“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”)

Let Generosity be painted there

From Boccaccio’s Decameron – the eighth tale of the first day. The translation is the Penguin of G.H. McWilliam, though I’m trying the Naxos audiobook with a Guido Waldman rendering.

In Genoa, then, a long time ago, there lived a gentleman called Ermino de’ Grimaldi, who was generally acknowledged, on account of his vast wealth and huge estates, to be by far the richest citizen in the Italy of his day. Not only was he richer than any man in Italy, he was incomparably greedier and more tight-fisted than every other grasper or miser in the whole wide world. For he would entertain on a shoestring, and in contrast to the normal habits of the Genoese (who are wont to dress in the height of fashion), he would sooner go about in rags than spend any money on his personal appearance. Nor was his attitude to food and drink any different. It was therefore not surprising that he had lost the surname of Grimaldi and was simply known to one and all as Ermino Skinflint.

Now, it so happened that whilst this fellow, by spending not a penny, was busily increasing his fortune, there arrived in Genoa a worthy courtier, Guiglielmo Borsiere by name, who was refined of manner and eloquent of tongue … the aforesaid Guiglielmo received a warm and ready welcome from all the best families in Genoa. And after he had spent a number of days in the city, and listened to several accounts of Ermino’s greed and miserliness, he was eager to see what manner of man he was.

Ermino had already been told what an excellent fellow Guiglielmo Borsiere was, and since, for all his meanness, he still preserved a glimmer of civility, he received him very sociably, with cheerful countenance, and began to converse with him on various different topics. As they talked, he conveyed him, along with certain other Genoese who were present, to a splendid house he had recently caused to be built for his use. And having shown him all over the building, he said:

‘Well now, Guiglielmo, as one who has seen and heard many things in his time, could you perhaps suggest a thing that no man has ever seen, which I could commission to be painted in the main hall of this house of mine?’

To which Guiglielmo, on hearing him talk in this unseemly fashion, replied:

‘Sir, I do not think I could suggest a thing that no man has ever seen, unless it were a fit of the sneezes or something of that sort. But if you like, I can certainly suggest a thing I do not believe that you yourself have ever seen.’

‘Ah,’ said Ermino, who was not expecting the answer he was about to be given, ‘then I beg you to tell me what it is.’

Whereupon Guiglielmo promptly replied:

‘Let Generosity be painted there.’

When Ermino heard this word, he was so overcome with shame, that his character was suddenly and almost totally transformed.

‘Guiglielmo,’ he said, ‘I shall have it painted there in such a way that neither you nor anyone else will ever again have cause to tell me that I have not seen and known it.’

Guiglielmo’s remark had such a potent effect upon Ermino that from that day forth he became the most courteous and generous gentleman in the Genoa of his time, and was respected above all others, not only by his fellow-citizens, but by visitors to the city.