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Event Details

Tue, January 31, 2017

18:00 – 19:30

Villa La Pietra
Via Bolognese, 120
50139 Firenze, Italy

Albert Russell Ascoli, Gladyce Arata Terrill Distinguished Professor of Italian Studies, University of California-Berkeley.

In this essay, I read the 9th story of the 9th Day—a tale, ostensibly, of Solomonic wisdom—as the negative apotheosis of its narrator, the deeply confused Emilia. After considering the novella itself as a disturbed and disturbing scene of interpretation, leading to the savage beating of an unruly wife, I frame it, by turns, in relation to (1) Emilia’s introduction of the tale as an inverted allegory of female subjugation to patriarchal power; (2) her (largely abdicated) role as queen for a Day of narrative license and incompetence; and (3) her key, if contradictory, appearances throughout the Decameron as a whole, which consistently foreground the unstable relation of the text to medieval traditions of epistemology and gender hierarchy. Emilia and her story of Solomon’s enigmatic advice hold up a mirror, though a dark one indeed, to the conflicted soul of the Decameron itself, by turns celebratory and condemnatory of women, thoughtlessly sensual and deeply reflective in its pleasures, Solomonic both in its commitment to compassionate wisdom and its confinement to the world of the human and the natural, and, above all, incessantly worried over how to re-negotiate the fundamental opposition of Christianity, medieval and Dantean, between the letter that kills and the spirit that saves.

Featured Biographies

Albert Russell Ascoli

Gladyce Arata Terrill Distinguished Professor at the University of California

Albert Russell Ascoli, Ph.D. in Italian from Cornell University 1983, is Gladyce Arata Terrill Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of three books: Ariosto’s Bitter Harmony: Crisis and Evasion in the Italian Renaissance (Princeton, 1987); Dante and the Making of a Modern Author (Cambridge 2008) and A Local Habitation, and a Name: Imagining Histories in the Italian Renaissance (Fordham, 2011), as well as of numerous articles and book chapters, in English, Italian, and German. He has edited several essay collections including a double issue of Renaissance Drama entitled “Italy and the Drama of Europe” (with William West, 2010); “Italian Futures,” an issue of the electronic journal California Italian Studies (with Randolph Starn, 2011); and, most recently the Cambridge Companion to Petrarch (with Unn Falkeid, 2015). He has held a number of fellowships, including the NEH-Mellon Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome (2004-2005), was recently elected “membro straniero” of the Academy of Istituto Lombardo and is currently serving as President of the Dante Society of America. In winter-spring 2017 he is visiting professor at the Villa I Tatti. His current research projects include a monograph on Boccaccio’s complex interrogations of representational realism and philosophical naturalism in the Decameron, and a study of the problem of fede (faith) as promise and belief in the late medieval/early modern period.