Speaking Truth to Powerful Friends and Foes: Genoese Merchants and the Mamluks in Decameron 2.9

By Attar, Karina F. | Annali d'Italianistica, Annual 2016 | Go to article overview

Speaking Truth to Powerful Friends and Foes: Genoese Merchants and the Mamluks in Decameron 2.9


Attar, Karina F., Annali d'Italianistica


Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (c. 1349-51) speaks many truths to many powers. In the introduction to Day 4 and in the author's conclusion, for instance, Boccaccio challenges the potential and actual charges brought by critics against his collection, calling attention--amongst other things--to the double standards by which his work had been evaluated and defiantly adding that readers are free to skip those novellas "che pungono" and read only "quelle che dilettano" ("Conclusione dell'autore" 19). (2) In the opening prologue, moreover, he offers his collection in aid of a group he views as particularly disenfranchised, namely women in love who might otherwise be "ristrette da' voleri, da' piaceri, da' comandamenti de' padri, delle madri, de' fratelli e de' mariti" to spend their days "nel piccolo circuito delle loro camere racchiuse" with nothing to do but lament their circumstances ("Proemio" 10). The subsequent declaration that men can instead resort to numerous distracting activities when emotionally burdened ("l'andare a torno, udire e veder molte cose, uccellare, cacciare, pescare, cavalcare, giucare o mercatare" 12) reinforces Boccaccio's ostensible critique of the gender inequalities at work in the patriarchal social order of his day. The conceit of a mixed-gender brigata that asserts its right to flee plague-ridden Florence and grants equal authority to both its male and female members further shows, as Teodolinda Barolini argues, that there "is power in the text's ability to imagine a different social order from that which it can ultimately predict or endorse" ("Sociology of the Brigata" 6). In fact, as many of the essays in Boccaccio's Decameron: Rewriting the Christian Middle Ages implicitly suggest, and as Dino S. Cervigni explicitly argues in his contributions to the volume, the entire Decameron could be read as a critique of the Christian world view prevailing in the Middle Ages.

Turning to the hundred novellas themselves, we find myriad instances of marginalized or downtrodden protagonists who make good of bad situations by taking powerful figures down a peg or two. Examples include tales wherein socio-economically subordinate (male) figures call their (male) superiors out (through words or deeds) on their moral shortcomings, sometimes even for the very same misdemeanors of which they stand accused (e.g., 1.4, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8, and 6.2). Female protagonists who put their honor, livelihood, and/or lives on the line by speaking truth to (almost invariably male and sometimes political) power and taking destiny into their own hands include the Marchioness of Montferrat (1.5), a lady from Gascony (1.9), the daughter of the King of England (2.3), Zinevra (2.9), Bartolomea (2.10), the wife of Messer Francesco Vergellesi (3.5), Ghismonda (4.1), Andreuola (4.6), the wife of Pietro di Vinciolo (5.10), Monna Nonna de' Pulci (6.3), Madonna Filippa (6.7), and the nun Isabetta (9.2). While all these women advocate for their personal rights thanks to their intelligence, quick wit, eloquence, and (at times) serendipitous circumstances, the heroine of 2.9, Zinevra, distinguishes herself by exploring the transcultural, interfaith, male-dominated world of Mediterranean travel, trade, and diplomacy disguised as a man. In addition, while all the other heroines listed above must contend with a single threat to their honor and/or life (be it from an institution or an individual), Zinevra successfully overcomes dangers from multiple sources of authority in both Christian and Muslim realms.

Critics have approached 2.9 from various related formal and gendered perspectives, including as a variant of wager narratives and as an example of the Decameron's discursive strategies concerning women's agency and the power of storytelling, while taking also into consideration Boccaccio's sexual poetics and intratextual self-referentiality. (3) In this essay, I propose a historicized reading of Zinevra's novella by considering the context of Genoese-Mamluk relations and in particular the singular travels of a Genoese merchant, Segurano Salvaygo, who was active in the Mamluk sultanate in the early 1300s. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Speaking Truth to Powerful Friends and Foes: Genoese Merchants and the Mamluks in Decameron 2.9
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.