Italian 215: Boccaccio’s Renaissance

Instructor: Professor Albert Ascoli

A dated and yet not entirely discarded cliché calls Petrarch the “first modern man,” and the pervasive influence of Petrarch on both the growth of Latin Humanism and lyric Petrarchism in the 15th and 16th centuries is widely acknowledged.  The thesis of this course (and of a conference that will also be held during fall 2013) is that Petrarch’s contemporary, friend and follower, Giovanni Boccaccio, had an influence no less pervasive—indeed perhaps far more so—but far less widely considered by the scholarship.  Boccaccio, to begin with, plays a critical role in the Renaissance reception and diffusion of the works of both Petrarch and their illustrious precursor, Dante, as well as in the repackaging and expansion of the classical literary canon.  Boccaccio’s Decameron, of course, generated a flourishing early modern tradition of proto-novelistic short-story collections (think of Marguerite de Navarre and Cervantes), but also provided substantial material for the nascent dramatic tradition (from Machiavelli’s Mandragola to Shakespeare’s All’s Well).  His biographical collection, Of Famous Women, was an indispensable source and model for the wide-spread debates on the status of women.  His Genealogy of the Gentile Gods was a staple of the Renaissance mythographical tradition.  His geographical treatises continued to make an impact even as the map of the world underwent a remarkable series of changes.  And so on and on.  The aim of this course is not simply to take note of the various ways in which Boccaccio’s oeuvre lived on “in itself” and in its influence throughout European early modernity, but also to reflect on the cultural project and authorial “subject position” that made “Boccaccism” at once ubiquitous and invisible from the 14th century to the 17th.

 Course requirements: Students are expected to attend and participate regularly.  There will be occasional in-class presentations and some shorter writing assignments.  Students will also be expected to attend and actively participate in the international conference, “A Boccaccian Renaissance?” planned for October 24-26, 2013.  The principal assignment for the course is a research paper of ca. 6000 words (20-25 pages), an advanced draft of which will be presented to the seminar during the final weeks of the semester.  Topics must be closely related to the concerns of the course although they may focus on authors, texts and issues not directly treated in seminar.

Prerequisites:  Graduate standing; consent of the instructor.

Course Conducted in English

Reading Knowledge of Italian highly desirable, but not required; reading knowledge of French, Spanish, and/or Latin very useful.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills the Intellectual History requirement for the DE in REMS.  It may also count as an elective. To fulfill the DE requirement, the course must be taken for 4 credits.