THE DECAMERON (Italian : Decameron or Decamerone ), subtitled
Galehaut (Old Italian : Prencipe Galeotto ), is a collection
of novellas by the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio
(1313–1375). The book is structured as a frame story containing 100
tales told by a group of seven young women and three young men
sheltering in a secluded villa just outside
Florence to escape the
Black Death , which was afflicting the city. Boccaccio probably
conceived the Decameron after the epidemic of 1348, and completed it
by 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. In addition to its literary value
and widespread influence (for example on
Chaucer 's The Canterbury
Tales ), it provides a document of life at the time. Written in the
vernacular of the
Florentine language , it is considered a masterpiece
of classical early Italian prose.
* 1 Title
* 3 Analysis
* 4 Literary sources
* 5 Translations into English
* 6 Table of cities and characters mentioned in the English text
* 7 Literary influence
* 8 Boccaccio\'s drawings
* 9 See also
* 10 References
* 11 External links
The book's primary title exemplifies Boccaccio's fondness for Greek
philology : Decameron combines two Greek words, δέκα, déka
("ten") and ἡμέρα, hēméra ("day"), to form a term that means
"ten-day ". Ten days is the period in which the characters of the
frame story tell their tales.
Boccaccio's subtitle, Prencipe Galeotto (Prince Galehaut), refers to
Galehaut , a fictional king portrayed in the
Lancelot-Grail who was
sometimes called by the title haut prince ("high prince"). Galehaut
was a close friend of
Lancelot and an enemy of
King Arthur . When
Galehaut learned that
Lancelot loved Arthur's wife,
Guinevere , he set
aside his own ardor for
Lancelot in order to arrange a meeting between
his friend and Guinevere. At this meeting the Queen first kisses
Lancelot, and so begins their love affair.
In Canto V of Inferno , Dante compares these fictional lovers with
the real-life paramours
Francesca da Rimini and
Paolo Malatesta ,
whose relationship he fictionalises. In Inferno, Francesca and Paolo
Lancelot and Guinevere, and the story impassions them to
Dante's description of Galehaut's munificence and savoir-faire amidst
this intrigue impressed Boccaccio. By invoking the name Prencipe
Galeotto in the alternative title to Decameron, Boccaccio alludes to a
sentiment he expresses in the text: his compassion for women deprived
of free speech and social liberty, confined to their homes and, at
times, lovesick . He contrasts this life with that of the menfolk, who
enjoy respite in sport, such as hunting, fishing, riding, and
Summary of Decameron tales Miniature by
Taddeo Crivelli in a manuscript of c. 1467 from
Library , Oxford)
In Italy during the time of the
Black Death , a group of seven young
women and three young men flee from plague-ridden
Florence to a
deserted villa in the countryside of
Fiesole for two weeks. To pass
the evenings, every member of the party tells a story each night,
except for one day per week for chores, and the holy days during which
they do no work at all, resulting in ten nights of storytelling over
the course of two weeks. Thus, by the end of the fortnight they have
told 100 stories .
Each of the ten characters is charged as King or Queen of the company
for one of the ten days in turn. This charge extends to choosing the
theme of the stories for that day, and all but two days have topics
assigned: examples of the power of fortune; examples of the power of
human will; love tales that end tragically; love tales that end
happily; clever replies that save the speaker; tricks that women play
on men; tricks that people play on each other in general; examples of
virtue. Only Dioneo, who usually tells the tenth tale each day, has
the right to tell a tale on any topic he wishes, due to his wit.
Many authors have argued that Dioneo expresses the views of Boccaccio
himself. Each day also includes a short introduction and conclusion
to continue the frame of the tales by describing other daily
activities besides story-telling. These frame tale interludes
frequently include transcriptions of Italian folk songs. The
interactions among tales in a day, or across days, as Boccaccio spins
variations and reversals of previous material, forms a whole and not
just a collection of stories. The basic plots of the stories including
mocking the lust and greed of the clergy; tensions in Italian society
between the new wealthy commercial class and noble families; the
perils and adventures of traveling merchants.
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A Tale from the Decameron (1916) by
John William Waterhouse
John William Waterhouse .
Throughout the Decameron the mercantile ethic prevails and
predominates. The commercial and urban values of quick wit,
sophistication, and intelligence are treasured, while the vices of
stupidity and dullness are cured, or punished. While these traits and
values may seem obvious to the modern reader, they were an emerging
feature in Europe with the rise of urban centers and a monetized
economic system beyond the traditional rural feudal and monastery
systems which placed greater value on piety and loyalty.
Beyond the unity provided by the frame narrative, the Decameron
provides a unity in philosophical outlook. Throughout runs the common
medieval theme of
Lady Fortune , and how quickly one can rise and fall
through the external influences of the "Wheel of Fortune ". Boccaccio
had been educated in the tradition of Dante's
Divine Comedy , which
used various levels of allegory to show the connections between the
literal events of the story and the Christian message. However, the
Decameron uses Dante's model not to educate the reader but to satirize
this method of learning. The
Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church , priests, and
religious belief become the satirical source of comedy throughout.
This was part of a wider historical trend in the aftermath of the
Black Death which saw widespread discontent with the church.
Many details of the Decameron are infused with a medieval sense of
numerological and mystical significance. For example, it is widely
believed that the seven young women are meant to represent the Four
Cardinal Virtues (Prudence, Justice, Temperance, and Fortitude) and
the Three Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity). It is
further supposed that the three men represent the classical Greek
tripartite division of the soul (Reason, Spirit, and Appetite, see
Book IV of Republic ). Boccaccio himself notes that the names he gives
for these ten characters are in fact pseudonyms chosen as "appropriate
to the qualities of each". The Italian names of the seven women, in
the same (most likely significant) order as given in the text, are:
Pampinea, Fiammetta, Filomena, Emilia, Lauretta, Neifile, and Elissa.
The men, in order, are: Panfilo, Filostrato, and Dioneo.
Boccaccio focused on the naturalness of sex by combining and
interlacing sexual experiences with nature.
The Banquet in the Pine Forest (1482/3) is the third painting in
Sandro Botticelli 's series The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, which
illustrates events from the Eighth Story of the Fifth Day.
Boccaccio borrowed the plots of almost all his stories (just as later
writers borrowed from him). Although he consulted only French, Italian
Latin sources, some of the tales have their origin in such far-off
lands as India, Persia, Spain, and other places. Some were already
centuries old. For example, part of the tale of Andreuccio of Perugia
(II, 5) originated in 2nd-century Ephesus (in the
Ephesian Tale ). The
frame narrative structure (though not the characters or plot)
originates from the
Panchatantra , which was written in Sanskrit
before AD 500 and came to Boccaccio through a chain of translations
that includes Old Persian , Arabic , Hebrew , and
Latin . Even the
description of the central current event of the narrative, the Black
Plague (which Boccaccio surely witnessed), is not original, but based
on the Historia gentis Langobardorum of
Paul the Deacon
Paul the Deacon , who lived in
the 8th century.
Some scholars have suggested that some of the tales for which there
is no prior source may still not have been invented by Boccaccio, but
may have been circulating in the local oral tradition, with Boccaccio
simply the first person known to have recorded them. Boccaccio himself
says that he heard some of the tales orally. In VII, 1, for example,
he claims to have heard the tale from an old woman who heard it as a
The fact that Boccaccio borrowed the storylines that make up most of
the Decameron does not mean he mechanically reproduced them. Most of
the stories take place in the 14th century and have been sufficiently
updated to the author's time that a reader may not know that they had
been written centuries earlier or in a foreign culture. Also,
Boccaccio often combined two or more unrelated tales into one (such as
in II, 2 and VII, 7).
Moreover, many of the characters actually existed, such as Giotto di
Guido Cavalcanti ,
Saladin and King
William II of Sicily
William II of Sicily .
Scholars have even been able to verify the existence of less famous
characters, such as the tricksters Bruno and Buffalmacco and their
Calandrino . Still other fictional characters are based on real
people, such as the Madonna Fiordaliso from tale II, 5, who is derived
from a Madonna Flora who lived in the red light district of Naples.
Boccaccio often intentionally muddled historical (II, 3) and
geographical (V, 2) facts for his narrative purposes. Within the tales
of the Decameron, the principal characters are usually developed
through their dialogue and actions, so that by the end of the story
they seem real and their actions logical given their context.
Another of Boccaccio's frequent techniques was to make already
existing tales more complex. A clear example of this is in tale IX, 6,
which was also used by
Chaucer in his "The Reeve\'s Tale ", which more
closely follows the original French source than does Boccaccio's
version. In the Italian version, the host's wife (in addition to the
two young male visitors) occupy all three beds and she also creates an
explanation of the happenings of the evening. Both elements are
Boccaccio's invention and make for a more complex version than either
Chaucer's version or the French source (a fabliau by Jean de Boves).
TRANSLATIONS INTO ENGLISH
The Decameron's individual tales were translated into English early
on (such as poet William Walter's 1525 Here begynneth y hystory of
Tytus and am apprehensive, it may still be thought by some people,
that I have rather omitted to little, than too much.”
Reissued several times with small or large modifications, sometimes
without acknowledgement of the original translator. The 1804 reissue
makes further expurgations. The 1822 reissue adds half-hearted
renditions of III.x and IX.x, retaining the more objectionable
passages in the original Italian, with a footnote to III.x that it is
“impossible to render... into tolerable English”, and giving
Mirabeau ’s French translation instead. The 1872 reissue is similar,
but makes translation errors in parts of IX.x. The 1895 reissue
Alfred Wallis ), in 4 volumes, cites Mr. S. W. Orson as
making up for the omissions of the 1741 original, although part of
III.x is given in
Antoine Le Maçon ’s French translation, belying
the claim that it is a complete English translation, and IX.x is
modified, replacing Boccaccio’s direct statements with innuendo.
W. K. Kelly
Omits Proemio and Conclusione dell’autore. Includes tales III.x
and IX.x, claiming to be “COMPLETE, although a few passages are in
French or Italian”, but as in 1822, leaves parts of III.x in the
original Italian with a French translation in a footnote, and omits
several key sentences entirely from IX.x.
First truly complete translation in English, with copious footnotes
to explain Boccaccio’s double-entendres and other references.
Introduction by Sir Walter Raleigh.
Published by the Villon Society by private subscription for private
circulation. Stands and falls on its “splendidly scrupulous but
curiously archaic... sonorous and self-conscious Pre-Raphaelite
vocabulary” according to McWilliam, who gives as an example from
tale III.x: “Certes, father mine, this same devil must be an ill
thing and an enemy in very deed of God, for that it irketh hell
itself, let be otherwhat, when he is put back therein.” 1925 Edition
by Horace Liveright Inc. USA, then reprinted in Oct 1928, Dec 1928,
April 1929,Sept 1929, Feb 1930. 1930. Reissued in the
Modern Library ,
1931. Updated editions have been published in 1982, edited by Charles
S. Singleton , and in 2004, edited by Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin .
Part of tale III.x again given in French, without footnote or
explanation. Tale IX.x translated anew, but Boccaccio’s phrase
“l’umido radicale” is rendered “the humid radical” rather
than “the moist root”.
Falsely claims to be a “New Translation from the Italian” and
the “First complete English Edition”, when it is only a reworking
of earlier versions with the addition of what McWilliam calls
“vulgarly erotic overtones” in some stories.
J. M. Rigg
Once more, part of tale III.x is left in the original Italian with
a footnote “No apology is needed for leaving, in accordance with
precedent, the subsequent detail untranslated”.
McWiliam praises its elegant style in sections of formal language,
but that it is spoiled by an obsolete vocabulary in more vernacular
sections. Reissued frequently, including in Everyman\'s Library (1930)
with introduction by Edward Hutton .
Omits the Proemio.
Burton Rascoe . First American translation, and
first English-language translation by a female. “Fairly accurate and
eminently readable, fails to do justice to those more ornate and
rhetorical passages” says McWilliam. Originally issued in expensive
2-volume set by the
Limited Editions Club of
New York City
New York City , and in
cheaper general circulation edition only in 1938.
Like Winwar, first issued in expensive and lavishly illustrated
edition. “Littered with schoolboy errors... plain and threadbare, so
that anyone reading it might be forgiven for thinking that Boccaccio
was a kind of sub-standard fourteenth-century
Somerset Maugham ” say
George Henry McWilliam
First complete translation into contemporary English, intended for
Penguin Classics edition. The second edition (1995) includes a
150-page detailed explanation of the historical, linguistic, and
nuanced reasoning behind the new translation. Its in-depth study
exemplifies the care and consideration given to the original text and
meaning. The volume includes a biography of the author and a detailed
history of the book's composition and setting.
Peter Bondanella and
W. W. Norton & Company
W. W. Norton & Company
Wayne A. Rebhorn
W. W. Norton & Company
W. W. Norton & Company .
Publishers Weekly called Rebhorn's
translation "strikingly modern" and praised its "accessibility". In
an interview with
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal Rebhorn stated that he
started translating the work in 2006 after deciding that the
translations he was using in his classroom needed improvement. Rebhorn
cited errors in the 1977 translation as one of the reasons for the new
translation. Peter Bondanella, one of the translators of the 1977
edition, stated that new translations build on previous ones and that
the error cited would be corrected in future editions of his
TABLE OF CITIES AND CHARACTERS MENTIONED IN THE ENGLISH TEXT
MAIN CHARACTERS OR OTHER PEOPLE MENTIONED
Day 01, 1
Ser Cepparello, holy friar, Musciatto Franzesi
Day 01, 2
Day 01, 8
Day 01, 9
Day 01, 10
Day 02, 1
Day 02, 2
Day 09, 6
Florence , Mugnone (it)
Day 09, 7
Talano of Imola
Day 09, 8
Ciacco, Biondello, Messer Corso
Day 09, 9
Jerusalem , Goosebridge
Melisuss, Solomon, Joseph
Day 09, 10
Don Guanni of Barolo, Pietro, Pietro's wife, Zita Carapresa di
Day 10, 1
Messer Ruggieri de' Figiovanni, Alfonso of Spain
Day 10, 2
Day 10, 3
Day 10, 4
Day 10, 5
Day 10, 6
Castellammare di Stabia
Day 10, 7
Day 10, 8
Day 10, 9
Pavia, Alexandria, Digne
Day 10, 10
This article IS IN A LIST FORMAT THAT MAY BE BETTER PRESENTED USING
PROSE . You can help by converting this article to prose, if
appropriate . Editing help is available. (October 2013)
The stories from the Decameron influenced many later writers. Notable
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe 's short horror story The Masque of the Red Death
is said to be inspired by this work.
* The famous first tale (I, 1) of the notorious Ser Ciappelletto was
later translated into
Latin by Olimpia Fulvia Morata and translated
Martin Luther retells tale I, 2, in which a
Jew converts to
Catholicism after visiting
Rome and seeing the corruption of the
Catholic hierarchy. However, in Luther's version (found in his
"Table-talk #1899"), Luther and
Philipp Melanchthon try to dissuade
Jew from visiting Rome.
Marguerite de Navarre
Marguerite de Navarre 's
Heptaméron is heavily based on the
* The ring parable is at the heart of both Gotthold Ephraim Lessing
's 1779 play
Nathan the Wise
Nathan the Wise and tale I, 3. In a letter to his brother
on August 11, 1778, he says explicitly that he got the story from the
Jonathan Swift also used the same story for his first major
A Tale of a Tub
A Tale of a Tub .
* Posthumus's wager on Imogen's chastity in Cymbeline was taken by
Shakespeare from an English translation of a 15th-century German tale,
"Frederyke of Jennen", whose basic plot came from tale II, 9.
Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega use tale III, 3 to create plays in
their respective vernaculars.
Molière wrote L'école des maris in
Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega wrote Discreta enamorada.
A 1600 edition of the Decameron, printed by
* Tale III, 9, which
Shakespeare converted into All\'s Well That
Ends Well .
Shakespeare probably first read a French translation of
the tale in William Painter 's Palace of Pleasure.
* Tale IV, 1 was reabsorbed into folklore to appear as Child ballad
Lady Diamond .
John Keats borrowed the tale of Lisabetta and her pot of basil
(IV, 5) for his poem,
Isabella, or the Pot of Basil .
Lope de Vega
Lope de Vega also used parts of V, 4 for his play El ruiseñor de
Sevilla (They're Not All Nightingales).
Christoph Martin Wieland
Christoph Martin Wieland 's set of six novellas Das Hexameron von
Rosenhain is based on the structure of the Decameron.
* The title character in
George Eliot 's historical novel Romola
emulates Gostanza in tale V, 2, by buying a small boat and drifting
out to sea to die, after she realizes that she no longer has anyone on
whom she can depend.
* Tale V, 9 became the source for works by two famous 19th century
writers in the English language.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used it in
his "The Falcon of Ser Federigo" as part of
Tales of a Wayside Inn in
1863. Alfred, Lord Tennyson used it in 1879 for a play entitled The
Molière also borrowed from tale VII, 4 in his George Dandin ou le
Mari confondu (The Confounded Husband). In both stories the husband is
convinced that he has accidentally caused his wife's suicide.
* Giuseppe Petrosinelli in his libretto for
Domenico Cimarosa 's
opera The Italian Girl in
London uses the story of the heliotrope
(bloodstone) in tale VIII, 3.
* The motif of the three trunks in The Merchant of
Shakespeare is found in tale X, 1. However, both
Boccaccio probably came upon the tale in
Gesta Romanorum .
* At his death
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley had left a fragment of a poem
entitled "Ginevra", which he took from the first volume of an Italian
book called L'Osservatore Fiorentino. The earlier Italian text had a
plot taken from tale X, 4.
* Tale X, 5 shares its plot with
Chaucer 's "The Franklin\'s Tale ",
although this is not due to a direct borrowing from Boccaccio. Rather,
both authors used a common French source.
* The tale of patient Griselda (X, 10) was the source of Chaucer's
"The Clerk\'s Tale ". However, there are some scholars who believe
Chaucer may not have been directly familiar with the Decameron,
and instead derived it from a
Latin translation/retelling of that tale
Petrarch . It can be generally said that Petrarch's version in
Rerum senilium libri XVII, 3, included in a letter he wrote to his
friend Boccaccio, was to serve as a source for all the many versions
that circulated around Europe, including the translations of the very
Decameron into French, Catalan - translated by
Bernat Metge - and
Spanish. Lope de Vega, who adapted at least twelve stories from the
Decameron to the scenes, wrote El ejemplo de casadas y prueba de la
paciencia on this tale, which was by far the most popular story of the
Decameron during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The Venetian
Apostolo Zeno made on it, and partially on Lope's play, a
libretto named Griselda (1701) which was to be musicated, among
Carlo Francesco Pollarolo (1701), Antonio Maria Bononcini
Alessandro Scarlatti (1721),
Tomaso Albinoni (1728) and
Antonio Vivaldi (1735).
Christine de Pizan
Christine de Pizan often used restructured tales from Decameron in
her work "
The Book of the City of Ladies " (1405).
Thomas Middleton 's play 'The Widow' is based on tales 2.2 and
A number of film adaptations have been based on tales from The
Pier Paolo Pasolini
Pier Paolo Pasolini 's
The Decameron (1971) is one of the most
Decameron Nights (1953) was based on three of the tales and
Louis Jourdan as Boccaccio.
Dino De Laurentiis
Dino De Laurentiis produced a romantic comedy film version, Virgin
Territory , in 2007.
* The tales are referenced in
The Borgias (2011 TV series)
The Borgias (2011 TV series) in season
2, episode 7, when a fictional version of Niccolò Machiavelli
mentions at a depiction of the
Bonfire of the Vanities
Bonfire of the Vanities that he should
have brought his friend "the Decameron" who would have told the
"one-hundred and first" tale.
* The work is also mentioned and adapted in season 1, episode 5 of
the American TV series Da Vinci\'s Demons .
* In the 1994 movie,
My Summer Story
My Summer Story , it is a book on which Ralphie
does a book report on and gets in trouble with his teacher for doing
* The 2017 comedy
The Little Hours adapted the first and second
tales of the third day.
The Decameron was very popular among contemporaries, especially
merchants, many manuscripts of it survive. The Italian philologist
Vittore Branca (it) did a comprehensive survey of them and identified
a few copied under Boccaccio's supervision; some have notes written in
Boccaccio's hand. Two in particular have elaborate drawings, probably
done by Boccaccio himself. Since these manuscripts were widely
circulated, Branca thought that they influenced all subsequent
illustrations. In 1962 Branca identified Codex Hamilton 90, in
Berlin's Staatsbibliothek, as an autograph belonging to Boccaccio's
* Novels portal
Cent Nouvelles nouvelles
One Thousand and One Nights
One Thousand and One Nights
* ^ "Giovanni Boccaccio: The Decameron.". Encyclopædia Britannica
. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
* ^ The title transliterates to Greek as δεκάμερον (τό)
or, classically, δεχήμερον.
* ^ Boccaccio, "Proem"
* ^ "MS. Holkham misc. 49: Boccaccio, Decameron, Ferrara, c. 1467;
Taddeo Crivelli for Teofilo Calcagnini". Bodleian
Library, University of Oxford. 2000–2003. Retrieved 18 December
* ^ Lee Patterson Literary practice and social change in Britain,
* ^ Boccaccio, "Day the First"
* ^ The origin of the Griselda story p.7
* ^ Context, Third Paragraph
* ^ "The Decameron".
Publishers Weekly . Sep 1, 2013. Retrieved
* ^ Trachtenberg, Jeffrey (Sep 8, 2013). "How Many Times Can a Tale
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal . Retrieved 2013-09-09.
* ^ Helen Child Sargent, ed; George Lyman Kittredge, ed English and
Scottish Popular Ballads: Cambridge Edition p 583 Houghton Mifflin
Company Boston 1904
* ^ Armando Petrucci , Il ms. Berlinese Hamilton 90. Note
codicologiche e paleografiche, in G. Boccaccio, Decameron, Edizione
diplomatico-interpretativa dell'autografo Hamilton 90 a cura di
Charles S. Singleton ,
Baltimora , 1974.
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