Themes & Motifs: The Motif of the Eaten Heart: Medieval Attitudes Towards Dismemberment of the Body The fourth

day of the Decameron includes three stories in which young lovers are killed and their bodies are dismembered in some way. Both Ghismonda's lover Guiscardo (IV.1) and Guiglielmo Guardastagno, the lover of Guiglielmo Rossiglione's wife (IV.9), have their hearts cut out by their rivals. The wife of Guiglielmo Rossiglione, in turn, jumps out of a window and is "not only killed ... but almost completely disfigured." At the center of the giornata Lisbetta secretly disinters the head of her murdered lover and places it in a pot of basil over which she weeps for a long time each day (IV.5).
In medieval times the practice of body partition, artistic or actual, was fraught with "ambivalence, controversy, and profound inconsistency." The culture of ancient Rome had possessed strong taboos against moving or dividing corpses, and Christians of the third and fourth centuries maintained this intense concern for proper burial. Despite these concerns, division of the body for religious purposes was ever more frequently practiced in the thirteenth century as Roman taboos gave way to the Christian cult of relics.

Clearly the removal of Guiscardo's and Guiglielmo Guardastagno's hearts was intended to be a punishment in the most horrific sense. The act of physical defilement was intended to "mark" the soul of the deceased, and impede his passage to a peaceful eternity. Lisbetta's detachment and reburial of her lover's head, on the other hand, speaks to the generative potential of bodily division. The part was taken for the whole. Just as the relic was the saint, so Lorenzo's head was the man himself. If popular belief held that "the heart of a king or the finger of the virgin made the earth where he or she was buried fertile with saintly or royal power," then Lorenzo's head made the basil pot fertile with the power of love. (C. Si.) Bynum, C. W. Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender and the Human Body in Medieval Religion. New York: Zone Books, 1991. pp. 265-96.
"circle" of the work (outermost circle) B. the man - the plague - society ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ B. the author ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ brigatta - storytellers ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (innermost circle) the stories

Outline for Reading "The Second Tale of the Fourth Day" 1. In what city does the tale take place?

2. Besides having Brother Alberto tell us so, how does the author let us know that Monna Lisetta is a simpleton? 3. What is the story Brother Alberto tells Madonna Lisetta in order to be able to have his way with her sexually/ What shortcoming of her character does his story make use of? 4. What round-about metaphors does the author use to refer to sexual intercourse? 5. How or why does Madonna Lisetta tell the neighbors about the ride given to her by the angel Gabriel? 7. How does Brother Alberto come to be paraded through Venice in honey and feathers? 8. Do you think that the last paragraph of the story is an integral part of the story, or does it seem to you to be tacked on?

Themes and Ideas to Note in "The Second Tale of the Fourth Day" As we read the "Second Tale of the Fourth Day" from the Decameron, think about some of the themes and ideas developed in the story: • • • • the conventions of the tales of courtly love how the conventions of courtly love are turned on their head or followed in the story attitudes about sex and sexuality the attitude of the author to the central female character the treatment of the clergy in the story: is this an indictment of all religious people? the treatment of women in the story: is this an indictment of all women? how the central male character does or does not get his just punishment

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