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The Case of the Court Entertainer: Popular

Culture, Intertextual Dialogue, and the Early


Circulation of Boccaccios Decameron
By Wi l l i a m R o b i n s

As a self-assured vernacular literary culture consolidated in fourteenth-century


Italy, Italian writers frequently measured their own achievements against pre-
vious genres and traditionsLatin classical poetry, Occitan and Sicilian lyric,
French romances, rhetorical and philosophical instruction, and so onsorting
out which features of these traditions remained vital enough to be drawn upon
in new literary experiments, and which features needed to be abandoned or thor-
oughly transformed. One legacy that presented a unique set of challenges was the
quasi-theatrical practice of giullari, minstrel-like entertainers who busked in the
streets or performed at wealthy dinner parties, telling stories, singing songs, and
cracking jokes in hope of being rewarded with food, money, or clothes. The most
conspicuous practitioners in this tradition were uomini di corte (court entertain-
ers), performers who wandered from court to court; their hallmark talent was a
repartee of pleasantries, jokes, and barbs (piacevolezze, facezie, motti), many of
which, repeated by word of mouth or recorded in writing, entered into a popular
repertoire of humorous anecdotes. When trecento writers considered the relation-
ship of their own verbal artistry to popular traditions of entertainment, the figure
of the uomo di corte served as an emblem of the performative energy, verbal wit,
and scurrility associated with giullari.
This essay demonstrates how trecento writers themselves broached their per-
plexing relation to performative traditions of entertainment. I explore their con-
cerns by eavesdropping upon an intertextual conversation about uomini di corte
that takes place across a series of texts composed by four Florentine writers. In
these four texts (each of which is in dialogue with the preceding ones) the fig-
ure of the uomo di corte encapsulates concerns about how vernacular literature
might mediate between popular and elite cultural registers. Eavesdropping upon
this conversation, I analyze each of these four texts, teasing out their literary-
cultural import and paying particular attention to the aesthetics of creative im-
itation and allusion. This intertextual conversation is set in motion by Dante
Alighieri (c. 12651321), who names the uomo di corte Guiglielmo Borsiere in
Inferno 16. Dantes concerns about social deportment are sharpened by Giovanni

This article had its start as a paper presented at the American Boccaccio Association meeting in
October 2013, and I would like to thank Kristina Olson and Teodolinda Barolini for their encour-
agement to expand upon those initial ideas. I would also like to thank Marco Cursi, Anna Bettarini
Bruni, and Speculums two anonymous reviewers, for their comments on early drafts, and Jeff Espie
for his invaluable editorial help with the final version. This project was made possible by research
funding from Victoria University and from the Department of English at the University of Toronto.

Speculum 92/1 (January 2017). Copyright 2017 by the Medieval Academy of America.
DOI: 10.1086/689996, 0038-7134/2017/9201-0001$10.00.

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2 The Case of the Court Entertainer
Boccaccio (131375) in his novella about Guiglielmo Borsiere, Decameron 1.8.
In turn, Boccaccios judgments about uomini di corte received a quick response
from a fellow writer of humbler status, Antonio Pucci (c. 131088). Finally, in
the 1390s Franco Sacchetti (c. 1335c. 1400) crafted his own reply to both Boc-
caccio and Pucci.
The key step in this chain of rewritings, at least for my purposes here, is Puccis
response to Boccaccio, first, because this borrowing has never been noticed and
thus merits fuller description, and, second, because of its early date. Composed
sometime between 1353 and 1361 (reasons for this dating are set out in the Ap-
pendix to this essay), Puccis reworking of Decameron 1.8 provides an early,
indeed perhaps the very earliest, piece of evidence for the existence of the Deca
meron. It adds a new dimension to our understanding of the earliest circulation of
Boccaccios masterpiece, providing insights into how it was received and which
of its features excited attention. Puccis subordinate social status as a hireling of
Florences signoria distinguishes him sociologically from other early readers of
the Decameron of whom we know, his visibility in trecento Florence as a non-
elite, civic poet aligning him in some respects with the subaltern position and cul-
tural function of a uomo di corte. Thus while the first part of this essay examines
the intertextual conversation among Dante, Boccaccio, Pucci, and Sacchetti, the
final part reassesses the cultural milieux in which the Decameron first appeared
in light of Puccis engagement with Boccaccio concerning the cultural significance
of court entertainers.
As the linguistic evidence from trecento Italy shows, the term uomo di corte
designated a menial attendant at an aristocratic court who provided recreational
entertainment or witty conversation, which enhanced the sociability of the court
and embellished its prestige.1 The term is used most widely of itinerant perform-
ers in search of largesse, but it is also used for long-term retainers or occasional
hirelings. Common synonyms are giullare, giocolatore, buffone, and istrione. Al-
though modern commentators sometimes consider a uomo di corte to be the same
as a cortigiano or even a cavaliere, and although translators of the Decameron
into English often render the term as courtier, such interpretations are mislead-
ing. It is true that Franco Sacchetti praises some uomini di corte as mezzi corti-
giani (half courtiers), and there was indeed an expectation that the most talented
performers would be suitable ornaments of aristocratic milieux.2 Nevertheless,
the term in its trecento usage was a fancy label for jongleur-like entertainers who
hung around courts angling for rewards. They certainly were not of aristocratic
or gentle status, not even if, as sometimes happened, they were honored by being
symbolically knighted and called cavalieri di corte.3

1
The database of the Opera del Vocabolario Italiano includes 85 distinct occurrences in 24 dif-
ferent works (spelling uom.*/huom.*/om.*); http//:artfl-project.uchicago.du/content/ovi (accessed
25 September 2015).
2
Franco Sacchetti, Trecentonovelle 144.2; ed. Davide Puccini (Turin, 2008), 383. This novella by
Sacchetti portrays the uomini di corte Martellino and Stecchi who also figure in Decameron 2.1. Un-
less otherwise stated, translations from Italian and Latin works are my own.
3
For recent work on the traditions of giullari and uomini di corte in Italy, see Luigi Allegri, Teatro
e spettacolo nel Medioevo (Bari, 1988); Tito Saffioti, I giullari in Italia: Lo spettacolo, il pubblico, i
testi (Milan, 1990; 2nd ed., 2012); Sandra Pietrini, Spettacoli e immaginario teatrale nel Medioevo

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 3
Their entertainments combined low and high registers, tailoring the edgy hu-
mor of popular culture to suit the expectations of an elite audience. As an in-
tegral component of a noble lifestyle organized around conspicuous spectacles
of wealth and prestige, performances by court entertainers were a characteristic
adornment of aristocratic courts, occurring after meals and at grand feasts. Aris-
tocratic enjoyment of such entertainments found moral legitimacy in the idea of
recreation, whereby men and women burdened with cares of this world could,
by means of the relaxing effects of playful diversion, attain physical health and
spiritual renewal.4 The verbal wit of uomini di corte was also appreciated for
contributing to the overall sociability of an aristocratic court, in line with the Ar-
istotelian notion that pleasant and humorous conversation (eutrapelia) improves
the mental disposition of both the speaker and the listeners.5 Yet if the venues
were dominated by the needs of an elite class, the performers themselves were of
markedly inferior status, often starting off as buskers or beggars, contortionists
or con men; even if they enjoyed success, they lived hand to mouth as subaltern
dependents. For the libidinal energies associated with the display of their bodies,
for the stimulation occasioned by their words, and for the shamelessness of their
apparent greed, they were treated with suspicion by church and civil authorities
alike. Uomini di corte performed a delicate balancing act: they drew upon verbal
entertainments that were highly charged with popular and subversive energies,
subtly transmuting them so that they could be proffered to aristocratic listeners
for their recreation and diversion.
Trecento writers, conscious of the degree to which their own vernacular com-
positions blended popular appeal and highbrow urbanity, often addressed the
fact that their work was both like and unlike the provocative diversions offered
by uomini di corte. The anonymous author of the late thirteenth-century No
vellino, striving to inculcate an aptitude for bel parlare (witty conversation)
among nobles, presents his work as continuous with the courtly diversions prof-
fered by uomini di corte. His gathering of tales includes several anecdotes about
uomini di corte and their clever turns of phrase: Saladino, lo quale era homo di
corte, essendo in Cicilia per mangiare ad una tavola con molti cavalieri... (A
uomo di corte named Saladino once visited Sicily to dine at a table where many
knights were gathered...), and so on.6 Petrarch, on the other hand, in a letter to

(Rome, 2001); Luigi Allegri, Larte e il mestiere: Lattore teatrale dallantichit a oggi (Rome, 2005);
Francesco Mosetti Casaretto, ed., La scena assente: Realt e leggenda sul teatro nel Medioevo. Atti
delle II Giornate internazionali interdisciplinari di studio sul Medioevo (Siena, 1316 Giugno 2004)
(Alessandria, 2006); and Sandra Pietrini, I giullari nellimmaginario medievale (Rome, 2011).
4
Glending Olson, Literature as Recreation in the Later Middle Ages (Ithaca, 1982).
5
On eutrapelia in medieval discussions regarding urbane speech, see ibid., 93100; and Carla
Casagrande and Silvana Vecchio, Linterdizione del giullare nel vocabolario clericale del XII e XIII
secolo, in Il contributo dei giullari alla drammaturgia italiana delle origini: Atti del Convegno del
Centro di studi sul teatro medievale e rinascimentale (Viterbo 1719 Giugno 1977) (Rome, 1978),
20758.
6
Libro di novella e di bel parlare gientile (Ur-Novellino), modulo 1 and modulo 65, in Il Novellino,
edited by Alberto Conte (Rome, 2001), 16566 and 246. On uomini di corte in the Novellino, see
Contes introduction to this edition, as well as Anna Fontes Barrato, Narrateur, beffatore, necroman-
cien: Les avatars de lhomme de cour dans le Novellino, Chroniques italiennes 106 (2000): 2938.

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4 The Case of the Court Entertainer
Boccaccio, proudly distances his own poetry from the derivative artistry, histri-
onic display, and servile greed of jongleurs:
Nosti quidem hoc vulgare ac vulgatum genus vitam verbis agentium, nec suis, quod
apud nos usque ad fastidium percrebuit. Sunt homines non magni ingenii, magne vero
memorie magneque diligentie sed maioris audacie, regum ac potentum aulas frequen-
tant, de proprio nudi, vestiti autem carminibus alienis dumque quid ab hoc aut ab illo
exquisitius, materno presertim charactere, dictum sit ingenti expressione pronunciant,
gratiam sibi nobilium et pecunias querunt et vestes et munera.
[You know the vulgar and banal breed that makes a living on words not its own; they
have spread among us to the point of nausea. They are men of no great talent, but great
memory and drive and even greater effrontery, who frequent the palaces of rulers and
powerful men, devoid of anything of their own, yet dressed in others verses. Whatever
someone has neatly said, especially in the vernacular, they declaim with inordinate em-
phasis, seeking the nobilitys favor, money, clothing, and gifts.]7

Many other vernacular writers exhibit a mixture of appreciation and scorn: even
when performative entertainments provided them with materials to appropriate
or with attitudes to emulate, writers carefully distanced themselves from those
aspects of the giullare tradition that might provoke charges of impertinence or
scurrility.
No vernacular writer exhibits a greater ambivalence toward popular enter-
tainments than does Boccaccio in the Decameron.8 Boccaccio acknowledges that
his collection of tales is heavily indebted to performative currents of jokes and
storytelling through the many novellas that feature court entertainers, itinerant
performers, and local jokers.9 In yet other novellas Boccaccio appropriates tales
and motifs from the repertoire of popular storytellers, transmuting their materials
into artfully crafted stories, far removed in tone and purpose from the crude ba-
dinage of giullari. Even while exploiting this repertoire Boccaccio often hides his
tracks. For example, for the plot of Decameron 6.1, in which the noble Madonna
Oretta wittily reprimands a knight for being an incompetent storyteller, Boccac-
cio draws upon an anecdote from the Novellino repertoire about a waiter who
silences a long-winded uomo di corte with a witty insult; the servile context of

7
Francesco Petrarca, Res seniles 5.2.67; ed. Silvia Rizzo, 3 vols., Edizione Nazionale (Florence,
2009), 2:32; Letters on Old Age, trans. Aldo S. Bernardo, Saul Levin, and Reta A. Bernardo, vol. 1
(New York, 2005), 15758.
8
The Decameron is cited by story and paragraph, followed by page number, from Giovanni Boc-
caccio, Decameron, vol. 4 of Tutte le opere di Boccaccio, ed. Vittore Branca (Milan, 1976); transla-
tions are cited by page number from Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, trans. Wayne A. Rebhorn
(New York, 2013).
9
The Decamerons uomini di corte include Bergamino, one of the uomini di corte dogni maniera
at Verona (1.7.67, p. 72); Guiglielmo Borsiere, un valente uomo di corte e costumato e ben par-
lante (1.8.7, p. 78); Stecchi, Martellino, and Marchese, uomini li quali, le corti de signor visitando,
di contraffarsi e con nuovi atti contraffacendo qualunque altro uomo li veditori sollazzavano (2.1.6,
p. 95); Michele Scalza, il pi piacevole e il pi sollazzevole uom del mondo (6.6.4, p. 553); Maso
del Saggio, un giovane di maravigliosa piacevolezza in ciascuna cosa che far voleva, astuto e avve-
nevole (8.3.5, p. 681); Ribi and Matteuzzo, non meno sollazzevoli che Maso (8.5.8, p. 699); and
Ciacco, assai costumato e tutto pieno di belli e di piacevoli motti, si diede a essere non del tutto uom
di corte ma morditore (9.8.4, p. 826).

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 5
uomini di corte is quietly purged from Boccaccios version, which offers instead
a picture of refined, aristocratic sociability.10 Similarly, when the frame tale of the
Decameron presents a gathering of aristocrats listening to diverting stories, some
of them witty and some bordering on the licentious, one might well have expected
to find entertainers at work, given that uomini di corte were the professionals
traditionally tasked with proffering tales and witticisms to noble audiences; but
there is no trace of giullari here, for they have been eclipsed by the decorous
young aristocrats. In this respect, the Decameron is predicated in part upon a
disavowal of popular storytellers and uomini di corte, despite the fact (or rather,
because of the fact) that their repertoire has been ransacked by Boccaccio for
compelling narrative material.
Scholarship has approached the study of giullari and uomini di corte rather
gingerlythere is a dearth of surviving texts, and scholars remain wary of
projecting onto them a romantic nostalgia for a lost minstrel tradition. Even as
promising a topic as the Decamerons harnessing of popular storytelling has gen-
erally been sidestepped because of such methodological hurdles.11 Nevertheless,
trecento writers often reveal mixed feelings about the proximity of their own
works to contemporary forms of performative entertainment, and these mixed
feelingssometimes voiced explicitly, sometimes encoded in the semiotic play
of their compositionsare available for historical examination. In the intertex-
tual conversation traced below, four Florentine writers express different worries
about the proximity of their art to popular traditions: to stake out their posi-
tions they treat the figure of the court entertainer as a stimulus for metaliterary
self-reflection.

The Figure of the Uomo di Corte


Dante
In Inferno 16, the soul of Iacopo Rusticucci asks Dante the Pilgrim whether
cortesia e valor (courtesy and valor) can still be found in Florence. Iacopo
justifies his question by explaining that a recent arrival, Guiglielmo Borsiere,
has brought dismaying reports about the current state of Florentine manners.
Iacopos question prompts an outburst of righteous indignation by Dante, who
laments that the rise of the nouveau riche has bred orgoglio e dismisura (excess
and arrogance) which have eclipsed the true values of cortesia:

10
See Il Novellino (testo vulgato), novella 89, in Il Novellino, ed. Conte, 147. On Decameron 6.1,
see Guido Almansi, The Writer as Liar: Narrative Technique in the Decameron (London, 1975),
1924; Jonathan Usher, Desultoriet nella novella portante di Madonna Oretta (Dec. VI, 1) e al-
tre citazioni apuleiane nel Boccaccio, Studi sul Boccaccio 29 (2001): 67103; and the discussion in
Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Amedeo Quondam, Maurizio Fiorilla, and Giancarlo Alfano
(Milan, 2013), 95557. The story is reprised in Giovanni Sercambi, Novelle, novella 121; ed. Giovanni
Sinicropi (Florence, 1995), 96062.
11
A recent exception is Katherine Brown, Boccaccios Fabliaux: Medieval Short Stories and the
Function of Reversal (Gainesville, 2014). Many folktale, fabliau, and popular analogues to Boccac-
cios novellas are suggested in A. C. Lee, The Decameron: Its Sources and Analogues (London, 1909),
and in the copious notes to Brancas edition.

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6 The Case of the Court Entertainer
cortesia e valor d se dimora
ne la nostra citt s come suole,
o se del tutto se n gita fora;
ch Guiglielmo Borsiere, il qual si duole
con noi per poco e va l coi compagni,
assai ne cruccia con le sue parole.
La gente nuova e sbiti guadagni
orgoglio e dismisura han generata,
Fiorenza, in te, s che tu gi ten piagni.
Cos gridai con la faccia levata.

(Inferno 16.6776)

[...tell us if valor and courtesy still live


there in our city, as once they used to do,
or have they utterly forsaken her?
Guglielmo Borsiere, grieving with us here
so short a time, goes yonder with our company
and makes us worry with his words.
The new crowd with their sudden profits
have begot in you, Florence, such excess
and arrogance that you already weep.
This, my face uplifted, I cried out.]12

Dante presents a simple schema of the decline of cortesia: the good old days of
true noble civility, associated with Iacopo Rusticucci and his fellows (most of
whom flourished in the early and mid-1200s), have recently (that is, around the
end of the thirteenth century) given way to a debasement of courtliness caused,
in the pilgrims estimation, by a distressing lack of manners among Florences
foreign immigrants and nouveau riche.13
This message of decline has already been brought to Iacopo Rusticucci by
Guiglielmo Borsiere, who, unlike Iacopo and his fellows, is not himself an aris-
tocrat. Early commentaries on the Commedia explain that Guiglielmo Borsiere
was a famous uomo di corte of the late thirteenth century.14 Guiglielmo Borsiere

12
Dante Alighieri, La Commedia secondo lantica vulgata, ed. Giorgio Petrocchi, 4 vols., Edizione
Nazionale (Florence, 1994); all references are to this edition. Translations are from Dante Alighieri,
Inferno, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander (New York, 2000), 299.
13
On cortesia and nobility in Dantes Commedia, see Renzo Lo Cascio, La nozione di cortesia e di
nobilt dai siciliani a Dante, in Atti del Convegno di studi su Dante e la Magna Curia (Palermo, 1967),
11384; Umberto Carpi, La nobilt di Dante, 2 vols. (Florence, 2004); and Kristina Olson, Courtesy Lost:
Dante, Boccaccio, and the Literature of History (Toronto, 2014). On the Florentine context of this de-
nunciation, see also Elisa Brilli, Firenze e il profeta: Dante fra teologia e politica (Rome, 2012), 100101.
14
Jacopo Alighieri, alcuno valoroso uomo di corte; Guido da Pisa, fuit quidam florentinus opti-
mus ioculator sive hystrio; Lottimo commento, questo Guiglielmo Borsiere, che ricevette laltrui
cortesia; Pietro Alighieri, qui homo probissimum fuit de Curia; Benvenuto da Imola, factus est
homo curialis, et coepit visitare curias dominorum et domos nobilium; Anonimo Fiorentino, Questi
fu uno uomo di corte che ricevette laltrui cortesia; Landino, fu cavalieri di corte, et hebbe practica
chon tutti e signori dItalia. See Dante Dartmouth Project, http://dante.dartmouth.edu/ (accessed
4 October 2015). On Dantes figure of Guiglielmo Borsiere, see Francesco Collagrosso, Gli uomini
di corte nella Divina commedia, Studi di letteratura italiana 2 (1900): 2457; Michele Scherillo,
Dante uomo di corte, RendicontiReale Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere, ser. 2, 34 (1901):

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 7
registers, but is not responsible for, the debasement of cortesia, a point that is
noted by Boccaccios student Benvenuto da Imola, who observes that Dante made
a wise choice in having Guiglielmo as the figure qui dolet de curialitate perdita
in patria sua, quia ipse erat optimus judex in tali causa, et bene noverat curiali-
tatem et curiales suae patriae (who grieves about the loss of courtliness in his
own country, because he was a superb judge on such a topic, for he had known
his countrys courtliness and its courtly persons).15 As a superlative entertainer,
his knowledge of curialitatem and curiales would have entailed a familiarity with
numerous courts, a professionals grasp of audience expectations, and a credible
estimation of appropriate remunerationmaking him an accurate barometer of
the state of courtly behavior. For Dante, Guiglielmo Borsiere represents a period
in the past when the respectful wit of a court entertainer and the civilized deco-
rum of noble patrons had properly converged; in those days, a subaltern depen-
dent who was well integrated into the courtly scene could recognize cortesia e
valor better than can the current arriviste members of the Florentine elite. Ad-
ditionally, Guiglielmo Borsieres reproof of current aristocrats is in keeping with
the expectation that one task of uomini di corte was to deliver criticism couched
in humor and irony; thus when Iacopo says that Guiglielmo assai ne cruccia con
le sue parole (makes us worry with his words), he describes the uomo di corte as
if reprising the role of the scold, now with more acerbity than humor.
Michele Scherillo has suggested that this reference to Guiglielmo Borsiere
along with Dantes naming of two other uomini di corte, Ciacco (Inferno 6)
and Marco Lombardo (Purgatorio 16)entails a metaliterary moment of self-
reflection. Dante, during the period when he wrote the Commedia, traveled
among aristocratic courts in northern Italy, flaunting his skill as a vernacular
poet in order to secure the support of patrons: he knew how to steer clear of the
dissipations of the uomini di corte, but nevertheless, if not out of choice than out
of dire necessity, like them he had to beg for his living hand to mouth, clambering
the stairways of lords, offering to them his services as ambassador, mediator, or
secretary, and delivering quips and wisecracks.16 Several medieval anecdotes de-
pict Dantes ambivalent status at the courts of his patrons. Petrarch, for example,
depicts Dante, surrounded by histriones ac nebulones (performers and jesters)
at the court of Verona: when asked by Can Grande della Scala why he cant please
the crowd as much as unus procacissimus obscenis verbis ac gestibus multum
apud omnes loci ac gratie tenebat (a quick wit who with obscene words and
gestures was accorded much place and favor by everyone), Dante responds that if
Can Grande understood the true grounds of patronly friendship he would be bet-
ter treated.17 Such anecdotes reveal a collective memory of Dante as a poet who,

39093 (see also Nuova antologia di lettere, scienze e arti, ser. 4, 95 [1901]: 11423); Albino Zenatti,
Lectura Dantis: Il canto XVI del Purgatorio (Florence, 1902); and Vincenzo Presta, Guglielmo Bor-
siere, in Enciclopedia Dantesca (Rome, 1971), 3:31011.
15
Benvenuto da Imola, Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam, ad Inferno 16.7072, ed.
William Warren Vernon and James Philip Lacaita, 4 vols. (Florence, 1887); quoted from Dartmouth
Dante Project (accessed 4 October 2015).
16
Scherillo, Dante uomo di corte, 392.
17
Francesco Petrarca, Rerum memorandum libri 2.83; ed. Marco Petoletti, Edizione Nazionale
(Florence, 2014), 19698. See Scherillo, Dante uomo di corte; and K. Olson, Courtesy Lost, 3443.

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8 The Case of the Court Entertainer
when in exile, occupied the structural position of a court entertainer and rankled
at finding himself in such a position.
In Inferno 16 Dante aligns his own anger with the perspective of Guiglielmo
Borsiere. Like Borsiere, the historical Dante is an itinerant wordsmith, crafting
an energetic form of vernacular expression within an aristocratic court culture.
Dante writes in De vulgari eloquentia quod nostrum illustre velut acola pe
regrinatur et in humilibus hospitatur asilis, cum aula vacemus (our illustrious
vernacular wanders around like a homeless stranger, finding hospitality in more
humble homesbecause we have no royal court).18 Not only is the illustrious
vernacular an itinerant, so too is Dante. As both an insider and an outsider, he,
like Borsiere, possesses a better understanding of true courtesy than his patrons
and can reliably diagnose civilitys decline. By also adopting a prophetic style of
denunciation, Dante moves into a literary register much more serious than the
extemporaneous badinage of entertainers like Borsiere; perhaps the implication
is that improvisational forms of expression, like Borsieres, that made sense when
aristocratic sociability operated properly are not adequate to the current situation,
for which Dante must carve out a new mode of vernacular writing. By taking the
figure of a uomo di corte as an occasion to launch into observations about the
decline of civility and verbal decorum, Dante inaugurated a leitmotif that would
be alluded to and reworked by a series of vernacular authors writing in his wake.

Boccaccio
In the Decameron Boccaccio revives the figure of Guiglielmo Borsiere. For the
eighth tale of the first day, Lauretta reports an anecdote about a quip that this
well-known uomo di corte once delivered to Ermino Grimaldi, an avaricious
Genoese magnate. When Grimaldi asks the entertainer what unusual subject
should be painted in his palaces hall, Guiglielmo suggests una che voi non credo
che vedeste mai....Fateci dipingere la Cortesia (something I dont believe you
yourself have ever seen....Here have them paint generosity, Decameron 1.8.14,
p. 79; Rebhorn, p. 65). Wittily chided, Grimaldi changes his ways and become a
generous benefactor. As in Dante, Guiglielmo here, as a uomo di corte, is a social
inferior who understands cortesia better than many men of wealth. In Boccaccios
tale the key term cortesia has as its primary meaning generosity, and the uomo
di cortes tactful reprimand successfully reintegrates Grimaldi into a world of
beneficent largesse and courtly values. In the good old days uomini di corte like
Guiglielmo encouraged powerful lords to behave with decorum and generosity,
or at least that is the exemplary moral that Lauretta bestows upon her tale, which
she prefaces with a diatribe about the degeneracy of the uomini di corte of today
in a passage worth quoting at length (superscript letters indicate similarities with
the text by Pucci that will be discussed below):
Arriv a Genova un valente auomo di corte e bcostumato e ben parlante, il qual fu
chiamato Guiglielmo Borsiere, non miga simile a quegli cli quali sono oggi, li quali, non

18
Dante Alighieri, De vulgari eloquentia 1.18.3; ed. Pio Rajna (Florence, 1960); De vulgari elo
quentia, trans. Stephen Botterill (Cambridge, UK, 1996), 43.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 9
senza gran vergogna de corrotti e vituperevoli costumi di coloro li quali al presente vo-
gliono essere gentili uomini e signor chiamati e reputati, dson pi tosto da dire asini nella
bruttura di tutta la cattivit de vilissimi uomini allevati che nelle corti. E l dove a que
tempi esoleva essere il lor mestiere e consumarsi la lor fatica fin trattar paci, dove guerre
o sdegni tra gentili uomini fosser nati, o trattar matrimonii, parentadi e amist, e con
belli motti e leggiadri ricreare gli animi degli affaticati e sollazzar le corti e con agre ri-
prensioni, s come padri, mordere i difetti de cattivi, e questo gcon premii assai leggieri;
oggi di rapportar male dalluno allaltro, in seminare zizzania, in dir cattivit e tristizie,
e, che peggio, in farle nella presenza degli uomini, in rimproverare i mali, le vergogne e
le tristezze vere e non vere luno allaltro e con false lusinghe gli uomini gentili alle cose
vili e scellerate ritrarre singegnano il lor tempo di consumare. E colui pi caro avuto
e pi da miseri e scostumati signori onorato e con premii grandissimi essaltato, che pi
abominevoli parole dice o fa atti....[I]l gi detto Guiglielmo hda tutti i gentili uomini
di Genova fu onorato e volentier veduto. (Decameron 1.8.711, pp. 7879)
[There arrived in Genoa a worthy court entertainer, a well-spoken man with elegant
manners whose name was Guiglielmo Borsiere and who did not in the least resemble his
present-day counterparts. For to the immense shame of those who nowadays, despite
their corrupt and contemptible habits, claim the name and title of gentlemen and lords,
these court entertainers of ours look more like asses who have not been brought up at
court, but among the filthiest, scummiest, and vilest of men. In those days, it used to
be their function, something to which they devoted all of their energy, to make peace
where quarrels or disputes had arisen among gentlemen, to arrange marriages, alliances,
and friendships, to restore the spirits of the weary and entertain the court with splen-
did, elegant witticisms, and as fathers do, to criticize the defects of the wicked, all of
which they did for the slenderest of rewards. Nowadays they are determined to spend
their time spreading gossip, sowing discord, talking of wicked and repulsive things, and
what is worse, doing them in the presence of gentlemen. Or else they will accuse one
another both justly and unjustly of wicked, shameful, and disgusting deeds, and will use
false flattery to entice noble men to do things that are vile and evil. And the man whose
words and deeds are the most abominable is the one who is held in the greatest esteem
among them and is most honored and richly rewarded by the basest, most dissolute
lords....[T]he Guiglielmo I spoke of was honored upon his arrival and given a warm
welcome by all the gentlemen of Genoa. (Rebhorn, 6364)]

According to Lauretta, uomini di corte once fulfilled several crucial functions at


court: promoting peace among the rich and powerful, handling diplomatic mis-
sions with tact, arranging marriages, soothing fatigued minds with witty enter-
tainment, and counseling lords with polite admonitions. Now, however, uomini
di corte stir up rancor with insults, lies, and provocations. Instead of fostering a
climate of sociability among potentially quarrelsome nobles, they sow discord.
In the anecdote that then ensues, rightly identified by Victoria Kirkham as essen-
tially a parable, Guiglielmo Borsiere exemplifies a uomo di corte of the old school
against whom current courtly practices are judged and found wanting.19
By presenting Guiglielmo Borsiere as the central character of Decameron
1.8, Boccaccio signals that Laurettas claims about the decay of courtly customs
are to be read in light of Inferno 16. The connection with the Commedia is so

19
Victoria Kirkham, The Tale of Guiglielmo Borsiere, in The Decameron First Day in Perspec
tive: Volume One of the Lectura Boccaccii, ed. Elissa B. Weaver (Toronto, 2004), 179206.

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10 The Case of the Court Entertainer
unambiguous that later on, in 1373, when Boccaccio composed a commentary
on the Inferno, he recycled his portrayal of Guiglielmo Borsiere from Decameron
1.8:
Questi fu cavalier di corte, uomo costumato molto e di laudevol maniera; ed era il suo
essercizio, e degli altri suoi pari, il trattar paci tra grandi e gentili uomini, trattar matri-
moni e parentadi e talora con piacevoli e oneste novella recreare gli animi de faticati e
confortargli alle cose onorevoli; il che i moderni non fanno, anzi quanto pi sono scelle-
rati e spiacevoli e con brutte operazioni e parole, pi piacciono e meglio son proveduti.
[This man was a cavalier di corte, a man of great polish and laudable behavior. He and
his peers performed tasks such as negotiating peace among magnates and noblemen and
mediating the unions of spouses and families. He also sometimes delighted the minds
of those who were distressed with pleasant and decent stories and encouraged them to
behave honorably. These are things that the modern ones do not do; indeed, the more
dastardly and disagreeable such men are, and the more despicable are their deeds and
words, the more they are liked and the more they are rewarded.]20

As Kristina Olson has argued, Boccaccios reiteration of the same expressions in


Decameron 1.8 and the Esposizioni shows that he already considered Inferno
16 an important frame of interpretation for the earlier novella.21 Decameron 1.8
stands, as Michelangelo Picone puts it, as a kind of gloss, more narrative than
exegetical, on Inferno 16, novelistically shaping a parable around the figure of
Guiglielmo Borsiere.22 In a similar manner, Kirkham considers the relationship
between Decameron 1.8 and Inferno 16 in light of what Pier Massimo Forni
calls Boccaccios narrative realization, where new narrative possibilities are
generated in response to linguistic and semantic features present in an earlier
text. In the case of Decameron 1.8, the features of Inferno 16 most responsible
for prompting further development are the semantic range of the term cortesia,
the shadowy presence of a figure identifiable as a uomo di corte, and the scathing
tone of Dantes nostalgic indignation.23 Where Dante blames the decline in civility
on recent changes in the composition of the elite classes, Boccaccio here locates
the cause of degeneracy in the servile uomini di corte: wayward aristocrats are
just waiting to be brought back into the fold, if only the entertainers of today step
up to the task. Boccaccios parable diagnoses the historical degradation of cour-
tesy and suggests a remedy for it: uomini di corte should resume their original
role of sustaining a refined culture of aristocratic sociability.

20
Giovanni Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante 16.54, ed. Giorgio Padoan, vol. 6
of Tutte le opere di Boccaccio, ed. Vittore Branca (Milan, 1965), 69899. I have slightly altered the
translation from Giovanni Boccaccio, Boccaccios Expositions on Dantes Comedy, trans. Michael
Papio (Toronto, 2009), 582.
21
Kristina Olson, Resurrecting Dantes Florence: Figural Realism in the Decameron and the Espo
sizioni, Modern Language Notes 124 (2009): 4665; and Olson, Courtesy Lost, 3443.
22
Michelangelo Picone, Luomo di corte e lideale cavalleresco: Guglielmo Borsieri (I.8), in Boc
caccio e la codificazione della novella: Letture del Decameron, ed. Nicole Codrey, Claudia Gens-
wein, and Rosa Pittorino (Ravenna, 2008), 11123, at 119.
23
Two other uses of the term uomo di corte in the Decameron likewise occur alongside intertextual
gestures toward Dante, with Decameron 1.7.6, p. 72, referring to the entertainers of Can Grande
della Scala (Dantes patron); and Decameron 9.8.4, p. 826, to Ciacco, the glutton of Inferno 6; see
also Boccaccio, Esposizioni 6.25.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 11
As Picone has shown, Boccaccios tale of Guiglielmo Borsiere has metatextual
resonances: just as Guiglielmo tactfully uses belli motti e leggiadri (splendid,
elegant witticisms) to restore an environment of refined cortesia, so too the mem-
bers of the Decamerons brigata create with their rhetorical deftness a refined
sociability that counteracts the social disturbance unleashed by the plague. Fur-
thermore, Boccaccio as an author creates his witty diversions not to lead listen-
ers astray (or so he insists) but rather to enhance a decorous, sociable lifestyle;
in this light, Laurettas digression about uomini di corte constitutes an indirect
declaration of poetics.24 To Picones astute description of the reflection of the
macrostructure of the Decameron in the microstructure of the novella, we might
add another insight into Boccaccios metaliterary reflections: he is also concerned
about how his own novelistic enterprise is both similar to and different from
the entertainments associated with giullari and uomini di corte. Through the fig-
ure of Guiglielmo Borsiere, Boccaccio registers his ambivalence, indeed his anxi
eties, about this intertextual inheritance. Boccaccios alignment of the ideals of
the Decameron with Guiglielmo Borsieres wit acknowledges the verbal skill of
professional entertainers whose repertoire Boccaccio so often draws upon. Yet
for Boccaccio this comes with the cost of repudiating any association between
the Decameron and the poor fare offered by contemporary jongleurs and jesters.
By dividing the tradition of court entertainers so starkly into two camps, and by
mapping that distinction onto a temporal scheme of decline derived from Dante,
Boccaccio both reveals and conceals, both acknowledges and denies, his works
indebtedness to the performative traditions of facezie and motti.

Pucci
Antonio Pucci, a fellow Florentine and a friend of Boccaccios, responded
quickly to the Decamerons portrait of uomini di corte. In his prose compen-
dium of world history, natural science, and mythological informationgiven the
title Libro di varie storie (Book of Various Stories) by its modern editor, Alberto
VarvaroPucci devotes an entire chapter to a catalog of the qualities appropriate
for persons of different social estates: children, priests, prelates, bishops, monks
and nuns, cardinals, the pope, lords, farmers, merchants, artisans, physicians,
judges, notaries, serving men, knights and governors, court entertainers (uomini
di corte), and unmarried and married ladies.25 In this catalog, labeled Delle pro
priet degli stati del mondo (The Characteristics of Worldly Estates) by Varvaro,
one of the longest entries is dedicated to the responsibilities of uomini di corte.
For this account Pucci appropriates the sketch of the profession provided by Boc-
caccio in Decameron 1.8.
Pucci opens this entry with an overview of the debasement of uomini di corte
over time. Where in the past they had provided true courtly service in accordance
with the original meaning of their name, they now are ill-bred and incompetent:

Picone, Luomo di corte, 121.


24

I cite the compendium from Antonio Pucci, Libro di varie storie, ed. Alberto Varvaro (Palermo,
25

1957), following Varvaros editorial divisions of the work into chapters and paragraphs. The catalog
occurs at Libro 37.152, pp. 25870.

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12 The Case of the Court Entertainer
a
Gluomini di corte debbono interpretare e conoscere il lor nome, che tanto a dire
quanto maestri di cortesia, per che debono essere bcostumati e ornati parlatori, per
che eanticamente solieno amaestrare i cavalieri e ricordare i lor beni e loro onori fe por-
tare novella da un signore a un altro, mettendo pace e concordia, per la qual cosa erano
h
da tutti accettati graziosamente e onorati di gmangiare e di bere e di danari e di robbe. E
cos si fece mentre che dur cavalleria, ma coggi imbastardita e cos sono imbastarditi
gluomini di corte, che tale si chiama uommo di corte dche non saprebbe porre il basto
allasino, che fu il mistiere del padre suo, e di porco non nasce uomo cortese. (Libro
37.3839, p. 267)
[The uomini di corte ought to understand and respect their name, which has the mean-
ing of masters of courtesy, for they ought to be respectable and polished speakers, for
in olden days they used to instruct the knights and record their qualities and honors,
and carry news from one lord to another, arranging peace and concord, and for this
reason they were graciously accepted by everyone and honored with food and drink
and money and robes. And so it went as long as chivalry endured, but today chivalry is
bastardized and thus the uomini di corte are bastardized, such that someone is called an
uomo di corte who wouldnt know how to beat an ass with a stick although that was
his fathers tradeand courtly men arent born from pigs.]

According to both Boccaccio and Pucci, in the good old days uomini di corte fos-
tered peace and cooperation among lords, but the practice has now declined into
loutishness. Although there are elements unique to each account, and although
exact quotation is rare, most of the phrases in Puccis paragraph are prompted, ei-
ther directly or indirectly, by phrases in Laurettas lament. In the quotation above,
phrases that echo Boccaccio are highlighted in bold, keyed with superscript let-
ters to the relevant passages in the earlier quotation from Decameron 1.8.26 For
example, in the Decameron, Guiglielmo Borsiere is introduced as a uomo di corte
who is costumato e ben parlante, and for Pucci, uomini di corte should be
costumati e ornati parlatori. Both writers note that in the olden days uomini di
corte were accustomed to performing various useful tasks (a que tempi soleva
essere; anticamente solieno). Both introduce a comparison involving asses
(asini; asino) to describe todays unworthy practitioners.

26
Textual scholars distinguish between two authorial redactions of the Decameron. The first redac-
tion, labeled P* by Branca, was probably composed c. 134953; it is most authoritatively represented
by Paris, Bibliothque nationale de France, MS Italien 482 (P), a codex copied by Giovanni dAgnolo
Capponi in the second half of the 1360s. The second redaction, labelled B*, was composed c. 1370
72; it is authoritatively represented by the autograph manuscript, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Preussicher
Kulturbesitz, MS Hamilton 90 (B). Brancas edition of the Decameron, from which I cite, is based on
the autograph B, whereas Pucci, engaging with Decameron 1.8 before 1361, would have read a form
of the earlier redaction, P*, for which we do not yet have an edition. For textual differences between
the redactions, see Vittore Branca and Maurizio Vitale, Il capolavoro del Boccaccio e due diverse
redazioni, 2 vols. (Venice, 2002); Marco Cursi, Il Decameron: Scritture, scriventi, lettori. Storia di
un testo (Rome, 2007), 3136 and 21719; Maurizio Fiorilla, Ancora per il testo del Decameron,
LEllisse 8 (2013): 7590; and Marco Cursi, Authorial Strategies and Manuscript Tradition: Boc-
caccio and the Decamerons Early Diffusion, Medievalia 34 (2013): 87110. For textual differences
between the witnesses P and B regarding Decameron 1.8 in particular, see the apparatus in Giovanni
Boccaccio, Decameron, ed. Aldo Rossi (Bologna, 1977); the list of readings in Branca and Vitale, Il
capolavoro 2:27; and Maurizio Fiorilla, Per il testo del Decameron, LEllisse 5 (2010): 938, at
3132. None of these differences affect the analysis given here of Puccis reuse of Decameron 1.8.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 13
In the remaining paragraphs of this entry, Pucci fleshes out the historical trajec-
tory that Boccaccio had proposed by describing four types of uomini di corte, pre-
senting them as a succession of four generations, each offering a different mode
of service at aristocratic courts: Sono uomini di corte di quattro generazioni
(There are four generations of uomini di corte). Emblematic of the first genera-
tion is a dedicated retainer who serves the king and the knights of the land: Era
un uomo amaestrato e addorno di costumi e di ben parlare, il quale fu appellato
maestro di cortesia, perchegli andava per tutte parti corteseggiando, servendo e
amaestrando di costumi e di portamento i cavalieri e signori (There was a man
who was polished and accomplished in proper behavior and fine speaking, and he
was called master of courtesy, because he went around all regions acting cour-
teously, being of service, and instructing the knights and the lords in behavior and
deportment, Libro 37.40, p. 267). This prized servant is rewarded with the use of
horses, fine clothes, exemption from taxes, and a reliable income from the kings
public funds, the effect of which would be to insulate him from depending upon
the largesse of aristocratic lords. The appellation uomo di corte derives from this
individual, for he was a special man at the royal court.27
The second generation began when un altro uomo costumato e ingegnoso
iscrisse a suo diletto ogni bene che l re avea fatto (another polished and inven-
tive man wrote for his delight all of the deeds that the king had accomplished,
Libro 37.41, p. 267); this retainer received a grant of land and exemption from
taxation as a reward.28
The third generation is characterized by a uomo di corte who cominci a
mettere in rima e cantare dinanzi a cavalieri ci che quegli aveva scritto del re,
e questi fu il primo che mai cantasse (began to set in rhyme and sing for the
knights what the other had written about the king, and he was the first one ever
to sing); he is rewarded by the knights with occasional gifts of clothes, perform-
ing therefore within the standard conditions of courtly patronage.29 The verbal
entertainmentswritten prose and sung poetryoffered by the second and third
generations of uomini di corte elaborate Boccaccios comment that good uomini
di corte con belli motti e leggiadri ricreare gli animi degli affaticati e sollazzar
le corti (restore the spirits of the weary and entertain the court with splendid,
elegant witticisms [Decameron 1.8.8, p. 78; Rebhorn 64]).
Receiving Puccis most sustained attention is the final generation, exemplified
by the lazy and rude buffone, or court jester, who wanders like a beggar among
the isolated courts of petty local lords, typically rewarded with no more than his
supper. He fans the fires of enmity, earning favor with one lord by casting asper-
sions on another, such that the lords themselves are unsure how to control him:

27
E avea dela corte del re cavagli a sua richiesta per accompagnare i cavalieri, i quali il vestivano
al pari di loro e non era tenuto a fare alcuna fazione, anzi erano a lui largiti certi beni di sbanditi e
rubelli della corona, e da costui diriv il nome degluomini di corte, perchelli fu singulare uomo nella
corte del detto re, Libro 37.40, p. 267.
28
La seconda generazione cominci quando il re vinse la battaglia di Cam, che un altro uomo
costumato e ingegnoso iscrisse a suo diletto ogni bene che l re avea fatto, onde il re gli don una terra
e liberollo delle fazioni, Libro 37.41, p. 267.
29
Onde i cavalieri gli diero vestimenta loro, Libro 37.41, p. 267.

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14 The Case of the Court Entertainer
La quarta generazione fu poi a lungo tempo che fu un povero uomo molto bello del
corpo, ma non poteva e non voleva durare fatica: capit a casa dun cavaliere il quale lo
domand ondelli era ed e disse chera di presso, essendo molto da lunge; disse il cava-
liere: Che di messer cotale?, ed egli che sera partito di poco di sua corte, disse: Po-
chi d chi l vidi giostrare colla donna sua quattro volte in un suo giardino. Allora
il cavaliere, che cognobbe sue buffe e l suo mal dire, il fe menare in cucina e fegli dare
mangiare come a sogliardo e poi il fe cacciare via; e da costui deriv il nome de buf-
foni, e puossi dire che la maggior parte di quelli che sono oggi sieno veramente discesi
di costui, per che sono poltroni e bugiardi e maldicenti de gentili uomini, ondelli sono
ben conosciuti da loro, ma vogliono anzi servare loro gentilezza che seguire loro mat-
tezza, e hacci di segnori che donano loro pi per tema di loro mal dire e di loro infamia
che per cortesia o per altro ben parere. (Libro 37.4243, pp. 26768)

[The fourth generation came a long time later, when there was a poor man with an at-
tractive body who could not or would not endure hard work. He arrived at the house of
a knight who asked him where he was from, and he said he was from nearby, although in
fact he was from far away. The knight asked, How is Sir So-and-So? and he, who had
recently departed from that court, said: Its just a few days since I saw him jousting with
his wife four times in his garden. Then the knight, noting his rude jests [buffe], had him
led into the kitchen and had him given something to eat like a tramp [come a sogliardo],
and then turned him out. From this man derives the term buffone, and it can be said that
most of the buffoni who exist today are truly descended from him, considering that they
are loafers and liars and maligners of noblemen, for which they are much appreciated by
the noblemen (who however should strive to safeguard their nobility rather than emulate
such madness); and there are some lords who give them gifts because they fear their
insults and insolence rather than for the sake of courtliness or keeping up appearances.]

Where the elegant riposte delivered by Guiglielmo Borsiere in Decameron 1.8


provokes Ermino Grimaldis generosity, the rude quip by Puccis buffone pro-
vokes instead a noblemans scorn.
Puccis closing comments about the buffoni of today, quelli che sono oggi, return
his discussion of uomini di corte to the satirical critique offered in Decameron 1.8
about quegli li quali sono oggi. Todays practitioners are liars (in Pucci: bugiardi;
in Boccaccio: con false lusinghe), and backbiters (Pucci: maldicenti; Boccaccio:
rapportar male dalluno allaltro, in seminare zizzania, in dir cattivit e tristizie);
nevertheless they are handsomely rewarded by these same lords (Pucci: sono ben
conosciuti da loro; Boccaccio: pi caro avuto e...onorato), who allow their
madness to overwhelm their nobility (Pucci: anzi servare loro gentilezza che seguire
loro mattezza; Boccaccio: con false lusinghe gli uomini gentili alle cose vili e scel-
lerate ritrarre); lords give these buffoons even greater gifts for their villainy (Pucci:
segnori che donano loro pi per tema di loro mal dire e di loro infamia che per cor-
tesia; Boccaccio: con premii grandissimi essaltato, che pi abominevoli parole dice
o fatti). At its end, then, Puccis survey of uomini di corte circles back to the satirical
denunciation of the current situation with which it began, reconnecting with the Boc-
caccian source text, whose denunciation of contemporary uomini di corte and whose
nostalgia for better days provided an invitation for Puccis amplification.
Pucci reelaborates a facet of Boccaccios text in much the same way that Boc-
caccios novella reelaborates one facet of Dantes, relying less on direct quota-
tion or citation and more on narrative realization. Pucci amplifies Boccaccios
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The Case of the Court Entertainer 15
proposition regarding the degeneracy of todays uomini di corte, focusing, as Boc-
caccio had, on the semantic cluster of cortesia and uomo di corte. Pucci takes as
his framework the historical trajectory of decline that Dante and Boccaccio had
both invoked, expanding it into a detailed, four-step schema. Understanding the
role of the uomini di corte in relation to military knightly service, cavalleria, and
not just courtliness, cortesia, Pucci directs considerable attention to the degree of
economic security enjoyed by different uomini di corte, including how these func-
tionaries are remunerated by the kings and knights they serve. Puccis situation as
a government functionary who composed in both verse and prose displays many
similarities to the sociocultural position of uomini di corte, similarities that un-
derpin his attention to economic parameters and which introduce a self-reflexive,
metaliterary dimension into his survey of court entertainers. I will return to this
idea in the second half of this essay, after Ive had a chance to discuss Puccis
career in greater detail.
Undoubtedly alert to the intertextual game of tag that Boccaccio was playing
with Inferno 16,30 Pucci reaches behind Decameron 1.8 to align himself with
Dante. Rather than blaming the uomini di corte for the decline in courtesy, as
Boccaccio does, he presents them as indices of a deterioration in chivalry. If the
uomini di corte of today are degenerate, Pucci insists, this is because knightly
culture itself, cavalleria, has become bastardized: E cos si fece mentre che dur
cavalleria, ma oggi imbastardita e cos sono imbastarditi gluomini di corte
(And so it went as long as chivalry endured, but today chivalry is bastardized
and thus the uomini di corte are bastardized, Libro 37.39, p. 267). Here Pucci
alludes to yet another passage from the Commedia, the lament about the decline
of cortesia in northern Italy that occurs in Purgatorio 14, when Guido del Duca
weeps to recall le donne e cavalier, li affanni e li agi / che ne nvogliava amore e
cortesia / l dove i cuor son fatti s malvagi (the ladies and the knights, the toils
and the sport / that love and courtesy inspired, / where now is found a waste of
evil hearts), as he laments, Oh Romagnuoli tornati in bastardi! (Oh, people of
Romagna, how youve turned to bastards!, Purgatorio 14.10911, p. 99).31 Un-
like Inferno 16, where the debasement of cortesia e valor is ascribed to the rise of
the nouveau riche, in Purgatorio 14 the abandonment of amore e cortesia in Ro-
magna is attributed to the adulteration of once-great families. Guidos expression
tornati in bastardispelled tornati imbastardi in Puccis autograph copy of
the Commedia, recently brought to light by Marco Cursiis echoed in Puccis
adjective imbastardita to describe contemporary knightly culture.32 Dantes

30
Inferno 16 was intimately known by Pucci, who quotes directly from Inferno 16.4345 at Libro
30.29, p. 216, and from Inferno 16.12426 at Libro 7.7, p. 35.
31
Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, trans. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander (New York, 2003),
285. On this passage, see Fiorella Simoni, Sulluso della formula retorica ubi sunt in Pg. XIV 9798:
Un momento propositivo di un modello culturale cavalleresco-cortese, in Fiorella Simoni, Culture
del Medioevo europeo, ed. Lidia Capo and Carla Frova (Rome, 2012), 14978.
32
Rome, Biblioteca dellAccademia dei Lincei e Corsiniana, MS 44.F.26 (Corsini 607), fol. 140v.
For the identification of the hand of this manuscript as Puccis, see Marco Cursi and Giuseppe Crimi,
Antonio Pucci, in Autografi dei letterati italiani: Le origine e il Trecento, ed. Giuseppina Brunetti,
Maurizio Fiorilla, and Marco Petoletti, vol. 1 (Rome, 2013), 26575, at 267; and Marco Cursi, Un
codice della Commedia di mano di Antonio Pucci, Scripta 7 (2014): 6576. Pucci knew this part of

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16 The Case of the Court Entertainer
phrase is glossed with the synonym imbastarditi by several early commentators
on the Commedia; Jacopo della Lana, for instance, writes: Qui exclama contra
tutti soungendo chno imbastarditi; quasi a dire: extranaturati da i vostri ante-
cessurri, larghi e curtisi (Here he exclaims against all of them adding that they
are bastardized; as if to say, separated from the nature of their ancestors, who
were generous and courteous).33 When thinking about the predicament of uomini
di corte as part of a decline of cortesia and cavalleria, Pucci treated his immediate
source text, Decameron 1.8, as a palimpsest in which intertextual antecedents
from Dantes Commedia remain discernible.34
The intertextual horizon may also encompass other parts of the Decameron.
According to Pucci, the buffone of the fourth generation of uomini di corte is
rewarded with nothing but a crude dinner, where he is treated like a dirty beg-
gar, come a sogliardo. Such a depiction of a wandering entertainer belittled
at a rich mans table recalls both the sketch of the entertainer Bergamino at the
court of Can Grande della Scala and the inset story that Bergamino tells of the
impoverished versifier Primasso at the table of the abbot of Cluny recounted in
Decameron 1.7. The tale of Bergamino appears adjacent to that of Guiglielmo
Borsiere in Decameron 1.8 as two parts of a diptych portraying professional ver-
bal performers. Pucci may register another debt to Boccaccio when he uses the
striking word sogliardo. Rare in literary texts, this word appears in a memora-
ble episode of Decameron 6.10 when Frate Cipolla rhymingly describes the nine
qualities of his servant Guccio: Egli tardo, sugliardo e bugiardo; negligente,
disubidente e maldicente; trascurato, smemorato e scostumato (Hes slothful,
untruthful, and crude [i.e., sugliardo, a tramp]; neglectful, disrespectful and lewd;
careless and witless and rude, Decameron 6.10.17, p. 567; Rebhorn, 504). Puccis
use of sogliardo occurs just before his claim that todays entertainers sono
poltroni e bugiardi e maldicenti de gentili uomini (they are loafers and liars
and maligners of noblemen). This series of scornful termssogliardo, bugiardi,
maldicenti, identical to the terms that characterize Guccioseems to register Puc-
cis recollection of Decameron 6.10.35 Just as recollections of Dantean passages
shaped Puccis rewriting of Decameron 1.8, so too, it seems, did Puccis wider
reading within the Decameron itself.

the Commedia thoroughly, quoting Purgatorio 14.4042 (a thematically related passage from Guido
del Ducas speech about the degradation of virtue) at Libro 15.60, p. 131.
33
Jacopo della Lana, Commento alla Commedia, ed. Mirko Volpi and Arianna Terzi (Rome, 2009),
2:1216. See also Lottimo commento and Francesco da Buti, Commento sopra la Divina commedia,
both of which use imbastarditi to gloss Guidos turn of phrase; Dartmouth Dante Project (accessed
4 October 2015). This part of Purgatorio 14 influenced Boccaccios portrayal of nobility in the novella
of Nastagio degli Onesti, Decameron 5.8, as pointed out by Branca in Decameron, ed. Branca, 1300.
34
For Puccis engagement with Dantes poetry, see Rudy Abardo, Il Dante di Antonio Pucci, in
Studi offerti a Gianfranco Contini dagli allievi pisani, ed. Francesco Manzoni (Florence, 1984), 331.
35
The echo is noted by Antonio Enzo Quaglio, Antonio Pucci primo lettore-copista-interprete
di Giovanni Boccaccio, Filologia e critica 1 (1976): 1579, at 34 n. 33. The term sugliard.*/sogli
ard.* has only three occurrences in the Opera del Vocabolario Italianio database (accessed 4 October
2015). Besides Boccaccios and Puccis usage, it occurs in a poem by Franco Sacchetti authorially
labeled Frottola di Franco Sacchetti, contando molti strani vocaboli de fiorentini: see Franco Sac-
chetti, Il libro delle rime, 159.334; ed. Franca Brambilla Ageno (Florence, 1990), 213.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 17
Sacchetti
Franco Sacchetti (c. 13321400) provides the final voice in this four-way ex-
change. In one of the novellas in his Trecentonovelle, compiled in the 1390s, Sac-
chetti recounts how a famous uomo di corte named Dolcibene visits a Florentine
usurer who has been recently knighted and taunts him until he grudgingly parts
with a few florins (novella 153). Dolcibene jokingly pretends to be collecting a
communal tax on misers: Io sono venuto a voi, per che l Comune ha posto
una gabella che ogni cattivo debba pagare lire dieci; e io per lo detto Comune
son venuto per riscuoterla da voi (Ive come to you because the commune has
levied a tax so every stingy person has to pay ten lire; Ive come on behalf of the
commune to extract it from you, Trecentonovelle 153.9, p. 421). He refuses to
leave until the knight pays up, and yet anco non gli cancell del libro della detta
gabella (still he didnt cancel their names from his tax register, 153.11, p. 422),
and he repeats the stunt over several days.
As Vincenzo Crupi and Bruno Porcelli have shown, Sacchettis story recasts
Guiglielmo Borsieres retort to Ermino Grimaldi in Decameron 1.8. Not only
does novella 153 restage the dramatic encounter of a uomo di corte and a rich mi-
ser, it also adheres to the unusual structure of Boccaccios novella, in which a brief
introduction is followed by a digression about the decline of courtly behavior,
which is in turn followed by the narration of an exemplary anecdote.36 In ideolog-
ical terms, however, Sacchetti reaches behind Boccaccios story to its Dantean in-
tertext, relocating the setting back in Florence and decrying the intractably coarse
behavior of the nouveau riche. Against Boccaccio, who had portrayed Grimaldis
avarice as an easily remedied fault, Sacchetti decisively concludes that chi nasce
cattivo non si guarisce mai (whoever is born stingy can never be cured, Trecen
tonovelle 153.12, p. 422). Where the Decameron targets the failings of modern
uomini di corte, Sacchetti laments the degradation of chivalric ideals themselves,
exemplified in the new practice of conferring knighthoods on nonnobles:
Essendosi fatto in Firenze uno cavaliere, il quale sempre avea prestato a usura ed era
sfolgoratamente ricco, ed era gotoso e gi vecchio, in vergogna e in vituperio della
cavalleria, la quale nelle stalle e ne porcili veggo condotta: e se io dico il vero, pensi
chi non mi credesse selli ha veduto, non sono molti anni, fare cavalieri li meccanici, gli
artieri, insino a fornai; ancora pi gi, gli scardassieri, gli usurai e rubaldi barattieri. E
per questo fastidio si pu chiamare cacaleria e non cavalleria, da che mel conviene pur
dire. (Trecentonovelle 153.2, pp. 41920)
[It once happened in Florence that a man who had become dazzlingly rich by constantly
loaning money as a usurer, and who was gouty and old as well, was dubbed as a knight,
to the shame and scorn of true knighthood, which I can tell is being shunted into stalls
and pigsties. Thats the truth of the matter. Anyone who doesnt believe me should

36
Vicenzo Crupi, Schemi compositivi ed elementi strutturanti della novella CLIII di Franco
Sacchetti (al confronto con la I, 8 del Decameron), in Atti dellAccademia nazionale dei Lincei:
Rendiconti della Classe di scienze morali, storiche e filologiche 32 (1977): 34964; Bruno Porcelli,
Boccaccio in Sacchetti, Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana 176 (1999): 35562. See also
Michelangelo Picone, Gli epigoni di Boccaccio e il racconto nel Quattrocento, in Manuale di let
teratura italiana: Storia per generi e problemi, ed. Franco Brioschi and Costanzo Di Girolamo (Turin,
1993): 65596, at 66973.

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18 The Case of the Court Entertainer
consider if in the last few years he hasnt seen workmen, craftsmen, and even bakers get
knighted, or, even more contemptibly, wool carders, usurers, and devious swindlers. Be-
cause of these dregs it should be called not knighthood (cavalleria) but shitehood
(cacaleria) since that seems a more appropriate term for it.]
Denouncing how judges, lawyers, notaries, and traitors have been elevated to
become knights, Sacchetti indignantly exclaims: O sventurati ordini della caval-
leria, quanto ste andati al fondo! (Oh, unfortunate orders of chivalry, how low
you have been debased!, Trecentonovelle 153.3, p. 420).
As this digression continues, Sacchetti distinguishes four categories of knights
according to their different dubbing ceremonies: In quattro modi sono fatti
cavalieri, o soleansi fare, che meglio dir: cavalieri bagnati, cavalieri di corredo,
cavalieri di scudo e cavalieri darme (Knights can be madeor at least they
used to be madein four ways, which I shall list: Anointed Knights, Knights of
Equipment, Knights of the Shield, and Knights of Arms, Trecentonovelle 153.5,
p. 420). Nowadays, the author claims, knights in all four categories fail to live
up to their calling: E tutti sono obligati, vivendo, a molte cose che serebbe lungo
a dirle; e fanno tutto il contrario (During their lives they are all obliged to per-
form many things, which would be too long to listbut now they do exactly the
opposite, Trecentonovelle 153.5, p. 420). Insisting that true knighthood is dead,
Sacchetti concludes his digression with an interjection taken straight from Dante:
O vana gloria de luman posse! (Oh, empty glory of human powers!, Trecen
tonovelle 153.6, p. 421; quoting Purgatorio 11.91).
Sacchettis lament derives its dramatic circumstances from Boccaccio and its
indignation for crass upstarts from Dante. Its semantic shift from cortesia to ca
valleria seems to derive from Puccis Libro di varie storie, following Puccis claim
that cos si fece mentre che dur cavalleria, ma oggi imbastardita (and so it
went as long as chivalry endured, but today chivalry is bastardized, Libro 37.39,
p. 267). Sacchettis comment about knighthood, la quale nelle stalle e ne porcili
veggo condotta (which I can see is being displaced into stalls and pigsties), reso-
nates with Puccis phrase di porco non nasce uomo cortese (courtly men arent
born from pigs). Sacchettis series of four modi of knights transposes into a
new key Puccis sketch of four generazioni of uomini di corte. We know that
Sacchetti discussed the contents of the Trecentonovelle with Pucci on at least one
other occasion, so such similarities in their accounts of uomini di corte are almost
certainly a result of direct intertextual influence.37
Readers of the Trecentonovelle often note that Sacchettis tales differ from Boc-
caccios in the rawness of their tone.38 Sacchettis stories not only remain closer to

37
See Trecentonovelle 175.2, ed. Puccini, p. 493: Antonio Pucci, piacevole fiorentino, dicitore di
molte cose in rima, mha pregato che io il descriva qui in una sua novella (Antonio Pucci, an enter-
taining Florentine, composer of many poetic compositions, has asked that I describe him here in a
novella about him). As Pucci died in 1388, this request would have come early in Sacchettis composi-
tion of the Trecentonovelle. For sonnet exchanges between Pucci and Sacchetti, datable to the 1380s,
see Sacchetti, Libro delle rime 214ab, 225ab, and 228ab; pp. 33132 and 35055.
38
Studies of Sacchetti and Boccaccio include Francesco Bruni, La novellistica tardomedievale: Ser
Giovanni Fiorentino, Sacchetti, Sercambi, in Storia della civilt letteraria, ed. G. Barbri Squarotti,
vol. 1, Dalle origini al Trecento (Turin, 1990), 90529; Michelangelo Picone, La cornice degli epi
goni (Ser Giovanni, Sercambi, Sacchetti), in Forma e parola: Studi in memoria di Fredi Chiapelli,

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 19
the spoken language of local anecdotes, they also reproduce the energetic verbal
thrusts characteristic of uomini di corte. Indeed, many of Sacchettis tales report
the antics of uomini di corte, revealing a zone of overlap between Sacchettis
written text and their oral improvisations.39 Novella 153 pointedly thematizes
the dynamic interplay between written and improvisational modes of language.
Sacchetti is a writer, and as part of this written novella he invokes the directness
of a performative jest. Dolcibene is a performer, and as part of his performance
he playfully invokes the authority of written documents (the imaginary libro
of the tax register).40 Here the uomo di corte is a reversed mirror image of Sac-
chetti as author. Through this figure Sacchetti explores points of continuity that
his tales display with both the diversions offered by uomini di corte and the
textualized enterprise of novella writing inherited from Boccaccio. Dolcibene de
Tori was a historical figure; he and Sacchetti exchanged sonnets, and Sacchetti
includes several anecdotes about him in the Trecentonovelle.41 Novella 153 is
a bricolage of several intertextual forces: it conjures up the vibrant practices of
performative entertainers in its depiction of Dolcibene, the emerging genre of the
written novella in its emulation of Boccaccio, and a coded conversation among
Florentine writers about the complicated indebtedness of vernacular literature to
performative traditions.

The Earliest Trace of the Decameron?

In this intertextual dialogue about uomini di corte, Puccis contribution as-


sumes special significance because of its date. The Delle propriet degli stati del
mondo, which contains his discussion of uomini di corte, was composed some-
time between 1353 and 1361 (the evidence for dating this work is assessed in
the Appendix). This means that Puccis reworking of Decameron 1.8 is one of
the earliest pieces of evidence we have for the circulation of the Decameron,
perhaps even the very earliest. Accordingly, the remainder of this essay will focus
on various aspects of Puccis career and oeuvre that can help us tease out the im-
plications of his precocious act of rewriting. The evidence from Puccis Libro di
varie storie provides us with a new key for understanding the Florentine cultural
system within which Boccaccios Decameron first circulated and for tracing the
constellation of texts and discourses that shaped its reception.

ed. Dennis J. Dutschke et al. (Rome, 1992), 17385; and Bruno Porcelli, Il nome nel racconto: Dal
novellino alla Commedia ai novellieri del Trecento (Milan, 1997), 10320.
39
See especially Valerio Marucci, Introduzione, in Franco Sacchetti, Il Trecentonovelle, ed. Vale-
rio Marucci (Rome, 1996), xixxxvii.
40
While Dolcibenes libro is not a literary book but an instrument of communal administration, it is
worth noting that Sacchetti wrote much of the Trecentonovelle while occupying administrative posts
for the Florentine government, and that he conceives of his collection as contributing in a practical
way to the sociability of his fellow Florentines; in this respect, Dolcibenes libro shares several interest-
ing characteristics with Sacchettis volume.
41
For the sonnet exchanges, see Sacchetti, Libro dell rime 122a, 122b, 123a, 123b, and 127; pp. 147
50, 157. Besides novella 153, Dolcibene also appears in Trecentonovelle novellas 10, 11, 24, 25, 26, 33,
96, 97, 145, 156, and 187. For the career of Dolcibene, see Liana Cellerino, Dolcibene de Tori, Dizio
nario biografico degli Italiani 40 (Rome, 1991), 43839.

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20 The Case of the Court Entertainer
The earliest securely dated record of the Decameron is a letter written on 13 July
1360 by Francesco Buondelmonti, an immensely wealthy Florentine whose fam-
ily had taken up residence at the Angevin court in Naples. Buondelmonti asks
his cousin Giovanni Acciaiuoli to ensure that a copy of the Decameron is safely
dispatched from Florence:
Domine reverende, echo che Monte Bellandi scrive a la mogle che vi dia il libro de le
novella di meser Giovanni Boccacci, il quale libro mio, s che vi priego quantum pos-
sum che ve lo facciate donare....[L]o me mandi a LAquila o a Sermona o voi me lo
mandate per chi pare a voi, che venga in mia mano.
[Reverend lord, you should know that Monte Bellandi is writing to his wife that she
should give you the book of novellas by Giovanni Boccaccio, a book that is mine, so
I request that you make sure it is given to you as soon as possible....Send it to me at
LAquila or Sermona, or else send it to me by means of anyone you choose, so that it
comes into my hands.]42

Of the same general epoch is the idiosyncratic manuscript witness, Florence, Bib-
lioteca Nazionale Centrale, MS II.II.8, containing a text known as the Fram
mento magliabechiano, which consists of a compilers prologue, much of the
framing cornice of the Decameron (the endings of days one to nine), and a single
novella (Decameron 9.10). Marco Cursi has recently shown that the scribal hand
is identical to that of a Florentine scribe working in Naples who copied an ac-
count book for Lapa Acciaiuoli, the older sister to Nicola Acciaiuoli (the Floren-
tine who had risen to become grand seneschal of the Kingdom of Naples) and
mother of Francesco Buondelmonti (who wrote the 1360 letter quoted above).
Cursi, arguing convincingly that the copyist himself was probably responsible for
the compilation and did not copy someone elses earlier work, assigns the manu-
script and the anthologized text to between 1358 and 1363, most likely to the
beginning of the seventh decade of the fourteenth century.43
If Pucci composed the Delle propriet degli stati del mondo in the 1350s, which
is readily conceivable, then his engagement with Decameron 1.8 would predate
both Buondelmontis letter and the Frammento magliabechiano. He could have
written it as late as 1361, however, and for this reason it is most productive to
consider all three of these items as more or less coeval.
Vittore Branca influentially argued that the early circulation of Boccaccios
masterpiece took place primarily in a mercantile milieu.44 More recently, the
work of Cursi and Rhiannon Daniels has suggested that the early evidence points

42
Cursi, Il Decameron, 20. The letter is found in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS
Ashburnham 1830, II, doc. 182.
43
For the date 135863, see Marco Cursi, Per la pi antica fortuna del Decameron: Mano e tempi
del frammento magliabechiano, II.II.8 (cc. 20r37v), Scrittura e civilt 22 (1998): 26593, at 281;
for the early 1360s, Cursi, Il Decameron, 28 and 19697, quotation from 196. See also Kenneth P.
Clarke, A Good Place for a Tale: Reading the Decameron in 13581363, Modern Language Notes
127 (2012): 6584.
44
Vittore Branca, Tradizione delle opere di Giovanni Boccaccio, vol. 2, Un secondo elenco di ma
noscritti e studi sul testo del Decameron con due appendici (Rome, 1991), 73, and in general
147210; see also Vittore Branca, Lepopea mercantile, chapter 3 of Boccaccio medievale (Florence,
1956), 71100.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 21
not just to merchant readers but rather to overlapping heterogeneous reading
publics, especially elite readerships of aristocrats, intellectuals, and the economi-
cally privileged (such as Francesco Buondelmonti and Lapa Acciaiuoli).45 The
case of Puccis Libro di varie storie extends our conception of Boccaccios reading
publics to give weight to nonelite readers as well. Pucci did not belong to Flor-
ences merchant class, nor was he part of the citys aristocratic or highly educated
circles. He was a member of Florences disenfranchised servant class, who had
risen up to become a minor functionary within the communal government. At
the same time, he is not a typical representative of the popolo minuto, for he was
a visible player in the Florentine municipal scene, a prolific writer, and an avid
consumer of vernacular poetry and prose. In this respect, Pucci represents less the
cultural horizon of actual members of the Florences popolo minuto and more the
cultural horizon to which they and other middlebrow citizens may have aspired.
Antonio Pucci, born into Florences servant class around 1310, was hired by
the commune as a bell ringer (campanaio) in the early 1330s.46 Because his ear-
liest surviving datable poems, also from the early 1330s, show his command
of popular forms of recitative performance, we can safely assume that Pucci
had honed his craft in his youth, perhaps performing his verse at the homes of
patrons. It seems likely that, after he had attained a level of local renown, the
commune decided to retain his poetic services for civic needs, hiring him as cam
panaio as a way to bring this about. By the time Boccaccio returned to Florence
around 1341, Pucci had emerged as one of the citys most visible practitioners of
an urban, municipal poetic style.47 In 1349 he was promoted to town crier (ban
ditore), a highly public role that required skills of voice, gesture, and demeanor
akin to those employed by entertainers (suggesting, again, that Pucci had already
mastered such talents). He served as town crier until 1369, and thus he was a ser-
vant of the commune in this quasi-performative capacity during the period when
he put together his prose compendium.
Puccis poetry, in its language, content, form, and style, remained deeply em-
bedded in popular, civic, and performative traditions.48 Minor functionaries of
the commune were often expected to provide entertainment for the priors, and

45
Rhiannon Daniels, Boccaccio and the Book: Production and Reading in Italy, 13401520 (Lon-
don, 2009), esp. 76136, at 109. See also Marco Cursi, Produzione, tipologia, diffusione del Deca
meron fra tre e quattrocento: Note paleografiche e codicologiche, Nuova rivista di letteratura italiana
1 (1998): 463551; and Cursi, Il Decameron, 2526, 12742.
46
For Puccis biography, see Kenneth McKenzie, Introduction, in Antonio Pucci, Le noie, ed.
Kenneth McKenzie (Princeton, 1931), ixclviii; and William Robins, Antonio Pucci, Guardiano de-
gli Atti della Mercanzia, Studi e problemi di critica testuale 61 (2000): 2970.
47
See Armando Balduino, Boccaccio, Petrarca e altri poeti del Trecento (Florence, 1984), 55
n. 81, 97.
48
For Puccis poetry, see Natalino Sapegno, Antonio Pucci, in Pagine di storia letteraria (Pa
lermo, 1960), 13381; Anna Bettarini Bruni, Intorno ai cantari di Antonio Pucci, in I cantari strut
tura e tradizione, ed. M. Picone and M. Bendinelli Predelli (Firenze, 1984), 14360; Claudio Ciociola,
Antonio Pucci, in Storia della letteratura italiana, ed. Enrico Malato, vol. 2, Il Trecento (Rome,
1995), 40312; the essays in Maria Bendinelli Predelli, ed., Firenze alla vigilia del Rinascimento: An
tonio Pucci e i suoi contemporanei. Atti del Convegno di Montreal, 2223 ottobre, McGill University
(Fiesole, 2006); and relevant essays in Michelangelo Picone and Luisa Rubini, eds., Il cantare italiano
fra folklore e letteratura (Florence, 2007).

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22 The Case of the Court Entertainer
there is some tantalizing evidence from 1351 that Pucci may have been remuner-
ated for performative duties of this sort.49 Over the course of his career, however,
Pucci increasingly took on the trappings of written textuality. In doing so he also
turned his hand to writing prose, beginning in the late 1340s or early 1350s with
prose synopses of the cantos of Dantes Inferno and continuing on with the ency-
clopedic ambitions of the Libro di varie storie.
The vernacular achievements of Dante and Boccaccio were important touch-
stones that prompted Pucci to elevate the cultural status of his own, more modest,
compositions. Dantes poetry, in particular, was a constant point of reference.
Just about all of Puccis surviving poems echo phrases from the Commedia, many
of them naming Dante as an authority or celebrating Dantes achievements. In
a sonnet that describes Giottos portrait of Dante in the Palazzo del Podest,
for example, Pucci writes admiringly, El suo parlar fu con tanta misura, / che
ncoron la citt di Firenze / di pregio ondancor la fama le dura (His words
were so skillfully arranged that he crowned the city of Florence with glory that
still brings it fame).50 In the 1370s Pucci took Dantes Commedia as the formal
model for his Centiloquio, projected to contain one hundred cantos in terza rima;
in the Centiloquio an entire canto is dedicated to the life of Dante, expanding
significantly its source in Giovanni Villanis chronicle.51 As a scribe, too, Pucci
engaged with Dante, copying out the entire Commedia in one manuscript (Rome,
Biblioteca dellAccademia dei Lincei e Corsiniana, MS 44.F.26, recently identified
as an autograph by Cursi), and writing not only Dantes Vita nuova and Canzoni
distese but also Boccaccios biography of Dante in another (Florence, Biblioteca
Riccardiana, MS 1050, first identified as an autograph by Bettarini Bruni).52
For Pucci a main impetus for writing in prose was to make Dantes poetry intel-
ligible. In his first prose compositions, Pucci produced argomenti for each canto
of the Inferno in the margins of his autograph Commedia (copied, according
to Cursi, in the late 1340s or early 1350s). Subsequently, Pucci wrote the Libro
di varie storie, where passages from Dantes poetry are quoted on more than
a hundred occasions. Pucci knew the Commedia backwards and forwards and
was convinced of its cultural and poetic importance. He deploys this knowledge
when he reworks Boccaccios diatribe about uomini di corte in light of Dantean
precedents, interpreting the Decameron as contributing to the vernacular literary
tradition over which Dante presides.
It is not surprising that Puccis writings should contain the earliest known bor-
rowing from the Decameron, for there is ample evidence that he and Boccaccio
knew each other and that Pucci admired Boccaccios vernacular writings. In a
sonnet exchange the two authors reprise a question of love from Boccaccios

49
William Robins, Poetic Rivalry: Antonio Pucci, Jacopo Salimbeni, and Antonio da Ferrara, in
Predelli, Firenze alla vigilia, 30722.
50
Antonio Pucci, Questi che veste di color sanguigno, in Rimatori del Trecento, ed. Giuseppe
Corsi (Turin, 1969), 822.
51
Pucci, Il centiloquio, canto 55; in Delle poesie di Antonio Pucci celebre versificatore fiorentino
del MCCC, ed. Ildefonso di San Luigi, 4 vols. (Florence, 177275), 3:11120.
52
Cursi, Un codice della Commedia; Anna Bettarini Bruni, Notizio di un autografo di Antonio
Pucci, Studi di filologia italiana 36 (1978): 18495.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 23
Filocolo. As Antonio Enzo Quaglio points out, this is the only one of Boccac-
cios sonnet exchanges initiated by Boccaccio himself; Puccis response indicates
that he was familiar with the Filocolo.53 Furthermore, Pucci followed Boccaccios
lead as a copyist of Dante: his autograph Commedia seems to follow a layout of
Dantes poem that Boccaccio had established in his own copies; additionally, Puc-
cis Riccardian anthology, which contains Boccaccios Vita di Dante, Dantes Vita
nuova, and Dantes Canzoni distese, as well as Guido Cavalcantis poem Donna
mi prega and a selection from Petrarchs canzoniere, replicates the sequence es-
tablished by Boccaccio in his own autograph anthology (Vatican City, Biblioteca
Apostolica Vaticana, MS Chigi L.V.176).54 In other words, even if Pucci interprets
Boccaccios works in light of Dantes, his understanding of Dantes texts was me-
diated by the interpretive activities of Boccaccio.
Pucci manifests his long-standing fascination with Boccaccios writings in two
instances of literary borrowing that are especially pertinent to understanding his
adaptation of Decameron 1.8. One of these is the canzone Perchio so poco
e dapparar mi giova, in which, as Bettarini Bruni has shown, Pucci rewrites
Decameron 9.1, a story in which a lady rids herself of two suitors by requiring one
to lie in a tomb pretending to be a corpse and the second to take this corpse out of
the tomb and bring it to her. Pucci changes the ending so that the suitors success-
fully complete the tasks, generating a question of love as to which most deserves
to marry her. In making these changes, Pucci reduces the novellas storyline to its
narrative scaffolding and overhauls the style toward popular tonalities. Even while
revealing what Bettarini Bruni describes as a clear intention to compose not a
transcript but rather an alternative text, the canzone nevertheless reveals traces
of the source text even at a lexical level.55 Compare, for instance, the ladys address
to the first of the two suitors, first in the novella and then in the canzone:
[C]he tu stanotte in su la mezzanotte te ne vadi allavello dove fu stamane sotterato
Scannadio, e lui, senza dire alcuna parola di cosa che tu oda o sente, tragghi di quello
soavemente e rechigliele a casa. (Decameron 9.1.16, p. 787)
[Around midnight tonight you are to go to the tomb where Scannadio was interred this
morning, and without saying a word in response to anything you see or hear, you are to
remove the body ever so gently and bring it to her at her house. (Rebhorn 697)]
Fa che stasera quando notte scura
alla tal sepoltura te nandrai
e s mi recherai
un corpo choggi sopellito fue.56
[This evening, when the night is dark, take yourself to a certain tomb, and bring me
back a corpse that was buried today.]

53
The sonnet exchange is edited in Giovanni Boccaccio, Rime, ed. Vittore Branca, vol. 5.1 of Tutte
le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan, 1992), 7677. See Quaglio, Antonio Pucci, 28.
54
Bettarini Bruni, Un autografo. On Boccaccios Chigi manuscript, see now Martin Eisner, Boc
caccio and the Invention of Italian Literature: Dante, Petrarch, Cavalcanti and the Authority of the
Vernacular (Cambridge, UK, 2013).
55
Anna Bettarini Bruni, Un quesito damore tra Pucci e Boccaccio, Studi di filologia italiana 38
(1980): 3354, at 51.
56
Antonio Pucci, Perchio so poco, lines 5356; in Bettarini Bruni, Quesito, 3435.

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24 The Case of the Court Entertainer
Pucci has slightly altered many words for the sake of variatio or rhyme (stanotte
stasera; mezzanottequando notte scura; allavelloalla tal sepol-
tura; fu stamane sotteratooggi sopellito fue), but he has preserved the
main verbs that anchor the action (te ne vadi becomes te nandrai, and re-
chigliele, becomes mi recherai).57
Puccis canzone recasts Boccaccios narrative of a beloved lady and her two
lovers as a quistione damore (question of love): which of the two men should
the lady marry? In making this change, Pucci aligns the story with the form of
the quistione damore explored in the Filocolo. We know that the quistioni of the
Filocolo served as crucial precedents for the novellas of the Decameron, and in
making these changes to a story taken from the Decameron, Pucci reveals his
awareness of the close ties between those two works by Boccaccio.58 Because the
canzone addresses an interlocutor in terms that replicate the tones of the riddling
sonnet exchange between Boccaccio and Pucci, Bettarini Bruni suggests, quite
plausibly, that Perchio so poco is probably addressed directly to Boccaccio
himself.59 Bettarini Brunis proposal for dating this rewriting of Decameron 9.1
very close to Boccaccios masterpiece, to which the canzone would serve as a
precocious witness, is supported by the fact that Pucci also recast Decameron
1.8 sometime between 1353 and 1361.60
The second borrowing of note, first identified by Quaglio, is Puccis recasting of
a passage from the Commedia delle ninfe fiorentine. Pucci presents this rewriting
in the same section of the Libro di varie storiethe catalog Delle propriet degli
stati del mondothat contains his borrowing from Decameron 1.8.61 That cata-
logs final item, which enumerates the qualities of an ideally beautiful woman, a
bella donna, derives directly from Boccaccios description of the nymph Agapes
as she is gazed upon by Ameto in the Commedia delle ninfe fiorentine. Here is
part of Boccaccios scene:
Elli vede alluna, quella che pi in s estima eminente, i capelli con maesterio non usato
avere alla testa ravolti e con sottile oro, a quelli non disiguale, essere tenuti con piace
vole nodo alle soffianti aure; e coronata di verdissima ellera, levata dal suo caro olmo,
sotto quella, ampia, piena e candida fronte mostrare, e, sanza alcuna ruga aperta, si
palesava; alla quale sottilissime ciglia, in forma darco, non molto digiunte, di colore
stigio, sottostare discerne.
[In one of the maidens, the one he esteemed most illustrious, he saw her hair bound
about her head with uncommon mastery and held to the blowing wind in a lovely knot
with thin gold, which was not very different from the color of her hair. She was crowned
with greenest ivy, taken from her cherished elm, and under that crown appeared an

57
See Bettarini Bruni, Quesito, 46.
58
For the relationship between the questions of the Filocolo and the Decameron, see Pio Rajna,
Lepisodio delle questioni damore nel Filocolo del Boccaccio, Romania 31 (1902): 2881.
59
Bettarini Bruni, Quesito, 4951.
60
Ibid., 52.
61
The chapter divisions and titles in Varvaros edition are editorial constructs: in the autograph
manuscript, materials are not so clearly distinguished. Varvaro presents the Bella donna section as
the final part of the estates catalog, coming directly after an entry on the proper behavior of women
generally. However, the section describing a Bella donna begins on a separate folio, after a blank
space, and possibly is a semiautonomous section.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 25
ample white forehead, and it was without a wrinkle. Under the forehead he noticed thin
brows, in the shape of an arch, not too far apart and dark in color.]62

And here is Puccis transposition:


Bella donna, compiutamente bella, dee avere in s le nfrascritte propriet ci abon-
dante di capegli biondissimi simili a fila doro sottile sovra il capo bene rispondente
allo mbusto, orecchi condicevoli con bella forma, testa overo fronte ampia e candida,
senza alcuna ruga o altra macula, ciglia brune e sottili in forma darco, per modo che
aggiugnendone tre insieme facessono un tondo cerchio. (Libro 37.48, p. 269)
[A completely beautiful lady ought to possess the following qualities, namely, abundant,
blonde hair resembling thin gold on a head that corresponds well with the body; lovely,
well-shaped ears; an ample white forehead, without any wrinkle or stain; eyebrows
brown and thin and in the shape of an arch, such that by joining three together they
would make a round circle.]

Puccis rendering is marked by several more or less exact verbal correspondences:


capellicapegli, sottile orooro sottile, ampia, piena e candida
frontefronte ampia e candida, sanza alcuna rugasenza alcuna ruga,
sottilissime ciglia, in forma darcociglia brune e sottili in forma darco.
Yet he departs from his source text at many levels: he transforms Boccaccios nar-
rative account, which describes an individual personage from another characters
viewpoint, into an abstract enumeration of the qualities of an absolute ideal of
beauty; he omits or replaces many of the dreamier details of Boccaccios portrayal;
and he simplifies the syntax and reduces the rich variety of Boccaccios vocabu-
lary. Quaglio judges that the industriousness of an excerpter is transformed into
active re-creation; not at all intimidated by the twisting, mannerist descriptivism
of Boccaccio, Pucci maneuvers within the narrow spaces of the original sketch.63
There is no reason to suppose that Boccaccio might have borrowed the descrip-
tion of uomini di corte from Pucci or that the two authors made use of a common
source. Pucci has a track record of adapting Boccaccios prose, both in his can-
zone Perchio so poco and in the Libros description of the bella donna, which
correlates with his engagement with Decameron 1.8. In these three pieces there
is some variety in Puccis manner of rewriting Boccaccio. The canzone favors ab
breviatio in its handling of Decameron 9.1, and significantly transforms the plot,
even as it preserves a few memorable details that enliven the narrative situation.
The description of the ideal bella donna depends more on techniques of variatio,
retaining the structure and length of the original. The description of uomini di
corte employs techniques of amplificatio, taking a few hints from Decameron 1.8
and elaborating them. In all three cases, Pucci appropriates a brief representation
(comic or serious) of courtly behavior and assimilates it into his own less lofty
style.

62
Giovanni Boccaccio, Comedia delle ninfe fiorentine 9.1320, ed. Antonio Enzo Quaglio, vol. 2
of Tutte le opere di Giovanni Boccaccio (Milan, 1964), 665835, at 7012; the translation is from
Giovanni Boccaccio, LAmeto, trans. Judith Serafini-Sauli (New York, 1985), 21.
63
Quaglio, Antonio Pucci, 41. Pucci further reworks this description in his sirventese Quella di
cui i son veracemente, edited in Corsi, Rimatori del Trecento, 84549.

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26 The Case of the Court Entertainer
One of the most interesting changes made by Pucci to Boccaccios account of
uomini di corte is that Pucci comes closer to adopting the perspective of the enter-
tainers themselves, especially in his attention to the material conditions of perfor-
mance and remuneration. His descriptions of their speech acts possess a degree of
metaliterary self-reflection. The four types of court entertainers in Puccis schema
roughly correspond to categories available to Pucci for his own self-identification
as a public poet, and if we consider them in reverse order we see their relevance
to Puccis own changes in status. With the fourth generation of entertainersthe
buffoniPucci presents a negative example to avoid. Because criticisms of in-
decency, lewdness, and greed were continually leveled at public entertainers in
the Middle Ages, performers eager to command respect were always anxious of
being branded with such accusations; Pucci here puts such anxieties on display,
and implicitly distances his own public activities as far as possible from such
scurrility.
The third generation of entertainers consists of public singers whose social
function resembles Puccis during the earlier stages of his career. Singing for the
delight of their audiences, such entertainers work within the parameters of aris-
tocratic patronage. They are a step up from the buffoni: instead of practicing
arts of improvisation they versify preexisting vernacular prose texts, a mode of
composition analogous to Puccis move, in the later part of his career, towards
versifying prose, whether history (Giovanni Villanis Chronicle, versified in his
Centiloquio), contemporary fiction (Boccaccios novellas, versified in Perchio
so poco), ancient fiction (as in his adaptation of the romance of Apollonius
of Tyre), or parts of his own Libro di varie storie (as in his Contrasto delle
donne).64
The prose writers of history who make up the second generation enjoy even
greater stature, associated as they are with textuality and authorship. The cul-
tural authority of prose writing, as compared to singing and versifying, similarly
underpins Puccis move beyond his previous experience as a poet when, first with
his commentary on Dantes Commedia and then with the chapters of the Libro di
varie storie, he lays claim to being a writer of prose. Appropriately enough, this
moment of affirming the superiority of historical prose comes within Puccis own
attempt at producing a work of textualized, prose historiography.
The first generation of uomini di corte, according to Pucci, comprises neither
singers nor writers of prose but arbiters of courtly etiquette. Masters of courtesy
understand courtly behavior, including the role of verbal dexterity, better than
many aristocrats, whom they instruct in the matter. With the Libro di varie storie
Pucci is already setting himself up as just such an arbiter of local knowledge, most
explicitly in the Delle propriet with its advice about how different estates ought
to behave. The main difference between Puccis encyclopedic expression of his
role as a cultural arbiter and the first generation of uomini di corte has to do with
the context in which they operate: the uomini di corte work in a courtly context,

64
The last two works mentioned here are edited in Antonio Pucci, Cantari di Apollonio di Tiro, ed.
Renzo Rabboni (Bologna, 1996); and Antonio Pucci, Il contrasto delle donne, ed. Antonio Pace (Me-
nasha, WI, 1944). See the careful study of Puccis techniques of versification in Anna Maria Cabani,
Sul Centiloquio di Antonio Pucci, in Picone and Rubini, Cantare italiano, 8195.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 27
teaching cortesia, whereas Pucci works in a Florentine, republican context, where
courtliness has been overtaken by other understandings of the polis, understand-
ings in which middlebrow Florentines also have a role. Puccis Libro is addressed
to this wider political class.
Pucci arrives at this fourfold schema by adapting to his own purposes the stages
of degeneration of court entertainers outlined by Boccaccio at the beginning of
Decameron 1.8. This rewriting, when added to the evidence of Puccis recasting
of Decameron 9.1, his borrowing from the Commedia delle ninfe fiorentine, his
enthusiasm for the Filocolo, the Vita di Dante, the Chigi anthology, and the form
of ottava rima poetry, reinforces the claims made by Bettarini Bruni, Quaglio,
and others about the pivotal role played by Pucci in the circulation and recep-
tion of Boccaccios vernacular works in Florence.65 By acknowledging the greater
cultural authority enjoyed by different types of verbal artists at the very moment
when he is adapting one of Boccaccios novellas, Puccis discussion of court en-
tertainers signals both his admiration for Boccaccios works and his ambition to
develop into a more authoritative kind of writer himself. Puccis piece charts his
aspiration to distance himself more and more from the improvisational poetic
traditions of his youth, in so far as they are associated with crudeness and inde-
cency, and to align his output as much as possible with the kind of vernacular
authority commanded by Boccaccios writing.
At the same time, however, he purposefully levels Boccaccios sophisticated
style so as to appeal to a much wider audience that includes members of the Flor
entine popolo.66 When Pucci directly engages with Boccaccios texts he chooses
passages that have to do with courtly behavior, transposing those concerns ac-
cording to a perspective that is not as committed to aristocratic privilege: he
ironizes the courtly pretensions of Decameron 9.1 in his canzone; he introduces
the perspective of subaltern entertainers into the exordium of Decameron 1.8; he
reduces the poetic luxuriance of the Commedia delle ninfe fiorentines description
of a beautiful lady. In the process, he transposes courtly forms and ideals into a
new key, where they serve as decorative flourishes within Florences middlebrow
vernacular culture.
Did Pucci expect his readers to pick up on his borrowing from Boccaccio? As
a general matter of presentation the Delle propriet does not play upon audience
familiarity with any of its source texts, with the notable exception of Dantes
Commedia. Nevertheless, the response by Franco Sacchetti suggests that there
were selected readers in the know who clearly grasped that Puccis passage was
in dialogue with Decameron 1.8. Sacchettis novella demonstrates that Florentine
writers and readers might be highly sensitive to the echoes, borrowings, and re-
writings that cemented individual vernacular works together into a local literary
tradition.

Bettarini Bruni, Quesito; Quaglio, Antonio Pucci.


65

On Puccis style as addressed to a wide audience of different social classes, see Kathleen Speight,
66

Vox populi in Antonio Pucci, in Italian Studies Presented to E. R. Vincent on His Retirement from
the Chair of Italian at Cambridge, ed. C. P. Brand, K. Foster, and U. Limentani (Cambridge, UK,
1962), 7691; and Ciociola, Antonio Pucci.

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28 The Case of the Court Entertainer
Did the aspirational, popular, lower-status community represented by Pucci
constitute one of the audiences for which Boccaccio was consciously writing? To
be sure, there is little or no explicit acknowledgment of such readers in the text
of the Decameron itself. Boccaccio tends to stick with the ploy that he is address-
ing an audience of leisured women. Nor does the presentation of the autograph
manuscript from the 1370s signal such a readership: its imposing layout suggests
an intention to be read in light of scholastic and learned works.67 Nevertheless,
Boccaccios literary ambitions clearly shifted after he moved from the courtly
world of Naples to the municipal context of Florence, a shift that is also marked
by his friendship with Pucci. He was certainly aware that his collection of tales
would perform its cultural work in a sociocultural context in which low- and
middlebrow readers had begun to assert their enfranchisement.
The Decameron is concerned to strike the right balance between popular forms
of storytelling and entertainment, on the one hand, and forms of courtly refine-
ment, on the other (the difficulties of striking such a balance are registered in the
novella about Guiglielmo Borsiere). By working through such concerns, Boccac-
cio speaks in general terms to the similar balancing acts of aspirational, lowbrow
Florentines and thereby offers these readers a point of access into the work. In
this respect, Sacchettis involvement in the four-way dialogue traced above takes
on special significance. Sacchettis Trecentonovelle is commonly recognized as
the most accomplished of the fourteenth-century imitations of the Decameron,
and yet Sacchetti is regularly faulted by critics for debasing the elevated tone that
the genre of the novella had attained under Boccaccio, missing the mark with
his coarse content and his brusque, anecdotal style. Yet the case of the court
entertainer demonstrates that for Florentine readers like Pucci and Sacchetti the
Decameron commanded attention because of its programmatic appropriation, in
textualized form, of popular currents of storytelling. For novella writers in the
wake of Boccaccio, such as Sacchetti, to follow the lead of the Decameron en-
tailed forging further strategies for adapting piacevolezze, facezie, and motti and
other oral modes of narrative to the medium of the written text.
Where Dante represents Guiglielmo Borsiere and his words only indirectly,
Boccaccio presents this uomo di corte front and center as a protagonist of Deca
meron 1.8 and as the occasion for explicit social commentary. Boccaccio thereby
highlights the performative tradition over which uomini di corte presided (a tra-
dition torn between aristocratically appropriate refinement, on the one hand, and
oppositional scurrility, on the other) and signals his own ambivalence about the
connections between this tradition and his own novelistic enterprise. Pucci and
Sacchetti follow his lead in registering their anxieties about vernacular author-
ship through the figure of the uomo di corte. Instead of Guiglielmo Borsiere, they
focus on, respectively, the general category of court entertainers and the famous
performer Dolcibene. The anxiety on Boccaccios part and the responses of Pucci
and Sacchetti invite us to investigate the relationship between the Decameron and
popular modes of storytelling much further. While the intertextual dimension of

67
For a survey of these aspects of the imagined readership of the Decameron, see Battaglia Ricci,
Boccaccio (Rome, 2000).

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 29
Boccaccios composite artistry, his ars combinatoria, is now appreciated as never
before, scholarly studies tend to focus on his adaptations of authoritative texts,
especially those belonging to the classical Latin tradition (Ovid, Apuleius, and
others).68 Scholars devote much less study to the popular and folk traditions that
undeniably provided Boccaccio with many, perhaps even most, of the narrative
experiments he pursues in the Decameron. There are good reasons for this. The
methodological issues presented by comparative studies of oral traditions, the
traces of which have almost entirely disappeared, and by the identification of
more or less distant analogues, are almost insuperable. Also, we are rightly
suspicious of a romantic view that Boccaccio gave expression to the unfettered
natural energies of the people. No doubt, part of the scholarly reluctance to re-
open the question about Boccaccio and popular currents of storytelling arises
from worries about being tainted by association with the excesses of folkloric
and romantic approaches. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Boccaccio drew
deeply from this popular repertoire. As he textualized narrative motifs that were
in popular circulation, he was determined to attain a level of stylistic refinement
that countered any criticism of scurrility or indecorousness. He was eager to
make use of such materials, yet often just as eager to hide his tracks. The case of
the court entertainer reveals that Boccaccio was of two minds about the fact that
the Decameron was so fully implicated in these traditions.

Appendix: Composition and Date of


Delle propriet degli stati del mondo
Sometime around 1360 Pucci started assembling a compendium of historical
information, the autograph of which survives as Florence, Biblioteca Medicea
Laurenziana, MS Tempi 2. This compendium was not Puccis first attempt at
writing prose. He had previously composed prose argomenti for Dantes Inferno;
these argomenti are likely coeval with the autograph manuscript in which they
appear (Rome, Biblioteca dellAccademia dei Lincei e Corsiniana, MS 44.F.26),
which Marco Cursi, who has recently identified the hand as Puccis, dates to
the middle of the fourteenth century on the basis of the paleography and water-
marks.69 The argomenti are replete with clumsy syntactical constructions, and
Pucci occasionally encounters difficulties interpreting his sources. These uncer-
tainties, in the judgment of Bettarini Bruni and Cursi, illustrate the degree to
which writing without the scaffolding of verse did not come naturally to Pucci,

68
Excellent overviews of the question of Boccaccios composite artistry are Giuseppe Velli, Memo-
ria, in Lessico critico decameroniano, ed. Renzo Bragantini and Pier Massimo Forni (Turin, 1995),
22248; Costanzo Di Girolamo and Charmaine Lee, Fonti, in Bragantini and Forni, Lessico critico,
14261; and Simone Marchesi, Stratigrafie decameroniane (Florence, 2004). There are numerous
studies of classical sources and the Decameron, for example, Robert Hollander, The Proem of the
Decameron: Boccaccio between Ovid and Dante, in Miscellanea di studi danteschi in memoria di
Silvio Pasquazi (Naples, 1993), 42338; and Igor Candido, Bocaccio umanista: Studi su Boccaccio e
Apuleio (Ravenna, 2014).
69
Cursi, Un codice della Commedia, 7475.

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30 The Case of the Court Entertainer
whose compositional talents lay rather in his superbly trained poetic ear;70 they
suggest that Pucci composed the argomenti at the beginning of his career as a
prose writer.
Between the argomenti and the compendium in Tempi 2 Pucci seems to have
refined his prose style through the practice of imitation. As Ill show in greater
detail below, there is good reason to believe that some of the items in the com-
pendium were independently produced prior to being incorporated into the larger
work. The compendium was designed to serve both as a working zibaldone note-
book for Pucci himself (he made use of some of its material in his poetry) and
as a vernacular encyclopedia for middlebrow Florentines (the text circulated in
several copies). Given that one of its main concerns is to elucidate Dantes poetic
references, the compendium is in some measure continuous with the project of
the argomenti. Pucci never gave the compendium a title. The works modern edi-
tor, Alberto Varvaro, has christened it the Libro di varie storie (Book of Various
Stories), a colorless name that at least has the virtue of signaling the interplay
between its bookish coherence on the one hand and the diffuseness of its contents
on the other.71 The compendium presents many idiosyncracies of organization.
A full codicological analysis of the manuscript remains outside the scope of this
article. What follows is a summative account of the main stages of its composi-
tion, building upon the analyses of Varvaro, Antonio Enzo Quaglio, and Giuliano
Tanturli, revised in light of a reexamination of manuscript Tempi 2.72
Puccis compendium started off as a compilation of world history, commencing
with creation and continuing through accounts of several ancient empires. After
tackling the reign of Alexander the Great, Pucci started to digress into nonhistori-
cal topics by describing forces that influence human behavior with sections on
physiognomy, the stages of human life, the four elements, and human wretched-
ness. At this point (35 percent of the way through the final text of the Libro), it
seems to have dawned on Pucci that he had digressed too much from his original
aim, for he established four new booklets (Booklets B, C, D, and E) to capture
further nonhistorical topics in which he was interested. The makeup of the Libro
di varie storie in Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, MS Tempi 2, is as
shown in the table below (with chapter numbers and titles as supplied by Varvaro).
Of the four subsequent booklets, Pucci almost certainly began Booklet D first,
which continues the discussion of factors that impinge upon human behavior;
it opens with the catalog of the responsibilities of members of various estates
that Varvaro has entitled Delle propriet degli stati del mondo, which includes
the account of uomini di corte that reveals Puccis precocious familiarity with

70
Bettarini Bruni, personal communication; Cursi, Un codice della Commedia, 75.
71
For convenience I refer to the compendium as the Libro di varie storie and cite its sections accord-
ing to Varvaros editorial division of the text into chapters, referred to according to the numbers and
chapter titles he provides. A new edition of the compendium would be well worth having, especially
if, discontinuing the practice of inventing chapters, it presents the text in light of a thorough paleo-
graphical and codicological analysis.
72
Varvaro, Libro di varie storie; Alberto Varvaro, Il Libro di varie storie di Antonio Pucci, Filo
logia romanza 4 (1957): 4887; Quaglio, Antonio Pucci; and Giuliano Tanturli, I Benci copisti:
Vicende della cultura fiorentina fra Antonio Pucci e il Ficino, Studi di filologia italiana 36 (1978):
197313.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 31
Boccaccios Decameron, as well as the description of a beautiful woman derived
from Boccaccios Commedia delle ninfe Fiorentine.73 At the same time, Pucci re-
stored the original compilation (Booklet A) to its purpose as a primarily historical

Booklet A 1. Della creazione del mondo / 2. Dei cieli e dei pianeti / 3.


Quires IV, fols. 291 Del mondo e degli elementi / 4. Delle turbazioni dellaria
e della terra / 5. Come lore son sopposte a pianeti / 6.
DAdamo e dei suoi discendenti / 7. Delle tre parti della
terra / 8. Delle citt e contrade e costume dei tartari / 9.
De Allexandro / 10. Di finosomia / 11. Come figurarsi
la vita nostra / 12. Delle quattro compressioni di tutte
le cose / 13. Della nostra miseria / 14. Di Davit e daltri /
15. De fatti de Troiani / 16. Dei discendenti dEnea /
17. Alcuna cosa di Roma / 18. Di Fiesole e di Catellina /
19. Di Attila / 20. Dell oppinione daltri / 21. Ancora de
romani / 22. De re dAsia / 23. De re dItalia / 24. De re
di Francia
Booklet B 25. De dei gentili / 26. Di Minos e daltri / 27. Di Fetonte e
Quire VI, fols. 92119 di Giason / 28. Di alcune figure dantesche / 29. Di Lean-
dro e daltri / 30. Delle donne
Booklet C 31. Delle sette arti liberali / 32. Di Virgilio / 33. Di maestro
Quire VII, fols. 12035 Cecco dAscoli / 34. Dei filosofi antichi / 35. Dellamist /
36. Delle virt e dei vizi
Booklet D 37. Delle propriet degli stati del mondo / 38. DAmore /
Quire VIII, fols. 13649 39. Della interpretazione de sogni / 40. De di oziachi
Booklet E 41. Di Palladio / 42. Di Sidracco / 43. Della edificazione di
Quire IX, fols. 15069 certe citt / 44. Delle et del mondo / 45. Di Anticristo /
46. Del Giudicio / 47. Conclusione

collection, proceeding with the reign of King David and then the history of Troy.
For these chapters on David and Troy Pucci relied heavily upon two new sources,
Guido da Pisas Fiore dItalia and Jacopo da Cessoles Libro de costume e degli
offizii de nobili sopra il giuoco degli scacchi; Pucci adds information from these
same two sources into the margins of the Delle propriet section of Booklet D,
indicating that he probably copied out the Delle propriet catalog prior to com-
posing the chapters on David and Troy, and then returned to Delle propriet
with additions suggested by this subsequent reading.74 Even as he continued to

73
Delle propriet is the first item of Booklet D (quire VIII). Quaglio argues that Booklet D was
the first of the four one-quire booklets to have been started and thus comes from an initial phase of
drafting the Libro. The opening section of Booklet B (chapter 25, De dei gentili) refers to material
contained in chapters 15, 17, and 19 of Booklet A as already having been written; because those parts
of Booklet A postdate the beginning of Booklet D, so the beginning of Booklet B is also to be dated
later than the beginning of Booklet D.
74
The Delle propriet receives four substantial interlinear and marginal additions, the sources of
which have not before been noted: (1) a clarification of a quotation from Dante (Libro 37.13, fol.
137r); (2) a list of seven qualities required of judges, derived probably from a combination of a ver-
nacularization of Albertano da Brescia and from a vernacular account of the seven gifts of the Holy
Spirit such as is found in Dantes Convivio (Libro 37.24, fol. 138v); (3) a specification of qualities

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32 The Case of the Court Entertainer
add further chapters in Booklets A and D, Pucci started filling in Booklet B (dedi-
cated to mythological and legendary figures), Booklet C (dedicated to poetry and
philosophy), and Booklet E (a late repository for miscellaneous items, with most
folios left blank).75
Pucci brought the project to a close by adding a discussion about the end of the
world in Booklet E, to match the account of creation with which the project had
begun (Libro 47.1, p. 311). He gathered the booklets in the order A-D-C-B-E,
then reshuffled them to be bound in their current sequence of A-B-C-D-E.76 When
Pucci brought the Compendium to a close, he calculated the total age of the
world: Sono dal principio del mondo a oggi corrente MCCCLxii in tutto anni
semilia secento ventotto (From the beginning of the world to today, currently
1362, there are a total of 6,628 years, Libro 44.8, p. 306).77 The completion of
the Libro can thus be dated to 1362 or early 1363 (in the Florentine calendar the
year begins on March 15).78
How long did Pucci work on his compendium? As a point of comparison we
might note that Giovanni Boccaccio spent over two decades, in three main stints,
adding material to his Zibaldone magliabechiano, which, like Puccis Libro, is a
primarily historical compendium copied into a paper codex made up of several
codicologically distinct sections.79 It has been assumed that Puccis scholarly ef-
forts occupied a shorter time frame. Varvaro contends that Pucci spent a period
not very long, between one and two years, compiling the Libro, observing that

required of knights, derived from a vernacularization of Jacopo da Cessole (Libro 37.31, fol. 139r);
(4) and a list of four qualities required of governors, derived from Guido da Pisas Fiore dItalia (Libro
37.37, fol. 139v). See Andrea da Grosseto, Trattati morali di Albertano da Brescia volgarizzati 2.41
and 3.17, ed. Francesco Selmi (Bologna, 1873), 139 and 244; Dante, Il convivio 4.21, ed. Franca
Brambilla Ageno, Edizione Nazionale (Florence, 1995), 394; Jacopo da Cessole, Volgarizzamento del
Libro de costume e degli offizii de nobili sopra il giuoco degli scacchi 2.4, ed. Pietro Marocco (Milan,
1829), 35; and Guido da Pisa, Fiore dItalia 24, ed. Luigi Muzzi (Bologna, 1824), 59.
75
For the single-quire booklets, distinct sections of text seem to have been initiated both at the
beginning of the quire and in the middle of the quire, allowing for both sections to be expanded at
the same time.
76
When Pucci brought the work to a close, he kept the four-quire booklet (A) as a distinct unit (its
quires are linked by catchwords), and joined the four single-quire booklets into a single entity in the
order C-D-B-E (signed with appropriate catchwords). He subsequently decided to fuse the two units
into a single book, and at that point he shifted the order of the quires so that the first booklet (A) is
now followed by the others in the order B-C-D-E. New catchwords were supplied as necessary, and
indications of the order of the quires were written on the recto of their initial folios: these indications
have mostly been trimmed away, but are still partly legible as terzo (fol. 34r), quarto (fol. 50r),
quinto (fol. 60r), and nono (fol. 150r).
77
Perch cominciammo dal prencipio del seculo, stato convenevole finire la nostra impresa colla
sopradetta materia chapertiene ala prima, ci della fine del mondo, Libro 47.1, p. 311.
78
The year has been corrected by the expunction of a minim from MCCCLxiij to MCCCLxii,
leading Varvaro to hypothesize that Pucci first wrote the date using the Julian calendar, which begins
the new year on 1 January, then altered it to match the Florentine calendar, which begins the year on
15 March, in which case Puccis note belongs to the first months of 1363. Whether the correction is of
an error or represents a change in calendar, a date sometime in 1362 or early 1363 for the conclusion
of the Libro is certain. Varvaro, Il Libro di varie storie, 55.
79
Gabriella Pomaro, Memoria della scrittura e scrittura della memoria: A proposito dello Zibal-
done magliabechiano, in Gli zibaldoni di Boccaccio: Memoria, scrittura, riscrittura, ed. Michelan-
gelo Picone and Claude Cazal Brard (Florence, 1998), 25982.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 33
the handwriting remains consistent and that Pucci was a fluent writer who never
labored over his compositions.80 Both of these criteria are of dubious value. In the
first place, Puccis handwriting has now been identified in documents from several
decades and shows a notable consistency over time: from a palaeographical per-
spective, the whole ensemble presents itself as much more uniform.81 Secondly,
any ease Pucci enjoyed as a composer of verse did not necessarily carry over
when he turned his hand to prose, as the newly discovered argomenti make clear.
It should also be borne in mind that Pucci did not necessarily have much free
time for this project: he was a full-time employee of the commune, he continued
to compose poetry, and he probably lacked ready access to the books required
for his compiling activities.82 What might be a more telling consideration, not
mentioned by Varvaro, is the appearance of two main paper stocks in the Libro:
quires III of Booklet A use one stock of paper (with a Deer watermark), most
remaining quires use a second (an Axe watermark), while one quire uses a mix
(quire VI = Booklet B).83 The change of paper stock could be taken to suggest
that Puccis conception of the work expanded after it had got underway, yet did
not undergo major amplifications over too long a time (for which yet more paper
from other stocks might have been required).84 So while a period between one
and two years is possible, the project of the Libro may well have occupied Pucci
for a longer time. I would be inclined to assign a period of three to four years to
its compilation, leading to a starting date around 1359 or early 1360. However,
other ranges, either shorter are longer, are also plausible.
Quaglio suggests that if we know the length of time spent compiling the Libro
and if we can identify the point in this stretch at which Pucci copied the Delle
propriet degli stati del mondo, then we should be able to calculate a rough
date for that act of copying. To adapt this hypothesis to the inferences just dis-
cussed, 35 percent of the way through a project lasting four years from early
1359 to early 1363 would occur in the middle of 1360. However, I am skepti-
cal both about estimating how long Pucci worked on the Libro and about in-
ferring a chronology of the composition of the work based on the percentage
of text copied. While the middle of 1360 has a nice, positivist-sounding ring
(and conveniently matches the July 1360 date of Francesco Buondelmontis letter
containing the earliest securely datable reference to the Decameron), not much
weight should be put upon it.
It may not matter much, however, for the date of composition for the Delle
propriet may be earlier than the date at which it was copied into the Libro. Qua-
glio argues that several items in Booklet D, including Delle propriet, differ from
the rest of the Libro in showing fewer authorial revisions and in borrowing from
sources not by direct quotation but by transformative adaptation; he thus infers

80
Varvaro, Il Libro di varie storie, 55; Quaglio, Antonio Pucci, 5455.
81
Cursi and Crimi, Antonio Pucci, 268.
82
For Puccis complaint about the lack of an exemplar when versifying Giovanni Villanis Chroni
cle, see Robins, Antonio Pucci, Guardiano, 5758.
83
The list of watermarks given in Quaglio, Antonio Pucci, contains inaccuracies.
84
Boccaccios Zibaldone magliabechiano also uses two paper stocks. A batch of a single paper stock
could last a private writer many years.

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34 The Case of the Court Entertainer
that Delle propriet was not composed currente calamo as the Libro was drafted,
but rather was one of several distinct entities copied into Tempi 2 from texts that
Pucci had composed earlier. Quaglio proposes a range of c. 135060 for the date
of the composition of the Delle propriet as a separate, stand-alone text.85 Qua-
glio overstates some aspects of the case, yet the hypothesis remains compelling.86
In support of his claim, attention should be paid to the scribal mistakes likely to
have arisen from copying a written exemplar, more frequent here than in the rest
of the Libro.87 It therefore strikes me as quite likely that the Delle propriet was
a distinct work composed before (but not too long before) Pucci decided upon
compiling the Libro di varie storie.
If Delle propriet was composed as a stand-alone work, what is the earliest
possible date for its composition? It must have been written after the Decameron
had become available. If I am correct that Puccis use of the term sogliardo
echoes Decameron 6.10, it would appear that he had the entire Decameron at
his disposal (and not an early redaction of tales from the first three days, such
as Boccaccio, in his introduction to day four, claims were already circulating).88
Tradition assigns the completion of the Decameron to 1353, Branca retrodates
it to 1351, while Lucia Battaglia Ricci and Cursi prudently remind us there is no
evidence of circulation that definitely predates 1360.89
To sum up, for the composition of the Delle propriet degli stati del mondo, in
which Pucci borrows from Boccaccios novella of Guiglielmo Borsiere, it seems
credible to assign the terminus post quem to the early 1350s, that is, after the
Decameron had begun to circulate as a whole (135053?) and after Pucci had
written the argomenti to the Inferno (late 1340searly 1350s?). A terminus ante
quem would be the moment when the Delle propriet was copied into Booklet B
of the Libro, which might have occurred in the late 1350s or the very first years
of the 1360s. The clues point to a date sometime between c. 1353 and 1361.
The Delle propriet can be considered as a transitional text in Puccis devel-
opment as a writer of prose. After hesitatingly assembling the summaries of the
cantos of Dantes Inferno in the argomenti (?late 1340searly 1350s), Pucci fur-
ther honed his skills as a writer of prose (?1350s) by reworking descriptive prose
texts in a mode of adaptive appropriation, taking prompts from passages found
in works composed by his friend Boccaccio, namely the Decameron and the

85
Quaglio, Antonio Pucci, 55.
86
The Delle propriet includes quotations from Dantes and Puccis poetry such as are found
throughout the Libro; thus even if its mode of adaptation diverges from that of the rest of the Libro,
this divergence is not total, for some of its intertextual dynamics are the same. Also, the Delle propri
et was still a living text to some degree, as is evidenced by the marginal additions discussed above
in n. 73.
87
See the emendations in Varvaros text: seolarisecolari (37.4); VuescoviVescovi (37.6);
elimomosinaelemosina (37.7); diventata che mercatantediventata che <sia> mercatante
(37.18); quella arte pi amaquella arte <che> pi ama (37.19); debbodebbo<no> (37.25);
Che lleChe ne (37.26); persanapersona (37.44); dellonodebbono (37.44); quel
vestire puotequel vestire <che> puote (37.44); vagezzavag<h>ezza (37.48). Varvaros appa-
ratus also records several misspellings corrected by Pucci, more frequent here than elsewhere in the Libro.
88
On the possibility of a proto-diffusion of the first three books of the Decameron, see Cursi, Il
Decameron, 5759, 17376.
89
Branca, Tradizione, 2:14748; Battaglia Ricci, Boccaccio, 122; Cursi, Il Decameron, 19.

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The Case of the Court Entertainer 35
Commedia delle ninfe fiorentine. Subsequently he embarked on a historical com-
pilation with a more ambitious range (begun c. 135960?), eventually inserting
within it some of these transitional prose compositions. This compendium grew
into a vernacular encyclopedia of basic historical and cultural information that
was completed in 1362 or 1363.

William Robins is President of Victoria University in the University of Toronto (e-mail:


william.robins@utoronto.ca)
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