Mini-Mini-Core: Traveling Tales
Stories make sense of the world around us, organize our experience and teach us about worlds and perspectives far different from our own. Patricia Grieve, the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Professor of the Humanities, explored how three stories did this in their time — and how they still resonate today — in her three-part Mini-Core Course “Traveling Tales: 1001 Nights, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Cervantes’ Exemplary Tales.” Among the points of connection between the works is the powerful role of women. Herewith, some examples:
One Thousand and One Nights or Arabian Nights; author: Anonymous
Voice in Action: The stories Shahrazad tells the king are an antidote to his rage. They serve to suspend rules and buy time; as long as she can keep him interested — she stops her tales most every night at a “cliffhanger moment” — he won’t execute her in the morning. Her storytelling is also therapeutic. It regulates the king’s desire until he is satisfied narratively (and also satisfied sexually, as he’s sleeping with her) and is ready both to rule the kingdom properly and be monogamous with her.
The Decameron; author: Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-75)
Voice in Action: One notable character is Ghismonda, a young widow whose father refuses to find her a new husband. She then takes a virtuous young man, whom her father has praised in court, as her lover. Even so, when her father discovers the trysts, he has the young man killed. Ghismonda’s beautifully crafted, legalistic speech on codified law versus natural law — the right of a young widow to find sexual fulfillment after having known conjugal love — precedes her suicide in protest over her father’s actions.
Exemplary Tales; author: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616)
Voice in Action: Preciosa is the heroine of the novella “The Little Gypsy Girl.” Kidnapped as a baby from her aristocratic mother and raised by gypsies, she astonishes everyone with her innate wisdom, wit, charm, poise and beauty. Her lessons to a besotted aristocratic suitor teach him (and the reader) about how women should be courted and treated, and about the philosophical elegance and beauty of poetry.
Mini-Core Courses are class series that offer College alumni the opportunity to revisit the Core in a lecture/seminarlike setting with a distinguished faculty member and other alumni. Topics relate to the Core Curriculum but explore new texts or ideas. For offerings and other information, go to college.columbia.edu/alumni/career/minicore.
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