“Lei, professore, non mi conosce”….”e non me ne lamento!”

I’ve been reading the Decameron the last few days and in following some reference or other about the manuscript traditions I found an academic feud worth recounting.  I’m quoting the account found here but removing most of the publication details.

For [Vittore] Branca, Boccaccio has been a subject of study over six decades … he constructed a major new edition of the Decameron (1950–51). Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, an
American scholar had been simultaneously preparing his own edition of Boccaccio’s one hundred tales. The war disrupted both projects, but Branca scooped Charles S. Singleton, whose Laterza edition didn’t see print until 1955. Back in Italy, Branca and Ricci announced Hamilton 90 as the autograph, another blow to Singleton, who had judged B “the most authoritative… the manuscript on which my own critical edition was to be based.” In what he calls “the greatest irony of a scholar’s life,” he had not realized that the manuscript he judged best was, in fact, Boccaccio’s own. Branca meanwhile pushed forward with ever greater vigor … in 1967 he brought out Boccaccio’s Profilo biografico as preface to volume I in Tutte le opere, the definitive modern series he had undertaken with Mondadori of Milan (complete in all ten volumes as of 1998).

Back in Baltimore, to vindicate his own long years of painstaking efforts, Singleton organized a stellar team — Franca Petrucci, Armando Petrucci, Giancarlo Savino, and Martino Mardersteig — to prepare a diplomatic edition of Hamilton 90, handsomely reproduced with color facsimile pages of the manuscript and its witty autograph catchword illustrations.  In his Preface, he conspicuously refused to cite Branca at all, eliciting the latter’s predictably disdainful response in review pages of Studi sul Boccaccio (which Branca had founded in 1963): diplomatic editions were a thing of the past; this one was a useless anachronism and total waste of money. 

Singleton, in fact, … refused ever to speak Branca’s name in print (and even took pride in that stubborn silence).  Branca preferred liberally to quote his American antagonist, the better to undercut him with punctilious, withering criticism. Their transatlantic dueling gave rise to an anecdote I recall hearing from a fellow student at Johns Hopkins. As the story went, Branca and Singleton found themselves together for the first time at a conference. One approached the other to introduce himself, but the second cut him off in mid-sentence:

“Lei, professore, non mi conosce”
“e non me ne lamento!”

(“You, professor, do not know me”
“and I’m not complaining”)

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