miércoles, 30 de diciembre de 2009

The Decameron #2/10

"The Sultan of Babylon sends his daughter off to marry the King of Algarve.  Owing to a series of mishaps, she passes through the hands of nine men in various places within the space of four years.  Finally, having been restored to her father as a virgin, she sets off, as before, to become the King of Algarve's wife."  (Introduction to the Second Day, Seventh Story of The Decameron, p. 125)

Although I'd planned on posting something about Manuel Puig's lurid Pop Art detective story The Buenos Aires Affair (Argentina, 1973) today, I decided a few words on The Decameron might be more in order given my obvious need for a palate cleanser after three months spent with Sigrid Undset and her wooden, faux-medieval prose.  Man, was Boccaccio a nice change of pace!  After finishing up the last few stories at the end of the Second Day's set of tales, I went back and reread one of my favorites in The Decameron so far, the story about the Saracen princess Alatiel whose "ill-starred beauty" causes her "to be newly married on nine separate occasions" before she's eventually united with her betrothed (126).  Suffice it to say that Boccaccio's concerns with purity and sexuality are far different from Undset's, as is quickly apparent when Alatiel loses her virginity: "She had no conception of the kind of horn men do their butting with, and when she felt what was happening, it was almost as though she regretted having turned a deaf ear to Pericone's flattery, and could not see why she had waited for an invitation before spending her nights so agreeably" (130).  The story that follows is one of the funniest in the book thus far, with suitor after suitor either killing or disabling their romantic predecessor in order to enjoy Alatiel's favors.  With Undset's obsession with sexuality-as-sin so fresh in my mind, it's impossible to ignore the differences in Boccaccio's authentically medieval approach.  He's not above a bawdy phallic joke or two if that gives you any idea of where he's coming from (Saint Stiffen-in-the-Hand and Saint Stiffen-in-the-Hollows make their appearances on pages 131 and 145), and he even ends his riotous story about Alatiel with a priceless double entendre of a proverb that manages to sum up the character's romantic escapades without moralizing: "A kissed mouth doesn't lose its freshness: like the moon it comes up fresh again" (147-148).  I can't expect to top that ending, so I will exit with a question instead: why in the hell would you want to read any fake historical fiction set in medieval times when you could just read real medieval fiction instead?  It boggles the mind!

Previous posts on The Decameron

8 comentarios:

  1. Wow, you're making this book sound awesome - hopefully because it really is! I want to read it. That quote you started off with made me laugh out loud. :)

  2. LOL! Have you gotten to the story where that guy pretends to be mute and mentally challenged so that he can sleep with all the sex-starved nuns? And then he finds that he can't keep up with them!

  3. I have read it as a child..
    Happy New Year!!

  4. Richard, Happy New Year! I am going to find a copy of this and read it.

  5. *Sarah: I'd read individual stories from The Decameron before, but I had no idea it would be so consistently laugh out loud funny. In fact, I could probably dedicate a post a chapter to all the quaint and/or messed-up euphemisms Boccaccio comes up!

    *E.L. Fay: I know! I hadn't gotten to the story you mention when you wrote to me, but I was happy to see that it was the next in line when I opened up the book yesterday. Classic!

    *Merike: I wish I had read it as a child--I wouldn't have waited so long to read it if I had only known how much entertainment I was missing. Happy New Year!

    *Gavin: This thing is a laugh riot, and the stories seem to be getting more and more scandalous. Hope you find a copy soon and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  6. I think the scandalous nature of medieval/biblical/"old-timey" literature is one of the most hilarious cons that older generations have played on younger generations. It reminds me of this incident of Bible-bowdlerization in the 19th century in which an uptight Victorian minister had the brilliant thought of moving all the sex & drunkenness bits to the back of the book, and then adding a preface that essentially said "We recommend that the pious student peruse the final pages, where the minutiae of obscure Jewish laws have been collected for reference." Imagine the shock for the one over-achieving Sunday school student who actually took the reverend up on his offer.

    You are continuing to move the full Decameron up on my list; I've only read snippets and they must have been disproportionately serious (like the Griselda story). I need to "bone up" on his farcical side!*

    *SO TERRIBLE. I apologize.

  7. Did I already mention that one? I found it the funniest and most memorable, but I think there's also another story that involves some guy's pants being pulled down. And the "Rankangel Bagel" one is great too.

  8. Emily, I think you're totally right about the con job perpetrated on younger generations. What makes it even funnier in regards to so-called secular literature is that many of the most salacious writers came from (or ended up with) clerical backgrounds. Loved your Victorian anecdote and the bad pun, by the way (hey, it was only a matter of time before somebody used it)!