The Crane in Decameron

Step 6 of 6

The role of the crane

In the remainder of this tour, let us focus on the crane. Birds recur several times in this novella, as they do in the entire cycle of the Decameron: from falcons and cranes to Chichibio's own name, which is a Venetian word for the sound of a songbird.Boccaccio even has Chichibio sing some of his dialogues, which is then again a characteristic trait of the Venetian pitch modulation.

Cranes are mentioned in many medieval sources, and many of the bones of the birds can be found in archaeological sites known to have been estates or castles in the past.

Eating cranes is not very common in our time. Adult cranes are not very tasty. They are tough, coarse and wiry, although young cranes are much more tender and edible. However, the birds were generally difficult to eat and required a lot of attention to prepare. For the gastronomy on eating big birds, see Joop Witteveen in the journal Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC) 24 (1986) pp 22/31, ‘On swans, cranes and herons: Part 1, Swans’; PPC 25 (1987) pp 50/59, ‘On swans, cranes and herons. Part 2: Cranes’; PPC26 (1987) pp.65/73, ‘On swans, cranes and herons: Part 3, Herons’; PPC 32 (1989) pp.23/34, ‘The great birds: Part 4, Peacocks in history’; PPC 36 (1990), pp.10/20, ‘The great birds: Part 5, Preparation of the peacock for the table’

In addition, they were very expensive. For this reason, they were mainly consumed in high society, mainly in castles. The birds were not eaten because they were found to be so very tasty, but because they were expensive and difficult to obtain, and thus they were an important symbol of status and wealth.See Umberto Albrella and Richard Thomas. “They dined on crane: bird consumption, wild fowling and status in medieval England”(https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/112978/1/Albarella_U._and_Thomas_R._2002._They_di.pdf); and Margherita Cottino Jones. The prose of the Decameron; Structural motifs and their linguistic correlatives. University of Washington, 1965; and April Danielle Weintritt, Culinary Professions in Early Modern Italian Comedy. (ProQuest LLC, 2019

Boccaccio was clever in having the crane play such a symbolic role in making visible two completely different social statuses: on the one hand the master of the higher class and on the other the cook of the lower class.The crane was joined by another bird, the falcon, because only someone of the stature of master Currado could practice falconry. Other animals also make an appearance: in the passage in which Currado and Chichibio go looking for the cranes in the early morning, Currado travels on horseback and Chichibio given an old donkey to ride on. This underlines, once more, the difference in social status between the two. Currado had the means to employ a cook that would prepare the bird for him and had the means to organize a banquet. The crane also played a role in the love scene between Chichibio and Brunetta which takes place in the kitchen; a place where Currado would never be.

In the end, Boccaccio used the crane as a symbolic prop once again. By using the one-leggedness of the crane in a quick and smart response, the cook avoids the anger and punishment of his master. This attribution of quick wit to a low-society character is a striking aspect in Boccaccio’s novella. Chichibio's ability to counter his master's anger with humor and his clever response indicates a cook who, regardless of social status, can still rely on his intellect.