Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 November 2018
This essay offers a historian’s reading of Boccaccio’s tale of Lisabetta da Messina (4:5), rethinking it in terms of fourteenth-century ways of understanding virtù and identity. In analyzing the tale in the context of the Decameron, while reading it against archival material from the period, the deeper context of its discussion of love suggests a reading that makes the tale central to the tragic stories of the fourth day and highlights a lesson about the dangers of passion that make it fit powerfully as the day’s central tale. In the end, love offers many things in the Decameron, but Boccaccio’s brigata of storytellers and his readers could appreciate a danger more difficult to see today — that the powerful passions associated with lost love and mourning without the support of the groups that surrounded and sustained one’s sense of identity also threatened in the most profound way the negation of self: death.
This essay is an expanded version of a paper originally written to be presented as part of a yearlong seminar on mementos in the Middle Ages sponsored by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Ohio State University. Unfortunately, a soccer accident that required hospitalization made it impossible to present the paper, but I would like to thank the center for their invitation, which provided the opportunity to write this essay.