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Abstract

Boccaccio tells us little about the Decameron frame narrators except their pseudonyms and ages. Eldest of the seven ladies, Pampinea is in her twenty-eighth year, while the youngest is 18. The three men, ready to serve female reliance on male guidance, are young, but none is under 25. Commentators, caught up by riddles of nomenclature, have all but ignored the numerals. Spelled out so carefully, 28th-18 and 25 tease our curiosity. Why should the Author express his ladies’ ages as a ten-year span, while for the gentlemen a single anchoring number suffices? If the seven women allude to the Virtues, as I have argued, and Pampinea chief among them personifies Prudence, what logic connects her to 28? And if the men point to the tricameral soul, in which Reason (Panfilo) controls the lower appetites of wrath (Filostrato) and lust (Dioneo), why does it matter that all three be over 25? Why is Pampinea, solicitous of orderly activity and happiness, the one to suggest a daily rotation of rulers in their rustic sojourn? Answers lie in medieval protocols for expressing age and its peak on the parabola of human life, lore that Boccaccio well knew. His own practices reflect fascination with Pythagorean numerology, immersion in Aristotle as transmitted by Aquinas, and a man trained in the law whose poetic North Star was Dante. The ages of the seven women and three men in the brigata, incidental details to modern readers, stand tall from a medieval outlook. They are sign posts in a philosophical system that perfects the novella portante (master novella) as an ideal allegorical realm, hovering in a hierarchical relationship over the tales it carries.

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