Before the publications of Robert Hollander and Attilio Bettinzoli in the early 1980s, there was little recognition of the surprisingly large debt owed by Boccaccio to Dante hidden in the pages of the Decameron. Boccaccio's knowledge and use of the works of Dante constitute a challenging topic, one that is beginning to receive the attention it deserves.
Among commentators, it had been an unexamined commonplace that the "young" Boccaccio either did not know well or did not understand sufficiently the texts of Dante (even though the "young" Boccaccio is construed as including the thirty-eight-year-old author of the Decameron.) In Boccaccio's Dante and the Shaping Force of Satire, Robert Hollander offers a valuable synthesis of new material and some previously published essays, addressing the question of Dante's influence on Boccaccio, particularly concerning the Commedia and the Decameron.
Hollander reveals that Boccaccio's writings are heavy with reminiscences of the Dante text, which he believed to be the greatest "modern" work. It was Boccaccio's belief that Dante was the only writer who had achieved a status similar to that reserved for the greatest writers of antiquity. Most of these essays try to show how carefully Boccaccio reflects the texts of Dante in the Decameron. Some essays also turn to the question of Boccaccio's allied reading of Ovid, especially the amatory work, as part of his strategy to base his work primarily on these two great authorities as he develops his own vernacular and satiric vision of human foolishness.
Boccaccio's Dante and the Shaping Force of Satire is a welcome addition to the field of Dante studies and to medieval studies in general.
Robert Hollander is Professor in European Literature and Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, Princeton University. He has received the city of Florence's gold medal for work advancing our understanding of Dante.
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