essence of comedy: the geese

The essence of comedy is the triumph of nature over intellect; where hedonism replaces heroism, and the thirst for glory is seen as the repair of the fool. The tragic hero dies for what is nobler in the mind, the comic hero lives for what is livelier in the flesh…

Once upon a time, says Boccaccio, there was a man in Florence named Filippo Balducci who lived happily with his beloved wife. They existed only to give each other joy. Suddenly, she died, and Filippo was left alone with their two year old son. Disconsolate, he decides to flee the world and give himself to the service of God. After selling his earthly goods, he takes his son to live in a tiny cell atop Mount Asinaio. There may be no deliberate allegory here, but the extreme “medievality” of both cell and mountaintop are unmistakable. Father and son spend the rest of their days in constant prayer and fasting. Filippo is especially strict with his son’s education:

He took supreme caution never to discuss anything of the temporal world or let his son see any of it, lest it distract him from his holy duty. Instead, he constantly discoursed to him about the glories of Life Eternal, of God and of the saints. He taught him nothing but prayers.

Waterhouse. A tale of Decameron. Source: WIKI

Filippo occasionally goes to Florence for whatever simple supplies they need, always leaving his son behind. But when the boy is eighteen, the father, now old and weary, accepts his offer to come along to help. Filippo reasons that his son is by now so indoctrinated, so inured against “the things of the world,” le cose del mondo, that he cannot possibly be corrupted. And so they go off together to the city.

The young man gapes with wonder at the splendors of civiization- palaces, mansions, churches. He askes what each thing is and his father explains. But then they encounter a group of young girls, all dressed up, en route from a wedding.

The young man asks what they are. “Lower your eyes, son,” says Filippo, “don’t look. They’re a bad thing,” elle son mala cosa.”

To which the youth replies, “Oh? What are they called?”

—Sir John Everett Millais, “Cymon and Iphigenia” (1847-8) —Source WIKI

Now Philippo is loath to impart to his son knowledge that might awaken any counterproductive in

ation ( “alcuno inchinevole desiderio men che utile”), and so he simply tells his son the girls are called “geese.”

Then Boccaccio reports a miracle, “maravigliosa cosa ad udire”: the young man loses interest in the palaces, churches, and other points of local geography. Sweetly he asks, “Father dear, could you arrange for me to get one of those geese?”

Te old man responds with the universal moan of a parent who realizes his child is no longer a child: “Oime!” he cries, adding, “Shut up- they’re a bad thing,” to which the innocent boy replies, “Gee, are bad things so well-built?” To which the father dourly avers, “Yes.”

Sandro Botticelli. Read More:

The lad says he can see nothing bad in geese. They seem infinitely more beautiful than the painted angels Filippo has always shown him. “Let me take one home, Father. I want to feed it.”

“I refuse! You don’t even realize where they have to be ed!” At this point Filippo has to accept a basic truth that Boccaccio’s philosophy and comedy’s law: “And instantly he realized that the force of nature was much stronger than his own contrivance.”


(see link at end)…At this point I would like to clarify the discussion on morality and style. What I argue here a s Boccaccio’s literary aim is not liberation from the existing moral values, but from the high style of literature that separates it from the natural life. It is not hard to follow the traces of this argument with his strategic allusions in the prologue to day IV and especially in the story of the young Balducci’s education. After Filippo and his son move to Mount Asinaio, they live in complete isolation from the society and Filippo educates his son only on the eternal life and God, as Boccaccio puts it:

“At all times, he took very great care not to let him see any worldly things, or even to mention their existence, lest they should distract him from his devotions. On the contrary, he was forever telling him about the glory of the life eternal, of God, and of the Saints, and all he taught him was to pray devoutly. He kept this up for a number of years, never permitting the boy to leave the cave or to see any living thing except for his father.”

It is important to notice Boccaccio’s interpretation of this educational process is based not on “what to do’s”, but “what not to do’s”. Filippo takes great care ‘not to let him see any worldly things’, ‘not to leave the cave’. In the passage above, all the worldly things are expressed with negative expressions, whereas Boccaccio uses positive expressions like ‘forever’ and ‘all he thought him was…’ while talking about the eternal life. In this sense, the education of the young boy and the criticism on his work show similarities on discourse. Boccaccio was advised to ‘not to produce that sort of nonsense’, but rather ‘remain’ with the Muses.

Although Boccaccio claims that he tells this story to show how it is impossible even for the young Balducci, who was raised in complete isolation, to resist the natural attraction he feels towards women, his story points out his allusive criticism on a certain style of education and the use of literature. The failure of Filippo in his son’s education when he takes him to Florence can be interpreted as the failure of the strategies of negation.Read More:

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