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
* 1 Title * 2 Frame story * 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
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
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 falconry.
In Italy during the time of the
Black Death , a group of seven young
women and three young men flee from plague-ridden
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
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
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
Boccaccio borrowed the plots of almost all his stories (just as later
writers borrowed from him). Although he consulted only French, Italian
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 child.
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 ,
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
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 (introduced by 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.
1855 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. ---
1886 John Payne 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 .
1896 Anonymous 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.
1903 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
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
1972 George Henry McWilliam First complete translation into contemporary English, intended for general circulation. 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.
2013 Wayne A. Rebhorn Complete W. W. Norton & Company . Publishers Weekly called Rebhorn's translation "strikingly modern" and praised its "accessibility". In an interview with 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 translation.
TABLE OF CITIES AND CHARACTERS MENTIONED IN THE ENGLISH TEXT
STORY (DAY/STORY) NARRATOR LOCATIONS MAIN CHARACTERS OR OTHER PEOPLE MENTIONED
Day 01, 1
Day 01, 8
Day 01, 10
Day 02, 1 Neifile Treviso Arigo
Day 09, 6
Day 09, 7 Pampinea Florence Talano of Imola
Day 09, 8
Day 10, 2 Elissa Siena
Day 10, 3 Filostrato Cathay
Day 10, 4 Lauretta Bologna
Day 10, 5 Emilia Udine
Day 10, 6 Fiammetta Castellammare di Stabia
Day 10, 7 Pampinea Palermo
Day 10, 8 Filomena Rome, Athens
Day 10, 9 Panfilo Pavia, Alexandria, Digne
Day 10, 10 Dioneo Saluzzo
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The stories from the Decameron influenced many later writers. Notable examples include:
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
A 1600 edition of the Decameron, printed by Isaac Jaggard
* Tale III, 9, which
A number of film adaptations have been based on tales from The Decameron.
Pier Paolo Pasolini