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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Decameron - Giovanni Boccaccio

Read for the Really Old Classics Reading Challenge.

The Decameron was written in the 14th century, and frames 100 short stories as stories told by a group of ten friends over ten days when they have escaped to the country while the plague ravages Florence. It’s known for its bawdy tales, as well as being the source for a number of later writers, and I’ve been meaning to read it for a long while now. The version I managed to get my hands on is a selection of twenty of the stories, without the any of the narrative frame. Having whetted my appetite on a few of the stories, I will definitely go back for more at some point.

What I hadn’t realized is how many writers were influenced by the stories in this book. “A Wager over Virtue (Una scommesa sulla virtu)”, in which a husband makes a wager over his wife’s chastity, was the source for many of the plot points of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. “The Pot of Basil (Il vaso di basilico)”, was the foundation of Keat’s poem Isabella: or, the Pot of Basil. In addition, Chaucer found inspiration for several of the stories from The Canterbury Tales, with the most notable probably being “Patient Griselda”, which was the inspiration for “The Clerk’s Tale”, and was immediately familiar. So it was extremely interesting to take a tour through these stories and see the influence they had.

Historical significance aside, some of the stories are just plain fun. The first story “Master Ciappelletto’s Confession (La confessione di ser Ciappelleto)” is the tale a of a truly bad man, and how he manages to trick a very devote, holy monk into giving him a Christian burial when he fully doesn’t deserve it. In a nod to the bawdy, this anthology included the tale “Putting the Devil Back in Hell (Rimetterer il diavolo in inferno)” which if nothing else indicates why beautiful, na├»ve young women should not be hanging around with holy hermits. There were also several examples of stories about a foolish man named Calandrino, who was born to be made fun of.

I really enjoyed this book, and am sorry I wasn’t able to get my hands on a fuller version in time to read it for this challenge, but I definitely plan to find an unabridged edition at some point in the future. It’s that good a book.


Rebecca Reid said...

Oh I'm so glad it was so great so far! I do hope you get the full because it sounds like you deserve it.

I didn't know much about this book until I started pulling together lists for this challenge, and it sounds like fun.

Megan said...

It's definitely a fun read. Makes me want to go back and read the Canterbury Tales, which I remember being fun as well.