Spring Semester 2018

Italian 1020: Boccaccio's Decameron
Class meetings: TTH 2:30-3:50 (Sec. 01), Digital Scholarly Lab, room 137, Rockefeller Library.

Prof. Massimo Riva
Room 202, 190 Hope St. / Faculty Study B-15, Rockefeller Library
Tel. 863-3984/1561. OH: TTH 1-2, or by appointment.
e-mail: [email protected]

Description: Close reading and discussion of selected stories from Boccaccio's collection of 100 tales told by ten young Florentines over ten days as a game and pass time while in flight from the devastating plague of 1348. The Decameron defined the standard of Italian prose narrative for four centuries and deeply influenced Renaissance drama. It is also a goldmine for information about everyday life in the late Middle Ages. Students will use, and contribute to, the Decameron Web, the award-winning Boccaccio web site created and administered by the department of Italian Studies..

Organization. We will replay the Decameron game of storytelling, with a critical twist. Each week, students will be responsible for the presentation and discussion of an assigned novella chosen from those selected. A discussion group in Italian will be activated depending on enrollment.

Written assignments. Eight 1,000-word reviews posted on the Decameron Web blog (Brown bloggers only). This is designed as a WRIT course. Written assignments will receive the appropriate feedback and can be in either English or Italian.

Class participation: short (ten-minute) class presentations of a story selected from those assigned for the week.

Final project.  Final projects may focus on a textual or contextual topic across several stories, or the entire book, and can be in any media of choice. The best papers and projects will be published in the appropriate section of the Decameron Web.

Evaluation: Class participation (including oral presentations)= 30%; Written assignments = 30%; final project= 40%.

Estimate of in-class and out-of-class work: 180 hrs. in total. Please Note: All four-credit courses at Brown require 180 hours of in-class and out-of-class time. This seminar meets 24 times this semester for 1hr-20’ (including the presentation of final projects, on May 14), for approximately 32 in-class hours. Attendance and active participation in class discussions is a primary requirement for all.
Grade requirements and additional work estimate:

  1. close reading and study of all materials, approx. 7 hours weekly x 10 weeks, for a total of approx. 70 out-of-class hours;
  2. Written assignments and preparation of oral reports,  8 x approx. 4 hrs. = 32 out-of-class hours.
  3. Final project, approx. 46 out-of-class hours.


G. Boccaccio, The Decameron. Selected Tales. Eds. Don Beecher and Massimo Ciavolella, Broadview Press, 2017. Available for purchase in various formats (bound, PDF or ebook) at:

The Italian text of the Decameron and most critical materials are available on the Decameron Web


January 25 Introduction to the Course
● Overview of the Decameron Web. Decameron Web: The Project.

January 30 About the Author
Textbook: The Author's Preface. Accounts of Boccaccio’s Life: Giannozzo Manetti, “The Life of Giovanni Boccaccio” (1440); Ludovico Dolce, “A Description of the Life of Messer Giovanni Boccaccio” (1552).
Boccaccio's Life and Works.
● Boccaccio, Author and Scribe
● How to read this book: The Author's Preface; Dante, Ovid, Petrarca and Boccaccio. Nicknamed Gallehault. The Novella before Boccaccio.

February 1 The Author's Introduction (textbook)
●  The Plague and its representation.
● The Brigata and the Frame. Why did Boccaccio choose S. Maria Novella? Framing the Decameron. Rubrics. Numerology and the Grammar of the Frame. The Frame as a "visual device." For a semiology of the Decameron's Space (and Time).
Pleasure and Plague. Stories Assignment.

February 6 Day One [open topics]
● Under the rule of Pampinea: discussion of novelle 1 (told by Panfilo) 2 (told by Neifile), and 3 (told by Filomena).
Religion as a context and a theme. Sainthood as (blasphemous) performance.
Reader's Guide to articles in English, Day One. Selected articles available on Canvas: choose one about your novella (if there is no article included in this Reader's guide, try the general Bibliography, or research the library resources to find articles to add to the DWeb bibliography module. This assignment repeats each week).

February 8 Day One [free topic] cont.
● discussion of novelle 5 (told by Fiammetta) and 10 (told by Pampinea).
Wit and clever remarks. The Temes & Motifs module.
● Written assignment 1: post your review of a novella from Day One.

February 13 Day Two [about those who, after enduring many misfortunes, find happiness]
● Under the rule of Filomena: discussion of novelle 5 (told by Fiammetta) and 7 (told by Panfilo).
Jesters and popular culture in the Middle Ages..
● The Wheel of FortuneFortuna as topic. The Iconography of Fortuna.
Prostitution in the Middle Ages.
The World of the Decameron. Medieval Merchant Culture.

February 15 Day Three [about those who, through clever thinking, achieve their goals or recover things lost]
● Under the rule of Neifile: discussion of novelle 1 (told by Filostrato), 6 (told by Fiammetta), 8 (told by Lauretta), 9 (told by Neifile), 10 (told by Dioneo)
● The Garden of Desire. Love as a topic. Seduction by silence.
Nature as Morality
Sex in Medieval Authors. Sexual desire.
Disguise and Gender Roles. Deception and its implications.

February 20 No Class. Long weekend
February 22 No Class (make-up April 24). Written assignment 2: post your review of a novella from Day Two or Three.

February 27 Day Four [about lovers who come to misery]
● Under the rule of Filostrato: Introduction by the Author. Discussion of novelle 1 (told by Fiammetta), and 2 (told by Pampinea).
The Physiology of Gender.
● Love relics: Two hearts and a head. Anthropological Boccaccio. Intro. to Motif Index Codes.
The Decameron and the English Romantics.
● Written assignment 3: post your review of a novella from Day Four.

March 6 Day Five [about lovers who, after great trials and misfortunes, at last find happiness]
● Under the rule of Fiammetta: discussion of novelle 1 (told by Panfilo) and 4 (told by Filostrato).
Sex and Marriage.
Of Nightingales and other birds.
● The Art of Courtly Love (and its criticism).

March 8 The Decameron and the Visual Arts
Visualizing the Decameron. Nastagio and BotticelliCassoni paintings and material culture.
● Written assignment 4: post your review of a novella from Day Five.

March 13 Day Six [about those who, through a quick retort or witty quip, escape danger, loss, or shame]
● Under the rule of Elissa: Introduction; discussion of novelle 1 (told by Filomena), 4 (told by Neifile), 7 (told by Filostrato), and 9 (told by Elissa).
Witty remarks.
Performance and interpretation.

March 15 Day Seven [about the tricks women play on their husbands whether for love or self-protection and escape]
● Under the rule of Dioneo: discussion of novelle 2 (told by Filostrato), and 6 (told by Pampinea)
Boccaccio Feminist or Misogynist? The Corbaccio, a controversial work.
Adultery as a Power Game. Who rules the domestic space? The Language of Spatial Relationships.
Women in the Decameron.
● Written assignment 5: post your review of a novella from Day Six or Seven.

March 20 Day Eight [about tricks that women play on men, men play on women, or men play on other men]
● Under the rule of Lauretta: discussion of novelle 3 (told by Elissa), and 7 (told by Pampinea).
Magicians in the Middle Ages. Social Critique of Magic.
● Florentine lore: the Calandrino's cycle

March 22 Final projects brainstorming
Written assignment 6: post your review of a novella from Day Eight. Music in the Decameron.

March 27-29 No class. Spring Recess

April 3 Day Nine [open topics]
● Under the rule of Emilia: discussion of novelle 5 (told by Fiammetta), 6 (told by Panfilo), and 10 (told by Dioneo)
Three Spells. Animals.

April 5 Pasolini's Decameron
Discussion of Pasolini's cinematic adaptation of the Decameron
Pasolini's View of the D.
Written assignment 7: post your review of a novella from Day Nine.

April 10 Day Ten [about those who have acted with generosity or magnanimity in any capacity]
● Under the rule of Panfilo: discussion of novelle 3 (told by Filostrato), and 5 (told by Emilia)
● Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics, Book 4), Thomas of Aquinas (Commentary on Book 4) and Boccaccio: from Liberality to Magnificence; Cicero, De Officiis, (On Moral Duties).

April 12 Day Ten [about those who have acted with generosity or magnanimity in any capacity] cont.
● Discussion of novelle 8 (told by Filomena), and 10 (told by Dioneo).
● Griselda: A Moral Ending? A performance and interpretation by the students of an Italian high school, the Liceo Canopoleno of Sassari (winner of the Boccaccio AfterLife award).
● Written assignment 8: post your review of a novella from Day Ten.

April 17 More About Griselda
● Francesco Petrarch, Letter to Boccaccio on “The Tale of Patient Griselda” (1373); Anonymous, “A Most Pleasant Ballad of Patient Grissell” (c. 1600)
● Griselda: A Moral Ending? A  performance and interpretation by the students of an Italian high school, the Liceo Canopoleno of Sassari (winner of the Boccaccio AfterLife award).

April 19 The Author's Epilogue. Final discussion.Final project drafts due.

April 24 Review of final projects proposals.

April 26 Make-up class

April 27-May 8 Reading period

May 15. Final projects due. Presentation and discussion of final projects.