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May 10, 2007


Italian Professor Secures Grants for Travel
to Florentine Libraries with Early Editions


Why did the Italian poet Boccaccio disguise himself as a different author and write an interpretive commentary on his own work? How did early manuscript and print editions treat the commentary? These are among the questions Assistant Professor of Italian Roberta Ricci aims to address in several important Florentine libraries where she will examine early copies of an epic poem written early in Boccaccio's career, including one in the poet's own hand. Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Renaissance Society of America will fund the research and travel.

Part of a larger book project dealing with several authors' commentaries on their own work, Ricci's research on Boccaccio focuses on the Teseida Di Nozze D'Emilia of about 1340. The poem, written in the Tuscan vernacular, has traditionally been published with a set of 1,250 erudite glosses that were written in Latin; it was not until 1929 that a scholar identified the commentary as Boccaccio's own work.

"Critics over the centuries have debated the problematic relationship between Boccaccio's early production in vernacular and his later production in Latin," Ricci says, but she argues that the scholarly glosses, with their thorough understanding of classical antecedents and their relation to the text of the poem, demonstrate "the continuity we can now see between this early epic poem and Boccaccio's subsequent turn to compose erudite texts in Latin."

Ricci sees Boccaccio's glosses — and his presentation of the commentator as a literary persona distinct from the poet — were a device Boccaccio used to enhance the stature of the poem by placing it within the classical tradition. Although the Teseida is dedicated to a woman named Fiammetta, described as the poet's beloved, Ricci proposes that the glosses are written for "for a male scholarly public from whom the author desires an official acknowledgement as the medieval 'auctoritas' in vernacular poetry." Fiammetta, she argues, "is not a textual interpreter who reads beyond the letter of the poetry, but rather a literary pretext, for the commentary confirms the need to justify and legitimize the exceptionality of the use of the vernacular within the bounds of classical literary culture."

While in Florence, Ricci will also devote some time to the understudied history of the authorial glosses, determining how they were treated by copyists and printers who produced editions of the book in the century or so after it was written. A philological analysis of the Latin will allow her to weigh in on a scholarly debate about whether Boccaccio modeled the glosses on a scholar's annotation of a classical epic.

This spring Ricci has been invited to give a talk at the University of Pisa. Titled "Fabulosum velamentum in un'autoesegesi ai margini: Teseida di nozze d'Emilia," the lecture constitutes the first chapter of her book dedicated to autoexegesis in early modern Italian literature. Ricci says: "The idea of reflecting upon one's own art is probably as old as literature itself. Yet, little critical scholarship explores the development of Medieval and Renaissance authorial self-commentaries and the theoretical implications of different morphologies adopted. I take a different approach in my research: I assume that we as readers should consider self-reflections as pragmatic and functional criteria for studying a text, even though crucial questions about the degree of reliability of self-commentaries remain open. I contend that comments and addenda written by authors present an ulterior literary dimension to the complexity of the text: one that itself demands interpretation."


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