Step 3 of 3
Role of the goslings
The novella of the papere, the ‘goslings’, has an origin in the misogynistic story Barlaam and Josophat in which women are described as demons to tempt the soul of man. But in the Decameron, they are named ‘papere’ by the father, Balducci, and there is no negative connotation regarding women in this novella. Not the damsels, but the father is the sinner because he believes that women should be looked down upon.
Interestingly, if we look at an Italian dictionary, for example Treccani, the word ‘papere’ gives a definite negative connotation with an ironical twist: woman or girl with little intelligence, simple minded, stupid. There is a saying: “prendere una papera” which means to make a serious error in speech while performing in public.
Why does Boccaccio ‘use’ the term goslings? Probably to enable the suggestive conversation between father and son and moreover to enable the comical element to take place. This novella is all about the ignorance and selfishness of the father. When you look at the metaphor from the medieval reader’s perspective, it is easy to find a connection with the reference of the geese.
Other than this, since the son of the hermit had lived secluded from the world for so many years with only nature and the wild as a reference, the choice of a bird (geese) could have been the most natural thing to have sprouted from the father’s mind. But as we can read in the introduction of the Decameron, Boccaccio states that this novella is meant to be read by women, because it is written mainly for the women of that period. Then we should rephrase the question: what did women think of this metaphor?
Well, given that older texts in Europe have often referred to women as “demons”, to be called goslings might have been conceived as a small step forward. The artist of this painting, Maria Amelia Valdés Sozzani, seems to be clear: ‘her’ Boccaccio is taking women under his wings, and uses his authorship to make his voice heard. Before you are off to another literary object, or bird even, the extension below will dive deeper into this voice…