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Numerology and Allegory in Boccaccio's Caccia di Diana

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 July 2017

Victoria Kirkham*
University of Pennsylvania


Boccaccio's first work, the Caccia di Diana, is generally considered a playful allegory of ‘courtly’ love. Although the poem's literal content cannot be reconciled with its allegedly amorous message, critics have cited the discrepancy as a characteristic example of the youthful author's failure to appreciate the importance of narrative unity. There is, however, reason to believe that we have been mistaken both in our understanding of the Caccia's meaning and in our evaluation of its artistic merit. Like Dante's Commedia, Vita nuova, and lost sirventese, Boccaccio's primary models for this early narrative, it is, in fact, a carefully planned numerical composition. The symbolic implications of the numbers hidden in the text suggest, moreover, that Diana's hunt and the miraculous triumph of her rival, Venus, form a fictional veil designed to conceal an emblematic victory of virtue over vice and an allegory of conversion from bestial lust to Christian love.

Copyright © 1978 New York, Fordham University Press 

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1 In his introduction to the most recent critical edition of the text, Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan 1967) I 11, Vittore Branca characterizes the Caccia as representing ‘la miracolosa trasformazione che nell'animo dell'uomo opera Amore, non in senso meta-fisico — o almeno intellettualistico come nello Stil Novo — ma in un tono carezzevolmente galante e madrigalesco.’ The light-hearted, secular spirit of the work is also emphasized by Carlo Muscetta in his annotated anthology Boccaccio (Bari 1972) 7, 18–23; and in Storia della letteratura italiana 2, Il Trecento , edd. Cecchi, Emilio and Sapgeno, Natalino (Milan 1965) 324, where he writes ‘il poema si conclude con un motivo che ritroveremo in tutta l'opera del Boccaccio. La potenza redentrice dell'amore è infatti esaltata in questa piccola “commedìa” erotica, che sembra un rovesciamento del mito di Circe e un contrappunto “giocondo” alla vicenda provvidenziale dell'eroe virgiliano.’ Salvatore Galletti, whose Patologia al Decameron (Palermo 1969), presents a courageous but not entirely persuasive psychoanalytical approach to the poet, similarly asserts that the Caccia expresses his discovery of ‘gioia, sorriso, carezza, amore,’ and was composed 'senza scrupoli della seduzione di quel che è umano e place' (70).Google Scholar

For the attribution and date of composition (c. 1333–34) see Branca's, decisive studies, ‘Per l'attribuzione della Caccia di Diana a Giovanni Boccaccio,’ Annali della R. Scuola Normale di Pisa 2nd Ser. 7 (1938), and ‘Nuove note sulla Caccia di Diana,’ both in Tradizione delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Rome 1958) 121–43 and 144–98 respectively. More recently Pier Giorgio Ricci, ‘Per la cronologia delle opere,’ Studi sul Boccaccio 6 (1971) 109–24 has suggested that the Ninfale fiesolano may have preceded the Caccia, but his argument, as he himself admits, is open to serious question.Google Scholar

2 According to Grabher, Carlo, Giovanni Boccaccio (Turin 1941) 3536, the poem's moral meaning is arbitrarily superimposed on the text; the same ‘structural deformity’ is criticized by Guido Di Pino in La polemica del Boccaccio (Florence 1953) 59–60; for Quaglio, Antonio Enzo, Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan 1964) II 671, the Caccia is ‘acerba,’ and its dissonant allegorical conclusion is ‘una gratuita puntata finale, un puro espediente risolutivo.’ Google Scholar

3 Caccia di Diana , ed. Branca, Vittore, Tutte le opere (Milan 1967) I. This is the edition cited throughout.Google Scholar

4 No single governing source has yet been identified. In his ‘Nuove note’ 192–98, and in Tutte le opere I 5–8, Branca proposes a number of hypothetical antecedents ranging from Ovid and Achilles Tatius to Andreas Capellanus and the Romance of the Rose, and including such medieval literary game-genres as the altercationes, certamina, conflictus, ‘jeux-partis,’ ‘tournoiments des dames,’ ‘giardini d'amore,’ and ‘corti d'amore.’ Muscetta, who believes that Petrarch may have contributed to the conception of the Caccia, draws attention as well to the influence of Apuleius and the bestiaries (Boccaccio 7, 1821).Google Scholar

5 We know from a letter written by Petrarch, to Boccaccio, (Familiarum rerum libri 21.15) that the latter considered their compatriot Dante his ‘primus studiorum dux et prima fax.’ Concerning Dante's impact on the Caccia, aspects of which have long been recognized, see, e.g., Grabher, , Giovanni Boccaccio 35–36; Billanovich, Giuseppe, Petrarca letterato (Rome 1947) 67; Di Pino, , La polemica del B. 62; Branca, , ‘Per l'attribuzione’ in Tradizione delle opere 132–33; and Muscetta, , Boccaccio 18–23.Google Scholar

6 A number of these correspondences are pointed out by Branca in his commentary on the text, Tutte le opere I.Google Scholar

7 Purgatorio 27.96, ed. Singleton, Charles S., The Divine Comedy (Bollingen Series 80; Princeton 1970–76) II 1.296.Google Scholar

14 Muscetta, , Boccaccio 18.Google Scholar

15 The fact that she is not mentioned in either of the earlier catalogues (1, 9, and 10) and only after the chase is over has led some scholarly readers to overlook her altogether, among them Ignazio Moutier, who published the first edition of the Caccia (Florence 1832) and states in his introduction that it presents 58 women, all of whom are named except one.Google Scholar

16 Amorosa visione 2.1–3, ed. Branca, Vittore, Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan 1974) III. Cf. also Caccia 1.3.Google Scholar

17 Filostrato 3.74, ed. Branca, Vittore, Tutte le opere II. Cf. Paradiso 8.1–12. The Caccia is tentatively assigned to 1334, the Filostrato to 1335, and the Amorosa visione to 1342 by Branca in ‘Giovanni Boccaccio: Profilo biografico,’ Tutte le opere I 40 and 58. However, the dating of the early works is still a matter of debate, as evidenced by the alternative chronology proposed by Muscetta, , Boccaccio 3–4.Google Scholar

18 See Tutte le opere I 11; Tradizione delle opere 124–27 and 148–55. The text of the ternario can be found in Le Rime, L'Amorosa Visione, La Caccia di Diana , ed. Branca, Vittore (Bari 1939) 38–40.Google Scholar

19 Mitologiae 2.1, in Fabii Planciadis Fulgentii v. c. Opera, ed. Helm, R. (Leipzig 1898) 3639.Google Scholar

20 Fulgentius is frequently cited in the Genealogie and mentioned several times in the Esposizioni sopra la Comedia. Branca, , Boccaccio medievale (3rd ed.; Florence 1970) 4748, believes that he was one of the authorities who exercised a formative influence on Boccaccio's early writings but gives no evidence to support this opinion.Google Scholar

21 The exact date of composition is still uncertain; Alberto Limentani, whose critical edition and commentary appear in Tutte le opere II, proposes the years 1339–41.Google Scholar

22 Teseida, ed. Limentani, 472.Google Scholar

23 Ibid. 463.Google Scholar

24 Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine, ed. Quaglio, Antonio Enzo, Tutte le opere II 823.Google Scholar

25 Commentarii in somnium Scipionis 1.6.10–11, ed. Willis, James (Leipzig 1970) 20.Google Scholar

26 See, e.g. Un bestiario moralizzato tratto da un manoscritto augubino del sec. XIV, ed. Mazzatinti, G. (Rome 1889) no. 4: ‘Signore, porraime dare doctrina, / K'a l'unicorno desti volontade / D'umiliare la sua gram ruina / Versi e [= ver la?] belecce cum virginitade. / La quale tanto lo core li affina, / Ke ve se adorme e la morte ne pate.’ See also Branca's commentary on the Caccia, Tutte le opere I 693 n. 4.Google Scholar

27 Genealogie deorum gentilium libri, ed. Romano, Vincenzo (Bari 1951) 235.Google Scholar

28 De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii 7.738–39, ed. Dick, A. (Leipzig 1925) 372–74.Google Scholar

29 8.44; PL 83.187.Google Scholar

30 Comm. in somnium Scipionis 1.6.48 (27).Google Scholar

31 Cicero, for example, identifies Diana with the moon, which he counts as the seventh planet: ‘Iam Apollinis nomen est Graecum, quem Solem esse volunt. Dianam autem et Lunam eandem esse putant: quum Sol dictis sit, vel quia solum ex omnibus sideribus est tantus, vel quia, quum est exortus, obscuratis omnibus solus apparet; Luna a lucendo no-minata sit: eadem est enim Lucina… quae eadem Diana omnivaga dicitur, non a venando, sed quod in septem numeratur tamquam vagantibus [stellis].’ De natura deorum 2.27.68, ed. Schoemann, G. F. (Berlin 1876) 151.Google Scholar

32 Branca, (Tutte le opere II 9) lists Arrigo, along with Virgil and Ovid, as one of the youthful author's ‘più consuete e ovvie letture.’ For the nature of Arrigo's influence on Boccaccio see Battaglia, Salvatore, La coscienza letteraria del Medioevo (Naples 1965) 651–53.Google Scholar

33 De diversitate fortunae et philosophiae consolationis in Arighetto ovvero Trattato contro all'avversità della fortuna, ed. Manni, Domenico Maria (Milan 1815) 48. In the Tuscan version the lines quoted read: ‘così l'empia turba de’ sette pianeti mi nuoce, e ciaschedun d'essi smania della nostra morte. Saturno porta la falce, Iupiter la folgore, Marte l'arme, il Sole la caldezza, Venere crudeli veneni, Mercurio la verga, e la Luna porta agute saette, la settima compagna porta sette generazioni d'arme' (92).Google Scholar

34 Florence, MS, Mediceo-Laurenziana, , Doni e Acquisti 325. For the text see Limentani's, edition, Tutte le opere II.Google Scholar

35 Genealogie, ed. Romano, 234.Google Scholar

36 Boccaccio's, source was De consulate Stilichonis 3.28593.Google Scholar

37 Genealogie, ed Romano, 348.Google Scholar

38 Purgatorio 31.106. On the meaning of this line see Singleton, Charles S., Dante Studies 2: Journey to Beatrice (Cambridge, Mass. 1967) 159–83.Google Scholar

39 Comedia delle ninfe, ed. Quaglio, 829.Google Scholar

40 Cf. Caccia 13.56–58 and 14.1–27; Inferno 12.12–27, and Purgatorio 26.41–42.Google Scholar

41 ‘He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence. But if he failed in attaining this, at the second birth he would pass into a woman, and if, when in that state of being, he did not desist from evil, he would continually be changed into some brute who resembled him in the evil nature which he had acquired, and would not cease from his toils and transformations until he helped the revolution of the same and the like within him to draw in its train the turbulent mob of later accretions, made up of fire and air and water and earth, and by this victory of reason over the irrational returned to the form of his first and better state.’ Timaeus 41 b–c, trans. Jowett, B., The Dialogues of Plato (4th ed. rev.; Oxford 1953) III 728–29. See also Macrobius, , Comm. in somnium Scipionis 1.9.3–5 (40).Google Scholar

42 I am indebted to John Freccero for having pointed out the relevance of these verses to the Caccia as well as the passage in the Consolatio by which they were inspired. Cf. also Dante's Convivio 2.7.4, edd. Busnelli, G. and Vandelli, G., rev. Antonio Enzo Quaglio (Florence 1964) I 149–50: ‘chi da la ragione si parte, e usa pur la parte sensitiva, non vive uomo, ma vive bestia; sì come dice quello eccellentissimo Boezio: “Asino vive.”’ Google Scholar

43 The codex (Vat. Lat. 3362) containing a transcription in Boccaccio's own hand of the Philosophiae consolatio is tentatively assigned to this period. See Auzzas, Ginetta, ‘I codici autograft. Elenco e bibliografia,’ Studi sul Boccaccio 7 (1973) 56.Google Scholar

44 Philosophiae consolatio 4.3.16–21, ed. Bieler, L. (CCL 94.71–72).Google Scholar

45 Metamorphoses 3.155252.Google Scholar

46 Eph. 4.22–24; Col. 3.9–10.Google Scholar

47 Purgatorio 26.84.Google Scholar

48 Augustine, for example, explains, ‘Ecce accepit Sacramentum nativitatis homo baptizatus; Sacramentum habet, et magnum Sacramentum, divinum, sanctum, ineffabile. Considera quale: ut novum hominem faciat dimissione omnium peccatorum. Attendat tamen in cor, si perfectum est ibi, quod factum est in corpore: videat si habet charitatem, et tunc dicat, Natus sum ex Deo.’ In Epistolam Joannis, PL 35.2015.Google Scholar

49 Beatrice first appears to Dante in the Vita nuova ‘vestita di nobilissimo colore umile ed onesto sanguigno’ (Casini 7). In the triumphal pageant of Purgatorio 29 the first of the three nymphs dancing at the right side of the chariot is the greatest of the Christian virtues, Charity, ‘tanto rossa / ch'a pena fora dentro al foco nota’ (vv. 122–23). The four nymphs on the left are dressed in purple, a similar hue, to indicate that they are the infused cardinal virtues, who depend for their existence on Love. For the symbolism of these colors see Singleton's commentary (cited above, n. 7) on Purg. 29.121–31. and Dante Studies 2 Ch. 10, ‘Rivers, Nymphs, and Stars.’ Google Scholar

50 Enarrationes in Psalmos 41.3.2–27 (CCL 38.1.461–62).Google Scholar

51 Breviarium in Psalmos, PL 26.949.Google Scholar

52 Peter is one of the great theologians whose souls form a shining floral garland in Dante's heaven of the Sun (Paradiso 10.106–8). For a note on variant interpretations of this Psalm see Thiébaux, Marcelle, The Stag of Love (Ithaca 1974) 4549.Google Scholar

53 Commentarium in Psalmos, PL 191.415–16.Google Scholar

54 See Singleton's commentary, op. cit. II 4–5.Google Scholar

55 The positivistic tendencies of late romantic criticism led some scholars to believe that this woman was the same person as the first lady noticed in the garden of love by the narrator of the Amorosa visione, one so beautiful that he initially mistakes her for Venus: ‘Nel viso che d'amor sempre par ch'arda / affigurai mirando con diletto / che costei era la bella lombarda’ (40.64–66). Torraca, Francesco, Per la biografia di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan 1912) 117–18, even went so far as to argue that ‘la bella lombarda,’ whose given name, ‘Vanna,’ is revealed in Boccaccio's ternario ‘Contento quasi ne’ pensier d'amore,' was ‘la formosa ligura’ (Acrimonia/Fortitude) of the Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine (ed. Quaglio, 761). Torraca's conjecture, which rests on a trick of linguistic legerdemain, has not proven convincing; however, Branca (Tradizione delle opere 188–89), allowing that the Lombard of the vision and the lady of the ternario might well be one, does not discount the possibility that they could also be identified with the anonymous heroine of the Caccia. Although purely speculative, his hypothesis is not implausible, especially given the fact that Boccaccio was himself a ‘Vanni’ and may have had in mind Chapter 24 of the Vita nuova, where a Primavera/Giovanna (‘prima verrà’) walks before Beatrice, when he characterized the thirty-third lady of the Caccia as one who also ‘went before’ the others in order to guide them and guard their 'salute.' Google Scholar

56 Vita nuova, ed. Casini, 159–60.Google Scholar

57 Caccia 1.4749; 18.56–58.Google Scholar

58 Branca notes the parallel in his commentary; it was Robert Durling who called my attention to the fact that both sets of verses are ‘centers.’ Google Scholar

59 Op. cit. 98.Google Scholar

60 Convivio 4.7.11–14, edd. Busnelli, and Vandelli, II 76–80.Google Scholar

61 Genealogie, ed. Romano, 699.Google Scholar

62 See, e.g., Quaglio, , Tutte le opere II 671.Google Scholar

63 Considerable differences of opinion prevail concerning the date of composition, which is given alternatively as c.1355 or c.1365. For the most recent discussion of the problems involved see Cassell's, Antony K. introduction and commentary to his excellent translation, The Corbaccio (Urbana 1975) xxi and 95–98.Google Scholar

64 Corbaccio, ed. Nurmela, Tauno, Annates Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae Ser. B 146 (Helsinki 1968) 5758.Google Scholar

65 Arguing against the traditional view that this ‘trattato’ is primarily an antifeminist satire, Cottino-Jones, Marga thus defines its theme in ‘The Corbaccio: Notes for a Mythical Perspective of Moral Alternatives,’ Forum Italicum 4.4 (1970) 490509.Google Scholar

66 Portions of an earlier draft of this article were read at the April 1975 meeting of the Google Scholar

Northeast Modern Language Association. I would like to express special thanks to my colleague in the Department of History of Art, Watson, Paul F., as well as to Durling, Robert M. and Hollander, Robert, who have all contributed to the text as it now stands with valuable advice and encouragement.Google Scholar