GRISELDA’S TALE

MOTHER’S DAY — 2011

Griselda’s Tale

I consider the 14th century the turning-point of western history — the beginning of the development of the modern mind.  That belief is the background for the following somewhat conjectural discussion about a mediaeval morality story known as “Griselda’s Tale.”  What I propose, I think, is at least plausible … and illuminating. 

 The guiding enigma can be stated simply: in Archibald Mac­Leish’s great 1958 dramatic poem, J.B. forgives Mr. Zoos.  This is not the playwright’s fancy, according to interpreters of the Bible, but faithfully reflects the source itself, because at the end of the Book of Job, “Job comes to love God gratuitously, thus making Satan lose his original bet.”[1]  In the context of Israel’s “contract” with Yahweh, trading obedience for prosperity, the Book of Job broke new ground.   It waived Yahweh’s obligation, and so it was considered a significant advance.  Current religious belief seems to have regressed into a quid pro quo that justifies empire.  Significant as that is, that regression is not my concern in this essay.   My question here  is:  can Job’s forgiveness of Yahweh still be taken as “the solution”?

Griselda’s Tale was the very last of the 100 stories in the Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio.  It was reproduced by Geoffrey Chaucer 40 years later in the Canterbury Tales, conspicuously unchanged, as “The Clerk’s Tale.  It is what I like to call Boccaccio’s “commentary” on the Black Plague.  Let me explain what I mean.

      The Bubonic Plague struck Europe in 1348 and over the next two years accounted for the death, by conservative estimates, of one third of the sub-continent’s population.  The story of the Decameron itself takes place at the time of its onset.  Ten terrified Florentines, trying to escape the contagion, are thrown together on a remote rural estate.  Literate city people, exiled to the country with no skills and nothing to do, they are bored to death.  They agree to tell ten stories each to entertain themselves until it is safe to return to Florence.  One would expect that at least some of these 100 fables would refer, directly or indirectly, to the unprecedented horror of the plague, the reason for the narrative marathon.  Certainly Griselda’s tale, for being so outrageously unrealistic, suggests that Boccaccio must have had some purpose in mind that would explain why he used it in the emphatic final position.  I am convinced it had a significance beyond the most obvious possibilities:  … a male fantasy about female submissiveness, … a sarcastic jibe at marriage, … a stereotypical misogynism.  None of these comes close to the crisis of faith and spiritual confusion occasioned by the plague.  I believe Griselda’s Tale was a thinly veiled allegory of mediaeval Christendom’s “relationship” with the absurd “God” of its Roman Catholic inheritance … the “God” who, to the mediaeval mind, had to be responsible for the Plague.

      But before we unpack that thesis, here’s a synopsis of the story for those who are unfamiliar with it: 

 Walter, the Marquis of Saluzzo falls in love with and marries Griselda, a peasant girl.  He tests her loyalty by declaring that their first child — a daughter — must be put to death.  Griselda obediently gives her up without protest, declaring her obligation to her husband.   He does the same thing with their second child — a son.   Griselda, again, loyally submits.  Meanwhile, Walter secretly has been sending the children away to Bologna to be raised rather than killed.  In a final test, Walter publicly renounces Griselda, claiming he has been granted a papal dispensation to divorce her in order to find and marry a  “better” woman.  Her obedience is flawless.  Without complaint she goes home in rags to live with her father.  Some years later, Walter announces he is to remarry and calls Griselda back to the palace and orders her, now as a servant, to prepare the wedding celebrations.  He intro­du­ces her to a twelve-year old girl he claims is to be his bride (but who is really their daughter.)  Grisel­da dutifully wishes them well.  At this, Walter reveals their grown children to her and Griselda is restored to her place as wife, Marquise and mother.[2]

 The great poet Francesco Petrarch was so taken with “The Tale of Griselda” that he memorized the entire thing word for word so he could retell it at gatherings of friends.  Petrarch was a celebrated international man of letters.  Together with Dante Alighieri he dominated the 14th century and is considered the “father of renaissance humanism.”  He decided to translate the Tale of Griselda into latin — which at that time was the lingua franca of the literate classes.  The translation by a man of such prestige insured an international readership to Boccaccio’s story.  Petrarch, even though a fast personal friend of Boccaccio, had been unaware of the existence of the Decameron until toward the end of his life.[3]  This surprising fact reveals how little diffusion the work had received in Italy.  Boccaccio was an unknown.  The two friends occupied different strata of social recognition.  Petrarch was quite fond of Boccaccio but in the way an older well-esta­b­lished literary guru is of his younger admirer and brilliant but obscure student.  Chaucer’s Clerk, in a rare acknowledgement of “source,” attributes his tale to “Petrak,” not to Boccaccio.  It seems probable that Chaucer himself was introduced to the work of Boccaccio through reading (or meeting) Petrarch.[4]  It seems hardly likely that the Decameron, so little known in Italy that even a friend was unaware of it, would have been widely circulated in England.  But later Chaucer used other tales found in Boccaccio, and so the situation might have changed.  Chau­­cer’s insistence on using Petrarch’s name as the tale’s author was his way of enhancing the importance of the Canterbury Tales.  

Now, the nature of Petrarch’s enthusiasm for the tale was explained in a letter he wrote to Boccaccio in 1373.  In that letter, Petrarch states that his object in translating it was not to induce women to imitate the patience of Griselda, “but to lead readers … to submit themselves to God with the same courage as did this woman to her husband.[5]  (emphasis mine)   The Plague had decimated Europe only 20 years before.  Everyone alive had memories still open and bleeding from the loss of family and friends.  As I read this, Griselda’s tale is a commentary on exactly that overwhelming question that obsessed the minds of 14th century Europeans:  “… how and why did a supposedly ‘good God’ let this [the Plague] happen to us?”  And, given the submissiveness of Petrarch to the teachings of the Church, his reaction is entirely consistent with his known character.  Petrarch was enthralled with this tale because it represented what he considered the proper Christian attitude to be assumed in the face of the plague and suffering in general.  And J.B., as drawn by MacLeish, displays it as well.  Griselda’s forgiveness of Walter mirrors J.B.’s forgiveness of Mr.Zoos for what we all recognize to be a senseless unforgivable torment, motivated by nothing but a sadistic narcissism.  How could “God” visit such an ordeal on Christian Europe for no other reason than to test its constancy?

 In commenting on the Clerk’s Tale, Barbara Newman agrees that Griselda’s story proclaims that “conjugal loyalty is … a perfect analog of the soul’s obedience to God …”[6]  She continues:

 … if Griselda signifies the faithful Christian, then Walter must represent God — but is not that precisely the point?  In this Petrarchian (sic!) allegory, which too many critics read as a mystification, we may find a last and perhaps more benign explanation for the popularity of child sacrifice plots.  At a time when … the apocalyptic mind perceived in the endless wars, famines and plagues of the age a whole series of deals between God and Satan, God must often have seemed to bereft mortals like a celestial Walter.[7]

 Boccaccio, for his part, it seems, provided a commentary on the tale through the framing remarks of his narrator, Dioneo, whose character, known to be flip and satirical, warns his listeners in advance not to take the “moral” of the tale seriously.  But he clearly states that its subject matter is the role of women in mar­riage.  He appears to be ridiculing the ideal of wifely submis­siveness, implying a literalist reading of the tale.  But is that all?

 Chaucer himself, in a revision of an earlier edition of the CT, added an “envoy” (an epilogue) to the Clerk’s Tale.  The speaker in the revised version is now the “Host” (surely, Chaucer himself), not the Clerk.  In his straightforward mockery of Griselda’s reactions, Chaucer is both playfully sarcastic on the one hand, ― saying, we know how you women really react when your husbands are overbearing: you nag and carp, you load them with guilt and you make them jealous ― and quite serious, on the other, as he warns the men: “don’t try this Griselda-test at home,” and encourages the women: “when you are treated like this, fight back!”  But if my reading of what’s really going on here is correct, Chaucer’s critique, like Boccaccio’s, runs a lot deeper than this apparent call for marital fairness.

 I believe this tale is an allegory representing the traditional response to the sufferings of life, and both Boccaccio and Chaucer demur.  The very fact that the issue is joined in a tale about marriage supports the allegorical interpretation.  Marriage was the arch-symbol of the relationship with “God.”  It would never have been lost on late mediaeval Christians that marriage symbolized the union between Yahweh and Israel (Osee, and other OT prophets), “God” and the individual soul (Song of Solomon, and mediaeval mystical lierature), and Christ and the Church (Paul ‘s letter to the Ephesians).  It was an allegory derived from a traditional symbol, and Petrarch understood it exactly that way.  It explains his enthusiasm for Griselda’s reaction and the frank admission to Boccaccio of his edifying intentions in translating and promoting it.

 The sufferings that result from natural catastrophes like the Plague are aggravated exponentially when they are viewed as the work of “providence.”  For it’s is only under a regimen of “God’s” personal manage­ment that calamities lose their random innocence and  become “willed” or “permitted” by “someone.”  Simple bad luck, in other words, becomes an incomprehensible animosity, or the punitive rage of an insulted tyrant or, at very best, a tortuous “test” imposed by a benevolent but paranoid ego-maniac like Walter.  We must recognize that, at one time or another, all these characterizations of “God” have functioned — and sometimes simultaneously — in the history of the humanoid “God” imagined by the religions of the “Book.”  Walter’s “benevolence” represented the best of these scenarios, but if the tale does anything, it illustrates how morally unacceptable even that is.  The severe losses that one suffers in life become, psychologically speaking, unbearable when they are believed to be purposely inflicted for no reason except “God’s” need to feel himself trusted.  Such a “God” would be more insecure than we are. 

 The claim that sufferings of whatever magnitude are intended for our benefit loses all credibility when translated into griselda-terms.  That “God” could not possibly want these things was a realization that spread with the Plague.  Simplistic attitudes about “providence” are still in evidence today in the ludicrous interpretations people give to natural disasters.[8]  Many but not all are prejudiced, hateful and condemnatory, but even those that are intended to be consoling are incompre­hensible.  “God,” clearly, has nothing whatsoever to do with any of it.  Therefore, “God,” as literally imagined by “the Book,” does not exist.

That conclusion and the questions it raises have been the defining mark of the modern mind.

Walter displays all the odious self-centeredness necessary to explain such cruel behavior, and, as repeated in all versions, he comes to be hated by his people.  The criticism of the standard recommended response to suffering implies a thorough rejection of the fundamental Western “doctrine of God” designed to explain it.  Both Boccaccio and Chaucer use their framing remarks to clarify what may have been hidden by the “the husband’s” disguise.  It is exactly the kind of clandestine criticism one would expect from master story-tellers who had to present their “theological” dissent in carefully crafted symbolic narratives in order to outmaneuver the literalist nets of the inquisitors.  

“Given the undeserved suffering in life,” they seem to be saying, “your God — the ‘God’ you have always imagined — would have to be like Walter, at best.  What does it take to realize no such ‘God’ could possibly exist?” 

 From our point of view, they are right, of course.  Where do we go from here? 


[1] Cf Paul Ricoeur, Evil tr Bouden, Continuum, 1985 (2004) p.72: “… the end of the book of Job, where it is said Job comes to love God gratuitously, thus making Satan lose his original bet.”

[2] Synopsis taken from “Griselda’s Tale” in Wikipedia

 [3] The translation was made in 1373, Petrarch died in 1374.

 [4] Chaucer traveled to the continent on many occasions in the service of the king.  One, in 1373, may have included Petrarch. 

 [5] Petrarch, Letter 3, Book XVII, translated by James Harvey Robinson (NY: G.P. Putnam, 1898) The First Modern Scholar and Man of Letters

 [6] Barbara Newman, From Virile Woman to Woman Christ, Phila., U of PA Pr, 1995, p.100, emphasis mine.

 [7] Ibid, p.105

[8] I think especially of Pat Roberts who said that the Haitian earthquake of January 2010 was punishment on the Haitian People because they had “sold their soul to the devil” to gain independence fromFrance in 1803.

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8 comments on “GRISELDA’S TALE

  1. dsemple says:

    Did your women friends really need to reread Griselda’s tale on Mothers’ Day? Well, Iguess I could have passed on this one but thought it might have some piece of inspiration for the “fairer sex’. Irregardless of its spiritual and philosophical underpinnings, it’s still a grim reminder of the subjugation of and cruely meted out to women, even as I write this. Did I miss your point, Tony? No!!! I read it over a few times and have received your message about our perceptions and images of “god”, which you have hammered home quite skillfully with time. You wanted polemics….well, I think your timing is lousy!!! Should have waited until Fathers’ Day to post it.
    In the spirit of feistiness. Dorothy
    f

    • tonyequale says:

      April 11, 2009
      (FROM TONY, reposted, as my penance, for Mother’s Day 2011)

      ON BEING KISSED — an allegory … and a poem of e.e.cummings

      When I was an infant, I lived in a garden of endless delight. I slept, I nursed, I was smothered in hugs and kisses and the cooing, grinning stimulation of my mother. The hugs and kisses were (am I “retrapolating” here?) the most delightful of all, but, and I can say this unequivocally, I was unable to distinguish those endorfic explosions from the other ecstasies in which I swam in the seamless nights and days of baby-time. I was being kissed, but I did not know it. I experienced my mother, but I did not know her. I could not separate her kisses from her milk or the bottle, or the warmth of my blanket or the serene dreamless sleep that enfolded me like the safety of the womb.

      Then at some point, I don’t know when, does anyone? … something resolved itself in my little brain and the real identifiable reality of my mother gelled clear and sharp like binoculars coming into focus. Her self became clearly distinguished from her nipples, the bottles, the blankets, the clean diaper, the bright lights, the stimulating sounds and the delicious, rapturous embrace of sleep.

      At that moment I knew that I wasn’t only in paradise … I was being kissed.

      since feeling is first
      who pays any attention
      to the syntax of things
      will never wholly kiss you;

      wholly to be a fool
      while Spring is in the world
      my blood approves,
      and kisses are a better fate
      than wisdom

  2. tonyequale says:

    Dorpthy,

    I am duly reprimanded.

    No disrespect intended. Griselda is not real and never was. Any mother knows that. Griselda was a male fantasy as is the “God” most of us imagine. If it’s obvious that the first is impossible, then so is the second. That I posted it on Mother’s Day was simply a way to insure I would get peoples’ attention. Apparently it worked.

    Forgive my obsessions.

    Tony

  3. Sean says:

    Simplistic reflections on Providence are indeed unbecoming. Nevertheless, I remember only and always the blind old Carthusian monk from “Die Große Stille,” who said very plainly, “I thank God every day that he let me go blind, because I am certain that it was for the good of my soul.” All you have restated is the old addage that Providence is inscrutable.

    Nevertheless, holiness, the universal call of all men, remains open to all men in any situation. As a friend of mine once said: “Hell has got to be more than just hot. If you threw St. Therese into a furnace, she’d just unite her sufferings with Christ and make Hell into Heaven.”

    • tonyequale says:

      (1) You say “Providence is inscrutable.” Another “fail-safe” doctrine of credulity. ”Inscrutable” is a word that simply reinforces irration¬ality and renders it impervious to criticism because by definition to be inscrut¬able means it is beyond comprehension. This is a “closed” position that corresponds to the “moral” definition of religion that maintains that to “not believe” doctrine as traditionally understood is not only an error, or a misperception, or even a misfortune, but a sin. It says in effect, “if you don’t believe you are not just mistaken … you are evil, or at least a dupe of the evil one.” … In this respect, I feel your comment is morally condemnatory by insinuation. It seems to suggest that if I were somehow “more spiritual” and a ”better” person, I would not be saying the things I do, and “courting eternal damnation.” Am I wrong? Tell me …

      (2) There is an anthropomorphic view of “God” that imagines a “providence” that is totally at variance with the normal human expectations of the behavior of a benevolent and just person with an intimate knowledge and detailed control over human life. Most people mean this kind of humanoid “providence” when they use the term. I suspect you do too. Bur it is utterly senseless. One gets impression its adherents are willing to trade their common sense for the comforting feeling that everything is happening according to some “plan” … even the most heinous and incomprehensible of horrors, like the holocaust.

      (3) And then there is the rational-theological view of “God” espoused by Aquinas who constantly warned against anthropomorphism in his writings. The “God” that Aquinas imagined entirely fulfilled the definition of “providence” by “providing” the natural order. Unfortunately adjustments that allowed for the inclusion of the anthropomorphic view were his reluctant concesssions to a Church authority that was increasingly lethal in its exercise of control. But those anthropomorphic “adjustments,” in fact, neutralized the significance of his doctrine. For, if you think that “God” usually lets everything be determined by the natural order of secondary causes, but sometimes steps out of it and performs miracles … you have solved nothing because there is still no explanation why “God” didn’t decide to “step outside” the natural order in this case or that. You are back to your inane “inscrutable” demand to stop thinking. If there is a “God” (as we have conceived “him”), why did “he” permit the holocaust to occur when he regularly performs other “miracles” like the ones needed to canonize JPII?

      (4) If you eliminate anthropomorphism (as Aquinas counseled but could not follow through on), you realize he is saying exactly what I’m saying … there is a benevoloent creative force/source of all being and becoming in the universe from which the natural order has unfolded and spread out the universe.

  4. Christina Hebert says:

    Sir, I have been reading your work and am duly impressed … I have more comments to make on you most recent additions. Since I could not stop reading long enough to reply yet, this one made me STOP and read The Clerk’s Tale again, because I thought this analogy strange. Please forgive my heated response.

    First, your notion that this story has to be about something more important due to it’s “emphatic final position” and the state of the world, at that time, IS the problem. I will go so far as to say it is the problem with Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) and Western society. If you want a humanizing church and society, start at the beginning, the person next to you.

    Your claim that “this example is so outrageous” (not to be taken seriously) is not as convincing when you see it as “just a male fantasy” . Stereotype, also, “is a word that simply reinforces irration¬ality and renders it impervious to criticism” … in effect, you dismissed the hatred of women as a silly notion.

    The basics that your thesis relies on, that every 14th century mind was obsessed with why their absurd God let that happen and Petrarch’s veiled response to this mind set, out of church loyalty … a generation AFTER the plague is …. not convincing .

    Your synopsis is not accurate.

    1. Walter watches her and admires her humble nature, falling in love is NOT used because of his musings on her character and that no one noticed her qualities … “HE CAREFULLY CONSIDERED HER EXCELLENCE” and would only wed her, “commending in his heart her womanhood and her virtue.” This is very important to the story and completely at odds with your allegory, Griselda as Christendom and Walter the absurd God. Your allegory is opposite of the story, Christendom was railing at God, “how could you do this” but GRISELDA never REACTS, she remains steadfast and returns his cruelty with love.

    2. It is not the ACTIONS OF WALTER (death to the children, dismissing her, etc) but his HEART, the strange longing he felt to prove her steadfastness. Having the power to “save or destroy that which belongs to him” … why didn’t he save/protect what he commended as excellent AND why does he SAY (explain to his wife) his people want these terrible things for you …

    Each time she proved her character consistent (to what he had observed in the first place!) “he felt great pleasure in his heart. “He was evil, meaning REMOVED, her love/character was something to be poked and prodded, to see how it worked … does that make sense? It is the ultimate selfishness and separateness.
    He was not paranoid, as you assert, he was fascinated and “determined to look for a change (reaction) in her manner.”

    It is the lack of reaction from our heroine that marks this story. We can call it what we like, steadfast, patient, loyal, courageous but these are words and She is not understood by any of them. The author says, “everyone who looked into her face loved her … so kind and deserving of reverence … she increased in those excellent qualities which are rooted in the highest goodness.”
    She is perfect but nothing … who is like that?

    This story describes what the institution of marriage has been for much of history, women as property, to be used, even discarded. You don’t like to hear it, I don’t like to say it, but this is the truth … man has enslaved woman throughout history. Telling others to honor/respect/love your wife (as Walter does) is the ultimate hypocrisy.

    This must be addressed, not glossed over in order to fix our society, church, religion, you name it.
    We cannot really love or respect what we think inferior = colonialism and empire?
    “How is it the loudest yelps for liberty come from the drivers of slaves”

    As long as the Christian man believes he is lord (god) (like the book says) over the person closest to him and whom he claims to love, he will never stop trying to be lord and master over everyone else.

    I firmly believe Jesus’ message was about this …. the beginning, man and woman ….treat others as you wish to be treated

    Who was he? telling to be humble and meek? ..

    Christina

    ps. what should be a given … i do not think all men are evil and all women are god.)

    • Tony Equale says:

      1. Sir, I have been reading your work and am duly impressed … I have more comments to make on you most recent additions. Since I could not stop reading long enough to reply yet, this one made me STOP and read The Clerk’s Tale again, because I thought this analogy strange. Please forgive my heated response.

      If you thought my suggestion strange, you would also have to criticise Barbara Newman who suggested exactly the same thing. The quotation from her book is in the post and the reference in a footnote. It is an excellent book and excellently written. I would recommend it.

      First, your notion that this story has to be about something more important due to it’s “emphatic final position” and the state of the world, at that time, IS the problem. I will go so far as to say it is the problem with Christianity (and Judaism and Islam) and Western society. If you want a humanizing church and society, start at the beginning, the person next to you.

      The post was a theological exploration. It was not a direct proposal for a solutuion to world problems. I would agree, however, that once people are no longer mystified about what is true and false about “God” they have a better chance of solving prob­lems and not creating them.

      Your claim that “this example is so outrageous” (not to be taken seriously) is not as convincing when you see it as “just a male fantasy”. Stereotype, also, “is a word that simply reinforces irration¬ality and renders it impervious to criticism” … in effect, you dismissed the hatred of women as a silly notion.

      The short list of rejected possibilities included mysogynism. Misogynism was not a silly possibility at all. It was all too possible. That’s what made it apt as an allegory. It could easily be passed off as a misogynistic diatribe (among other things) and thus pass under the inquisitors’ radar. That is my theory. There was no intention of trivializing much less dismissing the hatred of women. It was precisely Walter’s hatred — disguised as “love” — that is the poinjt of the allegory.

      The basics that your thesis relies on, that every 14th century mind was obsessed with why their absurd God let that happen and Petrarch’s veiled response to this mind set, out of church loyalty … a generation AFTER the plague is …. not convincing.

      I quoted Petrarch’s explicit description of his motivation for translating Bocaccio’s tale. He expressly stated that he saw Griselda as an example of the Christian’s submission to God in the trials of life. If you don’t like that motive, take it up with Petrarch … he’s the one making the declaration. His response was not veiled in the least. The importance of the Plague comes not only from knowing that Petrarchs’s brother and his famous lover “Laura” were killed by the plague, but that Bocaccio’s Decameron, which Griselda’s tale terminated, was set in the Plague.

      Your synopsis is not accurate.

      1. Walter watches her and admires her humble nature, falling in love is NOT used because of his musings on her character and that no one noticed her qualities … “HE CAREFULLY CONSIDERED HER EXCELLENCE” and would only wed her, “commending in his heart her womanhood and her virtue.” This is very important to the story and completely at odds with your allegory, Griselda as Christendom and Walter the absurd God. Your allegory is opposite of the story, Christendom was railing at God, “how could you do this” but GRISELDA never REACTS, she remains steadfast and returns his cruelty with love.

      You don’t seem to understand what I am claiming the tale is being used for. I am not saying it is an allegory about actual history, I am saying it is being made into an allegory about the proper spiritual reaction to natural disasters believed “sent by God,” of which the Plague was a still painful example. I claim that all three authors – Bocaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer – saw it that way. Petrarch saw it as the proper Christian reaction and the other two demurred, and their disagreement is found, not so much in the narrative, which was necessarily presented as non-suspiciously as possible, but in their framing remarks.

      2. It is not the ACTIONS OF WALTER (death to the children, dismissing her, etc) but his HEART, the strange longing he felt to prove her steadfastness. Having the power to “save or destroy that which belongs to him” … why didn’t he save/protect what he commended as excellent AND why does he SAY (explain to his wife) his people want these terrible things for you …

      Each time she proved her character consistent (to what he had observed in the first place!) “he felt great pleasure in his heart. He was evil, meaning REMOVED, her love/character was something to be poked and prodded, to see how it worked … does that make sense? It is the ultimate selfishness and separateness.
      He was not paranoid, as you assert, he was fascinated and “determined to look for a change (reaction) in her manner.”

      Are you defending Walter as simply a prisoner of his admiration for his wife? … at root interested only in putting her extraordinary qualities on public display by throwing up the most impossible challenges? Surely, even if the allegory that I suggest is not correct, the tale as it stands must have some metaphorical meaning, even for you. If you – perhaps like Petrarch — believe this is literally a defensible male behavior, our disagreements are more profound than I had imagined, and cannot be addressed in a comment-response format in this blog.

      It is the lack of reaction from our heroine that marks this story. We can call it what we like, steadfast, patient, loyal, courageous but these are words and She is not understood by any of them. The author says, “everyone who looked into her face loved her … so kind and deserving of reverence … she increased in those excellent qualities which are rooted in the highest goodness.”
      She is perfect but nothing … who is like that?

      I am not sure I fully understand what you are driving at in this paragraph. But I’ll guess, and say no one is like that! That’s the point. Bocaccio and Chaucer both knew it quite well and it’s the inhumanity not only of Walter’s tests but also of Griselda’s responses that makes the tale outrageous. Walter’s testing is all too real among men, and Griselda’s submission is all too real among women, but what makes the tale symbolic is that both the testing and the submissiveness are carried to extremes that are not credible. No one is like either of them. They are both symbols. I think that is incontrovertible. The only question left is what are they the symbols of? I think Petrarch saw them as symbols of the standard recommended Christian response to the meaningless sufferings that life can serve up. What do you think they are symbols of?

      This story describes what the institution of marriage has been for much of history, women as property, to be used, even discarded. You don’t like to hear it, I don’t like to say it, but this is the truth … man has enslaved woman throughout history. Telling others to honor/respect/love your wife (as Walter does) is the ultimate hypocrisy.

      From here, and on to the end, we agree.

      This must be addressed, not glossed over in order to fix our society, church, religion, you name it. We cannot really love or respect what we think inferior = colonialism and empire? “How is it the loudest yelps for liberty come from the drivers of slaves.”

      As long as the Christian man believes he is lord (god) (like the book says) over the person closest to him and whom he claims to love, he will never stop trying to be lord and master over everyone else.

      I firmly believe Jesus’ message was about this … the beginning, man and woman ….treat others as you wish to be treated

      Who was he telling to be humble and meek? ..

      Christina

      ps. what should be a given … i do not think all men are evil and all women are good.)

      Christina, I agree that Paul’s admonition in Galatians that “in Christ there is neither male nor female,” has been upended and disregarded, perhaps even reversed by those who inserted epistolary material in his name. But while there is ample evidence that the trial of Griselda is all too typical of gender injustice and the use of the institution of marriage to mystify the exploitation of women, there is nothing in it to prevent those three men from applying its symbols to other issues. I am presenting a literary and theological theory. I am not addressing the issue of the use of marriage to bludgeon females. I am unequi­vocally against that. I am rather observing – and offering evidence for it — that those three men in the 14th century saw Walter’s torture of Griselda as a symbol of what they thought a raging punitive “God” was doing to Europe. And I believe that they, by suggesting that Walter is inhuman and no one should act like him, that the “God” of Petrarch is likewise “inhuman” and a “loving Father” could never act like that. If no real “God” could be like that, then where do we go from here?

      • Christina Hebert says:

        Your response blocks are in “”””

        –“If you thought my suggestion strange, you would also have to criticise Barbara Newman who suggested exactly the same thing. The quotation from her book is in the post and the reference in a footnote. It is an excellent book and excellently written. I would recommend it.”–

        -I am familiar with Newman and her books. I did not miss your reference, so, technically I disagree with both of you about Griselda.

        –“The post was a theological exploration. It was not a direct proposal for a solutuion to world problems. I would agree, however, that once people are no longer mystified about what is true and false about “God” they have a better chance of solving prob­lems and not creating them.”–

        -Although your proposal to solve the world’s problems would be at the top of any one’s list, I did not assume such effort in your post. I simply saw a light. The evil of Empire is inherent in Christianity because it is inherent in our dogma, that humanity’s most important relationship and basis of human life (marriage), is man dominating woman.

        –“The short list of rejected possibilities included mysogynism. Misogynism was not a silly possibility at all. It was all too possible. That’s what made it apt as an allegory. It could easily be passed off as a misogynistic diatribe (among other things) and thus pass under the inquisitors’ radar. That is my theory. There was no intention of trivializing much less dismissing the hatred of women. It was precisely Walter’s hatred — disguised as “love” — that is the poinjt of the allegory.”—

        -I read your short list of possibilities and when responding I forgot how to spell misogynism ? so I just used the definition! Anyway, the important thing is this: I think you are unintentionally dismissing the point of the story! Petrarch’s letter will point you to what I mean. He writes of two men and their responses to the story, one cries and the other replies, “I would feel for this Griselda if only she were real … which she isn’t, but, oh where can I find one like her?” Do you see? Walter does not love or hate Griselda (your allegory point), how can you love an “idol”?

        –“I quoted Petrarch’s explicit description of his motivation for translating Bocaccio’s tale. He expressly stated that he saw Griselda as an example of the Christian’s submission to God in the trials of life. If you don’t like that motive, take it up with Petrarch … he’s the one making the declaration. His response was not veiled in the least. The importance of the Plague comes not only from knowing that Petrarchs’s brother and his famous lover “Laura” were killed by the plague, but that Bocaccio’s Decameron, which Griselda’s tale terminated, was set in the Plague.”–

        -I kinda wish you could “take it up with Petrarch” if only to prove me right!!!.) He simply states he thinks all Christians should be like Griselda, why do you focus on the angry God and evil Walter? I think you recent post is with me on this, Griselda loves and honors Walter WITHOUT a guarantee of salvation. The plague was THE PLAGUE I don’t know how else to describe it, but what do people in the midst of tragedy and destruction gravitate to? An angry God or Love? Anyway, Petrarch lost his son not brother to the plague and Bocaccio’s Decameron is set in the plague but is not about the plague.

        –“You don’t seem to understand what I am claiming the tale is being used for. I am not saying it is an allegory about actual history, I am saying it is being made into an allegory about the proper spiritual reaction to natural disasters believed “sent by God,” of which the Plague was a still painful example. I claim that all three authors – Bocaccio, Petrarch and Chaucer – saw it that way. Petrarch saw it as the proper Christian reaction and the other two demurred, and their disagreement is found, not so much in the narrative, which was necessarily presented as non-suspiciously as possible, but in their framing remarks.” —

        -I repeat, you and Wikipedia’s synopsis is not accurate. Besides this I think you may be drawing from The Clerk’s Tale not Bocaccio’s Griselda. There are small differences but maybe less important with your emphasis on Petrarch’s influence? I would like to insert this note quietly: my failure to agree with your theological exploration does not mean I fail to understand what you are claiming’\ Besides, your idea of a proper spiritual reaction is far from proper to my sensibilities (I just said that with a British accent). To the point — you claim that these 3 men saw it this way is what I just can’t see … besides the Decameron is about men and women throughout all the tales. Have you read the entire Decameron, it is excellent, I recommend it;’)

        I WILL HAVE TO WRAP THIS UP TOMORROW (LATER TODAY)

        Christina

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