M. J. Huxtable Boccaccio’s Story Tellers in The Decameron

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M.J. Huxtable

Boccaccio’s Story Tellers in The Decameron
(Unless otherwise stated, page numbers refer to: Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. (c.1351) Trans. and notes by G.H.McWilliam; 2nd edition. London: Penguin, 1972, 1995.)
“Each was a friend, a neighbour, or a relative of the other six, none was older than twenty-seven or younger than eighteen, and all were intelligent, gently bred, fait to look upon, graceful in bearing, and charmingly unaffected.” (p.12) Their true names are withheld to avoid embarrassment. “The first of them, who was also the eldest, we shall call Pampinea, the second Fiammetta, Filomena the third, and the fourth Emilia; then we shall name the fifth Lauretta, and the sixth Neifile, whilst to the last, not without reason, we shall give the name of Elissa.” (p.14) Do they represent the four cardinal virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude) and the three theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love) (p.804)?

  • Pampinea: Queen on Day 1, theme = nonspecific; stories = 1/10, 2/3, 3/2, 4/2, 5/6, 6/2, 7/6, 8/7, 9/7, 10/7; song = Day 1 (of joyful, requited love).
  • Fiammeta: Queen on Day 5, theme = the adventures of lovers who survived calamities or misfortunes and attained a state of happiness; stories = 1/5, 2/5, 3/6, 4/1, 5/9, 6/6, 7/5, 8/8, 9/5, 10/6; song = Day 10 (of the annihilation of love via jealousy and distrust).

  • Filomena: Queen on Day 2, theme = those who after a series of misfortunes are brought to a state of unexpected happiness; stories = 1/3, 2/9, 3/3, 4/5, 5/8, 6/1, 7/7, 8/6, 9/1, 10/8; song = Day 7 (of the torment of sexual desire felt during the absence of a lover).

  • Emilia: Queen on Day 9, theme = nonspecific; stories = 1/6, 2/6, 3/7, 4/7, 5/2, 6/8, 7/1, 8/4, 9/9, 10/5; song = Day 1 (of narcissism/beauty of the self).

  • Lauretta: Queen on Day 8, theme = the tricks that people in general, men and women alike, are forever playing upon one another; stories = 1/8, 2/4, 3/8, 4/3, 5/7, 6/3, 7/4, 8/9, 9/8, 10/4; song = Day 3 (of the unhappiness of remembered love, having been widowed and remarried without love).

  • Neifile: Queen on Day 3, theme = people who by dint of their own efforts have achieved an object they greatly desired or recovered a thing previously lost; stories = 1/2, 2/1, 3/9, 4/8, 5/5, 6/4, 7/8, 8/1, 9/4, 10/1; song = Day 9 (of the desires of love in an innocent heart on reflecting over a plucked bloom).

  • Elissa: Queen on Day 6, theme = those who, on being provoked by some verbal pleasantry, have returned like for like, or who, by a prompt retort or shrewd maneuver, have avoided danger, discomfiture or ridicule; stories = 1/9, 2/8, 3/5, 4/4, 5/3, 6/9, 7/3, 8/3, 9/2, 10/2; song = Day 6 (of the misery and disillusionment of love turned sour by a loved partner’s cruelty and infidelity).

(Note that the ‘stories’ linked to individual tellers are those that each tells, as opposed to those that occur on the day he or she is sovereign.)

“I have called them young, but none in fact was less than twenty-five years of age, and the first was called Panfilo, the second Filostrato, and the last Dioneo. Each of them was most agreeable and gently bred, and by way of sweetest solace amid all this turmoil they wee seeking to catch a glimpse of their lady-loves, all three of whom, as it happened were among the seven we have mentioned, whilst some of the remaining four were closely related to one or another of the three.” (p.18) Do they represent the tripartite division of the soul into Reason (Panfilo), Anger (Filostrato) and Lust (Dioneo)? (p.805)

  • Panfilo: King on Day 10, theme = those who have performed liberal or munificent deeds, whether in the cause of love or otherwise; stories = 1/1, 2/7, 3/4, 4/6, 5/1, 6/5, 7/9, 8/2, 9/6, 10/9; song = Day 8 (of the ‘burning rapture’ of being in love).

  • Filostrato: King on Day 4, theme = those whose love ended unhappily; stories = 1/7, 2/2, 3/1, 4/9, 5/4, 6/7, 7/2, 8/5, 9/3, 10/3; song = Day 4 (of the misery of love deceived, rejected and replaced).

  • Dioneo: King on Day 7, theme = the tricks which, either in the cause of love or for motives of self-preservation, women have played out upon their husbands, irrespective of whether or not they were found out; stories = 1/4, 2/10, 3/10, 4/10, 5/10, 6/10, 7/10, 8/10, 9/10, 10/10; song = Day 5, (of the anxiety and painful desire of unrequited or pre-requited love).

(Note that the ‘stories’ linked with individual tellers are those that each tells, as opposed to those that emerge on the day he or she is sovereign.)

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