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Franz X. Winterhalter, The Decameron (1837) Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron Dec 22, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Franz X. Winterhalter, The Decameron (1837) Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron Dec 22, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Franz X. Winterhalter, The Decameron (1837) Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron Dec 22, 2014

2 The Frame: A Story of Therapeutics (treatment) During the plague, the medical tracts addressed three issues: 1) The etiology (causes) of the plague 2) Possible treatments for the sick 3) Courses of action to prevent the spread of the plague (the physical and psychological methods to be used to protect oneself from the plague) (From Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages, Glending Olson; 1986)

3 Techniques to Avoid the Plague 1) Flee wicked airs (astronomical and geographical explanation of the cause) 2) Be cheerful; do not occupy ‘your mind with death, passion, or anything likely to sadden and grieve you, but give your mind over to delightful and pleasing things.’ 3) Spend your time ‘in gardens with flagrant plants, vines, and willows, when they are flowering.’ (Also frequently sing, dance, have relaxing conversations.) 4) Avoid ‘the depressing affects of seeing and hearing nothing except what betokens death.’ (From Literature as Recreation, pp. 164-183)

4 The Brigata and the Garden Pampinea functions as the mouthpiece of Boccaccio who knows all the regimens advised in the medical tracts.

5 The Brigata and the Garden “The spot in question was some distance away from any road, on a small hill that was agreeable to behold for its abundance of shrubs and trees, all bedecked in green leaves…. Delectable gardens and meadows lay all around, and there were wells of cool, refreshing water…. And on their arrival the company discovered, to their no small pleasure, that the place had been cleaned from top to bottom, the beds in the rooms were made up, the whole house was adorned with seasonable flowers of every description, and the floors had been carpeted with rushes.” (pp. 19-20)

6 The Brigata and the Garden John William Waterhouse, A Tale from the Decameron, (The Enchanted Garden) 1916

7 The Brigata and the Garden “… during the meal there was pleasant talk and merry laughter from all sides. Afterwards … Dioneo took a lute and Fiammetta a viol, and they struck up a melodious tune, whereupon the queen … formed a ring with the other ladies and the two young men, and sedately began to dance. And when the dance was over, they sang a number of gay and charming little songs.” (p. 22) Pampinea, instead of playing chess or other games at hand, proposes telling stories, “an activity that may afford amusement” instead of “anxiety”. (p. 23)

8 A song the Brigata might have played and danced to: Song: Decius Performers: Jordi Savall and the Medieval Company Album: Jaufre Rudel Troubadour (Mid-12 th C., the Prince of Blaye in Southern France)

9 Figure of Garden in the Genesis “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground - trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God’s law or prohibition introduced first in the Garden of Eden The initial life-world of mankind but after the fall, a paradise lost; a blissful state of existence to be regained By its absence, it refers us to an original crime; an eternal source of nostalgia or melancholy

10 Figure of “Garden” in Lucretius “…those who follow their true nature never feel cheated of enjoyment when they lie in friendly company on velvety turf near a running brook beneath the branches of a tall tree and provide their bodies with simple but agreeable refreshment, especially when the weather smiles and the season of the year spangles the green grass with flowers.” (Book 2, p.36) Nature provides a safe haven, a refuge for Lucretius’ physicist-philosopher who is detached from others and the trivialities of daily life It affords a body free from pain, a mind released from worry and fear for the enjoyment of pleasurable sensations.

11 Figure of Garden in the Decameron Functions not as a reminder of loss / fall or an object of nostalgia but as the sign of possibility of a new beginning; a new life; recovery It stages a microcosmic utopian project; a new (social) order that values the well-being of individuals but is not individualistic (like and unlike Lucretius) This utopian imagination is not religious but completely secular or laic (=non-clerical; related to laymen, ordinary people)

12 The Garden as the Possibility of a new Order -- The plague destroys the (old) order, wipes everything out -- Social bonds and institutions completely defunct -- Collective values broken down -- No sense of security given by political power or religion, the church -- Corruption is total; physical and moral -- The plague creates a blank slate (the garden is that slate)

13 Imagining an Administrative Structure (a different State) Pampinea: “A merry life should be our aim…. However, nothing will last for very long unless it possesses a definite form…. I have given some thought to the continuance of our happiness, and consider it necessary for us to choose a leader, drawn from our own ranks…. But so that none of us will complain that he or she has had no opportunity to experience the burden of responsibility and the pleasure of command associated with sovereign power, I propose that the burden and the honor should be assigned to each of us in turn for a single day…. [For] our company [to] live an ordered life and agreeable existence … I first of all appoint Dioneo’s manservant Parmeno, as my steward, and to him I commit the management and care of our household….” (pp. 20-21)

14 Imagining an Administrative Structure The form of interaction of the Brigata members, the form of their interaction with the servants, and the group’s general codes of conduct are: -- Created by Pampinea (with the support of the others) with no reference to religion or some such transcendent principle. -- The reference is to the well-being and happiness of the group and its individual members. Morality originates in the group. -- Ensuring an “ordered and agreeable existence” and not monopolizing power in a single sovereign figure seem to be presented as the main virtues of any future political order (sharing the burden and the delight of sovereignty).

15 An “Ordered and Agreeable Existence” Forces that rule in the Decameron: 1) FORTUNA (fortune, fate) 2) INGENGO (reason, cleverness, ingenuity) 3) AMORE (love) Boccaccio’s universe stages a complex relationship between these forces. An “ordered and agreeable” existence, well-being and contentment can be achieved if they are understood and kept in a kind of balance.

16 Fortuna, Ingegno, Amore Wheel of Fortune (Çarkıfelek)

17 FORTUNA (Principle of Passivity): -- Moves cyclically and arbitrarily -- Christian notion of fate or destiny signifies a plan, a prewritten divine scenario -- In Boccaccio, fate is blind chance (good or bad luck) or simply hazard (not religious destiny) one is exposed to INGEGNO (Principle of Agency): -- Can or must react to the hazards or seize the opportunities Fortuna presents -- Cleverness, cunning, quick-wit as values of the mercantile, bourgeois society AMORE (Pleasure Principle): -- Good or bad luck may equally befall on you; life and death, success and failure swing between Fortuna and Ingegno; in this picture one must not ignore Amore (love, sensual pleasures)

18 Fortuna Secular Fortuna and the Four States of Life (Cycle of Success and Failure) From top, clockwise: REGNO – I reign (I’m the king) REGNAVI – I have reigned (I was…) SUM SINE REGNO – I have no Kingdom REGNABO – I shall reign (I will be…) (Carmina Burana – poems in Latin and Medieval German from the 12 th C.) Carl Orff (1936) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icHUh-9qqQ8&feature=player_embedded

19 Ingegno and Amore: The Story of Friar Alberto -- Religion can no longer serve as the moral basis or framework of social life -- Its representatives are debased frauds, they manipulate people for their own interests (money-making, adultery, etc.)  Frate Alberto according to Pampinea / Boccaccio?

20 Monna Lisetta: Victim (but also not quite so) Pampinea: “…it happened that a frivolous and scatterbrained young woman whose name was Monna Lisetta … the wife of a great merchant who sailed away to Flanders aboard one of his galleys, came to be confessed by this holy friar of ours accompanied by a number of other ladies.” (p. 304)

21 Monna Lisetta: half-wit, somewhat feeble on the upper storey, Lady Bighead, Lady Noodle, Lady Birdbrain, a prize blockhead “[Angel Gabriel] would be welcome to visit her whenever he pleased, but only if he promised not to desert her for the Virgin Mary, of whom it was said he was a great admirer … In all the paintings she had seen of him, he was invariably shown kneeling in front of the Virgin.” (p. 306) Fra Filippo Lippi, The Annunciation (c. 1450)

22 -- Frivolity and stupidity are the OPPOSITE of Ingegno (reason, wit, ingenuity) -- NOT all instances of seizing-the-opportunity are examples of Ingegno -- Deception, fraudulence, and bad cunning are NOT Ingegno -- What Friar Alberto aims to experience and what Monna Lisetta has with him are NOT the real pleasures of Amore

23 But, is this an Instance of Ingegno? Both yes and no? The Brigata leaves Florence primarily for safety and establishes a utopia away from the plague – the reality (escapism?) Is this utopia reasonable? (based on pleasures of nature, art, story-telling and hearing stories) How long can they stay disconnected from the ongoing catastrophe? How feasible or beneficial is this utopian mode of existence?


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