The written eloquence of frate cipolla (Decameron VI, 10)

Gloria Allaire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most studies of Decameron, Day Six, focus on the triumphant oratorical display of Frate Cipolla. He is described as an excellent speaker with rhetorical abilities that rival Cicero or Quintilian. His command of the spoken language is the principle source of humor in the tale and is necessary to extricating himself from potential embarassment or harm. Yet one passage, which has often been poorly glossed and translated, contains evidence of an overlooked, but related talent: the friar's apparent ability to read and copy, if not actually compose, texts. Cipolla not only relies on spoken language to rescue himself, but his appeals to written authority are a pivotal moment in his "sermon" to the credulous Certaldesi. My interpretation grants to Cipolla the fictive role of amanuensis, an additional dimension to his character which complements his well-known oral skills. The credibility attained by Cipolla with his scribal act draws its power from the medieval notion of mimésis which the author's pen could achieve. This concept is based on the metaphor of the codex vivus: Nature as God's Book, and writing as the supreme creative act. By appropriating divine power through the (fictive) writing process, Cipolla elevates himself from mendicant to demiurge.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-402
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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