Boccaccio's Women Philosophers: Defining Philosophy, Debating Gender in the Decameron and Beyond
This dissertation investigates the ‘woman philosopher’ in the works of fourteenth-century Italian author, Giovanni Boccaccio. Across his literature, Latin and Italian alike, Boccaccio demonstrated an ongoing interest in both philosophy and women, concepts that were at the center of various intellectual debates in fourteenth-century Europe. I use variations and commentaries found in the manuscript tradition to historically ground my literary analysis, showing how scribes, translators, and early readers drew attention to the relationship between gender and knowledge in Boccaccio’s works. While women have not been absent from critical studies of Boccaccio, existing interpretations often limit their discussion to the feminism or misogyny of his works. Drawing on thinkers who problematize the relationship between women and knowledge, I shift the scholarly discourse away from feminism/misogyny. Each chapter situates one or more Boccaccian figures within textual and material networks and shows how they employ “philosophy,” exploring distinct but related definitions of the term as outlined by Boccaccio. I contend that Boccaccio, in his vernacular masterpiece the Decameron and other works, presents not just one model of a woman philosopher but several, a plurality that challenges our inherited notion of what constitutes philosophy, to whom it belongs, and how we encounter it in our lives.
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