Getting a head in the renaissance: Mementos of lost love in Boccaccio and beyond

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This essay offers a historian's reading of Boccaccio's tale of Lisabetta da Messina (4:5), rethinking it in terms of fourteenth-century ways of understanding virtu and identity. In analyzing the tale in the context of the Decameron, while reading it against archival material from the period, the deeper context of its discussion of love suggests a reading that makes the tale central to the tragic stories of the fourth day and highlights a lesson about the dangers of passion that make it fit powerfully as the day's central tale. In the end, love offers many things in the Decameron, but Boccaccio's brigata of storytellers and his readers could appreciate a danger more difficult to see today-that the powerful passions associated with lost love and mourning without the support of the groups that surrounded and sustained one's sense of identity also threatened in the most profound way the negation of self: death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1165-1190
Number of pages26
JournalRenaissance Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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