This Week You Need To Know
June 4, 2006
Some years back, during one among my relatively frequent visits to Florence, I chanced to be seated on the hillside looking down, across the River Arno, into the streets of Florence. I was startled by the realization that I was seated, at least approximately, where Boccaccio had been seated in his account of the writing of his famous Decameron. It was clear to me, thus, that the stories told, were reflections on the moral decadence rampant in that Lombard League which had collapsed into a dark-age condition as a result of that ruling partnership of Venetian financier oligarchy with Norman chivalry which had collapsed the population of Europe by about one-third, and the number of European parishes by approximately one-half.
Boccaccio's Decameron, like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, like the Pantagruel and Gargantua of François Rabelais, and the Don Quixote of Miguel Cervantes, and Dante Alighieri's Commedia before them, typifies the way in which great tragedians have sometimes treated the subject of the most horrible catastrophes which man's foolish policies have inflicted upon decadent cultures lacking essential features of the moral fitness to survive. When mankind is confronted with the outcome of a great folly of his society in such degrees, as in the U.S.A. and western and central Europe today, it is the poet alone who can use the power of irony to enable the mind to cope with the task of recognizing the great folly of his age, such as the great global tragedy which threatens the continued existence of civilization for the several coming generations now immediately before us all.
All those who would understand the onrushing menace which confronts the world as a whole, immediately, today, must muster from within themselves the same spirit which we might recall from the work of Aeschylus, Socrates, and Plato, who, similarly, faced the onrushing actuality of the self-destruction of the leading culture of their times. Without mustering the same sense of Classical irony, which is more easily recognized in Dante, Boccaccio, Rabelais, and Shakespeare, it were impossible, emotionally, to see clearly the folly of our times, today....
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