Following is Noah Gordon's speech accepting the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Prize at the annual meeting of the Boccaccio Literary Society in Certaldo, Italy.
I thank the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Society and the Rotary Club Valdelsa for bestowing on me the honor of this prize. I'm happy to be in Certaldo, with its traditions and legends of the first great writer of prose in a modern language. Though I regret that I can't communicate with you in the beautiful language of Boccaccio, Georg Fischer has graciously agreed to translate my brief appreciation, paragraph by paragraph.
I was a boy when I began to read The Decameron, having sought the book because a friend told me that Giovanni Boccaccio had written about the interaction of men and women in a most intriguing way. Once I began to sample The Decameron, I was captured and transformed by Boccaccio's storytelling art.
The only physical depiction of Boccaccio's face that I have seen is the reproduction of a detail from a fresco portrait done by Andrea del Castagno well after the writer's death. It shows a young man with a lean, interesting face and piercing, intelligent eyes. I would like to imagine, in this historic walled village, that I might walk down a quiet street and glimpse the man of that fresco sitting on a shaded bench with a bottle of the wine of this region and two glasses.
Ah, I should like to talk with Boccaccio!
I would ask him questions about his ability to establish a character with just a few meaningful words, and about his unique dexterity with story lines. I would like to know more about him as a man, but I already know some important things about him from his own words. Boccaccio scorned any force that sought to regiment the lives of individuals. In Il Medico Di Saragozza, the work you honor with your prize, I wrote of Jews, the group of my own ethnicity, and of the Inquisition which left its cruel marks on the Middle Ages. In The Decameron, Boccaccio mocked the Inquisitors and devoted two of his one hundred novellas, the second and third stories of "The First Day," to Jewish protagonists, depicting them as good and wise men at a time when many readers would have found it eminently acceptable to burn them at the stake.
And every author must love a writer who responds to cruel critics as Boccaccio did halfway through The Decameron. In the introduction to "Day Four," he tells his critics, "If you are insensitive to warmth, very wellstay chilled."
I have never been insensitive to Boccaccio's warmth. I thank my publishers, Rizzoli, for bringing me here. And I reiterate my gratitude to the Literary Society and the Rotary Club Valdelsa for your splendid hospitality
I am proud and pleased to accept the Giovanni Boccaccio Literary Prize.