The point of departure for this discussion is Boccaccio's iconic protagonist
Andreuccio of Decameroll 11.5, poised at a Neapolitan well
in order to bathe after a fall into a latrine. The second of the three
"adventures" or "accidents" in the novella's narrative arc, the episode at
the well is often overshadowed by the more repulsive and frightening fall
from Madama Fiordaliso's toilet and raid on the archbishop's putrid
tomb. I Still, the adventure at the well is not without an element of disgust,
albeit subtle, that has perhaps seemed to some critics as secondary to the
arc of the narrative. Andreuccio's bath accomplishes the purification of his
body and perhaps the sharpening of his wit, as Ceretta has suggested, but
at the expense of Neapolitan drinking water. The modern science of bacteriology
may inform our contemporary concept of contamination; yet I will
argue that the understanding of water contamination in medieval Italy was
such that we may question Andreuccio's act in terms of public health and
sanitation without anachronism. The case of Andreuccio offers a glimpse
of the collision of two distinct water cultures of Naples and northern Italy
that were both familiar to Boccaccio. Andreuccio's Perugian provenance
should have infused him with a culture of water protectionism that facilitated
the civic life of industrious Apennine towns, and his bath in the well
marks a distinct departure from the values of that culture.