The Decameron by Boccacio
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Author:  President Camacho [ Fri Nov 12, 2010 10:43 am ]
Post subject:  The Decameron by Boccacio

I'm going to start reading The Decameron by Giovanni Boccacio and I'll be using this thread to post some thoughts on the book. If you care to read with me you're more than welcome! I'll be using the Penguin Classics edition by McWilliam.

Has anyone read this book already?

Author:  tbarron [ Sat Nov 13, 2010 1:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

The Kindle edition I just downloaded is translated by John Payne.

"But, as it pleased Him who, being Himself infinite, hath for immutable law appointed unto all things mundane that they shall have an end..."

Yeah, sucks to be us, huh? :)

Author:  tbarron [ Sat Nov 13, 2010 2:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

This made me laugh: "I purpose, for the succour and solace of ladies in love (unto others the needle and the spindle and the reel suffice) to recount an hundred stories..."

Author:  President Camacho [ Sat Nov 13, 2010 5:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

tbarron, awesome! I still haven't got through my translator's introduction yet. It's 145 pages long! lol. It's got some pretty interesting information regarding Boccacio, though. I've decided to read the introduction all the way through. Should take me a couple days ;)

But, yes! It seems Boccacio wrote this for ladies with too much time on their hands - at least on the surface. Bocaccio says that some of his detractors said that an old man such as himself shouldn't be writing for young ladies in search of love but he was only 35 when he wrote it. He did die a morbidly obese individual so maybe he was unlucky in love in his life.

The 7 women represent the 7 virtues and the three men represent something biblical I think - I need to check again. Their names also give some insight as to the stories they tell. I'll post some more when I have time! Are you going to read with me? That's awesome! :)

Author:  DickZ [ Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

I've just ordered a copy of Decameron, and it's on the way. I'll keep an eye on this thread and chip in if I can. I'm a brand new member, so I might want to watch a little first before diving in.

Author:  President Camacho [ Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

Welcome DickZ! There's no guidelines to the discussion and no separate threads for days or stories in the book. Feel free to post whatever your thoughts happen to be concerning the book, other books which remind you of the Decameron, or facts/thoughts about the author, etc.

Bocaccio's major influences for this book were Virgil, Dante to a very large extent - he was rather an expert regarding him, Ovid, Apuleius, and to a far lesser extent Petrarch with whom he shared a friendship with. Petrarch was 9 years his senior and they began their friendship when in 1350 Petrarch passed through Florence on his way to Rome for the Jubilee. Because he was an important person, he was met at the gate of the city by B. and given a ring. Petrarch stayed with B. overnight and the two remained friends. B. was supposed to have already begun the Decameron - so Petrarch may have read some of it during his stay.

The 7 females are the seven virtues with 3 of them representing the theological virtues of Charity, Hope, and Faith.

Panfilo - 'all loving' or completely in love
Filostrato - 'defeated by love' or overcome by love
Dioneo - echoes of Homer's Dione, mother of Aphrodite - hence his propensity for telling erotic tales 'lustful'

Pampinea - 'Full of Vigor' represents Prudence
Fiametta - 'Small Flame' Temperance
Filomena - 'Faithful in Love' Fortitude
Lauretta - 'Wise, Crowned with Laurels' Justice
Neifile - 'Cloudy' Charity
Elissa - 'God is my Vow' Hope
Emilia - 'Rival' Faith

Although it's widely accepted that the 7 women represent the 7 virtues, it doesn't sound like anyone is 100% sure that they were meant to be as listed above. Maybe we can attribute virtues to different females than the ones the introduction suggests.

"The ten narrators participate in a drama of the human soul, a drama which 'pits the rational appetite against the lower irascible and concupiscible appetites, a trio of forces personified by the three male narrators. Reason ultimately dominates Anger and Lust, with the assistance of the seven virtues, represented by the seven young ladies."

Author:  President Camacho [ Mon Nov 15, 2010 12:19 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

The plague which ravaged Florence, occurring in 1348, is a prominent aspect in the book and its effects on the city are written about at length during the introduction. It gives a reason for our characters to seek solace away from all the death and morbidity. They escape to an earthly paradise where they can tell stories and delight themselves. It makes their otherwise wasteful spending of time very sensible.

It's also a stark contrast to the dehumanizing situation or the desensitizing that was necessary to deal with such a mass of corpses that the plague was producing. The dead were no longer honored as they had been because there were just too many bodies and not enough left to deal with what was happening. People lived as if they were to die, kept away from the sick, and only found out their neighbors had past when they began to stink. Parents neglected children, children ran from parents, brother turned his back on brother.

It must have been horrifying in the beginning and desensitizing shortly thereafter considering how quickly everyone died. Debauchery flourished as well as crime. This dehumanizing is countered by the group who steal away from all this and tell stories about people - a celebration of humanity with some divinity mixed in for comfort in a world that must have seemed like god had turned a blind eye.

This all gives much worthy purpose to the group's chosen activity.

The first story is amusing. It tells of a wicked man - probably the most wicked man whoever lived. A man who enjoyed lying, stealing, killing, falsifying testimony, and any other sin you can think of. He lived to sin. He manages to lie his way into becoming a saint while on his death bed. Now people pray to him. I thought this story was important because, if anything can be believed by reading Umberto Eco, the same thing has probably been done with relics. People believe in something and when they do that thing - whatever it happens to be (it could be the cut foreskin of someone they believe to be holy but in fact had come from a bum) - it becomes divine. They pray to that object and shower it with affections hoping to get something they want. People are pretty nuts.

The second story was about a Jew who becomes a Christian because while visiting Rome and seeing all the unholy things the Pope and his crew engage in (sodomy is alluded to) he can't see being in any other religion. Why... for if these people are supposed to be the foundation of the Christian faith and they are doing everything in their power to be unholy, and the religion is still so illustrious and successful, it must be the true faith.

The third story was ok... it was told by Neifile and was a generally wholesome tale with a happy ending for all.

The fourth was told by Dioneo. Now I know everyone knows what to expect from this character. His stories are supposed to be a little erotic. His first tale was about a monk who brings back a beautiful wench to his monastery and has a time with her. The Abbot sees what has happened but he's unaware that the monk knows he knows. So the monk leaves the wench in his room. The abbot comes in the room to interrogate her. She begins crying and like any good man of the cloth he consoles her by sexing her up. The abbot tries to punish the monk because he doesn't know that the monk set him up... you can guess the rest. It does have a happy ending because it's supposed that the wench comes back every now and again for some more holy bump and grind action.


Author:  DickZ [ Mon Nov 15, 2010 1:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

Thanks, President Camacho. I'll consider myself to be off with a headstart when my copy of The Decameron arrives. I see that former president Bush has lent you his crayons so you could produce those magnificent illustrations which presumably relate to the book somehow. I hope my copy has them, but just in case it doesn't, could you explain what their connection to the stories might be?

Author:  tbarron [ Tue Nov 16, 2010 7:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

Thanks for the background, President C. My impression is that Boccacio wrote with large doses of sarcasm and irony.

On the one hand, I can see how what you posted about how separating oneself from the plague-ridden population of the city to tell morally edifying stories to one another makes sense. On the other hand, I notice that the themes of the stories are not all on the side of righteousness.

My impression has been that medieval literature typically takes itself very seriously and is generally very focused on telling the reader how important it is to believe and behave correctly. Boccacio, on the other hand, seems to delight in pointing out the inconsistencies of "holy" people and telling about situations in which ostensible wrong-doing is rewarded or at least goes unpunished.

And what do you think about the way he uses female characters to represent virtues and male characters to represent vices? Often, medieval Christian literature would go the other way (Eve was often considered to be the source of Adam's sin), so B's approach may be an improvement on that, but it still seems pretty sexist nowadays.

Dick, welcome to the conversation. I think we'll have a good time reading this together and talking about it. Thanks for starting the thread, Camacho!

Author:  President Camacho [ Tue Nov 16, 2010 5:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

The paintings are by different artists rendering their idea of a scene capturing what the group of ten characters in the book that tell the stories may have looked like. The first painting I posted features quite hideous people, in my opinion.

I don't know if all the stories are 'morally edifying'. I don't think they are. Take for instance the story of the liar who lies his way into saint-hood. A lesson can be taught here but I don't know if it concerns moral instruction.

My impression of medieval literature - I've only read Rabelais. He was as far from your description of medieval literature as is possible... and he was a monk!!!! His writing has a large amount of toilet humor - pooping, farting, fornication, incontinence... you name it. He pointed out 'inconsistencies' of holy people more than Bocaccio has done so far. He flat out told his readers what a group of drunk, sexual miscreants men of the cloth really were.

Wrong doing is rewarded when it's done by the BOLD! Those are the stories worth telling and remain popular. Who isn't in love with hearing about that?

Bocaccio seems to have loved women when he wrote this... as much as a misogynist can. Bocaccio's later writings were more and more misogynistic. He had no respect for females as equals, at all. In the book you'll find even his female characters admit their weakness of character. In the stories as well there are skanks sprinkled throughout. A skank is something we accept as an equal - a sex loving human. Just because she doesn't have a penis doesn't mean she can't enjoy sex. And so we have taken something beautiful and pure and made it as horrid as a man - something feminists fight for and have for the most part won. The magic is gone but in Bocaccio's day - I don't know what the situation was. I think it was in Victorian times that women had the most magic they'll ever have. They're becoming more and more like men, I think. It's sad. Maybe Bocaccio was just bitter because, as an obese man, a struggling artist without a benefactor - his dad bankrupt - was losing in love left and right. Who knows.

I think the man unlucky in love secretly hates and blames his plight on the fairer sex.


Author:  President Camacho [ Tue Nov 16, 2010 5:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

Also, in the second day you'll notice a woman who goes against her father's wishes. It's all about what expectations you have of women which will depend on your interpretation of the stories.

I don't know the real reason for the 7. I'll have to reread some of the introduction. I've just forgotten.

Author:  DickZ [ Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

This is just a preliminary post to let you know I haven’t fallen by the wayside – at least not yet.

I’ve now received my copy, which I note is translated by McWilliam. I’ve plowed through the introduction to the first day (which is 14 pages in my book), so I have a general sense of the situation. How depressing; I don't remember ever reading anything quite so grim. As an aside, I can’t help but wonder what cable television news would have made of the epidemic, after seeing what they did with anthrax, swine flu, and avian flu.

I’m now ready to dive into the first story of the first day, and will get back to the discussion as soon as I can.

Author:  President Camacho [ Wed Nov 17, 2010 6:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

Glad your copy has arrived! I look forward to your posts.

Author:  DickZ [ Thu Nov 18, 2010 5:24 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

I have just read the first story of the first day. I should probably hold off on commenting until I’ve read at least a few others, which I hope will give me a better feel for the overall direction and meaning of these stories, but that would take time. So I’ll just go ahead and risk missing the mark, and toss out my initial thoughts, simply for the purpose of keeping the discussion moving.

At this early point in my gaining familiarity with The Decameron and its stories, I tend to believe that this story probably provides fuel for those who highlight the apparent hypocrisy of the Catholic church, and maybe the hypocrisy of all organized religion. From this story, it’s obvious that what one said carried much more weight than how one lived his life.

I’m not a student of this period in history, but I have read a little that gives me reason to think there was fairly widespread corruption in the church back then. Popes were elected more on political grounds than on religious ones, and cardinalships (if that’s the word) were often sold to the highest bidder. I guess it would be interesting to read this in conjunction with The Divine Comedy, but that might be biting off a bigger chunk than I could chew. Dante died in 1321, a little before The Decameron was written, and The Inferno section of The Divine Comedy has lots of people much less guilty than Ser Ciappelletto sentenced to some pretty gruesome punishments. I have a only a rudimentary familiarity with Dante’s work.

Well, having tossed some material out, maybe I should knock off at this point and wait to hear from others.

While it has nothing to do with our discussions, it was interesting, for me at least, to note that Ser Ciappelletto hailed from Prato, a suburb of Florence. When I was studying Italian as a college student in the US more than 40 years ago, we students were given names of kids our ages in Italy with whom we could correspond in Italian, just to practice using the language. One of my Italian pen pals was from Prato.

Now I will proceed onward to the second story.

Author:  Randy Kadish [ Fri Nov 19, 2010 10:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Decameron by Boccacio

I've never been able to get into the Canterbury Tales so I haven't tried the Decameron. Should I?

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