By Michaela Paasche Grudin
Boccaccio's Decameron and the Ciceronian Renaissance demonstrates that Boccaccio's confusing masterpiece takes on natural consistency while seen as an early glossy model of a pre-Christian, humanistic imaginative and prescient.
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In I. 3 he recounts an already-famous story—the so-called Parable of the Wise Jew—in which Melchisedech, compelled by Saladin to choose among the three great religions in terms of truth and falsehood, compares them to three rings, identical in every respect, left to three sons by their father and each representing the full power of the patrimony. This would suggest, by extension, that the three religious doctrines are equally true. Saladin is duly impressed and satisfied. But the reader, who finds this tale literally embedded in a hornet’s nest of anticlerical satire, may be excused for thinking otherwise.
Ricciardo’s lame hypocrisy resonates with other satiric passages in Day II: II. 1 with its satire on relics, II. 2 with its satire on prayer, II. 5 with its satire on clerics, II. 7 with its implicit satire on virginity, all suggesting, as incremental reminders, that the church and its teachings rank foremost among the causes of political and personal plague. Pampinea’s concluding song, addressed to Amor (whom she also calls her lord “signor”), expresses a lady’s joy at finding a young man of shining virtue: Tu mi ponesti innanzi agli occhi, Amore, il primo dí ch’io nel tuo foco entrai, un giovinetto tale, che di biltà, d’ardir né di valore non se ne troverebbe un maggior mai, né pure a lui equale: di lui m’accesi tanto, che aguale lieta ne canto teco, signor mio.
Saladin is duly impressed and satisfied. But the reader, who finds this tale literally embedded in a hornet’s nest of anticlerical satire, may be excused for thinking otherwise. It does not take an Ockham to reason that if the three religious narratives, each of which relies on specific details and implicitly refutes the others, are equally true, then they must be, as Pamela D. Stewart has argued,4 equally arbitrary and fallible. The three other anticlerical tales of Day I concern various types of fraud, which Boccaccio refers to directly as “la malvagia ipocresia de’ religiosi ” and, invoking the plague metaphor, the “pistilenziose avarizie de’ cherici ” (I.