By Michaela Paasche Grudin
Boccaccio's Decameron and the Ciceronian Renaissance demonstrates that Boccaccio's perplexing masterpiece takes on natural consistency while seen as an early glossy edition of a pre-Christian, humanistic imaginative and prescient.
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The comedy is increased by the fact that it is the speech-act of a confirmed villain who is diabolically angling for sainthood. Yet much more is at stake here than Ciappelletto’s honesty. Through the notary’s unctuous rhetoric, Boccaccio sets Christian society itself under scrutiny: not only its emphasis on innocence and passivity, but also its characteristic credulity toward the kind of language wielded by clerics. In this instance, the friar, deeply moved by Ciappelletto’s confession, convinces his pious colleagues of Ciappelletto’s sanctity, and the next morning, after a solemn night vigil, delivers a sermon in his praise to the whole community, in words that “alle quali era dalla gente della contrada data intera fede”(I.
Do the words that we speak to St. Julian in prayer actually have power? If so, what can there be in the world that is beyond the power of words, making them, as they are for Rinaldo and the widow, no longer necessary? Second, the remark, “Oltre a queste non bisognar piú parole,” is a reference to another literary seduction, as described by Dante in this dramatic passage: la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante. Galeotto fu ’l libro e chi lo scrisse: quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante. [kissed my mouth all trembling.
Here Boccaccio the satirist offers perhaps his most convincing take on social disorder, but implies that even the worst disorder can be relieved by awareness. There is little need to retell this famous story except to catalogue its images of depravity. Andreuccio, the Perugian bumpkin who has come to Naples to buy horses, is treated, in short order, to the good graces of a ruthless con-woman, a murderous pimp, two grave robbers, and a larcenous priest. During this time he visits four symbolic locations: a whorehouse, a pile of human excrement, a well of drinking water (in which he conveniently washes off the excrement), and the coffin of the newly deceased but richly attired archbishop.