Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

To finish my study of the Black Death, I have been reading stories from the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio.  The stories take place during the initial onset of the Plague in Florence, and a group of upper class ladies and gents escape to a the countryside and tell each other stories.  There are ten stories a night over ten nights - and range from the simple and very short to more complex plots.  I learnt a lot about the social life of this sort of class of people.  The Medieval Manorial system still holds sway, and at one stage the knightly skills of horse riding and falconry are mentioned.  They have proved to be very entertaining, and remind me a little of some of the lighter plays of Shakespeare, concerning gender mix-ups, trickery, the dishonesty of the church, and the lusts of various abbots and monks. In fact I would say all of the stories involve the matching of male and female - hardly surprising, I guess, given the age of the story-teller.  The women are all aged between eighteen and twenty-eight, and the men a couple of years older. Most of the stories seem to at least start and end in some part of Italy, although several feature excusions to France, the British Isles and around the Mediterranean.

The Black Death itself is mentioned only in passing in the actual stories, but is mentioned in detail in the preamble to the book, and contains passages I have read elsewhere.  It seems to be a great source book on the social effect of the Black Death.  Boccaccio's reaction was to escape, and having escaped, live life to the full with a devil-may-care attitude.  I started my reading with the free John Payne translation on my Kindle, but soon swapped to the one by G.H. McWilliam was much more accessible.    At the sum of £1.34 for over a 1000 pages it seems well worth it!


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