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Decameron

by Giovanni Boccaccio
Publisher: Penguin Classics
Revised, ©2003, ISBN: 9780140449303
Trade Paperback, 1072 pages
Price: $15.00

In the summer of 1348, as the Black Death ravages their city, ten young Florentines take refuge in the countryside. They amuse themselves by each telling a story a day for the ten days they are destined to remain there—a hundred stories of love, adventure and surprising twists of fate. Less preoccupied with abstract concepts of morality or religion than earthly values, the tales range from the bawdy Peronella hiding her lover in a tub to Ser Cepperallo, who, despite his unholy effrontery, becomes a Saint. The result is a towering monument of European literature and a masterpiece of imaginative narrative. This is the second edition of G. H. McWilliam's acclaimed translation of the Decameron. In his introduction Professor McWilliam illuminates the worlds of Boccaccio and of his storytellers, showing Boccaccio as a master of vivid and exciting prose fiction.

The Decameròn, with the subtitle of Prince Galehaut (Italian: Il Decameron, cognominato Prencipe Galeotto), is a 14th-century medieval allegory by Giovanni Boccaccio, told as a frame story consisting of one hundred tales—ten tales told over ten days by ten young Florentine storytellers, three noblemen and seven ladies. Boccaccio probably began composing the work in 1350, and finished it in 1351 or 1353. The various tales of love in The Decameron range from the erotic to the tragic. Tales of wit, practical jokes, and life lessons contribute to the mosaic.

The structure of the work is distinctly medieval by virtue of its allegorical numerology and elaborate architecture, which finds its counterpart in the Gothic cathedral; its scathing and hilarious depictions of a corrupt clergy; and its idealization of women. However, Boccaccio’s attitude towards love—the right true end being pleasurable and guiltless consummation—is much closer to the Renaissance viewpoint.

In addition to its literary import, it documents life in 14th-century Italy. With the stories is a lengthy introduction in which Boccaccio describes the "brief unpleasantness" necessitating the geographical wanderings and narrative adventures of the ten storytellers, the outbreak of bubonic plague in Florence in 1348.

 

 

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