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My Italian Renaissance: The Decameron

02 Apr
My Italian Renaissance: The Decameron

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the contrary, from what I have seen and heard, it seems to me that our proceedings have been marked by a constant sense of propriety, an unfailing spirit of harmony, and a continual feeling of brotherly and sisterly amity.


Stunning epics, shocking behavior, inspiring relationships, sarcastic roasts and hilarious jokes; all taboo in Guelf and Ghibelline infested Italy and set free during plague-ridden years. When social convention breaks down, moral pillars crumble under the collapsing weight.

Always exploring the raw nature of humanity in contrast to the artificial lives assembling its society, Boccaccio exploits our true nature like a raw nerve laid bare by the Black Plague. Ten young people scamper off to a utopian castle to escape the degradation of their city and enjoy the freedom of self-gratification. Over the span of a fortnight, they each tell ten stories, one each day, to entertain each other and express their criticisms of crazed lovers, hypocritical clergy and munificent socialites.

When reading The Decameron, one immediately notes the literary structure of the work. One hundred stories told by ten individuals over ten days; like building blocks to engineer a new mathematically sound society void of taboo, masked characteristics and unnatural conformity. Each day routinely ends with song and focuses on a set theme. One might imagine a state of anarchy but even these ten could not resist a compulsion to mimic state hierarchy, crowning a different king or queen for each day. One need not abandon order to embrace freedom, honesty and style.

Inspired by a self-ascribed infatuation with women and Love in all its manifestations, Boccaccio criticizes the social braces of medieval Italian society which stifle human nature. As bodies decay, one quickly learns that social constructs mean nothing when faced with a simple and base reality of life and death. Society has its function, but does it have meaning? If one loves another’s wife or husband, why not exercise that love? When society relegates women to property, does this mean they lack wit? When a clergyman proclaims the laws and morality of Christianity, does this mean they no longer behave as deplorably as others? When people dedicate their lives to the accumulation of power and wealth, does this mean that generosity dies?

The book does feel long but Boccaccio addresses this in his epilogue. Understandably, reading the The Decameron in the 21st century, even in times of COVID-19, must differ from reading The Decameron as Boccaccio’s contemporary. And if he truly writes it for women, then he assumes they have considerable leisure time. Even so, the stories explore fascinating themes and each storyteller’s personality and style add great variety. I will say I have an overwhelming compulsion to spend a day with Calandrino, Bruno and Buffalmacco. Though it may risk my well-being.



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Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Giovanni Boccaccio

 

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