"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!
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