Wednesday’s flowers

trillium in Oregon by Elmer Galbi, mushroom photographer

Boccaccio’s inspiring ladies and Muses on Parnassus

Boccaccio’s Il Corbaccio is a masterpiece of rhetorical sophistication at the service of comic realism.  It shouldn’t be dismissed as merely an embarrassment, a literary joke, or Boccaccio’s last vernacular fiction.  The Corbaccio insists that poetic entertainment, instruction, and salvation work through realistic personal experience.  The Corbaccio defines the program of the Decameron and should be appreciated along with the Decameron.[1]

Boccaccio provides a key to understanding the Corbaccio and the Decameron in the relation of realistic ladies to the Muses on Mount Parnassus.  In the Corbaccio, the narrator’s dream-guide advises solitary study to increase fame with deeds:

Rather than visiting the multitudes gathered in churches and other public places, it is fitting for you, and I know you are aware of it, to frequent solitary places, and there, by studying, working, and versifying, to exercise your intellect and to make an effort to better yourself, and, as best you can, to increase your fame more with deeds than words [2]

That advice is contradictorily polarized.  Contradictory polarization rhetorically structures the dream-guide’s subsequent description of Castalian nymphs (nine Muses associated with Mount Parnassus).  The dream-guide first describes the Muses abstractly and vaguely:

While you are in the woods and remote places, the Castalian nymphs, with whom these wicked women {flesh-and-blood women} would compare themselves, will never abandon you.  Their beauty, as I have heard, is celestial.  Such beautiful ladies as these will neither shun you nor mock you; rather, they will enjoy lingering and journeying in your company.

The Muses’ celestial beauty, which the dream-guide hints that he has never seen, is distant from earthly experience.  The Muses’ character is defined first as a negative of realistic behavior:

they will not put you to discussing or disputing how many cinders are needed to boil a skein of coarse flax, or whether linen from Viterbo is finer than that of Romagna, or whether the baker’s wife has the oven too hot, or to see whether there are brooms to be had to sweep the house.  They will not tell you what madam so-and-so, and madam such-and-such did the night before, or how many paternosters they said at the sermon, or whether it is better to change the ornaments on some dress or other than to leave them as they are.  They will not ask money for cosmetics, powder boxes, and ointments.

The surface level of this text is factual detail.  Within its realistic style, the text plausibly contains bawdy figures (“the baker’s wife has the oven too hot”) and common references from the literature of men’s sexed protests (“ask money for cosmetics, powder boxes, and ointments”).[3]  Yet the importance of the surface realism is highlighted in contrast to the immediately subsequent positive description of the Muses’ behavior:

With angelic voice, they will narrate to you the things which have been from the beginning of the world down to this day; and sitting with you upon the grass and flowers in the delightful shadows beside that spring whose last ripples will never be seen, they will show you the causes of the variations of the weather, the toils of the sun and the moon, what hidden power nourishes the plants and also tames brute animals, and from what place rain down the souls onto men.  They will show you that Divine Goodness is eternal and infinite, by what steps one rises to it, and down what precipices one plunges to the opposite place.  After they have sung with you the verses of Homer, Virgil, and other worthy ancients, they will sing your own, if you wish. [4]

The Muses represent epic poetry, cosmic understanding, and high aspiration.  The dream-guide complains that the narrator turns instead to flesh-and-blood women:

Ah, how just would it be for these most distinguished ladies to banish you as unworthy from their most beautiful chorus!  How often do your desires turn to women!  How often, on leaving them, fetid, corrupted, and unashamed of your bestiality do you go again to mingle with those who are most pure!  Certainly, if you do not stop this, it seems to me that it will happen to you {be banished from the Muses’ chorus}, and deservedly so.  …  And how shameful it would be for you, were this to occur, you can be quite sure.

From declaring that the Muses would never abandon the narrator, the dream-guide attempts to shame the narrator with the threat the Muses will banish him.  The dream-guide then immediately turns to a realistic description of his former wife.  The dream-guide is continually self-subverting.  The effect is to undermine epic yearning and cosmic abstraction.  The Corbaccio presents the comic reality of heterosexual love as a new Vita Nuova.

Boccaccio constructs the Decameron’s author as a man keen to serve women in realistic style.  The knight who fought in the lady’s chainse, Suero de Quinones, Ulrich von Liechtenstein, Captain De Falco, and the male authors of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gaps 2011 report exemplify men’s servitude to women in high style.  The Decameron, in contrast, is filled with earthy stories of sexual intrigues and escapades.  In the Decameron’s introduction to its fourth day, Boccaccio acknowledges criticism from “wise men”:

many, concerned about my reputation, say that I would be wiser to remain with the Muses on Parnassus than to get myself involved with you {flesh-and-blood ladies} and these trifles {realistic stories of sexual intrigues and escapades}.[4]

Boccaccio responds:

I agree that remaining with the Muses on Parnassus is sound advice, but we cannot always dwell with the Muses any more than they can always dwell with us.

The Muses are represented as ladies.  Medieval literature recognized that one man could not satisfy nine ladies, or three, or even just one.  The mutual problem of exclusivity is a matter of realism:

If it sometimes happens that a man leaves them {the Muses}, he should not be blamed if he delights in seeing something resembling them: the Muses are ladies, and although ladies are not as worthy as Muses, they do, nevertheless, look like them at first glance; and so for this reason, if for no other, they should please me.

Boccaccio, like the dream-guide in the Corbaccio, surely hasn’t actually seen the Muses.  Their lady-like appearance is representational realism like the help that Boccaccio claims to have received from earthly ladies:

ladies have already been the reason for my composing thousands of verses, while the Muses were in no way the cause of my writing them.  They have, of course, assisted me and shown me how to compose these thousands of verses, and it is quite possible that they have been with me on several occasions while I was writing these stories of mine, no matter how insignificant they may be — they came to me, it could be said, out of respect for the affinity between these ladies and themselves.

Realism traces natural cause to ordinary effect.  Boccaccio’s represents flesh-and-blood ladies as the realistic cause of his writing.  The Muses inspire him out of respect for their similitude with flesh-and-blood ladies.  This representational play is key to Boccaccio’s self-understanding of his position as an author:

Therefore, in composing such stories as these, I am not as far away from Mount Parnassus or the Muses as some people may think.

Nor are Boccaccio’s intentions as far away from Dante’s as some critics have thought:

my pen should be granted no less freedom than the brush of a painter who, without incurring censure or, at least, any which is justified, … shows Christ as a man and Eve as a woman, and nails to the cross, sometimes with one nail, sometimes with two, the feet of Him who wished to die there for the salvation of mankind.[5]

Boccaccio intended neither the Decameron nor the Corbaccio to be merely low entertainment.  Both the Decameron and the Corbaccio assert the importance of realism.  Boccaccio’s comic realism, like the sacraments that the Church offers, provides instruction and salvation through the materials of ordinary life.[6]

quilt made from a mixture of natural materials

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[1] Hollander (1988) p. 1 declares:

Boccaccio’s final work in vernacular fiction has been for the most part an embarrassment, even to its admirers.  It is almost universally understood as running counter to the spirit of the preceding masterwork, the Decameron.

Hollander attempted to redeem the Corbaccio as a “literary joke.”  Id. p. 2.  More insightfully, he observed that Boccaccio describes himself as nearly forty years old one-third of the way through composing the Decameron, and about forty-two when writing the Corbaccio.  Hollander declared:

Decameron and Corbaccio are meant to be read as closely contiguous literary experiences, whether they were so or not.  These two texts tell us more about one another than we may learn from most other sources about the essential strategies of either.

Id. p. 33.

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) p. 36.  The four subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 36-7.  In the author’s conclusion to the Decameron, Boccaccio chides prudish ladies: “ladies of the type who weigh words more than deeds and who strive more to seem good than to be so.”  Decameron, from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) pp. 803.  Boccaccio’s figure of the prudish ladies aptly describes critics who declare the Corbaccio to be misogynistic.

[3] Libro de buen amor includes a “cruz cruzada, panadera” lyric that is a high point of medieval sexual innuendo.

[4] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, 4th day, intro., from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) pp. 287.  Ladies probably weren’t actually the readers that Boccaccio intended for the Decameron.  Kirkham (1993) pp. 118-9.  The meta-narrative of the Decameron is another level in Boccaccio’s literary strategy.  The subsequent four quotes are from id. p. 291.

[5] Decameron, Author’s Conclusion, id. p. 803.  Id. p. 804 declares:

And just as fitting words are of no use to a corrupt mind, so a healthy mind cannot be contaminated by words which are not so proper, any more than mud can dirty the rays of the sun or earthly filth can mar the beauties of the skies.

The comic realism of the Decameron is consistent with a moral and salvific vision for humanity.  Salvation within the Decameron’s realism means escaping death from the plague.  It also means recognizing human viciousness and cruelty and the possibility of escaping from that plague through understanding love.

[6] Boccaccio studied thoroughly Dante’s Commedia and frequently cited Dante in the Decameron, the Corbaccio, and other of his works.  The 100 stories of the Decameron can be understood as a stylistically different approach to the journey of the Commedia’s 100 cantos.  In an influential work examining the Commedia, the Decameron, and the representation of reality, Auerbach declared:

{Boccaccio} writes for the entertainment of the unlearned. … his ethics of love is … concerned exclusively with the sensual and the real … {the Decameron} rarely abandons the stylistic level of light entertainment.

Auerbach (1953) pp. 224, 226, 227.   Hollander (1997), p. 90, insightfully proclaimed, “the Decameron is one of the worst read masterpieces that the world possesses.”  The fundamental problem is lack of proper appreciation for the Corbaccio.  Boccaccio scholars should abandon their neoliberal commitment to symbolic property rights and turn to the government, or off-duty government workers, for help.


Auerbach, Erich. 1953. Mimesis: the representation of reality in Western literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Hollander, Robert. 1988. Boccaccio’s last fiction, Il Corbaccio. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hollander, Robert. 1997. Boccaccio’s Dante and the shaping force of satire. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Kirkham, Victoria. 1993. The sign of reason in Boccaccio’s fiction. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.

Musa, Mark and Peter E. Bondanella, trans. 2002. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: Signet Classic.

Tagged: ,

the whole shipwrecked man

vortex sucks down shipwrecked men

Some fishermen hauled up a half-eaten
Man, caught in a net full of flounder –
Wept-for remains of a lost voyage.

Rather than profit from ruin,
They buried the man and the fish in shallow

Land, here you have the whole shipwrecked man
Though, in place of the rest of his flesh,
You have those that ate it.

This epigram, attributed to Hegesippus, was written in Greek probably in the mid-third century BGC.  The last line could be funny.  The context, however, is mournful.  The fishermen have an ethical sense beyond profit as much as you can.  By burying the man and the fish in shallow sand, they enable both to be, with time, washed out into the sea.  The whole shipwrecked man, “wept-for remains of a lost voyage,” will move again from the land to the sea.  The half-eaten man and the fish caught in the net are the whole shipwrecked man, the continually transforming body in an unanchored world.

Latter-day Greeks, are we not dead
And only seem to be alive,
Having fallen on hard times,
Mistaking a dream for existence?
Or are we alive,
While our way of life has perished?

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first epigram — from Greek trans. Wolfe (2013) p. 91.  On the dating of the epigrammist Hegesippus, about whom little is known, id. p. 175.  Id. describes this and the subsequent epigram as epitaphs.  They probably weren’t actually inscribed on tombs.  Epitaphs typically weren’t highly poetic.  In the above epigram translation, I’ve replaced “earth” with “land” for better poetic sense.  The epigram is GA 7.276.  The prose translation there uses “land” rather than “earth.”  The word “man” above shouldn’t be only understood as indicating a human being.  Men in ancient Greece faced a much higher risk of death on the sea because men predominated among long-distance commercial travelers and warriors.  Men today continue to face a much higher risk of accidental death than do women.

second epigram — from Greek trans. Wolfe (2013) p. 151.  The epigram also appears in GA 10.82.  It is attributed to Palladas of Alexandria, who lived in the fourth-century GC.  On the dating of Palladas work, Wilkinson (2009).  Palladas continued to follow traditional Greek religion after Constantine converted to Christianity.  Alexandria was a leading center of early Christianity.  Palladas lamented the new dominance of Christians.


GA: Paton, W.R. 1920. The Greek Anthology with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann (vol. I, bks. 1-6; vol. II, bks. 7-8; vol. III, bk. 9; vol IV, bks. 10-12; vol. V, bks. 13-16). (epigrams indicated GA {bk}.{epigram # within bk})

Wilkinson, Kevin W. 2009. “Palladas and the Age of Constantine.” The Journal of Roman Studies. 36: 36-60.

Wolfe, Michael. 2013. Cut these words into my stone: ancient Greek epitaphs. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.


scholars declare demonic male species and gynocentrism

gibbons ponder scholarship declaring our demonic male species

A prize-winning anthropologist at a leading U.S. university has explored how to tame what he describes as “our demonic male species.”  In an important book, he and his co-author considered how to bring about a revolution in human social organization such as that imagined in Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s 1915 novel, Herland.   The setting for that novel is an isolated society in which, long ago, all the males had been fortuitously killed.  The women subsequently engender only females through asexual reproduction.  The anthropology professor and his co-author recognized the implausibility of perfectly implementing this move toward an ideal society:

Like Gauguin and Melville and Mead, Charlotte Perkins Gilman eliminated male violence from her portrait of an ideal society simply by eliminating males; and we cannot perfectly paste this story’s lesson onto an ordinary two-sex society.[1]

They recognized, however, that prisons could make an important contribution to this program:

Persuading the more violent men to abandon hopes of fatherhood would doubtless keep prison builders happy and, in the end, probably engender revolution.   But even if the most aggressive, potentially violent men could be persuaded to step aside for the sake of future generations, what about the women? [2]

Men are currently incarcerated for having consensual sex and not being able to make court-ordered monthly payments for the next eighteen years.  Should efforts to incarcerate men be expanded further?  Of course, the more important question is: what about the women?

Long-before tiresome recent books such as Are Men Necessary? and The End of Men and the Rise Women, a leading biological anthropologist wrote a scholarly book with a chapter entitled, “The Pros and Cons of Males.”   She briefly discussed Herland, which she described as a “marvelous 1915 utopian novel.”  She also described Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto as providing a “refuge from and defense against” the belief that women are “devoid of political instincts.”[3]  The SCUM Manifesto has obvious importance to elite anthropology.  The SCUM Manifesto declares:

the male is an incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage. To be male is to be deficient, emotionally limited; maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples. [4]

The SCUM Manifesto describes “rational men”:

Rational men want to be squashed, stepped on, crushed and crunched, treated as the curs, the filth that they are, have their repulsiveness confirmed.

This work of elite anthropological scholarship lamented, “This doctrine of female inferiority has disfigured several ostensibly impartial realms, particularly the study of human evolution.”[5]  That’s the same scholarly logic that drives sexist studies of sexism.

Scholars have now recognized that females play a central role in determining primate social organization.  Some scholars once believed that the Industrial Revolution led to patriarchy.  Under patriarchy theory, men deprived women of economic resources and confined them within the (single-family, suburban, dull, and dehumanizing) home.  Other scholars, however, have traced the origins of patriarchy back to the beginning of agriculture.  That’s when men’s plows first started penetrating the earth, and men began placing seeds into the fertile ground.  In the evocative description of a highly regarded anthropologist, it was “The Plow: Death Knell for Women.”[6]  However, scholarly competition and innovation has pushed patriarchy further back into evolutionary history:

Human patriarchy has its beginnings in the forest ape social world, a system based on males’ social dominance and coercion of females.  We can speculate that it was elaborated subsequently, perhaps in the woodland ape era, perhaps much later, by the development of sexual attachments with the same essential dynamic as gorilla bonds.…  Men, following the evolutionary logic that benefits those who make the laws, would create legal systems that so often defined adultery as a crime for women, not for men – a social world that makes men freer than women.[7]

Key to this intellectual development was directing attention to female-bonded primate groups:

If FB {female-bonded} groups have evolved as modeled, they support the view that male strategies are ultimately a result of female distribution, i.e. males compete for access to given clumps of females in a system of “female defense polygyny” {references omitted}.  Consequently the number of females per group and the number of males per female are considered to depend ultimately on the strategies of females [8]

Gynocentrism rapidly achieved dominance in scholarly deliberation in anthropology and primatology.  As a scholar of primate social organization noted in a scholarly article published in 2002:

For much of the last twenty years, females have occupied center stage in theoretical and empirical analyses of primate social organization. [9]

Women have dominated social life (gynocentrism) for as long as humanity has existed.  For humans and other primates, males’ strategies depend on female behavior.  Sociality evolved in primates because it enhanced females’ access to resources.[10]  Consistent with general patterns of primate life, elite men and women today compete to establish social rules that most effectively transfer resources from men to women.

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[1] Wrangham & Peterson (1996) p. 238.  Richard Wrangham is the Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology and Wing Chair at Harvard University.  He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1987.   Wrangham and Peterson describe Timothy McVeigh as an “all-American male” and Arnold Schwarzenegger as offering a “comic book caricature of the demonic male physique and persona.”  They lament, “As men, we have probably inadvertently neglected issues that women writers would have raised.”  Id. pp. 247, 240, 242.  Compared to eliminating all men, gynocentrism has the advantage of exploiting men’s material productivity and using men to fight other men.

[2] Id. p. 239.

[3] Hrdy (1981) p. 11.  In 2001, Hrdy won the W.W. Howell Prize for outstanding contribution to biological anthropology.

[4] Solanas (1968) p. 1.  The subsequent quote is from id. p. 16.  Shortly after writing the SCUM Manifesto, Solanas shot and critically wounded one man, shot but missed another man, and attempted to shoot a third man.  For these acts, she served about three years in prison.  While the SCUM Manifesto has an honored place in elite scholarship, masterpieces of literature like Boccaccio’s Corbaccio are condemned to oblivion.

[5] Hrdy (1981) p. 11.  Discussion of claims of female inferiority function as an aspect of gynocentrism.

[6] Fisher (1999) p. 173.

[7] Wrangham & Peterson (1996) pp. 241-2.   Other ambitious scholars have successfully traced males’ exploitation of females back to anisogamy.  The small sperm contributes less weight to the embryo than does the large egg.  This alleged exploitation started about 1.2 billion years ago when the first sexually reproducing organisms evolved.  Knowledge, capability, and interest in denouncing such sexual exploitation developed about 50 years ago.  Patriarchy has long imposed grotesquely unjust paternity laws on men and treated men as disposable persons.

[8] Wrangham (1980) pp. 287-8.

[9] Silk (2002) p. 85, describing the influential model of Wrangham (1980).

[10] Id.

[image] pair of Gibbons.  Thanks to MatthiasKabel and Wikipedia.


Fisher, Helen E. 1999. The first sex: the natural talents of women and how they are changing the world. New York: Random House.

Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer. 1981. The woman that never evolved. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

Silk, Joan B. 2002. “Females, Food, Family, and Friendship.” Evolutionary Anthropology 11: 85-87.

Solanas, Valerie. 1968. SCUM manifesto: Society for Cutting Up Men. New York: Olympia Press.

Wrangham, Richard W. 1980. “An ecological model of the evolution of female-bonded groups of primates.” Behaviour 75: 262-300.

Wrangham, Richard W. and Dale Peterson. 1996. Demonic males: apes and the origins of human violence. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.


Wednesday’s flowers

variegated orchids

classical Arabic buttocks in medieval European context

In classical Arabic literature, a figure of feminine beauty was a narrow waist and large buttocks.  An Arabic song from the seventh century lovingly effused:

Her buttocks quiver when she walks; her back
is like a willow branch, her waist is slim. [1]

An Arabic ode from the early eighth century marveled:

Her rump is like a dune that towers, where
the sprinkling rains have shaped firm hillocks. [2]

The larger the buttocks, the bigger the blessing to an admiring man in the ancient Islamic world.  But only within reason.  In a Syrian author’s eleventh-century Arabic story, a shaykh found himself in Paradise:

The shaykh takes a quince, or a pomegranate, or an apple, or whatever fruit God wills, and breaks it open.  A girl with black, lustrous eyes whose beauty dazzles the other damsels of the Paradisical gardens, emerges. [3]

The shaykh is overjoyed and prostrates himself to God for this blessing.  While praising God he retained his good sense in classical Arabic literature:

It occurs to him, while he is still prostrate, that the girl, though beautiful, is rather skinny.  He raises his head and instantly she has a behind that rivals the hills of ʻĀlij, the dunes of al-Dahnāʼ, and the sands of Yabrīn and Banū Saʻd.  Awed by the omnipotence of the Kind and Knowing God, he says, “Thou who givest rays to the shining sun, Thou who fulfillest the desires of everyone, Thou whose awe-inspiring deeds make us feel impotent, and summon to wisdom the ignorant: I ask Thee to reduce the bum of this damsel to one square mile, for Thou hast surpassed my expectations with Thy measure!” [4]

The shaykh’s prayer revised the initial impulse of desire that God apparently perceived in his heart and granted to his eyes.  God responded mercifully to the shaykh’s praise of divine bounty and to his feeling of impotence upon seeing the enormous size of the girl’s buttocks:

An answer is heard: “You may choose: the shape of the girl will be as you wish.”
And the desired reduction is effected.

Men and women across cultures and history typically find most attractive women with waist-to-hip ratios about 0.7.[5]  But, irrespective of evolutionary psychology, classical Arabic literature and God could construct enormous buttocks.

Bustle dress from mid-1880s exaggerates buttocks

The classical Arabic ideal of large buttocks apparently moved European culture.  The ancient Greek ideal of buttocks, at least as represented by the Aphrodite Kallipygos, isn’t impressive in size.  However, an important early fifteenth-century Spanish work in the literature of men’s sexed protests registers a meaningful objection to what would now be termed sexual harassment:

She looks at her hands all covered with rings, and chews her lips to make them red, casting her eyes about, looking sideways, wriggling her bottom like mad … And if she is at home clad only in a wrapper, she will lean over and pick up something from the floor, to show her shanks proudly and a great expanse of buttocks, this to attract the attention of whoever is looking at her, or of the one she would be desired by. [6]

An Italian work of men’s sexed protests from the fourteenth century explicitly connects a woman’s large buttocks to the Arabic world:

she wanted her cheeks nicely puffed and red, her buttocks ample and protruding (having heard perhaps that these things were most highly prized in Alexandria and for that reason were a very great part of the beauty of a lady), above all else she strove to make these two features abundantly conspicuous in herself.  … And fully did she succeed in becoming plump-cheeked and big-bottomed. [7]

The man’s protest focused on the expensive food that his wife ate in order to swell her buttocks:

About the milk-fed veal, the partridges, the fat thrushes, the turtledoves, the Lombard soups, the lasagne cooked in broth, the elderberry fritters, the white chestnut cakes, and the blancmanges of which she had the same bellyfulls as peasants do of figs, cherries, or melons when they are placed before them, I do not care to tell you.

This rhetorically sophisticated protest would gain additional weight if the narrator and most medieval European men did not favor big-bottomed women.  Given the prestige of Arabic science and literature in medieval Europe, large buttocks may have been recognized as an ideal of womanly beauty irrespective of most medieval European men’s actual preferences.

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[1] Attributed to Qays ibn Dharīh in Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, al-Aghānī, from Arabic trans. van Gelder (2013) p. 142.

[2] Dhū l-Rummah, qasīdah “To Mayyah’s Two Abodes, a Greeting,” from Arabic trans van Gelder (2013) p. 23.

[3] Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, Risālat al-ghufrān, from Arabic trans. van Gelder (2013) p. 269.  I’ve added a comma after gardens.

[4] Id. (including subsequent quote).  In classical Arabic love poetry, large buttocks were admired in both women and boys: “the standard poetic simile is that of a sand hill or dune.” Id. p. 405, n. 801.

[5] Kościński (2013), Singh (2002).  With respect to body-mass index, relatively wealthy, urban men and women find most attractive skinny women.  Kościński (2013).

[6] Alonso Martínez de Toledo, Archpriest of Talavera, II.8, from Spanish trans. Simpson (1959) p. 140.

[7] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 40-1 (including subsequent quote).  Id. p. 123, n. 188, observes that Alexandria was the site of a “notorious Egyptian slave market.”  Desired buttocks in medieval European literature seem otherwise to be smaller than the ideal buttocks of classical Arabic literature.  In twelfth-century French literature, feminine beauty was “small waist; moderately full hips.”  In English literature from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, feminine beauty was typically “small waist; … not too broad or round hips.”  The fourteenth-century Spanish work Libro de buen amor, which was a culturally hybrid Arabic-European work, described as desirable “widish” hips.  The Arabic folk tale La historia de la doncella Teodor, translated into twelfth-century Castilian, described as beautiful “wide” hips.  Da Soller (2005) pp. 44-6, 73-4, 88-9, 99.  Boccaccio spent part of his youth in Angevin Naples and probably was familiar with at least some Arabic literature.  Kirkham & Menocal (1987).

[image] Dress from the 1880s with bustle exaggerating the buttocks.  Thanks to Wikipedia.


Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Da Soller, Claudio. 2005. The beautiful woman in medieval Iberia: rhetoric, cosmetics, and evolution. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Missouri-Columbia.

Gelder, Geert Jan van. 2013. Classical Arabic literature: a library of Arabic literature anthology. New York: New York University Press.

Kirkham, Victoria, and Maria Rosa Menocal. 1987.  “Reflections on the ‘Arabic’ world: Boccaccio’s ninth stories.” Stanford Italian Review VII, pp. 95-110.

Kościński, Krzysztof. 2013. “Attractiveness of women’s body: body mass index, waist-hip ratio, and their relative importance.” Behavioral Ecology. 24 (4): 914-925.

Simpson, Lesley Byrd Simpson. 1959. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo.  Little sermons on sin: the Archpriest of Talavera. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Singh, Devendra. 2002. “Female mate value at a glance: relationship of waist-to-hip ratio to health, fecundity and attractiveness.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 23: 81-91.


New Modern Sexism Scale helps to evaluate sexism truly

An influential 1995 scholarly article debuted the Modern Sexism Scale.  That article began ominously in the first sentence of its abstract:

Prejudice and discrimination against women has become increasingly subtle and covert (N. V. Benokraitis & J. R. Feagin, 1986). [1]

Prejudice and discrimination against men, in contrast, is blatant and overt.  Discrimination against men is written explicitly in sexist Selective Service registration rulesInternational measures of gender gaps in lifespan naturalize and explicitly ignore men’s lifespan disadvantages.  Men have no reproductive rights.  Men are imprisoned for nothing more than having consensual sex and being unable to pay government-imposed sex payments (“child support”).  Men face enormous gender disparities and discrimination in child custody awards.

Sexism against men is coded into social-scientific studies of sexism that use only the Modern Sexism Scale.  The Modern Sexism Scale measures three factors of sexism:

  1. denial of continuing discrimination {against women}
  2. antagonism toward women’s demands
  3. resentment about special favors for women [2]

The Modern Sexism Scale is obviously sexist.  It’s completely gynocentric.[3]

To combat sexism, the gynocentric Modern Sexism Scale should be complemented with the New Modern Sexism Scale.  The New Modern Sexism Scale measures sexism along three additional factors:

  1. denial of discrimination against men
  2. antagonism toward men’s demands
  3. resentment about concern for men

The Modern Sexism Scale together with the New Modern Sexism Scale measure sexism without the sexism of the Modern Sexism Scale.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’ve identified yourself as maximally sexist and no further scientific measurement is needed.

bull horns: key to understanding sexism research

Sexism is further measured by presenting subjects with statements.  Subjects respond to the statements using with five choices of agreement ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.  If the statement is essentially sexist, as determined by the credentialed authority administering the examination, then intensity of agreement is coded increasing from 1 to 5.  If the statement is essentially correct-thinking non-sexism, then intensity of disagreement is coded increasing from 1 to 5.  Statements of direct and reverse coding for sexism help to encourage thoughtful responses.  The integer codes for responses are added up to label just how sexist the respondent is.

In the Modern Sexism Scale, eight gynocentric statements measure sexism:

  1. Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  2. Women often miss out on good jobs due to sexual discrimination. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  3. It is rare to see women treated in a sexist manner on television. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  4. On average, people in our society treat husbands and wives equally. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  5. Society has reached the point where women and men have equal opportunities for achievement. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  6. It is easy to understand the anger of women’s groups in America. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  7. It is easy to understand why women’s groups are still concerned about societal limitations of women’s opportunities.  {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  8. Over the past few years, the government and the news media have been showing more concern about the treatment of women than is warranted by women’s actual experiences. {more strongly agree is more sexist} [4]

The New Modern Sexism Scale uses eight androcentric statements to measure sexism:

  1. Discrimination against men has never been a problem in the United States, and if it were a problem women’s groups would be very concerned about that discrimination. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  2. Men often miss out on time with their children due to gender roles directing men to earn money and sexual discrimination in child custody awards. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  3. It is rare to see men treated in a sexist manner on television. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  4. On average, people in our society treat wives and husbands equally. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  5. Society has reached the point where men and women have equal opportunities for personal fulfillment. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  6. It is easy to understand the anger of men’s groups in America, particularly since their existence is rarely acknowledged, and when acknowledged, commonly misrepresented and ridiculed. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  7. It is easy to understand why men’s groups are concerned about societal limitations of men’s opportunities.  {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  8. Over the past few years, the government and the news media have been showing more concern about the treatment of men than is warranted by men’s actual experiences. {more strongly agree is more sexist}

The subject’s scored responses for the eight statements in the Modern Sexism Scale and the eight statements in the New Modern Sexism Scale are separately summed to form dual sexist scores.  These scores are linearly normalized to the 1 to 10 scale widely used for personal evaluation.

Scientifically measured sexism is critical for objectively and authoritatively declaring persons to be sexist.  Extreme values on the Modern Sexism Scale (MSS) and the New Modern Sexism Scale (NMSS) have clear implications:

  • MSS=1 and NMSS=10:  Likely to become a tenured professor.  Incapable of learning.  Will remained mired in sexism against men for the rest of her or his life.
  • MSS=1 and NMSS=1: Shrewd survey respondent.  Recognizes and affirms prejudices implicit in social constructs.  Will successfully rise to the top of egalitarian social elite.
  • MSS=10 and NMSS=1: Outlaw renegade.  Must be suppressed and silenced for the good of the dominant discourse.
  • MSS=10 and NMSS=10: Equally sexist person.  Does not discriminate between women and men.  Urgently needs sexist education to become less sexist.

Intermediate values of MSS-NMSS represent mixed beliefs and attitudes.  When in doubt, declare the person to be sexist and in need of sexist education.  Calling for more research on sexism is also favored among sexism researchers. [5]

The study that set out the Modern Sexism Scale linked sexism and racism.  Racism in the U.S. arose from a history of chattel slavery and pervasive racial segregation.  There is no such history of sexism.  Across all the generation of human beings, men and women have lived together, intimately related, and worked together to raise children.  Being oblivious to that reality, like administering only the Modern Sexism Scale, indicates extreme sexism.

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[1] Swim, Aikin, Hall & Hunter (1995) p. 199 (abstract).  The Modern Sexism Scale was influential enough to be included in Baron et al. (2007).

[2] Swim, Aikin, Hall & Hunter (1995) p. 212.

[3] Id. described two studies “validating” the Modern Sexism Scale.  Respondents in the first study:

Respondents were 418 women and 265 men from an introductory psychology course who received extra credit for their participation. Nearly all respondents were European-American.

Id. p. 201. Respondents in the second study:

Four hundred seventy-seven women and 311 men completed the racism and sexism questionnaires for extra credit in their introductory psychology course. Nearly all respondents were European-American.

Id. p. 205.  Women receiving college degrees now outnumber men by about 40%.  In the Modern Sexism Study, female respondents outnumbered male respondents by about 60%.  The greater degree of gender inequality in the Modern Sexism Study reflects large gender inequality in the academic field of psychology.

[4] Id.

[5] Wikipedia lists sixteen different scales to measure to sexism, gender bias, and beliefs about gender.  Many more could be created to satisfy different prejudices of different researchers.  The World Values Survey provides a leading example of a sexist measurement of sexism.


Baron, Sherry, Meg A. Bond, Dianne Cazeca, Sivan Daniel, Alketa Kalaja, Pia Markkanen, Laura Punnett, and Lana Tsurikova. 2007. Expanding our understanding of the psychosocial work environment: a compendium of measures of discrimination, harassment and work-family issues.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Swim, Janet K., Kathryn J. Aikin, Wayne S. Hall, and Barbara A. Hunter. 1995. “Sexism and racism: Old-fashioned and modern prejudices.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 68 (2): 199-214.


Corbaccio’s guide recognized humane social position for men

Men killing other men, with incitement and support from women, vastly predominates among deadly interpersonal violence.  Violence against women, rather than violence against men, has nonetheless become a major public concern.  Whether through sexist Selective Service registration or requiring men to be the last off sinking ships or ignoring serious injuries to men or many other ways, men’s lives have long been socially devalued.

upper body of knight in full combat armor

The fourteenth-century Italian humanistic writer Giovanni Boccaccio celebrated a more humane social position for men in his under-appreciated comic masterpiece of love, Il Corbaccio.  In that work, a ghostly guide counseled the narrator about his failed courtship of the guide’s former wife.  That lady delighted in men “full of prowess and vigor.”  The guide explained to the benighted narrator:

I believe you thought she liked, wanted, or desired the sight of brave and vigorous men jousting with iron-tipped lances, or in bloody battle amid a thousand mortal perils, or besieging cities and castles, or, with sword in hand, killing each other. [1]

That’s a life-depriving social position for men.  Women and men have long supported that sort of social position for men.  But the guide’s former wife was more humane.  The guide described her good reason and humanity:

She is neither so cruel nor so treacherous as you seem to believe, that she loves men so that they kill each other.  And what would she do with the blood which gushes forth red as a man dies?  Her thirst is for the more refinèd kind that living, healthy bodies can render without needing to have it back again.  The prowess which she likes, then, no one knows better than I.  It is not used in public squares, or in fields, or upon city walls, or with breast plates on, or with basinet upon the head, or with any slashing sword; it is used in the boudoir, in hidden places, beds, and similar locations suited to it, where without the coursing of horses, or the sound of brass trumpets, one goes to the joust at a slow place. [2]

Medieval men faced the now inconceivable danger of sexual exhaustion.  Nonetheless, men having sex with women is a much more humane social position for men than is men killing other men.

A central challenge for societies today is to create a humane social position for men, one that gives men human dignity and value equal to that of women.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) p. 49.

[2] Id. pp. 49-50.  The lady almost surely would have rejected the celebration of a knight’s bloody wounds in the mid-thirteenth-century French courtly nouvelle, Des trois Chevaliers et del Chainse.  The lady’s valuation of men recovers the lost ideal of chivalry.

[image] Armor of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, c. 1590,  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, no. 51.585.


Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.


Wednesday’s flowers

blue cone of flowers

Boccaccio’s Corbaccio: comic reality of love as new Vita Nuova

Boccaccio presents book to ladies

The fourth wave of Corbaccio criticism has now arrived.  Giovanni Boccaccio wrote Il Corbaccio in Italian in the mid-fourteenth century.  From the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, critics interpreted the Corbaccio as autobiographical and misogynistic.  Then, from 1947 to 1975, they interpreted the Corbaccio as fictional and misogynistic.  For the next quarter century, leading critics described the Corbaccio as fictional and ridiculing of misogynists.  Today, cutting-edge fourth-wave critics recognize that the Corbaccio is realistic and love-affirming.[1]  Boccaccio’s Corbaccio presents the comic reality of heterosexual love in a humanistic re-conception of Dante’s Vita Nuova.

Dante’s Vita Nuova tells of love servitude long culturally constructed as men’s finest aspiration.  Dante the narrator saw a beautiful girl named Beatrice:

At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that I felt it fiercely in the least pulsation, and, trembling, it uttered these words: ‘Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur michi: Behold a god more powerful than I, who, coming, will rule over me. [2]

Dante became a captive soul.  So too enslaved have been many men throughout history: the men Ovid ridiculedall-mighty caliphs in the ancient Islamic worldUlrich the foolish knight.  Dante envisioned his burning heart in the hand of Amor, the personification of love, who fed it to Beatrice:

Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth, sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently, she fearing,
afterwards he went, not to be seen weeping.

Suffering from love-sickness, Dante became absorbed in thoughts of Beatrice.  He became weak and debilitated.  His friends, noticing his illness, inquired about the cause.  Acknowledging the obvious, Dante said that he suffered due to Amor.  Then he said no more:

when they asked me: ‘For whom has Amor so distressed you?’ gazing at them I smiled, and said nothing to them.

Dante’s Vita Nuova consists of continual love-sickness combined with lavish praise of Beatrice from a distance.  The Vita Nuova ends with Dante’s vow, “I hope to write of her what has never been written of any woman.”

In the Corbaccio, a specter of Dante leads the narrator to a new life more propitious for love in the flesh.  The narrator of the Corbaccio gets lost in a desolate wilderness resounding with howling and shrieking.  The narrator meets a guide.  In sharp contrast to Dante’s spiritual journey of love, this guide shows the narrator love in the style of comic realism:

The execrable feminine sex is suspicious and bad-tempered beyond all comparison.  Unless they are informed of it, nothing can be discussed with a neighbor, relative, or friend, without women’s immediate suspicion that you are working against them to do them harm — although men ought not to wonder greatly at that, since it is natural always to fear from others the wrongs we do to them; and for this reason, thieves usually know how to hide their belongings well.  Women’s every thought, design, and action aim at nothing else but to rob, lord over, and deceive men [3]

In a claim that has been historically influential, the guide asserts that men do not necessarily need women:

they {women} are all presumptuous and pretend that for them everything is seemly and that nothing is too good, that they are worthy of every honor and all greatness, and that men are worthless and cannot exist without them [4]

The guide fearlessly takes the narrator through men’s fear of enraged women:

As instinctively as animals, they {women} immediately fly into such a burning temper that tigers, lions, and snakes have more humanity when enraged than do women; the latter, whatever the cause for which they have lost their temper, run instantly for poison, fire, and the sword. [5]

The guide challenges women’s superiority with a low-bodily exercise of apophasis:

Among their {women’s} other vanities, when they wish to exalt themselves far above men, they say that all good things are of the feminine gender: the stars, planets, Muses, virtues, and riches. If it weren’t indecent, to this you would only want to reply, “It’s quite true they’re all feminine, but they don’t piss!” [6]

The guide presents many of the concerns and figures already established in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Boccaccio had compiled and studied that literature for years.[7]  That literature’s concern for gender equality and self-sufficiency can readily be recognized as a forefather of present-day feminist literature.  Yet the Corbaccio does not advance idealized moralism of misandry any more than it does idealized moralism of misogyny.  The Corbaccio presents men’s sexed protests in a low-realistic style that subverts abstract moralism.  Love in the flesh depends on recognizing real persons.

In a brilliant stroke of parody, the guide turns out to be the former husband of the lady for whom the narrator pines.  Foreshadowing the 15 Joys of Marriage, the guide reports realistically type-typical bedroom talk of a woman to her husband:

Get over there! So help me God, you’ll not touch me!  Chase after those whom you deserve, for certainly you don’t deserve me; go show yourself for what you are.  You’ll get what’s coming to you.  Remember, you didn’t drag me out of the mud!  God knows who and what class of men they were who would have considered themselves lucky to have taken me without a dowry!  I would’ve been lord and master of all they owned!  And to you I gave so many gold florins! I could never even command a glass of water without a thousand reproaches from your brothers and servants; one would think I were their lackey!  I was surely unlucky to ever have set eyes on you; may he who said the first word about it break a leg. [8]

Explicitly drawing upon his knowledge as the lady’s former husband, the guide provides an outrageous description of the lady’s body.  The description ends at her anus:

What shall I say further to you therefore about the village of Evilhole?  Placed between two lofty mountains, from here sometimes just as from Mongibello, first with great thunderclaps and then without, there issues forth a sulfurous smoke, so fetid and repulsive that it pollutes the whole countryside around.  I do not know what to say to you about it except that, when I lived near it (for I remained there longer than I would have liked), I was offended many times by such blasts that I thought to die there something other than a Christian death. [9]

With his undressing of his former wife, the guide at a superficial level is taking revenge.  In a somewhat similar story in Boccaccio’s Decameron, the group’s most senior member Pampinea described what she called the “just revenge” of a scholar on a lady who had rejected his love and cruelly abused him.[10]  That scholar caused the lady real pain.  The guide in the Corbaccio provided words of knowledge that generated laughter in recognition and wisdom.[11]

Men abasing themselves in servitude to women doesn’t create a new life of love.  Echoing the teachings of Ovid, the leading authority on making love, the guide counsels the heart-broken narrator:

If you want to atone fully for the errors you have committed, you must act in the opposite way to what you have done; but this must be understood correctly.  What you have loved you must hate; and whatever you were ready to do to earn someone’s love, you must be ready to do the contrary so that you gain hatred. [12]

In modern seduction literature for men, the guide’s advice is known as push-pull technique and the “women love jerks” principle.  In the Decameron, the last song is that of the strong, independent woman Fiammetta.  She sings of the unity of love and jealousy:

If Love could come unmixed with jealousy
There’d be no lady born
So glad as I, whoever she may be.

But love for women is always mixed with jealousy.  It’s also mixed with hostility toward all men and all women:

Yet if I knew my lord’s
Fidelity were equal to his worth,
I’d not be jealous then.
But nowadays one sees
So many women lead men on that I
Hold all men culpable.
This breaks my heart and makes me long to die,
For I suspect each one
Who eyes him, fearful she’ll take him away.

Fiammetta holds “all men” culpable for being led on by women.  The enjambment of the line “For I suspect each one” taunts those who understand only the abstraction of misandry or misogyny.  The suspects are the women who eye Fiammetta’s beloved man:

For God’s sake then, I pray
No woman in the world would ever dare
To do me such a wrong,
For should some one of them,
By using words or signs or flattery,
Attempt in this affair
To do me harm and should I learn of it,
Then mar my looks if I
Don’t make her weep her folly bitterly.[13]

That’s not actually an avowal to seek revenge.  Dioneo says to Fiammetta:

Madam, you would be doing all the other ladies a great kindness if you would reveal your lover’s name to them, so that out of ignorance they would not take from you what is yours, since this would make you so angry! [14]

The Decamaron records no response from Fiammetta.  Like Dante in the Vita Nuova, Fiammetta undoubtedly refused to reveal the name of the man she loved.  What seems like an avowal to seek revenge is actually a form of declaring love.  So too the guide in the Corbaccio was actually leading the narrator to love in the flesh.  For heterosexual men, gaining the love of a woman starts with confidence in one’s own worth relative to women.  It depends on a human vision that allows a man to remain unflustered when facing a woman’s overwhelming beauty.  With the knowledge and the example of the guide, the Corbaccio‘s narrator gained key skills in the art of love.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] On the first three waves of Corbaccio criticism, Hollander (1988) p. 42.  Id. p. 43 takes the position of abnegation characteristic of the dolce stil novo:

In my interpretation of the Corbaccio I find Boccaccio poor in friends indeed.  And I think he may have felt a sense of isolation, of having labored for those unworthy of his talent. … He had had enough of us because we simply were not up to him.  Who can blame him for that?

[2] Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova, II, from Italian trans. Kline (2001).  The subsequent three quotes are from id. III, IV, XLII.

[3] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 28-9.  Here’s the original medieval Italian text of Il Corbaccio.  Medieval men suffered from bad guides.  See, e.g. the go-between in Pamphilus and the serranas in Libro de buen amor.

[4] Id. p. 30.  Mocking the claim “men cannot exist without women” is now the slogan, “A man needs a woman like a fish needs a bicycle.”

[5] Id. p. 29.  On the danger of enraging women, see Solomon’s experience in the medieval Latin work Solomon and Marcolf.

[6] Id. p. 32.  Women’s superiority in guile is well-documented.  On the relation of excrement to wisdom, see the Seven Sages of Ostia.

[7] Boccacio’s notebook, known as the Zibaldone laurenziano, has survived to the present.  It contains, in Boccaccio’s own hand, a florilegium of men’s sexed protests, Theophrastus’s De nuptiis, and Walter Mapes’s Valerius Rufino ne ducat uxorem.  Cassell (1993) intro. pp. xx-xxi.  Those are major works in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Id. p. xviii notes, “the Decameron itself was not always kind to the ladies.”  A major work of imaginative literature that is “always kind to the ladies” either lacks appreciation for human nature or has internalized the rules of the socially dominant discourse.

[8] Il Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 26-7.  Wives depriving their husbands of sex appears to be a more important problem today than it was in medieval Europe.

[9] id. p. 56.  In the more liberal circumstances of medieval Europe, crude descriptions of bodily parts were less socially troubling than seems to be the case today.  About the village of Evilhole, Psaki (2003).

[10] Boccaccio, Decameron, 8th day, 7th story, from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) p. 589.  The scholar in that story is called Rinieri.  Displaying Solomonic malice toward men, Hollander (1988) p. 23 declares:

Rinieri, the narrator of the Corbaccio, and the latter’s guide and mentor are all better regarded as male hysterics than as lance bearers in an imagined Boccaccian war against women.

The first alternative is only slightly better than the second.  As a senior male academic would have to agree, the woman Pampinea was correct in describing Rinieri’s action as “just revenge.”

[11] In the middle of the guide’s description of his horrible experience in marriage to the narrator’s beloved, the narrator states: “at these words I declare that I could not restrain my laughter.”  Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) p. 41.  After much additional description of marital horrors, the guide tells the narrator:

if you had considered those things which I have been talking about (not, certainly, those things which you failed to learn from your studies, but those things which they could have shown you had you wished to look), you would have laughed over not seeing her differ from the general run of women.  Perhaps you are laughing to yourself about this now, and are wise if you do.

Id. p. 64.  Only one modern scholar has admitted to laughing at the Corbaccio:

the particularized loathing of someone’s natural bodily parts, page after page, is either hilariously repulsive or repulsively hilarious.  Either way, it is hilarious.

Barricelli (1975) p. 108.

[12] Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) p. 72.  Ovid’s Remedia Amoris, in describing contemplating your lover’s defects, ironically develops a key seduction technique called “negging.”  Hollander (1988), p. 37, declares:

A perception of the ludicrous, self-centered, and antisocial behavior of Ovidian lovers is all that we should require to understand that the author of Amores and Ars amatoria is first of all an ironist.

That analysis misses an important point: the Ovidian lover is ludicrous, self-centered, antisocial, and successful.

[13] Boccaccio, Decameron, 10th day, Conclusion, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 853 (previous three quotes above).  Rebhorn’s translation of this song seems to me to be more musical than that of Musa & Bondanella (2002).  For the line “I hold all men culpable,” the latter has “I think all men are horrible!”

[14] Decameron, 10th day, Conclusion, trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) p. 801.

[image] Boccaccio presenting book to ladies, illumination from manuscript of Giovanni Boccaccio, De claris mulieribus, in French translation; Rouen, c. 1440, Royal 16 G V, f. 3v, thanks to the British Library.


Barricelli, Gian Piero. 1975. “Satire of Satire: Boccaccio’s Corbaccio.” Italian Quarterly 18.72 (Spring): 95-111.

Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Hollander, Robert. 1988. Boccaccio’s last fiction, “Il Corbaccio”. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kline, A.S., trans. 2001.  Dante Alighieri.  La Vita Nuova (The New Life)Poetry in Translation online.

Musa, Mark and Peter E. Bondanella, trans. 2002. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: Signet Classic.

Psaki, Regina, F. 2003. “‘Women Make All Things Lose Their Power’: Women’s Knowledge, Men’s Fear in the Decameron and the Corbaccio.” Heliotropia 1.1

Rebhorn, Wayne A. 2013. Giovanni Boccaccio The Decameron. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.


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