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The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
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The Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio

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Giovanni Boccaccio stated in his prologue to The Decameron that these hundred stories were meant for the entertainment of ladies due to the fact that they had nothing better to do than assuage their boredom by indulging in the sometimes lascivious narratives. After all, a woman's role in the Renaissance was exclusively domestic, unless she had either chosen or been relegated to a nunnery. Not only as an entertainment, it was offered as a solace to those who were pining away as a consequence of Love:

I intend to provide succour and diversion for the ladies,
but only for those who are in love, since the others can
make do with their needles, their reels and their spindles.


If Boccaccio is to be believed, romantic love was like an epidemic, a scourge upon the earth, not unlike the plague that The Decameron's storytellers were in the act of avoiding.

These storytellers — ten in number, of which seven were young ladies and three young men — had fled the city of Florence in 1348, due to the plague that eventually reduced the population by half, to a locus amoenus — literally "delightful locale" — where the young people were transformed into nymph-like maidens and sylvan swains who entertained themselves by telling stories, ten a day for ten days over a two-week period. But the young women also represent the seven virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude, Faith, Hope and Charity) and the men, according to the introduction, reflect the "tripartite division of the soul" into Reason, Anger and Lust.

One could go on and on about the frame alone. But as to the stories themselves, they reflect many things that are common in medieval literature. Boccaccio's sources for the stories were fables, old French fabliaux and histories. All but a handful were mere sketches with stock figures and farcical situations. He embellished them and converted various elements to suit his own purposes. The major themes that appeared in the stories concerned Love, Intelligence and Fortune.

Most of the stories are eminently forgettable, not much more than inflated jokes. A Renaissance reader would have seen them in an entirely different way than we inevitably do. For instance, the names of Boccaccio's characters in many cases were those of real people or at least referenced well known families. Many of the episodes would have read like a gossip column to a contemporary reader. Adversaries often reflected the contemporary conflicts between Church and State, Guelphs and Ghibellines, the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, or their various representatives. A 14th century reader would have read much into each story based on familiarity with distinguished family names and colorful local characters, and locales from Florence to Naples, Palermo to Athens. The notes are very helpful in identifying much of the lore underlying each story, but the facts still seem remote and the individual episodes seem improbable.

Readers who are caught up in medieval and Renaissance literature will find much to enjoy in The Decameron. Others may find it a bit bewildering and may not want to invest the time to read the 140-page introduction and the copious notes. Doors are open to a lifetime of study in this comprehensive Penguin Classics edition, if one so desires. A thoroughly enjoyable and absorbing read for those who are intrigued by this sort of historical literary artifact. ( )
3 vote Poquette | Feb 15, 2015 |
Boccaccio, Giovanni
Branca, Vittore
Decameron / Giovanni Boccaccio ; a cura di Vittore Branca
Firenze : Le Monnier, 1951-1952
[opac SBN] [Testo a stampa] [Monografia] [ITICCUIEI122991]
  andreamd1963 | Jan 6, 2015 |
When the Black Death hit Florence, six people fled to an aristocrat's abandoned villa and while enjoying everything available, pass the time telling tales to avoid thinking of the Plague. A wonderful book. ( )
1 vote JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
The recent Rebhorn translation is outstanding: his contemporary English is supported by clear Notes on medieval practices that the reader may not be familiar with. In addition to the stories restricted to different themes each day, as decided by that day's 'queen' or 'king' among the young party, I found it interesting to discover Boccaccio's "world" as he understood it- the late medieval memory of earlier empires affecting their classification of foreign regions. Boccaccio's rich sense of humanity is exhibited among his characters. He writing is funny, satirical; his use of metaphors to describe some of more earthy escapades are, all the same, quite effective in letting the reader know exactly what is being described. And he also uses the language and traditions of courtly love where appropriate. ( )
2 vote Diane-bpcb | May 26, 2014 |
A collections of tales. Smartness wins against prejudice and religion, love against cupidity. Literature wins over death, joy and laughter win against ignorance and desperation. A positive message from a great book. A book that created a language. ( )
1 vote Peppuzzo | May 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
magnifico! il terzo autore più grande nella trittica: Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio...che dire è colui che ho evoluto le novelli, generato romanzi, analizzato e intuito i sucessivi 500/600 anni.
Geoffrey Chaucer ha copiato da boccaccio! altro che letteratura inglese!
Geoffrey Chaucer is a copy of the Great Boccaccio!
the England is china?
added by sshnn | editMilano, ss (Dec 2, 2012)
 

In many of the stories, and more strikingly in the poems/songs which conclude each day, a close reader can also detect an allegorical element in which the soul is depicted as a lost lover, seeking to return to paradise. Originally a concept from the mystery religions, this allegorical treatment became very popular in the Middle Ages, particularly as an important aspect of the courtly love tradition.
added by camillahoel | editRead And Find Out, Tom (Sep 11, 2009)
 

» Add other authors (164 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Giovanni Boccaccioprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aldington, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bakker, MargotTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bergin, Thomas G.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bondanella, Peter E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bosschère, Jean deIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Branca, VittoreEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Buckland-Wright, JohnIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cipolla, FrateCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
De Boschere, JeanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Denissen, FransTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hutton, EdwardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kredel, FritzIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McWilliam, G. H.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Musa, MarkTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Narro, JoséIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Payne, JohnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rebhorn, Wayne A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallverdú, FrancescTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winwar, FrancesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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1573 ( [1527]Italy)
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A kindly thing it is to have compassion of the afflicted and albeit it well beseemeth every one, yet of those is it more particularly required who have erst had need of comfort and have found it in any, amongst whom, if ever any had need thereof or held it dear or took pleasure therein aforetimes, certes, I am one of these.
Gracious Ladies, so often as I consider with my selfe, and observe respectively, how naturally you are enclined to compassion; as many times doe I acknowledge, that this present worke of mine, will (in your judgement) appeare to have but a harsh and offensive beginning, in regard of the mournfull remembrance it beareth at the verie entrance of the last Pestilentiall mortality, universally hurtfull to all that beheld it, or otherwise came to knowledge of it. But for all that, I desire it may not be so dreadfull to you, to hinder your further proceeding in reading, as if none were to looke thereon, but with sighs and teares. For, I could rather wish, that so fearfulle a beginning, should seeme but as an high and steepy hil appeares to them, that attempt to travell farre on foote, and ascending the same with some difficulty, ome afterward to walk upo a goodly even plaine, which causeth the more cotentment in them, because the attayning thereto was hard and painfull. For even as pleasures are cut off by griefe and anguish; so sorrowes cease by joyes most sweete and happie arriving.
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Book description
A group of travelers entertain each other by telling tales and stories of naughtiness and debauchery, happy ending and ironic adventures.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140449302, Paperback)

In the early summer of the year 1348, as a terrible plague ravages the city, ten charming young Florentines take refuge in country villas to tell each other stories—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fortune which later inspired Chaucer, Keats and Shakespeare. While Dante is a stern moralist, Boccaccio has little time for chastity, pokes fun at crafty, hypocritical clerics and celebrates the power of passion to overcome obstacles and social divisions. Like the Divine Comedy, the Decameron is a towering monument of medieval pre-Renaissance literature, and incorporates certain important elements that are not at once apparent to today's readers. In a new introduction to this revised edition, which also includes additional explanatory notes, maps, bibliography and indexes, Professor McWilliam shows us Boccaccio for what he is—one of the world's greatest masters of vivid and exciting prose fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:52 -0400)

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Translated with an Introduction and Notes by G. H. McWilliam.

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