On 28 January Dr. Jobst Welge of Freie Universität zu Berlin presented a guest lecture on Boccaccio’s Decameron. Written in 1348, the Decameron tells of the brigata, a band of three young men and seven young women who flee from plague-ridden Florence to a pastoral idyll, where they feast and tell stories – ten stories a day for ten days out of fourteen.
Dr. Welge’s introductory lecture placed the Decameron within the literary tradition of the novella. Boccaccio’s technique of framing multiple novellas was shown to be an important influence in establishing a literature drawn from oral story-telling, a tradition that would include Chaucer, De Navarre and Cervantes.
Dr. Welge situated the Decameron in the social and political climate of Florence in the early fourteenth century – raging plague, political unrest, the development of Florence’s mercantile culture, and the influence of oral literary tradition from the east. Set against Dante’s Divina Commedia the Decameron seems to evidence a move away from Dante’s ‘high’ style and claims to religious purpose, towards stories depicting secular life in a ‘humble’ style.
The structure and thematic development of the Decameron was taken as a measure against which to assess the manoeuvres of the text as well as Boccaccio’s own claims for his work, such as the explicit invitation to readers to make their own moral judgment. Taking the first and last novellas, Dr. Welge revealed the apparent progression from the critique of courtly and religious practices in the first story to the affirmation of cardinal virtues in the last story, a progression nonetheless fraught with ambiguities.
Dr. Welge’s introduction of the concept of the locus amoenus, the idealized literary space in which the brigata tell stories, prompted discussion of the role of literature in Florentine culture and in society in general. Is the brigata’s flight from the plague to feast and tell stories mere literary escapism or does it express some role for literature as a means by which society can recollect itself in a time of crisis?
Dr. Jobst Welge is Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiterat at the Peter Szondi-Institut für Allgemeine und Vergleichende Literaturwissenschaft. His current research interests focus on Renaissance and Early Modern literature. Dr. Welge is the co-author of the forthcoming Kultureller Kannibalismus with João Cezar Castro Rochaco. He co-translated The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concept and recently wrote an introduction and commentary to Curzio Malaparte’s Zwischen Erdbeben. Streifzüge eines Europäischen Exzentrikers.
by Martin Lipman (‘08, Netherlands)