Boccaccio and Dante Alighieri and Term Paper

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In The Inferno, Beatrice is more the goal to which the poet aspires as he passes through Hades, and later through Purgatorio before reaching Beatrice in the ideal Paradise.

Many of the elements of courtly love, which Dante expresses elsewhere with reference to his beloved Beatrice, are evident in this epic work as well. For example, Beatrice and the Virgin Mary are the two women who send Virgil to guide the poet through the Inferno, and this also adds luster to Virgil as a spiritual guide as Dante adheres to the Italian, Christian view of women, a school touched by sentiment and by the elevation of women to a high place. Beatrice is the ideal woman who is held in highest esteem by Dante. She is his symbol of all that is high and beautiful, and her selection of Virgil does him credit. Virgil is to be his guide through the Inferno and through Purgatory, after which Beatrice shall lead him. Virgil represents human reason, but Beatrice represents something more -- divine love. Beatrice has been elevated to the right hand of the Virgin Mary in Dante's eyes.

When Dante reaches the middle of life and first becomes lost in the wood, he is attacked by the She-Wolf of Incontinence. This is the other side of woman, the base side. Women are either angels or whores, meaning women who do not follow the straight and narrow path and who lack the spark of divine love that animates Beatrice. One of the reasons for the lowly place given women in the Christian scheme of things was Eve's role in the Fall, and Dante had an interesting view of this which differed from the church. It was held by the church of the time that all human beings were born in sin because of the Fall. As a result, it was held that all who died without the sacrament of baptism would be punished in Hades by eternal fire, even babies who died in their mother's womb. Dante repudiated this view, creating his own idea defined by the view that the human being, having been separated from God by the disobedience of the first man, would be restored to harmony with the Divine goodness from the moment when it was decreed that the Son of God should descend to earth to restore this harmony. Still, there is some doubt, and Dante is suffering from that doubt when he becomes lost in the wood.

Virgil is both an overt guide and a spiritual mentor for Dante, and he serves these purposes on their journey through hell. He does this because Beatrice has sent him, and this fact alone makes him an elevated personage in the eyes of Dante. Dante is predisposed to accept Virgil in any case because Virgil has been his poetic inspiration. He is now Dante's spiritual inspiration as well, explaining the meaning of the different levels of hell in a way that bolsters Dante's courage and also warns him of the dangers of straying from the path to salvation.

Dante relates his dreams, his perceptions, and his experiences to Beatrice. Everything in his life is filtered through the love he feels for Beatrice, and this continues after her death. Not even death can alter the dedication of the lover to his beloved, and indeed death may merely be a further opportunity to prove the reality and depth of that love by sustaining it through it can now never be consummated. Dante reunites with-Beatrice in Purgatorio. Beatrice is the goal in The Divine Comedy in that she introduces Virgil as guide and then waits in Paradise for Dante to complete his journey. Purgatorio represents neither the profane love of Hades nor the divine love of Paradise but something in between, something more human.

In these cantos, Dante argues that there are two kinds of love, the instinctive love of animals, and the rational love of human beings. Another way of dividing love is between instinctual love and chosen love, with the first being a natural process and the second being prone to error. Virgil and Dante rest and talk about love in Canto 17. As part of this discussion, Virgil outlines the design of Purgatory, of what is to come. Virgil explains that all actions, both good and evil, derive from some form of love. Love may also take a form that aims to hurt others, and this refers to pride, envy, and wrath, or the sins found on the first three terraces. Love directed toward a worthy end but with insufficient zeal is called sloth, and this is punished on the Fourth Terrace.

The three upper terraces punish sinners who had too great a love for earthly objects.

When the two poets stop to rest, Dante asks Virgil what sin is punished in this place, and Virgil answers that excessive love of the things of this world is the sin. He makes it clear that he is not criticizing love itself but how love is used.

Boccaccio tells a variety of stories in The Decameron, stories which in the main are more realistic in literary terms even when they are on fabulous subjects because Boccaccio presents human beings as they are and not filtered through a religious vision. Many of his characters are clergy members meaning priests, monks, nuns, and the like, but always they are human beings first. Indeed, they often behave more as human beings than as religious figures. Dante followed the lead of the classical epic, and Boccaccio follows a variety of different story forms from his time and earlier in the dozens of stories he includes in The Decameron so that his expression of reality covers a much broader swath of human behavior, human relationships, and story types.

The form of the book itself suggests a multiplicity, which is different than the way Dante views the world. Dante writes about a large segment of the society of his time, but always directly through his own experience, with even the spiritual journey being his alone. Boccaccio sees the human condition in terms of the great variety of people, occupations, modes of living, and belief systems represented by the mass of human beings. Dante may include a hundred people in any given circle of the Inferno, but Boccaccio tells one hundred stories in his book, each peopled by a number of different human beings, so that what emerges is more a tableau of the human condition than a focused view of the spiritual journey of one man.

The stories range from tales of knights to fabliau, meaning a short and usually ribald tale dealing satirically with middle- or lower-class characters and life, often based on problems in marriage or in other areas of human conduct. The eighth story told on the tenth day in The Decameron, for example, satirizes the way people treat money and gain prestige from having money, looking to an Athenian setting as the noble Gisippus loses everything that sets him apart from others because of a few ill-chosen words. Boccaccio satirizes life in the marketplace in the fifth story on the second day. His satiric thrusts at the Church suggest that everyone knows the clergy to be corrupt and sinful much of the time, as in the second story on the fourth day when tricksters disguise themselves as clergy to seduce women. Dante in general takes a very dark view of reality, while Boccaccio sees humor in even the most degrading and embarrassing moments. The variety of tales told by Boccaccio also suggests that he sees more variety in the world around him, while Dante sees sin, despair, and only intermittent hope for those who can overcome their human nature to aspire to something higher.

This is one reason why Boccaccio is more often compared to Chaucer than to Dante. Of course, Chaucer derived a number of plots from stories in The Decameron and also used many of the same story forms, notably the fabliau derived from the French. The love triangle is the most common plot for both Chaucer and Boccaccio, with numerous variations, while Dante's unrequited love for Beatrice never involves a third party but only shows that distance is maintained between the man and the woman he loves from afar. The comic tendencies of both Chaucer and Boccaccio also makes them more alike than either is like Dante, who tended to view his reality with all seriousness.

The story forms followed by Dante and Boccaccio also differed, with Dante the more classical and also Italian of the two, while Boccaccio derived many of his story forms and plots from French tales. The courtly love tradition was itself often satirized in the stories of Boccaccio, for his lovers were more likely to come together with great force than for either to pine for the other from afar. This fact again indicates how Boccaccio's…[continue]

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