Boccaccio’s Human Comedy: Reading the “Decameron” in Our Age of Pandemic
Joseph Luzzi (Bard College)
February 4, 2021
Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece The Decameron from 1353 has long been celebrated for its bawdy humor and open exploration of sexuality in stories that include a hardened criminal on his death bed tricking a gullible priest and an arrogant horse dealer who falls into a sewer after being duped by a prostitute pretending to be his sister. Less known are the profound undercurrents swirling beneath Boccaccio’s entertaining narratives, as he explores such key issues as how to rebuild a world devastated by pandemic, the role of women as readers in Europe’s new literary culture, and the creation of the “Renaissance” itself through the reanimation of long-lost pagan and classical traditions. In my talk, I will focus on how Boccaccio’s classic book can provide us a map for negotiating life in our age of COVID-19, as part of my discussion of why the Decameron is often seen as Italy’s version of the “Human Comedy,” especially in relation to the author and book that deeply influenced it, Dante and his Divine Comedy.
Joseph Luzzi (PhD Yale) is Professor of Comparative Literature and Faculty Member in Italian Studies at Bard College, and was recently a Wallace Fellow at Harvard’s Villa I Tatti, where he was writing a cultural history of Dante’s Divine Comedy that will appear with Princeton University Press. He is the author of Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy (Yale University Press, 2008), which received the MLA’s Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies; A Cinema of Poetry: Aesthetics of the Italian Art Film (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), a finalist for the international prize “The Bridge Book” Award; My Two Italies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; and In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love (HarperCollins, 2015), which has been translated into Italian, German, and Korean.