Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Decameron 2: Filomena's Rule between Fortune and Human Agency

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Decameron 2: Filomena's Rule between Fortune and Human Agency

Article excerpt

1. Day Two between Emilia's and Pampinea's Songs

Day Two of the Decameron is, in many ways, a new beginning of the structural macrotext. In order to approach Boccaccio's masterwork from a unifying perspective, we must keep in mind that the partition of the narrative unities does not coincide perfectly with the thematic and fictional unities. The actual beginning of every day takes place at the passing of the crown from the old to the new queen or king, with the enunciation of each day's theme in the conclusion of the previous day. Thus, everything that happens after the handover of power from Pampinea to Filomena, including Emilia's song, should be ascribed to the thematic area of Day Two. As a result, the narrative of the Decameron undergoes a constant enjambement, which propels the diegetic flow and links together the ten days of narration (plus the four interposed days of reprieve) throughout until the end of the book. (2)

In the conclusion of Day One Filomena institutes the thematic narrative practice that the youths will follow regularly from Day Two onward for the entire work (except Day Nine), as there had been no time to apply it in Day One. (3) Filomena also establishes that the activities and rituals the brigata performed under the rule of Pampinea be repeated each subsequent day of narration (Dec. 1. Concl. 7-9). Thus, by circumscribing the choice of tales within the thematic boundaries set by the queen or king, Filomena's proposed subject becomes an organizing principle for rationalizing the noxious chaos the young people are fleeing. In order that the storytelling appear as a propitiatory antidote not only against the destruction of social institutions but also against the poisonous desperation brought on by the epidemic, Filomena commands the brigata to tell of those who came at last to a joyful issue "beyond their hope" (Dec. 1. Conci. 11). (4)

The strategic transition from one day to the next travels via Emilia's song, which thematically already falls under the rule of Filomena, even though it appears under the rubric of Day One. This is the first song of the Decameron and sets the spatial and temporal boundaries for the ritual, which takes place at Vespers and marks the brigata's substitution of a liturgical practice with a secular one. The physical place where Emilia performs, with its pleasant brook, tender grass, and barefooted ladies weaving garlands around the singer and freely enjoying the leisure, bears all the characteristics of the literary locus amoenus, a fitting place for a song that boldly describes a good that gives complete satisfaction and leaves her in need of no other love. (5) This good is her own earthly beauty, which she admires in a mirror similar to that of Dante's Rachel described by Leah in the Pilgrim's dream just before entering the earthly paradise: (6)

      Io son si vaga della mia bellezza,
   che d'altro amor gia mai
   non curero ne credo aver vaghezza.
      Io veggio in quella, ognora ch'io mi specchio,
   quel ben che fa contento lo 'ntelletto,
   ne accidente nuovo o pensier vecchio
   mi puo privar di si caro diletto.

        (Dec. 1. Concl. 18-19)

   (I have such desire for my own beauty
   that never for another love
   will I care, nor think to desire.
   In it I see, whenever I behold myself in the mirror,
   that good which pleases the intellect;
   neither a new event nor a former thought
   can deprive me of such a dear delight.)

The focus on human beauty as the good that satisfies intellectual desire sets the tone of the Decameron's poetics: Boccaccio's interest lies in worldly fulfillment, rather than spiritual speculation. Thus, the Dantean reminiscences effect a parodical reversal: the human ideal by which Emilia's song is inspired presents a neat distance from Dantean eschatology and shifts the center of literary interest from religious to secular matters. Filomena's rule is bookended by two happy songs: Emilia's proclamation of her happy and satisfied pursuit of a "bene" which cannot be taken away from her (Day One), and Pampinea's joy in her reciprocated erotic love (Day Two). …

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