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Post Introduction

This will be based on the Introduction in the Penguin Classics edition by G. H. McWilliam and should not be confused with Boccaccio's Introduction contained in the First Day. The content of this write up is largely lifted unchanged from the Introduction in the book; in a word it's almost all plagiarized.

This short write up will be for the benefit of the readers who do not have the Penguin edition or don't want to read it at length. This 'abridged' version should be helpful in that respect.

Boccaccio will be noted as B. for ease, yours and mine. me and my and you and us. The proverbial 'we'. weeeeee! Here we go... lol :P

B. was born in 1313 as an illegitimate child of a Florentine banking official and an unknown woman. It is generally accepted that he was born in Tuscany, probably Florence or Certaldo, Italy. B's adolescence was mainly spent in Florence. His father's wife was related to Dante which may have helped B. gain knowledge and veneration for the man and his work at an early age. He was tutored by Giovanni Mazzouli, who encouraged B. to study and admire Dante's work. B. would develop a reverence for Dante that would match the one Dante held for Virgil. You'll find fragments/influences of the Commedia sprinkled throughout this work as you'll find the Aeneid's influence in the Commedia.

At about 13 B. moved from Florence to Naples - following his father who had received a promotion at the Bardi Bank. B. was apprenticed by his father to be a banker, which he had absolutely no inclination for. He described this time as "six wasted years." He was allowed to study law instead and although he liked it about as much as banking, he gained a knowledge for his later works, culture from his surroundings, and valuable contacts. Some of the cultural landmarks and elements of Neapolitan culture that B. experienced while in Naples can be seen in his stories, such as that of Andreuccio of Perugia in Day Two, story 5. In Naples, B.'s father held a high standing in the Angevin Court, and mixed with nobility and high society in general. This seems probably the most enjoyable period in B.'s young life. Because Naples was such a hub of intellectual activity, B. was also exposed to and made contacts of some outstanding scholars and men of letters who had be attracted there because of King Robert - a patron of the arts. One such person was Paolo Da Perugia, the Curator of the Royal Library. Others include Theologian and Rhetorician Dionigi Da Borgo San Sepolcro, Humanists Barbato Da Sulmona and Giovanni, and Cino Da Pistola the Poet who all had a hand in considerably broadening B's literary knowledge and help to form and refine his writing style. *Look for a compliment paid to Cino in the 4th Day.

Among his works at around this time would include Diana's Hunt, Filocolo, Teseida (which Chaucer would derive material for Knight's Tale), and Filostrato, the ultimate source for Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde.

In all probability, B. returned to Florence at around 1340-1341. The traditional ties of friendship between the Florentine commune and the Angevin Monarchy had come ujnder considerable strain, partly because of King Robert's refusal to support the Florentines in their protracted war against Lucca, and partly, also, because the dependence of the Angevins on Florentine bankers had bu that time dwindled to comparative insignificance. Some suggest, after breaking ties with the Bardi Bank, his father went bankrupt and was also a cause for B.'s return to Florence. A more probable explanation is that far reaching changes in Neapolitan foreign and economic policy had impaired his social links with the Angevin Court and raised the spectre of insecurity. B. was reluctant to depart Naples and tried to get wealthy friends to help him to no avail.

B.'s thoughts on Florence? He writes in Fiammetta that it's a city "full of pompous talk and cowardly deeds, the servant not of a thousand laws but of as many opinions as there are people in it, bristling with arms, at war both at home and abroad, teeming with greedy, proud, and envious people, and full of countless anxieties..." Dante also had a contemptuous description of his native Florence, seen in Canto XV of Inferno.

In 1343 the autocratic rule of Naples bu the Duke of Athens was brought to an end and replaced bu the provisional government of the lesser guilds and merchants, the popolo minuto, whose reforms had severely diminished the influence and wealth of the prosperous merchant classes to which B.'s family belonged. Edward III then defaults on his loans which causes the collapse of the Bardo and Peruzzi banking houses in 1345, further aggravating Florentine fortunes. The Neapolitan court was also shook by the assassination of King Andrew of Hungary, effectively severing B.'s prospects of returning to Naples.

By 1346 B. had moved to Ravenna the place of Dante's death while he was in exile and current home to his daughter, Suor (Sister) Beatrice, who was living in the convent of San Stefano Dell'Uliva. B. would later present her with ten gold ducats in recognition of her father's work - a gift from the Compagnia Di Or San Michele.

In 1348 the plague hits Italy hard. It serves as the somber and frightening prelude for the Decameron - a device which medieval rhetoricians regarded as an essential component of the genre of Comedy (to which, like Dante's poem, the Decameron was intended to belong). It is in keeping with Uguccione Da Pisa's Comedic formula espoused in his Derivationes: 'A principio horribilis et fetidus, in fine prosperus desiderabilis et gratus' or 'foul and horrible at the beginning, in the end felicitous, desirable and pleasing.' B. will warn his readers of this in the opening paragraph of the 1st Day and his stories will progress from vice to virtue. This sequence has led many critics to classify the Decameron as the 'Human Comedy', complimentary of the Divine Comedy of his illustrious predecessor.

Another thing Dante and B. have in common is that they both wrote their masterpieces at around the same age.

There are indications that the Decameron originally was meant to contain 70, rather than 100 stories. By refining and elaborating a scheme he had adopted in an episode from the Comedia Delle Ninfe Florentine, where 7 nymphs tell their life stories, the 70 tales would be told by a company of 7 young ladies. The three men were added when he conceived the idea of having the plague be the reason behind the stories. Now there would be 100 tales - adding another similarity with the Divine Comedy which contains a hundred cantos and is divided into 3 sections. *****Look for these 3 sections, they're easy to spot as well as when the 3 girls representing the 3 biblical virtues are leaders of the day.

B. seems notorious for this type of respect for previous work. He even used the same number of lines in his Teseida as Virgil used in the Aeneid. Structure was important to B., and to keep with Dante he strategically places after the 3rd and and 6th days, two lengthy interludes which divide the work into 3 cantiche.

In 1348 B.s second step mother dies of plague. Not long after his father dies as well. B.'s now head of the household. Having these new responsibilities had some influence on his writing. He would be writing the Decameron at around this time.

The story of B.'s life from about 1350 until his death in 1375 is the story of a steady increasing involvement in humanistic culture combined with the growth of the reputation for diplomacy and eloquence he had already achieved among his Florentine fellow citizens. In 1350 he was deputed to welcome the foremost man of letters in 14th century Europe at the gates of the city, and offer him the traditional gift of a ring. The man was Francesco Petrarca. Petrarch would stay at B.'s house, possibly read some of his work, and they'd enjoy a life long friendship. B. would later call P. his magister and he the discipulus and wrote in a letter that P. was 'my famous teacher... to whom I owe all that I am worth.'

That just can't be the case - it's bullshyt to think that in my opinion. If anything it looks like P. had a negative impact on B.'s writing.

B. would visit P. in 1351 (five months after their first meeting) in Padua to persuade him to accept a chair at the University of Florence. P. would decline but they shared lengthy discussions that would influence B.'s views on poetry. B.'s views on poetry?... a means of bringing glory to god.

After the Decameron, B. wrote no other substantial piece of imaginative literature. His work shifted in direction and most was now composed in Latin rather than Italian. Corbaccio, written around 1365, had a strong element of anti-feminism in it. Now, instead of 7 virtuous women as in the Decameron, the Castalian nymphs in the Corbaccio are wicked.

In 1361, Iacopo, becomes of age and B. hands over the family house in the San Felicita quarter to him. B. retires to Certaldo and by this time had adopted the clerical garb Petrarch was famous for wearing... what an azzhole this guy.

The theme of fortune was one to which B. was strongly attracted. In the D., fortune is mainly a benevolent force.

P. requests B. to come live with him so that they may be closer and share a library. B. declines and instead decides on Certaldo. B. visits P. again and on his return to Certaldo begins to write mainly non-fiction pieces including a work on geography that uses Pliny as a source - so you can imagine how accurate it must have been... I really think P. was a terrible influence on the man.

B.'s life now becomes more embroiled with activities of State and various diplomatic missions including helping the pope move from Avignon to Rome - apparently no small feat. His name and status keep him on the move and he bounces around some - returning to Naples briefly where he was entertained better than at ant other time in his life. Sometime about 1371, B. returns to Certaldo to settle down and it is during this time he revises the d. for the last time among other works. The resulting manuscript, tampered with by other hands over the intervening centuries, has come down to us in the so-called Hamilton Autograph 90, which is lodged in the Staatsbibliothek of Berlin.

B. keeps busy by lecturing on Dante, writes a commemorative sonnet for P. after his death in 1374 (he wasn't a very talented poet), and then dies himself in Certaldo on 21 Dec. 1375. He suffered from physical disorders and severe obesity.

Boccaccio never married, but had three children. Mario and Giulio were born in the 1330s. In the 1340s, Violente was born in Ravenna, where Boccaccio was a guest of Ostasio I da Polenta from about 1345 through 1346. -wikipedia

This concludes a brief history on Giovanni Boccaccio.

Fri Dec 03, 2010 8:05 pm
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Post Re: Introduction
The ethos of the Decameron is generally regarded, with good reason, as a faithful barometer of the enormous and far-reaching changes which had gradually come about in the 13th and 14th centuries in the structure of Italian society, largely as a result of the decline of the feudal aristocracy and the ever increasing vitality of the bourgeoisie, especially in the spheres of banking and commerce. The practiced, common-sense, hard headed values of the prosperous bourgeois society in which B. was raised are everywhere apparent in the D., which in turn exerted its greatest appeal upon those who shared and practiced those values, hence the classifying of the D. as 'the epic of the Bourgeoisie'. But underlying these values that the D. clearly represents, there is also a noticeable regard for the code of conduct associated with the feudal aristocracy, for whom the concept of honor was not so much a question of keeping up appearances of strict adherence to a generally recognized series of rules governing polite behavior, which set the nobility apart from their social inferiors.

Tancredi (4,1) would be representing the old feudal way and Ghismonda the new Bourgeois ethic. She selected her lover not in a random fashion or based on his birth but for his noble character. They measure the quality of men differently.

The term 'gentil core' (noble heart) became a recurrent feature, not only in the D., but of the poetic vocabulary of the period, beginning with Guido Guinizzelli in the 13th century.

The songs which end each day are the last significant specimens of that great poetic tradition which stretches back, via Cino Da Pistola, Dante and Guido Cavalcanti, to Guido Guinizzelli.

As for his conception of tragedy, it is clearly one that is based upon Latin rather than Greek models, and especially on the tragedies of Seneca, whose emphasis upon honor, cruelty and violence was to find favor with so many Renaissance play wrights, both in Italy and in England. The specifically Senecan connotations of B.'s concept of tragedy are undeniably present, both in his systematic recourse, in all three of his major tragic novelle, to the macabre as a generator of tragic sentiment, and in the close parallels between the story of Roussillon and Cabestanh (4,9) and Seneca's Thyestes. As one B. scholar notes - There is a constant play on love for one's family and love for the flesh of one's family; on possession by physical embrace and possession by incorporation in the digestive tract.

In all three stories, the author, by directing his reader's sympathy towards the lovers, and condemning the actions of those who cruelly severed their respective liaisons, is proclaiming the supremacy of natural laws over any rigidly constructed and strictly interpreted code of ethical conduct. Where Dante would have us condemn, B. commends. The difference in attitude is to some extent explained by a difference in temperament. Where Dante, the arc conservative, looks back to a rigidly formalized code of behavior that is characteristic of a feudal, hierarchical society, B.'s liberal, forward looking instincts lead him firmly in the direction of a form of morality that allows for the unhindered interplay of natural passions and emotions.This new moral attitude, which reflects the ascendancy of the Bourgeoisie and the decline of feudalism, and which incidentally foreshadows the spirit of the Renaissance, is seen over and over again in B.'s treatment of amatory material.

The idea that honor, in certain circumstances, is best preserved by keeping up appearances, and suppressing painful realities, is one that would exercise a particular appeal upon practiced minds of merchants, traders, and entrepreneurs who constituted the author's ideal readership.

The conversion of fantasy into the realm of the possible is what constitutes the D.'s peculiar dynamic.

* The placement of the stories are important in interpreting their true meaning. Stories of the 7th day: the proposition that the 7th commandment places an unreasonable restraint upon the freedom of the individual.

There is a thesis: That for B. love consists in the gratification of instinctive sexual desires, whether within marriage or outside it. He questions the christian view of marriage (11,10 most notably).

The allusion to honor is interesting, for it triggers a powerful attack on the hypocrisy of a society in which the institution of marriage has been reduced to the status of a commercial transaction, no attention being paid to the natural inclinations or aspirations of the prospective bride. This of course is the standard way of justifying adulterous relationships in such a society. Adultery accounts for roughly 1/4 of the stories. B.'s , main purpose, though, is aesthetic - not just to call in question these commercial transactions or arranged marriages.

So far as marriage is concerned, the institution is one that he respects, provided that it is based upon the mutual love and trust of the husband and wife, It is when this condition is not fulfilled that the kinds of irregularities which provide the raw material of B.'s adulterous tales are most likely to occur. It is strongly implied that the satisfaction of sexual needs is a necessary prerequisite for successful conjugal condition, a wife is fully justified in seeking pleasures elsewhere.

B. draws no fine distinction between love and lust, in the manner of the christian moralist, and in this respect he stands decisively apart from his medieval predecessors and contemporaries. As on critic has observed: In the world of the D. there is no immorality perceived as such, but rather the feeling that man is a part of nature, which is not governed by moral laws or principles, but answers only to instincts and impulses and biological phenomena that fall outside the scope of ethics.

Courtly Love
Originated with the provencal troubadours, and which occupied so prominent a position in both the lyric poetry and the prose of romances of the later Middle Ages. Ovid being the 1st to write about amorous relationships in high places in his (Ars Amatoria) was followed by Andreas Capellanus whose book on the Art of Loving Honorably and the Reproof of Dishonorable Love would influence writers like B. to think that the business of the courtly love was to serve his lady with absolute fidelity, no matter what obstacles were in his path - including his husband. By a strange paradox, adulterous love thus acquired an exalted status.

The D.'s morality is open ended. The them of love in the D. is one that defies exhaustive analysis.

Fri Dec 10, 2010 10:29 am
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