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  • Authorial Strategies and Manuscript TraditionBoccaccio and the Decameron’s Early Diffusion
  • Marco Cursi

The manuscript material that can be directly attributed to Boccaccio’s hand is extraordinarily rich: thirty-four autographs, among them twenty-two manuscripts, integrally or partially written by him, a private letter, and eleven manuscripts with his annotations in the margins.1 Only three manuscripts are actually signed by Boccaccio, namely:

  1. 1. The Laurenziano Pluteo 33. 31, transcribed between 1338 and 1348,2 containing a Miscellanea latina in which, on f. 16v., we can read: “Feliciter Iohannes [Successfully, John]”;

  2. 2. The Ambrosiano A 204 inferior, which can be dated around 1340–45, in which Boccaccio transcribed the apparatus of the glosses by Thomas Aquinas to Aristotele’s Ethics, at the end of which we read: “Iohannes de Certaldo scripsit feliciter hoc opus. Explevi tempore credo brevi et cetera. τέλος [John of Certaldo successfully transcribed this work. I have completed it in what I believe was a short time, etc. The End]”;

  3. 3. The Laurenziano Pluteo 38. 17 (1340–45), in which he copied Terence’s Comedies, with the signature on folio 84 r.: “Iohannes de Certaldo scripsit [Transcribed by John of Certaldo].”

Therefore the reconstruction of the vast corpus of Boccaccio’s autographs has been possible principally thanks to accurate palaeographical work, particularly in recent years, and has not been limited to the analysis of the writings, but has also been extended to the complex system of marginal notes (especially the manicule, or little pointing hands) and the illustrations that punctuate the margins of many books that belonged to the author, who was not only a scribe but also a talented artist.3 [End Page 87]

Boccaccio’s autographs belong to various textual categories:4

  1. 1. authorial autographs, manuscripts in which he transcribed his own works, either at the time of their composition or much later, such as for example the Teseida or Decameron;5

  2. 2. publishing autographs, manuscripts in which Boccaccio copied—presumably for his private library—works by other authors, more or less distant from him in time and place;6

  3. 3. anthologies, containing his works and works by other authors, such as the two famous Vatican Chigiani manuscripts;7

  4. 4. archive-books, manuscripts containing various materials collected over long periods of time, which reflect the vast range of his cultural interests from his youth until the 1350s, such as, for example, the “Zibaldone laurenziano.”8

If we compare the material characteristics of these manuscripts (parchment versus paper, format, handwriting, mise-en-page, decoration, etc.) with strictly textual data, we soon realize that Boccaccio consciously chose specific book forms for specific works. In so doing, he gave life to real author’s editions, which in many cases reveal the adoption of highly innovative solutions and very refined strategies of composition.9

But what was Boccaccio’s method of working, as scribe and editor? Before drawing our attention to the Decameron, I will briefly concentrate on his choices of book format for his beloved Divine Comedy. With good reason, Boccaccio has been defined as “Dante’s follower”: together with the poet’s sons, he is (in Giorgio Padoan’s words) “il più notevole conoscitore per tutto il sec. XIV delle opere dantesche [the most notable connoisseur of Dante’s works in the entire fourteenth century].”10 Boccaccio transcribed the sacred poem three times: the first in manuscript Zelada 104. 6 of Biblioteca y Archivo Capitular in Toledo, which can be dated between 1350 and 1355;11 then in the Riccardiano 1035, to be dated to the first years of the 1360s (Fig. 1);12 and finally in Chigi L. VI 213, carried out in approximately 1365.13 In his transcriptions he does not behave like a “mechanical” scribe, but he uses various sources and is always ready to contaminate them with variants attested to in different branches of the tradition, sometimes introducing his own corrections.14

He probably had with him manuscripts that were made according to a particular book model; the manuscripts of the Comedy produced in Florence before the middle of the century, in fact, show an extraordinary uniformity in their graphic design, and they [End Page 88]

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