cosa che le buone [novelle] sempre possan giovare, con attento animo son da ricogliere, chi che d'esse sia il dicitore." I.9.3. Branca notes her sententiousness here, expressed in the rhythm of the two final hendecasyllables; Decameron, 113, n. 2.
(75.) "Per cio che quella virtu che gia fu nell'anime delle passate hanno le moderne rivolta in ornamenti del corpo...."
(76.) "Per che, accio che voi vi sappiate guardare, e oltre a questo accio che per voi non si possa quello proverbio intendere che comunemente si dice per tutto, cioe che le femine in ogni cosa sempre pigliano il peggio, questa ultima novella di quelle d'oggi, la quale a me tocca di dover dire, voglia ve ne renda ammaestrate, accio che, come per nobilta d'animo dall'altre divise siete, cosi ancora per eccellenzia di costume separate dall'altre vi dimostriate."
(77.) It is worth noting that Boccaccio does not use the word ammaestrare in relation to his narration of the plague, for he draws no explicit moral lesson from this event. Contrast his more ecclesiastical-minded counterpart, Matteo Villani: "li uomini meno comprendono il divino giudicio ... se per memoria di simiglianti casi ne' tempi passati non hanno alcuno amaestramento." (p. 4: Pref. 17-21).
(78.) Intro. 53-72, esp. 65: "io giudicherei ottimamento fatto che noi, si come noi siamo, ... di questa terra uscissimo, e fuggendo come la motte i disonesti essempli degli altri onestamente a' nostri loughi in conrado."
(79.) See Guiseppe Velli's remarks on the inconsistency of her comments on fortune in VI.2, 321-323.
(80.) "Questa ballatella finita, alla qual tutti lietamente avean reposte ancora che alcumi molto alle parole di quella pensar facesse ... piacque alla reina di dar fine alla prima giornata." I. Concl. 22; my emphasis.
(81.) Io son sf vaga della mia bellezza, / che d'altro amor gia mai / non curero ne credo aver vaghezza. / Jo veggio in quella, ognora ch'io mi specchio, / quel ben che fa contento lo 'ntelletto: / ne accidente nuovo o pensier vecchio / mi puo privar di si caro diletto. / Qual altro dunque piacevole oggetto/ potrei veder giammai, / che mi mettesse in cuor nuova vaghezza? / Non fugge questo ben, qualor disio / di rimirarlo in mia consolazione; / anzi si fa incontro al piacer mio / tanto soave a sentir, che sermone / dir nol poria, ne prendere intenzione / d'alcun mortal giammai, / che non ardesse di cotal vaghezza. / E io, che ciascun'ora piu m'accendo, / quanto piu fiso gli occhi tengo in esso, / tutta mi dono a lui, tutta mi rendo, / gia di cio ch'el m'ha promesso, / e maggior gioia spero piu da presso / si farra, che giammai / simil non si senti qui di vaghezza. (My emphasis).
(82.) Cf. Branca's note to I. Concl. 21 in Decameron, 127, n. 1 and 1981, 275-276. Branca sees evidence here of a possible nostalgia for the vanished, more deeply spiritual generation of Dante, for the poesia stilnovelistica and canto popolaresco. This nostalgia, however, is not recorded in the reaction of her listeners. As much as Emilia's song may look back to past conventions of artistic expression, it also transforms them -- hence implicity criticizing them -- through its audacious unapologetic self-absorption.
(83.) Russell, 87-89. The reference is to Convivio IV.ii. 18.
(84.) See Russell's denial of differentiated individual personalities: "essi [the storytellers] sono percio da intendere solo come 'tipi' e non come personaggi psicologicamente individuallizzati" (88).
(85.) With regard to Boccaccio's use of ambiguous metaphors for the relation between the profane and the sacred, cf. Almansi's comments III.10, the story of Rustico and Alibech, where he sees "the precise parallelism set up between erotic ritual and religious ceremony; 84; cited by Delcorno, 1989, 358.
(86.) "...tanto soave a sentir, ch sermone/dir nol poria ne prendere intenzione / d'alcun mortal gia mai, / che non ardesse di cotal vaghezza." I.Concl.20; my emphasis.
(87.) Cf. Boccaccio's famous opening line to his work, Proem. 2: "It is very human to have compassion for those in distress, and just as it everyone should possess it as a rule, it is doubly true for those who once had need of comfort and found it in some others."
(88.) "E impero che in questo libro si dimostra quello che si richiede di fare e quello di che altri si dee guardare accio che si faccia vera penitenza, convenevolemente e ragionevolemente s'appella Specchio della vera penitenzia" (1863, 7).
(89.) E.g., 1858, CIII (189b-190a); CVII (192b); CXXVII (210a). Also Cavalca's "Lo libro della patientia / La medicina del cuore" (Treatise on Suffering; or The Medicine of the Heart), 17v (ch.5): "La secunda consideratione che adiuta la patientia sie considerare le fatige et le pene delli huomini mundani et li pericoli per volere guadagnare questi beni terreni. Et in verita se volemo sempre cio pencare ben vederemo che mauire disascio [maiore disagio] abstinentie e vigilie fatige et pericoli anno et pateno limarinari li soldati et altre molte ienti [gente] per lo mundo che noi per dio."
(90.) See 216-233; 601-623.
(91.) See Branca, V. Concl. 3 in Decameron, 706, n.4.
(92.) "Panfilo commenced the story-telling with Cepparello's fraud and his naive mendicant confessor; Dioneo in VI.10 introduces Friar Cipolla, a second preacher who also moves his audience with assertions about saints, although -- this time -- the preacher knows his claims are false. There is an association of the names Cepparello - Ciappelletto - Cipolla, confirmed by the witty symbolism of these 'layers' in the word cipolla (onion).
(93.) See VI.8.1, n.1; VI.8.10, n.5.
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|Title Annotation:||Giovanni Boccaccio|
|Article Type:||Critical Essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2001|
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