The Griselda story by
Boccaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer is discussed in
Therivel's GAM/DP Theory of Personality and Creativity.
But Weren't Also the Classics at
On the Griselda by Boccaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer
The above is the title of chapter 2 of volume 2 of
William A. Therivel's The GAM/DP Theory of Personality
and Creativity (G stands for genetic
endowment, A for assistances of youth, M
for misfortunes of youth, DP for division of
power, UP for unity of power). For an introduction
to the GAM part of the theory click "Introduction
to GAM"; for an introduction to the DP
part click on "Introduction
In this website, the reader is also offered a shortcut:
The GAM/DP Synopsis
and an expanded version, The GAM/DP
Summary of volumes 1 through 4.
The same story of Griselda was told first in Italian
by Boccaccio, then in its Latin translation by Petrarch,
and finally in the English version by Chaucer. Deserving
praise, Chaucer-less shaped by the classics-took a position
toward Griselda and her husband,, the Marquis, closer
to Boccaccio's original version in Italian than to Petrarch's
translation/version in Latin which, under the influence
of the classical authors, became imperialist and antifeminist.
Hereafter, I report the table of contents and a few
pages from this chapter.
This chapter is divided into the following sections:
2. Griselda, and the Drawback
of Petrarch's Classicism
3. Petrarch, the Renaissance
4. Widespread Machismo
May Explain the Success of the Griselda Stories
5. The Machismo of the
6. Was Petrarch's Classicism
a Bad Influence on Boccaccio?
8. Post-Scriptum #1: Ibn
Hazm, Béquer, and Petrarch
9. Post-Scriptum #2: From
DP Literature to UP Literature
2. Griselda and the Drawback of Petrarch's Classicism
In 1373, about twenty years after the completion of
Decameron, Petrarch found among his papers a
copy of Boccaccio's stories. "Looking into the
manuscript, the old scholar discovered that they were
written in prose and in Italian; so he examined them
only cursorily, dipping into them here and there, but
really reading with attention only the opening and the
close of the work. The latter, containing the tale of
Griselda, appealed to him immensely" (Severs, 1972,
p. 7). He then decided to rewrite the tale in Latin
and make it consonant with his classical thinking. Chaucer
for "The Clerk's Tale" of his Canterbury Tales
then used this new version.
The Patrarchan version
deserves to be contrasted with that by Boccaccio in
order to highlight Petrarch's change of mentality brought
on by his long and intense reading of the classics.
While Boccaccio is still a communal man, Petrarch-especially
in his version of Griselda-shows that he has become
a humanist and Renaissance man. While Boccaccio is still
a visitor, strongly opposed to the unity of power of
kings and nobles, Petrarch has already adopted a number
of insular points of view, among these (1) an admiration
for the Roman imperial power; (2) a far less critical
view of the aristocracy; and (3) a religious interpretation
of the citizens' duty to be obedient and patient. (p.
Nowhere in Boccaccio does
the Marquis come across so reasonable, understanding,
and nearly friendly in his desire to have Griselda accept,
on her own, the evil deed (i.e., adjusting her thinking
The Petrarchan Marquis
won, and Griselda answered, "You are our lord,
and this little daughter and I are yours. Do as you
please, therefore, with what belongs to you" (ib.
p. 661). But, again, nowhere in Boccaccio does Griselda
anticipate the cruelty of the Marquis by "offering"
the daughter: by saying-of her own initiative-that her
daughter belongs to him.
In the same direction,
Petrarch makes the Marquis think something neither said
nor hinted at by Boccaccio: "
had he not known
that she loved her children very much, he could almost
have suspected that this firmness in a woman proceeded
from a certain savagery of heart (1992, p. 663,
my italics). So, now the reader is invited to suspect
that the obedience of Griselda is not praiseworthy,
the result not of unbearable pressure but a certain
savagery of heart. The limelight is adroitly moved away
from the savagery of the Marquis toward a possible savagery
of Griselda: Griselda should have refused to obey! In
the end, Griselda came out vindicated, but also the
Marquis's action was washed out: his doing was not anymore
the matta bestialitade done by somebody piu degno
di guarder porci che d'avere sopra altri signoria,
but his probing of Griselda as a feminine Job.