Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium

Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium

Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium

Boccaccio on Poetry: Being the Preface and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Books of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum Gentilium

Excerpt

If at this moment Boccaccio were to inquire concerning his reputation, he would no doubt be disappointed. Fame is his, in measure such as he craved, but not in kind. To be generally famous as the author of the Decameron, a mere teller of tales, a "vulgar" poet, a novelist, when he had dreamed of so different a reputation, would seem to him the very irony of fame. One hears him protest: "It is my peculiar boast and glory--meum est hoc decus, mea est gloria--to cultivate Greek Poetry among the Tuscans." Clearly it was his passionate hope to survive as the scholar- humanist, rather than as the literary artist.

There are, then, two Boccaccios--poet and scholar--one famous, the other obscure. It is easy to dwell upon an imagined antinomy between poet and scholar, but in Boccaccio at least, if not in general, such antinomy is quite fictitious. One cannot remind oneself too often that Boccaccio's scholarship and his art were but projections of the same powers of his mind, and that his humanistic Latin prose works come unmistakably from the hand of a poet. To conceive them otherwise is to miss their meaning. The author of the Decameron and of the Genealogy of the Gods is one and the same man, employing in these achievements the same energies and enthusiasms.

The Genealogy is a huge encyclopaedic repository of classical mythology in fifteen books. Both in form and in plan it is a book of its times. It embodies the Aristotelian- Catholic idea of the cycle of learning, with pagan precedents such as the works of Pliny and Varro. More contracted times required more contracted epitomes; Augustine's De Ordine, Isidore Etymologiae, Rabanus' De Universo . . .

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