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Boccaccio's Genealogia deorum has endured for reasons quite apart from its usefulness as a reference book. Its genealogies dismember myths as narratives and do little to facilitate reference, but they enact the mingled senses of hope, frustration, and bad faith that characterize early humanist efforts. The extinction of myth both justifies and blocks Boccaccio's quest to restore the genealogy of the old gods in order to revive and legitimize the line of poets. He can safely undertake this quest only if assured of failure. Even then it may not be safe to play Aesculapius to the dismembered corpus of ancient myth. Similar paradoxes emerge from analogies with the Bible and its genealogical mode of history. Finally, the Genealogy's structure imitates the dilemma of the modern poet who, inheriting no authority for his fictions from great antique originals, must press his claim to legitimacy, make it good, perhaps make it up.
PMLA © 1985 Modern Language Association