BOCCACCIO by Thomas G. Bergin


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A valuable but (deliberately) pedestrian introduction to Boccaccio. It seems odd, initially, that a scholar as distinguished as Yale's Professor (Emeritus) Bergin should labor over a book that may well be used chiefly by grad students and term-paper writers looking for ways to avoid reading Boccaccio. Because after a survey of B.'s life and times Bergin devotes much of his energy to summarizing the plots of his author's large and mostly--except for the Decameron, the Ninfale Fiesolano, and a few other pieces--little known oeuvre. And the sad truth is that works like the Filocolo, De Genealogiis Deorum, or De Casibus Virorum Illustrium in some ways deserve the oblivion they lie buffed in. Bergin himself admits this but with a sometimes vexing impartiality he gives equal attention to both the memorable (the Filostrato) and the forgettable (the Teseida) writings of Boccaccio. Still, some of B.'s wooden (for the 20th century) stuff, particularly the learned humanistic compositions in Latin, played a key role in the development of Renaissance humanism, and Bergin has done a useful service in making this sensible, straightforward, and exhaustively researched presentation of it. But his busy efforts to cover such a vast territory leave him little time for serious literary criticism. Matters of structure, style, prosody, all get short shrift--Bergin doesn't quote a single line of Italian. Even when he gets to the Decameron (which he deals with last, far out of chronological order, perhaps recalling Edward Hutton's remark that ""with the Decameron Boccaccio's work as creative artist came to an end""), Bergin persists in providing Monarch Notes-type information while skimping on analysis. He refers more advanced readers to other boceaccisti, most especially Vittore Branca. The less advanced will find Bergin a perceptive, reliable, if not quite scintillating, guide.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Viking