Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Italian Tradition

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Chaucer's Italian Tradition

Article excerpt

Warten Ginsberg, Chaucer's Italian Tradition (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002). xiv + 297 pp. ISBN 0-472-112)4-1. $55.00.

Scholarly work over the last twenty years by the impressive likes of Picro Boitani, Howard Schless, R. A. Shoaf, Karla Taylor, and David Wallace, among others, has ensured the vitality of the continuing investigation into Chaucer's relationship with trecento Italy and its writers. Now Warren Ginsberg's Chaucer's Italian Tradition extends this investigation in new directions, taking its place as required reading for anyone interested in Chaucer and Italy, and as highly recommended reading for students of the tre corone themselves, particularly Dante and Boccaccio.

Ginsberg's overarching thesis, and the book's primary claim to originality, is that a discernible and unique Italian Tradition (the capitalization is Ginsberg's) issues from the mutual 'translation' of two other Italian traditions: Chaucer's readings of his Italian authors (mutually glossing one another), and the native Italian tradition of literary and social history which Chaucer could only partially access and understand. As a theoretical foundation for his study, Ginsberg draws on Walter Benjamin's ideas about translation as found in 'The task of the translator'. Thus, he is less interested in 'translation' in the conventional sense (there is very little examination of Chaucer's quoting or 'translating' from his Italian authors) than in the way Chaucer's Italian tradition is 'a translation of manners of meaning' (p. 271) between literary traditions. Ginsberg explores his thesis via an introductory chapter, six chapters on various topics related to Chaucer and his Italian predecessors, and a brief 'Envoy/Congedo' that reiterates the book's thesis and explains the general absence of the Decameron from the preceding discussion. As this all-too-concise summary suggests, this book is not without its idiosyncrasies, one of which is that, in Ginsbcrg's words, he has 'left Chaucer offstage for long stretches' (p. 271). These peculiarities, however, open the way for the most appreciated and engaging aspects of Ginsberg's study. His chapter on allegory, irony, and Dante's use of Ovid is excellent, and he uses this discussion to set up an illuminating enquiry into the poetics of Chaucer's Manciple's Prologue and Tale. …

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