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Savoring Power, Consuming the Times

The Metaphors of Food in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Literature

Giuseppina Palma

Publication Year: 2013

Pina Palma’s Savoring Power, Consuming the Times: The Metaphors of Food in Medieval and Renaissance Italian Literature is an innovative look at the writings of five important Italian authors—Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pulci’s Morgante, Boiardo’s Innamorato, Ariosto’s Furioso,and Aretino’s Ragionamento. Through the prism of gastronomy, Palma examines these key works in the Western literary canon, bringing into focus how their authors use food and gastronomy as a means to critique the social, political, theological, philosophical, and cultural beliefs that constitute the fabric of the society in which they live. Palma begins with the anthropological principle that food represents the universal transformation of nature into culture and that it functions as a language that distinguishes every society and its culture from others. This suggests that food—its preparation, presentation, and consumption—is more than merely a source of nourishment. Rather, Palma argues, foodstuffs function as ethical and aesthetic instruments through which the literary hero’s virtues and flaws, achievements and failures, can be gauged. Food also serves as a means to maintain, as well as to negotiate, power, social hierarchy, and relationships between the powerful and the powerless. Touching on three centuries that were pivotal for Italian culture, literature, and history, as well as three literary genres, Palma’s analysis connects the descriptions and references to food found in these works with the wider culture of Italy in the late medieval and early modern period.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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pp. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-32

“If you observe well, you will see that, from one age to another, there is a change not only in men’s speech, vocabulary, dress, style of building, culture and such things, but, what is more, even in their sense of taste.A food that was highly prized in one age will often be found far less appetizing in another.”1 Thus Francesco Guicciardini in his...

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Chapter 1: The Language of Food in Boccaccio’s Decameron

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pp. 33-88

The prominent place that food occupies in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron encapsulates the essence of two mutually exclusive worlds: the world of the powerful, who have access to it, and the world of the powerless, who do not. In the representation of the stronger and the weaker, of the empowered and the disempowered, created on the basis...

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Chapter 2: Of Frogs, Giants, and the Court: Pulci’s Morgante

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pp. 89-152

There is little doubt that in the Decameron Giovanni Boccaccio uses scarcity, abundance, quality, and variety of food to explore the hidden folds of the human condition. By turning his attention to the foods that the wealthy, privileged, and hermits consume, he draws attention to the disquieting effects that anachronistic codes have in regulating...

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Chapter 3: Banquets of Power: Boiardo's Innamorato and the Politics of Gastronomy

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pp. 153-214

As we have seen in the previous chapters, power shapes people’s social and political consciousness and, although it rarely reflects a consciousness of self, it is ever mindful of the privileged modes to which it is entitled. In Giovanni Boccaccio and Luigi Pulci, it is displayed through...

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Chapter 4: Meals, Transformations, and the Belly of History: Ariosto’s Furioso

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pp. 215-264

In the previous chapter I showed how Matteo Maria Boiardo relies on the politics of gastronomy to reveal the more hidden political, social, and cultural folds of his society. In this chapter I explore Ludovico Ariosto’s use of food as a way to analyze in a more organic manner the sociocultural currents of his times. In canto 7 of the...

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Chapter 5: Courtesans and Figs, Art and Nature in Aretino’s Ragionamento

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pp. 265-316

Food holds a special place in Pietro Aretino’s Ragionamento because it amplifies the tension between power and morality, both of which are indispensible means to ensuring a stable, principled society. With radical aplomb and escalating intensity, through food the writer illustrates the imbalance of power that exists in Roman society. He also...

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pp. 317-320

Analyzing food within the context of the semiotic system, Roland Barthes asserts that what one eats is not just a series of ingredients and products. To the contrary, he argues that food is “a system of communication, a body of images,” a defined—and, one could add, frequently a refined—“protocol of uses, situations, and behaviors.”1 Based on this,...


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pp. 321-382


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pp. 383-410


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pp. 411-428

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 429-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780268089726
E-ISBN-10: 0268089728
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038397
Print-ISBN-10: 0268038392

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 843860359
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Savoring Power, Consuming the Times

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Italian literature -- To 1400 -- History and criticism.
  • Italian literature -- 16th century -- History and criticism.
  • Food in literature.
  • Gastronomy in literature.
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