A Sitting Target of Evil

May 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

Now reading: The Decameron.

The first day is really fun. The ten, sitting in a circle, take their turns telling a story. The stories build upon each other, suggested by the theme or characters or setting of the previous. At the conclusion of the first day Filomena, named queen of the second day, declares a theme for the stories of the next day so they can each prepare a tale, so the very pleasant looseness of this first day might not be repeated. (However, I love that Dioneo, who told the dirtiest story of the first day, receives an exception from the theme should he choose to use it, and also volunteers to tell the last story of each day.)

Many of the stories deal with corrupt clergy in one way or another — Boccaccio’s humanism showing — and the most memorable line of the first day is probably this, from Filostrato’s introduction to his story, the seventh: “It is not unduly difficult, for anyone so inclined, to discuss, criticize and admonish the clergy for their foul and corrupt way of life, which in many ways resembles a sitting target of evil.” Catholic clergy remain easy targets: I’m reminded of that scene with the priests and nun in the restaurant in The Departed, which is utterly crass and cliche. (But then, like so much in that movie, it’s also strangely perfect in its telegraphing of the antiquated themes of societal corruption.)

Boccaccio has no qualms whatsoever about hitting that target, it’s already clear, but it’s also clear that he’s got bigger fish to fry. After the stories are done, the day ends with a good old-fashioned bathtime orgy, then song and dance after dinner. Emilia sings a bizarre song: it begins, “In mine own beauty take I such delight/ That to no other love could I/ My fond affections plight.” It gets much more narcissistic from there, and Boccaccio does tell us that “this little song caused not a few to ponder its meaning,” but “they all joined cheerfully in the choruses.” The lyrics are quite beautiful, and mysterious, and really do create this incredible image of a beautiful woman singing them in firelight; and this combination of joy and happiness with darkness and uneasiness is quite a master note, at the end of the first day.

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