Monday, January 12, 2009

The Patient Griselda

    One thing that is lovely about writing your own blog, instead of an academic paper, is you do not have to be detached from your subject if you do not wish to be.  As a 21st century woman, it is hard to read stories like the patient Griselda and not have anyone to bitchslap afterwards.  The people who need slapping are long dead and some of them may never have lived. Ah, well!
        The Decameron is a collection of one hundred stories told by seven women and three men who flee Florence to escape the plague.  They stay at a villa in the country and, to amuse each other, tell stories.  Each of them has to tell one story per day for ten days and thus the name Decameron comes from the Greek for 'ten days'.  The subject of the stories is love.  One of my favorites and most giggle worthy is about the hermit Rustico who persuades a young woman to play a pious game with him called 'putting the devil into hell'. You can imagine what that game was about. 
      Griselda is the subject of the last story in Boccaccio's Decameron and is a story about a beautiful peasant woman, Griselda, who is married by the Marquis of Saluzzo because his subjects beg him to take a wife.  He believes women are evil things but he is convinced by Griselda's mild manner and beauty that she might make a good wife.  It turns out she is mild,  good and decent but he decides to test her meekness by abusing her and calling her names.  This does not change her nature so he tests her further by taking their daughter, soon after she is born, and telling his wife he does not like the girl and is going to have her killed. Griselda tells him that she will bow in his judgement. Ack!!! And then, and then, he proceeds a few years later to have their son killed soon after being born and again she does not complain!!   The children were not really killed; the marquis sends them away to a kinswoman of his to be secretly raised.  
      Griselda, still loving her husband and obeying him in all things, is tested one more time by the heartless bastard. He tells her that he does not love her anymore and is going to marry someone else - a 12 year old girl at that - and would she please help his new bride get dressed for the wedding.  Griselda does his bidding in that too, uncomplaining.
      The 'bride' is her daughter and, since she passed the test, the idiot husband reunites her with her children and restores her to her position but his subjects think rather less of him for being such an ass.  I am not sure what Boccaccio's point was with this story - was she an example for women to live up to or an example of how foolish men can be?  
      Griselda was a popular story.  Petrarch translated it in to latin and, from him, it made it in to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales as the Clerk's Tale.  Charles Perrault, otherwise known as Mother Goose, includes her story in his Fairy Tales in Verse.  It is appropriate that he places her story in a book on fairy tales since this is clearly what it is.  What woman could still love a man whom she believes has murdered both of their infant children?  Even after he has beaten her down with emotional and verbal abuse?  Only a man could invent a story like that.

BEATLES SONG OF THE WEEK

......Christus! Scis non facilis est,
Scis quo modo durum erit,
Quo modo res agunt,
Me crucifigere agunt.
Habui denique fugam in Lutetia,
Ferias iuxta Sequanam.
Petrus Spadicus me vocavit dicere,
Permissit,
Te in matrimonium ducere in Mons Calpe iuxta Iberiam.
Christus! Scis non facilis est....


12 comments:

Anonymous said...

What in the world was the point of that story? That obeying your husband in everything is the way to happiness?

I'm at a loss for words, honestly. Any woman with any kind of backbone would have killed him, or at the very least made his life a living hell.

Just my opinion. :)

Kristin

The Red Witch said...

If it is any consolation, Chaucer refers to the Marquis's actions as cruelty and his people begin to hate him and he is called a murderer. And Chaucer wrote about how men praise Job and few have any praise for women but yet no man "can reach humbleness as white as women can, nor can be half so true as women are, or else it's something new."
And he also said "This story does not mean it would be good for wives to ape Griseld's humility, it would be unendurable that they should."

Anonymous said...

I've always believed that Griselda's meekness came from the fact that she had simply outwitted her husband and discovered his mean game; it wasn't mentionned it the original story but I really can't see any other reasonable explanation. Even a tottally downtrodden peasant woman, worshipping thoughtlessly her bastard husband, would defend her children. It's the maternal instinct which forces every female to do so.

On the other hand a woman would pretend to bow to her hubby's strange decisions gladly (and even laugh at it silently when he was absent) when she knew that he was just faking. Of course the whole story was a bit exaggerated but, as you Ileen mentionned it, it was invented by a man.

Bridget

The Red Witch said...

Yeah, her strength was the she was stronger than his evil tricks. He was so convinced that all women were evil and, in the end, he was the evil one. She had an inner strength and faith that no man seemed capable of, which is often true.

Tracy said...

Awful tale! Definitely a man's viewpoint, and a control freak's at that, those psychopathic men who cannot stand not getting their own way. If Griselda had discovered his 'game' then she still endured him taking her children away and having someone else raise them!

I agree, Bridget, that most women would defend their children against their husband, but there have been several recent news stories of women who have either put their relationship with a man above everything else (women who steal babies from maternity wards fall into this category - they steal the baby because they pretended they were pregnant to preserve the relationship) or of women who abandoned their children, leaving them with men they knew would abuse them as in the recent 'British Fritzl' case: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/26/sheffield-british-fritzl.

Anonymous said...

Horrible story Tracy, which puts the "Griselda tale" in a shadowy context as some men really have nothing against sleeping with their own daughters. I wonder what the reaction of our meek heroine would be if her husband did marry their twelve-year-old daughter? Pure insanity.

By the way, tell me that the tv is bad, that there's too much cruelty ...even in "ole good times" there were stories which make you shudder and wince.

Bridget

Anonymous said...

I suppose that I just see the story in the context of its time. If we are going to rail at men (and why not?), we ought to rail also at the fact that men controlled women so completely in the past and to some extent still do. Women were just chattel - even noble women in that period, so their opinions and their resistance to their man's wishes were never appreciated. Griselda might just as well have been a vase,although I doubt testing a vase for its subservience would have been necessary.

Its hard to imagine why the story was so popular....but I suspect it was popular with the male folk more than the female folk. But when you think about it, almost all the saints, especially women, are these types - ever sacrificing even through the most terrible abuse. Isn't there a 'syndrome' they have identified for that these days? Battered women syndrome???

Chloe

The Red Witch said...

Even Perrault's commentary afterwards reveals some outrage from his male friends about the cruelty of the Marquis towards Gridselda. You figure that is this is a true story, he started to abuse her right after the wedding and up to their daughter reaching 12 years of age. That is a lot of abuse. But judging from the hatred towards the Marquis this story seems to incite, maybe the point was to teach men to treat their women better.
Maybe this was taking something like "Gawain on Marriage" and taking it to its other conclusion and showing how terrible that is.
But also, until about the last hundred years, women had no legal rights to their children. Children of a marriage belonged to the man. If you left your husband, you did not get to take your children with you if he wanted them at all.

Anonymous said...

Griselda also reminds me of Sheherezade, the famous queen-story teller, who was tested for quite a long time by her husband and had to continue her stories for (allegedly) at least four-five years. It was almost an ancient form of a tv series and she was under a lot of stress - each evening might have been her last (but it was a fairy tale, after all.

Isn't there a 'syndrome' they have identified for that these days? Battered women syndrome???

I suppose it was the way the women were raised, it was embedded in the medieval culture- being submissive was the major feminine virtue per se. The order of the world was presented like that. The Church additionally blamed all the womanhood for the original sin so, as a woman, you had to be "extra" good and meek to prove you were better than the first human rebel ever - a woman, Eve.

Bridget

Tracy said...

But judging from the hatred towards the Marquis this story seems to incite, maybe the point was to teach men to treat their women better.
Let's hope so!

Michael M. said...

This blog article is over seven years old now at the time that I'm typing this comment, but I came across it while doing research for a paper I am writing for school on the Griselda tales.

In response to your blog post and the many comments, I would suggest reading "Patient Griselda" by Steven Anthony George. It's included in the Twice Upon a Time anthology (Joshua Allen Mercier, editor).

George's story is written in the first person through the perspective of Griselda herself, but is set in modern times. It is interesting in that the story gives Griselda motives for her behavior, namely, emotional vulnerability, supernatural forces, and drugs!

Mike

The Red Witch said...

I am still around. Not as active as I used to be. It sounds interesting. I love it when someone takes an longtime story and successfully modernizes it. Classic stories never get old.