Tuesday, August 05, 2008


The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio was published in 1353 and demonstrates that the popularity of gross humor did not begin with the puerile teen comedies of our own era, but can be traced back to the middle ages and before (cf. Plautus and Aristophanes). I am in the midst of a reading of The Decameron using the translation by Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella. Selected stories from the first three days have introduced me to a polyglot of defrocked Friars, larcenous ladies, and virgins whose virginity remains in the imagination alone, although they can fool the King when necessary (the Kings and Priests and Aristocrats seem most likely candidates for the title "fool"). Even in translation the humorous style shines through and it seems all great fun, as long as you don't think of the Black Death that hovers in the background and provides the raison d'etre (pardon the French, I don't know the Italian equivalent) for the tale-telling.

As I completed the days through to the tenth I was impressed with the fecundity of the tales, the breadth of the characters covering multiple vocations and classes, and the author's stylish ability to reach the reader - even in translation. These are tales that have inspired many writers as well as readers since the fourteenth century with good reason. With each tale I found myself looking forward with more desire for the next and now that I am done I am sure I will return to this humane writer.

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. Norton Critical Editions, New York. 1977 (1353)

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